Our Corner of the Rock 'n' Roll Life
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.
Earl Greyland, Boston After Dark, January 22, 1969
On March 15, 1968, WBCN, a perennially struggling
typical FM classical-music outlet, took a flyer. Owner T. Mitchell Hastings,2 an FM-radio technology pioneer turned broadcaster, was persuaded by Ray Riepen,3 a young lawyer and owner of the legendary live-rock club the Boston Tea Party, to let the kids rock and roll at 104.1 FM from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. That March night, Joe Rogers (a/k/a Mississippi Harold Wilson, later Mississippi Fats) sprang a show called The American Revolution on the unsuspecting airwaves. The broadcast originated not from the WBCN Newbury Street studios but from the dressing room at the Tea Party. It was, as vintage 'BCNers have bragged a millions times since, "Goodbye ugly radio." Fats and fellow conspirator Peter Wolf (later of J. Geils fame)4 played rock--the kind you could find only on albums and college radio. Over on WRKO-AM they were playing the Archies, desperately trying to cocoon the youth of America in bubble gum to protect the kids from the corrupting influence of flower power. WBCN radio revolutionaries played the hard stuff: Cream, Hendrix, Dylan, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Fugs, the Velvet Underground. And for the most part, the jocks5 picked the music they played.
Clif Garboden, Boston Phoenix, June 3, 1988
Peter Wolf, Tommy Hadges, Steve Magnell, Jack Bernstein
and I were all packed into the studio, waiting for 10:30 p.m. to arrive while Ronnie Ray Riepen, the kingpin of this expedition, stared at us from the production room. Ray Riepen was a self-styled simple country boy lawyer from Kansas City who was doing card tricks to get through Harvard Business School before being psychedelicized into trading his life insurance for a dance hall called the Boston Tea Party. He could pull a quarter out of your ear or spook you with his down-home Gestapo mannerisms. 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.
My high school sweetheart and I had a dirt cheap rundown third floor apartment in Arlington that we shared with her older brother, his motorcycle, her two guinea pigs and my pair of ducks. We offered Ray a mattress and the room with the ducks and he came to live with us. He now had a mattress, his own room (almost) and vast media empires to plan.
As the minutes ticked down to zero in the studio it was hard to escape the feeling that something sacred was about to happen. WBCN had been an excellent classical station in a city that wasn't interested. The radio waves were being overwhelmed with AM shouters and tight rotations of two minute pop tunes. This station had been on the financial skids for so long that it could hardly afford to stay on the air at night. That's why we were there. Ray had told them that he could bring over some announcers from the local college stations to play some "youthful" music that would bring in some listeners and sponsors. The Nasal Retentive Caliope of the Mothers of Invention was cued up. The last of the semi-classical records began to fade. Then came about four minutes of the electronic farting and belching of Zappa's musical ensemble followed by a new English band called the Cream. Hundreds of people called on the telephone. They called again the next day and the next night. They called on the telephone and they wrote cards and letters. They said that they liked it. They said we weren't too late. They said we were lucky enough to be right on time.
Joe Rogers, Boston Rock, March 19, 1981, Issue 13
Jim Sullivan, Boston Globe Magazine, March 27, 1988
The New England Music Scrapbook has related articles about:
- legendary 1970s WBCN-FM disk jockey Maxanne Sartori, who did much to break Aerosmith, the J. Geils Band (or so it is said), and particularly the Cars; and
- the annual WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble.Broadcast historian Donna L. Halper has contributed a great article about Early Boston Radio (1920-1925).
1968 Illustration Courtesy of
Donna L. Halper Collection
Used with Permission
|New England Music Scrapbook News|
|NEMS Home Page||Webmaster|