Quoting Benjamin

Door to Door just was in a separate area. It wasn’t what the entire band envisioned it to be. It wasn’t a group effort. It turned out that way, and I felt that was wrong. Door to Door was done at Electric Lady in New York. It was already written in stone when I got there. And that’s not a way to do an album.” —  from “The Cars: Shake It Up, Drive it Out,” by Steve Roeser, Goldmine, August 1, 1997

waiting1

Crystal Gerard: A Pursuit of Passion

Anything and everything music: live bands, spinning records, dance clubs, photography, creative coifs…  All her life, Crystal Jane Gerard has had a passion for rock and roll and a relentless determination to pursue it. And she’s proved it time and again: from writing an enthusiastic A+ English paper about meeting Adam Ant, to skipping a day of beauty school to catch John Waite leaving his hotel after a show, to walking out on a job for Benjamin Orr.

original cars pin croppedSince her early days in high school, Crystal has loved The Cars, especially Benjamin Orr, and everyone knew it! Her yearbooks were riddled with comments (and even sketches of Ben!) from friends who would mention her obsession when they would sign off for the summer. She had all The Cars’ albums and would pore over her collection, tallying which songs were Ben’s and which were Ric’s. Most of her favorite songs were Ben’s.

Right after graduating high school, Crystal attended beauty school, finished her certification in 1985, and launched into a career as a hairdresser. She had the world at her feet: she was young and pretty, she loved her job, and she spent all of her free time immersed in the music world.

In November of 1987, The Cars were touring behind their sixth album, Door to Door. Unbeknownst to fans at the time, tensions within the band were running hot. Ben was traveling separately from the rest of the members, and while it is true that he did not enjoy flying, I believe it was also a way for him to separate himself from spending more time than necessary in a work situation that had grown intolerable to him.

To that end, Ben had his own tour bus and his own travel itinerary. The Cars played in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 25, 1987, and then Ben and his bus left for the next destination: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After about a six-hour trip, he arrived on Thursday, November 26. The band was scheduled to play the MECCA Arena on Friday, November 27.

On that Thursday night, Crystal was hanging out at her favorite new wave dance club, Park Avenue. In Milwaukee in the 80s, Park Avenue was the place to ‘see and be seen.’ The venue sometimes hosted over-the-top theme nights that literally led to lines of hundreds of people waiting to get in.

I found these photos of the club online. Though they were taken around 1992 when Park Avenue reopened as Nitro, I understand that they are similar to how Park Avenue looked in the late 80s.

And it was here that, much to her delight and awe, Crystal saw Benjamin Orr standing at the bar. “I’m shy, but I had to talk to him or I’d forever regret it!” she said. “I went up to him and he was very nice. I don’t recall the conversation, but I did mention that I was a hairdresser. He said he needed his hair done before the show! I was thrilled and a bit nervous at the chance to not only have met, but to do hair for my teenage idol. He said I could come to his tour bus to do it.

“The next day, I told the salon I worked at that this amazing opportunity came up, that I could do a famous musician’s hair, and I had to take the afternoon off. For some reason they didn’t see the value in it and wouldn’t let me go.”

Crystal was not a slacker by any means; her job was important to her and this was a serious decision. But there was no way… NO WAY!… that she was going to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime chance. “Well, I got fired,” she continued. “I followed my heart and chose rock and roll over my job, and I’ve never regretted it, even for a moment.”

After thirty-three years, many of the finer details of Crystal’s experience that day are gone. As best as she can remember, the tour bus was parked near the loading area behind the MECCA Arena. She can’t recall if Ben showed her around the bus or not, but the two got settled in the main living area, where she cut and colored his hair, likely washing and rinsing in the small kitchen sink. “I packed up my gear, out came the foils, scissors, and so on, and I went to work.”

Crystal has generously shared her before, during, and after pictures with us. As you can imagine, she treasures these photos! A friendly reminder: If you share them on social media, please do NOT crop out the watermark!

01 before

02 during

03 after

The process took a couple of hours, and Ben was low-key and friendly. Crystal remembers that one thing they talked about was scuba diving, as it was one of Ben’s hobbies. Though she considered herself a newbie hairdresser at that time, Ben was happy with her work, and he invited her to come to the show that night, giving her tickets and backstage passes.

“I brought my bestie and ‘partner-in-crime’ and we got to go backstage. We briefly met the other Cars and I had them sign my Creem magazine. Paulina Porizkova was doing some sort of needlepoint work. Ben was eating jalapeno peppers out of the jar and offered some to us. He loved them! I took another photo of Ben before he opened the door to go onstage.”

creem magazine signed watermark

04 before going onstage

That November 27 show at the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee rocked. The tickets were only $16.50 — can you believe it? The set list included:

  • “Tonight She Comes”
  • “Touch And Go”
  • “Double Trouble”
  • “My Best Friend’s Girl”
  • “Everything You Say”
  • “Since You’re Gone”
  • “Fine Line”
  • “Let’s Go”
  • “Strap Me In”
  • “Candy-O”
  • “Moving In Stereo”
  • “Dangerous Type”
  • “Drive”
  • “You Are The Girl”
  • “Good Times Roll”
  • “You Might Think”
  • “Hello Again”
  • “Just What I Needed”
  • “Magic”

Crystal and her friend had a blast! Here are a couple of shots from the concert:

concert 01

concert 02

Ben generously invited Crystal and her friend to see The Cars play at another nearby show the following weekend, and they were happy to attend. Crystal had printed one of her photos of Ben and he signed it “love Ben Orr” (see above).

concert 03She later had the pleasure of seeing The Cars play at the Roseland Ballroom in New York in 2011, where Ric also signed one of her photos from that long-ago show. It gave her goosebumps to hear their wonderful music played live again, though she missed Ben very much.

