A Short history of the channel

  

A Short History Of The Channel 

By its founder

Harry Booras 

Note: This is a work in progress — the history of The Channel as I saw and experienced it, from the beginning in 1980, when I found the failing ex-disco and assembled a team to transform it into a world-class live rock venue, to the end in 1991 when mobsters took control and proceeded to destroy it. 

Whenever possible I will provide documentation and citations on the events and occurrences described, and strive to be as objective as I can.

Obviously I didn’t see or experience everything that occurred over more than a decade, but as the primary decision maker, I was usually involved in important decisions. I welcome and appreciate input from others who were there, and will include accounts, as long as they fit into the narrative and can be independently verified. 

The objective is to develop a true and complete history of The Channel, from my perspective and from others who were there. 

~

The Channel rock club was founded in the spring of 1980 at the site of a defunct disco club (the Mad Hatter) in Boston’s Fort Point district, a part of the South Boston industrial sector.

Joseph Cicerone, who had acquired the assets of The Mad Hatter in late 1979 opened The Showboat at the site in early spring of 1980, and opened it as a nightclub featuring live, "oldies" bands.

When the oldies concept failed to attract a sufficient audience to keep the business viable, Cicerone attempted to sell the business. Harry Booras, a Boston entrepreneur, along with Richard Clement, local photographer and Domenic Perillo, co-owner of a trucking company bought a 50% stake in The RED E Corporation which was Cicerone's operating entity,

Booras became the manager on record of the reformatted 1600-person capacity nightclub, rebranded by the new ownership group as Channel 1. Booras was elected president and CEO of the business, and proceeded to transform Channel 1 into a major live music venue that featured a wide variety of popular music attractions, local, national and international, crossing myriad genres: rock, blues, metal, reggae, punk and world beat and rap, among other genre defying attractions.

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The club was renamed The Channel when an educational cable network, also named Channel 1 sued the corporation, and in an out-of-court settlement was granted the exclusive right to the name Channel 1.

Booras, along with a new ownership group that included Peter Booras, his brother and Jack Burke, previously a co-owner of a Dedham Pool and Patio Store managed to buy out Perillo Clement, and Cicerone within the first two years. All three previous owners made a substantial profit on the original investment.

Peter Booras became night manager shortly after the club opened, and retained that position until 1991. Jack Burke rounded out the management team as CFO when he bought a 1/3 share of the corporation in 1981.

At the beginning, local original rock bands comprised the bulk of the programming. Eventually, national contemporary touring acts, including acts that would normally play a theater or small arena became easier to book as the Channel became recognized as a serious concert venue.

The two guiding principles that distinguished the Channel from the competition were 1, an open booking policy, which meant that all popular original musical genres were welcome, and 2, an arena grade sound system was installed, which most bands were able to use. An in-house sound system made it possible to feature multiple band bills in a single night easily,

The original sound designer and long-time in-house audio engineer was Peter Vernaglia, a Boston based owner and operator of rock band sound systems.

Vernaglia, along with his partner Dave Tedeschi developed and maintained the Channel’s signature "wall of sound' speaker array that, over the years managed to accommodate thousands of concert acts, from local new music bands to major name touring super stars. When Vernaglia decided to leave the business in 1986, the company that replaced his system, the Dawson Sound Company used the same basic design with an upgraded sound board and improved stage monitors. Otherwise, the sound array was pretty much the same.

During 1980 several booking arrangements were tried with varying levels of success. A number of local and regional agents and promoters including Frank J. Russo from Providence, local agents Bruce Solar and Howard Cusack, and in-house agents Warren Yaffe and Mark Giaquinto. They all tried their hand at a winning booking strategy with mixed results. Eventually, Yaffe emerged as the primary talent booking agent, working under his dba: Warren Scott Productions through 1990. 

Local headliners prevailed, but to continue operating, the club needed more. Most of the major acts available to The Channel were 60’s era rock acts that the major promoter in town, Don Law didn’t seem to bother with. There were also a few, emerging new wave/punk shows that foretold an important part of the Channel’s future. As far as attendance was concerned, some of those so-called national acts worked out well, others not-so-much. 

Among the winners: Joe Cocker, Levon Helm, Steppenwolf, Gang of Four, The Stranglers,  ... and the losers, who didn’t draw enough fans to cover their talent fee --  Johnny Cougar  and the Zone (John Mellencamp), Mitch Ryder, Iron Butterfly.

