Our Corner of the Rock 'n' Roll Life
The joint was rocking on Friday, January 20, 1967, when,
for the first time, the Boston Tea Party opened its doors to the public. The original location on Berkeley Street was once a synagogue. Then it became Moon Dial (or Moondial), a venue that showed underground films. (Going entirely on memory, it seems to me that Mel Lyman was connected with that establishment.) Ray Riepen and David Hahn bought Moon Dial and reopened it as the Tea Party, a rock 'n' roll music hall. New York's Electric Circus probably exerted the main influence on this new development in Boston.
Riepen, who went on to be a part owner of the pioneering WBCN-FM and the alternative weekly the Cambridge Phoenix, seems to have been a colorful fellow. Joe Rogers contributed an article to the March 19, 1981, issue (#13) of Boston Rock that offered this description: "He had short hair, one pair of shoes, one suit and a big black Lincoln Continental (with the laundry in the trunk). When we first met he was living alone in an expensive Cambridge apartment with absolutely no furniture, bare walls and bare floor. No bed. No mattress. Just a pillow, a blanket and a stack of books."
The featured act on the Tea Party's opening night was the Lost, one of Boston's best rock bands of the 1960s. We understand that the Peter Wolf group, the Hallucinations, was booked next. The Boston Tea Party is said to have opened on a bankroll of $3,000, which doesn't seem like anywhere near enough; but so many people were involved in getting the room up and running that, on opening night, they outnumbered the paying customers. Earl Greyland, a shadowy figure, wrote in the January 22, 1969, issue of Boston After Dark (now known as the Boston Phoenix)
During the first few months, the Tea Party relied exclusively on local
talent. . . .The Beacon Street Union, Eden's Children, Ill Wind, the Hallucinations, the Cloud, Catharsis, and the Growth were ... featured. . . .Then came the first groups from out of town: Lothar and the Hand People, David Blue and the American Patrol, and the Chambers Brothers. . . .
The Lost broke up about a month later.
In May, the Velvet Underground gave its debut concert at the Boston Tea Party. The Greyland piece in Boston After Dark reported that
At the time, the Velvets were the bad boys and girls of ... rock. Their tour a year earlier with Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable show had sent shock waves through
audiences. . . .No one was quite ready to have them back. The Tea Party became in effect their home club, and Bostonians their greatest fans.
Peter Wolf once told Brett Milano of the Boston Phoenix that the Hallucinations opened for the Velvet Underground at least forty times. Jonathan Richman was a regular member of the VU's audience.
Greyland wrote in Boston After Dark that
Probably the most important development for the Tea Party occurred on March 15, 1968, when, as the staid WBCN audience sat listening to its usual Muzak, the voice of Frank Zappa asked, "Are you hung up?" and Cream launched into "I Feel Free." That was the beginning of the American Revolution, a daily seven-hour program originating from the dressing room of the Tea Party. The combination of providing an established performance setting and radio exposure made the Tea Party a gig second in importance only to the Fillmore.
The second rock disk jockey on WBCN was Peter Wolf, who hosted the overnight broadcast for maybe as much as a year. At the time, Wolf was still the lead singer for the Hallucinations. In a November 9, 1999, e-mail to Mickey O'Halloran, Tea Party manager Steve Nelson wrote
On April 4, 1968 I booked Muddy Waters and The Hallucinations (Peter's original Boston band) to play The Boston Tea Party. As fate would have it, Martin Luther King was assassinated that day. As a lifelong blues fan, I've never heard the blues like they were played that night. And while there were race riots in the streets of Boston (and around the country) because of the assassination, the Tea Party was I'm sure the only place in town where people of all colors came together to share that tragic day in peace.
The J. Geils Blues Band was another local group that was playing the Boston Tea Party in the spring of 1968. Tim Cahill of Rolling Stone said in the August 2, 1973, issue
[T]hey were a high-energy, blues-oriented group with a singular respect for their Boston audience. If they didn't pull three encores, they figured they hadn't been good enough. In those years they were the house band for the Fillmore-like Boston Tea Party, a band that could fill the place on a week night; one that had an embarrassing tendency to blow headliners off the stage on weekends. Some of the big acts were beginning to object to playing on the same bill with J. Geils.
Great quote, though we're not quite sure whether the author had the J. Geils Blues Band (trio) in mind or, perhaps, the later group with an expanded membership (quintet) and shortened name.
The West Coast band, the Doors, gave its first Boston concert at a short-lived club in Brighton called the Crosstown Bus. The Hallucinations had the distinction of being the last act to play at the same establishment. Peter Wolf once told Steve Morse the story of carrying equipment down the fire escape as the police arrived to close the place down.
It must have been right about this time that Peter Wolf and Steven Jo Bladd left the Hallucinations. They began looking around for another outfit to join until something better might come along, and soon enough they hooked up with the J. Geils Blues Band. The new quintet (Bladd, J. Geils, Danny Klein, Magic Dick, Wolf) shortened the name to the J. Geils Band. As the Hallucinations first played out at the Putney School here in Vermont, so the J. Geils Band's debut engagement was a two-week stand at the New Penelope Club in Montreal, evidently in September 1968. [Members of the J. Geils Band have often given the year as 1967, but all the evidence I've seen points to 1968.]
J. Geils also had frequent engagements at another short-lived Boston club, the Catacombs at 1120 Boylston Street.
Tim Cahill of Rolling Stone wrote that
Within six months they were the hottest local group in Boston. Peter and Stephen added the charismatic ingredient that turned a set into a performance. The others had enough musical sophistication to fill in the gaps, to sound good as well as look good. It was, unexpectedly, a perfect affiliation.
About the same time the J. Geils Band got going, another big Boston rock club, the Ark, opened on Lansdowne Street. The Ark suffered from many problems, but the main one seemed to be that the Tea Party simply attracted bigger crowds. By September 1969, the Ark was closed and it was sold to the Tea Party owners, who relocated the club to Lansdowne Street. [The same site was later operated as a rock club under the name, the Metro.]
Mick Fleetwood, in his memoir, said that Fleetwood Mac played the Boston Tea Party so often in 1969 that "it felt like a residency." [Mick Fleetwood with Stephen Davis, Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990), 67.] Incidentally, Fleetwood Mac's soundman, who liked the volume very loud, was Dinky Dawson, later of Channel fame.
The New England Music Scrapbook's archive contains scant information about the Boston Tea Party's days at the Lansdowne Street location. As Ernie Santosuosso pointed out, arenas picked up bookings that had formerly gone to the smaller rock music halls. And while members of the Woodstock generation were celebrating youth culture at huge outdoor rock festivals, those same ticket dollars weren't going to clubs such as the Boston Tea Party. It probably didn't help, either, that one of the Tea Party's most dependable draws, the J. Geils Band, went national in 1970. Music Halls were going out of business that year, leading up to the demise of Philadelphia's Electric Factory a little before Christmas and the closing of the Boston Tea Party maybe a couple weeks later.
Before ending, it seems important to mention Roger Thomas. What was a late-'60s rock concert without a light show?! And it was Thomas who designed the Tea Party's lights.
If you can remember the 1960s and have a story that you think might be suitable for posting here, please get in touch. For great examples of the range of reminiscences that visitors send in, please visit our pages on Boston's Rathskeller (the Rat) in Kenmore Square.
-- Alan Lewis, December 31, 2002
Copy of poster provided by
Steve Nelson, E-Mail Message, January 7, 2003
|New England Music Scrapbook News|
|NEMS Home Page||Webmaster|