Revisiting 60s Boston with Brad Delp and The Bosstown Sound.
FRIDAY, AUG. 06 2004
BY BRETT MILANO
t s the perfect setting for a 60s garage band to be rehearsing in: a quiet residential street in western Peabody, with freshly cut grass and a few suburbanites walking their dogs heck, it s just like the Monkees " Pleasant Valley Sunday. " And sure enough, the local rock band down the street are trying hard to learn their song. In this case they re huddled in a basement, running through " Last Train to Clarksville " and other hits of the day.
This isn t the 60s it s 2001. But the group rehearsing are a genuine 60s garage band: they re called the Monks, and they played all over Boston and the North Shore between 1965 and 1970. A couple of them stayed in the music biz; bassist Roger Kimball went on to play with Carly Simon and others. The lead singer Brad Delp, later of Boston and Beatlejuice became a rock star. And on this night, they re doing exactly what they were doing 30-odd years ago: playing songs they love for the fun of it.
Delp counts off and they launch into " Mercy, Mercy, Mercy " a tune by the Buckinghams (based on a Cannonball Adderley instrumental) that every self-respecting party band had to know in 1966. And the Monks merit the highest compliment you can give a 60s cover band: they sound just like the record. If you ve seen Delp with Beatlejuice where he s done songs associated with all four Beatles you know how good he is at vocal impressions. At the rehearsal he sings a ebony porn
medley of " The Letter " and " Oh, Pretty Woman, " becoming a respective dead ringer for Alex Chilton and Roy Orbison. Only when they do " Clarksville " does the familiar, " More Than a Feeling " voice slip through.
" We used to rehearse in the garage, but the police would show up pretty regularly after 8 p.m., " notes Delp, who originally joined the band at age 14. " So after a while we moved to the Salem YMCA. I remember getting my picture in the Salem Evening News; they used to have a supplemental section where they d write up a different teen band every week, and that was the first time I felt like I was famous. But before I joined Boston, the most I ever made for playing a gig was $60. Of course, that was a lot when gas was 23 cents a gallon. " The idea for an informal band reunion came about at the members 25th high-school reunion a few years back; they ve rounded up five of the original members (out of eight people who passed through various line-ups).
Because they never made a record and mostly did covers, the Monks don t show up in a lot of the local-music histories; one is more likely to hear about recording bands like the Remains or Orpheus. But the Monks were more typical of what happened in Boston, and everywhere else, in the mid 60s: the Beatles played Ed Sullivan and suddenly there were bands in every garage. " That was it: the British Invasion hit and everybody went from playing Little League to playing guitars, " says Delp. And as Kimball points out, there were always perks to sounding even remotely like the Fab Four: " I was in a band using accordions to play Beatles songs, and the girls still screamed at us. " As for the Monks coincidence-ridden name, Delp says they chose it before the Monkees broke through. And no, they didn t know about the other Monks the band of US servicemen in Germany who made the cult-classic psychedelic album It s Black Monk Time. At the time, hardly anyone did.
Being a local band in that era meant playing a real variety of gigs, from church dances to college mixers. " We played at Endicott College a lot, and we liked that because it was basically a girls school, " says Delp. They also got to open for Mitch Ryder and wait for it Sergeant Barry Sadler of " Ballad of the Green Berets " infamy. And Delp explains that they had a certain part of the local market cornered: " There were other bands around the North Shore, like the Warlocks, who did the bluesy Rascals/Stones thing. We were more known for doing the harmonies. Most of us saw the Beatles at Suffolk Downs in 1966; we had tickets but still jumped the fence to get in early. And we were known for doing an inordinate number of Beatles songs. " He now fronts Beatlejuice between Boston engagements some things never change.
But there was a thin line between the bands who made it and the ones who didn t. Delp recalls that in the early 70s, he was involved in two projects: a post-Monks band with guitarist Bob Hayes and a project with guitarist/keyboardist Tom Scholz, who was making demos in his home studio. Nothing much happened with the latter, so Delp figured that the post-Monks band was the way to go. " Then Tom called one day and said, Guess what, we ve been signed. " The demos became the first Boston album and sold zillions of copies. Flash-forward to 2001 and Delp has long since wrapped up his vocals for the fifth Boston disc; now he s waiting to hear when Scholz is ready to let it out and put the band on the road. A lot of things never change.
BOSSTOWN. If a band like the Monks summed up Boston in the mid 60s, the " Bosstown Sound " bands represented the next phase not to mention the first time local bands got screwed over by a record label. By now the story is more famous than the music: MGM Records comes to town circa 1968, signs up a bunch of bands, and proceeds to market the " Bosstown Sound " aggressively enough to scare the rest of the country away. (MGM is the same label that drops Frank Zappa for, gasp, using drugs doubly ironic since he s about the only 60s figure that didn t.) Most of the records flop, and it s left to J. Geils and Aerosmith to pull Boston s name out of the mud.
Almost all the " Bosstown " music has been out of print for three decades; a trio of new releases on the Var