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Virtual museum preserves New England's musical scene

BOSTON --From the power chords of Aerosmith, to the jazz beats of Roy Haynes, to the funky dance rhythms of the Tavares, New England has been home to a diverse and vibrant music scene for decades.

Until recently, however, there has never been a single repository for that musical history.

A handful of guys with deep roots in the region's music scene have set up a Web site to celebrate some of the area's greatest artists.

Their goal is to one day open a bricks and mortar museum.

"We want to preserve all of this rich musical history," said Harry Sandler, one of the founders of the Music Museum of New England and drummer for the 1960s band Orpheus. "We're doing it for the love of music."

Sandler, now the vice president of a speakers' booking agency who's still performing with some original members of Orpheus, has been a part of Boston's music scene for more than four decades. His first band opened for the Rolling Stones when they played the Manning Bowl in Lynn in 1966. Orpheus played with Cream, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and The Who, among others.

He's known Steve Nelson since the '60s when Nelson was manager of the legendary Boston Tea Party concert venue.

Sandler and Nelson, along with friends Michael Fondo and Gary Sohmers -- an expert on pop culture collectibles and a contributor to the PBS show "Antiques Roadshow" -- came up with the idea for the museum during their frequent gatherings.

"Whenever we'd get together for dinner, the conversation would always turn to music and this idea of a museum was always kicking around," said Nelson, now a business video producer. "After we'd talked about it so much, we thought we'd better do this."

The evolving site, online since November, has biographies of about 50 artists. It also features sound and video clips, a list of some of the region's top concert halls, and links that take visitors to the artists' official sites.

"We want people to hear this stuff, and see this stuff and bring it to life," Nelson said.

The only qualification for inclusion is that the artists have to have made a "substantial contribution" to the region's music scene. The site includes those born in New England, including Connecticut native and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Gene Pitney; those who made their name here, including New Wave pioneers The Cars; and those who made the area their home, including folk singer James Taylor.

The artist bios represent the wide spectrum of the region's music -- rock, jazz, folk, and more.

"We really want to be broad based, and that is a reflection of the New England music lover, who tends to be a bit more eclectic, more so than in other areas of the country," Nelson said.

There are plans to add more bios. The founders originally came up with a list of about 400 artists to include on the site.

The original foursome make selections along with an advisory board.

Fondo, an executive at Fidelity Investments, got involved in Boston's music scene while attending Boston University in the 1970s. Although not a musician -- he's a self-described "accomplished air guitarist" -- he's a music fan.

"This really taps into that vein of emotion and nostalgia that people have for these artists and those times," he said.

The next step for the museum is applying for grants and doing some fund raising, Fondo said. He envisions a physical museum within three to five years that would house their own memorabilia along with loans or donations from the artists themselves.

New England's music scene has been one of the most influential in the country.

"Boston and New England have always been underestimated when compared to New York and LA and even Nashville," said Rob Rose, who has no association with the museum but has looked at the site. "But a lot of artists from this area were pioneers in their genre."

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is one of the finest orchestras in the nation, Rose said, adding that Aerosmith, The Cars, disco queen Donna Summer, even boy band New Kids on the Block paved the way for dozens of followers.

"People from this area helped shape the music of this country," Rose said.


Music Museum of New England: