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!
“[Ben] was not [an introvert]… I like to think more of Ben as, he spoke when he had something to say, which sometimes comes off as being shy or aloof… I’m not so sure, and I guess technically you could say that somebody can walk onstage and perform like he did and still be an introvert; maybe that’s their release. But I saw when Ben was sick, and we were touring and he was battling his cancer, and he would spend time talking to people who had either battled cancer themselves, were just curious, were going through some other trauma in their life, and Ben would take enormous amounts of time being very candid with these folks and talking to them. That’s not an introvert. An introvert runs and hides…
“He was a bit of a quiet person [but] he was very forthcoming with people, loved the human contact… The only thing that would maybe have given you the impression that he was an introvert was that he wasn’t a man of many words, but when he said something it meant something.” — Jeff Carlisi, guitarist for 38 Special and Ben’s Big People bandmate; interview on Madame Perry’s Salon, January 27, 2020 (at about 8:20)
On his feelings about The Lace: “I did the absolute best I could possibly do under the circumstances. I’m happy with what I have, but it makes me personally cringe when I don’t hear exactly [what I wanted]. Probably no one else would notice except myself and a few other people. It won’t happen like that again. It took me much too long to do this project. I wasn’t thrilled about some of the things that went on [referring to recording in England]. I’m real glad it’s over.” — “The Rewards of Rock Stardom” by Jim Sullivan, The Boston Globe, November 1, 1986
“Do you get that a lot? No one ever tries to pick me up.”
“I don’t believe that. To answer your question, it happens occasionally. I’m not often alone when I’m out so I think that limits it to the most brave. They don’t want me, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re attracted to the concept of me, but it’s a fantasy they’ve built. It doesn’t matter if they’re know who I am or not. It’s this.” He waves his had at his face, then shrugs. “The fame helps. At least she didn’t recognize me. That would be a mess.”
I peer into his glass. “Did you get the ‘massive ego’ IPA?”
“I got the ‘realistic’ lager. My looks are an asset, fully monetized.”
I know he’s right. It’s Sam’s public persona, and the same is what Fong Lee said that first day about her fans. What kind of pressure does that create? To be on a pedestal that you never built, and that is a by-product of doing a job to the best of your abilities?
“We were all obviously devastated for Ben, but we learned a lot of lessons that last summer. He’d already been diagnosed, and check this out. The doctor says you got three or four months, and we’re not knowing what to say, let alone how to ask the question, and finally it’s kind of like, ‘well…’ Before we could say anything, Ben said, ‘Well, start booking as many gigs as possible. I’m going out the way I came in, doing what I love.’ And it was so inspirational.” — Jeff Carlisi, guitarist for 38 Special and Ben’s Big People bandmate; interview with Craig Garber and Everyone Loves Guitar, November 26, 2020 (at about 14:10)
With regard to his boat, the Blue Di, and writing songs on the water: “This is the best thing I’ve ever bought, bar none. It’s not too conspicuous. It’s big enough for one guy to operate and the chief pretty officer over here [referring to Diane]. She hates taking orders, but somebody’s gotta be captain of the boat… I enjoy my free time. I like doing this [boating]. I’d much rather do this, now that we’re writing…. We love the water. It’s really soothing. It seems to be good for us.” — excerpts from “The Rewards of Rock Stardom” by Jim Sullivan, The Boston Globe, November 1, 1986
“Ben Orr was our rock star. When he sang ‘Drive’ the girls just swooned… What a great artist he was.” — Liberty DeVitto, long-time drummer for Billy Joel and Ben’s Big People bandmate; interview with Modern Drummer Magazine, July 16, 2020
Every time something new pops up in the Cars world I am ecstatic on two fronts: first, because another elusive piece of the band’s history has fallen into place, and second, because it bolsters my hope that there is even more yet to be revealed. And that’s on top of the thrill I always feel at just seeing or hearing my forever-favorite band. Anyway, you can imagine my elation when I returned from a recent trip to discover that a VERY cool friend had sent me some VERY cool files: new recordings of The Cars at The Rat!
Now you might remember that The Cars played The Rat for a four-night engagement spanning Thursday, April 28, through Sunday, May 1, 1977. A few months ago I uploaded an audio file from that weekend, though I wasn’t sure which of the dates it was recorded on. Well, with these two totally new shows, I’ve been told that they are specifically from April 30th, so they would be the Saturday night performances. As you’ll see below, each set offers us a previously unpublished gem, which makes these audios even more delightful.
