Music » Music Stories

R.I.P. Mississippi Nights

The lights go out at a fabled club — but only after one hell of a party.

by and


Quotes compiled by Roy Kasten and Annie Zaleski.

"Most of my memories of Mississippi Nights were from when I was a kid, going and seeing bands, when the venue was half the size and the stage was in the corner. It's funny, I saw the Replacements open for X there, which were my two favorite bands at the time. I was fourteen; Tommy [Stinson, then the Replacements' bassist, now Fortus' current Guns N' Roses bandmate] was fourteen as well. It was pretty amazing. That was a really influential show to me."

— Richard Fortus, Pale Divine/The Eyes, now in Guns N' Roses

"Love it or hate it for many reasons, but Mississippi Nights was a venerable institution that consistently served up live music in St. Louis that no other venue could match. Maybe the stage was too high or the ceiling too low or the bouncers too surly. Sure, the sound system couldn't overpower the people drinking and talking near the bar — but Mississippi Nights, with its abundance of old brick and wood, had character. Mississippi Nights was like a portal to a musical world that existed outside the Midwest. Some shows I'll never forget: The Replacements opening for X, Wall of Voodoo, Sonic Youth, the Ramones, the True Believers (with Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham), Hüsker Dü (with Chuck Berry and Joe Edwards in the audience).

— Jay Farrar, Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo

"When I came back from Seattle (in the mid '80s), those people were really nice to me. It felt like home. I played some shows with Richard Thompson and Roy Buchanan, who I knew growing up, and it was really nice to sit around all afternoon and play guitar with Thompson. The sound system was always good. Favorite concert? Oingo Boingo. They were the best band on the planet at that time. Pavlov's Dog sold out the Kiel and the Ambassador; we weren't really playing clubs, but we did play Mississippi Nights, which was good. And I played there with my acoustic guitar for fun."

— David Surkamp, Pavlov's Dog

"Favorite shows were Red Hot Chili Peppers, on the 'Uplift Mofo' tour, with Thelonious Monster and Fishbone. I'd never seen anything like that. To see all three bands literally jump in your face. When they started, the lights were down, and then it was, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome FISHBONE!" and by the time they got to BONE the lights came on, they had jumped in the air, off the stage, right into the people. I was probably about twenty at the time, '87 or '88. The other good one from that time, I saw Ministry on the 'Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Taste' tour. That was the first time I was at a concert and was afraid. They had a fifteen-foot chain link fence bolted into the floor around the stage. All my friends saw Ministry at Lollapalooza in the sun. No, no, no. You gotta put them in a room with 1200 maniacs. That's fun. This is my last one, I promise: The best show, the very best show I ever saw, was Patti Smith. I was thinking, maybe I'm getting too old to be doing this, and then this 50-year-old lady comes out and kicks your teeth in. She was so on fire."

— Jimmy Griffin, King of the Hill, Neptune Crush, Nadine

"The one that stands out is a show that we had when I was with Fragile Porcelain Mice. An hour or two before we went on, Jay [Robertson] and I were sitting across the street enjoying a smoke after soundcheck, watching the line of excited youth file in like cattle, when a woman and her two teenage kids approached us and asked if the kids could take a photo with us. Jay and I had just joined the band in replacement of Tim O'Saben, so we had no idea that anyone had a clue as to who we were — or even cared for that matter. We accepted, took the picture, shook their hands, signed some things and took off. Later that night, while standing near my monitor during the show I felt a hand going up the inside of my thigh, straight-up caressing my shit, trying to go for the glory! I look down and it's the mother! I politely removed her hand, shook my finger in a 'naughty-naughty,' back-and-forth sort of fashion and went on with the set. I guess she wanted to take some pictures of her own after the show!"

— Chandler Evans, Ghost in Light

"We used to have some railroad cars parked [in back]. And the Ramones had a song that went, 'beat on the brat with a baseball bat.' We went with the Ramones road crew, we went chasing rats through the cars with a baseball bat. [And] there was a band called the Beat Farmers. [Singer/drummer Country Dick Montana] almost had his head taken off by one of the ceiling fans. For part of the show, he'd quit playing the drums and go sit in the audience. He stood up there and started singing — and didn't know there was a ceiling fan behind him. It took off his cowboy hat and maybe a piece of scalp."

