A legendary venue, 1980s glory days, and the gory demise of Boston’s live music mecca
For 12 glorious years covering all of the ’80s, misfits and music fans looking for vibrant and diverse concerts in New England headed to the Channel in South Boston. The antithesis of discos and arenas of the roaring scene, the spot rocked a no-frills approach to decor and amenities. The result of which was one of the best-sounding rooms on the East Coast, as well as a rich selection of local, national, and international acts lined up to play.
For more than a decade the Channel brought in artists and audiences spanning all genres. Really, all genres. A weekly calendar might look like this: all-ages hardcore matinee on Sunday, up-and-coming rock showcase on Tuesday, Afro-pop extravaganza Wednesday, head-banging metal on Thursday, vintage blues on Friday, all topped off with a ’60s rock legend in town on Saturday night. All while major acts had big moments at the Channel—there’s still video footage floating around of everyone from the Ramones, the Misfits, and Agnostic Front, to Alice in Chains, to SS Decontrol, Sick of it All, 7 Seconds, Napalm Death, Devo, the Nor’easters, KYO, FarrenHeit, Murphy’s Law, the Bruisers, Wrecking Crew, Gang Green, Rollins Band, Ministry, and Black Flag.
Looking back on the reign, and listening to interviews that have been done for a podcast, Boston Venue: The Channel Story, that I’m co-producing, it’s clear that diversity was the force driving the success of the place. Like the lineups, the audience was all over the place—dashikis, leather, chains, and anything else that was swinging. Punk and folk and prog. Martin acoustics and Marshall stacks—the scene was all scenes. Often mingling between shows on the same night.
It was an iconic location, with accolades to show for it including a spot on VH1’s list of the Top 10 Most Legendary Heavy Metal Clubs. Notably, Metallica got its gear stolen from the parking lot behind the club in ’85, while Iggy Pop did a live album there in ’88. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five played in ’84; 2 Live Crew almost sparked a riot in ’90.
In the early ’90s, though, the business fell on hard times. Owner Harry Booras walked away, while the son of mob boss “Cadillac” Frank Salemme took, shall we say, interest in the venue. Through a series of intimidation and suspected bankruptcy fraud schemes, local gangsters did finally manage to take control of the Channel in early 1992. After a streak of misfortunes and failed rejuvenation efforts, the club was rebranded as Soiree, where the nightly acts were strippers, not singers. In short time, the spot was closed for good.
“It all started with a knock on my door by the FBI,” Booras recalls. “They assured me I wasn’t in trouble, but they wanted to talk to me about the Channel. They were investigating the cold case murder of who they said was the last manager of the Channel, Steven DiSarro. What followed was months of drama while Salemme was on trial for the disappearance and murder of Steven DiSarro, who was found buried in a Providence construction site 25 years later.”
Perhaps not unrelated, two cars mysteriously caught fire in the dead of night outside of the Booras family’s pizza shop in Hull the same week Salemme went on trial in 2018. As if the story of the Channel wasn’t wild enough already.
Boston Venue: The Channel Story is nominated for a 2019 Boston Music Award in the category of “Music Podcast of the Year.” The series already features stories from Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, DJ and photographer Julie Kramer, Carter Alan of WZLX, Dan Vitalee, Charlie Farren, Sean McNally, Cosmo Macero, Jon Butcher, Bim Skala Bim, and scores of other entertainers and eye witnesses. Episodes are available on all podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify and Radio Public.