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The other Boston Tea Party

September 5, 2012
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In the mid 80s, a friend gave me a cassette containing live recordings of a February 1970 Fleetwood Mac performance (the original Fleetwood Mac - with Peter Green on guitar and lead vocals) recorded in Boston. The tape was labeled 'Live at the Boston Tea Party,' and to this day, that tape contains some of the best live rock recordings I've heard.

In those pre-internet days, information about The Boston Tea Party was hard to come by. That tape instilled an ongoing curiosity for me about the venue itself. Where was it? Who played there? What is currently occupying that space? That's where it gets a bit complicated.

The original venue known as The Boston Tea Party was located at 53 Berkeley St. in a building constructed in 1872 as a Unitarian meeting house. In January 1967, they began hosting live weekend dance concerts with Boston-area bands such as The Lost and The Hallucinations, whose front man Peter Wolf was about to assume that role in the J. Geils Band.

Within a matter of months, The Boston Tea Party became a destination of choice for many of the top rock and blues acts of the day. The Velvet Underground played there so often, they considered it their home club. During a December 1968 show, Lou Reed proclaimed, 'This is our favorite place to play in the whole country.'

LZ-Boston-Tea-Party-1In 1969, a virtually unknown Led Zeppelin played seven shows at The Boston Tea Party. Bassist John Paul Jones fondly recalls those shows in a 1974 interview with England's New Musical Express: 'As far as I'm concerned, the key Zeppelin gig, the one that put everything into focus, was one that we played on our first American tour at the Boston Tea Party,' Jones said. 'We'd played our usual one hour set and by the end, the audience just wouldn't let us offstage.'

Zeppelin allegedly returned to the stage and played everything they could think of oldies, early Beatles and Stones whatever popped into their heads. They played for more than four hours a feat that brought band manager Peter Grant to tears. 'He was absolutely ecstatic,' Jones remembered. 'He was crying and hugging us all with this grizzly bear hug. I suppose it was then that we realized just what Led Zeppelin was going to become.' Tickets to see Led Zeppelin at the Boston Tea Party in 1969 cost $3.50.

Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Traffic, Van Morrison, The Jeff Beck Group, The Steve Miller Band and The Byrds were all warmly embraced by the Boston Tea Party audience. The Who performed 'Tommy' for three nights in May 1969, but those tickets were a little pricier at $4.50.

To accommodate a bigger audience, The Boston Tea Party moved in mid-July 1969. With nearly three times the space, the new venue was located directly across the street from Fenway Park on Lansdowne St. The Grateful Dead, The Kinks, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Elton John, The Allman Brothers Band, Santana, Jethro Tull and the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac were among the hundreds of performers to take the stage there over the next 18 months.

The transition to a larger venue coincided with a dramatic increase in expenses for the club's owners. Band managers and accountants saw a bigger payday in arenas as rock officially entered the age of big business. The Boston Tea Party closed their doors for good at the end of December 1970.

Last week, I was on vacation in Boston and spent a couple of hours tracking down both of the club's former locations just to see if there was any residual sign of the amazing music that had been created there.

My incredibly patient and understanding girlfriend accompanied me on this trip, and she read my mind as we came upon the Berkeley St. location. 'Oh no! It's a 7-11 now,' she proclaimed. Part of the first floor is now a convenience store, while the upper floors were long ago converted into condos.

BostonTeaParty2In January 2007, the Bostonian Society placed an historical marker on the outside of the brick building during a 40th anniversary celebration of the Boston Tea Party.

Across from Fenway, 15 Lansdowne Street is now home to The House of Blues music hall and restaurant. The club is closed on non-show days, but an employee briefly popped out during our visit and seemed surprised that anyone would be interested in a venue that had shut down more than four decades ago. 'This used to be a club called 'The Boston Tea Party,' I said. 'Is there anything left of it inside?' I asked hopefully. 'Oh no, all of that would have been demolished,' he said. 'None of this is original.'

Before we walked away, I noticed a poster advertising membership to the House of Blues 'Foundation Room,' which boasts concierge service, monthly gourmet dinners and first dibs on shows. 'A selective club for personal and professional entertaining,' it claimed. On the outside wall were images of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker in their prime. Their faces seemed to have an expression that said, 'What are we doing here?'

Mike Dow is part of The Mike and Mike Show airing each morning on Kiss 94.5. Catch up with him at and

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