Even though she is to not be able to bring all the particulars of that first weekend fully back to life, the experience of doing Ben’s hair shifted the course of her career. “Benjamin was my first celebrity client, and [working with him] inspired me to later pursue this type of clientele because to me, musicians usually have the most creative looks. Image is everything onstage.”

Crystal would go on to ‘brush the rock and roll hair’ of many other notable rock stars, including Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Butch Walker and the Marvelous 3, Brett Anderson from the Donnas, the Cocktail Slippers, Dale Watson, The Struts and The Posies.

The day after her October 2 birthday in 2000,  Ben passed away. Crystal heard it on the radio and she was crushed. “I felt this personal connection because I did his hair. I felt close to him; I loved him all my life. He was so kind.” She couldn’t help but cry at the loss; Benjamin had changed her life. She will always be grateful to him for the way he influenced her career.

Crystal moved to New York City twenty-six years ago in order to pursue her passions.  “A lot of people do many creative things at once. You can’t do that in a lot of cities,” she noted. She has stayed close to the music biz: She was a New Music Scout for Little Steven’s Underground Garage from 2006 to 2017, while maintaining her salon clientele. She also worked as a DJ at NYC’s Beauty Bar for many years, and spun an eclectic mix of garage rock from the ’60s-’80s for the SXSW festival and other special events. In fact, she DJ’d for The Empty Hearts in New York in 2017… but that is another story for another time. Stay tuned!

adam ant by crystal gerard
Adam Ant by Crystal Gerard

Today, Covid-19 has limited her DJ work, but Crystal is not letting go of her musical pursuits. She is in the process of creating an Instagram page to showcase her incredible rock photography, a skill she’s had a lot fun cultivating over the years. She is also available for hair appointments. If you’d like to connect with her, you can shoot her an email at crystalblu1966@gmail.com!

I’m so grateful that Crystal was willing to share her experience and her passion with us! ❤


I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Kat F. for making me aware of Crystal’s story. Thank you, my friend!

All photos are courtesy of Crystal Jane Gerard (unless otherwise noted) and shared with permission.

Sources:

  1. I used this article from onmilwaukee.com for the background information on Park Avenue.
  2. I retrieved the photos of Nitro from mkelgbthist.org.

Dan Isenberg: Slam dunk!

Dan Isenberg: Slam dunk!

When Dan Isenberg (known professionally as Dan Eye) made the flight from Michigan to California in the summer of 1988, he expected big things. After all, he was on his way to witness the last battle for the NBA Championship between the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles Lakers. It was going to be exciting! What he did not anticipate was that he would be the jumper in the ultimate alley-oop play of the weekend.

Musically speaking, I mean. 

Alley-oop: “An alley-oop in basketball is an offensive play in which one player throws the ball near the basket to a teammate who jumps, catches the ball in mid air and slam dunks it before touching the ground.” — Wikipedia

Once Dan arrived in California and got himself all checked in to his hotel room, he met up with a couple of his college buddies from Oklahoma Christian University that lived in the area: Troy and Jon Jon. It was June 18, the day before Game 6 of the NBA series, and he had some time to play and explore. Their first destination was Universal Studios. It was there that Troy would throw Dan the (metaphorical) ball, and Dan would fly with it and slam dunk it into history.

I felt all of the importance and impact and thrill of this event as Dan enthusiastically recounted to me one of the best memories of his life.

So let’s travel back in time to 1988:

pistons logo“I was in my 3rd season working for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and I was an account executive, early in my career, selling Pistons season ticket packages. When the Pistons made it to the NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, they flew all of us employees [to California] for Game 6 and Game 7. I was out there and I decided to go to Universal Studios, and one of my buddies, Troy, he just said, ‘Hey Dan! That’s Benjamin Orr of The Cars!’”

They were all standing in the gift shop at Universal Studios, and Troy had seen Benjamin walk in. Ben was wearing sunglasses, and he was strolling hand-in-hand with a petite blonde woman, and the two had begun shopping. When Troy pointed them out to Dan, Dan was a little starstruck. With Troy’s encouragement, Dan took the leap. 

“I just simply went up to Mr. Orr and I’ll be darned, he was just shopping with a real pretty blonde woman,” Dan remembered. “I don’t know if it was his wife or a girlfriend, but sure enough, she was with Benjamin, and she realized that I recognized him. She also, and this is just me talking… she also kind of knew to just keep shopping and let me get my photo taken with Benjamin Orr. I thought that was kind of cool, you know?

“I just said, ‘Excuse me, hey Benjamin’ and I just said, ‘I’m Dan Eye. I work for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and I’ve got my camera with me and I’m a big fan of The Cars, and I was just wondering if I could just maybe get my photo taken with you?’ And he said, ‘Sure!'”

