Boston Rock from 1967 to 1969

PAUL "BLOWFISH" LOVELL

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The Bosstown Sound
or The Boston Sound

   The rap on the Bosstown Sound was that it was a manipulating attempt by record executives to recreate a buzz like the San Francisco scene and that the music sucked and it was a big failure. Well, I beg to disagree.
   Experiencing the Bosstown Sound from the inside I would say the scene was exciting and the music was excellent. Was there something wrong with Eden's Children? I say no. Was that first Orpheus album an all time great? I say yes. The Ultimate Spinach? An acid classic. Beacon Street Union? One of my favorite groups.
   The Bosstown Sound to Bostonians was just the local music. We were enjoying it before the record companies appropriated it. Thus, we were less cynical of it than outsiders and were able to see the individual groups without that critical overlay.
   People were smug claiming they were too sophisticated to be manipulated by the Bosstown Sound hype, but they bought into the Bosstown Sound Sucks hype: hook, line and sinker.

BillboardOrigADweb.jpg - 393.57 K
The ad that started it all.
Billboard January 20, 1968

The Bosstown Sound Campaign....
Flyer for a Tea Party gig done by the group from the second week of opening featuring The Lost and The Hallucinations.
Flyer by The Lost to Tea Party gig - 1967

    Bosstown Sound was originaly a publicity campaign by Alan Lorber of MGM in January of 1968 . The idea was to present the groups on his label (The Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union and Orpheus) as a package. The Bosstown Sound was to echo the San Francisco Sound then very big. The hype was a big turn off to the rock critics/audience and sales never materialized. It was charged that the groups all sounded different so there really wasn't a common 'sound' at all. The campaign backfired and became an albatross. The phrase had stuck however and I use it with glee. We used that phrase then and since then it has been used to ID all the groups in Boston during the period from 1967 to 1969.
   Let me shock eveyone by praising the hype. It actually drummed up a lot of attention. If it did fail, it wasn't because they didn't try. They did put lots of money into the campaign. Credit also goes to Lorber who did a great job in recording the groups. All of his groups were recorded professionally and sounded great. No slap dash cheap effort at all. He knew what he was doing and we got some nice albums that sound good to this day...at least to me. Am I wrong? The main groups sold hundreds of thousands of records. How many would they have sold without the publicity?
   Closing in on the 40th anniversary of the Bosstown Sound there has been an about face with some critics. All around the web are good reviews of Bosstown Sound groups. Some reviews are talking about the groups as having a common ground in their sound and themes, thereby acknowleging in hindsight that there was a "Bosstown Sound" after all. Who would of guessed?

To understand the times and the music you must know...
   One subject I can't let go by and that is - drugs. This was the era of LSD and marijuana and the music is influenced by that in a big way. It's obvious by the album covers and group names:Ultimate Spinach, need I say more. To understand and appreciate the music and the lyrics you have to take drugs into consideration. You don't have to take the drugs. I never did. The clips from the radio show I have below give a good window into the mindset of this time. People talked 'stoned' even when they weren't stoned. That's how much influence the drug culture had on teenagers in the sixties.
   To me this is so obvious that I think you don't have to talk about it but so much time has gone by that someone coming fresh from the outside may not understand.
   Another subject is the Vietnam War. This was going on at the time and teenagers were getting drafted and not liking it. The anti-war and anti-establishment attitudes come through in many lyrics. It is taken as a given that if you were a rocker in the late sixties you hated the war and the government that forced you to go to war. Again an obvious thing, but if you didn't live through it or are from outside the USA maybe you have to be informed.

The pre-Bosstown Sound scene


A few of the groups that played dances are on these Teen Scene LPs but most were never recorded.
A little more about this era.
Teen Scene LP
   To me the music scene in Boston led up to and became the Bosstown Sound. Some of the groups were the ones playing around and got swept up in the movement. Let's go back a few years to the Beatle era of 1965. At this point I saw live rock at the 'dances'. That's what we called them. They were an outgrowth of the 'sock hops' where DJ's would spin records and a band would play. At this point they dropped the DJ and they would just have a band, often just one, play the night. You would dance during the music and rest with the band during the intermission. Of course the band played all covers .
   These dances would be on a regular schedule at school in the gym. Boston had the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) who also held regular dances at some schools. They were chaparoned. They would not let you dance too close during the slow dances. They actually would pull you apart. It happened to me. I never went to the college dances but they also had regular 'mixers' as they called them at that time.
   By 1966-67 rock was becoming more and more popular and the money makers saw their chance. So at this point the dances were held at halls around the city. All halls were fair game. 'Dances' would be held in the K of C halls (Knights of Columbus), the VFW posts, etc. I used to go to dances in the Municipal Building;some guy rented the place and had weekly dances.
   From this the clubs became popular. The Surf Nantasket was one great club that existed pre Bosstown Sound that had quality groups playing every week. Click for a little on The Surf Nantasket. One good example of the transition from 'dances' to clubs was the Crosstown Bus. I went to that place tons of times for 'dances'. I can't remember the name we used to call it. They suddenly changed to the Crosstown Bus and made their name by booking the Doors at the height of their popularity. The club still didn't last long though - only several months.
   Groups that show this transition would be Teddy and the Pandas and Puff (who had members of the Ramrods).
   The Chosen Few were a band from Brighton, Ma that played these local places but then also graduated to the club scene. CLICK HERE for a page on the CHOSEN FEW.

