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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 38
2/11/06 R.I.P. Frederick’s Music Lounge. In 1989, I produced a compilation cassette (remember those?) of roots-influenced St. Louis musicians. In my search for contributing artists, I called all of the finalists from the "country" category of the annual Blueberry Hill songwriting contest. I talked to one guy who said, "Yeah, I’ve got my song on the jukebox here at my bar."
So I followed the guy’s directions to 4454 Chippewa. The rustic sign out front let me know that I had found Frederick’s Music Lounge, but the front door was locked. I rang the doorbell and within a minute I was greeted by the proprietor, an older gentleman named Fred Boettcher. He let me in and set me up with a cold beer…even at around 8PM, I was the bar’s only customer. Boettcher was quite the gracious host, telling me stories about playing country and rockabilly music around St. Louis back in the fifties.
After a while, an old buddy of his showed up and added a few of his own stories over a couple more beers. Eventually, Fred punched up the numbers on his jukebox and I got to hear the song he had written and recorded. It was a slow, sentimental song called "Raining On My Love", complete with thunderclaps in the background. He gave me a copy of the 7" record (remember those?). As he showed me out, he took me through a door and into the living room of his house, which conveniently adjoined the bar. He showed me his old hollowbody electric guitar. It had been out of tune for years, but he was still proud to show it to me. I thanked him kindly for the beers, stories and record.
I pretty quickly decided that "Raining On My Love" wasn’t going to fit in with the way my compilation project was shaping up and wrote Boettcher a nice letter explaining as much. I never gave much more thought to that little encounter until…
Fast forward to around 1992…a buddy and I are walking in to Mississippi Nights and the doorman asks to see our IDs (remember that?). When my friend whips out his ID, it doesn’t say "Fred Friction" it reads, "Fred Boettcher". And right away, I’m asking, "Are you…?", "Is that…?", "So you must be…" Fred Junior. A couple of loose pieces just fell into place in my little world.
Eventually Fred Friction quit his restaurant gig and went to work at his dad’s bar, slowly but surely transforming it from a place where a sparser, older clientele would sip on Budweisers and play bumper pool into the most fun and funky dive bar/live music club I’ve ever known.
When Fred, Sr. passed away in May of 2000, his good friend Paul Stark took it as a personal obligation to assist Fred, Jr. in keeping the bar going. They shut the place down for a couple of months to remodel. The oddball décor got even funkier. In addition to the fake tree, peculiar paintings and tiki-hut looking bar, the living room was set up as a backstage/green room area, a bubble machine showed up and women’s lingerie was hung from the blades of all of the ceiling fans. The courtyard out back collected an assortment of picnic tables, toilets and wheelchairs. Huh? Eventually a deer head that wiggled around by remote control appeared behind the stage.
Fred and Paul reopened the place in July of 2000 as a live music venue. Early on, they didn’t ask a cover charge, requesting, instead that an "exit fee" be voluntarily contributed into a box by the door. It didn’t take long for them to realize that this wasn’t gonna raise enough money for the bands…plus, as the bar got more popular, they now needed to employ a doorman and someone to run sound. Growing pains.
The Frederick’s experience began even as you pulled into the parking lot across the street- based on how many (or few) cars were parked, you automatically began to anticipate the level of intensity inside the bar. And it continued as you’d shake hands with whoever was working the door (if it was Bob, you’d get a joke and a look at some new cartoon or photographs) before heading down the stairs, smiling at a bunch of faces grinning back. By the time you made your way to the back of the room, Trish or Dana already had a bottle of your favorite brand perched on the bar.
Some nights the place was packed, but just as often, it wasn’t. More than once, there were more band members in the house than audience members. An average night was probably in the 30 people range, and given the size of the room, that felt just fine. A list of bands that played at Frederick’s would contain a lot of obscure minor league acts that nobody has ever heard of. Even the bigger names (Dresden Dolls, Drive By Truckers, Rosie Flores, The Bottlerockets, The Handsome Family) wouldn’t ring a bell of recognition in mainstream America. On nights when turnout was low, Paul would bring a couple of tables in to fill in that uncomfortable space up front and bring people closer to the band. One time Fred brought a blanket and some snack food out and set up a little picnic in front of the band.
In addition to the odd assortment of bands coming through the door, there were a few constants: the Highway Matrons practiced in the basement every Monday night (while movies were shown in the bar), Thursday night was the city’s most notorious open mic night and Diesel Island played seventies country covers once a month.
Anyone who ever spent any time in Frederick’s has their stories. Here are a few of mine:
Turn off your headlights before you pull into that parking spot.
Dana was the main force behind Frederick’s Band Scramble: musicians signed up (by instrument) to have their names drawn from a hat and arbitrarily assigned to a group that was given a couple of weeks to work up a brief set of music. A couple of weeks later, each "band" performed its set before a full house and a panel of judges…the winning band got a major cut of the sizable door take. No musical ground was broken on those nights, but everyone had fun.
There was the night that Paul decided he needed a hand putting that big TV up on the shelf above the stage. He enlisted the help of the handful us hanging at the bar. Next thing we knew, we had this drunken reenactment of the Iwo Jima monument going as we collectively hefted the mother into place.