The woman subtly kept shopping while Ben turned to Dan. The two posed together for this photo, snapped by Jon Jon. 

1988.06.19-21 in Los Angeles by Dan Isenberg
Benjamin Orr and Dan Isenberg, Universal Studios, June 18, 1988. Photo courtesy of Dan Isenberg; shared with permission.

“I said, ‘Here’s my business card. If you are ever in Detroit, you can just simply call my direct line on that card, and I’ll make sure that you and a guest get two phenomenal seats for any game that you ever want to see.’ And he just looked at my card, and with his thumbs up he said, ‘Basketball?! Okay!’ and I said, ‘All right!’

“And then Jon Jon said, ‘Now, are you guys from Boston?’ and Benjamin said, ‘No, no, we’re not from Boston. You know, The Cars, we’re kind of from maybe a little bit of Cleveland, a little bit here, maybe a little bit there.’ I thought that was a cool, cool answer.”

Dan asked Benjamin if they could get one more photo together in case the first one didn’t turn out so great. “And he said, ‘Sure! Sure, Dan.’ And that’s when he said my name! Because he looked at my business card, you know? And that made me feel so cool that Benjamin Orr said, ‘Sure, Dan! Sure! Yeah!’ And to this day I’ll never know if Benjamin Orr said my name because he saw my name on my card, or because he said, ‘I’m going to hang onto this guy’s card because I want two front row seats for the basketball game next time I’m in town!’” Dan said, laughing.

“And I loved it! I thought, ‘I’m with Benjamin Orr!’ I just loved that guy!”

In spite of looking high and low, Dan can’t find that second photo, but he remembers it very well.

“It had me and Benjamin, and it had that beautiful woman that he was with. She did have like a little sunny summer dress on. And she was really, really pretty. A very classy woman. And I was like, wow, this is so cool, because Benjamin Orr isn’t with, like, some blonde bombshell like Pamela Anderson. We would all think that our favorite rock stars who are so cool looking, like Benjamin, you would expect him to be with some kind of pin-up model.

“I have only met two guys in my life that I can say, ‘Holy smokes, these are two of the coolest looking guys ever!’ And the two of them are Benjamin Orr and Rob Lowe!” Dan exclaimed, laughing again. (And guess what? Coincidentally, Dan had just met and interviewed Rob Lowe only days before at one of the other games! How terrific is that?)

“And then, you want to know what is so funny? I just went, ‘Wow! I got my photo taken with Benjamin Orr of The Cars!’ And I just called every one of my college classmates from Rochester College and Oklahoma Christian University.”

Dan was a massive Cars fan in the 80s, their music streaming out of his dorm room on a regular basis. In fact, when The Cars played Cobo Arena in Detroit back on February 12, 1982, Dan and his college friends went all out. “We ALL totally dressed up, and dressed up like the ‘new wave’ look of The Cars. We took photos of ourselves; we had a professional photographer!”

“When we were at that concert, my date was Melanie, a beautiful little redheaded classmate of ours. She and I were so punked out and we were in the new wave look, and we just held onto each other and we danced and danced, kissed and kissed, we were just jamming all night… jamming together to The Cars!

“They ended with ‘Shake It Up’ and all of us were underneath a little corridor at the entrance of the arena, and there was a loose board or something, like metal or whatever… we took our elbows and went choon choon choo-choo-choon, choon choon choo-choo-choon [banging elbows against it to the beat], and we were just jamming away again to the music…  It was just SHAKE.IT.UP! And when we left, we felt like we had been through a war!”

Philadelphia 76ers v Detroit Pistons
Bob Seger at a Pistons game, April 26, 2005. Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dan has never forgotten the experience of meeting Ben, even after all these years. He went on to have a very successful career with the Pistons, and as part of his job, he was the personal account executive for Bob Seger for 18 years. He explained, “I worked with his agent and on many occasions, I’d have to see Bob at halftime and give him extra VIP parking, playoff tickets, and sometimes concert tickets. One game, I said ‘Hey Bob, here’s your Dixie Chicks tickets.’ He always called me Daniel, and said, ‘Thanks, Daniel! Are you going to the concert?’ I said ‘Yes, and my wife and I are sitting right behind you!’ Bob clapped and jammed to almost every song and turned around to high five me after ‘There’s Your Trouble!’ He truly is the nicest guy EVER!!! 

“I busted my butt for Bob Seger. One time Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles called Bob Seger and said, ‘Can you get us two tickets for the Pistons game for Game 5 when The Lakers play The Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals?’ and Bob Seger said, ‘Let me call Daniel!’ And I go, ‘I got this.’ And I said, ‘Bob, I just want you to know, I’m only doing this because I love you, and I love rock stars, and Bob? I once got my freaking photo taken with Benjamin Orr of The Cars!’” Dan recalled, cracking up. “Oh man, Bob Seger laughed!”

“Since then, I’ve gotten my photo taken and been backstage with Ted Nugent and Aretha Franklin. I met Ronnie Wood. I’ve met Burton Cummings, Joe Walsh, Dolly Parton. I’ve met Ringo Starr… but Benjamin Orr in California? I felt like I was really in the presence of the music that I grew up with. I’ve just always had the greatest luck ever for meeting my musician idols, my heroes. But it all started in 1988… I met Benjamin Orr! And I was like, man, where do you go from the top?”