In case you haven’t seen it before, on the right is an advertising flyer from that weekend. The Cars shared the bill with The Good Rats. I’m not sure who was the headliner; the way the ad is designed makes it look like The Cars were the big draw, but they were a fairly new band at the time (though the members themselves were not unknown). I think The Good Rats were still enjoying the regional success that followed their 1974 and 1976 albums, and they were coming up from New York, so they might have been a bigger deal? Oh, and each of The Cars’ sets was only about 1/2 an hour long, which seems more like a warm-up than a main event.
Okay, I got off track there, because I’m sure it doesn’t matter who was the headliner, but I was trying to imagine the order of the night. I’m going with The Cars, then The Good Rats, then repeat. There, I feel better now that I have that settled. Haha!
No more goofing off — let’s dive right in. Here’s the first set list, with the audio below:
00:00 Leave Or Stay
03:04 Cool Fool
05:48 You Can’t Hold On Too Long
08:54 Don’t Cha Stop
12:25 My Best Friend’s Girl
16:23 Gimme Little Sign (Brenton Woods cover)*
19:40 I Don’t Want To (Elliot Easton on vocals)
22:18 Strawberry Moonlight
25:16 You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
29:54 Just What I Needed
Some of my reactions to this set:
A lot of times when you go to shows, the crowd doesn’t seem to pay too much attention to the opener. The band might start, but people are still milling about, greeting friends, ordering drinks, and so on. I’m sure that was the case here, too, but the recording also picks up the sounds of cheers and whistling from the crowd at the beginning. I love it!
You have to know that I am thrilled that these recordings have come out of hiding — thrilled. But… there is one eensy weensy thing I wish I could change: I noticed that most of the transitions between songs have been edited out. That’s a little bit of a bummer because I feel like we can often glean several tasty bites of mood and personality from those breaks. Oh well! Not everyone’s as obsessed as we are. Better to have it with some edits than to not have it at all!
Let’s discuss the duo vocals on “You Can’t Hold On Too Long.” I have to admit it makes me wrinkle my nose a bit. Is it because I’m too in love with the album version? Or is it more that Ric’s voice clashes too much with Ben’s in this case? I mean, obviously there are many recordings where the two share the vocal duties successfully, but the disparity in their styles just doesn’t seem to blend well here.
I wish I could hear the what’s going on in the background after “You Can’t Hold On…” because I want to know what Ben is responding to when he says, “It’s not called that at all.” Sounds like he’s feeling squirrely!
I love Greg’s keyboard riff behind the chorus of “My Best Friend’s Girl” — it’s catchy! On the other hand, the absence of Elliot’s guitar solo is tragic. I’m glad that was eventually remedied; it totally changed the whole vibe of the song.
The big surprise in this set is the band’s cover of “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Wood (which I also carved out and posted separately). It’s been known in the Fanorama for a long time that they played this in their early days, but this was the first time I heard it. It’s great! Ric takes the lead vocals, but Ben’s voice is prominent in the chorus. Not sure who is doing the falsetto backing vocals, but there’s strong speculation that it’s Elliot. Hopefully someday we’ll have a definitive answer!
Here’s another recording of “I Don’t Want To” with Elliot on lead vocals. I think there is only one other published performance of this one, captured during the March 21, 1977, show when they opened for Bob Seger. Man, I love this song! I still need to get a lyrics post done for this — SO funny! Hey wait… there’s that high voice in the back again, but it sounds like Ben? Hmmm, the falsetto mystery continues…
By the end of the set the crowd is fully involved; you can hear them screaming and cheering as the band launches into “Just What I Needed” as their last song of the set. Hard to tell if it’s an encore but I would guess it is. Ben still hasn’t got those lyrics down all the way (LOL) but his adlibs are undeniably yummy. Elliot’s guitar melody during the chorus, which is rather hidden in the studio version, is front and center in this recording, and it freaking ROCKS.
“Thank you very much, we’ll see you in the neighborhood. Bye bye!” — Ben ❤
Whew! What an electrifying ride!
I wonder what they did while The Good Rats were playing? Probably changed their clothes, had some drinks and a few smokes, maybe put on a hat? Maybe they held court in dark corners and chatted up the girls.
This is a little bit of a detour, but if you’re a visual person like me you might get a kick out of it. I recently isolated a portion from an old Boston television program that showed footage of the inside of The Rat. If you have a few extra minutes, click on this video for a peek at what the venue probably looked like when The Cars were playing there.