Once Fred had a few stitches in his forehead from a nasty fall he had taken. One night he and Bill Wiser decided it was time for those stitches to come out. Bill came up with a pair of scissors and cut ‘em out right there at the bar. It creeped me out.
Without any advance publication, The Bottlerockets played their first gig with new guitarist John Horton at Frederick’s. Even so, the word got around enough that there was a line out the door. John’s value to the band was immediately obvious, and they’ve only gotten better as Brian and John have played together more.
If I had to pick my personal highlights among the hundreds of bands that played at Frederick’s, I would go with the hard-core original country twang of Porter Hall Tennessee and The Star Room Boys, the first few Diesel Island shows (fun with the seventies country covers), that lone Bottlerockets show and a loud, crowded and somewhat sloppy night with Two Cow Garage and Grand Champeen. The Phonocaptors grabbed me pretty good a couple of times, too. Early on, Nadine would occasionally play an unannounced weeknight gig; these were less "shows" than casual sessions relocated from their usual rehearsal space.
One night I got pressed into service when the doorman was a no-show. It was kinda fun seeing the whole evening come and go from the vantage point of that stool at the top of the stairs (and with no beer).
Once this odd band from central Illinois came and played this dramatic stoner metal music. Their lead singer sported a textbook mullet and licked Cheese-Whiz off of a strap-on dildo while an entourage of five or six "performers" took the show onto the floor (there were only about 20 people in attendance, so this crew pretty much had the floor to themselves). These folks were wearing masks, g-strings and/or strap-ons and performed all kinds of simulations with an assortment of dildos and inflatable sex dolls. One heavily tattooed lad laid out on a bed of nails while the flabby frontman stood on his chest. The terrorists hate our freedom.
But the most unique feature of Frederick’s was the fact that Fred’s living quarters were just on the other side of that door at the top of the stairs…so when local laws dictated that the bar close at 1:30, Fred was known to herd a few friends into his living room or kitchen, where the party could continue indefinitely. And it often did. Sometimes it was a standing-room-only deal, other times it was just me and Fred, listening to records and talking until way late. I always managed to navigate the seventeen minute drive home, some nights later than others…like the time I pulled into my driveway in the daylight as my neighbor was loading his fishing gear into his car. Hopefully this incident will prevent him from trying to recruit me as a leader in our kids’ Cub Scout Pack.
And then there was the night of the sleepover. We hung out with Dave Insley and band before they loaded out for their hotel. Eventually Trish the bartender and Steve the doorman left and it was just me and Fred drinking and talking. At some point, he asked if I wanted one more beer. I replied that if I did, I probably shouldn’t drive home. He served ‘em up and I ended up crashing on the futon in the "office". Unfortunately, I had left my cell phone out in the car. So when Nancy called me at 7AM, she got no answer and grabbed my friend Dave to help look for me.
Their first guess was accurate…they found my car in the lot across from Frederick’s and started hollering at me through the mail slot around 9AM. Eventually I woke up, while Fred remained crashed out in his bedroom. Nancy was more happy that I was OK than mad that I had made her worry so much. I don’t deserve someone so kind. Anyway, after a mild scolding, I hopped in my car and headed up Kingshighway with KDHX on the radio. When the song ended, Roy’s voice came on saying, "Apparently Rick Wood has been found, call off the search…" People still give me shit about it.
If someone asked me who my best friend is, I’d pretty quickly answer "Fred Friction" (of course, there’s my wife and kids, but that’s a different category). Fred, on the other hand, has lots of best friends. I’m lucky to make it out to the bar a couple of times a week, while Fred lives there. It’s hard to imagine. Over the years, I’ve become pretty good friends with a bunch of his other best friends. There’s a real sense of kinship there- any friend of Fred’s is a friend of mine.
And now Frederick’s Music Lounge is closing. The building is being sold in order to split up the value of the estate among Fred Senior’s six children. Behind the scenes for the past year or so, a few people have tried to find someone who would buy the place and keep Frederick’s as a tenant, but over time it became apparent that the property had more value to someone with another use in mind. It’s really the best financial deal the family could get. What ya gonna do? Things change.
Ten years ago, the epicenter of our little live music scene was Cicero’s Basement Bar. When it closed in 1997, it preemptively answered the question, "How long can we keep doing this?" I feel like we’re somehow right back at that point. There are still a handful of small-scale live music venues in town, each with its own character and set of regulars, but I’m not likely to adopt one of these places as my new home-away-from-home. It’s probably just as well. I won’t come home smelling like smoke and I might end up living a little longer.
2/11/06 Two Cow Garage, Frederick’s. The last scheduled night of live music at Frederick’s…by the time I showed up at around 10PM, there was a "sold out" sign out front…it helps to know the doorman. I heard the last couple of songs by Fertilizer Bomb: covers of Fleetwood Mac’s "You Can Go Your Own Way" (they punch it up, big time) and "The Hammerlock".
Between bands there was a wistful, reflective tone to the conversations. Lots of pictures (as well as some video footage) were taken tonight.
