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The mission of this blog is to honor, non-commercially promote, and educate the world about Benjamin Orr, former bass player and one of the lead vocalists for the new wave rock band, The Cars. Articles here cover a whole range of topics surrounding his life, his career, and his continuing legacy. Enjoy!

Please feel free to also check out my “All Things Elliot Easton” blog!

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Guest post: Alan Fields digs into Milkwood

Guest post: Alan Fields digs into Milkwood

As many of you know, Benjamin Orr and Ric Ocasek met sometime in Ohio in the late 1960s and banged around for a few years forming various bands and trying out different styles of music as they pursued the success they craved. The timeline is a little fuzzy, but by 1971, after the failure of their band Leatherwood in New York,  Ben and Ric were both back in the Cleveland area, untethered and trying to figure out their next step. And then… yada yada yada… the Milkwood album came out.

I skip the deets there because you’ll read how the guys jumped from A to B down below, but I will give you a little more context. The band Milkwood consisted of Richard Otcasek, Jim “Jas” Goodkind, and Benjamin Orzechowski. Future Cars keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Greg Hawkes also made his vinyl debut on this album. I’m not sure of the exact release date, but the earliest mention that I found of the completed record, entitled How’s the Weather, is December 15, 1972.

Longtime Cars fan Alan Fields, who is also a member of a Cars tribute band, recognized that this significant window in Ben’s history had, as of 2022, reached its 50th birthday, and to mark the occasion, he made arrangements to speak with the one surviving member of that trio, Jim Goodkind.

Jim Goodkind by Alan Fields
Jim Goodkind posing with a signed copy of the Milkwood album, How’s the Weather. Photo by Alan Fields, shared with permission.

Alan has graciously offered to share his interview notes here with us. The two men covered a lot of ground, so be sure to grab a cup of coffee before you dive in! At the end of this article, you’ll find links to the audio files for How’s the Weather, as well as a snippet of rare home video footage of Milkwood performing together.

It should be noted, too, that Alan possesses what might be the only copy of How’s the Weather that is signed by all three members of the band. You can see Jim Goodkind posing with it on the right. Now there’s a collector’s item!

Read on to uncover the ‘yada yada yada’ that became Milkwood.


The audition for a new lead singer didn’t go well.

The 27-year-old guitarist from Baltimore by way of Cleveland just didn’t have the voice to sing any song, especially the blues songs the new band in Boston planned to play.

Sensing this was going to end abruptly, the singer quickly added, “I write stuff.”

“Then Ric Ocasek took an acoustic guitar and played me ‘Dream Trader,’” said guitarist Jim Goodkind. “And I was completely floored.”

Thus began the musical partnership that eventually morphed into Milkwood, one of several bands that Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr launched before The Cars. Unlike those other brands, however, Milkwood snagged a record deal and recorded an ill-fated album (How’s the Weather) that was released 50 years ago this year.

To celebrate that milestone, I traveled to Albuquerque and sat down with Goodkind, the only surviving member of Milkwood. We talked about those early days in Boston, his friendship with Ric Ocasek, and why the band Milkwood crashed and burned.

(Special thanks to Paroo Streich, who heads the Milkwood Appreciation Society on Facebook. Her previous interview with Goodkind is excerpted below to fill in some of the blanks in our conversation. Each question that is marked with an asterisk is answered by portions of her interview.)

Milkwood: The Beginning

milkwood album cover
Milkwood, How’s the Weather, front cover

Q: How did you get your start in music?

Jim Goodkind: As a kid, I took guitar lessons from a guy named Harvey Mandel; he later played with the Stones when the Stones were looking for a guitarist to replace Mick Taylor. He was one of the guys they tried out. He plays on several cuts on the Black and Blue album.

This was in Chicago in the mid 60s. Harvey was playing blues and later played in Canned Heat at Woodstock. I had him as a teacher; he was living with his parents. He was 21. I was 15 or 16.

He was an incredible teacher. It was all by ear. Nothing was charted out. It was just this thing where he showed me these patterns that fit blues music. And they also fit country and rock. There are certain patterns that fit all the different genres, where the difference between country and the blues is a major third versus a minor third. But everything else is pretty much the same. The inflections are different.

The way you pick, the tone. He would show me these connections. And then he taught me a few chords. And then we would jam. He played rhythm, I played lead. I got to watch how he was creating solos: start here, build here and then come back into the vocal. All of those techniques were learned by watching and listening to him.

It was an amazing experience.

Q. What were your musical influences growing up?

I was initially influenced by the Everly Brothers. The day I arrived at college Sgt. Pepper was being played out the windows of fraternities. I was listening to Stones, Yardbirds, Animals, Beatles, Beach Boys. Hendrix’s first album had been out for a while at that point.

In high school, I played in a couple of cover bands that sometimes did originals. One became famous in Chicago (the Squires) and I was the guitar player in that band, with four-part harmonies. And it was all British-influenced rock-and-roll.

Q: How did you come to Boston and meet Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr?

I graduated from college in 1971. My brother was going to school in Boston, so I hitchhiked from Chicago to Boston. The music scene was good in Boston at the time.

Q: Tell me more about the scene there in Boston at the time.

It was a really cool town. There were a lot of would-be musical stars out there playing clubs. There was a bar called Jack’s, which later burned down. All kinds of people played there who later became something bigger.

Q: When you arrived in Boston, you planned to put a band together with your brother who played drums and a friend from Chicago who played bass. That’s when you auditioned for a guitarist?*

I put an ad in the Boston Phoenix for a rhythm guitar player/lead singer. Ric answered the ad. He auditioned and it didn’t go that well. I mean, he was not the right singer… I was looking at cover band type stuff, you know? So we could get out in the clubs but he’s not a cover band kinda guy. He was unique.

After hearing Ric’s original songs, I was like, ‘Pshish! I’m dumping my brother and this bass player and I’m with you!’

So, that’s what happened. My brother understood, the bass player did not. (laughs) But Ric and I started playing together. We started gigging a little bit together doing pretty much all original stuff. And a few weeks into that he told me he had a friend in Cleveland (Ben Orr) that he’d had a couple of bands with before. We called Ben, who came out to Boston and then it was a trio.

And so, we started working on the songs that would become the Milkwood album. Ric and his second wife were living about five or ten minutes away from the apartment that Ben & I were sharing.

