BOSTON'S ROCK NOSTALGIA CLICKS: EX-PROMOTERS PUT HISTORY IN ON-LINE MUSEUM
By Kerry Drohan
December 26, 1999
To enter rock 'n' roll heaven, just shake, rattle, and click.
Www.dirtywater.com links today and yesterday for millions of rock fans who grew up or went to school within 80 miles of Boston in the last 30 or 40 years and bumped elbows at Bunratty's, The Rat, or K-K-K-Katy's while dancing to The Cars, The Stompers, and the Del Fuegos.
You can hear the oldies, check out the latest concert news, or search the bios for names like Revere's Freddie "Boom-Boom" Cannon, whose "Tallahassee Lassie" lit up the national charts in 1959. Or you can see what's up with more current acts, such as Susan Tedeschi of Norwell, who opened for Bob Dylan at a recent concert in Delaware.
Bits and pieces of Boston's wild rock history stream across the screen, with Aerosmith, which still has key band members living in Marshfield, and the J. Geils Band leading the parade. The G-CLEFS from Roxbury hit the big time in 1956 with "Ka Ding-Dong." Punker Johnny Angel grew up in Newton and Wellesley and led bands including Thrills, the Blackjacks, and Creeps in Exile. He now lives in Los Angeles and writes about sociology for the L.A. New Times. The B St. Bombers out of Lowell are still rocking after 20 years.
If the act relates to the Boston area in any way, including the trivial or obscure, it's on dirtywater.com, "The Boston Rock & Roll Museum."
Whatever happened to brash concert promoter Mickey O'Halloran of Somerville and his partner, Chuck White, the bad boy of Weymouth, leader of the punk band Drezniak? They grew up and started this Web site.
"Dirtywater is for anyone interested in rock 'n' roll, and in the interest of the transplanted Bostonian," said O'Halloran. "One of our goals is to be a worldwide link to the Boston area. If a kid went to school here, he may now be the CEO of a giant chemical company, but the rock history may be more important to him than the next stockholders' meeting.
"Boston is a great rock 'n' roll city. Where else do you see people walking down the street talking about bass players?"
The site name, as rock fans know, is after the Standells' 1966 lyric, "Love that dirty water/Boston you're my home"
Inside O'Halloran's home in Malden, rock 'n' roll rules. Milk crates, bags, and boxes overflow with 30 years of rock mementos - news clippings, handbills, posters, rare photos, even instruments.
"Believe it or not, we have only posted about 4 percent of what we have," said O'Halloran, better known as "Mickey O," booking agent, concert promoter, club manager, and record producer. "Chuck and I are both pack rats, and we have collected stuff from everywhere."
"I managed Bunratty's in '68, '78, and '88 and a whole lot of other clubs in between. After a show, I would collect the song lists and posters or graphics stuff. Chuck and I both collected classic handbills for concerts. As people knew we were putting this site together, they sent us more stuff. And more is coming in every day.
"This is nothing," said O'Halloran from among the stacks. "You should see Chuck's place."
Chuck White's place is in Pittsfield, where he moved five years ago. He was born in Weymouth, played with the punk band Drezniak in the late '70s, and got a lot of radio time for his song "Mesmerized." Now he's a webmaster who owns berkshireweb, which he oversees along with dirtywater.com.
"Mickey and I talked about a rock museum in the early '90s, when we were in the nightclub business," White said. "That was before the World Wide Web. We had so much material ... it sort of evolved into an on-line museum.
"I have been collecting stuff for years. I was amazed to find so much local material outside of Boston, like St. Paul. I check old record stores, antique stores, junk shops. That's my mission. That's my obsession."
White wrote a book called "History of Boston Rock," serialized in Beat magazine in 1985. A lot of that material is posted at dirtywater.
"My father is a historian and always wanted me to do something with history," White said. "Well, I guess I am - the history of rock music."
Both have strong credentials as rock historians. For one thing, they experienced a lot of it firsthand.
Some of O'Halloran's press clippings refer to him as "the legendary Mickey O." He booked a guy named Springsteen into Oliver's in 1972. He got raves for producing "Boston Does The Beatles," a 1989 two-album set of Boston-area groups doing Beatles' songs, and also for "Boston Gets Stoned," a 1993 recording of local bands doing Rolling Stones music.
He booked Aerosmith and Melissa Manchester for K-K-K-Katy's before they became superstars. He featured rock bands at Bunratty's and Harper's Ferry in Allston, Oliver's, The Rat, the Main Act in Lynn, the Mill Hill Club on Cape Cod, and at Jumbo's in Somerville, where he met White in 1980.
"Chuck was the band leader for Drezniak, and we met when they played Jumbo's," O'Halloran said. "We hit it off from the start, even though he was a scraggly, long-haired kid."
Now they are partners and good friends who share a love of rock 'n' roll.
"It's his obsession," O'Halloran says of White.
"It's his mid-life crisis," White says of O'Halloran.
They are concentrating on getting all that history out of boxes and on line.
"We have a lot of work to do," said O'Halloran, who is recovering from a kidney operation in October. "If I'm awake, I'm working on it. Content is king, and we have so much. ... Vintage photos, like the Pilgrims [a South Shore band] used to play in Pilgrim costumes. We have a photo of them that's priceless."
Dirtywater features concert listings, biographies, and discographies, live news, a store, and links to other rock Web sites like Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Downbeat. It also sends a weekly electronic newsletter to 4,000 subscribers and offers a chat night every Tuesday.
So will this obsession ever become a successful business venture? Dirtywater has a few ads, including a banner from Black Rose, the Saugus recording label. The site has been drawing more than 19,000 hits a week, and goes as high as 30,000, O'Halloran said.
"We would like to make it pay, but first we're both in it for the nostalgia and the history," he said. "People have offered us venture capital, but the right deal isn't there yet. We need a lot of help getting things posted, but we want to keep control. So right now we're doing this while we're starving to death."
Karyn Mayhew-White, Chuck's wife, does sales, marketing, and planning for berkshireweb and for dirtywater and sees a bright future.
"It's a young Web site - we only started 18 months ago - even now we're about a year ahead of ourselves, with the technology," she said. "When it comes to advertising, we believe the public doesn't want stuff rammed down their throats, so we're kind of PBS-oriented about ads.
"Our philosophy is to focus on content, and the advertisers will follow the consumer, who is coming to dirtywater. Our hits are impressive, and we plan to be more aggressive in the new year about getting advertising. But we're doing what we love to do. If we stick to it, the money will come."
Whether the money rolls in or not, O'Halloran offers the rock 'n' roll mission: "We want people to come here for fun."