Brian Rosenworcel, Guster
We would stop at Johnny D’s regularly, first as the opener and eventually as a headliner — I mean, it was a half a mile away, we ate brunch there anyway. Emblazoned into my brain is a night in 1994, a few months after Uncle Tupelo broke up. As an obsessed Tufts student and WMFO DJ, I cried actual tears lamenting the loss of that band. Until one day a new band named Wilco showed up at Johnny D’s. They didn’t even have a record out, and they played a set of new songs followed by a set of Uncle Tupelo songs, and my life was whole again. Probably the most restorative concert I’ve ever been to, and it was in the right place. After the show, Jeff Tweedy was just sitting at the bar having a beer, and I said hello. Will never forget that night.
Flo Murdock, former Johnny D’s booking agent, 1989-99
My very favorite show we ever had was the Texas Tornados. That was the most exciting show, and it was double exciting, because the whole day before they were trying to cancel. All the dinner reservations were sold out and the phone was ringing off the wall. They were booked in Canada the day before and had a really long haul to get there and didn’t want to do it. But, I tell you what, when they got there and played their first song, the energy level in that place was just unbelievable. The windows were not covered that night, because there were people waiting outside that couldn’t get in, and I remember Freddy Fender looking down and waving out the window at people.
Cousin Kate, WZBC “Sunday Morning Country” host
[Murdock] booked the Texas Tornados and then the following week or month they blew up on the charts, so the place was mobbed. The energy was insane, and all the Latin women were waving the white handkerchiefs, and it wasn’t the New Orleans thing; it was [wails] “Freddy!” It could’ve been underwear for all I know. When he did “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” it was literally a core meltdown in here.
Marie Akoury, general manager for the last nine years
I was in New York and I was taking a cab, and the cabbie asked me where I was from, and I told him Somerville and that I worked at Johnny D’s. And he said, “Get out of here! I used to go to Johnny D’s back in the day!” People, no matter where I go, want to talk about Johnny D’s — it’s crazy, it’s such a legacy that not a lot of families have.
Julia Cruz, Booty Vortex
One night I went and the place was almost empty, but there was this trio of guitar players called Trio Balkan Strings. It was a father and his two sons and they played the most amazing technical guitar, and I actually called my husband and said “You have to come check this out!” At one point, the father gets up and walks behind the son and starts playing the guitar with the son. And then the other son comes over, and all three are playing the same guitar at the same time, and it’s just this amazing, beautiful music. So that’s what you’d see one night, and the next night there’s Booty Vortex, and the night after they had [rockabilly legend] Sleepy LaBeef.
Mark Alston-Follansbee, executive director, Somerville Homeless Coalition
Carla [DeLellis] and her kitchen crew make scrambled eggs and oatmeal for 1,000 people at our road race every year. Imagine how much oatmeal and scrambled eggs that is! The guests at the shelter, which is right up the street on College Ave., would walk down to the kitchen, and once a week they’d give us dinner. She goes out of her way to be an active, positive member of the community. To me, a lot of what makes Somerville special is wrapped up in people like Carla.
Chandler Travis, Chandler Travis Philharmonic, The Incredible Casuals
So much to remember, especially the Christmas Cavalcades benefits, those outrageous “Ben Hur”-style melees we’ve had there every Christmas for 12 years, usually with as many musicians as customers. Fundamentally impractical, sprawling 5-hour, 20-plus act workouts, big-time labor for all involved, yet every year [booker/sound engineer] Dana [Westover] somehow put up with it, and in fact went out of his way to volunteer to do sound, even in later years when he wasn’t always working there. And Carla, our den mother, not only the consummate hostess but more involved every year, thinking of new ways to make more money for the cause, neither of them ever letting all that craziness get to them, always a ball to work with against all odds!
Sean Nelson, Superhoney
You could walk in on any given night with a high level of assurance of witnessing incredible talent on stage, oftentimes an act that wouldn’t fit in neatly in other clubs’ programming. They were curators in the purest sense, prioritizing the quality of the product over profits, and thereby introducing local music lovers to scores of bands that were just starting their ascent. But my favorite part of Johnny D’s was having it feel like home every time we played, from club matron Tina DeLellis holding court at the backside of the bar and ribbing musicians like they were her kids, to Carla’s ever-present and disarming smile, to a pre-show meal of savory steak tips with grilled asparagus and garlic mashed. The overall atmosphere was the very definition of culture and community: one to be both missed and celebrated for the ages.Interviews were condensed and edited. Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.