The Catacombs

From The New England Music Scrapbook Web-Site – J. Geils also had frequent engagements at another short-lived Boston club, the Catacombs at 1120 Boylston Street. “When we moved over to the Tea Party from the Catacombs,” said drummer Steven Jo Bladd, “we became the opening band for a lot of groups for a lot of years because of our association with Don [Law?] and Ray Riepen. . . . ” J. Geils opened for acts such as Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, and the Who. The Steven Jo Bladd quote comes from a September 18, 1977, Boston Globe article by Ernie Santosuosso. The veteran Boston journalist made this interesting and fitting observation: “Ironically, the widened popularity of those groups generated by appearances at the Tea Party and the two Fillmores eventually priced them out of reach of the rock clubs, leading to the clubs’ closings and the emergence of the colossus-sized concert hall.”
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1120 Boylston St. Photo taken February 2009

A Night At The Catacombs
By Galen Rossop

You’re walking towards the Catacombs. You climb some steps up into 1120 Boylston Street and enter the doorway of the narrow building. You walk towards the stairs on the far side of the small room. You pass an open door with a buzzing office full of people in the daytime or a closed office door at night. You go down the winding stairwell and glance into a dark seedy smoke filled pool hall on the floor below the office people. You continue on as you go down another flight of stairs to the basement below or what some people call the sub-basement.

You enter the coffee house and view a gothic wood paneled cave. A beautiful college aged mid-eastern woman greets you. You hand her a dollar. There’s a band playing tonight.
Peggy Haddad and her BU crew are everywhere. They are helping and serving a full house of customers. This is a place to see and be seen. It’s another friendly fun filled night at the Catacombs. The aromatic aroma of exotic coffee, tea, and spice makes you hungry for more. Plates of international cheeses with crackers and flatbread pass by. Some raspberry tarts with hot caramel chocolate and whipped cream crosses in front of you along with a tray of spiced cider and the House drink, “Catacombs Blood”.
You find your table. You’re thirsty and starving. You can’t wait to order. You look towards the small stage on a low riser. The group’s equipment fills most of the space so that the lead singer has to push out onto the tiny dance floor for room enough to move.

A huge medieval tapestry is hung like a giant curtain behind the stage. It’s ancient and it’s hard to make out the faded images on the tapestry. The tapestry covers an opening that leads out into what had been a torch lit tunnel. It was built during the colonial period. A tangled web of passageways passes under the city of Boston. They connect a number of buildings in the surrounding area, including the Music Hall to the Catacombs.
There are a couple of tiny club spotlights and whatever the band brings for amps and lights. The Universal Underpass’s Kustom 200 watt PA is up and running again tonight. Most bands suffer when it’s removed from the coffee house to be used elsewhere.
Everybody is trying to get settled before the first set. Eat, drink, and get comfortable. Music is the reason for coming. Tonight, like most nights, it’s one featured group. The lights dim and the band begins to play.

Orphan, which became the Universal Underpass was the first House Band. J. Geils and Van Morrison were some of the first regulars to play in rotation at the Catacombs.

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The J.Geils Blues Band played at the Catacombs in January 1968 for 5 night between 23rd and 27th

WHO PLAYED THE CATACOMBS?
By Galen Rossop

I’ve promoted major concerts. The Catacombs is what we call a small venue. Small venues aren’t big enough to pay a major act, not enough money is generated. The Catacombs was a breakout club for mostly local bands along with some rising out-of-town acts thrown into the mix. On most nights, one act played. The Catacombs went to multiple acts when they teamed-up with the Boston Arts Project and the Psychedelic Supermarket. Again, it was mostly local bands and bands that moved to Boston that played the Catacombs.
The Universal Underpass played all night at the Catacombs with the Doors.
The Universal Underpass was the only other band in the world that had the exact match-up of musical instruments including the keyboard bass machine like the Doors so jamming was easy. The Doors were playing two shows around the corner at the Music Hall along with Linda Ronstadt & the Stone Poneys. Keith Murphy had grown-up in California before moving out to Hampton, NH where he joined the Universal Underpass. While in California, he had been the kid that went for pizza for the Doors.
The Underpass went back and forth through the tunnels that connected the Music Hall to the Catacombs so that they could watch both of the Door’s shows. The Doors came through the tapestry curtain behind the stage to watch the Underpass’s third and final set after they had finished their second show.
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The Boston Arts Project Featuring The J. Geils Blues Band. Scan by Galen Rossop

They then closed the club for a private in-crowd event sponsored by Andy Warhol. Andy was having a coming out party for Nico of the Velvet Underground. He had brought the Incredible Eatable Blonde Squad from New York City. Along with Nico, the Blonde Squad were 7 of most beautiful blonde supermodels in the world. The beautiful people had crammed the Catacombs to support Andy Warhol’s newest venture, Nico with the Velvet Underground. Andy Warhol previewed his single yellow banana cover art to the crowd with glowing praise and reviews. At 5 AM Jim Morrison left with Nico.

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The Boston Arts Project Featuring The J. Geils Blues Band. Scan by Galen Rossop

The Doors played the Catacombs. This was one of the most important and memorable events to ever Happen at the Catacombs.

SOME OF THE BANDS AND ACTS THAT PLAYED THE CATACOMBS
(Not A Complete List)

The original House Band,  Orphan/The Universal Underpass
J. Geils
Van Morrison
The Velvet Underground
James Taylor
Richie Havens
The Blues Project
Tom Rush
Tim Buckley
Odetta
Jackie Washington
Earth Opera
Eden’s Children
Colwell-Winfield Blues Band
Tangerine Zoo
Johnny Compton
Compton/Batteau
3rd World Rasberry
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Charlie Musselwhite Blues Band
Sugar Creek
Paint
Mike Allen
Mike Allen’s Red Dirt
The Ones
The Sky People
Phluph
Orphans
Bullfrog Blues Band
Blues Children
Cloud
Zeit
The Freeborne
Open Circle
Bart Massey
Snowmin
Ivan Ulz
Frank Clark
Chris Smither
Pete Johnson

Check Out Galen’s Bio With More Photos Here!