Finding the music in The Clubs and elsewhere


BSU at McHugh Forum    The groups of the Boston Sound would have played in the local clubs of the day. The premier club would be the Boston Tea Party at 53 Berkeley Street. Other clubs would be: The Catacombs (1120 Boylston ST.), Where It's At (it moved a few times and ended up in Kenmore Square), The Psychedelic Supermarket, and The Crosstown Bus in Brighton Center. They also played wherever they needed to, of course- High School dances, American Legion Posts, etc. I saw the Beacon Street Union in the Boston College hockey rink. Good gig too.

Boston Tea Party


Tea Party handbill    It's hard to say too much about the Boston Tea Party. What a memorable place it was. It was an old church. On stage the back wall said in an arc:"Praise ye The Lord".
   Some nights there would be light shows on three walls. They would involve films, colored lights, strobes, and those liquid blobs that were created by throwing colored water on slides and projecting it. Almost always there would be the smell of marijuana. Upstairs they had a black light room where your white clothes would glow. The balcony had seats and offered a great view. At some point downstairs in front of the stage they added rows of theatre seats (old) because at this point we stopped dancing and listening became more important. There was always 'hippie' dancing though. You know the arms way out, slowly swaying and the feet taking large swooping steps. That never seemed to go away. I always heard rumors of the place getting busted. They would cite them for serving coke in glasses rather than plastic cups or something like that. I don't know for sure if that ever happened or if it was just a rumor. I was always afraid of getting caught in a bust. I was underage and my parents would have pulled a nutty for sure.
   The Tea Party moved to Lansdowne Street in May of 1969 (replacing a club called The Ark) and that was the official end of the coolest club ever. The Lansdowne site of the Tea Party continued to have great groups.

The Psychedelic Supermarket

   The Psychedelic Supermarket was the most unusual club I've ever been to. During the day it was a garage parking lot; at night the bottom floor was the club. It's hard to believe now that it even existed. There was nothing psychedelic about it unless you hallucinated from inhaling oil and gas fumes. Here's some more info I have come across.... Psychedelic Supermarket .

The Catacombs

Catacombs   The Catacombs was a coffee house/club. It was at 1120 Boyslton St. There is info on the club and posters on the page about The Universal Underpass that is part of the Galen Rossop Story.

The Crosstown Bus

   I talked about this just above, but a little more. Retired Boston rock critic Steve Morse did some reminiscing in the 4/9/06 issue of The Boston Magazine (It's reiterated here.). "I slapped high-fives with crazed rock poet Jim Morrison of The Doors as he zigzagged through a crowd at The Crosstown Bus in Brighton, where hippie girls danced in go-go cages and tinfoil adorned the walls for a psychedelic ambience."
   Here are two pictures of the building that housed the Crosstown Bus......Crosstown Bus Photos...click.
   One of the few gigs I have seen listed is of Lothar and the Hand People on July 21, 22 1967

   Local Brighton/Allston webpage that has some posters - http://www.bahistory.org/RockHistory.html

   Earlier when I used to go, it was a nice, if plain, room with a high ceiling. Another strictly 60's thing used to happen there. The police station was just around the corner and because shielded cables were not universally used at this time the wires were like antennas and the police calls came though the PA system. The band would play on if they could but many times it was too long and too obtrusive and they would have to stop. Those were the days, my friend.

