It reminds me of him.

ben-with-stained-glassWhen I read the following quote from Slash, immediately my mind brought up this gorgeous picture of Benjamin. I believe he is playing in Amsterdam in November of 1978.

“If I had to choose my favorite show of the tour, it was the Paradiso in Amsterdam. The venue is amazing; it is a dark, foreboding building that used to be a church. Inside the main hall are high ceilings, arches, and great acoustics. So many legends had played their, from the Sex Pistols to the Stones, so I was excited to do it.”

– Slash, Slash, by Slash and Anthony Bozza, page 208

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This is what it’s all about:

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!

Lyrics: You Can Have ‘Em

You Can Have ‘Em by Cap’n Swing (aka Blue Moon Saloon, aka Sleepy Wasted Afternoon)

I believe her, she takes me uptown oh yeah

She’s a driver, she throws me in gear oh yeah

Well I could take her or I could leave her here

Sitting on a wagon, twinkling Blue Moon Saloon

Honey you can have it on a sleepy wasted afternoon

 

I adore her, she looks like a treat oh yeah

When I’m around her I get to feeling so weird

And then she tells me she can be discrete and neat

Sitting on a wagon, twinkling Blue Moon Saloon

Well, honey you can have it on a sleepy wasted afternoon

Right on…

 

I believe her, she takes me uptown oh yeah

She’s a driver, she throws me in gear oh yeah

Well I could take her or I could leave her here

Sitting on a wagon, twinkling Blue Moon Saloon

Honey you can have it on a sweetly wasted afternoon

 

Yeah sitting on a wagon, twinkling Blue Moon Saloon

Honey you can have me but you better come and get me soon

Miami Vice: Missed Opportunity

Miami Vice: Missed Opportunity

I love the way he says this:

Caller: “Have you ever considered going into acting, and if so, what kind of roles would you like to take part in?”  Benjamin: “I considered it… but nothing’s come my way…” (laughing) — Rockline interview, 1987

Well, we know of at least one opportunity he had, but it didn’t work out — dang it!

Miami Vice was a hugely popular television show from 1984 to 1989. It starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as undercover detectives whose job was to rid Miami of drug lords, sleazeballs, and other bad dudes. Unlike the normal fare in the ‘cops and robbers’ genre, Miami Vice skillfully threaded their episodes with cool clothing (starting a whole new fashion trend!) and cutting edge music.  The show often featured popular rock-and-rollers of the day, like Glenn Frey, Phil Collins, Ted Nugent, Gene Simmons, Sheena Easton, Power Station (and plenty of great actors, too)… the list goes on and on. It is a great tragedy that Benjamin Orr’s name is not on that list.

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Apparently Benjamin was scheduled for a cameo appearance on Miami Vice in 1985, but the day set aside for him to film his part was the same day The Cars were to appear on stage at Live Aid. Since he later mentions Live Aid as his most memorable experience with the band, I’m SO glad they did it. And their performance there is EPIC, one of the best… but , oh, how I would have loved to see him act! Could you imagine? His incredible looks, that low voice, his stony facial expressions; maybe even featuring a song with his vocals (a la Glenn Frey and Smuggler’s Blues)… it all seems so perfect for him! It’s a shame he never got a second chance.

Benjamin was asked a few times what he thought about acting. Here are a couple of other clips of his responses…

 

What do you think? What kind of roles would have liked to see him play — leading man, action hero, villain? Comment below or find me on Facebook!

In other words:

“We were just amazed watching Benny. He could play any instrument, and he could sing. He was so smooth, so well-dressed. Honest to God, he was just beautiful. It was stunning.” — Ginny Mayer, co-manager and wife of Grasshoppers manager Joe Mayer; from “A History & Retrospective on the Life of Benjamin Orr” by John Colapinto

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Kirk Johnston: Living Full Circle

I imagine Benjamin Orr would be surprised if he knew just how long and how far his legacy has spread. Sixteen years after his death, and more than 30 years since Live Aid (arguably the pinnacle of his days in the spotlight), the memory of his contribution to music history continues to motivate and influence people all over the world. Indeed, many have been so inspired that one can see Benjamin’s fingerprints in the focus of their adult lives.

I have had the privilege of meeting one man for whom this is particularly true – and many of you know him, too. Kirk Johnston is a singer and guitar player from Texas who has devoted his time and talents to paying homage to Benjamin.

