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Beacon Street Union
Beacon Street Union

History of Boston Rock
     History of Boston Rock & Roll - Chapter 13 - The Bosstown Sound - Part 2


Sanford, ME native John Wright and Bostonian Wayne Ulaky had something in common; they were the only long hairs on the Boston College campus in 1966. They were also musicians.

With two days notice, Wright learned 60 songs, ranging from originals to covers by The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Them, and Arthur Lee's Love, for the band's debut at Salisbury Beach's Five O'Clock Club. R & B was more popular than the Beacon St. Union's psychedelia so the club response was not exactly overwhelming, but they learned the rock business fast as they split 100 dollars after nine sets. It was back to Boston.

Their first Boston gig took place at The Olde Brown Derby located on Boylston Street near where WBCN stands today. The show was attended by Paul Shapiro and Peter Wolf of the Hallucinations, who enjoyed the show. "The Hallucinations were the coolest band in Boston then. If the Beatles had shown up, we wouldn't have been more excited," recalled entertainment lawyer Bob Rosenblatt from his New York office. This began a friendship where both bands often played together.

Word spread quickly, and the band landed a regular slot at Where It's At, opening for acts such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Buffalo Springfield, The Blues Project (whom Rosenblatt bought his Farfisa from), and Jose Feliciano. The night that they were to open for Chuck Berry, Berry showed up in a taxi with an amp in one hand and his guitar in the other The Union suddenly became his band for the evening. It was around this time that the band caught the attention of Music Productions' Joe Casey ( Modern Lovers, Neighborhoods, Frank J. Russo).

Casey's New York connections had the band packing their distorted guitars and sunshine harmonies for the Summer of Love. Promising shows at The Bitter End, Cafe Wha, and Steve Paul's SCENE had the underground whispering.

The SCENE, located at W44th St. and 8th Ave. became the Union's stronghold at a very memorable time. Stars The Who, Hendrix, Al Kooper, Laura Nyro and Brian Epstein's associate, Matt Weiss were all regulars. Some of them often climbed on stage for some spontaneous jam sessions. Band members found themselves on the same stage as Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Jimi Hendrix and Al Kooper and even spent some time hanging out in the back of John Lennon's psychedelic limosine with Weiss. Things were looking up.

Will the next contestant please sign in?

On the same evening, the Beacon Street Union was scheduled to meet with MGM producer Wes Farrell and Laura Nyro (two separate meetings) and opted to meet with Farrell. No one will ever know Nyro had to say; the band signed on with Farrell and MGM.

Oh, about Farrell:

In 1961, Wes Farrell was a staff writer for a prominent publishing companyi Roosevelt Music, for whom he penned "Hang on Sloopy" (The McCoys), and Come a Little Bit Closer (Jay and the Americans), among others. By 1967, he had become an established producer who had worked with The Cowsills, Brooklyn Bridge, and Every Mother's Son, all of which were commercial acts bordering on bubblegum. The Wes Farrell-Beacon Street marriage was not necessarily compatible (Union leaning more towards the left) but the outcome was guaranteed to be interesting. Off to The Record Plant, New York's hippest recording studio, we go.

As we know, the releases were delayed while MGM put together their Bosstown Sound campaign. Much to the band's dismay came the double page, full color Billboard Ad, declaring the sound to challenge the civilized world. They never expected it because MGM never said a word to anyone about their intentions.

The album The Eyes of the Beacon St. Union was released in March of 1968. It featured the single South End Incident/Speed Kills. "We were almost crying when we heard the album," said Rosenblatt. "Everything sounded great in the studio, really full. The acetate sounded great but something happened to the mastering. The music was lost. It sounded like the band was playing in the next city."

The radio stations wouldn't touch it for one of two reasons: a) The lyrical content (it was about a South End knifing) or b) it sounded that bad. Then came the critics.

When asked what the low point of John Lincoln Wright's experience with Beacon St. Union was, in a recent Globe Magazine with D.C. Dennison, his answer was as follows:

"The press reaction. We got slammed pretty hard, and we were just kids. We weren't 27 or 30 year olds like a lot of band who were lying about their ages. We were just out of high school, really, sophomores in college, trying to do something. But two weeks didn't go by when Rolling Stone didn't put some kind of nail in the coffin of our career. And that hurt, and it took a lot of years to get over that. "

"No one was saying anything bad about us before the album. Michael Bloomfield once told me that he had heard that we were the best thing out of Boston, " added Rosenblatt. The wounded Union dragged themselves back to the studio.

The Clown Died In Marvin Gardens was the Beacon St. Union's answer to Sgt Pepper. Not much unlike the Beatles Pepper suits, they incorporated civil war confederate army jackets to their look. The cover photo was an eerie scene of the band standing around a "dead" clown. It was shot by Joel Brodsky who had previously shot the Doors Strange Days" cover. (The Clown was the same man who posed as the juggler of The Doors LP). The title cut was the strongest effort to date bar the Volga Boat Song embellishment. It was a twisted tale about a trip around a Monopoly board. It was released in November '68, just in time to make the New York Times Top 50 Albums of 1968. The Single Four Hundred and Five, from the Eyes album b/w Blue Suede Shoes, from the Clown album did okay in some parts of the country, and the follow up May I Light Your Cigarette b/w The Farrell ditty Mayola" did about the same. The disillusioned and dismayed Rosenblatt split for Boston. Wright and Ulaky quickly followed. It was over.

The remaining two pieced together an outfit called Eagle and went back to the studio with Farrell. It was released on an MGM subsidiary. David Bieber called the album "an outgrowth of the band" in a 1973 Real Paper article.

Dick Richard Weisburg went on to become marketing director for Channel 7 in Boston.

Wayne Ulaky took interest in the amusement park business and today is the proprietor of Canobie Lake Park.

Paul Shepard Tartachny still plays today as the leader of the C & W band North Country.

Bob Rhodes Rosenblatt is an entertainment lawyer in New York. He also just worked on a motion picture in California.

John Lincoln Wright leads the Sour Mash Boys and recently celebrated his 20th anniversary in the business.

Wes Farrell went on to create The Partridge Family and is still active as a producer/songwriter today.

This article originally appeared in The Beat in 1985
(c) Charles William White III

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