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Rings at Uncle Sam’s in 1981

Uncle Sam’s was definitely one of my go-to destinations when I first started hitting the clubs. As a South Shore suburban girl, I hadn’t yet graduated to going to the clubs in Boston. Uncle Sam’s often booked bands that were “local” yet “national” –bands from the area that had major label contracts: Robin Lane and the Chartbusters (which I also could have featured here for “R”, but I didn’t have any photos), The Atlantics, and of course The Rings and Private Lightning. The latter two were on the downward slope by the time I was going to see them. Their major label LPs were not selling as well as their record companies had hoped, and it seemed large-scale fame had passed them by.

The Rings got airplay with the song, “Let Me Go”, but I loved the whole album and played it to death. One of my favorite songs was “Who’s She Going Dancing With.” I couldn’t help but get up and dance to that one! And listen to “Love’s Not Safe” from the second album and tell me you don’t want to dance! Watching the video for “Let Me Go” and listening to some of the music, in retrospect I am struck by how similar the vocal style is to Ric Ocasek from The Cars (and the clothes style too).

While researching for this post I found a blog about The Rings that I think does them better justice than I can. (If you’d like a little history of the band, check out this link.) I loved reading the comments on the blog — like most of the people who wrote them, I feel privileged to have seen The Rings play. The band was TIGHT and professional and great LIVE.

As I chose and scanned these two photos I had taken a year apart, it struck me how in the second photo the band looks relaxed and seems to be having a good time. The difference in Michael Baker’s clothes also fascinated me. The outfit in the first photo seems so calculated to be cool and SO 80’s; I think the t-shirt and jeans in the second photo suit him much more.

The Rings at Uncle Sam’s 1982

Michael Baker ended up doing a lot of producing. And proof of how small the Boston Music Scene was back then: the guitarist for The Rings, Mark Sutton (right front in the photo below) ended up playing with Dave Morrison (I’ll talk about him in my post for the letter “T”) in a band called True Blue.

Ok, I haven’t cheated since “K” and the next cheat won’t be until “U”. The letter “Q” is a tough one; I have to say Queen.

The second concert I ever attended was the first concert I attended with Eric, before we started going to clubs; it was Queen at Boston Garden. In comparison to my virgin concert experience (the Eagles/Fleetwood Mac/Boz Skaggs that I blogged about for the letter “E”), Queen was colorful, flamboyant, and loud! The costumes were great and Freddie Mercury was dynamite; it was a true scream-along experience.

I remember the summer (1976?) when Bohemian Rhapsody was on jukeboxes everywhere, and I remember the first time I heard it. I spent a week at a campground in Indiana at a huge family reunion. I remember sitting in a car with my favorite cousin, Keith one evening when it came on the radio. He turned it up loud and sang along. When it was over I said, “Who was that?” He was incredulous, “That’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen. Don’t you know that song?!”

My cousin Keith with the Red Sox visor I bought for him.

After that I seemed to hear it everywhere, and I always thought of him. It came on an oldies station recently while I was driving and I sang along. When I got home I wrote this poem.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Tears fall


with age;

they startle me

like a late-night knock—

The radio blares

Bohemian Rhapsody,

flips open the photo album

of my past—

the snapshot’s clear:

a shy awkward teen,

my favorite cousin’s face close

in a dark car,

lit with excitement

about the band.

My crush, so gentle,

he struggled then died

of kidney disease.

Tears continue

as I move on to the next snapshot—

a concert date: watching

the band’s lead singer, slick Mercury,

prancing in tight-pants

in a loud, hot Boston Garden.

He’s long gone;

flamboyant Freddie

succumbed to Aids,

quietly ashamed it seemed.

But this is my memory book,

not his; my regrets

and joys a stranger’s

brought along

by a song that is suddenly over—

and here I sit and stare

at a red light,

stunned by tears

in my unexpected

present life.

There were a few Boston bands beginning with “P” (such as the Pixies or Pastiche), but I’m choosing Private Lightning. Jane and I went to see them many times at Uncle Sam’s in Hull.

As with many of the other bands I have written about like The Atlantics and Neighborhoods, they had a major label contract but it didn’t lead to success. The album just didn’t do them justice. Seeing them live was an uplifting experience; they weren’t a dance band but there was energy! I agree with the review I read online…the talent is evident through the production flaws. While searching for links for this blog, I found a story written by one of the members describing his experience with the band. (I also found a wonderful music blog that mentions a lot of the same bands that I have.)

Private Lightning had a different sound than most of the other bands I went to see at the time, less punk or new wave, and more…artsy, dramatic, and orchestral. I loved the lead singer Adam Sherman’s soaring vocal style and Patty Van Ness’ violin. It was music to sing along with…like Meatloaf. Physical Speed is such a summer driving song!

Looking back at it now, I think they just didn’t fit into any niche. As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t get to see them enough.

Check out the guy on the right with his fingers in his ears!

