Back in the 1980’s most people didn’t visit the West End unless they were attending a game or a concert at the Garden. With the Green Line T running over Causeway Street and the dark vibe it cast beneath, the area wasn’t exactly a tourist trap in those days. Most former residents had long been run out of the neighborhood and the residences replaced with seedy theatres and dive bars. Among all the “dirty old Boston” qualities of the old West End there stood an important club that supported local bands and the gritty Boston music scene of the day. That club was Chet’s Last Call.
Located across the street from the Garden on the corner of Causeway and Lancaster Streets, Chet’s was on the second floor up a narrow stairway above the old Penalty Box bar. Owned and operated by Richard “Chet” Rooney, Chet’s was not built for anything but live music. The interior was a special shade of orange and the walls were still mirrored from days gone by when it was a strip joint then a disco. That said, no one went to Chet’s for anything but to see and hear live local music from bands hungry to make the scene. There were clubs all over town but what seemed to separate Chet’s was the sense that you felt like anything could happen — bands had the freedom to be exactly who they were — even if they weren’t sure! This resulted in some raw, bare bones performances that weren’t always good, but were always real. Some of those who played Chet’s regularly were Scruffy the Cat, the Bosstones (pre-“Mighty Mighty”), and The Flys along with Lizzie Borden, and the Dogmatics. National acts like the Beastie Boys and Hüsker Dü also made the scene at Chet’s. Between 1983 to 1989 the club booked three bands a night from Wednesday to Sunday, giving acts that wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity elsewhere a chance to get on stage — and the rest of us a chance to hear them. And at the end of the day that’s probably the most important contribution that Chet’s Last Call provided all of us: a place for those that wanted to play and those that wanted to listen.
Then there was the man himself… described by many as somewhat cantankerous, Chet played hard just like his patrons. The nightly routine of drugs and booze finally caught up with Chet in the late 80’s and he had to make a change, with Chet himself saying to family members, “Chet is dead. Richard is back!” after successfully completing rehab. The kind of person he was, along with all he had gone through, made him realize he needed to help those who needed it — just like he did. Chet went back to school and became a drug and alcohol counselor, working to help the people that were once right alongside him, adding to his legacy of not only being there for the music but also for the people who made it.
Richard “Chet” Rooney passed away suddenly in late 2015 at the age of 61, with the many bands that appreciated him giving them a chance to play, staging a tribute in his honor after his passing and making a 2017 documentary, Chet’s Last Call: A Story of Rock and Redemption, with recorded performances and the groups telling their stories of Chet’s generosity and caring on and off the stage.
Coming from the many lives he touched… there is no better tribute than that.
(by Mark Turner)