fb-pixel Skip to main content

Bands ready to reconnect with their Channel days

Among the bands scheduled to play the Channel reunion show at Royale are Lizzie Borden and the Axes.
Among the bands scheduled to play the Channel reunion show at Royale are Lizzie Borden and the Axes.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Touring as the opener for the J. Geils Band at the peak of that band's popularity was undoubtedly a huge career boost for the Jon Butcher Axis.

But Butcher really felt like a star when his band played a New Year's Eve show at the Channel on the heels of that '82 Geils tour.

"It was an incredible homecoming," Butcher recalls. "It felt like we were playing to a sold-out Boston Garden."

Giving homegrown talent a big stage — figuratively and literally — was part of the charm of the Channel, a bunker-like concert venue operated on the South Boston waterfront from 1980 to 1991.


The 1,700-capacity club (notorious for feeling way more cramped than 1,700 people should have felt at particularly popular concerts) presented an array of touring bands that spanned Butthole Surfers to James Brown. And in terms of serving the local music scene, the Channel often had Boston bands open for national headliners. And any local band that gained traction after countless gigs at the Rat and Paradise and some airplay on radio stations WBCN or WCOZ eyed a headlining show at the Channel as a step up the career ladder.

On Sunday, Boston bands who saw their stars rise and shine at the Channel will gather for a concert at Royale in Boston to benefit the addiction-treatment program Right Turn.

Butcher is opening the show, to be followed by New England, Farrenheit, the Stompers, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, Lizzie Borden and the Axes, the Fools, and Woody Giessmann of the Del Fuegos, who founded Right Turn 10 years ago. Surprise guests are also being lined up.

Robin Moran, who tended bar at the Channel, lit the fuse on the idea for a concert featuring Channel regulars and reached out to Hirsh Gardner for some organizational help.


Following his stint playing drums in New England, a band that garnered a national hit with "Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya," Gardner pursued work in the production and business sides of music. A Channel Reunion Concert board of directors formed to both organize the concert and set it up as a fund-raising vehicle.

"No money is going to the artists, except to maybe pay for their parking. We decided early that we wanted to make it a benefit, and everybody knows Woody," Gardner says.

The fact that Right Turn is the beneficiary of this event drew in Stompers singer Sal Baglio, who is now a mentor at Right Turn, which specializes in working with musicians and other artists.

Jon Butcher
Jon ButcherMichael Sparks Keegan

That's not to say that the hard-charging, blue-collar Stompers don't naturally fit in with this crew.

"I played there so early on with the Neighborhoods that I think the stage was in a different place," Baglio recalls of those early Channel days. "In '77, '78, cover bands were huge. There was a circuit, and they'd travel with smoke machines. But little by little, guys in T-shirts playing original music caught on. People came out to the shows and 'BCN would play your tapes."

And it wasn't just guys in T-shirts.

Lizzie Borden says the Channel was a second home for her band the Axes, when it would play there two or three times a month. Among her memorable gigs there were opening slots for Spinal Tap and a show with Cheap Trick and the Stompers.


The all-female Lizzie Borden and the Axes crossed new wave flash with pop song craft and hard-rock edge

"We were the baby band," Borden recalls, finding inspiration in fellow female rocker Robin Lane and learning the ropes from live dynamos such as the Fools.

"There was a lot of camaraderie despite our differences," she says. "Before computers and the digital age, you had to talk to someone in person, and there was always a human element to putting together a show. And you had to have a sense of humor."

The Channel bash marks just the third reunion for New England since disbanding in 1982. Gardner says the band members have stayed friendly over the years and will even join singer John Fannon at his gig Saturday at Passim where he'll be releasing his first solo album, "Saved All the Pieces."

The band New England: bass player Gary Shea, drummer Hirsh Gardner, guitarist John Fannon, and keyboard player Jimmy Waldo.
The band New England: bass player Gary Shea, drummer Hirsh Gardner, guitarist John Fannon, and keyboard player Jimmy Waldo.Rose Lincoln for the Boston Globe/Boston Globe

Likewise, Lizzie Borden and the Axes haven't played together but a few times since breaking up 25 years ago.

"I was '80s-ed out," says Borden, who went on to other projects. "I couldn't stand it for a while, but people love it."

Even as she has led her own namesake band for the past 10 years, Borden says she is still frequently asked about the Axes, who had a hit with "Out of Touch."

Butcher, who has also stayed active as a solo artist and composer (that's his music you hear in the Showtime show "Shameless") is like Borden in terms of feeling ready to revisit his roots, and recently re-recorded songs from his 1983 debut album with the Axis, which he says was a botched, overly slick production.


"About a year ago [bassist] Chris [Martin] and I decided to record the songs the way we intended. Songs like 'Ocean in Motion' and 'Life Takes a Life' now sound more like the way we play them live," say Butcher of the "Axis 3" album released earlier this year.

Baglio says that playing with the Stompers now is even more fun for him than it was during the band's ascent 35 years ago.

"People are coming to remember a certain time," he says. "The band understands that, and we deliver."

Scott McLennan can be reached at smclennan1010@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcLennan1.