Boston artists share T.T. the Bear’s Place stories
What made T.T. the Bear’s Place so special? In their own words, here are testimonials from Boston-bred musicians who called the club home through the years.
TANYA DONELLY (Throwing Muses, Belly, the Breeders, solo artist)
T.T.’s was one of my first and favorite hangouts in Boston. Bonney [Bouley, the owner] was so good to Throwing Muses when we played there, making us feel like we fully belonged at a time when we often felt like interloping toddlers. (On that point, she did have to remind us to eat dinner: “Go eat.”) Looking back, I recognize how huge it was to have that warmth and spirit in a club, and what that meant to an out-of-town teen band making the rounds in Boston for the first time. I’ve spent many (many) nights in that room in the past three decades, witnessing some ridiculously great music. It’s beyond sad to lose this irreplaceable place.
CHRIS EWEN (DJ, “Heroes” and “Xmortis”)
What made T.T.’s special? Simply put: It did what it did in an unpretentious and honest way, and for all the right reasons. It was always about the love of music. When [booking agent] Randi Millman asked “Heroes” to be a part of the T.T.’s lineup seven years ago, Terri [Niedzwiecki] and I jumped at the chance. If there were ever going to be ongoing dance nights in that decidedly rock ’n’ roll club, I think both “Xmortis” and “Heroes” fit the bill. We were the evil stepchildren kept in the attic and let loose on the weekends, which suited us just fine. My band Future Bible Heroes even got to grace the T.T.’s stage many years ago. We were there with tons of synths, as part of a college radio rock festival, and it was utter chaos. And it was perfect.
CLAUDIA GONSON (the Magnetic Fields, Future Bible Heroes)
The pre-Magnetic Fields were called the Zinnias, and our first club show was at T.T.’s in the spring of 1986. Bonney actually booked us twice, the first show being a tryout. We performed with our usual lineup of tuba and drums, guitar, and bass. After two songs the drum pedal on my kick drum broke. We attempted to perform with no underlying beat and soon drifted into extreme weirdness. By the third song, we were told we were on our final song. So we skipped to our hard-core number. Our tuba player took the reed off his sax and blew it straight into the mike. It caused such a loud shriek that the soundman leapt across the room and shut down the whole sound system. Needless to say, we were kicked off the second show. We begged Bonney and promised never to blow out their sound system again. Amazingly, she restored the second gig, which went much better.
KAY HANLEY (Letters to Cleo)
1993. Record-release party for Letters to Cleo’s first album, “Aurora Gory Alice.” It’s the most insane show we ever played at T.T.’s. At the end of the night, T.T.’s and the Middle East empty out onto Brookline Street and all the bands load out with their gear. On this particular night, Cambridge’s finest were in full force and decided they were not going to allow that to happen for whatever reason. Long story short, I was arrested for assault and battery on a police officer and taken to jail. After everything quiets down, Jeanne [Connolly, bartender and booking agent] and Bonney go back to the club, empty out the cash register, and come back to the Cambridge jail and bail me out. It’s pretty much the best story ever.
BILL JANOVITZ (Buffalo Tom)
Headlining T.T.’s was Buffalo Tom’s first real goal. It wasn’t easy. On any given week, Moving Targets, Big Dipper, the Lyres, the Neats, Galaxie 500, Volcano Suns, Lemonheads, and Throwing Muses would be playing. And those were just the local acts! We could barely get a gig there. We headlined in Europe before we topped a T.T.’s bill! There’s probably not one place where I have seen more great live music. Sad to see it go. Best of luck to Bonney, Kevin [Patey, general manager], and crew.
DAMON KRUKOWSKI (center) (Damon & Naomi, Galaxie 500)
Not even nostalgia will make me remember T.T.’s as comfortable to play. For the longest time there was no backstage. Then one appeared but [was] constructed out of material so thin I swear it amplified the sound coming from the stage — it was like sitting inside a giant vibrating box. But thanks to that poor soundproofing Naomi and I found our horn section. We had asked our favorite avant-garde duo, nmperign, to open a show for us, and while we were sound-checking, they started playing accompaniment in the dressing room. Of course we could hear them as clearly as they could hear us. They guested on our next three albums.
BRIAN VIGLIONE (The Dresden Dolls, Violent Femmes)
One memory that will always stick with me from T.T.’s is a night back in 2003 or ’04 after a Dresden Dolls gig. People were buzzing around, everyone having a good time, and out of the crowd Billy Ruane swivels up to me with a drink in one hand and a stack of CDs under his arm and says, “Hey! I wanted to lay some music on you. I think you’ll appreciate this stuff!” He hands me a stack of incredible albums I’d never heard, by the likes of Abbey Lincoln, John Cale, and Rhys Chatham. I was really struck by the gesture, and it was the atmosphere of the packed club that made it all meaningful.
RYAN WALSH (left) (Hallelujah the Hills)
My first band, the Stairs, couldn’t get booked into any legitimate clubs around town. Finally we were booked as the opening band on a night with four local bands at T.T.’s, and I was treating it like I had won the Super Bowl. After our set, a friend begged the other bands and sound guy to let us play again after the headliner. For some reason, everyone agreed to this and we played another set at midnight. The next time we tried to book a show there, booker Randi Millman was very welcoming because she hadn’t seen a bold move like that in a long time. For a while, she referred to us as “the only opening band to ever play an encore.” I still cringe when I think about it. We learned rock-etiquette lessons like this the hard way, but at least we got to do it somewhere as cool as T.T.’s.