The Saps are a Chicago pop/punk band that have played at Fred’s pretty regularly over the last few years. Fred specifically asked to have them on the bill for the last night of music. The band that most folks (myself included) compare them to is early Old 97s…that simplistic, sped-up country-ish boom-tap drum drives things as the lead singer sings in a dopey drone. I liked them best when they shed this mode and got more tuneful, like, say, The Descendants.
When Fred asked Two Cow Garage if they would play on the last night of live music at his bar they responded with a two-word email: "of course". Shane got things going on acoustic guitar with the Will Johnson (Centromatic) song "Gunmetal and Engines". On song #2 the rest of the band joined in and they did what they do best: hard-hitting, grungy country-rock. As the set wore on, rounds of beers were bought and passed around among the dense crowd of familiar faces. Things got pretty sloppy as songs like "Hillbilly", "Alphabet City" and Neil Young’s "Vampire Blues" roared by. Fred and Kathleen were front and center in the dense crowd. Being the gracious host he is, Fred made sure he had a drink with as many of his friends as he could, which made for one plastered proprietor. He was having a hard time standing up. The encore featured their ultra-grungy take on The Beatles’ "Don’t Let Me Down" (Micah announced that they were retiring this song after tonight).
Fred did manage to make it to the microphone to say a few words…toasts raised, fond remembrances. They made it go for five years. Fred then coerced the band to do one last song.
Years from now when someone asks, the last song that was played on this stage was Poison’s "Talk Dirty To Me", requested by Trish and Dana. During this one, Fred got way sloppy…some combination of falling down, hugging and/or tackling everyone on stage as they tried to make it through the song (they actually did, kinda). Toward the end, Micah was playing on his back and most of the drum kit was strewn about the stage. Eventually, Fred made it to his feet long enough to fall in the direction of the crowd who passed him hand over hand back to the bar. I didn’t remember this until people talked about it the next day and I vaguely recollected witnessing this foolishness. Not sure of the timing, but somewhere in there, Dana stepped up to the mic for one last time to implore everyone to "GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY BAR!"
What apparently followed (I honestly don’t remember, even after attempts at reminding me) was recounted by Heather (there seem to be pictures to confirm it): "then some woman (Katherine from Maidrite) came out dressed in a harem outfit, carrying a candle & did some sort of belly dancing moves on a chair in front of the stage. And then another man dressed as a priest (Jesse Irwin) came on stage to administer "last rites." From there people began to filter out. Just as the end was a bit vague tonight, Paul was a bit vague about the end of the bar, in general. The official closing date of sale isn’t for another few days, so this may not be the absolute last night…
I was sent on an ill-fated beer run to the 7-11 (too late) but made it back to the bar, skirting around a minor traffic accident right out front. I eventually decided enough was enough and said goodnight around 3AM. About twenty or so people were still going strong in various sub-parties in the bar, kitchen and green room. It still hasn’t quite sunk in.
2/13/06 Private Party, Frederick’s. Having sold out of almost every form of alcohol two nights ago, tonight’s send-off party was a low-key BYOB affair. Most of the employees of Frederick’s and a handful of friends showed up. Trish and Dana were hanging with a few other people at the bar while a handful of people passed the guitar around up in the kitchen. Without going into a song-by-song critique, I heard a song or two by Mark Stephens, Justin Brown, Jesse Irwin, Dave from Rugburn, Katherine from Maidrite, Marc Chechik, Bob Reuter and Fred Friction. I particularly liked Fred’s "Whiskey I Drink"…when he sings "I wish I were as strong as the whiskey I drink" it rings as real as anything you’d ever care to hear.
Between the music, talk and beer, things went real late. Eventually Nancy called my cell phone telling me it was time to come on home. Paul and I worked out a deal where he’s storing a couple of the bar’s beer signs at my house until further notice. After loading them into my car, I went back in for one last round of hugs and walked out of the place for the last time around 3:30AM. Or not…
…a few days later, Kathleen (Fred’s wife) was telling Nancy how stressed out she was about having to move everything out of the Frederick’s location by Monday, so Nancy kindly volunteered my help. I called Fred on the way over to see if he needed me to pick up boxes, or tools or anything…he asked me to pick up some beer.
The realtor was there as well as the new owners- an Asian couple and their two kids who looked to be around eight and ten years old. The husband was wearing a Cardinals cap. The wife didn’t speak much English. They definitely didn’t strike me as sleazy developer types. I was struck by the contrast between watching a good friend’s run come to an end and seeing these enthusiastic immigrants (presumably) looking at the same space with some kind of dreams for the future. Things change.
There was a skeleton crew of maybe six friends and assorted siblings piling stuff into (and eventually beside) the dumpster out back, and loading other stuff into trucks bound for Cape G. and Kathleen’s place in south city. We got up on ladders and removed some really dusty speakers. Just after dark, Fred said that was enough work and we all sat at the bar for one last beer(s). Leaving the bar after the final show on Saturday somehow felt unreal, but this nuts and bolts, down and dirty salvage effort made it feel very real…I walked out of the place for the last time around 7PM.