— Ken Krueger, Big Fun

"There was the time in 1979 when Roxy Music was booked at Kiel Opera House. Due to 'circumstances' (i.e. ticket sales, no doubt) the show was moved to Mississippi Nights. Thing is, in 1979, Mississippi Nights had no provisions for underagers. One female ticket holder was so infuriated that she sued the promoter for selling her a ticket to an event that it turned out she could not attend. She remains an unsung hero of mine."

— Steve Carosello, Love Experts

"I remember Mississippi Nights as the symbol of 'The Landing' as opposed to 'The Loop,' when the Landing was where cover bands made good money playing songs they didn't write to people trying to get laid, while the Loop was where indie rockers (like my band, Enormous Richard) played their own hard-earned songs for pennies (also, for the most part, to people trying to get laid, but at least looking a little more individual — and supporting local artists while doing it). Because of its spaciousness, and the relative unpopularity of the early St. Louis indie-rock bands like mine, Mississippi Nights never took on any such-like mythic proportions in my mind or soul. Cicero's was our crucible; it was our home. Mississippi Nights was just a big room that booked cover bands and national acts. I mourn the old Cicero's — and to some extent the Hi-Pointe and Frederick's — but Mississippi Nights (for all the great touring bands that it hosted over the years) lives in my memory as the big drunk frat guy who wants you to play 'Freebird.'"

— Chris King, Enormous Richard

"It was November or December (I remember it was cold because we had no heat in our rehearsal space, a bombed-out storefront on Gravois). As soon as we heard the Ramones were coming to town, we put in our bid to be the opening band. Pat [Hagin, talent buyer]/Rich [Frame, co-owner] said the Ramones were touring with an opening act and thanks, but not needed.

"Move to night before. About 12:30 a.m. Pat Hagin calls and wants to know if we still want to open for the Ramones. All of my being wanted to just say yes, but I had to say, 'Let me talk to the guys in the morning and get back to you' (my heart was sinking thinking Hagin's not going to wait, he's going to find someone else). First thing in the a.m., probably too early, I got ahold of the rest of the band. We meet up way too early and way too cold and run through a 45-minute set to see if we could pull it off. It was a go, and after a nerve-wrenching wait before Rich or Pat answered the phone, the gig was on.

"The Ramones roadies were awesome! They not only set up our gear onstage, they asked us how we wanted our stage set up. They let us run through a full soundcheck and were just great guys to a lowly little local band. The gig came off without a hitch and the whole thing was over way too soon. The other members of the Retros went over to the hotel with the Ramones and did some pinball and hanging out. I got to drive the equipment truck home.

"The Ramones and their organization (and it was quite an impressive organization) have my eternal respect. They treated us as respectfully as they treated their own. I honor Pat Hagin and Rich Frame for letting me get away with the audacity of saying maybe to a golden opportunity and then still holding the door open for us. A lot of fond and unique memories will be buried at that building site. They took chances when no one else was willing, and it paid off. Mississippi Nights will always be remembered as a foundation cornerstone in the St. Louis music scene."

— Bob Chekoudjian, The Retros

"When Rob Wagoner and I were in our first band, White Suburban Youth, that later morphed into Ultraman, [Wagoner] predicted that one day we would play Mississippi Nights. It was a definite lofty goal, considering we had never played a show, and one year later we did play there opening for M.I.A. from L.A. in August of 1984. Pat Hagin paid us $50. I'm not sure what to say about what kind of impact it had on me, but it sure built up the presence of Ultraman, even if we only opened for someone once a year. It sort of made you seem bigger than you actually were in real life — like, 'They must be good, they played the Nights.' Ultraman played the Nights first in the spring of 1987 with Suicidal Tendencies, Exploited in March of 1988, Dead Milkmen in February 1989 (just after recording our first album in NYC, so we thought we were something else)."

— Tim Jamison, Ultraman

"Local bands would play there on the weekends. It was a different time, a different economy. People would go out, the Landing was filled with people. We would play for a long time — the idea was, the crowd would turn over two or three times in an evening. That's how they made their money. The first set was really tough. By the end of the night, it was a big rock show. it took a lot of endurance. The river was so close, that's sort of legendary to people traveling through the Midwest. I remember stepping out the back door on set breaks, trying to get a little mojo out from the river.

"People are not going out as much as they used to. They will again, something really exciting will probably happen. Some kid in the basement somewhere will come up with something super-offensive. That's the way it was when we were teenagers — there was Mississippi Nights and not a lot of places."

— Michael Apirion, the Unconscious

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