Jimmy Harold went from working security at the door of a Kenmore Square bar to owning The Rathskeller, the club across the street, from 1974 to 1997; and becoming internationally well known for his support of the Punk music scene, at his venue, when it first exploded on Boston in the early to mid- 1970’s. During the 1960’s, and originally named TJ’s, it had been a restaurant and bar catering to college students: occasionally having music in the back room featuring local bands like The Remains, The Mods with drummer Harry Sandler, who went on to play with the Bosstown band Orpheus, and The Lost with future Punk legend Willie Alexander. The Remains were so popular in 1965 that the owner had to open up the basement to handle the large crowd. Music was phased out soon after and they just served food until Jimmy Harold came back with different ideas and a better plan of action.
The Rat was dark and dirty; and for almost a quarter of a century, twenty three years, it had a history and reputation of arrogance and attitude that was inspired by the owner’s far-reaching vision and personality. Harold remembers: ‘After The Kenmore Club, I went to work at TJ’s which is what The Rat was called back in those days. Then I had disagreements with management and I was fired. I moved on and managed a couple of clubs and then after my contract ended I went back to TJ’s and I ran the downstairs area. Then I bought out the other guy, my business partner, and my foot was in the door and now I was in the business.’
In 1976, the album Live At The Rat was released and it accurately documented the local Punk music scene and the club. Jimmy recalls: ‘The album was my idea and John Kalishes produced it. I saw something was happening with all these groups and their original music so I had all the bands come in one Sunday afternoon and we discussed what was happening. I thought about doing an album and everybody was on board. I did a double album and I’ll never forget that I said to myself ‘I need my head examined!’ It was a brilliant move and it put The Rat on the map big time!’
The WBCN Rumble was held at The Rat for it’s first three years where it was called ‘The Rumble At The Rat,’ and from 1980 to 1987 chef James Ryan ran his Hoodoo BBQ out of the kitchen and fed everyone from Mr. Butch to the many hungry and broke musicians who dropped by that were part of the scene. For free. Esquire Magazine called it ‘one of the hundred best restaurants in America.’
Bands like The Cars, The Pixies, Metallica, Powerman 5000, Tiny Tim, The Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, The Talking Heads, R.E.M., The Motels and The Police had legendary gigs there. ‘One of the best nights was when The Runaways played because David Bowie, Blondie and Iggy Pop showed up and they were all in my office along with the people in The Runaways Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Cherie Curry and Sandy West. I introduced Iggy and Bowie to them. Then, in no order, The Police, The Ramones, Thin Lizzy, and The Jam,’ Harold smiles at the memory.
Later on, The Rat became important for its contributing role in Hardcore Punk music which became huge in Boston in the mid- 90’s; with bands like The Dropkick Murphys and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones leading the way. The Rat closed in November 1997 and was torn down in October 2000 to make way for The Hotel Commonwealth, a 148 room luxury hotel with a Rat Suite full of club memorabilia and photos hanging on the walls.
Music Museum Of New England: ‘What did you like best about owning the Rat?’
Harold: ‘It wasn’t a job.’
Music Museum Of New England: ‘Any advice to give young musicians trying to follow their dreams in these tough times?’
Harold: ‘Keep rocking!’
Today, Jimmy is happily retired and busy fishing on his own boat somewhere North of Boston.
What is Jimmy Harold’s legacy in the history of the Boston music scene?
(Names are listed with their old affiliations)
ELLIOT EASTON (The Cars): Jimmy was a great friend to the young musicians of Boston. He gave all the bands the crucial chance to perform in front of an audience (even if it was just a Monday night), such a crucial aspect in developing a band. I can’t think of many other clubs at that time where you could play an entire set of original material without being pressured to play Top 40. Jimmy was always kind and fair to what were basically a bunch of kids with stars in their eyes. I know I can say with confidence that The Rathskeller was a crucial step in the progress of The Cars and we owe Jimmy a great debt of thanks. Those were such great days!
WILLIE LOCO ALEXANDER (The Lost/ The Boom Boom Band): After Jim Harold opened up The Rat to rock ’n’ roll again, beginning with Mickey Clean & The Mezz in 1975, it became a hot house or greenhouse for musical growth and community. It became mecca for rock ’n’ roll fans from all over the world. We have got to thank and give credit to Jim Harold for making it possible for a lot of rock ’n’ roll dreamers’ dreams to come true.
ROBIN LANE (The Chartbusters): I actually don’t know all that much about Jimmy personally from back in the day, only the things that people say about him and what he says on his boat trips around the harbor and out to the islands where the dead bodies are probably weighted down with concrete. But I know Jimmy more at this point in time. Most of what I know about Jimmy from the past comes from Asa Brebner’s reminisces. I know, according to Asa, that The Rat had cover bands and Asa came in with Mickey Clean & The Mezz and asked if they could play there. They played for him (I think) and he thought they were soooooooo bad that if he gave them a gig once a week or something, tons of people would come in just to laugh at them; and so it started, but not with laughter, people were genuinely liking the band and others that came after; and those bands were playing the type of music that made The Rat and Jimmy Harold history. I lived in Cambridge at the time and had no idea what was going on at The Rat. I had met Alpo from Real Kids who took me there and introduced me to Asa, Scott Baerenwald and Leroy Radcliff. I already had some kind of record deal with Private Stock and asked these boys if they wanted to be in a band. I was cute and they said “yes.” I never really met Jimmy at this time. He was larger than life and to me, a bit intimidating. Mitch was the entre into The Rat and was my introduction to Jimmy too. Jimmy is the sweetest of men and I love him dearly. Love to be around him and listen to his stories. Jimmy, thank you for all you’ve given me and so many other musicians. You and The Rat are legacy to Boston town.
(by AJ Wachtel)