Boston was Red Sox crazy in 67- 68 (somethings never change) to the point where they gave Sox player Ken 'The Hawk' Harrelson his own TV special. He had the Beacon Street Union on. I saw it but don't remember much. Wayne Ulaky says he remembers the group at the taping laughing at Pat Cooper the comedian guest on the show. Later in the 80's I had singer John Lincoln Wright sign the clipping. In the picture you can see his pouch hanging from his belt. There just HAD to be drugs in that, didn't there?
Beacon Sreet Union with Ken Harrelson on TV

The Groups and Albums

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   Here are some updates on Bosstown Sound attention, plus info on new releases of Boston Sound albums. UPDATED INFO and REVIEWS

Boston Radio and the Brandeis Underground radio show

WBCN bumper sticker
Courtesy of Joan Kershaw.
WBCN bumper sticker
   The Boston Sound was played by the then burgeoning FM stations, notably WBCN. WBCN began broadcasting on March 15, 1968. It was also played on the AM band (WBZ and WMEX) in their waning days of influence in music before it became a talk radio fest. WBZ-AM with Dick Summer was a big booster. He had a Sunday night show called The Subway that was a must listen. He was thanked in the credits on the Ultimate Spinach first album. Click to see flyer for the Dick Summer show.

   College radio was another outlet. Here are some broadcast clips from WBRS at Brandeis in Waltham, MA called The Sounds Of The Underground. I have about 45 minutes from the broadcast on February 28 and 29, 1968. The show was on from 1AM to 4AM. Guests on the 29th were Eden's Children. It's a great look into the time of the Boston Sound and the mindset of the rockers.

    MP3 Clips from WBRS 2/28-29/1968
  • Intro
    The DJ introduces the show and members of Eden's Children thow out comments in the studio.
  • Poll
    The results of a Boston Sound poll.
  • Boston Sound Pep Talk
    This revealing clip shows hometown Boston Sound fans trying to cope with the negative uproar of the Bosstown Sound hype.
  • Song request.
    Song request turns to drug joke.
  • Cancellations
    Funny fake winter cancellation announcements.
  • Origin of Eden's Children's name.
    It is revealed that Jimmy Struman was the original member of the band. A Rolling Stones album is refered to: December's Children.
  • Spider
    Eden's Children member is intrigued by article on the effect of drugs on spiders.
  • Unicorn
    I think this is Sham talking about playing the Unicorn Coffee House with members of The Ultimate Spinach.
  • Comics
    Fun talk by Eden's Children about: Capt. Kangaroo, Clarabelle, Flubba Dub, Mad Love Comics, Wit's End Comic, and Sham says "shit" and gets busted by the fake FCC.

The Zeitgeist

Ad by Mainstream Records that was in Billboard and other publications. Tangerine Zoo with The Amboy Dukes and The Tiffany Shade
Mainstream Poster with Tangerine Zoo
   I've already talked about the drugs and the war which of course was all part and parcel of the hippie culture of the 60's. Here's a Time Magazine article that shows some effects the hippies had in Boston in 1968...Time Magazine article...CLICK
Now, what else was a teenager exposed to during this period?
Books
   As a teenager I and my cohorts were very versed in all things Science Fiction. We read Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, and Arthur C. Clark. Robert Heinlein's Stanger In A Stange Land was perfect reading at this time even though it was written in 1961. We would also have digested the James Bond books by Ian Fleming. Herman Hesse's works were a fave. We would pick up things by Arthur Hailey (Airport), John Updike (Couples) and Gore Vidal (Myra Breckinridge). The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran was a good fit for the times too even though it was writen in 1923. Gibran lived in Boston so we had that connection. Favorites from 1969 include:Portnoy's Complaint by Roth, The Godfather by Puzo and The Andromeda Strain by Crichton.
Films
   Again Sci-Fi rules with 2001:A Space Odyssey getting repeat viewings along with Barbarella and Planet of the Apes. Rosemary's Baby was my favorite and I have enjoyed all Polansky's films since. The Graduate resonated with many and The Valley of The Dolls was a trash classic. In 1969 Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli was a great date movie and Midnight Cowboy seemed profound.
TV
   Yes, Science Fiction again in the form of Star Trek which began in 1966 was never missed. Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In was a must see. The Prisoner (1967-1968) was all time TV gem. We all were in love with Diana Rigg on The Avengers. There was not much Rock and Roll on the tube at this time. Ed Sullivan who was still going would have one group a week. The Smothers Brothers Show was good all around with comedy and music.

Postscript

   My object has been to expand the amount of information about the Bosstown Sound on the web and to focus and organize the info there was available. I really didn't want to critically review everything although that's part of the job. I didn't like what I saw on the web which was album reviews 30 years after the fact with a paragraph on the Bosstown Sound phenomenon. The musicians and fans deserve more than that.
   I hoped a look by someone on the scene putting the music in context of the time and place would be illuminating;and to all those out there that were part of the scene please post your pictures and stories or send them to me and I will. It's almost 40 years along now. Let's get the story out there before we die. Is that subtle enough for ya? CLICK TO CONTACT ME

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