Youth Brigade (Jan. 29, 2010)
Local rock ‘n’ roll club with rich history is brought back to life, again
“John, don’t let the club burn down.” That’s one sentence that Sacramento-area resident John Webb will not soon forget, especially as the seminal club he watched burn more than 30 years ago prepares to be resurrected yet again.
It was a late night on May 27, 1977 and Webb was closing up shop at the Shire Road Pub in Fair Oaks, a rock ‘n’ roll club that he and some high school friends had opened four years prior. The club’s owner, Gerald Sterchi, was on a motor home trip to Canada and had left Webb in charge. It was a Friday night, one of the venue’s busiest. The band had finished up and the crowd of drunken patrons had cleared. Webb went about his normal closing routine: He cruised through the club, checked all the bathrooms, walked into the band room and made sure everybody was out. Everything looked perfectly fine, just like at the end of every other night, so he hopped in his car and made the long drive back to his home in Folsom.
Webb had just gotten home at about 3 a.m. when the phone rang. He answered, only to hear someone from the fire department speak the dreaded words, “The club’s on fire!” Webb jumped back in his car in disbelief and raced back down to the club. He was driving so fast, in fact, that he got pulled over by the Folsom police. The officer let him go, of course, once he heard Webb yell, “My club’s on fire, my club’s on fire!” But by the time he got back to the bar, it was too late. “I couldn’t do anything but watch it burn down,” Webb said. “They were fighting it, but it was pretty well gone. It pretty much totaled the place.” The club he had helped build with his own two hands burned down right in front of him. “It was devastating. Especially since I was told not to ‘let the club burn down.’ Honest to god, that’s what [Sterchi] said to me before he left,” Webb remembered with a good chuckle.
After the smoke cleared, Webb and his associates learned the official story from the fire department. A smoldering cigarette left behind on the couch in the band room had started the blaze. It was indeed a tragedy; Sacramento had lost one of its most happening rock ‘n’ roll clubs. It was the place where 1960’s pop band The Beau Brummels, after having been broken up for eight years, recorded their Live! album; the place where Webb snuck beers to a then-19-year-old local guitar shredder named Craig ChaquiÃƒÂ§o, who later went on to play in Jefferson Starship; the place where Webb had booked a “little-known band out of the Bay Area for $500 for two nights” called Pablo Cruise, who later went on to have huge commercial success with songs like “Whatcha Gonna Do?” and “Love Will Find a Way,” both of which charted in the Top 10 in 1977 and 1978, respectively. “It’s hard to describe the time that we had there,” Webb remembers of those years spent at the club. “It was a really magical time.”
Fast-forward about five years to 1982. Webb, who obviously was out of a job after the club burned down, had started his own talent agency called Star Attraction and was booking all of the hottest local bands in nightclubs all over Sacramento and Stockton, even Reno, Nev. Sterchi, meanwhile, was dead-set on re-opening Shire Road Pub and ultimately did so in a building on the corner of Auburn and Garfield that had previously housed a bar called Froma’s.
“Geri came to me and he wanted Star Attraction to book the club, so I did that for a few months,” Webb remembers. “Then, he said, ‘John, I’d like for you to come back and run the club for me.'” So Webb did just that—he went back to the club and ran it for Geri and his wife, Karen, just like he had all those years ago at the original Fair Oaks location. He stayed there and managed the place until 1987, when he retired from the entertainment industry.
This new incarnation of the Shire Road Pub also served the Sacramento rock community well, but the music scene was drastically different than when the original club was around. “The rock scene was going largely toward VJs and DJs and getting away from the live music, and music was just changing,” Webb says. “It was going more toward hip-hop and the whole live music scene was slowly dying. We had had about 25 years’ worth of a run and we thought that was pretty darn good for a rock club.”
The Shire Road Pub version 2.0 eventually closed its doors in 1994 and soon after became a strip club called The Body Shop. Don’t think of it as inferior to its predecessor just because it didn’t go out in a blaze of glory; there were some noteworthy bands that played there too. Take, for instance, the hard rock band now known around the world as Tesla, who still called themselves City Kidd when they played the pub; or Steel Breeze, a band from Sacramento whose 1982 single “You Don’t Want Me Anymore,” out on their self-titled RCA Records debut, made it to the Top 20 on the charts. It was a hot spot for up-and-coming local bands like Target and 58 Fury, which featured longtime local musicians Darin Wood and Joe Johnston (who now runs the popular recording studio Pus Cavern). “I remember playing four sets of mostly covers on Sunday and Monday nights,” Wood recalled of the Shire Road Pub. “Kenny Nicholson, the house sound guy at the time, would tell me, ‘You got to talk more in between songs, say some shit. I don’t care if you read the newspaper, just say some shit!'”
George Gosling, a music buff who helped run an artist management company at the time called Pyramid Productions, remembers showcasing bands at the club’s second location. “I did a U.S. debut of a Canadian band that I managed called Stonebolt,” Gosling recalled. They were from Vancouver, had a record deal with a subsidiary label of Casablanca. We did a big party on the opening night and many of my family members, friends and associates were there.” Stonebolt, just one week later, went on to Hollywood to showcase for Billboard, Cashbox, Record World, Variety and the entire Casablanca staff. Yes, the Shire Road Pub was surely a special place that many Sacramento rock ‘n’ rollers remember fondly and miss dearly.
Tom Kimble, owner of the Kennel Club (aka Doghouse Saloon), also on Auburn Boulevard, is definitely one of those guys. When Kimble got word that The Body Shop was closing down last year, he made some calls and was in contact with the building’s owner the next day. He told him about this great idea he’d had to turn it back into the rock ‘n’ roll club that everybody remembers, only this time a little different: the club would be an all-ages venue, with no alcohol available. It took a few visits to persuade the owner, but eventually he saw Kimble’s dream.
“It was important to me,” Kimble said of bringing back the rock club in the same building. “When I walked in there I still pictured what it used to look like.” According to Kimble, the Shire Road Pub was the place to be. “I used to go there all the time,” he remembered. “You couldn’t get in that place on the weekends, it was really happening. If we couldn’t get in, we’d wait. It was always packed, and very loud.”
And so with the owner of the building’s permission, Kimble got to work on the new Shire Road Club (the word Pub got changed to Club since they aren’t serving alcohol). “I can’t put it back exactly the way it looked,” Kimble said of re-piecing together one of his favorite extinct rock clubs, “But I can get it close.” Kimble and a small group of friends and helpers are still trucking along; even as of press time for this issue they were laying carpet, painting walls (local graffiti artists are scheduled to customize the inside of the venue with rock-themed art), setting up stage lighting and basically working their asses off to get everything set up for their first official show on Jan. 15, 2010. It’s hard work that these guys seem more than willing to do for the area’s live music fans, especially the younger ones that so often can’t enjoy a show because it’s at a bar.
Making sure the new Shire Road Club is an all-ages venue was very important to Kimble throughout the lengthy, tiring feat of remodeling and re-opening a venue. He’s spent many years dealing with drunken band members and angry patrons at his bar/venue the Kennel Club, and he’s quick to point out how old that gets. He’s not worried about dealing with hordes of punk rock kids, though, who are typically stereotyped as “bad kids.” He’s got a different outlook on that whole crowd.
“Just because a kid wears a leather jacket with spikes on it, he’s not a bad kid, that’s just what he’s wearing.” Kimble says, “I want to have an all-ages venue where they can enjoy the music that they know and the music that they wrote. Let them express themselves. It isn’t about me dude, nobody gives a shit about the club owner, it’s about the kids. If the kids are happy and they have a place to go, I think I’ve accomplished what I wanted to do.”