Ask Scruffy the Cat guitarist Stephen Fredette about his first time at T.T. the Bear’s Place and he says, “The strange thing is that I don’t remember the first time I went to or played at T.T.s. It would be like remembering going into your living room or kitchen.”
T.T.’s is (soon to be was) that for many, fans and bands – a comfortable living room, just one where there was a stage and rock ‘n’ roll music. This was the case for many a Boston band going back to the mid-1980s. (Not just Boston bands – many out of towners, too.)
Bonney Bouley’s club is shuttering after July 25 – the night the re-formed Scruffy the Cat (minus, of course, their late singer Charlie Chesterman – they’ll have a fluid lineup of guest vocalists which will include the Dogmatics Jerry Lehane and the Neighborhoods David Minehan), O Positive (which is not full-time for any members any longer, but always available for the right cause) and Randy Black and the Heathcroppers (featuring Willie Alexander).
“There can’t be a discussion of T.T. the Bear’s Place without mentioning, focusing on, Bonney Bouley,” says Black. “Her acceptance of all kinds of people, her sense of fairness and her humor all go a long way toward identifying the club as a special place to play. And if you are fair and honest in your dealings with her, she will be fair and honest and most importantly, faithful, to you.”
Me, I’m honored to be hosting that final night, which caps a series of “blowout” shows that begins Friday July 17th. I’ve got some TT’s memories I’m sharing at the end of this piece, but first a Q/A with Scruffy’s multi-instrumentalist Stona Fitch and O Positive’s singer-guitarist Dave Herlihy on the Central Square club and Randy Black about what it’s been like over the years.
JSInk: What has TT’s meant to you, and by extension, the Boston rock scene over its 35-plus years?
Dave Herlihy (O Positive): T.T.’s was always an unpretentious place to see great bands. It wasn’t trying to be “cool”, so it was cool. It was a crucial place in the scene to cut your teeth, hone your craft, attract an audience, and meet people who became great friends. In my earliest days of O Positive, I remember hearing the Mystery Girls on WMBR announcing a new club in town, TT the Bear’s Place that would be featuring new bands. They had then-co-owner Miles on the air talking up the new place, and I remember thinking, “Ok, gotta get the band in there”. T.T.’s was a place where bands and the scene were busy being born.
Stona Fitch (Scruffy the Cat): TT’s was like our home away from home. We played our earliest gigs there and probably played there more than any other club. Bonnie was like our mom, but better than our real moms because she let us stay out late, play loud, and drink in her living room.
Randy Black: All three of my record release parties have been held there. I wouldn’t have considered having them anywhere else. Bonney made them special with decorations, invitations etc. At the release party for the sky goes clear, she made a cake for us that was festooned with guitars. What a woman! … I take solace in the fact that my friendship with Bonney is unshakeable and enduring. And it will be nice to see her relax a bit after forty years of putting her heart and soul and copious amounts of energy into keeping TT’s alive.
What are your best memories of gigs there?
Herlihy: O Positive did our first record release party for “Only Breathing” at T.T.’s and the place was packed. Dave Martin’s mom made a cake of our album cover and it was like a huge birthday party for the band. It was a family affair. I also remember sharing gigs at TTs with bands I loved, like Three Colors, Throwing Muses, Pixies, Scruffy the Cat, Miracle Legion…so many great nights. I also saw the Smashing Pumpkins at T.T.’s for the Gish tour.
Stona Fitch: Playing at the club right after we finished our first EP, High Octane Revival, was a great time. People we didn’t know were starting to show up at gigs. It wasn’t just our friends and people we owed money to anymore.
What’s the vibe? How has it differed from other rock clubs either around Boston or the country?
Herlihy: TT’s was an unpretentious place to hang out. Nobody at T.T.’s put on airs–it was a mix of locals and musicians. While I used to love hanging at the Rat in Kenmore Square, which had an intentionally “Ramones chic” cool with fabled juke box, by contrast, TTs literally had teddy bears on the walls and no attitude.
Stona Fitch: T.T.’s was always low-key, nurturing, welcoming, and . . . nice. But in a good way. Not like Midwestern nice. Quirky smart Cambridge nice. Having a more relaxed place to play was always a relief. By contrast, our second home was the Rat, which despite its many subterranean charms, was really spiky around the edges. And I say that as a guy who worked there. T.T.’s deliberate non-dudeness, from the name to the fantastic women who ran the place, was a relief back in the black leather jacket era. There really wasn’t anything else like it out there, and we played a lot of clubs all over the US and Canada.
Black: It’s a low key vibe at TT’s, comfortable and welcoming. Kevin Patey, the manager for the last bunch of years, has been largely responsible for that. He and Bonney are a great team and I think one of the sad things about the closing of the club is that they won’t be working so closely any more. It’s been enlightening watching the two of them work together.
Do you have a special set corked up for this finale and if so what details can you give me in advance?
Herlihy: It’s gonna be a pared down guitar-based set. No frills, just guitars with me yelling.
Fitch: It’s a Scruffy fan’s deli platter of delights — a mix of our almost-hits, some early stuff, and some songs that never got recorded. All performed with extra mistakes — intentional, of course. We intend to recreate our early grittiness. And with me in the band, I’m confident that it will happen.
Black: We are honored to be performing on the last night of TT’s existence. Our set with conclude with a few songs with Willie Alexander and a couple surprise guests.
Anything you’d like to add about your band/thoughts about the night?
Herlihy: It’s a pleasure to be asked to play. T.T.’s was an important part of our band and our scene coming of age. T.T.’s gave us a place to put it all on the stage. Lots of life was lived there and T.T.’s represents a place and an era where we put it all on the stage. We made the best music we could make and we had a blast being with friends. It’s going to be just that again.
