Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Stephen Fredette, a member of legendary Boston-based cowpunk band Scruffy the Cat, for an interview on 320 Entertainment’s Monday Night GOLD. It was truly one of the most fun & insightful interviews I have conducted during my career in the Boston music & nightlife scene. As we discussed Scruffy the Cat’s long history & their imminent, historic closeout gig at iconic Cambridge rock venue TT the Bear’s Place, one tidbit jumped out at me more than anything else: after all these years, Stephen could not quite pinpoint when Scruffy the Cat’s first TT’s gig was.
Which was interesting to me, partially because I, myself, can’t quite recall my first visit either.
That said, while I cannot tell you the exact date of my first time walking through the doors of 10 Brookline St. in Cambridge, MA, and just what the hell I was getting into on that night, I can tell you I have many wonderful memories of shows, dance parties, flea markets, and even having the chance to work the 1s & 2s in the TT’s DJ booth.
Like countless members of the Boston music fraternity, there are numerous crazy, crazy nights we can tell tales of, and some that we can’t recall for the life of us (which likely means it was a super dope evening of loud rock ‘n’ roll and louder bad decisions). 43 years of existence as a restaurant, bar and – most notably – a rock club, TT the Bear’s became every bit as legendary as the many bands who crushed it onstage there – the Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, the Neighborhoods, the Mighty Mighty BossToneS, Letters to Cleo, Mission of Burma, Nelly Furtado, Til Tuesday, the Lyres … the list of names who have performed at TT’s reads like a vertiable Who’s Who of music history, on both a regional and a national level.
The final goodbye to TT’s this past Saturday night – the raucous end to a string of farewell performances that have been occurring the last few weeks – may very well have been the craziest night of them all. Before I can get into my experience attending this historic evening, however, a bit of backstory on TT’s itself must be provided.
It was in 1973 when New Hampshire resident Bonney Bouley, alongside her then-boyfriend Miles Cares, first opened TT the Bear’s (a unique name derived from Bonney & Miles’s pet hamster, named “Tough Teddy”) on the corner of Pearl and Green Streets in Cambridge, operating as a neighborhood bar. By 1980, TT’s would soon re-emerge after temporarily closing its doors, just around the corner at its new (and ultimately permanent) location at 10 Brookline St., this time as a restaurant. In 1984, Bonney Bouley would transform TT the Bear’s Place into a 330-person-capacity concert venue, right across the street from the equally as legendary – and much-missed – ManRay nightclub. In TT’s formative years, Miles Cares was in charge of handling the club’s business dealings; meanwhile, Bonney was – just as she always had been throughout TT’s history – the undisputed pulse of the venue, providing a veritable training & proving ground for young acts on the comeup. Bonney would school performers on turning their passion into a career, as well teaching them how to earn a loyal, dedicated fan base. Facts only: Bonney Bouley truly believed in the music, and cared about the bands who wanted to share their work with the masses.
Working alongside a team that has, through the last five decades, included revered booking agent & bartender Jeanne Connolly (sadly passing away in 2009 at age 51, after a 16-month battle with colon cancer), Jodi Goodman, Randi Millman, and most recently, TT’s final general manager Kevin Patey, Bonney would help to create a concert space that spawned decades of undying loyalty from patrons, who were dedicated to supporting TT’s every chance they got. Indeed, when your attendees are as devoted to the performance space as they are to the music presented onstage, you know you have done something amazing. You not only provided bands with a stage; you helped to define the essence of your music community. This is exactly what Bonney, her hard-working team, the many bands who performed there, and the fans, did together. A sense of family unlike any other in the scene; this is one of the many qualities that made TT’s so beautiful and unique. A concert venue. An institution.
Showcasing live music 250 nights a year, TT the Bear’s would earn a solid reputation as one of the most beloved concert halls in not only the Boston area, but in the United States. Over the years, TT’s would also serve as the backdrop for the long-running Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble, as well as dance party situations such as Heroes and XMortis, with former ManRay resident DJ Chris Ewen on the 1s & 2s. On June 27, 2014, your boy Mr. Golden would be blessed with the opportunity to kill the set, working the DJ booth for a benefit show to Save Out of the Blue Art Gallery. Performing at the same venue that so many legendary names had done before me, was one of the greatest honors of my years as the “Master of Mixed Music Arts”, a career goal finally reached. Indeed, TT’s was one of the 10 clubs I had on my list of places to perform at before I called it a day. Doing so was a huge deal for me, and I am thankful to everyone who made that booking a reality (I had a photo of the TT’s marquee to the left of the double doors that had my name on it; sadly, it was lost when I had to change phones last year. No, I didn’t destroy the old phone to hide any incriminating evidence. Or did I…).
My experiences with TT’s do not end there: In the years since that first long-forgotten visit of mine to TT’s, I had the chance to attend a number of different events, including a few of the Heroes parties, numerous live shows, Sunday flea market events as well as a day of filming for an independent flick titled The Mayor of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I also had the honor of working the emcee role for the ABNDN fashion line’s launch party last year. This is another one of my fondest TT’s memories; the ABNDN brand – curated by my darling sisters Casey Desmond & Jessie May Ammons – was coming to light on this night, featuring live music as well as a special runway presentation. An amazing night of one of a kind fashion and the most positive vibes; and by the way, the photo you see above of Casey & I…to this day, one of my favorite career snapshots. I just wish I looked a bit more aware of Casey’s loving embrace.