Though no one in his immediate family played instruments themselves, Kirk grew up experiencing a huge variety of sound. His mom and grandmother listened to just about anything from the 50s, 60s, and 70s eras, and his father might have Led Zeppelin blasting one minute and George Jones the next. Kirk was hooked! His grandmother would take him to the local record store where he could buy 45s for about $1.25 and play them on his Dukes of Hazzard record player. By the late 80s his dad had given Kirk his turntable and records, and Kirk used them to build a full stereo system, complete with cassette and CD capabilities. He was about 10 years old when he first picked up a guitar, and ended up taking lessons twice a week until about the age of 14. He was hugely influenced by The Cars and Benjamin Orr.kirk2

In fact, Kirk’s earliest music memories are sewn with Cars’ songs; he remembers seeing the videos for “You Might Think” and “Drive” on MTV as a young boy. Later, Kirk was deeply impressed with the strength and texture of Benjamin’s voice, saying, “He has the coolness of Elvis and the range of Roy Orbison, but in an absolutely unique and brand new way.” He marveled at Benjamin’s work on “Just What I Needed”, “Let’s Go”, “It’s Not The Night”, and his solo album The Lace.

Benjamin’s hit song “Stay The Night” stood out to him in particular. “I think it’s a very romantic and confident song that is way deeper and more than a one night stand.” Kirk’s imagination was kindled with a desire to cover the song himself. But it wasn’t just the man’s musical contributions that affected Kirk. Watching Benjamin’s humble coolness, his stage presence, and his warm demeanor out of the spotlight all left a mark on Kirk and increased his admiration for Benjamin, securing him as a life-long role model for this young guy from Texas.

Kirk spent nearly ten years as the lead guitarist in a band called Snowblind. They traveled all over Texas and played coast to coast, from the Whiskey a Go Go in California to CBGB’s in New York, and released two albums of original music. During that time Kirk met Mark Younger-Smith, a talented writer, musician, and producer who has worked with artists like Billy Idol and INXS. Mark produced a couple of songs for Snowblind, and it wouldn’t be too long until he and Kirk would work together again.

As an adult, the idea of doing his own version of “Stay the Night” consumed Kirk for about a year. He started putting out feelers with Diane Grey Page, Benjamin’s estate, and others who could help him get his project off the ground. He approached his friend from the Snowblind days and Mark agreed to take on the project, and pre-production meetings began in the fall of 2012. Because this was the only song Kirk originally planned to record, he and Mark really took their time getting the sound to come out the way Kirk envisioned it.  He had already developed the keyboard lead from Ben’s original into a unique guitar riff. He also used 3 different guitars on various parts of the song:  a 1984 ES 335, a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe and a 1992 Fender Telecaster.

By early 2013 they had both an album mix and an extended mix in the can.  The fun thing about listening to Kirk’s version is that it is not simply a straight-up cover of Benjamin’s song; Kirk captures the overall spirit of the original, but he adds in his own flavor: a little tropical feel with the percussion, the sweetness of the swaying background vocals, and a touch of Texas twang.

Because the project had been so fulfilling and Kirk’s creativity was still flowing, he began to consider other songs that would blend well with his style. His kirk1continuing admiration for 80s music showed itself in the list of titles he would record next: “Hands To Heaven” by Breathe, “Wouldn’t It Be Good” by Nick Kershaw, and Ric Ocasek’s “Emotion In Motion.” He also recorded a duet with his wife, Kari, using Adam Schlesinger’s “Way Back Into Love.” Kirk and Mark bundled the five songs together and released the group on CD in December 2013 (and digitally for Spotify and iTunes in 2014) under the title Full Circle.

Though he knew that the Full Circle project was a labor of love and a true tribute to Benjamin, Kirk wasn’t satisfied that he had done all he could in Benjamin’s memory. In 2014, he contacted the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan) and arranged to have all of the proceeds from his recording of “Stay The Night” donated to their foundation in Benjamin’s name.

Kirk’s next inspiration came with “Wonderful One” by Page & Plant. Again Mark was the producer, and while they worked on the recording during the winter of 2014 the two began to talk about rounding out the Full Circle EP into a full album. More influential artists came to Kirk’s mind as he chose “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” by Dwight Yoakam, “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies, and “Words of Love” by Buddy Holly.

He also contributed his own original song to the album, “Oh Baby It’s True”, which has an unintended Beatles’ charm to it. Kirk’s own experiences out and about in the world met up with his early music foundation, and once his mind started forming the initial flavor the rest of the song just took off.