Fitch: Getting back together with Stephen and Randall has been a lot of fun. But it’s also making all of us realize just how much we miss Charlie. Not that we didn’t know that already. He leaves a hole in the center of the band that no one else can fill, ever. We’ll do our best — and there are some celebrity guest singers dropping in to add to the mix — but it’s just not the same. I hope our fans understand that and don’t throw shoes and stuff at us. Things change. But the songs? Well, they’ll outlive us all. And TT’s will always be in our hearts.
Black: Doctor Black’s Combo was the band of mine that played at T.T.’s the most. In the current band, Randy Black and the Heathcroppers, Larry Dersch plays drums and Matt Gruenberg plays the bass, and both of them have performed here numerous times with various bands. … It’s sad to see a club that has meant so much not only to locals but also to touring bands close its doors. It’s not just one less place to play, it will be an absence sorely felt.
Scruffy also put out this press release: The line-up for this show features some of the original members of the band, including band founder and guitar deity Fredette, powerhouse drummer Randall Lee Gibson IV, and multi-instrumentalist turned novelist Fitch. They’ll be joined by long-time friends and collaborators Pete Weiss (guitar), Randall Creasi (bass), and David Charles (pedal steel guitar).
The performance also serves as a tribute to Charlie Chesterman, Scruffy the Cat’s lead singer, who died of cancer in 2013. “I put together this show to honor Charlie, a great musician and songwriter, irrepressible front man, and our friend,” says Fredette. “We’ll be playing some of his songs, with the help of a lot of guest singers, to say goodbye to the club where we played so many times, and to remember Charlie, who left us way too soon.”
Weiss, who produced all of Chesterman’s solo recordings after Scruffy the Cat disbanded, agrees. “Charlie was a singularly talented musician and songwriter,” he says. “Playing some the band’s songs, recorded and unrecorded, seems like the right way to celebrate Charlie’s memory. We think he’d like to see his music connecting with old and new fans.”
Anyone who saw Scruffy in its prime remembers Chesterman’s charismatic and antic stage presence. At the July 25th show, special guests will be joining the band to sing — without trying to fill his shoes (or more accurately, engineer boots) because as Fredette put it: “No one could ever replace Charlie Chesterman.”
OK – there’s a big run up of shows before the finale: Here’s the lineup as we know it: On Friday the 17th: The Upper Crust, Last Stand, Stop Calling Me Frank, the Bristols., Reid Paley and Ponka Stew; Saturday the 18th, just-announced Mighty Mighty Bosstones (following their Fenway shindig with the Foos) on around 11 p.m.; Sunday the 20th, the Daily Pravda, Bearstronaut, Animal Talk, Spirit Kid, the Sterns, the Luxury and Paddy Saul; Monday the 20th, Mike the Considerate and the Interns – that’s be the TT’s people – and Mary Lou Lord and daughter Annabelle Paley-Lord;, Matt and the Lower Standards and Jules Verdone; Tuesday the 21st: Runner and the Thermodynamics, the Thalia Zedek Band, the Dazies, Evan Dando, Willy Mason, and the Grownup Noise; Wednesday the 22nd: The Lights Out, Ad Frank & the Fast, Easy Women, Parlour Bells, Francine and Cujo (featuring Jen Trynin); Thursday the 23rd, Harris, Emergency Music, Vic Firecracker, Orbit, Field Nurse and Atomic Spectra; Friday the 24th, the Dogmatics, the Neighborhoods, Martin and Morell (the Neats’ Eric Marin and original Del Fuegos drummer Steve Morrell and Bleu.
Me, I’ve logged a lot of quality time at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Central Square since I moved here in 1979. A lot of that time was spent when I was having fun/reviewing/previewing shows for the Boston Globe. A quick check of the Globe archives yields 524 bylines I had for T.T.’s gigs (and you can add a couple hundred more show that were not done for review or preview – just for fun – and then there’s bunches from mid-2005, when I left the Globe, up to now.)
I’ve seen Paul Westerberg, Chris Knox of the Tall Dwarfs, Mekons, Pixies, Lemonheads, Wayne Kramer, the Muffs, Joan Jett (and the Gits), Manic Street Preachers, the Fleshtones, Mo Tucker, Damon & Naomi, Steve Wynn, Falling James, Thelonious Monster (where the singer left the stage to brawl with a cat-calling audience member, no, not me), Letters to Cleo, Zulus, Scissor Sisters, Southern Culture on the Skids, Alex Chilton, Syd Straw, Bedhed, Meat Puppets, Th’ Faith Healers, Juliette Lewis … There was the memorial for Neats drummer Terry Hanley in 1999 … Oh, lord, the list goes on forever.
This final run is keyed to the Boston bands that have long been T.T.’s main support system. Or put another way: The national and international touring bands have certainly been high points, but the local scene has found T.T.’s to be a launching pad/comfort zone for many a year, and it’s that scene that’s being celebrated this week.
Ralph Jaccodine and I have this show called Boston Rock/Talk on XFINITY on Demand. (After the broadcast run, the show goes to us for YouTubing.) Ralph’s the executive producer; I’m the host. (We’ve got folks like Jonny Pape, Gregory Kasabian, Ben Broad, Roza Yarchun, Brittany Bethune, and Scott Vojik lending mighty hands, too.) It’s been a live music/interview show with acts like the Dum Dum Girls, Cracker, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Kate Nash, Peter Hook & the Light, Kevin Devine and Ellis Paul, so we’re happily breaking format a bit for this.
So, go to T.T.’s one (or more) last time, raise a glass, and if you’re there for that final blowout July 25th, I’ll see ya then and there.
10 Brookline St., Cambridge, 617-492-0082 www.ttthebears.com