Joe Harvard, Founder of Fort Apache Studios, Musician, Writer Dies at 60

In the 1980s an East Boston guy had an idea to create a Boston recording studio that would authentically capture the emerging alternative Boston music scene. Fort Apache in Roxbury was born and artists like The Pixies, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., Morphine, Buffalo Tom, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were given the freedom to experiment and capture the energy of their music without sterilization.

Legendary local musician, producer and founder of the famed Fort Apache Studio in Boston Joe Harvard passed away Sunday.

One can argue that without Eastie’s Joe Harvard the world may have never heard The Pixies. Without The Pixies and their influence on later artists like Kurt Cobain one can also argue there would have never been Nirvana and without Nirvana the grunge explosion of the early 1990s that defined a decade would have never occurred. 

Harvard, an accomplished musician, music producer, artist and all-around great soul passed away on Sunday, March 24 after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 60 years old.

Harvard, who was born in Jeffries Point as Joe Incagnoli, had been living in Asbury Park, NJ, since 2001 where he emerged as a leading force in the town’s art and music scene renaissance.

Harvard was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer late last year and documented his daily struggle with the disease through honest, and sometimes heartwrenching, social media posts.

All the while Harvard remained optimistic and continued his art and music until the end, and telling friends back in Eastie he was fighting the disease like an, “East Boston tornado!”

Sadly Harvard stopped treatment and succumbed to the disease on Sunday. His death was announced by longtime partner Mallory Messara.

“Joe passed early this morning with me and his sister by his side. Aidan arrived late last night in time to say goodbye,” said Massara. “I believe Joe was waiting for her. He went very peacefully. I sang ‘Sunday Morning’ to him as the sun rose. Then opened a book of Rumi poems to read to him. He had one ‘bookmarked’, like he left it for me knowing that would be the book I picked out of the thousand on the shelf. ‘Parable of the World.’ And then I opened the sliding glass door to let his soul out. I figured if it was anywhere as big as his personality it would need more room than a window.”

Harvard was born and raised in Eastie and attended local schools. In a short YouTube documentary about his life produced by Messara, Harvard drove around his old stomping grounds in Jeffries Point, pointed out the bar were he shined shoes while his father held court inside, and visited his childhood home. 

Harvard graduated from Harvard University and the Ivy Leaguer got the ‘Harvard’ nickname while working in a Cambridge record store while attending college.

In 1986, with fellow Ivy Leaguers and friends Sean Slade, Jim Fitting and Paul Kolderie, Harvard founded Fort Apache Studio in Roxbury. 

If you were into music, I mean really into music in the 1980s and early 1990s, WFNX

was the only station you listened to and local bands like The Pixies were your rock gods.

If you ate, slept and breathed the alternative scene during that time you knew of and respected Fort Apache for the enormous talent it recorded for over a decade. Bands like The Pixies, Juliana Hatfield, The Lemonheads, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Dinosaur Jr.,  Belly and Buffalo Tom were just some of the major groups and artists that either got their start or recorded at Fort Apache and later artists like Radiohead and Hole used the studio that became synonymous with Alternative Rock.

Harvard briefly became sole owner, and the studio became very active recording Boston-area indie-rock groups.

“We were the most grossly over educated rock music studio in the history of the [email protected]#$ing world,” said Harvard in an article for the Consequence of Sound’s feature on the history of Fort Apache. “It was our attitude that really made people come. If you wanted to put a microphone in the toilet — which we did — or if you wanted to put a microphone down your pants — which we did — we didn’t give a [email protected]#. We were willing to try it and give you the benefit of the doubt. Not all of it stuck to the wall, but some of it ended up being really brilliant. I went out every night. I went to The Rat and told people, “We have a studio! You’ve got to come and check it out. Climbing that mountain was a lot of fun. It was all about, Let’s find some great bands and make some records that don’t suck.”

Harvard, who never forgot his Eastie roots, visited Zumix Firehouse in 2015 to play a show during a benefit for the community’s youth music and arts program.

After the show, Harvard mingled with guests, talked music with the younger folks, signed other people’s copies of the Legendary Locals of East Boston book (he is featured as is his father, Joe Incagnoli) and was amazed at how great the Zumix Firehouse on Sumner Street came out.

“At the height of Fort Apache I wanted to buy this old beat up firehouse in my neighborhood and turn it into Fort Apache East Teen Center,” said Harvard. “I can’t begin to say how impressed I am with what these guys (Zumix) have built there and how amazed I am at the quality of musicianship I was hearing in every classroom and studio or how proud I am as a fourth generation Jeffries Point ‘homeboy’ to see a world class facility like this in Eastie. I have a very good imagination but it would have paled in comparison to Zumix. They rock!”

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