Slam dunk!


Random thoughts:

  • I loved chatting with Dan! He was so energetic and fun to talk to, and genuinely eager to share. Thanks again, Dan!
  • Too bad Ben never called Dan up for tickets. Rats!
  • I sent Dan a couple of photos of Diane Page from 1986 and he was able to confirm that the beautiful blonde Ben was with was her. ❤ 
  • June, 1988, was about 6 months after The Cars officially disbanded. Ben looks happy and relaxed here, and I’m so glad to see it.
  • He also looks very tan! I wonder if he was mainly living in Kauai during this first half of the year?
  • In spite of his touristy button-up shirt, he’s still full-on rock star, with his studded leather bracelet and his sunglasses hanging off his chest. The epitome of cool!
  • And speaking of bracelets… I can see his treasured cuff next to his watch. ❤
  • I wonder if the necklace he’s wearing is that gold dolphin one he wore in some of the Door to Door promo photos?

The Final Interview

I’m not sure of the exact date, but this week marks the 20th anniversary of The Cars’ final interview.

From what I understand, Ben flew right from this interview in Atlanta, Georgia, to Palmer, Alaska, for his last performance, playing the August 25th show at the Alaska State Fair. If that’s the case, it is reasonable to assume that he flew out of Atlanta late on the 23rd and arrived on the 24th, allowing time to rest and prepare for their gig. It’s also possible that they did the interview on the 24th and then flew out that day; I’m just not sure.

Here are some things I do know:

  • The interview took place at Turner Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, where Ben was living with Julie Snider.
  • Well-known Boston writer Brett Milano moderated the event. 
  • Jeff Carlisi, Ben’s Big People band mate, was there at Ben’s request.
  • The footage was released on October 24, 2000, exactly three weeks after Ben’s death, by Rhino Home Video. It was a special feature on a DVD called The Cars Live. 
  • This reunion was the first time the members of The Cars had assembled in over a decade. 

full band final interview cleveland browns david ric ben elliot gregAs told in Joe Milliken’s book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, everyone went out to dinner together the night before the interview and spent time reconnecting. Although David, Greg, Ric, and Elliot were all aware that Ben was sick before they arrived, each of them has since expressed that they were taken off guard when they first saw him, having to face the finality of the devastating progression of his illness. Still, the men fell back into step and determined to keep things light and positive. 

The fact that they were all together again touched a deep chord in the hearts of Cars fans. These five men had labored together to reach the highest heights of fame and fortune only to have their brotherly bond disintegrate. But this reunion brought peace. By all public accounts, amends were made.  

I mentioned that this interview was included on The Cars Live. That DVD is the official release of  The Cars’ performance for Germany’s pop music show, Musikladen (recorded in November of 1978 and aired in 1979). It is apparent that the band members watched that concert before the camera started rolling, as Milano opens by asking them how it felt to see that show 22 years later. Greg jumps in and the conversation starts rolling.

The guys cover some varied ground in the nearly 50 minutes of discussion. They talk about that European experience in 1978, go through the band’s history and early days, and reminisce on owning their own studio. They laugh over cover songs they used to do and share what they are most proud of when they look back at their time with The Cars. There are some obvious edits to the footage which leave you hanging a bit, most notably at 33:26, when I wish we could hear more of Ben’s thoughts on the duality of his life as a rock star vs. a regular guy.

Their interplay seems very much the way it always used to be, with Ric doing the lion’s share of the talking and Elliot right behind. David and Greg add their funny quips and Ben is largely silent, just like the old days. Ben’s illness does cast a pall, though, as you can see that he is very frail and tired. Still, he is attentive and involved, and chimes in when he wants to, and from time to time he flashes that gorgeous smile.  

I know this can be really, really hard to watch, as Benjamin is so physically altered, but I wanted to honor this important event in his history and in the history of The Cars.

One fan left a comment on YouTube sharing that she listened to the interview with earbuds while doing chores and she was better able to focus on the content of the discussion. I think that is a terrific idea for those that can’t get past the visual change in Ben. 

But let me also encourage you. Ben was strong right up to the end. He wanted things to continue on as normally as possible, until they couldn’t anymore. He didn’t want special treatment, he didn’t complain, he never faltered. He wasn’t ashamed of his appearance, he didn’t even fully conceal his eyes. He didn’t hide in the shadows. He desired peace, and he desired to give pleasure to his fans.

Though his body is ravaged, the strength of his incredible spirit shines beautifully in this final interview. I hope you can embrace it, too. ❤


A side note about Ben’s final performance:

I learned this past winter that there was a discrepancy over the date of the last show Ben performed. Joe Milliken and I wrote this clarification for the Let’s Go! Facebook page and published it on January 3, 2020.

On October 5, 2000, ABC News published an obituary for Ben that, among other details, claimed that he played his last show with Big People on September 27, 2000, in Alaska, less than a week before he passed away. Various other media outlets also picked up that information and it has been widely circulated – and relied upon by Ben/Cars’ fans – ever since.

