excerpts from

The Boston Rock and Roll Museum's
The History of Boston Rock and Roll

This series originally appeared in The Beat Magazine throughout 1985-86. It is resurrected for the Boston Rock & Roll Museum in it's original form. What individuals and groups were doing in '85-'86 is reflected at that respective time...

 

Chapter 9: The Cambridge Folkies

Club 47, etc.

Another prominent figure in the Cambridge order of rule was New England native Jim Kweskin. After making a major contribution to the (folk?) scene as a solo artist, he put together an all-star lineup called, of course, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. This group single-handedly brought good-timeyness back into folk music, something lacking from the Dylan, Baez and Peter Paul and Mary genre, which had become a very serious, sincere, folk music scene. Reviving ragtime and blues music, the band covered forgotten gems of every genre imaginable.

The band's lineup seemed to almost constantly change, but an impressive group passed through its ranks. There was Jim Kweskin on guitar and vocals. Then Bill Keith, former banjo player for Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Bill Monroe is considered the father of Blue Grass). Keith also played steel guitar. Geoff Muldaur played lead guitar and did vocals while also doing his own solo albums on Vanguard in 1963. Bruno Wolf, a.k.a. Little David, was soon replaced by Maria D'Amato who married Geoff and became the famous Maria Muldaur ("Midnight at the Oasis"). She sang and played fiddle for the J.K. band. Richard Greene later took over the fiddle (he was in Blues Project and Seatrain). And, later on, Mel Lyman played harmonica for the band. Lyman was a self-proclaimed god figure who began his own authoritarian cult on Fort Hill. This psychedelic guru also founded a controversial newspaper, the Avatar, which was a predecessor of Boston's countercultural weeklies, The Real Paper and The Phoenix. He is credited with breaking up the Kweskin band. Kweskin became a disciple and member of Lyman's commune on Fort Hill.

Before its demise, the Jim Kweskin Jug band played constantly to sold-out shows over a six-year period and will pop up again in our series.

 

Chapter 14: Bosstown Sound Part III

Who's On First

In 1966, the independently wealthy Kansas City born eccentric, Ray Riepen, arrived in Boston to collect a diploma from Harvard Law School's Master's Program. A family friend, Jessie Benton, daughter of American artist Thomas Hart Benton, needed a favor. In order to marry Kweskin Jug Band alumnus Mel Lyman, she needed to dispose of her current husband. When the process was completed, Riepen was rewarded with Mel Lyman's lease for a 53 Berkeley Street synagogue then known as the Moon Dial. Lyman had since settled on Fort Hill in the heart of Roxbury where he had purchased a fair amount of soon-to-be-valuable property for his commune. ...

 

Chapter 16: 1968: James Taylor & The Lyman Family

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING

At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, amidst the riot brought on by Dylan's electric set, which dismayed folk aficionados, stood the 27-year-old Mel Lyman. He took to the stage at the tail end of a very long day. What followed will go down in the annals of metaphysical history.

"I was shaking so hard that I must have lost 10 pounds in the first three minutes. The spirit wasn't me. It was their hunger."

Frequent gigs at the Orleans Coffee House (13 Charles St., later called the Sword & Stone) gradually developed into a religious service, where Lyman gained his following and his disciples. By the winter of 1965-66, Lyman's commune settled on Fort Hill, which rose from the middle of the black ghettos of Roxbury. It was the "Holy Land" for Melvin's chosen people.

By this time, Lyman had his first work, a book, under his belt: "Autobiography of a World Savior". Though shockingly science fiction in nature, Lyman proclaimed he had been born on another planet, the same planet that other prominent citizens such as Jesus Christ were from. When the planet's inhabitants realized that earth was really dying, Mel volunteered to come down and jump start our next-to-non-existent "vibration" level. Except for some chronic cosmic asthma, Mel's sounding of love echoed through beantown.

The first winter was a cold one. Bartering, the collection of discarded fruits and vegetables at local produce centers, and manpower, made the stay at the deteriorating Victorians survivable.

In the summer of '67, the Lyman family released its first newsletter publication, Avatar. (Avatar means light, for all of you who don't know Hindu.) The issue featured most prominently the works of Father Mel. Scatological Headings, diary passages, and patriotic essays! Unlike the left-leaning counterculture, this culture countered us with a WE DIG AMERICA attitude. The prophetic Lyman once wrote, (1968), "If Reagan were elected president, it would probably help people a lot, force them to pull people together. I mean look at Hitler, he forced the whole world to pull together, that did a lot of good.

EXTRA, EXTRA

It was commonplace (every corner), as a alternative source of cash flow, to encounter a long-haired newspaper vendor selling the Boston Phoenix, Boston After Dark, and Avatar. When the infamous Avatar issue, featuring the centerfold boldly displaying the words PISS/SHIT/FUCK/CUNT was published, faithful vendors were rounded up by the Cambridge Police for obscenity. The issue was released in retaliation for prior brushes with obscenity charges. Lyman countered in a very ungodly way. "I'm warning you guys, if you don't lay off I'm gonna smear your filthy sex-starved faces all over Boston. I'm gonna draw pictures of you all fucking each other in the ass and sucking each others cocks — you'll wish you never heard of Avatar."

The problems caused dissention within the Avatar staff, those who lived on the Hill and those who just contributed to the paper. It marked the beginning of the end of the paper which ceased publication in early '69.


Ray Riepen
"...Goodman details the stories and machinations of rock entrepeneurs like Ray Riepen (owner of the Boston Tea Party club [53 Berkeley St.], founder of "underground" rock radio with Beantown station WBCN and an early player in the "underground" press as publisher of the Boston Phoenix)..." from a review of Fred Goodman: Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the head-on collision of rock and commerce, Random House, 1997.

"A frequent visitor to these jams was an eccentric Harvard Law School student from Kansas City named Ray Riepen, who always sported a three-piece, pin-striped, Brooks Brother's suit. He spent many nights ending up passed out on Peter [Wolf]'s couch. One day he asked Peter to join him in a venture to buy a radio station in Boston..." from Bryan Wiser, and Sheila Warren with Mimi Fox: Peter Wolf Historical Bio.

'As Ray Riepen, Boston's former alternative media guru, puts it in "Mansion": "We believed in 1966 that maybe smart people were going to get control of things -- not just guys who were 'b'ness' men ...We were naive, but that's what we thought: Guys who were smart and had taste would get control."' from a review of Mansion on the Hill.

"People such as Ray Riepen, a corporate lawyer who handled civil trials for the Kansas City attorney's office went to Harvard Law School and became the first underground mogul as the owner of a club the Boston Tea Party, originator of the FM rock station WBCN-FM, and publisher of the alternative weekly The Phoenix who later lost it all and went back to Kansas to practice law and presiding as a circuit court judge..." from a review of Mansion on the Hill.


Mel Lyman