Graham Central Station in Tempe Closes After 30 Years of Operation

Roger Gearhart has plenty of memories of many of the country music greats who performed at the renowned local country joint Graham Central Station over the decades.

"George Straight performed at Graham's once, so did Johnny Cash, Hank Jr., and also Willie Nelson," says Gearhart, the president of Graham Brothers Entertainment, which is based in Texas and operated the venue. "Gosh, everyone seemed to play there."

Sadly, memories of country and western greats like the Red-Headed Stranger or the Man in Black taking the stage at Graham Centreal Station will soon be all that's left of the landmark local club as it shut its doors recently after more than 30 years in existence.

According to Gearhart, the Tempe nightspot closed on November 17 due to a downturn in business. (Read more about the club's economic woes on our sister blog Jackalope Ranch)

After heading to the last round-up, Graham Central Station leaves behind a long legacy as not only a nightclub where cowpoke pulled off boot-scooting moves on its numerous dance floors, but also as a honky-tonk and concert hall.

GCS first opened its doors in 1979 over in the West Valley at 33rd Avenue and Indian School and a dance club that hosted live music gigs. While Gearhart says the original location primarily focused on country and western band both large and small (ranging from such crooners as Johnny Paycheck to George Jones to Mickey Gilley), it slowly began bringing in rock acts in the early to mid-'80s.

"Adam Ant played there," he says. "Even the Beach Boys came over after playing the Arizona State Fair one time in the '80s. We've had just about everybody."

Here's a clip of bygone local New Wave band Major Figures performing at the old westside version of Graham Central Station in the '80s.

GCS relocated to Tempe in 2002 when Graham Brothers Entertainment moved the club into another honky-tonk-style venue formerly known as Rockin Rodeo. Gearhart says they continued to book live country acts at GCS' new location, particularly up-and-comers and local bands such a North and Mogollon.

"We've always liked giving new acts a chance to play," Gearhart says. "Just recently we had Chris Young in to perform."

Gearhart says there's a small possibility that Graham Brothers Entertainment may reopen a new version of GCS somewhere in the Valley at some point in the future. The company also owns and operates country bar Denim & Diamonds in Mesa.

"We've loved the Phoenix market and have had places there for years but we just couldn't sustain the losses any longer with Graham [Central Station]," he says. "We hated to close it. Hated it. But it's something that had to happen. It was sad for us, though."

Sounds like the sort of mournful tale you'd hear in some old school country song, which is oddly fitting.

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