Unfortunately, it recently came to our attention that this information is not accurate. Big People was actually booked to play at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska, on August 25, 2000, not in late September. We have since clarified with Big People band member, Jeff Carlisi, that Ben’s last performance was indeed on that August 25 date. He also added that Big People did play one more show on September 27, however, it was in Texas and Ben was not there. It was the only show that he missed, which is indicated in the book.

Although we surely want to bring this correct information to light, we are also distressed, as pieces of the narrative in “Let’s Go!” relied upon the previously circulated news information, along with individual interviews, to describe Ben’s last days, including anchoring the date of his final interview with The Cars. We are continuing to flesh out more accurate details, and will also be working with our publisher to see what corrections can be made to the book moving forward.

We appreciate everyone’s understanding and of course, we continue to strive towards ultimately painting the clearest and most accurate picture of Ben’s amazing life. ~ Joe and Donna

Andy Bergsten: Connected for a beat

Do you remember that cool story Barry Marshall told us about hearing David Robinson play the Syndrums live for the first time, back in 1977? Well, I had the pleasure of talking with the gentleman who worked with David on integrating that technology, so let’s pause our Boston Boys series and take a closer look at that.

Andy & Paul
Paul McCartney and Andy

Andy Bergsten and his company, Bergsten Music Inc., has been providing professional event production services (musical instruments, sound equipment, stage lighting, etc.) to musicians and venues for over 40 years.  Their list of clients reads like the ‘who’s who’ of the music industry, beginning with Van Morrison and continuing on with Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Nirvana, The Cars , Celine Dion, Aerosmith, Elton John… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

In fact, here’s an interesting tidbit in his history: Andy was the one who literally pulled the plug on the 1994 Green Day show when the free concert escalated into a riot. Not familiar with that fiasco? Check this out:

Not only was Andy a natural salesman, he was (and is!) a musician himself. Back in the mid 70s he was the bass player for Munson & Valentine, a folk-duo-turned-folk-rock band that was getting radio play with their single, “Blow On By.” Andy went on to play with neoswing legends Bellevue Cadillac, earning 11 Grammy nominations and touring the world in the sixteen years he was with them. He currently jams with Border Road , a South Shore band that includes Chuck McDermott (Wheatstraw). On occasion, he also plays bass and is the musical director for Denny Dias (Steely Dan) and friends.

And back in 1977, he put his fingerprints on The Cars’ iconic debut album. Fortunately for us, Andy has spent time during the pandemic quarantine writing out some of the more memorable experiences of his career, so we get to read the details of his collaboration with David Robinson in his own words!


The Syndrum was an electronic drum invented by studio musician Joe Pollard in 1976.  Joe was a friend of a legendary sound engineer Stuart “Dinky” Dawson who worked with artists like The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, and many more.  My wife, Margaret, took a job working in the office of Dawson Sound around 1974 and at the time I was going to Berklee College of Music. In late 1976, Joe Pollard was looking for a New England sales rep to handle sales of his drums so he turned to Dinky.   Well, Dinky turned to me as I was just about to graduate from Berklee, and so began the adventure.

1977. business card from barry marshall
Andy Bergsten’s business card, circa 1977. Courtesy of Barry Marshall; shared with permission.

I took it upon myself and began marketing it like I did my bands over the years.  I knew every music store in New England from gigging so I began to visit the stores and try to sell them a very expensive item that was way over their budget; boy, was I naïve! Then I approached some of the well-known drummers in New England and got a quick lesson on endorsements… they all wanted a set for free.

Around this time, I got a call from the office that David Robinson of The Cars was very interested in the drums. He was very aware of the tom-tom sound that they made as it was all over the airwaves, and he was eager to find out what else they could do. I didn’t know The Cars , but did know of the band Cap’n Swing, who played venues that I was playing.  I had a single out which was playing on Boston stations with the band Munson & Valentine, and I think David and I looked at each other as peers who were experienced skilled musicians.

Syndrum manualAt the time, because of a stall in production, I had the only set in New England that was available for demonstrations and studio work. I called David and set up a time where I could demo the drums. Shortly after that call I went into Boston to meet David at his apartment on Commonwealth Ave that I believe he shared with Elliot Easton, The Cars’ guitarist.  David and I drove together in my van to a rehearsal room in Allston where I set up the Syndrums and showed him the multiple sounds the drums could make. I was the only rep for Syndrum that was a professional musician, and artists appreciated that I could suggest spots in their tunes that Syndrum sounds would work. David caught on quickly and immediately saw the wide potential for them, kinda like a kid in a candy store. It was a very relaxed and friendly time.

After the demo we went back to his apartment where Elliot was and hung out for a bit. The Cars had received some advance money to do their first album and David not only bought a set from me, but ordered a second set of four that came through Wurlitzer Music in Boston. The next time I saw him was at the Rex ballroom where I brought supplies for the drums to him. I hung in the Green Room with them until they went on.

The crowd was into the fresh sound of the Cars, as it was the beginning of the “new wave” of music and a refreshing change from disco. As I remember from the Rex show, David used the descending tom-tom sound on a lot of stuff — the sound like in “My Best Friend’s Girl.” He also used some of the more synth sounds, like the rising “space effect” using 2 oscillators. 

syndrum set up
A peek at David’s Syndrums on the left, France, 1978

Looking back at what David did with the Syndrums, I always felt that he used them more creatively than most, and he was the only artist that used eight Syndrums.

