HISTORIAN OF BOSTON ROCK AND ROLL
THE BOSTON GLOBE
Wednesday May 14, 1986
By Steve Morse
Source books are stacked to his left. Files snake around the desk in front of him,while albums and more files are stuffed into milkcrates on the floor. Hopping between the files books and records, Charles White 3d becomes ever more animated as he discusses his favorite subject - Boston Rock and Roll.
"I know I bit off more than I could chew when I got into this, but somehow I kept doing it," says the 23- year old Quincy native, who is writing a book on the Boston Scene and already has finished 27 chapters that have been serialized in the Allston based Beat magazine.
"For a while, it seemed masochistic. It was like a monomania." White says of his lengthy research. "But now I've learned so many different things that it all is finally coming together."
"I wasn't sure at the beginning. After all, I was only one year old when the Beatles went on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and only 10 years old when Watergate blew up. I didn't have much history behind me.
The idea for the project came from Mickey O'Halloran of the Beat, who suggested two years ago that White give it a go.The work quickly took on a life of its own.White started combing through microfilm at the Boston Public Library, and plucking old albums by the likes of Jaime Brockett, Paul Pena and Phluph (often at a dollar apiece) from used record stores such as Bryn-Mawr and Nuggets in Kenmore Square.
Interviews with key scenesters followed, among them disc jockey Arnie "Woo-Woo" Ginsburg and singer James Montgomery. By this time White was hooked.
"I now have different files starting from 1954 on," he says while buzzing around the office in his rambling Victorian home in West Roxbury." I have files on the payola trials, and on Timothy Leary at Harvard, on up to Beatles era. Then from the post Beatles era and the Bosstown sound, through the early '70s and and up to radio in the '80s and WBCN Rock 'n Roll Rumble.
"I've found that Boston has always been a mirror of the times, and often a trend setter. The Cars, for example, came from Boston and were th e first New Wave band to go Top 40," adds White, who is a musician himself, having played guitar in the well respected band Drezniak and now in Allison D, a psychedelic pop-rock band named for an obscure reference to LSD.
Not surprising, Whites finding have led him through a parade of colorful characters. Back in the late '60s, there was the very eccentric Ray Riepen, who owned the Boston Tea Party, Boston Phoenix and the WBCN all at the same time. He had a hot line into WBCN, and would go to the bar and have a few drinks with friends, then impress them by calling in requests to the station. But he had a habit of firing people,too. One day he fired Peter Wolf (later to find fame with the J. Geils Band), and Wolf put on "Think" by Aretha Franklin and left in disgust. He just walked out and ther was only dead air."
Speaking of WBCN, White received permission from long time D.J. Charles Laquidara to reprint a story in the Beat concerning Laquidara's sipping of an LSD spiked soup before going on the air in 1970. Laquidara called it an "electric matzo ball" soup and remembered that "when my replacement arrived, he said I was playing tapes of commercials one after another. No songs, just commercials."
Rummaging through his files, White tickles the memory bank even more. He pulls out a Teddy & the Pandas album, "Basic Magnetism" (1966), which features songwriter Lenny Petze, who is now an executive with New York's Epic Records and helped sign 'Til Tuesday and New Man. And he pulls a file on Lenny Collins, the fast talking local Epic promo man who plated drums on a minor hit "Back Beat #1", for the Rondels in 1961.
White is on a roll now. He pulls old photos of Billy Squire and Andy Paley when they were the Sidewinders in the early '70s. Also, old photos - showing much longer hair - of Boston groups ShaNaNa, Aerosmith, Swallow (with George Leh) Ultimate Spinach (with Jeff " Skunk Baxter who went on to play with Steely Dan,and the Doobie Brothers), Rockin' Ramrods, J. Giels Band, Boston, Modern Lovers (with Jerry Harrison, who went on to the Talking Heads) and the Cars Ben Orr and Ric Ocasek when they were in a 1972 group "Milkwood", and were named Benjamin Orzechowski and Richard Otcasek.(Many of the photos came from the archives of his down stairs neighbor, David Bieber, the promotions chief at WBCN.
White is investigating touchier subjects as well, such as the racial brawl that broke out at a concert by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers at MIT in 1956; and a so called riot that occurred at a Chuck Berry - Jerry Lee Lewis - Buddy Holly show promoted by Alan Freed at the Boston Arena in 1958.
"There was a stabbing after the show that got blamed on rock'n roll," says White. "There were also hookers around the area, yet the police still blamed any crime that night on rock'n roll. It was a sham.
But it gets worse as you read through the years. Liner notes for a Buddy Holly reissue series say 15 people were stabbed that night. And Dick Clark in his book 25 Years of Rock'n Roll says somebody was killed, "But I kept on searching for a month on that one, and couldn't find anything like that happening. Obviously, a lot of people wre trying to get rid of rock'n roll back then, but they failed."