MASTERFUL MUSIC MESSIAH
By A.J. Wachtel
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and Jimmy Harold gave rise to The Rat. Who would ever have thought that his hard work and vision would result in getting world- wide exposure and propelling the Boston music scene’s greatness into mythical heights of Biblical proportions? Hear the Word:
Noise: I first met you in 1983 when Mickey O (The Beat Magazine/ Bunratty’s/ Harper’s Ferry/ Jasper’s/ Jumbo’s/ Sir Morgan’s Cove) brought me to The Rat and the only history he gave me about you was, “we used to work as doormen across the street at KKKK Katy’s. Then he bought The Rat.” Care to share a brief bio of how and why you bought The Rat from working the door with Mickey across the street?
Jimmy Harold: After The Kenmore Club, I went to work at TJ’s which is what The Rat was called back in those days. Then I had disagreements with management and I was fired. I moved on and managed a couple of clubs and then after my contract ended I went back to TJ’s and I ran the downstairs area. Then I bought out the other guy, my business partner, and my foot was in the door and now I was in business.
Noise: How did Mitch become your doorman and what was his official job at the rat?
Harold: Mitch and I became friends in the mid-’60s. I worked for him as a doorman at Sonny’s in Kenmore Square. We remained friends for years and when I owned The Rat I wanted a figurehead at the door who knew how to handle difficult situations. He always looked good dressed up in a jacket and tie and the girls loved him – believe me!
Noise: How did the 1976 album Live At The Rat come about? Was it the album producer John Kalishes’ idea or yours?
Harold: It was my idea. I saw something was happening with all these groups and their original music so I had all the bands come in one Sunday afternoon and we discussed what was happening. I thought about doing an album and everybody was on board. I did a double album and I’ll never forget that I said to myself “I need my head examined!” It was a brilliant move and it put The Rat on the map big time!
Noise: What did you like best about owning the Rat?
Harold: It wasn’t a job.
Noise: What did you hate most about owning the Rat?
Harold: I have no comment on this question.
Noise: What bands were your favorite bands playing at your club and why?
Harold: I’ll answer that when Tom Brady tells you his favorite receivers.
Noise: Some of MY favorite nights at The Rat were with Tiny Tim/ Swinging E’s, Edgar Winter, The Bristols on Marathon Day, and Golden Joe Baker’s gigs. Can you give me the top five of YOUR favorite nights you are most proud of having hosted?
Harold: One of the best nights was when The Runaways played because David Bowie, Blondie and Iggy Pop showed up and they were all in my office along with the people in The Runaways Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Cherie Curry and Sandy West. I introduced Iggy and Bowie to them. Then, in no order, The Police, The Ramones, Thin Lizzie, and The Jam.
Noise: Forty-one years after Live at The Rat was released, Live at The Rat Volume II is coming out. What’s are the differences in the Boston music scene then and now?
Harold: What I’ve seen isn’t enough to judge and have a valid opinion of then vs. now
Noise: What’s your role in Live at The Rat II album and how is the second album similar and different from the original?
Harold: I oversaw the entire project and loved doing it. It brought back so many memories. Similar? Having some of the same players and musicians. And the difference is in the technology.
Noise: Any advice to give young musicians trying to follow their dreams in these tough times?
Harold: Keep rocking!
What is Jimmy Harold’s legacy in the history of the Boston music scene?
(Names are listed with their old affiliations)
ELLIOT EASTON (The Cars): Jimmy was a great friend to the young musicians of Boston. He gave all the bands the crucial chance to perform in front of an audience (even if it was just a Monday night), such a crucial aspect in developing a band. I can’t think of many other clubs at that time where you could play an entire set of original material without being pressured to play Top 40. Jimmy was always kind and fair to what were basically a bunch of kids with stars in their eyes. I know I can say with confidence that The Rathskeller was a crucial step in the progress of The Cars and we owe Jimmy a great debt of thanks. Those were such great days!
WILLIE LOCO ALEXANDER (The Lost/ The Boom Boom Band): After Jim Harold opened up The Rat to rock ’n’ roll again, beginning with Mickey Clean & The Mezz in 1975, it became a hot house or greenhouse for musical growth and community. It became mecca for rock ’n’ roll fans from all over the world. We have got to thank and give credit to Jim Harold for making it possible for a lot of rock ’n’ roll dreamers’ dreams to come true.