At the time, you could hear the tom-tom sound in songs like “Poor, Poor  Pitiful Me,” “McArthur Park,” and many disco tunes. Many people came to think that the tom-tom sound was the only sound they made. The Syndrum got nicknamed the “disco drum,” and as disco faded during the early ‘80s, so did the Syndrum.  Sadly, the 10,000 plus sounds the drum could make never got used the way they could have. Many years later there was a resurgence and interest in them, but over time other electronic drums hit the market and offered a greater variety of usable sounds.

For me, the Syndrums were my introduction to a new world where people rented musical instruments, and I began getting requests for other items.  I always felt that I needed to say yes [to inquiries], so when requests came in I found a way to get what was needed by borrowing from other musicians or just going out and buying things used out of the want ads.  It was basic music industry things like Fender amps, drum kits and eventually a keyboard or two. The Syndrum was by far the most unique item I had, but they opened the door.

During the next few years I gained a reputation for having good equipment and being on time so venues began to come to me for their music instruments needs. The backline industry was in its infancy and though I wasn’t on the ground floor, I was at least on the first floor. In 1978, I was trying to sell an electronic drum set to stores which was way above their budget, $1500 at the time. I hit all the music stores that I knew from gigging without any luck.  The sale to David was my first sale and I look at it as the beginning of a company that, up until the Covid issue, was supplying instruments and sound to over 2000 shows a year.  Do the math on that!  

~ Andy Bergsten


Shortly after working together on David’s new gear, Andy and David were interviewed for this article that ran in The Boston Phoenix on May 16, 1978. What a boon that Andy still had a copy of it for us to read!

Syndrum_Cars 78-page-001

Syndrum_Cars 78 rescan 1-page-2_3

I’m always fascinated with the behind-the-scenes details of Cars history, and I love that Andy was able to give us some insight into what David was doing, tucked away at the back of the stage. Thank you so much, Andy!

One of The Cars’ songs that has such an unforgettable Syndrum sound in my ears is “Good Times Roll.” You can’t go wrong with that incredible intro! It is the perfect opener for the album, and for those early live shows, too. Enjoy!

In other words:

ben and liberty
Liberty and Ben, July, 1999

“A man’s man, Ben smoked Marlboro cigarettes, drank alcohol, drove a four-wheel-drive SUV, and chopped wood at his house in the mountains of Vermont. But when he went on stage in his black leather pants, brightly colored shirt, long black trench coat, and black cowboy boots, he drove the ladies wild. I’d look out into the crowd when we played ‘Drive’ and watch all the women smile at Ben, hanging on to every word he was singing.” — Liberty DeVitto, 2020, Liberty: Life, Billy, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Happy 40th Anniversary, Panorama!

As many of you know, Panorama is my favorite Cars’ album! It was released 40 years ago today, on August 15, 1980. To celebrate, I’ve got stickers to give away!

panorama stickers

If you’d like one, please mail me a self-addressed, stamped envelope and I’ll send a sticker your way! A small envelope with a single stamp will do; the diameter of the circle is only 3 inches. Because I have a limited quantity, it will be first come, first served.

Here’s my mailing address:

sweetpurplejune

P.O. Box 925

Priest River ID 83856

Some quick facts about this album, and a few links:

  • It is The Cars’ third album, and Roy Thomas Baker continued his streak as the band’s producer.
  • It was initially recorded at Power Station Studios in New York. Roy was unhappy with the situation there so they packed up their stuff and moved to Cherokee Studios (where they had recorded Candy-O) and started over. Man oh man, how I’d love for those initial tapes to surface!
  • The photography for the cover art was done by the amazing Paul McAlpine. The flag on the front was mistakenly believed to be a painting done by David Robinson, but that has since been debunked.
  • Panorama was reissued as an expanded edition in 2017. You can read my review of it here, if you like: https://sweetpurplejune.wordpress.com/2020/05/22/review-panorama-expanded-edition/
  •  “Don’t Go To Pieces” was recorded but ultimately left off the album, though it did show up on two B sides. Read more about that little gem here: https://sweetpurplejune.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/dont-go-to-pieces/
  • Lots of info about the song and video for “Touch And Go” in this article: https://sweetpurplejune.wordpress.com/2016/12/26/touch-and-go/
  • I did go ahead and upload the audio of John Lennon talking about “Touch and Go” to YouTube to make it easier for people to hear.

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been sitting on an interview I did with Gerald Casale since around February. He directed the videos for “Panorama” and “Touch And Go,” and he was so gracious to speak to me at length! It’s kind of a stupid story as to why it’s not done yet but no excuses; it’s on me. I’ve got it in the queue and hope to get it published soon!

Here’s the official video for “Panorama.” I LOVE THIS!!

Oh, and of course, Dave and I dissected this album for the podcast back in 2018.

Whew — okay, I think that’s it for now! Don’t forget to send me an envelope if you want that sticker. And now? Time to crank my favorite Cars record!! Enjoy this full-album playlist from The Cars Official Youtube channel. ❤

Lyrics: You Can’t Hold On Too Long

“You Can’t Hold On Too Long” by The Cars

I can’t put out your fire, I know it’s too late

I can’t be up for hire, it’s not my best trait

The gallow glass is cracking, it’s starting to smash

How can you cry without blinking a lash?

