The onetime Runaway is joined by members of Buffalo Tom, The Cars, Letters To Cleo, Belly, Speedy Ortiz and more at the 20th anniversary blowout for famed Boston rock ‘n’ jock charity event
Sure, I’ve always wanted to hear Cherie Currie sing “Cherry Bomb” live. Haven’t you?
For me, it goes back to 1976 when she was 16 and I was 19 and I hung a Runaways poster on the wall of the college radio station in Maine where I was music director. Played the record lots on the air. A super-charged, pre-punk/glam rocker, a proud, defiant song of teenage lust – and that lust striking fear in her parents’ hearts. Oh, yes, that connected with the teenage me. And, I have little doubt, it empowered – if I can use a word now that wasn’t used then – more than a few female teens of the time, too.
The Runaways played the Rat in Boston, but I wasn’t living there then. Nope, stuck up north.
Forty-four years later, I heard Cherie sing it. Twice. Currie, flying in from L.A., played with A Band of Their Own – an all-female part-time Boston rock group that covers songs by women – and sang the song, which has been a BOTO staple. (The moniker is a take-off on the women’s baseball movie, “A League of Their Own.”) They did “Cherry Bomb” at a private VIP party Feb. 7 at the Hotel Commonwealth in advance of the public gig the following night at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. It was one helluva kick.
Before Friday’s set, I asked Cherie if there was anything terribly inappropriate about the 19-year-old me lusting after the 16-year-old her (by proxy). Nope, she said. I got a pass.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Why was Cherie in Boston? What was this gig all about?
Currie was invited as a guest singer to join a cavalcade of Boston musicians who gather every year to perform at a benefit called Hot Stove Cool Music.
If you’re not from Boston or (now) Chicago, you may not have a clue as to what this Hot Stove Cool Music thing is all about. Long story short: It started 20 years ago in Boston, the brainchild of former Boston Globe (currently with The Athletic) sportswriter Peter Gammons and then-Boston Herald sportswriter Jeff Horrigan, along with Letters to Cleo singer Kay Hanley, Buffalo Tom guitarist-singer Bill Janovitz and Cleo manager Michael Creamer. Soon the Epstein brothers, Theo (then Red Sox general manager, now Cubs, still a guitarist) and Paul, came into the mix and upped the fund-raising ante.
There was a time when sports and music were seen as very different, animals, non-intersecting elements of entertainment. Much less so now, of course. The HSCM idea was to mix jock talk with rock. The hot stove aspect – that’s what they used to call the off-season, when men folk theoretically hovered around a hot New England stove talking potential trades for their Red Sox. The rock aspect is obvious – live music by musicians who mostly were also baseball fans. All put together and done for a crowd presumably enamored of both, raising money for the umbrella charity Foundation to Be Named Later (helmed by Paul Epstein) with the funds going to various local children’s related groups.
Every year, actor/comic Mike O’Malley emcees the event and hosts the live auction of various baseball-related memorabilia. “I love rock ‘n’ roll,” said O’Malley, “and Boston is this interesting hotbed where there’s a love of rock and roll and of baseball. If you’re gonna grow up in Boston and not love the Red Sox you’re really making an active decision to separate yourself from a large part of the community. Which I think says more about the person: I’m not going to root for or pay attention to the Red Sox.”
VIDEO: Eddie Vedder performing “Waiting On A Friend” at Hot Stove Cool Music 2017
Various outsiders join up, the most famous over the years being Eddie Vedder three years ago. Hanley and Janovitz have been the longtime musical anchors, with many Boston peers joining in. (After Theo went to the Chicago Cubs, they started a HSCM benefit series there.)
The first year they raised about $25,000. Not bad. “It was a pretty punk rock, all-hands-on-deck kind of affair and I remember being utterly gobsmacked when I learned that concert and auction had raised [that much],” said Hanley. This year’s take: $300,000. Over the years: $13 million.
This year, there was not as much jock talk – or if there was, I missed it, and was backstage talking music. A lot of that has to do with the Red Sox problematic off-season – goodbye Cheatin’ Alex Cora and The Trade of the Second-Best Player in the Game Mookie Betts – and enough has been said about that elsewhere in baseball forums.
And this site is about music. Now, I don’t often go out seeking unabashed joy in my rock ‘n’ roll and am sometimes surprised when I find it. Pleasure, yes, I get that. I hope to have fun, maybe measured fun – adult fun – but not often does that big broad smile cross my face and fails to fade. I found that over this weekend.
Janowitz and Mike Gent (the Figgs) co-helmed an un-named band that I’m just going to call the Best Goddamn Rolling Stones Tribute Band You’ll Never Hear (Unless You Go to Hot Stove). There were, I think, about 12 players but various backup singers and horn players came and went. Janovitz and company have kicked up the Love You Live and Sticky Fingers albums in past years, and this year focused on Exile on Main St.
For me, Exile is one of those desert-island discs, maybe my favorite Stones album. But not one I play a lot just because, well, it was a long time ago. So, for me, it was an endorphin rush of a time travel, putting those Stones chestnuts very much in the present tense. I’m realizing I know most every lick and slurred word.
