A Black Rose Grows in Boston: 20 Years of a Homemade Label

Excerpt From:
Boston’s Weekly Dig: A Weekly Publication Dedicated to Moderation
Volume 2 / Issue 24 / June 21-28, 2000

A Black Rose Grows in Boston
20 Years of a Homemade Label
By Matt Robinson

What does an ex-Marine mechanic and Head Start bus driver do in his spare time?

Why, start a record company, of course!

“I’m not a musician at all,” admits Black Rose Records founder/label-head/part-time producer/A&R/promo guy Al Cocorochio. “I can’t sing. I can’t play. I just love music.”

This love affair has taken Al through 20 years of some of the best blues, country and rock in the region and to some of the music world’s most legendary people and places.

From backstage with George Thoroughgood to the catacombs of Memphis’ Sun Studios, Al has seen a lot in his 20 years as Black Rose (a label named for Elvis’ special gift to special ladies – they know who they are).

“I don’t like going with somebody who thinks they’re gonna have a million-seller.  It doesn’t work like that. I just like to work with down-to-earth people and say, ‘Hey, if we make it, we make it. If we don’t, we don’t, but we’re doing it for the fun.’ I pick my artists by the way they sound and how their personalities are and whether I think they’re gonna have some stability,” Al explains.

Another perk of being a label head is the friends it can help you meet. Over the past 20 years, Al has had the chance to work with the legendary likes of Bo Diddley, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis and Boston’s own Gary Cherone.

On Wednesday, June 28, Al is going to let everyone else get in on at least some of what he has seen through a special 20th Anniversary celebration at Johnny D’s in Somerville’s Davis Square. At this special musical party Al will release a CD compilation featuring all of Black Rose artists (e.g. Apache, The New Hawks, Bobby Fosmire and the infamous Preacher Jack), most of whom will perform live at the show (along with a number of special guests.)

Black Rose began in 1979 when Al, then a voluntary booking agent for clubs in and north of town, was asked to make a record for Bert Paquette & the New Gamblers. Going purely on his oft-professed love of music, Al joined producer friend Thom Foley at Dimensions Sound Studio in Jamaica Plain and laid down what would be Black Rose 001.

“I didn’t do it to make a million,” Al wisely asserts. “I did it to have fun.”

Fortunately, Al has had quite a bit of success with his 20-some-odd releases. With the help of stations like the now defunct WCGY (for whom Al’s discs were the first local spins ever), Black Rose has picked up various distribution deals (though Al is currently hunting) and even a couple awards, including Tom Hambridge’s 1998 Boston Music Award for Best Pop Rock – Local Label for his album Certified Love.

Still, Al attests, he doesn’t do it for the money.

“They’re my friends,” he says, smiling proudly and sharing anecdotes of personal visits and special after hours rendezvous.

Al has seen a lot in the past 20 years, but is still surprisingly optimistic about the future of the music, if not of the industry. For someone who got into it on a lark, Al sure has gotten to know the music industry.  And despite a few qualms, he is still surprisingly optimistic about it.

“There are tons of great bands out there without deals and there are many not so good bands with deals, and label loyalty is way down,” Al notes, “But the technology has changed such that recordings of most bands sound better and are easier to do. There are no more reel tapes. It’s all computers, so editing is safer and more productive.  A lot got wasted in tapes. Digital is bringing it out again.”

And what does Al hope will come in the next 20 years?

“I’d just like to be nominated for a Grammy.  Just to be nominated, like Susan [Tedeschi] was, is a great feeling.  I’d also like to find the right woman.”

I can see the personal ad now:

Later 50s DWM. Ex-Marine/bus driver/label head.  Loves music & working with kids.  Interested? Come by Johnny D’s 6/28.

Come catch a taste of musical history at the Black Rose Records 20th Anniversary party Wednesday, June 28, at Johnny D’s.  Admission is $7.