Happy 40th Birthday to the Best Little Blues Club in the Country: The Shaboo Inn

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This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of a legendary little night club in the sleepy town of Willimantic, Connecticut. The Shaboo Inn saw some of the biggest acts in the history of music perform on its stage. For major artists, it became the stop between New York and Boston, and for many acts, it drew the most enthusiastic crowds that many of them had ever witnessed. In big cities, there’s always a lot going on so you become a little jaded, but for the better part of 11 years, the Shaboo was the hottest spot for live music in New England.

It was the post-Woodstock era, and the Vietnam war was in its second decade, nearing its end.  The generation that bore the brunt of that war was weary but still young and experiencing an unprecedented musical and social revolution. The famous artists spawned by the social changes occurring during that time have remained timeless and cherished by those same kids who are now in or approaching their senior years.  The Shaboo Inn was the stage for so many of these musical greats and that stage was only 1 foot high and 1 foot away from a packed house of 750 – 1,000 delighted fans each night. All in all, the club produced about 3,000 nights of live music in a little over a decade.

The Shaboo Inn was an old textile mill built in 1847, that had been turned into a run down hotel, until 5 kids in their twenties from two families bought it and turned it into the most outstanding musical venue the state of Connecticut has ever seen. Other bigger clubs opened around the state with advanced audio and lighting systems but that’s not what made the experience of seeing an artist perform at the Shaboo so great. It’s not easy putting your finger on it, but the audience was so close and so packed in, that the artist felt the love of the crowd like they had never felt it before. The Shaboo was not just a great place for the spectator, but artist after artist, came back again and again, to experience the adoration of the people of  Connecticut and beyond.

Blues acts like Muddy Waters and James Cotton found the Shaboo to be their home away from home and pretty much let every act from the Missisippi Delta to the South Side of Chicago know that this was a special room for blues acts. They all came –  Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, BB King, Freddie King, Willie Dixon, Hound Dog Taylor, Big Momma Thorton and more all graced the small 15 foot by 30 foot stage.

But, the extraordinary thing about those 11 years that the club was open was that even though it was an established spot for superb blues artists, many other artists that weren’t doing arena tours, came through the doors. From rock, soul and rhythm & blues acts like Aerosmith, Journey, Hall & Oates, Joe Cocker, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Dr John, Sam & Dave, Blood, Sweat & Tears with Al Kooper, Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, David Crosby, Aztec Two-Step, Bobby Blue Bland, Buddy Miles, Tower of Power, Taj Mahal and Todd Rundgren, to jazz acts like Miles Davis, Weather Report, Les McCann, The Brubecks, Spyro Gyra, Gato Barbieri to breaking artists such as  The Police, ACDC, Talking Heads, The Cars, Tom Waits, Robert Palmer, Cheap Trick, Elvis Costello,The Ramones, Dire Straits and many more.

What was possibly the most awesome memory was watching great artists come of age. I was 13 years old the first time I saw a 24-year-old Bonnie Raitt play to a packed house on a Tuesday night for a $ 2.00 admission.  Years later, a little known band called Little Feat opened up for Bonnie Raitt, before they became one of the biggest acts in the country.

British legends performed like Jack Bruce of Cream fame, John Mayall, Manfred Mann, The Byrds with Roger Mcguinn and Steve Marriot with Humble Pie. It being the post-Woodstock era, acts that played the festival like Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Leslie West, Canned Heat and Johnny Winter made you feel like it was 1969 all over again.

Then there were nights when everyone’s parents took over the club as the big band sounds of Count Basie, Harry James, Woody Herman and Buddy Rich would be accompanied  by their 17 and 24-piece orchestras to bring back another great era of music.

You’ll never find a venue like this again, I don’t know if there will ever be another time in music like that again, but for tens of thousands of people who were lucky enough to be around New England forty years ago, it was a magical and sometimes mystical place in an amazing era in music.

This article will be the first in a series to celebrate the 40th birthday of this remarkable place.

