Here In 1975 - here in 2007    
A talk with the legendary owner of The Rat
home | interviews | photos | features |BGN issue list | reviews
links | contact us

Jimmy Harold Interview

11/17/2006

Jimmy holding an article from 25 years ago BGN- So let's make this clear, I don't really understand…you owned The Rat. What does that mean? Did you own the building?
JH- I owned the liquor license but I also owned the building.

PL- That's sweet. You started by owning the downstairs and then through the years you bought the upstairs and then you bought the building at a later time?
JH- Exactly. That's how I was able to survive all these years.

ML- Did you own it before it was "The Rat"?
JH- No but I actually worked there back in '69, '70 when it was TJ's. They fired me. It was the classic turn around because I came back and I had the idea that I would never be fired again so if I bought the building I could throw them out, couldn't I?

PL-Yeah people think it's all about making money. As if in that year when you bought it that anyone knew you'd make money from someone coming across town to see Mickey Clean and The Mezz or something.
JH- The story goes that I had always known musicians and I knew the one thing they liked to do was there own stuff. Everyone thought I was out of my mind but here I had a limited amount of space, an underground club…I had everything I liked. I hated disco…I wasn't gonna have a friggin' disco club. So I went to a wedding down the Cape. It was a musician's wedding and I sat at a table with a bunch of people that owned clubs. Everyone around the table was taking turns talking about aspects of the business and when it came to me I said, "I got a fucking band, they're so bad you gotta see 'em.; Mickey Clean." Cause he was so horrible but he was entertaining and people would come in to see this! I'm telling ya, it was like a revelation. I was like "That's it!" It was 100% commitment at that point, I was gonna live and die by it. I made up my mind right at that moment!

Mickey Clean at The Rat.  Early on the pipes were exposed. ML- How did you know Mickey and his band?
JH- I was doing this without knowing I what I was into. I was bringing kids in to do it and some were OK and some were freakin' horrible. I felt if they came in, it was my obligation to listen to them. So in the beginning I sat there and listened to every band, live, including Mickey. I was a glutton for punishment.

PL- Now I just happen to have copies of an old interview of you in The Boston Phoenix.
JH- Oh!! (laughter as we look a the old pictures, particularly the one of Jimmy in the infamous Rat Dressing room!)

PL- Now you say in here that Mickey Clean was drawing crowds.
JH- Yup. PAUSE

PL- And…How?
JH- I think it was through word-of-mouth in the beginning. He was just what it was. He was so far out there I was like "I am missing something?". Do you remember Otto who used to work for me? He'd look at me and say "What DO you see?" and I'd say "I don't' know! But there's something!" And the other big plus was that he brought people in.

Clean and Stephan Lovelace and maybe Asa Brebner at THE RAT ...real early PL- Now most people that got into Punk think 1977/78 but what we're talking about now is 1975. Reddy Teddy and Fox Pass, those guys were together in '74!
JH- Ya, and when they found out they could play at a club it was a big thing for them…They'd use those gigs to pay their rent.

ML- Did you make a switch at this point from just having bands play to being aware that there was a certain "sound" and you wanted those bands playing in particular?
JH- NO. There wasn't a "sound" yet It was a mixture of what was going on at the time…I had no idea this was heading toward Punk here…the phrase Punk hadn't even been coined yet. No one was really able to distinguish anything at this point.

PL- So what is the next step then, what was the next inclination?
JH- Well at that point I now owned the upstairs too so I had a little more income coming in and a more united front so I was able to do a little more. But I was trying to figure out where I was going with this. So many things going on but there was something to the music. It just started to get to me. I was listening and listening and then the idea of "Live At The Rat" came up.

Ad for Live at the Rat II. Recorded and lost now. PL- You know that thing sounds so GOOD now!
JH- You bet your ass it does. That was 16 track! There no bull shit on the album. It's live, nothing was redone. The best compliment I ever got on it was from Alpo because he said "Oh my god!! I can hear myself!" And I said "That's right!" coz I listened to every song on this album a million times and I knew where everything was!