Okay, let’s move on to their second performance that night:
00:00 Bye Bye Love (Ric Ocasek on vocals)
04:20 You Can Have ‘Em (aka Sleepy Wasted Afternoon or Blue Moon Saloon)
07:21 Ta Ta Wayo Wayo
15:48 Take What You Want
21:41 My Best Friend’s Girl
26:06 Something Else (Elliot Easton on vocals; Eddie Cochran cover)
28:50 Just What I Needed
32:35 Cool Fool (encore)
Let’s jump right into it:
The guys start off with a sizzler! (Mmm, Ben on the harmonies during “Bye Bye Love.”) Ric seems to loosen up a bit vocally on this performance so it’s not too unpleasant to have him taking the lead. Greg is killing it on keys, too.
I know I don’t comment about him much, but man, David’s playing really catches me in “You Can Have ‘Em.” He’s always so steady and solid back there, and I certainly can’t escape his perfect fills and flourishes here. Dude is on fire!
This set offers another tasty — and previously unpublished — surprise: “Jezebel!” I’ve loved this tune since I first heard Cap’n Swing’s demo of it, but I did not know that Ric had held onto it to include in The Cars’ repertoire. I definitely like the CS version better, although Ben’s vocals are luscious, no doubt about it. This song is great, too, because it is one of the few Cars songs that gives Elliot room to really stretch out and shine.
Elliot puts in another blistering performance on the mic with “Something Else.” That cover is so perfectly suited for him, and Greg’s scrumptious saxophone adds even more heat to it.
They attempt to close out the show with “Just What I Needed,” but the audience is wild for an encore. I particularly relate to the shrieking girls, who you know just want to see more of Ben. Haha! They return and launch into “Cool Fool” with swagger and energy. The crowd loves it.
And then it’s over. Another half an hour of raw talent from a band on the verge of changing the face of music. How fortunate we are to get to listen to the past!
I’ve given you a lot to unpack so I’ll leave you to it. Let me know what other bits and pieces stand out to you from these two terrific performances. Have fun!
Cover image photo credit: Larry Bouchie
Please remember that these live audios are not to be bought or sold!
Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel and tap on the little bell to get a notification when I upload something new. Also, I’ve started keeping a playlist of the live shows in chronological order. You can check it out here:
Back in April I launched a fun little challenge for fans to create their own ‘new’ Cars album using only songs that the band performed but did not release on one of their six studio albums. We had a total of fifteen official contributions (those that came in before the voting started). From there, I organized the entries and set up a poll so readers could vote for their favorite submissions in four categories:
Best Album Title
Best Track List
Best Cover Art
Most Likely to Become a Bootleg (overall favorite)
Before I announce the winners, I’d like to share a couple of last-minute entries that came in. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive them in time to include them in the voting, but we can still enjoy them. Check out these cool compilations below:
I do have a little treat for everyone who sent in a submission: this badass 3″ Cars album sticker designed, printed, and donated by our very own Kurt Gaber! How cool is that???
If I haven’t already contacted you about getting your sticker to you, please send me a note, either through the blog or on Messenger. I’ll get them out ASAP!
And now to announce the results and winners in each category:
Best Album Title WINNER: Entry #01: Abandoned Cars by Steven Manson
Best Track List WINNER: Entry #04: Detour by Katherine Fendley
Best Cover Art WINNER: Entry #01: Abandoned Cars by Steven Manson
Likely Bootleg/Overall Favorite WINNER: Entry #04: Detour by Katherine Fendley
Congratulations to our winners! Wow, Steven and Katherine’s albums really battled it out. An Honorable Mention goes to Entry #08: Impound Lot by Becky Broderick for sticking close to the lead in all categories. And guess what? I have special prizes for them, too! These cool Cars logo decals were also printed and donated by Kurt Gaber, and will be sent out to Steven, Katherine, and Becky with their participation stickers. Woot woot!
A few random follow-ups:
I had originally presented the submissions without using names in order to help keep the voting objective, but for those who are curious, here’s the list of all of the participants by entry number:
Abandoned Cars: Steven Manson
Breakaway: Harold Strassler
Cool Fool: Craig McGuire
Detour: Katherine Fendley
The Edge: Brandon Billings
Hybrids: Chuck Walker
Ignition: Silver Sunday
Impound Lot: Becky Broderick
In Deep: Michelle Turner
The Novelty Knock: me!