 

You’re feeling’s cross and wavy, you’re on the edge of the cuff

You’re pushing and popping, you don’t get enough

You wish that it was over, you never slow down

You’re looking for kicks, there’s nothing around

 

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

 

You’re surrounded by the laughing boys, they puncture your style

They send for their bandanas and you try for their smile

You’d like to come in colors, you don’t know which one

You can’t be too choosy, it’s just for fun

 

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

 

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

You can’t hold on too long, it’s alright

 

Quoting Benjamin

On recording The Lace: “When I went down to the studio, I was totally on my own. I had no influences… I don’t think anybody who sits down to write a song wants to be thought of as pulling off somebody else’s material.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987

waiting1

Peter Montgomery: Boston Boys, Part 2

Peter Montgomery: Boston Boys, Part 2

At long last, here is the next installment of my Boston Boys series. Let me just warn you, this one is a bit of a doozy.

We left Part 1 having learned that Barry Marshall had established a working relationship with Elliot Easton as a session musician, and with a hint about another recording job Barry pulled Elliot in on. That project was the album First World Blues (FWB) by The Montgomerys.

At the time I initially got in touch with Barry, FWB had just been released. Having learned that Elliot played on ten of the twelve tracks, I was eager to hear it and promote it. I immediately fell in love with the record and, wanting to go deeper, I connected with Peter Montgomery, the band’s founder, lead vocalist, and songwriter. When I offered to do a write-up about his project, I had no idea of the rabbit hole it would take us down… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a step.

Raised in Scituate, Peter Montgomery was just a kid when Barry was establishing himself in the Boston music scene. Peter remembered, “We have to rewind back to when I was 12 years old because my mother hung around Barry. My father was a dentist and we lived in this huge mansion but it was always filled with hippies… my mom was like this hippy guru, and Barry was one of those hippies. He was kind of a radical. He and my mother fought the Scituate police on a lot of issues, and they were both active in the school and learning disabilities, and stuff like that. That’s why they were friends even though they had this huge age difference.”

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Peter Montgomery, 1992

Peter openly admits that he was – and is – a bit of a handful. Dyslexia, struggles with ADD, and a general lack of maturity dictated his early years, but his irreverent sense of humor carried him through a lot. His boyish good looks and roguish charm didn’t hurt, either.

“Barry was a musician and he played in one of the first bands that I knew of, and so I kind of idolized him. He taught me my first chords on the guitar.” Peter confessed that he was a terrible student: his timing was always off, his memory was awful, and he couldn’t ever seem to learn an entire song. But he was determined to play and spent countless hours practicing (though with little progress). “Barry was a gentle soul, so he didn’t do an impatient thing or get frustrated. He would teach me songs I already knew on the radio, like The Beatles and Neil Young and stuff like that. As long as I’d get a little bit of the song it would be enough for me to keep practicing.”

As a teen, Peter found songwriting to be an outlet, a way to process his emotional highs and lows. “My songwriting was bad and childish when I was young. I thought words didn’t matter enough to take all that seriously when it came to writing catchy songs!” he reflected. Though he feels like his early efforts really sucked, he would eventually steer his talent into a style of expression that combined the best of his personality with cathartic output. In other words, smart-ass songs that gave him a better handle on life.

Peter was 25 years old when he pulled together his first band. “When I first started The Irresponsibles in 1985 it was with this other guy named Domenic Laudani. Even though he had only just learned to play guitar, he had this instant ability to write songs, like way better than me. I had to do a lot of catch-up. Frankly, I think it was him that, in my mind, kind of spurred me on to be a better songwriter.” Rounding out the group were Chris Capen on drums and Jim Mather on bass.

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Dominec Laudani and Peter Montgomery, 1985.

Over the next ten years, The Irresponsibles ventured out of Scituate and began playing all around the greater Boston area and into New York, gathering a larger and larger following as they went. It was kind of a slow build. The Irresponsibles’ sound was a little ahead of its time… or a little behind the times, depending on how you looked at it. While the world was largely mimicking Flock of Seagulls hairdos or skittering left and right to MC Hammer, Peter was writing songs that tipped a hat to those Beatles tunes he learned as a kid, laced with his own wry sense of humor and offbeat style.  By the early 90s, the musical trend had shifted to welcome his pop-rock stylings, and things were starting to pick up.

The band dug into their own pockets to release their first album, Aggravator, in 1992. Peter is not particularly proud of it; it was an effort that started in 1985 and limped its way through growing pains and personnel changes. “It’s a terrible album,” he groaned. “I aggravator covermean, you can really hear the struggle.” By the time it was in their hands, the band lineup had settled into Peter on lead vocals and rhythm guitar (which he felt he could finally manage), Dave Thomas on lead guitar, Mark Nigro on bass, and Dan Rudack on drums.

Half the songs on the record were produced by Barry Marshall, and half were produced by the late John Kalishes. Kalishes was best known in Boston as the hard-rocking lead guitarist in the band Susan. He was later a fixture at The Bell Buoy in Scituate, where Peter would meet him and ultimately bring him on board to work with The Irresponsibles.