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Scott St. John

About Scott St. John

I have worked in the media for over 30 years as a Producer,director, cameraman,photographer and in publicity. I have worked for the four major television networks and for over 20 different cable networks. From American Idol to the Today Show to HBO Documentaries to the Academy Awards, I have been fortunate to work at the highest professional level in television. As a photographer, my work has been published or seen online in magazines such as Maxim, Stuff, Us weekly, InTouch,Gotham, Shock, OK magazine and more. My work has taken me to the four corners of the world from Africa to South America to Europe to Japan. It's been a great run and I am happy to be on board with the News Burner team.

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43 Responses to Happy 40th Birthday to the Best Little Blues Club in the Country: The Shaboo Inn

  1. Donna Kozikowski October 23, 2011 at 6:22 am #

    Wow Scott, what a beautiful tribute to The Shaboo Inn. I will always be in awe of the talent that graced that little stage. If we only knew then what we know now. We were so fortunate to have experienced it the way we did. Memory lane! Love you & your writing.

  2. Jackie October 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    …oooohhh is that what I saw j/k…I couldn’t have said it better myself. I only saw the tail end, but good times and great memories.

  3. Alice Thompson October 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Hey Scott…your tribute to the Shaboo life we experienced as a family of friends was so well put. Music is a healer and a lot of us received so much from the artists who graced the stage those 40 years ago. Special thanks to Lefty, Mark, Scott, Kerry and Gary for putting so much endless energy into making Shaboo memories that will continue to live in our minds and hearts fovever, one day at a time.

  4. DC October 23, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    There are only few great places left where major acts got their start. Should be proud. HAPPY BIRTHDAY !

  5. mary lirot October 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    SHABOO WAS THE BEST OF THE BEST, EVERYTHING WAS AWSOME THAT HAPPENED THERE FRIENDSHISPS WERE MADE BANDS WERE MADE LIVE’S WERE TRANSFORMED. Thank so much for reminding us of how lucky we were to have had the pleasure of the experience.

  6. Scott St. John
    Scott St. John October 25, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I want to thank you for all of your great comments. I want to also thank Kerry, Mark, Bruce, David and Gary for taking a big chance back in 1971 and bringing some amazing music history to Eastern Connecticut. This would have never happened if it weren’t for the dreams and ambition of 5 kids in their twenties who believed that this could happen and would change the landscape of live music in the Northeast.

  7. Tom Long October 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    Thanks Scott, I ran into Lefty and Scrappin Jack, for the first time in years, a few months ago and your superb article brought all the memories back again… I was lucky enough to work as a door man behind the sound booth and I still remember how the whole club literally moved with the music. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  8. Jeffrey J Francois October 27, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    Scott,
    Thanks for writing this article. Those were some amazing times back at the “Boo”. It was a great place for Blues 101 as well as other genres of music. Also, local musicians would sometimes open up for a major act and on occasion sit in with a band. We were lucky to get in on some of that action. I was lucky to cut my teeth there. Are you playing any horn these days?
    I am looking for more pics from inside Shaboo. Posted Muddy and Charles on the FaceBook page so far. Do you have any pics from back then? I saw Jackie this year and talked on the phone with her and Sal while they were at the 40th reunion.
    I look forward to your future articles.
    All the best, Jeff

  9. George Rue January 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Hey Guys., I’m doing some research on old past gigs from the 70’s from the Shaboo.

    I’ve got a handful of live tapes that i need help on. the tape in question is of B.B. King. the date on my tape says Oct 4th 1975. but i know that might be wrong, becasue the stage announcer talks about up coming shows.

    Coming this fri & Sat is Roger McQuinn “just off the Bob Dlyan tour” (tour ended 5/25/76)

    Also mentioned “Then the following weekend on the 20th and 21st is Muddy Waters. “Just celebrated his 63rd Birthday” (Muddy Born April 4th 1913) (makes this after 4/4/76)

    All this info means that my tape of BB King dated 10/4/75 has to be after May 25th 1976

    Does anyone have info that can help me deterime what the correct date for my BB tape is??