ROBIN LANE (The Chartbusters): I actually don’t know all that much about Jimmy personally from back in the day, only the things that people say about him and what he says on his boat trips around the harbor and out to the islands where the dead bodies are probably weighted down with concrete. But I know Jimmy more at this point in time. Most of what I know about Jimmy from the past comes from Asa Brebner’s reminisces. I know, according to Asa, that The Rat had cover bands and Asa came in with Mickey Clean & The Mezz and asked if they could play there. They played for him (I think) and he thought they were soooooooo bad that if he gave them a gig once a week or something, tons of people would come in just to laugh at them; and so it started, but not with laughter, people were genuinely liking the band and others that came after; and those bands were playing the type of music that made The Rat and Jimmy Harold history. I lived in Cambridge at the time and had no idea what was going on at The Rat. I had met Alpo from Real Kids who took me there and introduced me to Asa, Scott Baerenwald and Leroy Radcliff. I already had some kind of record deal with Private Stock and asked these boys if they wanted to be in a band. I was cute and they said “yes.” I never really met Jimmy at this time. He was larger than life and to me, a bit intimidating. Mitch was the entre into The Rat and was my introduction to Jimmy too. Jimmy is the sweetest of men and I love him dearly. Love to be around him and listen to his stories. Jimmy, thank you for all you’ve given me and so many other musicians. You and The Rat are legacy to Boston town.
RICK BERLIN (Orchestra Luna/ Rick Berlin The Movie): No RAT, no scene. No JIM HAROLD, no RAT. Jim, like Hilly Crystal, created a thriving home for every conceivable band/ genre. (Orchestra Luna and RB The Movie could open up for or follow The Thrills, The Real Kids, ’Til Tuesday or the Cars.) Tho it could be said that the RAT was ‘CBGB’s North’ (a trade- gig home for New York bands and vice versa) it had it’s own genius identity. You had to descend that dark stinking staircase to get into the place. To smell the dead rats. To see the bands even if you could already hear them. A punk living room where runaway kids, suburban fans, dreamers, drag queens, street hustlers, punk rockers and the insane folded in, fit in, melded together in an easy, joyous, ferocious,alchemical fury. It was a starting point for first time bands that continued to hold onto their soul even after big time success hit or missed. Jim did all this quietly. He wasn’t a point-to-himself guy. He relied on the fierce friendships of artists and musicians. On the stone-faced don’t fuck with me presence of Mitch. On the squealing stuttering sit- in like it or not harp of Mr. Butch. He spent the bucks on a tear- your- ears -off PA and the hottest snare melting lights in town. There’s never been a club like it, and it was impossible to not be inspired on any given night. Hats off to you, Jimmy! THE RAT LIVES FOREVAH!
JOHNNY ANGEL WENDELL (The Blackjacks/ The Swinging Erudites): His legacy as the owner of the Rat was recognizing early on that having an endless parade of cover bands in an era when that’s more or less all there was besides disco or blues bands, was bad for business. That there was a much more loyal clientele for the new rock music of the middle ’70s and beyond. He appreciated that the colorful and offbeat was actually more lucrative because the wave that eventually would drown out the old bar-based entertainment had real staying power. That took vision.
LIZ BORDEN (Lizzie Borden & The Axes): I think Jimmy’s legacy in the history of the Boston music scene is that he made the history. He provided a place for bands to play before people even realized this type of music existed. The music varied but it was not commercial and people didn’t know what to do with it, but Jimmy did. The Rat hosted bands that went on to be huge. He had a vision. He provided a space for bands and the patrons to express themselves when other venues wouldn’t. I can tell you this young punk felt right at home. Jimmy is the history.
MR. CURT (Pastiche/ Adventure Set): Jimmy Harold was the sentinel of the times. A savvy gatekeeper who held the keys to the future. He had the ambition with the right space. A very long time ago, I was in a band called The Kids. In that era, playing local original music was a rarity. We knew about The Rathskellar because we heard that The Remains played there. While others have probably made the claim, we were the band that started The Rat scene, playing there in late 1974 on Monday nights for about 75 cents each. At the time, The Rat was a sleepy bar kind of place and John Felice proposed to the manager Jimmy Harold that we’d play a residency on Monday nights, which were traditionally unbooked. That’s how it started. Slowly, people started showing up. By 1975, the gigs at The Rat were four nights in a row. Thursday through Sunday. On Friday and Saturday you could get a lot of people in there -and they sure did! By the time the Boston punk explosion happened in 1976 and beyond, Jimmy was The King and everybody knew it. Many cities have hot spots and in Boston The Rat was number one and became legendary. Thank you forever! Fait accompli.
BARRY TASHIAN (Barry & The Remains): I don’t know if I can be of much use to you in this regard. I didn’t really know Jimmy. He must’ve bought the place from Gene. The owner of The Lounge Bar (later aka The Rathskeller) as I remember it was a good guy by the name of Gene Brezniak. Gene co-signed our loan with Atamian Ford to get us a red Ford Econoline van so we could drive to our gigs all over New England. He also co-signed to buy an electric piano for Bill Briggs. One of the bartenders at the club was a guy by the name of John Cassetta.