Sharp Subtle Flavor: David Curry
Sleep Wasted Afternoon: Mary Theresa
Untitled: Paul Sampson Fish
You Can Have ‘Em: Beki Hampton Garland
You Got It: Tina Megahey
After I had published the original article, I discovered that a couple of qualifying songs had slipped past me. Aargh! Two of them, “I Don’t Want To” and “Something Else,” were just total brain blunders. How could I have overlooked these fan favorites, and with Elliot on vocals? Jeez Louise. (Note: I will say that I did purposefully stay away from cover songs that the band just appeared to use to round out their sets, like “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Woods, etc.)
The third, “Jezebel,” was a new discovery for me. Of course, I knew that the song had been around with Cap’n Swing (and possibly before that), but I was in the dark that The Cars had performed it, too, until Jon M. gave me a heads up about it. Coincidentally, I received an audio from another source a few weeks later that included The Cars singing “Jezebel” during a weekend gig at The Rat. New to me!
I’m going to edit the original “Let’s Make A Record” article and update my graphic to keep things accurate. Sorry about the goof up!
This was a lot of fun for me — thank you to everyone who read the articles, submitted their ideas, or voted. And another big thank you to Kurt Gaber for providing the prize giveaways! What other fun things can we do, Fanorama? Let me know if you have any suggestions!
I’m generally not the kind of person who posts on social media when the going gets tough. In fact, I usually go in the opposite direction; I tend to retreat and fall off the grid without explanation. I know this makes it difficult to be my friend and I apologize for that.
Surely I am not unveiling some startling revelation when I say that 2020 was a tough year. It was for many, many people. And while the things I went through maybe weren’t as devastating as what others experienced, the last year and a half did give me a series of roundhouse kicks that have kept the birds twittering around my head for quite some time. I’ve felt stunned and off-kilter for months, letting go of so many things that are important to me as I’ve tried to process each blow in its turn.
And I guess that’s why I’m writing this post… well, for two reasons, actually. Mainly, I feel bad that I’ve neglected my blog and social media accounts, so this is my way of explaining why I’ve faded in and out. Also, I think writing this out will be the cathartic hand-hold I need to fully pull myself out of the pit I’ve been stuck in.
So, yeah, there won’t be anything about Ben in this post. Sorry.
I’ll just lay it out, I guess.
On March 19, 2020, I turned 50. Ugh.
On March 20, 2020, my mom died. She was in a nursing home, cut off from me and my siblings, totally alone when she passed away. Alone. Quarantined. She was old and needed care, but still, it was unexpected and sudden. No final words, no hand holding, no last hugs. No funeral or memorial services allowed. My relationship with my mom was a complicated one, and it’s been difficult to accept that it’s over. She’s gone.
During April, my sweet 17-year-old daughter, E, experienced her first real broken heart, and it was a doozy. Staying up nights with her as she cried and trying to help fill her days with activity became a priority through the summer.
In June I drove to Seattle to help my sister sort my mom’s things. It was really hard, but it was healing to spend time with her and her family.
The day after I got home from that trip, I got a call that my brother-in-law, my other sister’s husband, had a heart attack. He died a couple days later, on June 25. Twenty years older than me, he was a loving force in my messy childhood, and his death cut deep. I returned to Seattle for the social-distanced memorial service, grateful for a chance to say goodbye.
In July we had some euphoric news: my son and his wife (N&L) announced they were expecting their first child, due in February. I was over the moon at being a grandma! But the world spun crazily again when my daughter-in-law miscarried at eleven weeks, another sucker punch.
Those are the biggest of the biggest blows of the year. So much grief and loss. It sucked. Woven through those struggles were my decision to leave my job with Let’s Go!, a round of shingles for myself and chicken pox for two of the kids, the mountains of stress my husband was dealing with as the manager of our local grocery store during COVID, the 20th anniversary of Ben’s death, and my older daughter, S, making the tough decision to call off her engagement (an emotional verdict, but truly a relief).
I attempted to juggle it all, trying to check in and stay in touch. But really, I alternated between ‘soldiering on’ and burying myself under my blankets, doing the minimum to stay afloat.