    Reach me personal: bbking_archivist@sbcglobal.net

    Thanks George

    • Scott St. John
      Scott St. John February 12, 2012 at 4:20 am #

      George, I think it was 76, but Roger McQuinn and Muddy did play the club in 75 as well. And the announcer has to be Lefty, he was the only one that would announce the upcoming acts

      • Shubham February 15, 2014 at 7:35 am #

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  10. Michael Foster February 12, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    Hey Scotty…

    Thanks for the great post. I also want to thank your brothers and sister and my brothers for doing what everyone said could never be done…and enriching the lives of thousands of people because they took that risk…in the process. I remember you, too…you were just a kid when I was playing there…and you’ve ended up in the forefront of the entertainment business. The Shaboo not only put Willimantic, Ct on the map….but it turned the Willimantic area into a thriving musical melting pot and artist community…kind of like the Woodstock festival did for that area of N.Y. state. There’s a lot to appreciate about that place…and the years it brought the best music in the world to a small town in Conn. But the Shaboo Family of friends and artists figures very highly on that list. The bond was so powerful…that it still remains to this day.

    Hugs…Mike Foster

  11. Patti Daly Hitchcock February 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Scott,

    That is a wonderful piece. We are so fortunate to have had the Shaboo experience, and I feel so spoiled having been exposed to that much talent. It will remain one of the best time periods in my life. I too, have fond memories of you and everyone in the Shaboo family.

    Cudos and thank you,

    Patti

  12. Paula Marie Twichell April 19, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    Scott,

    Many thank for such a wonderful article. The music that came through Shaboo shaped my music taste and I am a faithful Blues girl.

    I remain grateful for what you guys did at this location. In my travels I have not found anything again quite like it.

    Paula

  13. barry easton May 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    hey scott its Ben a long time. great to here your doing so well . great article man wow the memory’s are the greatest times in my life . working there when i was 13 stocking coolers to playing there with acdc and pat travers and jamming with the chambers brothers was the best times thanks to you and every buddy who worked there !!!! barry

    • Chris Williams February 15, 2015 at 3:20 am #

      Hey Barry,

      I’m the guy who lived downstairs from you, Mark, and your Mom in that old apt. building up the street from Tony’s Pizza. Libbe Prague lived with me then. Just a quick note to say HELLO . I have to say, St. John’s article brought back some memories. Say Hey to Mark and the Foster Bros. and drop me an email. I live in sunny San Diego now, but I’m going to be coming back East in the Spring and maybe we can kick it a bit

  14. Mary Donovan June 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    Hi Scott ( and everyone else)! Wonderful to find this lovely tribute on Google! If anyone had told us back then that this would be possible….Well, anyway, I’m writing because many years ago Joe McDermott sent me a letter with a list of all the acts that had ever played Shaboo, along with a list of people who had worked there, and another loving, well-composed tribute.
    Tragically, my copy was lost in my move West. I’m wondering if anyone else still has their copy and would be willing to post it, or somehow share it with the rest of us.
    As you might imagine, most people do not *believe* the lists of artists who graced our “living room”. And while the names you posted here, Scott ( Thank you *so much*!)
    bring back so many vivid memories, (such a life changing experience for all involved), there was something about that list, especially with all the employees, that was a pice of history in and of itself. Take care all, be well, feel free to contact me. xx Mary

  15. Mary Donovan July 4, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    I can be reached at bouldonovan@q.com
    and would love to hear from any fellow-Shaboo-ees!

  16. steve"blind lemon"courtney November 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    I saw James Cotton at shaboo. #1 I was 16 w/a fake ID. #2 it was recorded..I have the album. I never bought a rock n roll album again.#3 I went home w/the hottest girl there.#4 I am an accomplished harp player today. I can play Cotton Boggie note for note.It seriously changed my life.Thanks

    • Scott St. John
      Scott St. John November 26, 2012 at 1:41 am #

      Hey Steve,

      yeah it was a great weekend. Cotton’s show was recorded with the Fedco live truck. Pretty sure it was 24 track but we were never really happy with the final mix on the album. Charles Calmese was on bass and you really couldn’t hear him. But we loved that band, Kenny Johnson on drums, Matt Guitar Murphy and George Gregory or Little Bo on sax. They were our house band and they were like family to us.

    • frank June 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

      Steve, what was the name of that album?

