Many local music-goers still fondly remember the old Sunderland roadhouse club on Route 47 known as the “The Rusty Nail.”  

Burned to the ground 30 years ago this July, the Nail hosted an incredible array of local and international acts from Fat and the Ramones to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clean Living and James Brown.  

Executive Producer Tony Dunne takes us on a trip down Route 47 to find this gone but not forgotten landmark. 

This story originally aired on April 27, 2016. Find more stories of western Mass places that are “gone but not forgotten” here. 


Read the Full Transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Many local music goers still fondly remember the old Sunderland Roadhouse Club on Route 47: The Rusty Nail.

Burned to the ground over 30 years ago, the nail hosted an incredible array of local and international acts, including the Ramones, Stevie Ray Vaughan and James Brown.

Executive producer Tony Dunne takes us on a trip down Route 47 to find this gone but not forgotten landmark.

Ray Mason, Valley Musician: (Music) The Rusty Nail on this dusty trail. Route 47 There’s a little bit of Heaven. 

Ken Reed, Main Street Records: So the Rusty Nail was one of those places.

Jim Neil, WRSI 93.9 The River: It was out in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t tell you where it was. Now, if we drove past it, I probably wouldn’t recognize the place.

Jim Lash, Sound Engineer: It looked like this Just barn sitting out in the middle of a parking lot in.

Ray Mason: The parking lot would just be packed.

David Sokol, Valley Advocate 1977-1993 : Cars would be lined up on Route 47, all the way back to the Hadley line.

Jim Lash: I thought, Oh, boy, this is going to be fun. And I kind of expect a chicken wire in front of the stage and that kind of thing. And I walked in and it was very dark. A lot of wood inside.

Ray Mason: A woody would be a 

Peter J. Newland, Valley Musician: Term. It was just like walking into any kind of roadside honky tonk.

David Sokol: And there was a bar right in front.

Jim Neil: And beer was cheap.

Ray Mason: Always great shows, really good sound.

Jim Neil: And it smelled musty and it also smelled flammable. It smelled like it might go up at any moment. The range of smells at the Rusty nail was interesting, and unfortunately it did finally burn.

David Sokol: It opened in the early seventies in sort of nowhere. It was right off Route 47 in Sunderland, Mass.

Ken Reed: I’ve embarked on a project where cataloging all the local concerts, the first concert that I have for the Rusty Nail is Bob Adrian on February 14th, 1972, and it says Formally the Meadow Inn. 

Peter J. Newland: It was the Meadows, it was a restaurant. Ed Steffan, Jack Dunn, and Kathy Steffan, I believe, were the three people.

Jim Neil: I guess they closed the kitchen there at some point and just decided to do only music.

Ray Mason: It was always a pleasure to play there. You know, you had this nice stage to play on, great sound.

Peter J. Newland: We played the nail, you know, first of all, it’s kind of fuzzy, you know, because it was the sixties and seventies, but we played there at least once a month in the beginning.

Ken Reed: I probably saw fat, clean, living, real tears many, many times.

Ray Mason: I remember seeing NRBQ at the Rusty Nail and just being totally knocked out.

Peter J. Newland: And we played with NRBQ there one night and people were literally climbing up to the second floor windows.

David Sokol: Saw King Sunny Adé and his and his African Beat’s 17 piece band orchestra. Aluna, Tom Waits, was there, Warren Zevon, the Neville Brothers.

Peter J. Newland: We played there with Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, which was just took the paint off the walls in that place.

Jim Lash: The Pousette-Dart Band was there. James Cotton. Les McCann. The older musicians were always the best ones to deal with because they were bothered the least by anything and they were just fun to be around and they knew everybody, so they had great stories.

Jim Neil: John Lee Hooker. I remember George Carlin, the comedian, was there a couple of times.

David Sokol: Just an amazing array of of artists from all different kinds of music.

Peter J. Newland: We played there with the Ramones. They took your face off those guys. They were they were great rock band.

Ken Reed: I had a great view of Joey Ramone holding up the Gabba Gabba Hey sign.’

David Sokol: It’s the band finished their soundcheck and loading in and and they were asking, Where do we go to, Where do we go to eat?”

They learned about Dimos and that’s where they ended up. And I’m sure there were people who walked into Dimos that night just expecting that they were going to get a cheeseburger or something and there was there were the Ramones.

It was probably a pretty wacky experience.

Jim Neil: It felt like the seventies kind of washed into things too, because they had a lot of the blues artists. James Brown.

David Sokol: Definitely one of the one of my most favorite moments, if not the my most favorite was seeing James Brown there.

Ken Reed: And I can remember James Brown dropping to his knees and getting the cape put on him.

David Sokol: And it was just remarkable to see James Brown at, you know, in Sunderland.

Jim Neil: I think the Rusty Nail changed with the changing times.

Ken Reed: And in the early eighties we did a handful of shows including the Buzzcocks, nine, nine, nine, The Dead Kennedys.

Jim Neil: I remember the crowd was very New Wave back then, lots of very short haircuts and skinny ties. It was the beginning of the ability to be able to see new wave and alternative bands in the Valley.

Jim Lash I don’t think people realize just how vibrant a music scene the Valley was back then.

Ken Reed: Yeah, the idea that you saw at James Brown or Ramones in the middle of nowhere in our, in a wooden shack, it’s mind blowing.

Jim Lash: I remember hearing that the nail burned down and I felt really, really bad about it. It was just kind of like an era had gone and you just don’t you don’t get those kind of places back again.

David Sokol: You know, it just felt like a place that we kind of took for granted. It’s 30 years. That’s the thing that’s amazing. I mean, the place has been gone since July of 1985.

Jim Neil: It’s not so much a product of it having been the Rusty Nail. It would have been something else if it wasn’t the nail, but that was the place where for that generation, for this generation of people, they saw a lot of the bands that were part of their formative years.

Peter J. Newland: It was a community experience around this great entertainment, and that’s what this area was all about back then. And we personified the best of that era. And that was the club that was kind of the temple in the middle of it all.

Ray Mason: The Rusty Nail, on this dusty trail. On Route 47, there’s a little bit of heaven. Route 47 there was a little piece of heaven.