STEVE MORSE (Boston Globe): Jim Harold was in the right place at the right time. His club became the venue all cool bands wanted to play. I saw some transcendent shows at The Rat – Talking Heads, The Jam, R.E.M., Chris Isaak, Mink DeVille and The Cars for starters – and none of it would have been possible without Jim Harold setting the tone. He loved the scene, the party vibe and had a famously high tolerance for craziness and mayhem. The Rat was a classic, subterranean Kenmore Square dive, but it was Boston’s ground zero for maximum rock and grit. And given the intensity of many nights there, it was a miracle that Harold, who eventually endured pressures well beyond the norm, kept it going as long as he did. A true legend.
CARTER ALAN (WBCN): I could seriously say Jim Harold presided over the most important piece of punk real estate north of CBGB but I can also say it was the best basement I ever partied in!
JIM SULLIVAN (Boston Globe): Depending on who you were he provided different things: A clubhouse for those happy to play outside the mainstream, a dungeon where like-minded souls could convene and rock, a place to play for up-and-coming Boston bands, a first-landing for key groups from the UK or New York. The one thing he did not provide was a place to go number two, God forbid, if that urge struck… WAS DELI HAUS OPEN? As to number one? Well, if you were a guy any place you pissed in that tiny space pretty much worked.
JAMES RYAN (Hoodoo BBQ): As for Jim’s legacy in the history of the Boston rock ’n’ roll scene, I can speak of opportunity granted! When some pals from WBCN, planning for The Rumble, noticed an open kitchen at the Rat, they set up a meeting between Jim and me to discuss my potential use of the space. “Legacy,” for providing a creative space, indeed! Jim was very “hands-off” in allowing me to further the “notion” that became the Hoodoo and all it entailed. And, aside from foodstuffs, music was most definitely a part of it, as Del Fuegos, Neats, Scruffy the Cats, Blackjacks, Valdez’s and Swingin’ E’s served as prep staff, fry cooks, broiler persons, and general liaison with the music and art scenes that were interwoven in our every waking moment. His approach to allowing us the “free hand” to generate a “brand” gave us a wide berth in pursuing our creative bents. I/we are indebted to his, often, “looking the other way” at sometimes questionable hijinks. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we could put together a “house band” from the staff, in the event that a scheduled band was unable to make it to town, on any given evening!
GRANNY (Rat sound man): I believe the legacy of Jimmy Harold is an honest, single-fingered salute/challenge to anyone, anywhere to “TOP THAT.” I wish someone would try.
M.J. COSTA BYRNES (Rat bartender): Jim successfully ran a club business for almost 30 years in an industry where the average lifespan is only three years. Through three decades of music genres and three generations of music fans. Like the old adage “never judge a book by it’s cover,” he created an atmosphere of acceptance from all walks of life, which lent itself to the large amount of dedicated and diverse regulars that would frequent The Rat for decades. It was a second home to employees and patrons alike. Folks would come for the great BBQ, drinks, conversation and stay for the music; often creating new fan bases for many bands and in some cases creating the launch pad for their careers. Not known for a “warm and fuzzy” personality, it was easy to see that Jim didn’t suffer fools easy or at all. As an employee, it didn’t take long to understand the personality behind the man. As demanding as he was of staff and the bands that played at the club, he was just as generous and strongly loyal. He would often take staff, bands and some “regulars” on boat excursions in the Harbor or on The Charles. All he asked was that folks bring their own beer, (thus protecting his own stash), and not fall off! I’m fortunate to have him as a dear friend.
LOIS McGEE (Rat booking agent): I moved from Miami to Boston in 1977. The main reason was to provide better education for my three daughters. Long story short, my friends and family revolved around the Rat! As a patron, I met the love of my life, Garry Cook, the drummer for the Infliktors. I went to broadcast school and did my internship at the Rat as Kathei Logue’s assistant. Julie Farman was the national booking agent and Kathei booked the local talent. Jim had his finger on the pulse of the current sound and what was going to be big. He promoted a premiere format for the club. This meant that great bands played there before they were signed to a national record label. Genius. No other club in the city could afford to do this. The room was shoulder to shoulder every night for years. He considered the Red Sox baseball schedule in booking the bands. He had a restaurant that catered Bar-B-Que food. Jim Harold was a natural for the business. He knew the owner of CBGB in New York, Hillie and they were both successful. Jim did all this while raising three children and keeping the doors open to the club. He had many offers to buy him out and he always said “the price isn’t right!” I am happy to say that I worked closely with Jim as one of his booking agents until 1988. I have great respect for him and the way he ran his business. He kept it real everyday. I believe Jim is still keeping it real to stay involved and in touch with the bands that became close personal friends with him. The legacy lives on!