The first office manager was Phyllis Ekins, followed by Nikki Vinci, who managed a band called the Rems (not REM) and Cindy Barone, drummer of the Boston band Lizzy Borden and the Axes.

The first production team consisted of Peter Vernaglia, sound engineer, David Tedeschi, lighting tech and Warren Yaffe, stage manager. 

In the Fall 1980 Hugh Munoz, a senior at Emerson College and host of a radio show called Metrowave on WERS-FM, a weekly local music show that helped the club attract and feature bands such as Mission of Burma, LaPeste, The Atlantics, The Outlets, The Stompers, The Dark, New Models, Boy's Life, The Trademarks, and many others.

Munoz remained resident DJ until 1984.

In early 1982, Patty Marsh was hired as the in-house booking agent. Marsh had previously worked as a booking agent at The Ritz, a New York rock club with a similar capacity as The Channel. With strong connections to the emerging punk scene she was pivotal in opening the club in a more alternative direction, with acts including Bauhaus, Stiff Little Fingers, Black Flag, Killing Joke, Bow Wow Wow, B52s, Iggy Pop, Nina Hagen, Ministry. Marsh left in 1984, married the leader of Ministry, Al Jourgensen and eventually joined the touring band as a keyboard player.

Over the years, The Ritz became a sort of sister club, and the two venues would often have similar show calendars.

In 1982, on Marsh’s recommendation Lisa St John, who had attended The Vesper George School of Art in Boston was hired as a receptionist. She quickly became a vital part of the creative team, designing a series of unique and memorable posters and print ads that articulated the Channel’s turn towards edgier programming. 

In 1984 the booking duties were taken up again by Warren Yaffe, who was then a Boston talent agent doing business as Pyramid Artists and Warren Scott Productions. Yaffe remained as the primary booking agent until 1990.

The Channel became a significant destination for both local and major touring bands through the decade of the 80's and into the early 90’s, booking many world-beat super stars, including African, and Jamaican acts. that proved to be surprisingly popular in Boston, despite a lack of radio airplay. Some of the more interesting world beat shows included: King Sunny Ade, Third World, The Gypsy Kings, Black Uhuru, Mutabaruka, Alpha Blondy, Steel Pulse and Lucky Dube, to name a few.

The Channel had a strong commitment to local music and booked local bands on a regular basis. In late 1981 The NU Muzik Revue was established, where local “baby bands” were given the opportunity to play on a professional sound stage in front of their fans, and strive for better slots by promoting themselves by attracting more of their fans. This program continued throughout the club’s existence until 1991.

Innovative programming included funk and emerging rap artists, sometimes in combination with local rock bands. The Channel also instituted an on-going series of all ages shows on Sunday afternoons, often featuring the biggest and most influential punk rock bands in the country. 

Booking diversity was a guiding principle and The Channel became a destination for a wide variety of musical artistry, gaining recognition a quarter of a century after it closed, with a Top Ten In The World ranking by Vh1 (April 2015)— in the heavy metal category.

Vh1 Named The Channel one of,,,

“The Ten Most Legendary Heavy Metal Clubs of All Time

Who Played There: Metallica, Slayer, Alice in Chains, Misfits, Black Flag, Lita Ford, Hawkwind, Overkill, Gang Green, Suicidal Tendencies."

In September of 1990 the Channel and owner Harry Booras received extensive press coverage after standing up for free speech in a confrontation with local authorities over a planned appearance by the rap group 2 Live Crew. After agreeing to employ a large police detail the club was granted permission by the city licensing authorities for the   performance. The show was ultimately cancelled.

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In 1991 the Booras brothers agreed to sell their ownership stake in the business to a group led by Steven DiSarro that included Jack Burke, the third partner and Stephen Marullo, the club’s longtime attorney. DiSarro was suspected by authorities to be a front for Boston reputed mob boss Frank (Cadillac Frank) Salemme. 

The mob, through a series of intimidation and suspected bankruptcy fraud, managed to get control of the Channel in early 1992 and attempted to continue the concept, with the help of major promoters Don Law and Frank J. Russo, who both booked and promoted several shows in the club. The venture lasted only a few months and the Channel ceased to exist, becoming Soirée Gentleman’s Club. That business closed in 1993 after the disappearance of DiSarro — a crime that would be solved 25 years later with the conviction of Salemme for DiSarro's murder.

Coming soon: significant shows by genre