Q: Tell me more about hearing Ric’s early songs.

I was completely floored. I thought to myself, “That’s a constructed song that makes sense that has verses and a chorus and a cool chord structure and his voice sounds cool! He’s the real deal! This guy’s the real deal.” I mean, I’m 20 years old. I feel like I knew music, but I hadn’t met anybody who wrote music—this was as close as I had been to hearing somebody who had a sense of how it’s done.

My reaction was what started the bond, relationship. I was the first in Boston to recognize his talent. He’d only been in Boston for a couple months. I decided very quickly that I was going to lock myself to this guy and see what would happen ‘cause it was so much more of what I really wanted to do than play covers. I’d always wanted to do originals or interpretations of covers. I’ve never been like a “just like the record” kind of guy. And this was an opportunity to create the licks instead of trying to duplicate them. And that’s what created the partnership.

Our friendship got close fast. I’d eat dinner with Ric and Suzie every night. Suzie would make spaghetti or something. We’d be sitting on the couch smoking cigarettes, eating jelly beans. That was his thing. Ric was always nervous. He bit his nails all the time. The jelly beans and the cigarettes kinda helped [keep] him from doing that but he chewed his nails.

milkwood back cover
Milkwood, How’s the Weather, back cover

Q: Tell me more about the songs that ended up on Milkwood.

He had “With You With Me” pretty well done. He was writing “Winter Song.” He was working on “Timetrain Wonderwheel.” He had a bunch. And all of them were legit songs—and the lyrics were vague enough so you could read your own stuff into them. And he always liked the way words went together.

Sometimes there was a double meaning. You saw that more with The Cars than Milkwood. Some words sound good together. And he had a natural affinity for a hook. He knew how create a melody that would stick in your head.

Q: Where did the band name come from?

From a Dylan Thomas poem called “Under Milkwood.

Q: How did Ben get involved?

Ben was still in Cleveland when Ric and I met. There was a band before Milkwood; Ric and Ben were all living in Woodstock, New York. And Al Schwartz was their manager then, too. And that band either had a deal or were about to have a deal and it collapsed.

Ric said he was really upset that it fell through, so he moved to Boston. I think Ben went back to Cleveland. So then Ric asked him to come up to Boston.

A: At some point during the Milkwood gigs, Ocasek and Goodkind took a trip back to Cleveland. Ben Orr tagged along.

I just remember having a great time. That Randy Newman song “Burn On” was out at the time. The Cuyahoga River, “burn on big river, burn on.” I seem to remember listening to that. Ric enjoyed that.

Ben kept in touch with a lot of people but Ric didn’t.

Q: How did Ric and Ben relate to each other as friends? Were there times when they argued like a married couple?

They were really different personalities. Their relationship to a large extent was contextual—related to the music and not a natural affinity for each other personality-wise. And then Ben was very much dependent on Ric. And Ric did not seem so dependent on Ben. There were times that probably that’s the feeling that Ben had, that being dependent on Ric wasn’t so great.

Ben didn’t really write, he wasn’t prolific, not very insightful. Ric’s stuff was deep.

Q: At this point, Ric is 27 years old. He had been previously married and had 2 children. Did Ric talk about his first marriage?

Very little. Basically, he said, “I was married before. I have a couple of kids.” But he was totally focused on his current marriage to Suzanne. I never met the kids from his first marriage.

Q: Ric was 6’6”. What was people’s reaction to seeing Ric in those days in Boston?

Very curious. Ben predictably attracted women. But Ric also attracted women, as much as Ben. He was charismatic. Women wanted to find out what made him tick, his mysterious side.

Milkwood-Promo
Milkwood promotional photo. Source unknown.

Roommates

Q: What happened next after you started playing together?*

We did our rehearsals at Ric’s place, this second-story walk up in Somerville. And, you know, we would smoke cigarettes, get high, eat jelly beans, and play music. That’s basically what we did…ALL day, EVERY day. And for the time it was sort of a ‘new folk’ kind of thing, sort of along the lines of the stuff that Buffalo Springfield and people like that were doing; Crosby, Stills & Nashy harmony-driven stuff. Ric has two singing voices; one of which he used in The Cars and the other which he used in Milkwood.

Ric had a kind of folk, Americana kind of side to his personality and was a big fan of things like Fairport Convention and Nick Drake and people like that.

Ric’s wife Suzie was working at Elektra Records in promotion. Ric was playing music so she was pretty much supporting his efforts because you don’t make a lot of money playing music in clubs, although we WERE making a living.

And we did some opening acts for people like Jackson Browne, we opened for John Prine, we opened for a couple of comedians… one guy who did Richard Nixon impressions! (laughs)

Q: Was Ben working at the time? How was he supporting himself?

That’s a good question. I don’t remember him working at the time. I don’t remember doing anything but music. And we were making enough money at music to live. Ben and I were roommates for six months. We were living in a small two-bedroom apartment in Somerville. And in those days, you could actually do that.

Q: What was Ben Orr like as a roommate? Was he writing songs?

He wrote a couple. “Lincoln Park.” Not one of my favorite songs. And he sounds different singing that. His voice is more chesty, but he sings that sound way up in his throat. When we sang other stuff, like when he sang covers, he sounded like Ben Orr. When he sang harmony, it was like he had to hold himself back to blend with us since his voice was so powerful.

Ben was laid back, didn’t steal my food. We combined our record collections. Strangely, I found Ben’s copy of the Beatles’ White Album as I was getting ready to move recently. It said “Ben Orr.” So he was looking at changing his name even back then. He was experimenting with identities.

As a roommate, we both kind of had women coming in and out at various times. It was an active little apartment. Ben had girlfriends even though he was engaged to Kris.

1972ish milkwood days beach jas goodkind greg hawkes suzanne ric otcasek ben shauna
Milkwood days circa 1972: Greg Hawkes, Jim Goodkind, Suzanne and Ric Ocasek, Benjamin Orr, Ben’s dog Shauna. Photo courtesy of Eron Otcasek; shared with permission.

He had his dog Shauna. I had a dog named Reuben—he didn’t get name checked on the Milkwood album! The dogs got along fine. Ben loved animals. Shauna got into mischief. One time, Ben borrowed a sleeping bag of mine. . . can’t remember what for. Shauna tore it up.

As roommates, we were unremarkable. I never felt as close a bond to Ben as I felt to Ric.