The final piece was “Drive”, originally performed by The Cars and sung by Benjamin. This song had a huge impact musically on Kirk throughout his life, and getting to remake it was an exciting and emotional venture. He added his own optimistic, comforting nuances to the music and vocals, and brought out Greg Hawkes’ signature synthesizer sound by having the four background vocalists sing the lines. The result is an organic, pretty love song that honors the original and encompasses Kirk’s own signature sound.

It seems only fitting and right that the recording of Full Circle should begin and end with Benjamin Orr, one of the strongest musical influences in Kirk’s life.

kirk3The completion of the second batch of songs and the mixing of the album was done as 2015 came to a close. Kirk switched gears and spent the fall making videos for some of the songs (check them out here on his Youtube channel). After the album was released in the spring of 2016 Kirk was off on a trip to Liverpool to do a promotion there. Toward the end of the year he worked up a terrific fundraiser for PanCan featuring a deluxe version of the Full Circle LP (which includes the extended versions of “Stay The Night” and “Hands To Heaven”) along with a wonderful limited-edition “I Wage Hope” 5 x 7 print of Benjamin as our Electric Angel Rock-and-Roller.

Kirk met his wife Kari, who is also a singer, in 2006, and they enjoy writing songs together. Future projects may include an album of duets with her, and will certainly encompass more creative endeavors from Kirk. In the meantime, Kirk has a heart to continue to promote Benjamin’s legacy. “Benjamin deserves so much credit for his contribution to music and I am very happy to be a part of pushing the music forward in some way.”

While he contributes to, and works for, his family’s business, making music is his full-time job. “On the music side I am doing things on a DIY basis and I wouldn’t have it any other way. What you see is what you get; there are no smoke and mirrors. Sometimes I may be on a particular track over a week or I may be editing one music video over two days. I love every moment. My home is really peaceful for that … Mr. Orr even blinks the lights at me now and then if I am working on a Cars number.”

To keep up with Kirk and his future projects, follow him on Twitter: @KirkJohnstonTX

Lyrics: Lover and a Holiday

Lover and A Holiday by Cap’n Swing

You always say you can see through my eyes if you want to

You always tell me you could bust my disguise if you want to

You always say you can change my way but I don’t want you here, that’s all you can say

I need a lover and a holiday

I’ll never ever come back to you again

I’ll never ever come back to you again

(Woah no, oh no no)

 

You always say you can change me around if you want to

But you know better, I’m not your hand-me-down down, and you know that’s true

You always say you can change my way but I don’t want you here, that’s all you can say

I need a lover and a holiday

I’ll never ever come back to you again

I’ll never ever come back to you again

(Woah no, oh no no)

 

You always say you can see through my eyes if you want to

You always tell me you can bust my disguise and you know that’s true

You always say you can change my way but I don’t want you here, that’s all you can say

I need a lover and a holiday

I’ll never ever come back to you again

No, I’ll never ever come back to you again

I’ll never ever come back to you again

(Oh no, no no no)

The Cars and the RRHOF: Who Cares?

The Cars and the RRHOF: Who Cares?

Quite a few people (translation: Cars fans) are pretty upset about The Cars not getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) this year. I’ve been asked my thoughts about it a couple of times, and personally, I swing back and forth between frustration and apathy. Since I am SO crazy about this band, it is hard for me to be objective about what they ‘deserve’ with relation to achieving induction; I am completely driven by my love for those five guys and their incredible music. Even so, I am able to form an opinion based on concrete evidence. But before stating my honest (and hopefully, rational) thoughts on the subject, let me try to give a basic factual framework to build on.

First I had to understand just how the Rock Hall worked. I am very grateful to the posts on the Iconic Rock Talk Show blog for giving me the rundown in concise, humorous, educational articles.

In a nutshell, the artists that make the official ballot are chosen by a nominating czwsxtpwiaacrlocommittee made up of 28 members from the music industry (musicians, executives, managers, journalists, etc.). Once the nominees are chosen the ballot goes out for votes in two ways: first, 800+ ballots are mailed out to more music industry professionals, including the living members already inducted into the Rock Hall. They get to vote for their top five artists to get in.

Secondly, a fan poll is set up where any Tom, Dick and Harry can vote for their faves to be inducted. The top five vote-getters in the fan poll get ONE additional ballot vote, to be counted with the other 800+ ballots from the industry. Does that make sense? It’s important that it does, because as fans we need to understand that placing in the top five of the fan poll does NOT mean our band will earn automatic induction into the Hall of Fame.