  17. Wayne Norman December 2, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    WILI-AM always had a close relationship with Shaboo, including airing a Sunday night concert series of acts taped on the Shaboo stage. We still have some of those tapes. And John Tuite occasionally plays selections from those shows on WILI’s “Vinyl Frontier” show weekdays 11am-noon. Our announcers have been proud to bring on the acts in the recent reunion concerts. See some recent and older photos here http://www.wili-am.com/shaboo.htm and also see a near-complete list of all the names that played Shaboo. And this page http://www.wili-am.com/wp_bows.htm features about ten different interviews I have done with David Foster, who adds more tremendous memories each time. Last time he told how he took Muddy Waters to the Eastbrook Mall to buy a dog at Puppy Love. Even though I’m up early, I was at Shaboo for many great nights (including Leonard Cohen’s “There are no ghosts here” show) and tragically also saw it burn. Wayne

    • Wayne Norman December 9, 2012 at 10:09 am #

      I stand corrected. David said was B. B. King who bought the dog at Eastbrook Mall–not Muddy.

      • Scott St. John
        Kerry John January 17, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

        Hi Wayne,
        B.B. had his son, Willie, buy the dog at Puppy Love. He fell in love with our 3 Malteses who lived upstairs for many years. I’d bring them to his dressing room to visit with him while I brought him hot tea with lemon each night before he played. He is a gentle man. KJ

  18. charlie cat December 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    scotty u were a great part of lou’s and the secret word and the many pin bal wizard nite afta great shows at a great club and only if you were there could u imagine the sounds so i sm glad u are doing so well peace

    • Scott St. John
      Scott St. John December 3, 2012 at 1:39 am #

      Thanks Charlie,

      I have great memories of you at Lou’s and of coarse of you at the front door at the club. As a little kid growing up at the club, it was like having 20 big brothers.

      Hope you’re well buddy

  19. Paul Ronan March 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    The Shaboo Inn! WOW We spent many incredible night at the Boo. Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Tom Waits, Kenny Rankin, James Montgomery etc…. I wish I could remember all of the shows I saw at the club. We would traveled up from Hartford in my brother Kev’s Volkswagon Bus , We were ready to party all night. and we did, Then the long drive home, Thanks Shaboo
    Paul Ronan

  20. Gene - London UK March 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    I grew up in Mystic, and in 1976-79 I’d make the drive like a pilgrimage as often as I could. Yes, I wasn’t 18, but that didn’t matter much. And the mayor of Willimantic giving James Cotton a key to the city didn’t twart the strong sent of cannabis in the joint either. But I got a master class in the Blues and much more, with the likes of James Cotton, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Muddy Waters and BB King. A couple of 60’s band not on your list that I saw, Country Joe and the Fish and Loudon Wainwright III. I’ll never forget seeing the Ramones or David Johansen there either.

    I still play the blues harp, I still listen to Cotton, and I’ll never forget the Shaboo.

  21. Paul Ashton May 14, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Last Saturday, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, James Cotton and Keb Mo’ were interviewed by Scott Simon. They were promoting James new album “Cotton Mouth Man”. During the interview, Keb recalls meeting James at the Shaboo.

    Here’s the link to the interview.

    http://www.npr.org/2013/05/11/182886348/james-cotton-the-voice-is-gone-but-the-wind-is-still-there

  22. Mike Sex October 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Awesome times at the Shaboo Inn….did not see mention of my favorite girl Lydia Pense and Cold Blood…..did a few shots with her at the bar between sets and been in love since…..just back from Nam and needed a place like that to go to…..Those were the times…..please God never let me forget them…..

  23. Laurie Van Den Beldt October 24, 2013 at 5:49 am #

    Wow….Saw so many of these talents when I lived on Tuckie Road in Willimantic. Great to see the photo. Would have several Miller High Life’s, dance my assignment off and get a great hangover, get up, and hitchhike to my job at the Mansfield Drive In Theater to pick up the field and clean the concession stand and bathrooms. Spend the evening at ticket booth and get a ride back to Shaboo. Thanks Jenny, Russell, Peter, Bob and Donna, and especially Donny Berg for the back of your Saab as my temporary bed when I got into town. Jenny Von Ins Meantz you saved my life. Shaboo. …I am now 30 years sober, but the music will never die. Namaste.

  24. Steve Adil November 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    Glad to see someone else remembers Lydia and Cold Blood – great show! Another of my favorites was NRBQ. They always tore the place up…

  25. Bob Bishop December 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    Went to Shaboo many times in the 70’s. Saw many wonderful artists perform there. Fell in love with David Bromberg band there. What an awesome, intimate venue. Just saw Bromberg again in NJ -awesome as always, 30 + years later. Is Shaboo still open? If so, he needs to return there.

