Recalling the legendary rock club the Boston Tea Party 50 years later

It was 50 years ago that a former synagogue in the South End of Boston was converted into a dance hall by a Harvard Law student named Ray Riepen.

Because he had no liquor license, and because he wanted to convey a sense of propriety to the Boston city establishment, he called the club the “Boston Tea Party."

Not lost on young people at the time was the other meaning of "tea" -- marijuana.

On January 20, 1967, The Lost, featuring a young singer named Willie Alexander, opened the club, which over the next four years featured a who's who of young bands, folk, rock and jazz artists, and veteran blues singers, many destined to become legend.

Among them, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Fleetwood Mac, Yardbirds, Velvet Underground, Tom Rush, Miles Davis, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. (Click here for a full schedule of club performers.)

Boston Tea Party Schedule May 1969
Boston Tea Party Schedule May 1969
Led Zeppelin in 1969 at at the Boston Tea Party during their first U.S. tour. WBCN announcer (and later MTV VJ) J.J. Jackson
Led Zeppelin in 1969 at at the Boston Tea Party during their first U.S. tour. WBCN announcer (and later MTV VJ) J.J. Jackson at lower left.

When Ray Riepen realized that the music people were flocking to hear at the Tea Party couldn’t be heard on the radio, he negotiated for late night airtime on a failing classical music station, WBCN, and hired college announcers to broadcast from a makeshift studio located in the back room of the club.

It all started in early 1967 — a time when young people put flowers in their hair and believed that all that was needed was love — and maybe some marijuana or LSD — to change the world. And no one had any idea about what was about to happen in the coming years.

Ray Riepen (at right) poses behind drums at the Boston Tea Party.
Ray Riepen (at right) poses behind drums at the Boston Tea Party.

There was a 50th-anniversary celebration for the Boston Tea Party on January 20 at the Verb Hotel in Boston, with speakers including former Tea Party manager Steve Nelson and the club’s legendary announcer, Charlie “Master Blaster” Daniels.

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Bill Lichtenstein is producer of “The American Revolution,” an upcoming documentary film on the early days of WBCN-FM, and “how a radio station, politics and rock and roll changed everything.”

From now until the end of January, listen to the sounds of the Boston Tea Party (click here.)

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