The Outlets were one of our “staple” bands for a long time; we watched them through their many stages: from teenage punks to glam rockers. Their performances were always full of energy, and at some point the slam dancing would start. As I mentioned in my letter “B” blog, there was never really a “VS” in our minds when comparing them to Boy’s Life. “Knock Me Down” kicked butt! (There is a live version on YouTube, but it is from a reunion tour and the sound is awful.)

We often spent time talking to lead singer, David Alex Barton during their playing days (including one memorable conversation when we sang the theme to Gilligan’s Island). His infectious grins and upbeat personality were endearing; he was one of a kind. My favorite Outlets’ story however involves his brother, lead guitarist Rick Barton.

We were at the all ages daytime gig where the Outlets opened for The Neighborhoods (dream gig as far as Jane was concerned). There was piles of speakers set up in a “garage type” environment. In order to be able to see (and to stay out of the writhing sea of kids in front of the stage), I climbed up on a couple of speakers that were piled on top of each other. The slam dancing was in full swing. Rick Barton was standing by the speaker below me. Suddenly the dancing reached a frenzy; the speakers started to wobble. I panicked; I had nothing to hold onto. As I was starting to fall I reached out for the only thing I could grab to prevent me falling to the cement floor: the collar of Rick Barton’s t-shirt. The entire back of it ripped down to the bottom, but I was kept from tumbling to the floor. I was saved but horrified! I apologized over and over to Rick. He looked down at the rags he was now wearing, shook his head and smiled. I was so grateful to him for being such a cool guy.  He went on to be one of the founders of Dropkick Murphys before moving on to yet another band.

My second favorite Outlets’ story involves going to the movies. Jane and I heard that Dave Barton had a short appearance (as singer of the wedding band) in a movie called Hard Promises with William Petersen (later from CSI) and Sissy Spacek. They were having a premier at one of the big movie theaters in Boston; we had to be there! When the movie was over and we were leaving, we saw Dave, his wife, and his parents in the lobby. We went over and said congratulations and spoke to him briefly. It was probably the last time we saw him in person.

Just as anyone who grew up on the South Shore in the 60’s or 70’s recognizes the shot of the Paragon Park roller coaster on the Neighborhoods single, “No Place Like Home/Prettiest Girl”, anyone who went to clubs in the 70’s and 80’s knows of or has seen The Neighborhoods. Like the Atlantics, they did get signed to a major record label, yet it never led to commercial success.

Attending a Neighborhoods’ gig was such a varied experience; they were always great, but their audience changed. They attracted an audience that liked great pop songwriting, but also punk rockers and slam dancers, and there was even a “metal” phase. Which audience showed up was often based on the other band on the bill.

I saw them countless times, yet, I have no photographs. I think because they were one of Eric’s favorite bands I left the photography to him. With the Neighborhoods, Eric didn’t need to me to break the ice; he would always talk to them.

I remember one gig in particular: it was an all ages show, a rare daytime gig, when they were playing with the Outlets. (I’ll tell a story about this when I get to “O”.) We got to the gig early, and I remember Eric talking to the drummer, Mike and his girlfriend/fiance for quite a while. (I think they were planning on moving away from Boston? My memory is like a still photograph on this: I remember it being daylight and us standing by Mike’s drum kit and no one else around…)

David Minehan was the ultimate front man: an animated ball of energy who looked great while he performed. After playing in another band called the Stardarts, he became a producer. The ‘Hoods were fun to watch, to listen to, and to dance to; they had it all. Another great Boston band that should have made it big…

Mission of Burma was one of the loudest local bands on the 80’s Boston scene (there’s a reason why Roger Miller got tinnitus in his ears). They were originally a trio with the addition of a tape manipulator/sound engineer. Going to see them was a crap shoot…they could be amazing or they could be awful. When you went to a bad gig, you weren’t in a hurry to go back; it could be like listening to too many fingernails on a blackboard at excruciating decibel levels. Once after seeing them at the Rat, my ears were still ringing the next day!

One of my college friends had a crush on the bass player, Clint Conley. I could understand her attraction: he was handsome, intelligent (he became a producer on a local TV news show), and his songs had the most airplay. You could actually sing along with them. Unlike me, my friend was one of the most soft-spoken, most shy, intelligent people I ever met; she was an animal lover and a vegan. It amazed me that with her personality that she loved the band so much; it was such a surprise. She would go to see them regularly, and even though it was painful to her, she would talk to Clint; she liked him that much! She was quite devastated when the band broke up; she talked about the final gig for weeks before it happened.

My favorite Mission of Burma story is only indirectly about them. One of the most well-known (and most covered) and accessible songs they recorded was called “That’s When I Reach for my Revolver” (of course it was one of Clint’s songs). (It’s funny to read the comments on YouTube…people think that Moby wrote the song…not true though his IS a good version.) Years after the band had broken up and I was working at the Orpheum Theater, Soul Asylum was opening for Keith Richards. The ushers were hanging around watching sound check and talking to the band; the band members were friendly and down-to-earth. It was a wonderful surprise during the show when the lead singer of Soul Asylum said, “This one is for the ushers!” and they played “Revolver.” It was a memorable gift at the time. I didn’t know until now that they actually played that song regularly. (YouTube has a version from 1989 in Minneapolis.)

