New England Music Scrapbook
Live at the Rat

Our Corner of the Rock 'n' Roll Life



Boston, since the early Sixties, has played a vital part in the making of the music scene. This album is a current reflection of what can be considered a continuance of that theme, as well as a progressive look at what the future holds.

From the Live at the Rat  jacket notes1




Various artists
Live at the Rat (2 LPs, Rat Records, 1976)


Back in the mid-1960s, the band, the Remains, made quite a name for itself, playing at the Rathskeller in Boston's Kenmore Square. And the word spread around the Northeast. This album was recorded at that same venerable club, the name now fondly shortened to the Rat. The record begins with "At the Rat"--its very best track--which Willie Alexander introduced with a reminiscence about the club's original '60s incarnation. On this album, old meets new, as the cast of characters includes former members of the Lost and the Modern Lovers, and a future member of the Cars.

[color photo]


Part of the Cover Illustration

Much of the story that has been told about this album, in the past, has had to do with sound quality. It isn't state of the art, by any means, even for the mid-1970s. Be that as it may, as a veteran concert-goer of the '60s and '70s, I must say that these recordings sound very much like live performances by the guitar-oriented rock bands of that era. There's rough authenticity here. Jesse Henderson, the recording engineer--and former Rockin' Ramrod--is a capable guy. It seems doubtful he had a big budget for the technical side of this project. Just a guess.

What is much more important about the record, though, is that it captures the early days of a new turn in Boston's rock scene, with all its crashing energy. A number of the singers and instrumentalists have been key players in Boston rock and roll in the years since--Willie Alexander, Mach Bell, Jeff Conolly (Monoman), John Felice, Billy Loosigan, Rick Martin, Richard Nolan, and David Robinson, to name a few.2 (Evidently women were not numerous in Boston's punk community of 1976. For an exception, see our page on forerunner Lorry Doll.)

Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band are pretty much the stars of this show. An excellent ensemble, the Boom Boom Band played well and had fine songs such as "At the Rat" and "Kerouac." The balance here between Alexander's vocals and the instrumental support is a little better than for many of the other Live at the Rat acts. But several of these other groups would be making big noise, too, over the next few years. Of those, DMZ is a personal favorite.

[black and white photo]


The Real Kids


The Real Kids got rockin' with a Rolling Stones-ish "Who Needs You." And along with "At the Rat," one of the best tracks here is "Norkis of the North," a great instrumental by the Infliktors.

This set makes it sound like a lot of people were having fun again at Boston's old Rathskeller.

The quote at the top of this page says, "This album is ... a progressive look at what the future holds." It surely was that. All across the United States, particularly in college towns, small communities of club-goers were looking for alternatives to the rock mainstream. Here in New England, for the better part of a decade, so-called boogie bands--along with the ever-present cover groups--had dominated the club circuit. But by the early 1970s, a new generation of rockers around Boston was rediscovering garage-band punk and looking to make inroads into the clubs. As these musicians moved away from '60s sounds, they developed a style that young fans could call their own.3

In September 1974, Mickey Clean and the Mezz opened up the Rat to bands playing original music. And over the next few years, the emerging rock scene was based there, as well as at the Club in Cambridge and, a bit later, at Cantone's. Do-it-yourself recordings were being issued locally.

In the spring of 1976, a Bicentennial Tournament of the Bands was held at the Club. Fittingly, it was Willie Alexander who prevailed in that early contest. Two years later, the first Rumble, another battle of the bands, took place. (Officially, it was called the First Annual Spring Rock 'n' Roll Festival, but it was more Rumble than not.) That 1978 event and the winning band, La Peste, did not draw a lot of attention. But the following year, when WBCN-FM took a stronger role as a sponsor, the Rock and Roll Rumble (or Rumble at the Rat, as it was commonly called at the time) became an important entry on Boston's rock and roll calendar.

Not long after the Live at the Rat shows, DMZ drummer David Robinson was lured away to another band made up of Ric Ocasek, Benjamin Orr, Elliot Easton, and Greg Hawkes. This new/old outfit, soon to be known as the Cars, went into intensive rehearsals. Then on New Years Eve 1976, the band gave its first show at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. A few months later, the Cars went into the studio to record some demos.

Those demos found their way to influential hometown DJ Maxanne Sartori, who put "Just What I Needed" and "My Best Friend's Girl" into heavy rotation at WBCN. Unreleased demos by unestablished bands were even harder to get on the radio in 1977 than they are now; and when Cars songs started appearing on radio tipsheets next to Aerosmith and Elton John, with the word "tape" listed where the label name should be, it sent up a flag for A&R reps to make a beeline toward Boston.4
Ric Ocasek added:
Our basic approach was just to go out and play clubs, and then the tape got played on 'BCN a whole lot. And the fact that it got played extensively was something we couldn't have paid them to do. And the fact that it was played so much attracted record companies at that time. It probably had something to do with the whole new music scene that was beginning to erupt at that time. And we got signed. ... Lucky for us (laughter). It's been good for us ever since.5

This band was jump-started by the flourishing Boston-area new wave community that is well represented on Live at the Rat; and the Cars, in turn, opened the road for many other Boston bands, such as the Fools, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, the Nervous Eaters, and the Rings.

-- Alan Lewis, posted, March 23, 2002


LiVE AT THE RaT



[black and white photo]
Marc Thor
(couldn't find a Monkees lunchbox?)


Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band:

The Boize: (link -- HERE -- to the Boize page)

DMZ:


[black and white photo]
The Infliktors


Infliktors:

Real Kids:

Sass:

Susan:


[black and white photo]
Third Rail


Third Rail:

Marc Thor:

Thundertrain:

[black and white photo]

Thundertrain


1. Whoever wrote the notes (Jim Harold?) got that right!

2. The list of people thanked, in the jacket's notes, includes several who were incredibly important in the mid-1970s development of Boston's new club scene, such as Mickey Clean (Michael Cleanthes--Asa Brebner's partner in Mickey Clean and the Mezz), James Isaacs (Henry Armetta, who founded both the Real Paper's "Local Color" and the Boston Phoenix' "Cellars by Starlight" columns), Oedipus, and Maxanne Sartori of WBCN-FM, as well as the publication, Boston Groupie News (published and edited by Miss Lyn--Linda Cardinal).

3. This is a point that Joe Harvard made very effectively on his Mickey Clean and the Mezz page at the Boston Rock Storybook.

4. From the booklet that accompanies The Cars Anthology: Just What I Needed (2 CDs, Elektra Traditions/Rhino, 1995).

5. Boston Rock, 2/18/1982, Issue 26

It's been good for us, too. The rise of the Cars was as responsible as anything for influencing the efforts that ultimately resulted in the founding of the New England Music Scrapbook.

The members of the Cars were greatly helped by Maxanne Sartori and others on their way to success. It pleases us that they have always seemed grateful; and we give these guys high marks for passing on the favor, over the years, by helping many newer bands.

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NEMS





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