HOPE MOON (Rat booking agent/ Lovelace): I met Jim in 1974 as the result of my agent booking the band Lovelace at his club known as TJ’s/ Zodiac Lounge. At this point in time there several local bands playing at this place. The name changed to The Rathskellar in 1974. Eventually nicknamed The Rat. Jim had an ear for music and he gladly invited and sometimes took a chance that the group was musically talented when booking unknown groups. He booked many classic rock ’n’ roll groups Subsequently, shortly after 1974 he invited groups from England during the period of the “British Invasion” of the ’60s and ’70s. It paid off. Then with forward thinking, Jim started to recognize the punk/ garage/ alternative band talent that became prevalent. Although like-kind groups performed before 1974 at the club, the genre took off. He embraced the non-conventional talent that he saw. Due to his open mindedness in search for creative and talented musician, he became a legacy of the Boston music scene.
CINDY DALEY (Lovelace): First, Lovelace opened the doors to The Rat, and were there when the name went up in the fall of 1972. We stayed for six weeks. Jim had the insight to present and preserve unique musical artistry and the courage to embrace rock in all genres, especially punk, when he collaborated with CBGB. He also had the foresight to bring highly talented acts to America, i.e. The Police long before they broke and Cap’n Swing (The Cars). He should always be remembered as the Father of Rock in Kenmore Square. A lot of musical history in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s can be attributed to his ability to let musicians be creative and respected for their art and have a place to call home to present it.
BARRY MARSHALL (The Marshalls/ The Rockin’ Robins): Jimmy Harold used to throw full cups of beer at me when we were arguing about bookings and money. But he gave so many of us a real shot at original music, many of us have lifelong careers in music partly because of that opportunity!
KELLY KNAPP and KIM ERNST (The Bristols): The Bristols were lucky enough to be asked to play the annual Marathon Day bash which took place as the runners passed through Kenmore Square. This usually lasted three plus hours and featured many Boston musicians. It was Jimmy’s foresight and business savvy that made that afternoon show a huge success. Jimmy was always warm and encouraging towards us and gave us all a home to not only play and perform but be a part of a very ripe creative community.
BILLY LOOSIGIAN (The Boom Boom Band): Jimmy Harold was in the right place at the right time as we all were, I suppose. There was a handful of creative and unique bands whose members had no place to perform. He had the place and perfect it was. I really don’t know Jimmy well enough to know exactly why he let us have his place to be our playground. I think it was Scott Baerenwald who convinced him to open the place up to his band The Mezz and other like- minded “orchestras” as my Grandmother referred to us. But I’m not sure of that. But the thing grew because he navigated a developing music scene, following some good instincts. As a result, many misfit weirdo artists became popular, playing to bigger and bigger crowds. Jimmy cooperated with whoever would help bands associated with The Rat grow. With local radio. With the NYC scene. Hilly Crystal at CBGB and Peter Crowley at Max’s. His legacy is to musicians that, if you feel excluded from performing, that you can make your own scene happen. Thanks Jimmy.
JERRY LEHANE (The Dogmatics): I’ll make this short and sweet. Let’s not sugarcoat The Rat – it was a violent, seedy dive. I remember the first time I went there with Paul O’Halloran to see Boy’s Life and Schrapnel. I was very nervous because of the reputation of the bouncers and people who went to The Rat but what happened there changed my life. I was awestruck by the gritty, cool energy of bands that I never knew existed. I felt like I could do that too! I would see many more great bands at The Rat, some who went on to national prominence. So, in my humble opinion, Jimmy Harold’s legacy will be that he was a great champion of the underground bands by keeping The Rat open to anyone that wanted to play there and by proxy sparking numerous scenes and future rockers to continue that spirit and energy.
MICHAEL QUAGLIA (The Neighborhoods): I’m lucky enough to consider myself a friend of Jim’s. We go back to my teenage years when I was working for bands. Jim always treated me like family. I felt welcomed day and night even considering I wasn’t supposed to be in The Rat at the age of 16. I think most people found Jim hard to approach, but if you took the time or effort to do so you would find out he was one of the good guys. To me Jim’s legacy to us was a labor of love. Really think about it, how much money can one possibly make charging $1.25 a beer ? Jim and The Rat were important parts of many people’s lives and I’m happy to be one of them. He was a huge part of a scene that many of us will never ever forget (runs behind the bar, grabs two Miller Lites) – this one’s on me Jim, special thanks from all of us. To good times and good friends. Cheers!
WOODY GIESSMANN (The Del Fuegos): Jimmy is the cornerstone of the Boston music scene sending a message of hope to the artists of New England and the world that you have a home here. We take our music very seriously. Thank you Jimmy for supporting so many artists in getting a start!