VIDEO: Bill Janovitz and Friends featuring Ted Leo perform “Shine A Light” by The Rolling Stones at the 2020 Hot Stove Cool Music event
Janovitz tore through “Rocks Off.” Ted Leo guested on “Shine A Light,” A super animated Will Dailey howled and wailed on “Ventilator Blues,” Chris Cote tore through “Rip This Joint” and “All Down the Line.” There was horns-a-pumping joy during “Let It Loose.” I mean, I don’t think the Stones sound this good anymore. Boston guitar ace Duke Levine (Peter Wolf band, many others) joined Saturday – Janovitz joked he would be surrendering all leads to Duke – and former Red Sox pitcher, current Red Sox analyst on New England Sports Network and amateur guitarist Lenny DiNardo joined festivities on “Lovin’ Cup.”
I asked DiNardo what he took away from the event.
He dug deep, 16 years ago. The Red Sox won the World Series that year and it was a rather big deal. While he pitched on that team, DiNardo didn’t make the post-season roster. And so … he went elsewhere to celebrate.
“It was great to see the folks that in 2004 hoisted me up on their shoulders at Flat-Top Johnnies” – a club/pool hall – “on one side of the room and let me down on a pool table on the other after the final pitch. My World Series celebration was with my musician friends on the other side of the [Charles] river from Fenway and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Their friendship has meant a lot to me these past 16 years and this annual event is like seeing family.”
Dailey, who was about to embark on a tour opening for Juliana Hatfield, said, “I’ve played my own set at Hot Stove for a few years and tonight I said, ‘Fuck that! I’m gonna play my childhood dream.” Levine, perhaps Boston’s best and most versatile guitar slinger, enthused about how all the guitarists layered their parts, noting “It was a blast.” He grew up with a copy of his older brother’s Let It Bleed, weaned on that at 9 and 10.
BOTO has a few semi-famous names in it –Hanley, Belly’s Tanya Donelly and Gail Greenwood, former Warner Bros. solo artist Jen Trynin, Fuzzy’s Hilken Mancini and Chris Toppin.
“We’re a bunch of chicks playing music by chicks,” said singer-guitarist Trynin, explaining the BOTO ethos. “And I have to say: it is so fun! The hang time with the ladies is awesome and ridiculous and we all have a great time together.”
Mancini talked about Currie’s involvement. “Well, it’s a funny story because when we heard she was coming to do ‘Cherry Bomb’ we offered her to sing on any of our songs for the set. She picked ‘If It Makes You Happy,’ the Sheryl Crow song that I was singing. When we reached out to her via email to see if she wanted to go over it before the Friday night show – since she was coming that day from LA and we never practiced it – she never responded. When she arrived Friday evening for the VIP party, she left right after ‘Cherry Bomb.’ So, I thought that was it. Fast forward to sound check Saturday night she came up to me and said would I mind if she sang the Sheryl Crow song with me and I said ‘Of course not!’
“When she said she would take the high part on the verses I smiled and nodded …. because there is no high part of the verses but she’s Cherie Currie and can do whatever she wants! We started to go into the song and she whispered to me ‘You have a beautiful voice.’ I said, ‘But Cherie, you’ve never heard me sing’ and then she winked at me and said ‘I can just tell.’
“Later on, we went over the parts a cappella in the dressing room again. I told her the song I usually sing with BOTO is ‘Cherry Bomb,’ so it was a funny coincidence she picked the song I was singing in BOTO. She said ‘Well then, you are singing it with me! ‘And I was like “No! It’s your ultimate song and you have to sing it!’ She insisted we trade verses.”
“What a great band!” enthused Currie from the stage. “The girls, all of you, are you great?!”
Yep, they were.
“It was surreal, said Mancini, “Being in BOTO with all those amazing women is always like a high, but with Cherie doing ‘Cherry Bomb’ with us as well, I felt like one of the luckiest women alive in that moment!”
VIDEO: BOTO feat. Kay Hanley perform “Kids In America” at Hot Stove Cool Music 2020
The other BOTO highlight for me was ‘Kids in America’ – which many folks know from the Muffs cover – but it was Kim Wilde’s glee-packed fantasy pop hit single from 1981 and it is just one of the most exuberant pop songs ever. (It’s a girl anthem, but, ironically enough, was written by her dad Marty and brother Ricky, produced by Ricky.) Hanley and Speedy Ortiz singer Sadie Dupuis made it roar.
The night closed with a Letters to Cleo/Belly combo – Donelly and Greenwood joining Hanley, guitarists Mike Eisenstein and Greg McKenna, bassist Jon Klompus and drummer Stacy Jones. Said Hanley, before launching into their “Here and Now” hit: “It feels like a rock show, but at the end of the day it’s the community, which is so freaking heavy.”
After that, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Greg Hawkes of the Cars stepped in. They played two Cars songs, “Dangerous Type” and “Bye Bye Love.” Both were drained of the Ric Ocasek-esque detachment and ennui and, in fact, rather rocked up and high spirited. A nice close to night that hit that odd but lovely interzone between loose and casual and full bore.
VIDEO: Letters To Cleo feat. Greg Hawkes perform The Cars’ “Bye Bye Love” at Hot Stove Cool Music 2020