Boston and the surrounding area is rich in history, from the colonial era forward, and I appreciate all of it. But I am particularly interested in Boston in the 20th century, and have researched the middle years of that century extensively. My extreme interest in certain aspects of the city’s cultural history led me to form Troy Street Publishing as a vehicle for sharing ten years of research and writing.

The Boston Jazz Chronicles Cover
Click here to buy The Boston Jazz Chronicles on Amazon now.

My first endeavor was a seven-year labor of love, The Boston Jazz Chronicles, which I published through Troy Street in 2012. It was early in the self-publishing game and I thought the prospects and possibilities of that game were endless. I still do, and my goal is to publish the projects described elsewhere on this site.

This website, and its blog, The Troy Street Observer, are the primary outlets for telling my stories, but there are others—public speaking, walking tours, and a YouTube channel that puts some of the historic but out-of-print recordings back in circulation.

What’s in it for you? On this site you’ll find content about Boston people, places and events that you won’t find anywhere else. I’ve opened a window, and through it you’ll hear some of the not-so-common stories of Boston. Check back often to see what’s new.

—Richard Vacca

The Troy Street Observer

Andy McGhee: Rockin’ with the Fat Man

Back in the day—no, even before that—there was a rowdy saloon on the corner of Stuart and Tremont streets, in Boston’s Theatre District, called the Knickerbocker Cafe. This was in the early 1950s, and the Knickerbocker was a favorite of the hordes of sailors from the Navy Yard who flooded the Theatre District nightly. They liked it because the club had a great house band, Fat Man Robinson’s quintet (later expanded to sextet), and one of its stars was the tenor saxophonist Andy McGhee.

Photo of Andy McGhee, 1949
Andy McGhee’s NEC yearbook picture, 1949

McGhee, who died October 12, 2017 at age 89, came to Boston in 1945 to attend the New England Conservatory. He studied with Sam Marcus, a saxophonist and dance band leader, and later the president of AFM Local 9. McGhee graduated from the NEC Diploma Program in 1949. The comment accompanying his photo in his senior class yearbook read, “Will be on the road and with a first-rate band before you know it!”

In later years, McGhee downplayed his activity outside of school, but he was among the galaxy of future jazz stars around town in the late 1940s, a cluster that included Jaki Byard, Charlie Mariano, Sam Rivers, and Joe Gordon. McGhee logged time in the big bands of fellow student Bernard Moore, Roxbury pianist Hopeton Johnson, and finally the fabled Boston Beboppers of Jimmie Martin.

Eight-Day Weeks in the Boston Clubs

McGhee served in the U.S. Army 1950-52, stationed first at Fort Dix in New Jersey, then in Korea. Back in Boston, he replaced Sam Rivers in the aforementioned band of alto saxophonist and singer Paul “Fat Man” Robinson. Fat Man was a rollicking jump bluesman who modeled his band after Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five. The schedule was as frantic as the music. Robinson’s popular quintet worked constantly, mainly around Boston and the blue-collar cities of the Merrimack River Valley. During McGhee’s time, they also traveled as far south as Miami and as far north as Montreal. Their home base, though, remained the Knickerbocker, which was renamed the Stage Bar in 1955 after an ownership change.

After five non-stop years with Fat Man, McGhee needed a break. Boston was especially grueling for bar bands in the 1950s because of what the musicians called its eight-day week—they worked seven nights a week plus a Sunday matinee. In his interview for the Berklee Oral History Project in 2005, McGhee told Fred Bouchard: “Fat Man Robinson worked all the time. I was with him for four or five years with no time off at all. That’s why I left.” That was in 1957.

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