Q: Did Ben tell you anything about growing up in Cleveland?

Ric spoke very little about his past or his parents. Same with Ben. The only thing I knew about Ben was he was a child star on TV in Cleveland. Ric told me about it. And Ben mentioned it.

Ben was mellow about it. “Yeah, I did that.” I knew more about what Ric and Ben were doing just before I met Ric, than I knew about Ben’s growing up in Cleveland.

Q: Did Ben ever talk about the army?

No. Which is amazing. Being in the army was not cool in those days.

Q: Did Ben ever mention his parents?

He was very attached to his mom. I just remember him talking about his mom. His dad wasn’t there.

He was engaged to Kris at the time. He was really into the idea of being married, and the lifestyle he lived was at odds of that. He didn’t strike me as the marrying kind. He wasn’t turning away the women. Kris was very fresh and innocent, and she was in Cleveland. I knew her reasonably well at that time.

The record deal

Q: How did Milkwood get its record deal?*

We hooked up with this guy, Al Schwartz, who had managed a band that Ric & Ben had had previously out of, I think, Woodstock, New York, if I’m right. They had spent time in Woodstock and Al was sort of a schmoozer, for lack of a better term.

Schwartz got us some interviews at places like Polydor where we sat in the waiting room—and James Brown walks in and we get introduced to him! They tell you, “If he comes in, don’t call him James…it’s ‘Mister Brown’”…so we met MISTER Brown (laughs). We ended up getting a record deal with one of the Paramount labels.

Q: So how long did it take to record Milkwood?

The actual recording was over four weeks. The stuff was recorded quickly, as we were pretty well-seasoned from gigging when we went in there. Nothing was done as a group live. It was tracked.

Ric would do vocals, then Ben and I would lay on harmonies. I went in to do electric guitar parts. They were taking advantage of multi-tracked recording, which was new at the time. There were all these technologies that were new (Dolby) that were becoming part of the recording process. It was new to the engineers and producers.

Ben was extremely comfortable in the studio. Ric was not. Which is interesting because Ric later became such a studio expert.

Q: Why was Ric so uncomfortable? And Ben so at ease?

Ric felt exposed. Ben always seemed to let thing flow over him. He never got upset about anything.

Q: You are credited on the Milkwood album as Jas Goodkind. Who came up with the Jas name?

Well, you know, it was one of these things where our manager Al Schwartz was trying to make us as interesting as possible. It was like, Jimi had already been taken, and the traditional spelling of Jimmy. And James had been taken. So we, you know, we came up with an initial, sort of an abbreviation, which lasted for one album. Nobody’s ever called me that. Ever.

I was actually surprised that Ric at that time didn’t change his name, and that Ben didn’t change his name either at that time.

Q: Tell me about the cover of Milkwood—who designed that?

This guy named Jim Jevne, he was one of my good college friends, was living in Boston at the time. He was a full time photographer. He was developing this solarized sort of look. He also took the promo picture, that one promo shot of the three of us where I’m in the middle, too.

milkwood cover outtake shared by jim goodkind
Ric Ocasek, Jim Goodkind, Benjamin Orr. Photo by Jim Jevne

Q: So was this just somewhere outside of Boston.

This was outside the studio, I believe.

Q: Did you dress in a particular way—or did you just figure, we’ll just go out and take a picture?

Let’s go take a picture. We thought this picture where you don’t get a sense of what the people look like fit the band. It looks very bleak. We all felt that was fitting given the lyrical content of the music.

Ric writes that he’s this Man from Maryland and he couldn’t feel. He had a hard time talking about his feelings. Oddly autobiographical.

Q: Ben sorta looks like he’s in a witness protection program.

Seriously! To me it was always sort of interesting given the fact that he was the Paul McCartney of the band in terms of looks. Why would he cover it up with a beard?

Q: I was going to say, the beard, glasses, the hair. Was he trying to hide from something?

Well, it definitely did not impact his charisma, I’d say.

Q: Is that pretty much how Ben Orr looked in the early 70’s?

Yeah, that’s pretty much how he looked. He cut the beard off periodically. But there was a time when he looked like he looked during The Cars and times when he didn’t.

The album comes out and Milkwood goes on tour

Q: What was the reaction when you first heard the album?

Disappointment, to say the least. We sounded sonically underwater. I listen to it now and it isn’t as bad as I thought at the time. But we all sort of looked at each other and said, “holy shit.” All of this effort… it had sounded great in the studio.

After the Milkwood album came out, we played a few shows. We played with Rambling Jack Elliot in Philadelphia. Opened for him. Opened for Orleans (“Still the One”) in the Boston area. John Hall was one of the founders of that band, one of the great American guitar players. He played with Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal.

1973.03.13 Milkwood opening for Orleans The Boston Phoenix Vol 2 Iss 11
Ad: Milkwood opens for Orleans. Boston Phoenix, March 13, 1973

Q: What was the touring version of Milkwood like?

We electrified Milkwood. We got a drummer that recorded with us. Ben was playing bass. David Humphries played drums. So it was the four of us.

Q: What was the crowd reaction?

Modest. Orleans was a crowd favorite. No one knew who we were. And we weren’t tight. It was one those gigs that you aren’t totally prepared for, because we hadn’t played as a band. We had played as a trio. Trying to duplicate the album.

It was a modestly successful reaction. All those gigs were sort of tainted by the disappointment of having this record come out as it did, as far as we were concerned.

The breakup

 Q: How did Milkwood break up?

While in the studio with Milkwood, I met Niki Aukema who came in at the same time do her record. She came in with her keyboard player, Roy Bittan (later Bruce Springsteen’s keyboardist). And they had everybody but a guitar player. They heard what we were doing. So they asked me if I would do the guitar parts for her album.

I did and got to know those folks. They were getting ready to go and do some live stuff to support her record. I agreed to join them for the live shows.

jim goodkind and ben on niki aukema's album back cover
“James Goodkind” and “Ben Orzechowski” credits on the back of Niki Aukema’s album, Nothing Free

One day Ric and I were in the car and he was driving. And I said something about joining the band that Niki wanted to put together with Roy. And he just got really mad. I had never seen him so pissed off. He was very upset.

He stopped the car and came down on me like he had never had before. Ric was always a low-key guy. You often had to lean in to hear what he was saying, yet this was a full-on blow-up. And that was basically it. We didn’t talk then until two or three months later.

