Remembering WBCN The Rock of Boston

25th Anniversary Album February, 1993

By: - Nov 15, 2011


After 41 years, WBCN signed off in 2009. Until then it had been the matrix of the alternative rock scene in Boston. For hipster insiders no other station really mattered. There is still an online WBCN presence. But it ain't the same.

The vintage images that accompany this story were shot in 1993 on the occasion of the station's 25th anniversary.

For a stretch there until it folded in 1971 I was the jazz and rock critic for the Boston Herald Traveler. After that lingering on in the dark for a variety of publications but it was never quite the same.

There was something so Front Page about rushing from the old Boston Garden to the HT to meet a midnight deadline. Some nights there would be a bunch of us in the arts office. The boss, Sam Hirsch was covering a theatre opening. John Koch, later of the Globe, and Donald Cragin covering a movie premiere. While Harry Neville was reviewing the BSO.

The trick was never stay for encores. When the band went off stage to charge down the aisle and beat it to your short. Making up a lead in your head during the drive to the heem. At your desk there were notes written in the dark to unscramble. Just one take. First thought best thought. Rush to the rim where the copy editor sent it down the shoot to the linotype guys on the floor below.

Having filed a lot of nights the next stop was Chinatown for won ton. If you timed it right by then the mailbag (first run) was hitting the streets. The hot type was so fresh that it was almost like reading Braille. After the mailbag was shipped to the trains and burbs there was the replate that ran the morning edition.

As a courtesy the HT and Globe trucks swapped a bundle of those first run papers. That allows for a hasty rewrite of the front page if there was breaking news.

There was the hilarious incident when the HT sent the Globe a fake mailbag. So the Globe was blindsided when society editor Rose Walsh ran a scoop that Jackie Kennedy was marrying Onassis.

Lots of laughs about that one over shots and beers at Foley’s where the HT crew swapped war stories.

By February, 1993 when I was invited to the 25th Anniversary of WBCN The Rock of Boston, my hard bop days were mostly in the rear view mirror. Now and then I get to sharpen my chops on Wilco, Train, Steely Dan and the Tanglewood Jazz Festival as was the case last summer. But, rockwise, there ain’t much of a groove going down in the Berkshires.

No, mostly just strolls down memory lane. Lingering aftershocks of sitting in the rain and mud at Woodstock or the riot in Newport. Stuff like that.

Over the past couple of years I have been going through a vast archive of notes and images. Trying to put some order to the legacy of a life in the arts. Scanning and saving slides and negatives then tweaking them in Photoshop. A spin of that has been a series of ongoing dialogues with those who were there. Knocking the rust off the pipes of memory and trying to document that era before we are all toast.

In this process I recently unearthed an album of snapshots from that night at the Hard Rock Café in 1993. What mostly grabbed my attention was that it expanded beyond just the ‘BCN folks. There were a lot of the record company promo guys. Some of them were legendary.

There were distinctly different styles depending on the label. The Columbia guys, led by the silver haired Sal Ingeme, were slick and smooth. They were the suits of the scene. It was through Sal, who knew him well, that I hooked up with Miles Davis.

Other than Elvis and David Bowie there wasn’t a lot going on at RCA. John Denver, right. But its flack, Don Delacey, was a laid back master of ironic understatement. He thrived on flying under the radar. Often his promos entailed renting a suite in a hotel and inviting select djs and scribes to come hang out while he spun new platters.

There was an incident when I flew back from NY in a blizzard to get to a Don McLean concert at Symphony Hall. After the gig we met with him in a suite including live TV. He was big then with “American Pie” and “Vincent.”

He was stretched out on the couch and not very cooperative. Observing that there were none of the usual food and drink I pointed that out. Someone said “I’ll call room service for a six pack.” I responded “That’s enough for Dennis (Metrano) but what about the rest of us?”

Then someone asked McLean about “American Pie.” He said “I don’t want to talk about that.”

“You’ve got to be kidding” I said. “Why the hell else do you think we’re here?”

Like I had flown through a blizzard to hear this!

Shifting on the couch to a somewhat more erect position, with the live camera on, McClean looked at me and said “The minute you walked into the room I knew you were an asshole.”

Well, no argument there. That’s how The Phoenix reported it.

The Warner Brothers gang was into hard rock. There was a kind of competition as to who threw the best and most inventive parties. In high season we got to compare who served the biggest shrimp.

Roger Lifeset of Warner Brothers talked me into hosting an “intimate” party after the Alice Cooper debut. Turns out the kids at the door checking the guest list dropped acid. Everyone just poured in. There were about 300 people jammed into my basement apartment on University Road in Cambridge. It went on till dawn and the place was trashed. The cleanup crew that Roger promised never showed up.

All the bands were there that night: Alice, Geils, Sidewinders, Modern Lovers. Loudon Wainwright got into a fight with his wife. There was a jam session in my kitchen with its old upright piano.

Years later I run into people who tell me they were there that night.

I staggered into work. When I got home Maxanne from ‘BCN fell by. She wanted to see for herself the aftermath  of the blowout. Max was great. She took me to Revere in a limo to see a band she had discovered called Aerosmith. Steve Tyler reminded me too much of Mick Jagger. I remember him doing hand stands in the dressing room. They were being managed by Frank Connelly who brought the Stones to the Garden. Frank, popping gum, would show up at the HT dropping off press releases. He always had a fresh bird as his “assistant.”

Charlie McKenzie started out in the back room at Warner Brothers. Roger kept introducing him as “This is Charlie from the branch.” I started calling him “Branch.” He didn’t like that. Eventually he worked his way up and became partners with Lifeset.

Then he struck gold. Big time. PR guys get flooded by local demo tapes. Charlie actually took the time to listen to them. One of them was a single guy laying down all the tracks. That turned out to be Boston and McKenzie signed them. They got so big that he pulled in Paul Ahern who flacked for Atlantic out of the branch.

McKenzie made and blew a fortune. He was there that night in 1993. It was the last I saw of him. Later he wrapped his sports car around a tree. There’s a book and movie in there somewhere.

It was a school night for that ‘BCN anniversary. Having hung up my rock ‘n’ roll shoes, I was a professor of arts and humanities. So it’s tough to make the morning gig.

Dennis Metrano was a legendary bar tender at Daisy’s on Newbury Street, the hangout of rock folks and promo guys.  He moved to Newburyport. In the Daisy days, he put out an upbeat fanzine called Sunshine. He evolved into publishing first the Newburyport Current and then The Paper. We kept in touch, and I sent him stuff.

He swung by in a limo so we arrived in style.

Everyone was there. All the ‘BCN dj’s past and present: Oedipus, Charles Laquidara, Maxanne, Mark Perenteau, Jim Parry (a neighbor in the Murder Building on University Road), J.J. Jackson, Tom Hadges,  Joe “Mississippi” Rogers, Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg. News guy Danny Schechter. Legendary pr and marketing genius, David Bieber. Most amazingly, a rare appearance by 'BCN founder and FM pioneer, T. Mitchell Hastings. The suits including head of sales Tim Montgomery who now publishes Boston’s Playbill and Art New England. Al Perry. Ron Della Chiesa an early ‘BCN DJ then at WGBH. Also Eric Jackson from ‘GBH. MC Charlie “Master Blaster” Daniels from the Tea Party.

There were TV crews from all three local stations including John Henning, Sara Edwards, and Susan Wornick. Radio scribes like Jim Isaacs and his journalist wife Andie Zellman. John H. Garabedian was the first to spin “Maggie May” which launched Rod Stewart.

Then Cinderella turned into a pumpkin. Only now, years later, trying to squeeze into the glass slipper.