Historically (since the fan poll was instituted in 2012) the band that finishes FIRST in the fan poll has been inducted, but finishing first is NOT a guarantee, nor is it inherently stated in the induction criteria.

rrhof

The next question I had to tackle was: do The Cars deserve to be in? Now, things might get muddy here emotionally but I’m going to try to stay on track. For the record, here is what the Rock Hall website puts forth as the criteria for eligibility for the Hall of Fame:

“Artists—a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians—become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

Okay, the first one is easy: “25 years after the release of their first record.” Since The Cars released their debut album in 1978, they were eligible for induction in 2003. Whew.

Next up: “…demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent…” I understand that this is a matter of opinion for each person casting a ballot. Of course, there is NO question in my book.

  1. Ric was an amazing lyricist and visionary, and his vocal styling was unique and well-suited to the songs he sang.
  2. Benjamin’s vocals were unfailingly beautiful and varying in range and delivery, and his bass playing was both melodic and powerful.
  3. Elliot’s lead guitar contributions were non-egocentric, masterful and relevant to each song.
  4. Greg was an incredible multi-instrumentalist, and his synthesizer sounds were bursting with creativity and style.
  5. The edgy and intelligent rhythms that David maintained, in addition to his artistic and architectural contributions to the band, formed the scaffolding that all of the other elements relied on.
  6. These five men consistently interlocked in live performances, recreating their studio sound with near perfection, often coming across better live than on vinyl.

Musical excellence and talent? Yeah, they’ve got that.

Third criteria: “…had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll…” I do think this can be a tricky one to measure, especially for the layman (namely ME) who doesn’t have a bunch of statistics to lean on (shocking, I know). But with all that I’ve read, I DO know that The Cars qualify in these ways:

EVOLUTION: The Cars are widely credited with a) infusing new sound into a stagnant roster of late seventies music — a fancy way of saying that no one sounded like they did; b) bridging the gap between traditional rock-and-roll and pop music; and c) paving the road for a whole new genre of music: New Wave. [Side note here: One afternoon my 17 year-old son, who is heavily into dubstep, was turning his nose up at my Cars music, and I sternly told him that he should send Greg Hawkes a thank you card for all that he did in pioneering the use of synthesizers and electronics in the music world! Of course, my son didn’t appreciate that very much. Haha!] They were also on the cutting edge of music video production and promotion.

DEVELOPMENT: Additionally, ALL of the members of the band have worked on numerous projects outside of The Cars, supporting and growing other artists in a wide variety of genres and through many methods (production, promotion, writing, background vocals, session instrumentation, etc.), not to mention their own solo work.

PRESERVATION: Further, music by The Cars shows up just about everywhere: in movies, children’s programs, commercials, and in 2016 as a constant presence in a new CBS television series called BrainDead. Their sound is as addictive, influential, and necessary to today’s culture as it ever was.

I know I painted with some broad strokes there — just trying to keep it simple when I could go on and on and ON… but that’s my case for eligibility and I’m standing firm on it.

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So how have The Cars done so far? They were nominated for the first time in 2015 (for induction in 2016), finished third in the fan poll (less than a tenth of a percentage point behind second place) and failed to get inducted. There was some amount of controversy surrounding the voting process. Under poor management by the Rock Hall, the poll appeared to have been hacked allowing computer ‘bots’ to submit millions of votes unchecked. Though no one was accused outright, a shadow was cast on the five bands that benefited from the suspected activity (including The Cars) and the reputation of the RRHOF Fan Poll took a major blow.

The Cars made the nomination ballot again in 2016 (for induction in 2017), and again, questionable management and murky communication by the RRHOF threw the whole fan poll into chaos. This time the Rock Hall apparently held back a slew of votes while they were verifying the integrity of those votes, and then dumped them all into the poll in one day. This made the overall totals for a bunch of the nominees go crazy and changed the order of the leaders. While no band was knocked out of the top five, The Cars were the only ones negatively affected, dropping from #3 to #5 in the rankings. They were not chosen for induction. Which brings us to where we are today…

The question I can’t help but ask now is: how much do The Cars themselves really want it? The fan poll voting was open from October 18 through December 15, 2016. The official Cars’ Twitter and Facebook pages were largely silent, doing almost nothing to encourage the fans to vote. Even “The Cars Nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum” Facebook page (which is run by Les Steinberg, Elliot Easton’s brother, but not officially endorsed by The Cars) stopped promoting daily activity in the fan poll ten days before the voting closed. Is this indicative of the band members’ desire to get into the Rock Hall?