He felt I was abandoning him. He and I were best friends for a couple of years. We spent every day together, starting with the first time I met him. It was disappointing to both of us. Ric had invested an awful of lot of time and effort into Milkwood. He wrote the album. So his personal attachment to that project was a lot greater than mine. And mine was big.

He was 28 years old at this point. He was married and had two kids. Now he was married again and just had an album fail.

Ric and Ben had a bond, but it was like a marriage, where it isn’t always great. Sometimes you are talking, sometimes you are not.

So that was there and the disappointment was becoming disaffected. I started to feel distant from Milkwood. Ric probably felt the same thing. If you were to talk to Ric even during The Cars about Milkwood, he disowned it for years.

Q: Did you ever reconnect with Ric?

After Milkwood broke up, Ric called me when he was playing clubs on his own. He wanted to see if I could back him up. That was the few things that we did. We then stayed in touch enough, so if he wanted me to see Richard and Rabbits, he would tell me about gigs.

We opened for Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Richman was one of Ric’s influences. He talked/sang and sounded very Lou Reed. Jonathan Richman was a Lou Reed acolyte.

Q: What made you drop out of music?

If I was a songwriter, I don’t think I would have necessarily given it up. But I am a person who was brought up to think about options.

When I started playing in bands on weekends, staying up late, my parents started talking about being a musician, you need a plan B. Plan C.

Most successful musicians didn’t have a Plan B. Even if they wanted to.

Q: In all the years you were friends, did Ric ever talk about his parents or growing up in Baltimore?

Not a lot. The occasional anecdote. I remember he said he had a tough time with his dad. He just talked [about] his childhood in general terms that he felt alone, isolated. And a lot of those [feelings] come through in those Milkwood lyrics.

Q: Did you talk to Ben Orr after Milkwood?

No. I said hi when I went to see Cap’n Swing, but that was about it.

Hearing the Cars album before release

the cars
The Cars’s debut album

Q: You heard the Cars’ debut album before its release? What was that like?

I drove to Ric’s house in Newton and instead of an old VW in the semicircular driveway, there was a Jaguar.

So, I went over, we got stoned, he put the thing on. And it was like, it sounded like Queen! I was like, “holy shit!” Roy Thomas Baker. He’s all over that album.

Q: What was Ric’s reaction. Was Ric proud?

He was proud of it. He was happy!

Q: Was he worried about how they were going to reproduce the vocals?

He didn’t say that. I was worried about that. (Laughter)

Q: Was there a particular song that stood out to you when you heard the album before anyone else did?

Well. . . “Good Times Roll” is probably my favorite. Ric’s vocals I thought sounded better than I ever heard them sound.

Q: Did he change his singing style?

Well, he changed it. The thing that I think a lot of people that are familiar with the Milkwood stuff think that there was a . . . it’s almost like there’s this theory that he listened to stuff or read up on stuff about what was hip and adjusted his vocal style to that, to be something. But he was always influenced by Lou Reed. Velvet Underground. Those kinds of things. He had a real sort of folk sensibility to him.

Q: And you can hear the Lou Reed, you hear a little bit of Dylan.

Yeah, the sort of semi-talking. The Velvet Underground sound. And that was always something that was sort of a part of him. I always considered it a part of him. I was not surprised at all at the way his vocals were.

 Q: What were you doing in Boston at the time? Were you still doing music or had you left music by that time?

In 1978, I was just getting ready to move to New York. I had pretty much stopped playing two years before that. I had gone and played with a bunch of different people after Milkwood. By the way, there is nothing that will break up a band faster than a disappointing album. Because it is the thing you live for. The big moment, you hear what they did to that and then, ahhh . . . .

1978.12.01 philadelphia spectrum by ebet roberts
Ric Ocasek, December 1, 1978, at the Philadelphia Spectrum. Photo by Ebet Roberts

Q: Did you ever see The Cars play live?

No.

I ran into Ric on the street in New York in 1978, after I had moved. He had his head down. I said, “Ric.” He said, “Yeah, hi,” and keeps walking. Then I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Ric!” He recognized me. We hugged in the street. It was nice.

Q: What was the last time you spoke to Ric?

At LaGuardia in the early 80s. When Ric died, I got a call from the Boston Globe, then Rolling Stone. I thought, this is crazy.

Q: Any final thoughts about your friendship with Ric Ocasek and the days you spent together in a band?

Ric was an interesting and complex human. A lot more complex than even I knew. He kept so much hidden.

He wanted to be a star. He got what he wanted.


Interview conducted and completed by Alan Fields, except where noted. All rights reserved.


Wow, lots to unpack there! I plan to synthesize my thoughts with additional research tidbits in a later post, so watch for that. In the meantime, let’s get to the links!

Even though the members of Milkwood were disappointed with the final product, many fans, including myself, really love How’s the Weather. If you haven’t heard it, you can soak it in from start to finish with this link to my YouTube channel. I have also uploaded each individual song in case you find yourself picking favorites.


We mentioned above that Paroo Streich also interviewed Jim Goodkind. That was back in 2020, and that conversation prompted Jim to look around for some footage he knew he had of those Milkwood days. He generously shared this clip from his personal archives with Paroo and the Milkwood Appreciation Society group on Facebook, and he has given permission for me to share it with this article via YouTube.

To set the stage, so to speak, here’s what the video depicts: Jim, Ric, and Ben are playing music for their family and friends at Ric’s apartment in Somerville in late 1972. You’ll see Ric’s wife, Suzanne, Ben’s wife, Kris, and Jim’s first wife. Jim’s brother, Tom, is also there, along with other friends and Ben’s white dog, Shauna. The audio you hear is not Milkwood, it is just music overlaid on the silent video.

As Paroo said on her Facebook post, “As far as anyone is aware, this is the only footage that exists of Ric, Ben and Jim performing together, and the earliest footage that exists anywhere of Ric and Ben performing together.” I’m so grateful to Paroo and Jim for bringing this historical tidbit into the light!

Check it out:

In other words:

from eron otcasek 01
Eron Otcasek and Benjamin Orr, circa 1980. Photo retrieved from Eron Otcasek’s Instagram page.

