Editor's note: The show at Roadrunner, originally scheduled for May 28, has been postponed.
The Channel: Long gone, but not forgotten.
The facility was a low-slung, black-walled, 1,700-capacity general admission club that occupied what was then a deserted and/or desolate territory on South Boston’s Necco Street. It saw a lot of action over the years.
Co-owned by brothers Harry and Peter Booras and booked mostly by Warren Scott, it was a primary clubland competitor to Boston’s top promoter, The Don Law Co. (now part of Live Nation). One of Boston’s key clubs of the 1980s, the Channel fought hard to land multiple national acts in genres ranging from punk to rock to metal to reggae to R&B, funk and what you might call “oldies.”
It was also a clubhouse or haven for many Boston bands.
On May 28, the venue will be reincarnated, in a manner of speaking, at the new Roadrunner in lower Allston, which is to say a handful of acts that often made the Channel home in the ‘80s return to the fray. The reunited Del Fuegos top the bill. They’ll be joined by the Nervous Eaters, a still-active band with an album due this fall, and several other never-retired Boston acts. Originally planned to be a 40th anniversary, it is now the 42nd because of the two-year COVID-driven pushback.
“One of the things I appreciated most about The Channel is the range of music that came through,” says Del Fuegos singer-guitarist-songwriter Dan Zanes. “A lot of education going on for me. The Channel felt so big compared to other places. It was kind of the big league, a place where we could learn and see how professionals were operating in very different styles.”
A very short list would include: The Jam, Devo, Iggy Pop, Black Uhuru, The Cramps, Ramones, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Kendricks & David Ruffin, Run-D.M.C., Flipper, The English Beat, James Brown, Black Flag, Divinyls and George Clinton.
On the Boston front, the list is even more massive, even if many of the bands have faded into the mist of history. The club, which existed from 1980 to 1991, was open between five to seven nights a week and, as such, had lots of room for bands of all stripes.
“I think one reason we’re doing this reunion and celebrating the Channel, is because in a lot of ways the best experiences were in Boston,” adds guitarist Warren Zanes, Dan’s younger brother. “Boston circa 1984-85 was a pre-internet world, and it was about the way you networked and brought people into the scene. There was a really strong connection between bands in the Boston scene and a sense of identity for the people who were in it. I think if late-‘70s punk left the world with anything, it left the world with a particular attitude rather than a particular genre.”
The Channel had been a disco in a prior life. When the site went up for sale and Harry Booras considered a potential purchase, he thought, “It was very risky. We weren’t overly financed and were pretty much bootstrapping it. This was not a location where you could rely on people walking by or driving by and seeing you — it was a destination and people had to drive there. But it had almost unlimited parking and was less than a 10-minute walk from South Station. The neighborhood wasn’t sketchy, but it was abandoned after dark with very few people in the area.”
Things did not end well at the Channel. The mob came in and “tried to assert itself in the Channel more than once,” says Booras, who helmed a podcast about the club last year. “They thought it was a good place to launder money. I never wanted to play that game. We were able to pretty much fend them off.”
But not entirely. Steven DiSarro forced his way in as a co-owner in 1991 with plans to turn the venue into a strip club. (Two years later, he was killed by his mob associates. Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme and Paul Weadick were convicted of his murder in 2018.) Booras sites “corruption on several levels” and says “my brother and I wanted to get out by the time we realized they were entrenched.” The club went into bankruptcy.
That part of South Boston where the Channel was, like so many in Boston, has been upscaled and is unrecognizable from what it once was.
For the upcoming show dedicated to the club, the Del Fuegos — the Zanes brothers with bassist Tom Lloyd and drummer Woody Giessmann — will play an hour-plus set and the Nervous Eaters will play 45 minutes. Opening up will be a group comprised of other local notables called the Channel All-Star Band. This includes Barrence Whitfield, Charlie Farren (formerly of Farrenheit and The Joe Perry Project) and Fred Pineau (former guitarist of The Atlantics), all backed by Pineau’s regular group, Little Billy Lost. Rick Berlin will play a solo piano set.
For the Fuegos — the roots-rock quartet signed to LA’s pre-eminent punk label, Slash in the mid-‘80s — it will be the first time together on stage in a decade. Dan Zanes says the group could rightfully be considered an “oldies” act.
Sometimes, when someone uses the term, there can be a pejorative element attached, a whiff of underlying derision. As in bands past their prime, nostalgic acts pitching dated music to their aging peers.
That’s not Zanes’ take. He had the good fortune to grow up a teenager in the 1970s, when there was an oldies circuit that came near enough his hometown of Concord, New Hampshire. “I loved the music of the ‘50s, and in the ‘70s, they were having this revival and were out on the circuit,” he says. “It meant not only were you bringing your music to your original fans, but in some cases, new fans, knuckleheads like me. I’m seeing all groups going out and doing their thing.”
“To me,” he continues, “being an oldies act is a proud tradition and when I realized that’s what the Del Fuegos are, I felt really great about it. There’s a certain pride in living long enough to be old enough and having people still care.”
“I think it shows that the scene is still here and that no one needs a walker yet to make it out to center stage,” says Nervous Eaters lead singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Cataldo. “Many of these groups are still writing new material and releasing records, still gigging on the circuit.”
Pineau picks up Dan Zanes’ ideas about “oldies” acts and borrows a line from a Jethro Tull song, claiming “you’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll” and adds that Motörhead’s Lemmy once said, “‘If you think that you're too old to play rock ‘n’ roll, then you are.’ A lot of we older artists — or in my case just downright old — have never stopped producing new material and giving it our all every time that we step onto a stage. There is a lyric in a song that I wrote in my current band, Little Billy Lost, that goes: ‘You can't be afraid to leave blood on the stage.’ And we all still do.”
Roadrunner hosts the Channel's 42nd Anniversary, featuring the Del Fuegos, the Nervous Eaters, and the Channel All Star Revue on May 28.
This article was originally published on May 24, 2022.