In 2011 Ric Ocasek was asked by Stephen Colbert, “Why aren’t you guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” and Ric answered, “You know I really don’t know. I don’t know if I want to be in it.” (The Colbert Report) When the 2015 ballot was announced David Robinson said, “It is what it is, but actually I don’t pay any attention to that whatsoever. It isn’t anything we’ve strived for, let’s put it that way.” (The Boston Globe); and Elliot indicates in this 2014 RockSolid interview excerpt below that he’s not losing any sleep over whether The Cars are in the Rock Hall.

And all of those votes for The Cars in the fan poll this year? With little encouragement coming from the band’s official pages, the “Fanorama” stepped up and led a grassroots campaign that held The Cars solidly in the top 5 (in spite of the RRHOF’s voting mess). Twitter pages like @Night_Spots, @Tracey2063, and @JWINZombieGirl, along with Facebook fan groups like “The Cars” and “Benjamin Orr Remembered,” all contributed DAILY reminders and links to vote, which were shared and retweeted time and again, reminding people to make their voice heard. I am so proud of our dedicated fan base — how we love our boys!

So if it’s no big deal to them, why should I care one way or the other? Here are MY reasons I want The Cars inducted (in no particular order):

  1. They are deserving of it (see paragraphs above) and I want their contribution to rock 14993335_593020314240592_8536782637626328485_nand roll history to be acknowledged and recognized by their peers.
  2. I want Benjamin’s memory brought into the spotlight and honored all over the world.
  3. I love them! Their music moves me in every mood and brings me joy daily.
  4. I want an excuse to see the four remaining members together on stage again.
  5. I want to be able to say “BOOYAH!” to those naysayers that look down on my love for The Cars.

My final thoughts? I’m disappointed but not devastated. They have proven their relevance over the years, influenced countless bands that came after them, and wrote a soundtrack for my life that will never change. Whether they ever get into the RRHOF or not, The Cars will always be number one with me!

[All Cars graphics courtesy of @Night_Spots; image of the RRHOF ballot from Twitter]

Coming in 2017?

Coming in 2017?

carsannounceBack on December 14, 2016, the official Cars website sent out an email encouraging fans to watch for ‘big things’ coming from The Cars in 2017. [Thanks for the screen cap, Cheryl!] Of course, my heart leapt at the thought, but I was also a bit skeptical; unless the band was getting back together for another album I couldn’t imagine that they would release much in the realm of ‘new’ — I figured maybe yet another ‘greatest hits’ compilation with a few little gems thrown in there to entice us. My brain filed it away with a note stamped on it: “We’ll see.”

THEN!!! Last night (January 2, 2017) Elliot Easton jumped on twitter and said he had a few minutes to answer questions. In the slew of tweets that followed, one brilliant fan had the presence of mind to initiate this wonderful exchange:

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WOW!!!

So exciting to hear this from Elliot himself because it not only confirms that there really IS something in the works, but it sounds like more than just one or two tracks. The Fanorama was soon rejoicing and speculating in the Facebook groups on what the actual release might be, and sharing their wish lists of what they’d like to see. And of course, I have mine as well! Documenting the desires of my ‘coming soon from The Cars’ heart (in true nerdy list form), here is what would get me pulling out my wallet:

  1. a DVD of a full Panorama concert
  2. footage of life backstage, the guys goofing off, stories from the road
  3. footage from in the studio, especially Syncro Sound
  4. live performances (audio or video) of songs we can’t find recordings of, like You Wear Those Eyes and It’s All I Can Do
  5. early recordings, photos, or footage of the members before The Cars became “The Cars;” i.e. the other bands they played in
  6. demos from any time period, including the demos Ric made in the early stages of a song’s creation
  7. songs they recorded that never made it to vinyl
  8. early photos of the band (professional and candids)
  9. Cap’n Swing photos, recordings, and newspaper clippings (not strictly The Cars, I know, but an important part of their history)
  10. lost or rare interviews, documentaries, and radio shows
  11. hopefully not a bunch of disruptive smash cuts

Gee, guess it sounds like I’m asking for the moon, huh? Sorry, but once I got going my brain wouldn’t stop generating ideas. Having any or all of these dreams fulfilled would be ‘grand delight.’ I am just convinced that all of the stuff that is already available to us barely drills into the depth of The Cars. Keeping my fingers crossed!

How about you? What would you like to see the band release in 2017? Leave a comment here or find this post on Facebook and let me know. ❤