Lifestyle » Vol. 5

Big Hair, Bad Clothes, Great Music…

Rockin’ Live in the ‘80s
By Lauren Koblara

The 1980s are famous (perhaps infamous) for eight-inch high bangs, puff sleeves, and day-glow neon colors, all of which made for some truly embarrassing ensembles. Thankfully, the decade does have its redeemable qualities and in Worcester, the live music scene was enough to make up for those LA Gear high tops and that Members Only jacket you would like to forget.

On any given weekend, club-goers could take in live local and national bands and listen to anything from New Wave to Punk to Rockabilly. Despite the 1982 opening of the Centrum, the smaller city clubs were still popular destinations with Worcester residents hungry for live music. So throw on that faded concert T-shirt and plug in the crimping iron, it’s time to remember the places that made living in Worcester during the ’80s absolutely rock.

The decade started off with a bang here in Worcester. In the summer of 1981, the Rolling Stones released their album “Tattoo You.” Soon after the release of the album’s first single “Start me Up” the Stones were winding down a recording session at the legendary Longview Farm Studios in North Brookfield. To prep for the upcoming tour, the band was looking for the perfect warm-up gig. Rumors of a surprise rehearsal show began to circulate all over the country, but the Stones only played one venue in one city before starting the official tour…Sir Morgan’s Cove on Green Street in Worcester, of course!

Billed under the cover of “Little Boy Blue and the Cockroaches” for the September 14th show at Sir Morgan’s, the Stones managed to keep the big news quiet until the last minute, when information was leaked across the radio waves. As many as 11,000 fans packed the streets surrounding the small club (now the Lucky Dog Music Hall,) trying to get inside or at least catch one guitar riff that might have escaped Sir Morgan’s walls. Just over 300 lucky fans were able to see the Stones perform that night.

The Stones at Sir Morgan’s Cove, summer of ‘81 - photographed by Ron Pownall

But as big as the Stones’ show was, it wasn’t the first national act to play on Green Street. Sir Morgan’s Cove had hosted major rock bands like Aerosmith and Boston prior to September 14, 1981. But, there is no argument, the Stones show is definitely considered the shining moment of Worcester’s rock club history. If you weren’t one of the 300, you can check out the shrine to the night the boys from Britain played Worcester on the wall of the Lucky Dog and at gain some satisfaction with the fact that Jumpin’ Jack Flash once shared that very space.

Next stop on this live music time train: Ralph’s. Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner on Prescott Street is undoubtedly a landmark to the Worcester club scene’s past, present and future. The eclectic and borderline bizarre atmosphere of Ralph’s is entertainment on its own and speaks of all of the amazing live acts that the club has seen over the decades. The cable car style diner was moved from its original Route 9 location and attached to a factory by Ralph Moberly, the late founder of Ralph’s. Moberly began changing the face of the city’s nightlife in 1979. During the ’80s, Ralph’s was constantly packed and the very foundation of the building would vibrate with the buzz of the bass speakers. Ralph’s was virtually a revolving door for early punk kings like Black Flag and underground rockers like Husker Du. Rounding out the show schedule with local bands that spanned the musical genre spectrum, Ralph’s was one of the hottest spots in Worcester and continues to bring in audiences and great live acts today.

Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner

On a larger scale than the barroom style night clubs, the EM Loews Plymouth Theater on Main Street was a major live music venue and brought in some big ’80s names as well. The 2,000 person capacity art deco styled theatre originally opened in 1927 and is currently functioning as the hard rock/metal venue the Palladium. During the 1980s, EM Loews hosted shows by the Jerry Garcia Band, Frank Zappa, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, to name just a few. The theatre was big enough to draw in acts that may have otherwise only played in Boston, but small enough to have a club-like atmosphere. It was the best of both worlds and brought a bit of the dive bar rock scene to a wider audience.

Worcester definitely had its fair share of clubs and music halls that left their marks on our ’80s memories. Whether you were a college student living in the city or were one of the many club-goers who traveled into Worcester from all corners of the state, all eyes were on the small stages of Central Massachusetts. And while Worcester’s live music scene is still in full swing, you just can’t beat those big hair, bad clothes,’80s nights.

Frank Zappa

Remember these Live Music Clubs from the ’80s?

Bahama Bob’s


The Firehouse Café


The Last Chance Saloon

Le Jardin

The Loft


Pics:; Stevie Ray Vaughn; Jerry Garcia; Frank Zappa

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