“When I was making this little documentary on The Cars called The Cars Unlocked in the late 90s, we were going through footage and Ben was singing ‘Drive’ live in like ’84 or something, and my dad just stopped, and he was like, ‘Wow, can he sing! Don’t cut away…’ There were some camera angles we had to work with and he was like, ‘Stay there. That guy can sing.’” Eron Otcasek, interview with Full Disclosure, August 15, 2022

The final PanCan push and a Benjamin Bonanza of Giveaways!

The final PanCan push and a Benjamin Bonanza of Giveaways!

As we inch closer to the end of 2022 and the holidays are upon us, I’ve decided to do one final push for donations to our PanCan.org fundraiser in honor of Benjamin’s 75th birthday. I’ll be doing a Benjamin Bonanza of Giveways — 10 in all — starting today, November 23, through December 10, when the final winners will be drawn. Prizes consist of anything from stickers to books to t-shirts, and are posted in no particular order.

🚗 Giveaways will be posted on my Facebook and Instagram pages, and that’s where winners will be announced.
 
🚗 To be eligible, you must make a minimum $10.00 USD donation to pancan.org. using this link: https://secure.pancan.org/site/TR/DIY/DIYTeamraisers?pg=team&fr_id=1081&team_id=37580
 
🚗 Only donations made after October 15, 2022, will be eligible. If you’ve already donated $10.00 or more in that time period, that counts! Each additional $10.00 donation will get you another entry.
 
🚗 Let me make that clear: for each $10 you give, you will get another entry into the subsequent drawings.

🚗 Each drawing will be open for about 48 hours. I will do my best to draw and announce winners right at 12:00 P.S.T., but I reserve the right to do it a little later if I can’t get to it. However, the drawings will still close at 12:00 P.S.T. on their scheduled date.

As we know, Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer on October 3, 2000, less than six months after his diagnosis. He was a father, fiancé, friend, rock star. He was only 53 years old. It is in tribute to him that we are raising awareness and funds for PanCan.org, a non-profit organization that strives to improve the lives of everyone impacted by pancreatic cancer by advancing scientific research, advocating for patients, providing patient and caregiver support, and facilitating community outreach programs.

pixelated benSo far we have raised $3,280, which is 43% of our original $7,500 goal. When we have reached $3,750 in donations, I will post 5 VERY gorgeous, never-before-published photos of Benjamin from 1984. They were taken by photographer Julian David Stone, who generously dove into his stash to donate the images for our worthy cause.

grasshoppersanddavidgardina cropIf we reach the $5,000 mark by the end of the year (December 31, 2022, before midnight), I will publish footage of Benjamin — well, Benny Eleven Letters! — playing with The Grasshoppers, circa 1965. How exciting is that? (The photo on the left is from that time period but is not from the video. Photo credit unknown.)

While it’s so fun for me to share bits from Ben’s history and to give things away, I don’t want us to entirely lose focus on the reason why we’ve chosen PanCan.org: giving even the smallest bit gets us closer to a cure and helps patients and families cope with a devastating diagnosis. Please consider where you can carve a contribution out of your holiday budget. It is so very appreciated!  


Credit card is the preferred method of donation. However, if your only option is by check, you can mail in a donation to pancan.org using this form: http://media.pancan.org/org/pancan_donation_form.pdf If you write “BENJAMIN ORR @ 75 CELEBRATION & PANCAN FUNDRAISER” on the top of the form they will add your donation to our goal.

For international donations from outside of North America, please call PanCan at (310) 725-0025 weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. PST and their Customer Service team will be happy to help you! (If you call after hours or on the weekend, you will need to leave a message and they will return your call on the following business day to assist you.) I am also available if you’d like to send money to me via Western Union and I can donate it here in the States. Email me at onlydjn@yahoo.com to make those arrangements.

Benjamin Orr @ 75 Celebration & PanCan Fundraiser

Benjamin Orr @ 75 Celebration & PanCan Fundraiser
September 8th, 2022, was Benjamin Orr’s 75th birthday. In an expression of gratitude for his irreplaceable voice & stage presence, a group of fans are choosing to celebrate his life and legacy in a way that Ben might if he was here to do it himself: by raising money for Pancreatic Cancer research and changing the outcome for someone else.

May be an image of 1 person, playing a musical instrument and guitarAs we know, Benjamin Orr died of pancreatic cancer on October 3, 2000, less than six months after his diagnosis. He was a father, fiancé, friend, rock star. He was only 53 years old. It is in tribute to him that we are raising awareness and funds for PanCan.org, a non-profit organization that strives to improve the lives of everyone impacted by pancreatic cancer by advancing scientific research, advocating for patients, providing patient and caregiver support, and facilitating community outreach programs.

This fundraiser started on September 7, 2022, and will continue until the goal of $7,500 is met. There is also a Facebook event that is going on now through Sunday night. There are drawings, giveaways, and fun stuff being posted. It’s not too late to join in! And while you’re enjoying the content, won’t you please consider giving to this impactful cause in memory of Ben?

I was supportive of this cause when I first found out that Ben barely had a fighting chance against this killer, but the devastation hit much closer to home this past spring. My beloved brother-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on April 17 and died on May 26, just 39 days later. He was 62.

Each week we grab a coffee before work, or we order pizza for dinner after a long day. How much is that… $10? $15… $25? May I ask you to forego that treat this one time and donate that money to our fundraiser instead? You’d be contributing to the health and healing of so many others who have to face the reality of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Please follow this direct link to donate online in honor of Benjamin Orr (US and Canada): https://secure.pancan.org/site/TR/DIY/DIYTeamraisers?team_id=37580&pg=team&fr_id=1081
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Credit card is the preferred method of donation. However, if your only option is by check, you can mail in a donation to pancan.org using this form: http://media.pancan.org/org/pancan_donation_form.pdf If you write “BENJAMIN ORR @ 75 CELEBRATION & PANCAN FUNDRAISER” on the top of the form they will add your donation to our goal.

For international donations from outside of North America, please call PanCan at (310) 725-0025 weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. PST and their Customer Service team will be happy to help you! (If you call after hours or on the weekend, you will need to leave a message and they will return your call on the following business day to assist you.)

Live Aid: “It’s good to see you again!”

In a November, 1986, interview, when asked what his most memorable moment with The Cars was, Ben responded, “Oh… Probably Live Aid, I would say. We had a really nice time there and it was great playing for the world.”


