Requiem for a live room

'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have paid the cover at all

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We'd be willing to bet that the area comprising Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater has had more original-music venues open and close over the last 25 years than any other metropolis of comparable population. There's the fact of its strange, itinerant demographics. There's the fact that it covers a huge chunk of geography. And there's the fact that we found we can't possibly archive them all here — every time one of us blurts out a name we forgot, the other comes up with three more.

And we've been going out for decades, man.

So we quit (where the hell was the Paint Factory, anyway?), sticking with the many we, our colleagues, and a few longtime local-band fanatics know and remember best. Yeah, we know we missed a couple. But we did pretty good, anyway. Take a look, and be transported by the magic of memory. Oh, and don't forget to pour a little liquor on the ground.

49th STREET MINING COMPANY '80s haven for local dirt-rock and hair bands that sat on 49th Street in St. Pete near 54th Avenue. The Bobby Friss Band played there regularly.

403 CHAOS At the tail end of the '90s, in a tiny record store across the street from the University of Tampa, bands that would soon redefine the sound of punk rock played for the door and a floor to crash on. Hot Water Music? Yep. The Get Up Kids? Uh-huh.

AGORA BALLROOM Probably Tampa Bay's first showcase club of the post-punk era. The late '70s/early '80s room, situated near the Tampa dog track, hosted the likes of The Ramones, Iggy Pop and [the loudest show Snider ever witnessed] Johnny Winter.

B.B. JOE'S Cool, homey spot for jazz lovers in the Jannus Landing block of Central Avenue. Singer Fred Johnson and his band played there for years in the '80s. The late cornet player Nat Adderley performed there, too.

BIG APPLE WEST Cozy '80s club on Central Avenue (just west of U.S. 19) in St. Pete that presented acoustic acts and some jazz.

BLUE CHAIR MUSIC Like 403 Chaos, The Blue Chair was an exceptionally community-oriented effort. Opened by a local writer (Marty Clear) and music/counterculture nut (Edwin Velez) in 1992 — with a whole lot of help from their friends — this record store/venue/hangout helped define "pre-Centro" Ybor City's funky, fringe-y flavor. Independent acts from grindcore to hip-hop played at both of the store's two successive locations, until the area's latest makeover redeveloped Blue Chair right out of the neighborhood.

BLUES SHIP Cool, rustic (upstairs) roadhouse on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City that presented regular slates of local blues talent and occasional national acts.

BOOMERANG'S This Clearwater bar virtually spawned mid-Pinellas' most fondly remembered rock clique, a cadre that included Men from Earth, Freaks Rule and several others (Smoked Nova, anyone?). The story about a whiskey-soaked, underage Billy Wells trying to break down the front door is, to the best of our knowledge, mostly true.

BROTHER'S LOUNGE A key cog in the '80s jazz club scene, Brother's was reputed to be run by the Mob. It sat in a windowed office building on the west end of Kennedy Boulevard. Citiheat was the house band for years.

CHESHIRE CAT Hardscrabble club in Gulfport during the '70s that hosted a lot of the area's better Southern rock bands.

CLEARWATER GUITAR GALLERY Situated in an office/industrial park, this little theater showcased such six-string talent as Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell and Leo Kottke.

CLEARWATER NATIONAL GUARD ARMORY Housed one of the most infamous shows in Tampa Bay annals — a little slice of mayhem with the Butthole Surfers as ringleaders. The mini-riot drew police and a story in the St. Petersburg Times that declined to use the band's name.

CLUB DETROIT Downtown St. Pete's answer to Ybor's fabled Ritz Theatre (currently Masquerade), Club Detroit was a highly sought-after Pinellas County gig for local bands during the '80s and '90s. Great stage, great sound, and lots of big names packed the small but great room over the years. Scott Weiland staggered in front of Stone Temple Pilots there shortly before "Sex Type Thing" exploded, and an early Primus show was so crowded that folks were smashed against the venue's glass facade like those algae-eating aquarium fish.

CLUB DIAMONDS One of very few live-music rooms between the Skyway and Sarasota proper, the neighborhood bar/rock club/billiards parlor gave original acts a venue for a little while just after the turn of the millennium. Rumors of Mob involvement surrounded its closing — the last we heard, it was a furniture warehouse.

CLUB MORE For a few years at the end of the '90s, Club More was the only reason for local-music fans to enter downtown Clearwater. Musician/carpenter Flash Gordon and his associates booked up-and-coming nationals, as well, and strove to make the entertainment the Bay area's most eclectic for a venue of its size. It was a major blow to the scene when Club More closed in 2001; financial woes were the main reason but, this being Clearwater, rumors of political manipulation ran rampant.

About The Authors

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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