PL- Yeah look at Willie's songs…Pup Tune and At The Rat…there's really nothing else out there, except maybe Dirty Eddie that really captures was Willie was like. Those cuts are amazing! And now it sounds even more amazing today.
JH- Well especially since I was under so much pressure. Everyone wanted their hand in it and had ideas they wanted me to go with but I refused to do it.

PL- What everyone wants to know is: Is there more there? Where are those tapes?
JH- I have the 16's. But there's a lot of stuff on there. "Live At The Rat II" we did in-house because I got the board from Bill Reisman and we recorded Live At The Rat II in my back office.

PL- You have Live At The Rat II?
JH- No, they're gone. Somebody stole my tapes. I'll tell ya something though, when I did the first record, I had no idea how much it was going to cost me. And when I did that, one of the greatest things happened. We had a benefit on a Sunday night for that thing and some guy walked by and gave us a hundred dollars. I almost fell over. I barely could pay the bands and I wrote the record company guy the check and asked if he could wait 'til Monday. When I got the tapes I got home …and you know…I had been telling everybody, you do this, you do that and then all of a sudden I get home and its up to me. I sat there and was thinking "What do I do now?" I knew all the songs and knew where everything belonged. But it fell into place.

PL- The pressure on your must have been unbelievable at that time.
JH- Yeah there was a lot of pressure but I put a lot of pressure on the bands to do the best they could possibly do.

PL- And while all this is happening you really didn't have anyone to talk to….I mean Hilly Crystal I guess. Did you talk to him?
JH- Yeah he gave me some ideas about marketing and believe it or not I never knew Max's did an album until we started ours (Live At Max's Kansas City). Everyone was saying we copied him and I said "No that's MY idea." But they were ahead of us but I didn't know at the time I decided to do it. I think Richard Nolan was the one who mentioned it to me. But that all lead to another experience of going to New York City and going to Max's which opened even more doors. There was so much going on at that time. I was like livin' in New York. The Eastern Shuttle, twenty-nine dollars.

Jimmy and Miss Lyn at the interview PL- You know if you look at the music scene statistically it is much better now than it was then…but the difference is…to use two trite words: NEW and EXCITING. You can't relive those days…the newness of it and the excitement cannot be matched today.
JH- It was a pleasure but I mean you only have so much stamina.

PL- You did have all kinds of plans though. Like you had the management company and you had the record label. Now you did the 3 singles but you never went beyond that. What happened?
JH- I was assuming at that time that we would have bands getting signed to major labels and I wanted to help them by having them get a couple single out and then get signed major.

PL- But that petered out?
JH- It got to a point where I was being stretched too thin. I think at that point I bought the building and that was a big thing in my mind.

PL- The things that maybe didn't seem successful at that time ARE successful. I mean the Nervous Eaters record is going for $150 on Ebay. You know it's been reissued?
… JH- What do you mean it's been reissued?!

PL- On Pennimen Records.
And the record store downstairs is fondly remembered! Everything about the Rat is remembered fondly.

JH- By the way, I closed The Rat was 8 years ago today.

PL- Well let's go back then..what happened in '97, after 20 years…what was the situation like at that time?
JH- I think I had a lot more handicaps. I had a lot more restrictions. It seemed the world that I was once dominating; in the sense of doing whatever I wanted to do, had changed. I mean things like lawsuits …it was a whole different world now. The liquor industry was changing and because of my reputation of being a long time club the licensing boards were really starting to piss me off. All the legalities, I wasn't making money anymore. I didn't have the help I once had. The caliber of the help was very different. I had people stealing me blind. Not just money but other things, memorabilia. I mean a tremendous amount of the stuff that I had is gone! My P.A. was stolen and that was the icing on the cake. But I think the thing that upset me the most was…remember the flood? In something like '94 or '95, the subway station and everything got flooded? We got flooded and the people on each side of me weren't pumping their water out. I was walking in the basement in boots! FEMA had come in and said I'd have to re-do the entire room downstairs. And then he points out that I was taking in the water from my neighbors! There were pinholes going through the walls and I'm thinking "Oh my God." And I said "Would you like a drink?" I mean you know…any MORE good news???