There were a lot of BIG things about the 80s: big hair, big shoulder pads, big technology (have you seen the size of those portable phones?). And right in the middle of it (literally: middle of the decade, middle of the year, and middle of the month) was the mother of all 80s bigness: Live Aid. Capturing the world’s attention for about 16 hours on July 13, 1985, a bevy of the biggest names in music took turns busking on stages on both sides of the globe in an unprecedented charity concert to raise money for famine relief. Ultimately, the event set the Guinness World Record for the Largest Simultaneous Rock Concert TV Audience, was viewed by about 1.9 billion people in 150 countries, and reportedly raised around £150 million. See what I mean? BIG.

In the United States, things kicked off at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at 9 a.m., and while there is SO much to talk about in regards to this iconic concert, it’s only natural that I narrow the discussion down to the parts that pertain to our boys.

I believe The Cars took the stage at just after 5:30 p.m. They played four songs, opening with “You Might Think,” and then moving through “Drive,” “Just What I Needed,” and “Heartbeat City.” There’s lots to unpack here, and indeed, I’m not sure where to start but… how about we get the stink out of the way first?


The Collins Intrusion

Any serious Cars fan who’s watched this footage knows exactly what I’m talking about. For whatever reason, the powers-that-be felt it was of the utmost importance to document Phil Collins’ lackluster arrival in the U.S., and they had no compunction about cutting away from The Cars’ performance to bore us with the publicity grab. Yes, yes, I’ve heard that it was somehow a newsworthy feat that he performed ‘on both sides of the Atlantic,’ playing a short set in Wembley Stadium and then flying to Philly in a Concorde jet, blah blah blah. For lovers of The Cars, the time the broadcasters dedicated to the stunt was insulting.

And it’s not like they only mentioned it during an intermission, or cut in just once. The Collins Intrusion began early on, biting into the footage of The Cars’ first song, and then kept popping up with frustrating frequency. For what? The video feed of his arrival was totally boring! At least he could have done some cartwheels on the tarmac or something. Give me something to look at, for cripe’s sake. And you know what’s even more pathetic? After all that hoopla, Collins only played two songs, and then filled in a bit here and there. Certainly nothing to write home about.

Okay, okay. Enough of that, although I will mention that that little trick festered in comedian David Juskow’s brain for years, and inspired him to later write the Cars mockumentary Turbocharge: The Unauthorized Story of The Cars. Love it or hate it (I think it’s hilarious!), the film is part of the Fanorama. You can read more about it here, if you dare: The time has come for Turbocharge!

Alrighty… moving on!


Let’s take a minute to hang this performance on the Cars’ timeline. The band toured heavily in the latter half of 1984 behind their fifth album, Heartbeat City. As they moved into 1985, they took a break from The Cars ‘proper’ and invested varying levels of energy elsewhere. Elliot performed a handful of gigs promoting his solo album, Change No Change, and Ric was working on his second solo project, This Side of Paradise. And somewhere in there, the band was recording “Tonight She Comes” and making decisions about their Greatest Hits album, which would be released in October of that year.


NERD ALERT: Fun facts about the way that stage worked:

As you can imagine, the logistics of moving 38 musical acts and all of their various gear on and off the stage in about a 14 hour window could get pretty sticky — and time consuming. In order to speed up the process of switching the bands out, the center of the stage was circular and was divided into halves with a wall of portable screens. It was fitted with a motor that would allow the stage to rotate as a turntable. In this way, bands could be performing on the front half while the next band was setting up behind the screens. When it was time to switch acts, the stage would rotate, bringing the next band forward for their set, and allowing another switcheroo to happen ‘back stage.’ At least, that was how it was supposed to happen.

Wouldn’t you know it? Less than 24 hours before the concert started, the motor on the turntable went kaput — broke — with no time to replace it. Someone had to come up with a plan B, and fast. Here’s how  sound engineer Dave Skaff, who was part of the team in charge of providing for all of the audio at JFK that day, described the solution:

“Between Bill Graham and [legendary stage designer] Michael Tait, they decided it would have to be manually turned—but how? Tait came up with a great solution where they cut pockets around the turntable and put in these metal ‘receivers’ [where you could put in] a Schedule 40 aluminum pipe and now you had something you could push on. Well, they put about 20 of those in and then Bill Graham made a call to the Philadelphia Eagles and they had 20 guys over there as quick as they could get them. The Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive line came in and turned the turntable all day—that was pretty wild.”

You can see that solution in play in this photo taken by Elaine Hawkes (shared with permission).

1985 live aid getting ready to play photo by elaine hawkes

Can you imagine how wildly their hearts must have been beating as they slowly rotated to face the audience? The roar of the crowd, the wave of heat, the sea of people gradually coming into view as the band smoothly emerges from behind the scenes… Wowza! What a moment!

By the way, if you want to read more about the insane logistics of organizing the monitors, microphones and mixing consoles for more than 30 bands rotating out at 20-minute intervals in front of 90,000 people, check out this article from Mixonline.


For me, at the age of 15, Live Aid was the altar my best friend and I gathered around that summer day, but I wasn’t really into The Cars back then (for shame! haha). I don’t remember their set, and I certainly didn’t tape it. If it wasn’t for YouTube it would probably be lost to me forever, so I’m very grateful for today’s technology!

There were lots of uploads out there from a variety of sources (the MTV broadcast, some from ABC, and some from the BBC), but it looks like nearly all of them have been pulled from YouTube. For this article, I created a compilation video to pull together The Cars’ Live Aid experience by combining my favorite footage clips in chronological order, but YouTube won’t let me upload it, either. Rats! Oh well, all is not lost. I cobbled together a little playlist that includes most of the videos I had hoped to use. It’s a bit of a choppy fix, but but it’s all I can do. (Yep, I went there.) Oh, and I’ll see if I can get my compilation on my Facebook page at some point, too.

So just to be clear, there is nothing new unearthed here; just everything gathered into one place.


So let’s go ahead and take a closer look at their set. I won’t go over every song with a fine-tooth comb, but I do have a couple of things I want to point out.

“You Might Think”

Not to start off on a weird note, but I paused this video at about 0:16 because I was trying to get a good look at David’s hair; more specifically, his ponytail action. Does he have two? Or is it a half up, half down? I know the headphones are reducing his general fluff on top, and that adds to the unique look. As for Ben, he has a couple of eye-popping bass moves: don’t miss him at 1:13 (right after Ric’s adorable little smile), and that big bass swing at 2:13. Other notable nuggets: Elliot’s guitar solo is sizzling, and Ric’s wearing a snazzy “PARIS” lapel pin.