All of the goals I was grasping slipped out of my fist. Diving deep into homeschooling my son’s first year of high school, building my freelance business, and returning to a consistent running schedule all kind of wriggled to the floor, squirming in my half-hearted efforts. My to-do lists are literal PILES; seriously, I’m embarrassed as I look around my office and the classroom. I gained 30 pounds of saggy, sluggish bulk, and my energy level hovered around zero most of the time. And the blog? It’s awful. Commitments unfulfilled. Interviews not transcribed. Article drafts unfinished. Audios, videos, photos languishing. Pathetic.
I think I’m coming out of it. I mean, the last six months have been this self-talk marathon of “Donna, you’ve gotta get your shit together.” I feel like I’m shuffling out of the cave into the light, and even though I still have to squint and adjust my vision, good things are happening. I’ve actually (recently) channeled energy into shoving off the covers and taking extreme action. The motivation came through my 15-year-old son (nicknamed Bones).
We have some friends who used to live here in town but they moved to Wisconsin about seven years ago. Bones, who was about 8, was close with their 7-year-old son, and the two became pen pals and have stayed in touch all this time. Now teenagers, they concocted the idea of Bones and I heading that direction for a visit, and Bones was so determined to do it that he saved all of his summer job earnings last year and committed to paying for the gas and hotels. We began making plans for a road trip, just the two of us.
Underneath my excitement, I couldn’t bear the thought of having my friends see me in such disgusting physical shape. I mean, she was my running partner for years! What would she think? I was embarrassed by how I’d let myself go. And then a secondary incentive joined the mix when I realized that I would only be about a half-hour away from my favorite Cars couple, Kurt and Natalie Gaber. I had to see them! But I didn’t really want them to see me. Ugh.
Anyway, that was the impetus. I started poking my nose into fitness programs here and there, but of course, any real change takes time, and I didn’t have a lot of that. I ended up doing a 10-Day Green Smoothie Detox (with my doctor’s permission), which ended the night before we left on our trip. It was brutal but I lost 10 pounds (!). Even though I still had a ways to go, I felt a little better about myself and, more importantly, I felt it was the kick in the patootie I needed to rev up my return to the ‘real’ me.
Our little vacation was fantastic! Bones and I had a blast, traveling 3,500 miles in 10 days. We hit eight different states there and back, spent four adventure-filled days with our friends, and made time for The Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Yellowstone on the return trip, while my sweet hubby and the girls held down the fort at home.
Oh, AND I got to visit with Kurt and Natalie! Kurt had been working on transforming part of his downstairs family room into a tribute to The Cars and, having promised to have it completed by the time I arrived, he had put on the finishing touches just hours before.
It. Was. STUNNING.
I’ll write more about the room and my time with Kurt and Nat in a separate post, but this photo gives you an idea of what I walked into.
Confiding in my girlfriend about my struggles was cathartic and inspiring. She, too, was needing a reboot, so we decided to join forces to spur each other on. I returned home having gained back six of those ten smoothie pounds (hey, it’s hard to eat right on the road!), but my attitude was totally different, and I was armed with a plan. On Monday, May 10, we started a mental toughness challenge called #75HARD. Seventy-five days, five daily challenges, and yeah, it’s hard! No failure allowed – not a sliver – or you have to start back at day 1. Physical fitness is one of the benefits, and I’ve already taken off those six pounds plus some more, and I’m only three weeks in. It’s kind of extreme, but it’s just what I needed. (Oops! Groan… unintended Cars reference, but seriously, it is!)
I’m also putting together a daily schedule to help me redeem the time I’ve lost. I’m purposefully planning portions of the day to work on the things that are important to me, while still focusing on my family. I want to make sure I don’t take the days for granted.
So that brings me to tonight. I still get hit with grief, but I’m dealing with it better, and I’m focusing on looking ahead; there are lots of positive things on the horizon. E is graduating from high school in a matter of days, and S is dating a guy who is actually NOT a douche. My girls are stronger and smarter after their heartbreak. Bones is balancing more responsibility for his education, and he’ll be starting driver’s ed this summer (gulp!). Aaaaand… N&L are 21 weeks into a happy, healthy pregnancy with our granddaughter, coming in October! I can barely contain my joy! Oh, and I’ve acquired a couple of exciting freelance jobs that have pushed me into learning some new skills, which is always invigorating.
Just writing this — the act of writing — has given me such a boost. I’m looking forward to a productive summer. Onward and upward, my friends!
living outside in the misdemeanor
well some get lost, some are screamers
and it’s easy to tell the great pretenders
they got the broken wings and the flip-top fenders