Jimmy Harold. Healthy and happy PL- But you opened up after that.
JH-Oh yeah, I did what I had to do and at that moment in time along with other things that just weren't going well I realized "I'm losing my shirt."

PL- It was a turning point.
JH- Yeah except that I had this stubborn streak in me that said "I can ride this out." But I didn't have the help I used to, I couldn't rely on people like I could before.

PL- That's another way people have changed on the scene. In the early days there were self-motivated people with a lot of energy. In '77 the music and the scene was everything. In '97 it was nice to be around, it was an amusement. What about memorabilia, do you have any of that?
JH- Oh I had more shit stolen from me! I mean I had the Police sign from Illegal Records stolen right out of my office.

PL- What about the Rat sign?
JH- The Rat sign from the outside I have and the one behind the bar I have even though I caught the guy who was trying to take that away! I don't' know the "Boston Rock'n'Roll" sign is gone I don't' know where that went. To this day it pisses me off 'cause it seems like anytime I went away somewhere when I came back stuff was missing. Too many people had access to that office.

PL- There's one thing most people don't talk about…but we do at times…the fighting that was going on in Kenmore Square…and in punk in general let's say. Do you remember that? I mean we used to see fights, be victims of fights, there was just fighting in the air.
JH- What I think is that you had so many "yahoos", particularly from the ball game crowd and pair that up with pink hair or something like that and you know. I can tell you one night, it was a Friday night and David Minehan was sitting there and right behind him at a two seat table and some guy started with him…that was the biggest mistake he ever made. That guy went out the door so fast. But yeah, it was a problem. You know, you had the college kids, the kids from the suburbs, the punkers, you had the baseball crowd, there was such a mix of people.

Jimmy Harold on his boat with Daisy. PL- I read an interview with you and Doug Simmons and some kids start a fight right there next to you , in front of the Rat!
JH- Yeah it was a magnet. Stuff happened in front of that place that none of our customers or our employees had anything to do it and yet it sure looked bad to me and it would drive me crazy.

PL- Well that area, right out in front of the Rat was such a comfortable area…the line of phones next to the door and the wide sidewalk and then the steps that were right next to you there, they were to Soup & Salad or something. It was a great area during the night and even during the day! Oh yeah so talking about "atmosphere" let's talk bathrooms! For the record: Did you EVER redo those bathrooms???
JH - As fast as I'd do them they'd tear 'em down. I redid the whole place once remember? We put down a new rug. We had a party and within a matter of an hour there were 800 cigarette burns in the rug. The freaking bathroom was a shambles. I said "That's it! I'm never fixing these things again! Pigs, slobs, who ARE these people??" and I thought "They're my customers!" But that was OK and you see I defended all these people. Even people outside the business have always said "You defended these people" and I would say "Well Number 1: they were my customers and Number 2: I like them and I don't' care!" I think we owe a lot to it…I can't explain it really, I owe a lot to that scene and I really feel, um, sad…now. I look back on things, especially people with addictions, that really bothers me and I think "Damn, was there anything I could have done at the time?"

PL- What about when the other clubs came into the picture; Cantone's and The Club?
JH- I loved Cantone's! What I did was Mitch told me that he knew the guy who ran Cantone's and I thought we should go down and say hello. We did, we hung out and talked with Mario.

PL- Did you ever talk to Joe Courtney who did The Club?
JH- Oh yeah I talked to him a lot he was he wasn't really into the bands. He threatened Lee Ritter and I had to call him on Lee's behalf.

Richard Hell at The Rat when they had NYC-Boston exchange gigs PL- So you never felt the pressure of competition?
JH- I just looked at it this way: I was gonna do my thing and I didn't care.

ML- In truth it didn't really matter, there could be other clubs but The Rat was always like the base camp. It was home. I remember sitting upstairs one night in like '76 with Pam Greene and this underage suburban kid, who turned out to be the infamous Bob White, came up to us and said "Hey so where's the cool place to go in Boston?" and we looked at each other then looked at him and said "You're in it!" Yeah it was a comfortable place. And all these other clubs came and went but The Rat stayed.
PL- Is there anything that you wanted to do but never got to do?