“Drive”

If you look at the footage carefully, you’ll notice three women standing in the wings off of Elliot’s right. In the “Drive” video you can see them fairly well at 2:14 and 3:28. The blonde woman in the pink on the left is Diane Grey Page, Benjamin’s fiancée. The second woman in pink is Greg Hawkes’ wife, Elaine, and the taller woman with the dark hair in the pale green (or blue?) dress is, I believe, Elliot Easton’s wife, Colleen. I point them out because I think I see a sweet connection happening…

Whatever Ric’s intentions were when he wrote “Drive,” the song had a special meaning for Diane and Benjamin, and every time Ben sang it, no matter where they were, he would make sure to find Diane and attempt to make eye contact. This event is no different. You can see him acknowledge her several times during his performance of the ballad, turning toward her frequently and smiling. When Ben flubs the lyrics a little in the second verse, he catches himself right away. He looks over to the side of the stage toward Diane with a wide, seemingly self-conscious grin and kind of an ‘aw hell’ hand gesture, swinging his arm up expressively. I imagine them sharing a laugh over it later as they relived this magical weekend.


“Just What I Needed”

The band’s performance of “Just What I Needed” is off the hook. It is the highlight of their set for me. The force of Elliot’s solo hits me right in the chest, and then he follows with that outro and my knees get weak. But, naturally, it’s Benjamin that sends the song into the stratosphere. He has me from the start with his jaunty address to the crowd, “It’s good to see you again!” He’s removed his sunglasses, and with the wind gently ruffling his hair, he looks genuinely pleased to share the moment with the 100,000 people bouncing in the stadium in front of him. His voice is clear and strong, his eyes are bright, and with every movement he’s giving off this perfect rock-and-roll swagger vibe tinged with a sheen of giddiness, and then you top all of that off with his flawless physical looks, and is it any wonder that many, many fans say that this footage of JWIN is the spark that ignited their obsession with Benjamin?


“Heartbeat City”

When Ric launches into “Heartbeat City” he is a bit late and has to ditch the first line of the song, but he appears completely serene. It’s funny, too, how everyone gives up lip-syncing to the backing vocals by the end of it. To me, this is the most lackluster song of the set, and it seems like a rather sedate note to end on, but don’t skip it. Elliot’s guitar solo is other-worldly and wonderful to watch.


NERD ALERT: Some gear notes that I stumbled across.

anthologyElliot used two guitars in the set. He started out with a Fender Telecaster in Fiesta Red (the same one he used in the video for “Magic.”) As we know, EE loves his Teles! He kept this one long after Live Aid, but in the mid-90s he had problems with the neck. He loved the body of it so much, though, that rather than ditch it, he had Fender Custom Shop guru Fred Stuart build a new neck and give the gal a makeover. The body was refinished in a distinctive, sparkly lime color with blue and white pinstriping. Many will recognize it from the back cover art of the 1995 Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology.

Roland-GR-700-G-707-Guitar-Synthesizer-371-3-big-1-www-vintagesynthshop-comThe second guitar Elliot played was a bit of an eye-catcher, and represented the latest technology. It was the Roland G-707, a guitar played in conjunction with a synthesizer, and it was perfect for crafting the unique sounds in the song “Heartbeat City.” He had used it during the recording of the Heartbeat City album, and also played it on the subsequent tour. I’m not sure how long Elliot kept it after Live Aid, or if he ever played it for any other gigs beyond that, but it has been up for sale a couple of times on ebay. I think the most recent listing I saw was around 2017.

That gorgeous bass Ben is playing is a Guild Pilot. Anything I know about Ben’s guitars I learned from the excellent file called Moving In Stereo: an instrumental retrospective of Benjamin Orr compiled by Michelle Bourg. You can find the entire photo album on Facebook, but I’ll share the relevant page here. In addition to Michelle’s background on the model, she points out that this is the same bass Ben used in the video for “Tonight She Comes.”

guild pilot
Retrieved from the Benjamin Orr Remembered public Facebook group; created by Michelle Bourg.


There are a small handful of goofs during their set. At the beginning of “Drive” you can hear David’s programmed drums go a little crazy, and Greg’s looking over at him like “Dude!?” I hadn’t realized before that things were going a haywire in the silence before the song started, but at one time there was alternate footage out there that made it really clear (it has since been taken down).

As I mentioned, Ben mixes up the lyric lines in the second verse of “Drive,” singing, “who’s gonna come around” instead of “who’s gonna hang it up.” Right after that, the lush backing vocal track comes in a little too early, beating the chorus. And Ric’s got a few flubs in “Heartbeat City,” as we noted.

I feel like these little stumbles can probably be attributed to several factors: the technical complexity of the music from HBC and the fact that the band had been off tour for several months, along with general (and justifiable!) nerves.

No matter. The Cars were at the height of their popularity. They sounded phenomenal; the crowd loved them. They all looked gorgeous, happy, relaxed. They had the world at their feet, and their performance was (and is) unforgettable. What a beautiful thing!


Notes on the heart-wrenching video

CBC Television (owned by the Canadian Broadcast Company) created the original promotional video that featured harrowing images of the suffering in Ethiopia backed with The Cars’ song “Drive.” Engineer Colin Dean happened to be listening to the song while he was editing footage for a short film, and he found the lyrics and emotion of it to be a moving and appropriate anthem for the desperate fate of the young children he was seeing before him. He added it in. He discusses his memories of that night in this stirring interview clip:

Upon viewing the finished film, David Bowie was so affected that he insisted it be part of the event, even cutting his own set short to make room. Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith remembered, “One afternoon before the concert, Bowie was up in the office and we started looking through some videos of news footage, and we watched the CBC piece. Everyone just stopped. Bowie said, ‘You’ve got to put that in the show, it’s the most dramatic thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll give up one of my numbers.’ That was probably one of the most evocative things in the whole show and really got the money rolling in.” (“Live Aid in Their Own Words” by Carl Wilkinson, The Guardian, October 16, 2004)

The exposure pushed “Drive” back up the charts in 1985, rising to #4 on the UK Singles Chart. Proceeds from the sales of its re-release were donated to the Live Aid cause, and Ric himself presented a check for 160,000 pounds to charity trustee Midge Ure in 1986.


