Shaboo’s memory to live on with reunion concert

Sharma Howard

It was a “Juke Joint Jump,” halfway down Highway 6.

In its heyday, the likes of Aerosmith, Daryl Hall & John Oates and Dire Straits performed there before they skyrocketed to fame and the funky old mill building known as the Shaboo night club, situated on the outskirts of two colleges in Willimantic, couldn’t contain them.

In fact, “Juke Joint Jump” is a song written by one of the performers who fell in love with the venue — Elvin Bishop, who was one of the mainstay artists that helped keep the Shaboo afloat.

“It became one of his hits,” said David Foster of Hampton, one of the five original owners of The Shaboo. “That’s something we will always cherish.”

The Shaboo hosted about 3,000 performances before it closed May 13, 1982, feeling the hit of the gas crisis of the late ’70s and the changing music scene, making booking bands more expensive. One week after the Shaboo’s closing, a raging fire destroyed the building.

Since its closing, Foster has started up his own business — Shaboo Productions, a musical instrument and equipment provider — and also performs with his band — David Foster and The Mohegan Sun All-Stars (formerly the Shaboo All-Stars) — at Mohegan Sun and elsewhere.

But Foster always looks back at those days with appreciation — tough as it was at times to get by — and still feels a connection with community.

So his 25th anniversary Shaboo Reunion Concert, to be held at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Willimantic Recreation Park, will benefit what Foster believes to be the most important institution in town — Windham Hospital.

With Jonathan Edwards (he always drew the beautiful women, said Foster, wistfully hopeful he still will) and the James Cotton Blues Band, as well as Foster’s Mohegan Sun All-Stars performing, he hopes to raise a significant amount of money for the hospital.

“We’re thinking of the citizens of the community. We want the hospital to stay strong and out of debt,” said Foster, who raised more than $100,000 for the hospital with three years of events at Jorgensen Auditorium at Storrs, and said he hopes to raise at least that with this one concert.

“This is a non-corporate affair,” said Foster, who added he is keeping the ticket price low — $10, in keeping with how they ran the place back in the ’70s.

“We were hippies trying to be socially conscious to patrons and run it like a business and exist. That’s why it’s $10 — it’s a tradition, being very fair in what to charge for a concert, and we want to continue in that tradition,” said Foster, joking it was a “wholesale music business.”

Kerry John, the sole female owner, and sister of two others, Gary and Bruce John, recalled the time as being very peaceful and loving; a generation traumatized by the Vietnam War.

“The ’70s were unique and exciting years socially and musically,” said John, who lives in Storrs and works as Foster’s assistant.

“I think by the time the ’70s rolled around when we opened, the peace movement had spread, the hippiness about being good to each other and the hope to have peace in the world,” she added. “There was a lot of love, so for out little place to mike it was like an accident. It was unbelievable what was happening musically.”

One of the people both John and Foster talk about with great affection is James Cotton, who frequently sold out a week for them, saving them more than once in difficult financial times.

“He’s just the face of soul when you see him. He’s been through a lot in life,” said John, declaring Cotton was “their favorite human being.”

Another person who came to the Shaboo’s rescue was Bonnie Raitt, and Foster dubs her the “Shaboo Angel.”

She was a performer they could call and ask for help, one that find them a day or two or a couple of weekend nights.

“Her night would come and we would sell out. She did that 30 times,” recalled Foster. “She was really caring. She loved the place and wanted to make sure we stayed open.”

Friendships, marriages, business deals — they were all made under the auspices of the bare-boned wooden building, which simply wouldn’t have had its success, said John, without the dedicated employees.

And the owners lived there, trying to pass the salt over sound checks.

“It was so very rich and wonderful,” said John of the Shaboo years. “People didn’t care what the building looked like, they just cared about the music.”

Norwich Bulletin

Reach Sharma Howard at 425-4235 or showard@norwichbulletin.com

IF YOU GO

What: The 25th anniversary concert that marks the 1982 closing of the Shaboo night club in Willimantic. Proceeds of the concert benefit the auxiliary to the Windham Hospital. The concert features Jonathan Edwards, the James Cotton Blues Band and David Foster and the Mohegan Sun All-Stars.

When: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. Rain date is Sunday.

Where: Willimantic Recreation Park.

Price: $10, children younger than 12 free.

Schedule: Jonathan Edwards, 5 p.m., James Cotton Blues Band 8:30 p.m., David Foster and the Mohegan Sun All-Stars ends the show. Gates open at 3 p.m. Fireworks by Zambelli will close the evening.

Other information: Lawn chairs and blanket welcome, but coolers, bottles and cans not allowed. Beer, soda, pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs will be on sale.You may park anywhere in town, including designated shuttle bus service lots. There will be shuttle bus service from these parking lots: Eastern Connecticut State University — parking garage; High Street lot; library; Shafer lot; Noble lot; ball filed (lower High Street). There is also service from Windham High School, Jillson Square and the SI/theater Guild lot. From municipal lots — the corner of Bank St. and Valley St., behind Wili Radio, and Church St.

AT A GLANCE

In its 12 years, the Shaboo night club in Mansfield had its share of amazing concerts. Many of the bands that came through were about to explode, while a good number of blues legends also stopped by. It was an eclectic club, one co-owner David Foster attributed to the eclectic tastes of the ownership. Foster was very much a blues/jazz man, the others had their own niches. Together, the Shaboo was never dull. Here are just some of the acts that came through the club’s hallowed doors:

The Police.

Aerosmith.

Dire Straits.

Blondie.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

Bonnie Raitt.

The Fabulous Rhinestones.

B.B. King.

James Cotton.

Tom Waits.

Miles Davis.

The Ramones.

Todd Rundgren.

Hall and Oates.

Muddy Waters.

Rick Derringer.

Elvin Bishop.

Jonathan Edwards.

Lou Reed.