JH- I would have built a bigger club. One of the things I wanted to do was buy the building next to me and make a bigger club. But there were too many variables and it would have been too much construction.

PL- What about the Hoodoo Barbeque? How did that come about?
JH- We had the party with the ice sculpture, it was for 3 singles we released I think. Jim Ryan catered that party and he had The Hoodoo on Mass Ave at the time. We started talking about it then and I was really up for that and I gave him a great deal. He came in and did really, really well.

Willie Loco at the Rat PL- Are there any great musical memories that you can recall for us?
JH- I guess one of the best ones would be The Police. I remembered they played a Sunday night and I drove in just to see them because I wanted to make sure the band I had been hearing for the past 3 days was actually this band! They were really great to work with. They were so nice and when they played the Garden, to 14,000 people and Sting was going on about the rat on stage. People started clapping like crazy and I'm thinking how many of these people could have been at the Rat? Or known about The Rat? You know, if all the people that say they saw The Police at The Rat actually DID see The Police at The Rat I'd be a billionaire!!

PL- Although…I was there.
ML- I was there!

JH- I think one of the other moments was when I had to tell the J. Geils Band to get the hell back on stage after hours or we were gonna have a riot. They were like "It s 2:30 in the morning!" and I said "I don't care, get up there!"

PL- Have you heard Mach Bell's (Mach 5) song "Say Good Bye To Kenmore Square" that talks of The Rat?
JH - No.

PL- Have to heard the Nervous Eaters song "528" about The Rat?
JH- No.

PL- Are you aware of the fact that there are a couple of movies about the Rat in the works right now?
JH- No.

PL- Ralph Fatello is interested in doing a movie about the Rat.
ML- He wants to call it "The Rat: The Rise and Fall of Boston Rock" and the other one is called "Rat Tales"

Jim sits with a shocked look on his face….

Jimmy Harold ML- Yeah and the first thing I said was "Did you talk to Jimmy Harold?" and they said "No."
JH- Well they did that with that Live At The Rat show in Arlington! They didn't talk to me about that!

PL- Has anyone talked to you about any kind of projects?
JH- Cheryl Eagan Donavan is the only one (All Kinds Girls). She said she needed an interview right away. I agreed to do but had second thoughts. I mean Felice and I had such a relationship, half the time we wanted to kill each other! I think the people who were filming it were shocked, it was like we had been talking to each other every day since the old days! I haven't seen it though.

PL- It's funny because the people you meet now would have no idea of what you were in the middle of back then.
JH- Oh yeah, nobody has a clue. I met people outside and they just look at me and go "No!"

PL- Yeah I mean you at the cultural nexus there, you were in the middle of a movement, in the middle of a major change in music that has lasted to this day really. We won, real punk won I always say.
JH- Oh yeah it's part of the culture now!

PL- As you look at those twenty plus years now, do you think of it as a success and do you see it as a package in that you did it and you've moved on?
JH- I like to look back at that as a success. I think I have to be told that I did that. I mean other people say "Don't you understand what you really did do?" But to me it's OK. I look at the early years with a lot of fondness.

Bandit. The two dogs were really neat Daisy one of two dogs Jimmy owns PL- You know that there's a well of good feeling for you on the scene and you should really go on stage at sometime.
Jim looks uncomfortable….

PL- Take the applause of the people as a closure sort of thing. I think people want to tell you that they really loved what you did.
JH- There's something I want to say to but I can't really get a handle on what it is. I still think I still owe something but I'm not sure what it is that I owe. I still have sadness…I can't explain it, the sadness is for the people, it's not about The Rat. The Rat will never be there again. I have people calling me and getting upset and yelling "They're taking your building down!"

PL- Have you driven by, have you looked at it??
JH- I actually went in the building with Richie Parson and Scott Baerenwald and we sat at the bar. I was starting to the laugh and I said "I wonder where the bathroom is." And the guy behind the bar says "Oh, it's upstairs." And I said "Oh, in my office!"


home | interviews | photos | features |BGN issue list | reviews
links | contact us

Copyright © 2007 Paul Lovell. All rights reserved.