  26. Rob December 23, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    God Bless the Shaboo Inn!!!!!! I remember seeing Joe Cocker and Arlo Guthrie there.

    Wow!!!! What a venue for music!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. tim January 13, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    Shout out for James Montgomery!

  28. Chris Williams February 15, 2015 at 3:27 am #

    Scott you brought a big smile to my face and an even bigger lump to my throut. I remember parking cars at the tender age of 14 in a blizzard the first time Journey was there ! Those were the days my friend, too bad they had to end.
    Keep the faith and leave on for me.

  29. Suzy May 17, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    This was hands down the best club that ever existed. I saw so many great shows there before I was even old enough to drive. Nothing has ever matched those days. So many great great acts, up close and personal. Loved it. Miss it. Those were the best days of my life. I saw some of the best music ever thanks to The Shaboo and my older friends(17 maybe 18 year olds)Wow, thanks for the memories!

  30. Mike Baker June 4, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

    Station wagon-loads of us came up from Middlefield & Durham to see the Ramones, the Dead Boys, Cheap Trick, Talking Heads, David Johansen etc in the late ’70’s! It was the VERY BEST of times!!

  31. Rich Aubin September 17, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    Long live The Shaboo Inn. Thanks for a great article. I have seen mention of Dire Straits touring “Commumique” in ’78. Does anyone other than I remember the bill in 76 or 77 – Graham Parker & the Rumour opening for Dire Straits? I swear that I can remember the show, but cannot find any confirmation on the web. I am beginning to doubt my memory. Regardless – long live the Shaboo-All stars & The (Fabulous) Rhinestones and a wonderfully historic CT club.

    • Scott St. John
      Scott St. John September 17, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

      Rich, the show did happen, it was one of Dire Straits first shows in the US after Sultans of Swing broke on American radio. It was 1978.

  32. Tina Gould October 24, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

    My husband and I spent many many magical nights at the Shaboo when we were first dating. He knew how to show me a good time! I found out he was only 17 when he was ordering beers for us one night! These comments have brought back so many memories for me. But I’m surprised that with all the mentions of the great bands, no one mentioned GrinderSwitch!!!! Boy, that was the band that my “then new boyfriend” learned I could dance to! Wowza, great times!!! Thanks for this, I’ll be watching for more. We are both grateful to have been part of this story.

  33. Tom December 21, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

    I saw AC/DC perform there on 8/26/78 with original lead singer Bon Scott. Angus Young dove on our table and laid on his side twirling around like a wild man. He had the first wireless guitar I ever saw and he played all over the Shaboo. That was THE greatest performance of any kind by any band I have ever seen. I was at the first table next to the stage on the right. I was literally 8 feet from the stage. Bon Scott was right in front of me and looked directly at me several times while singing.

    The other greatest show ever was when Dire Straights played Shaboo. Words cannot describe how great they were. You just had to be there. Other great shows I saw were the Ramones, Robert Gordon, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Greg Kihn, The Band, Dan Hartman, Orleans, and on and on and on.

    Greatest time of my life. My friends and I went almost every Friday and Saturday. Nothing like it will ever happen again. It was the highlight of my life.

  34. Kevin Lynch December 28, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    Nice summary Scott. Wish you could have kept on writing.

    I got my music history education at Shaboo from 1971-1980. Met a lot of great folks and spent some quality time (and not-so-quality time) with many artists upstairs. Later in life I had the honor of playing music with several of them, once I hit the touring scene.

    Both families deserve a place in music history for their perserverence and dedication to what I believe was a ‘Hall of Fame’ in itself at the old mill. And you’re right, such a time and place in music is not likely to present itself ever again.

    Lost lots of photos of Shaboo’s countless nights (as well as our Eagleville Speedway July 4th parties). But I do have some photos intact. I’ll never forgive myself for not taking advantage of a short window of opportunity I had to snag a few copies of the concert tapes. Sure is a shame if those all go bad without being preserved and available. It would be a great addition to a music research library.

    The memories are still clear, most of them anyway.
    It was a time.