Charles R. (Charlie) McKenzie was born and raised in West Roxbury, MA. and he loved music. He was an early entrepreneur — while attending Catholic Memorial he was booking local bands for CYO dances he was able to make a little pocket money and be involved with the music he adored. Although he was not a musician he had an amazing ear for talent that would serve him well later in his career. He started that career working for the Warner Elektra Atlantic distribution branch in Medford in the early 70’s. Starting in the warehouse he eventually worked his way up to local promotion for Warner Bros Records. He was responsible for getting exposure and airplay on radio for the labels artists in the New England Region. In 1973 he was part the team that set up a promotion for the new Alice Cooper “Billion Dollar Babies” release at the old Bal-A-Roue roller rink in Medford….it is remembered as one of the greatest parties of it’s kind.
While at Warner Bros Charlie was responsible for breaking records like Deep Purples’ classic “Smoke On The Water” and many others. Due to some downsizing and over staffing Charlie had to leave Warners but immediately resurfaced doing promotion for ABC Records..While there he helped promote the careers of legendary Boston artists Duke and the Drivers along with The Pointer Sisters, Steely Dan and many others. Charlie always had his eyes and ears out looking for his own band that would make him rich .One afternoon while working in his office he heard a song being played in the next door office of the branch manager. It was a demo tape the manager received from a relative working at Polaroid that was doing a co-worker a favor. That co-worker was Tom Scholz and the demo tape was “More Than A Feeling”.
Charlie was given the cassette and immediately sent a copy to his West Roxbury childhood friend Paul Ahern in Los Angeles where he now working for Asylum Records promoting The Eagles, Jackson Brown and others.They formed a partnership and became co-managers. The music was so strong they came up with the bold name Boston. That album debuted in August of 1976 and went on to sell 16 million copies. The biggest debut in the history of recorded music. It was like a movie…..hearing that cassette turned into millions of dollars and Charlie became very wealthy almost overnight.
Unfortunately as often happens in the music business Charlie and Tom Sholz had a falling out and he left the band after that first album and broke up his partnership with his old friend Paul Ahern. He was too much of a fan of music to stop now. He went on to manage the great Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band through their major label release on MCA records. He also managed Johnny Angel and The Blackhawks along with the legendary guitarist Dick Wagner and worked closely with Somerville native Dale Bozzio, of Missing Persons fame.
Charlie never was able to recreate the success he had with Boston and left the music business. Sadly he was killed in a car accident in Yarmouth on Cape Cod on March 5th 2002 at the age of 54. The late Boston lead singer Brad Delp was quoted in a Boston Globe story: “Charlie was the first person to hear something in the tapes we sent out. We’ll always be grateful to him for that.” The great Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band called Charlie a “true rock n’ roll character” and has said he always asked Charlie to listen to J. Geils Band songs before they were released due to Charlie’s amazing ears for what made a hit record.
Charlie was known as a gentle giant at 6′ 4″ he could be an imposing figure…he loved to party like the best of them but his talents and amazing ear for hit songs changed his life and the history of the music business in Boston for ever.
(by Peter Wassyng)
Published on April 5, 2016