Aaaaand this brings us to TT’s final stand, on July 25, 2015.
News about TT’s closing broke in May via Vanyaland; back in December 2014, Joseph and Nabil Sater – longtime head honchos of another iconic neighborhood institution, the neighboring Middle East Restaurant & Nightclub, had purchased the Central Square building that housed the Middle East since 1970. The purchase had brought a year’s worth of uncertainty to a close, regarding the building’s future and the rock venues housed within. This deal, however, would not only include ownership of the Middle East property from 472-480 Massachusetts Avenue, but also of the building housing TT the Bear’s Place at 10 Brookline Street, ending decades of neighborhood competition. According to The Boston Globe, the five-year lease presented to Bonney by the Saters contained a tenant’s option to extend it for an additional five more years, pending approval from her new landlords. Bonney opted not to sign.
The culmination of TT’s Farewell Blowout – two incredible weeks featuring decades-spanning performances from such acts as Mary Lou Lord, The Lights Out, Ad Frank & The Fast Easy Women, the Neighborhoods and more – would see performances by the aforementioned Scruffy the Cat, longtime Boston alternative rock act O Positive, and folk/rock performers Randy Black & the Heathcroppers, joined by Willie Alexander. As you might expect, the final installment of the Farewell Blowout series was poppin’ from the opening gun. By 9:30PM, TT’s was packed wall to wall with familiar faces from throughout generations of Boston’s rock scene; there was Wayne Valdez coming up Brookline Street; my dude William “Des” Desmond, coolin’ with us at the front bar, with darling Cherryl Hanson-Bull presiding; JustBill capturing party pics; Mr. Joe Turner playing his last night of TT’s billiards; longtime Boston music journalist Jim Sullivan, who honored me many years ago with one of my first reviews; and by my side for the evening, my beautiful homegirl Robin Moran, whose experiences in & around the 617’s music scene yield numerous entertaining tales & anecdotes.
In a night of thunderous rock and heartfelt goodbyes, no moment was as emotional, or raw, as Bonney Bouley’s farewell address onstage. Between O Positive’s and Scruffy the Cat’s sets, Bonnie, 73, spoke directly to us, giving her thanks to the bands, staff, and every patron who ever walked through TT’s doors. “Everybody that played these last two weeks, you are all magic and you always have been… I honor you all, every band that walked through this door. In snowstorms and rainstorms and miserable weather and miserable nights, and still got on this stage and played their hearts out. The talent that is in this town, and that comes through this town, is unbelievable. We were just really lucky to have that we had. I hope somehow it continues. I hope it’s on this level that people can come in and get a chance, and I hope it doesn’t all go corporate. But things change and the world changes. But bands still need a stage, and I hope it’s sill here in Cambridge and Boston.” Bonney’s words still ring with me days after hearing her speak. Her efforts helped give way to something that truly gave us a sense of family, a venue called TT the Bear’s, that presented live music with a feeling, a spirit, no other concert space could ever capture.
Every act onstage for the final farewell, from Randy Black & the Heathcroppers to O Positive to, of course, headliners Scruffy the Cat, gave it their all, playing their hearts out for the 300-plus strong, standing room only audience of dedicated faithful gathered before them. The feeling inside TT’s, spilling out onto 10 Brookline Street, was bittersweet: a night of celebration and sadness, saying goodbye to 43 years of history, and preparing for the future ahead.
I have talked to many in the weeks leading up to TT’s closing, and in the days since, about their feelings regarding the situation. To many I have talked to, they feel the loss of TT’s, as well as the imminent loss of Somerville’s Johnny D’s – rings of a death knell to the Boston rock scene. While I can surely understand their feelings on the matter, I respectfully must disagree: yes, it is a major blow to the community to see institutions like TT the Bear’s closing their doors and removing their signage. It does leave a feeling of undeniable sadness to know so many great memories are trapped inside what is currently an empty lot of space at 10 Brookline Street. I know I did this past Monday, passing by the old TT’s space on my way to the WEMF Radio studios (and by the way, we are also approaching the 10th Anniversary of ManRay’s closing, parked across the street from TT’s for many years, as mentioned earlier). Yet, at the same time, I have a sense of optimism for the future. In the years to come, there will be new places for bands on the climbup to to play. New stages for them to ply their trade, a new place for us to cheer for them, a new dark corner for makeout sessions, more beer to spill, more toasts to be raised, more memories to be made that will last us a lifetime. TT the Bear’s is gone, and as the saying goes, will never be forgotten; the Boston music scene, however, is – and always will be – a part of what makes up our city’s heart and soul.
To Bonney and her incredible squad; thank you for all the great years of music and sweat equity. You have left behind a spectacular legacy we can all be proud of.