There were so many Boston club bands beginning with “L”: The Lyres, La Peste, Limbo Race, and Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, but I had to choose Lou. Lou Miami was unique. Long before judges on American Idol talked about “making a song your own,” Lou sang a version of Lulu’s song “To Sir With Love” that sounded like no other. (The link I’ve posted here isn’t great, but he was great live. Read some of the comments on this video from people who knew him or saw him live.)

I wish I had clearer pictures of him. The photos below were taken in 1981 at a tiny club called the Inn Square Men’s Bar (a great club that shut down in 1984), and they didn’t allow the use of a flash. My Pentax K1000 shutter was open as much as I dared in the low light. Too far open and the shots would have been a complete blur; Lou moved around a lot as he performed.

Jane, Eric and I saw Lou a lot those days, but these seem to be the only photos I have. If we were ever up for a Monday night gig (which didn’t happen often — we were usually recovering after the weekend), Lou played at Cantone’s every Monday. He was a an energetic and ALIVE performer. Unfortunately Lou Miami passed away in 1995, but those who were lucky enough to see him will never forget him.

(I couldn’t even take these out of my photo album to scan-they were stuck)

This is the last time I will cheat until “Q”.

Because Tommy Keene was from the East Coast, he came to Boston quite often in the 80’s. Jane and I loved his well-crafted pop songs, and like Peter Dayton, he had THE HAIR. Places That Are Gone is an 80’s music classic. I remember being at Harvard Coop (a great place to buy LPs, posters, and books) the day his first major label LP was released; I couldn’t wait! When I asked the clerk for it, I got an admiring glance: here was a girl who knew her music!

These photos were taken at what was a dream show for me at the Paradise: Tommy opened for Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, another favorite of mine (Lloyd had a big influence on me; I wrote about his music on my other blog, Last Train to Qville). I remember Jane and I leaving the club for some fresh air between sets and seeing Tommy walking down the street with some bandmates. He was wearing a letter jacket and looked much younger than his years. I yelled “Hey Tommy!” He turned at looked at us, but I had no idea what else to say (I was losing my touch!). We just smiled and waved and he kept on walking.

Speaking of the WBCN music expo in the last post (“I”), Jon Butcher Axis also played there. We had seen them quite a few times over the years. I liked the band enough to buy the self-titled LP, but they weren’t a “weekly” band for us like The Atlantics, Neighborhoods, Outlets or Trademarks (these will be my “N”, “O” and “T” subjects). Their big hit on MTV at the time was “Life Takes a Life.“(Great video from the 80’s, check it out!)

Jane and I thought the man, Jon Butcher, was FINE, as I think the lingo goes; he was a great guitarist and wonderful eye candy. The band was a three-piece and very tight. I remember how he would come to the front of the stage during guitar solos; I was standing there one of those times and got to look directly into his beautiful brown eyes…SIGH.

And speaking of “J”, the Joe Perry Project was also playing clubs in the early 80’s. Joe Perry had temporarily left Aerosmith and started his own band. I remember specifically seeing them at the Channel. Because Joe Perry was already famous, they didn’t have to start out playing the smaller clubs.

Jon Butcher has continued his career; he got nominated for a Grammy award and is still performing today. He recently teamed up with Charlie Farren (who played with The Joe Perry Project from 1980-1982) as FBI. So…my “J”s actually tie together. The music world is a small one…especially in Boston.

Ok, I’m doing it again…I have got to say Icicle Works. They are British, but it’s a good story.

One of the biggest radio stations and supporters of local bands, WBCN, was having a “music expo.” One of my favorite new bands, Icicle Works, was going to be performing, and (my memory is a little hazy on this) I think Eric was going to be working at a booth at the expo selling records. So, of course Jane and I had to go.

I had a little “crush” on the lead singer of the band, Ian McNabb, because I loved his voice. He would sometimes play the keyboard and guitar at the same time while singing. As someone quite uncoordinated, I thought this was amazing.

I happened to see him walking around with the bass player — Wow! Eric had trained me well, so I headed right over. Although it was usually a piece of cake for me to make conversation…my crush had me tongue-tied. I asked him for his autograph and then…nothing…I just stared. Gotta say something…”I can’t believe you can play the keyboards and guitar at the same time while you’re singing…You’re SO talented.” GULP. He smirked, said “thank you,” handed me the autograph and walked away. Jane, who had been hanging in the background started laughing. I could feel my face burning.

WBCN was broadcasting live. A bit later they had an interview with Icicle Works. The DJ mentioned Ian’s playing the keyboards and the guitar. In the background came the bass player’s voice, imitating a girl, “He’s SO talented.” “Shut up” said Ian, as his band mates laughed.

“Did you hear that?” says Jane. Oh yeah…


et cetera
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