History of the Rocket Room: A Venue Made for Rock n Roll

The building which houses Rocket Room was built in the 1950’s. It was built by Joe Rispoli, one of Perth’s original Mafiosi (known in those days as “the Black Hand”), to house his infamous gambling establishment “El Travatore”.

Under dim lights, in a smoky haze, Perth’s underworld rubbed shoulders with crooked cops, prostitutes, and hardened gamblers. Some of the characters who ran the tables rose to great heights in the NannyState (such as Bert Tudori who went on to become Perth’s Lord Mayor). When Burswood Casino was built, it was granted the ‘only’ gambling license in the state and the little operators (including El Travatore), were closed down by the government. An era in the history of Western Australia had passed.

Next door, 176/178 James Street, with its many rooms (now used for backpackers), burned a red-light: a brothel known as “Ruby’s“. If you look to the left of the Rocket Room stage, just behind the sound stack, you will see a boarded over door. This ‘secret door’ served two purposes: as a discreet entry to the brothel next door, away from prying eyes on the street, as well as, an escape hatch for when the police did their ‘regular raids’ (regular, so the club could leave a ‘paid fall guy’ to ‘wear the rap’, whilst the owners and gamblers shut the tables and slipped over the side fence, as the cops came barrelling ‘unannounced’ thru the front door). The NannyState has its hidden secrets!

The next inhabitant of the premises at 174 James Street was a “recovery club” called The Viper Lounge. Called after its namesake in America, where River Phoenix died of an overdose, it was soon ‘on the nose’ with the authorities. With no liquor license its main claim to fame was the sale of water, the loud beat of disco music (well into the morning work-day) and a crowd who seemed high on life... or something. Eventually the council closed it down and another era of clubbing passed into the mists.

After laying in neglect for many years it rose from the ashes to become one of Perth’s best known and most loved Blues bars: Blue to the Bone. Notoriety came with the Blues, when the club hired a legendary ‘bikie’ of Bindoon Rock Festival fame, as its promotions manager. With him came all the legendary West Australian Blues musicians: Dave Hole, John Meyer, Bob Patients, Ric Steele (father of Katie - Little Birdie – and Luke – Empire of the Sun), Jeff St John, Lindsay Wells and everybody who was anybody, called that bar ‘home’. Another epoch of West Australian music opened and closed.

With the departure of the above promoter a void opened, in both local music and the history of this building. It was soon filled by Monster Management, with support from Xpress Magazine and other industry leaders, when Rocket Room was launched. Thus, over the last three years young, aspiring musicians have stepped through the door of this iconoclastic room to immerse themselves in its unique ethos and history. To ‘play’ Rocket Room is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the ghosts of the past, to feel the inspiration of its myths and legends, whilst the artist’s muse is inspired by the experience.

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