The Drive Aid Signature Car

Another fundraising element to the Live Aid efforts involved two donated GMC IROC-Z cars. A bunch of the July 13th performers signed the vehicles, their autographs preserved by a clear protective coating. One of the cars was sent off to the GMC Heritage Collection Center for a bit and eventually sold at auction. The other was raffled off as the Drive Aid Signature Car, quickly sold by the winner, and then under the care of a collector for almost 25 years until it was listed for sale again. The two histories get mixed up a bit and I didn’t try to noodle it out. If you’re interested in diving deeper, you might start with the extensive history on this old website, and this more recent information from 2018. What matters here is that documents list Ric and Ben as having applied their signatures, but I’ve only found images of Ben’s (behind the driver’s door) and Greg’s (on the hood on the driver’s side).

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Photo gallery

There are scads of Live Aid photos floating around out there, so I’ll just add a few of my particular favorites here. The first one might seem an odd choice, but it’s just such a tease, with Diane and Ben off to the left, and Ben so obviously engaged in conversation.

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The Miami Vice thing

In that interview segment toward the end of the playlist, Martha Quinn questions Ben about having to cancel a television appearance to be at Live Aid. It wasn’t just a rumor… I wrote more about that here, if you’re curious: Miami Vice: Missed Opportunity

And speaking of that interview, I just get such a kick out of their flirty little exchange from 1:18-1:40. That woman is a paragon of self-control in the face of Ben’s lavish charm.


Ending on a high note

The Cars’ music shows up a handful of episodes of The Goldbergs. It was fun to hear them mentioned in this clip about Live Aid:

Directing Davey Davis, part 1

west texas video screen shotYou might remember an article I wrote about Ben playing at that Riverweed Music Festival in Vermont in 1994, where he and John Kalishes joined Kevin McCarty as the Beacon Hillbillies. Well, one of the people Ben met while he was there was local musician Davey Davis. Sharing a mutual love of the outdoors and fishing, the two became fast friends. After Ben moved to the area, he and Davey spent more time together, and Ben encouraged Davey in his musical pursuits, fooling around with him in the studio and offering advice.

I’ll write more about Ben and Davey in the future, but here’s a fun little peek into the way Ben spent his time in the mid-90s.

One of Davey’s projects was a tune called “West Texas,” written by Eddie Russell. Ben got a real kick out of the song, and was game for creating a video to go with it. Davey had a buddy that was running a little restaurant, called the Seedhouse Café, in the back of the historic 1815 House in Reading, Vermont. The friend suggested they come down to film there in the bar, so Davey, Ben, John Kalishes, and a few other guys headed over and made a night of it.

So check out this video. You can see Ben at the beginning of the footage giving Davey some tips, and positioning the blue pitcher on the bar. Unfortunately, the camera didn’t catch all of the dialogue that took place, but we do get to hear a little smidgen of Ben directing. How cool is that?

Oh, and Davey told me, too, that Ben contributed a little to the lyrics. The original version of the song included the phrase, “smokin’ that dope…” but Ben suggested it be changed to “smokin’ that rope.” Lol

Big People at Bottineau

Check out this amazing, never-before-seen footage of Big People kicking ass at the Rockin’ the Hills festival at the Wild Rose Amphitheater in Bottineau, North Dakota! The band took the stage on Saturday, July 1, at 2:15 pm.

Ben’s health was declining and he was losing weight rapidly, but his attitude was strong and he was still jamming like a true rocker! In fact, the whole band was playing with energy and passion.

This footage was generously given to me by the band’s tour manager, Joe Dlearo, and is shared here with permission. There is more to come as we approach the 22nd anniversary of this incredible bit of Big People history, so please stay tuned.

 

UPDATE JUNE 26, 2022: This footage is truly awe-inspiring! Ben is doing what he loved to do, and he’s thrown his whole heart into it. And his bandmates are pure gold, rockin’ right along with him!

SO much talent on this stage! Laurie commented on YouTube: “All I know is I want a hype man like Derek by my side when I’m fighting the good fight! These guys loved and looked up to Benjamin just like we do, only they got to know him and hold him up when he needed them most.” Beautifully said!

The Cars Unlocked: breaking down the credit roll

Many of you know that the credit roll at the end of The Cars’ Unlocked DVD is broken into four boxes, with different content going simultaneously in each little area. When I first got it, I went kinda buggy trying to watch each corner exclusively, and then rewinding and backtracking to hone in on the next section.

Well, I finally decided to break the screen into each of the four parts and zoom in on the action, and then clip each one as a video segment. Once I had all four, I strung them together into this one video. I started in the upper left and then went clockwise from there. We do lose a little in clarity, but we gain in the ability to focus!

Be sure to take a peek at the video’s comment section. I made a list of many of the delicious little tidbits to be found, along with their time stamps. This should make it easy to return to our favorite spots in the future. Let me know which ones are your favorites!

Here we go — enjoy!

Lyrics: “Go Away”

Lyrics: “Go Away” by The Cars

Well I think of you when I fantasize, the best I’ve ever had

And I think of you when I’m driving myself completely mad

Why don’t we go… why don’t we go away

Why don’t we go… why don’t we go away

Walking on the footbridge high above the clouds

Listening to your yesterday (you didn’t make a sound)

Dazzled by your sweet lips touching on me

Here comes trouble, can’t you see

Why don’t we go… why don’t we go away

Why don’t we go… why don’t we go away

Well I think of you when I dramatize the things we never did

And I think of you when I’m flying, when I’m feeling just like a kid

Why don’t we go… why don’t we go away

Why don’t we go… why don’t we go away

Why don’t we go… why don’t we go away

Why don’t we go… why don’t we go away

Our own March madness!

Our own March madness!

beach club screen shot spjKicking off the month of March with something we’re so lucky to have: new footage!

And when I say “new” I mean brand-spanking, never-before-published NEW FOOTAGE. I’m so grateful to my cool collector friend who generously dug through the stacks to pull this to the surface for us!

I’ll be uploading more from this show (along with some behind-the-scenes deets) later this month, but for now, please enjoy the ORR Band’s performance of “Candy-O” at the Beach Club in Salisbury, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1998.