Life was getting busy for Peter. The band’s manager, John Lay (Squeeze, Robyn Hitchcock), arranged for the group to contribute five songs to a fifteen-song compilation CD called Snacks and Prizes, with Peter producing alongside Barry Marshall. Lay also pushed to book gigs in the more mainstream venues in and around Boston. The band released their second album, Big Orange, with production duties once again divided between Barry and Kalishes. They were getting ink in the Boston papers and their shows were packed; people were really taking notice of this impertinent and catchy band.

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Big Orange. L-R: Mark Nigro, Dave Thomas, Peter Montgomery, Dan Rudack

kalishes in the studio
John Kalishes in the studio, around 1992

During the mid-90s, Peter’s home was the epicenter of an active party scene. “I lived at this unbelievable place called The Glades, which was John Quincy Adams’ descendants’ summer housing, and it was on this beautiful peninsula of land surrounded by ocean. Everybody wanted to hang out where I lived,” he explained. His spacious apartment offered plenty of room for gathering, as well as gorgeous views and access to the beach. There were always girlfriends, rotating roommates, and a variety of buddies coming and going.

John Kalishes showed up quite a bit, accompanied by his good friend, Benjamin Orr. The two loved to fish and would hang out on the shore with their poles. They would bring their catch up to the apartment and cook it up for everyone, often staying and partying into the evening.

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Ben Orr and John Kalishes. Image retrieved from the internet; photo credit, date and location unknown.

Of course, Peter knew who Ben was; he remembered The Cars from back in the late 70s. “For a whole entire summer they played at this small club in Scituate Harbor where I grew up, at The Bell Buoy. Everybody used to go to see them for like $2.00 before ‘Just What I Needed’ broke.  And they would play at house parties. I think they even rented a house in Scituate at one time. They were all around.” While The Cars were making a name for themselves, Peter was still noodling with those half-song riffs. “I was 18, and I was even immature for 18, so I hadn’t quite gotten my shit together as far as rock-and-roll or anything,” he laughed.

And now, years later, here was Ben bustling about in Peter’s kitchen. But when I asked Peter for more specific details about Ben being at the house in 1995, he was at a bit of a loss. “I didn’t pay any attention to Ben. It was kind of like hero worship in reverse… or something. I didn’t want him to think that I thought he was awesome, so I stayed away from him.” With audible remorse, he lamented, “I don’t know what it was, but I was kind of a dick to him… It’s bizarre. And I regret the hell out it.”

the glades
The Glades.

I encouraged him to elaborate. He said, “I did something wicked creepy, and I don’t know why. That guy could’ve been a really good friend of mine. He told me Big Orange was great. It’s not like I hated him or anything. I just kind of ignored him. I acted like he was no big deal.

“I think the first time I was ever with him – before he went to The Glades or anything – it was me, Kalishes, and Ben at this local favorite pub called Jamie’s Pub. It was just the three of us sitting at a table and Kalishes went to the bathroom and there was a silence, and that’s when Ben goes, ‘I really like your album, Big Orange.’ And I go, ‘Wow, thanks a lot. That means a lot, coming from you.’ And then we both went quiet, and Kalishes came back and we ate lunch,” Peter chuckled at the awkward memory.

ben stepped on cat story peter montgomery lesley borrelli
From Lesley Borrelli; shared with permission.

His tone changed as he continued his story. “So then later on, Ben and Kalishes come to The Glades a lot to go fishing and hang out in my apartment and cook fish, and that’s where the story comes in where Ben stepped on the cat [from Peter’s girlfriend at the time; see the image to the right]. I don’t remember any of that because I didn’t really try to ingratiate myself, I didn’t hang out with Kalishes and Ben, which… I wish I did! I mean, I could have been great friends with that guy, and I just didn’t seize that opportunity, which is a shame,” Peter said, exasperated with himself.

“And it gets worse because,” he went on haltingly, “I think through Kalishes, I ended up opening up for them [Ben’s ORR band] a couple times, and one particular time… I’m sure it was the last time… it was at some dinner theater, down Cape Cod? And before we started our show, just for the heck of it I just kind of mockingly… I started playing ‘Just What I Needed.’ And Ben pulled the plug on us, and he was wicked pissed off.”

Several others remember that night, too. On the happy side, Ben was proudly showing off his infant son. With his blonde hair and his sleeveless shirt, “he looked like a proud Nordic Viking displaying the fruit of his loins!” Peter laughed. “He was carrying his kid up high, just wandering around the room.”

Behind the scenes it was a different story. Tensions were running high because The Irresponsibles were being treated poorly by the sound crew — “like piss,” one band member said. They were confined to a little sliver of the stage, having been required to set up in front of Ben’s gear. They weren’t allowed to use the ORR equipment, either, so the drummer was forced to squeeze his kit on sideways. Their promised soundcheck never happened because the stage hands took forever in trying to figure out ORR’s fog machine. They were all wondering why they were even asked to play? They felt very unwelcome, and they were all mad.

On top of all that, the club was packed with familiar faces, adding to Peter’s heightened emotions. Unfortunately, he chose a retaliatory response.

Peter had a nasty back-and-forth with the crew, and then, yes, he mocked “Just What I Needed.” As The Irresponsibles launched into their set, Peter vaguely remembers seeing Ben talking to the sound guys at the back of the house. The band had only gone through maybe four songs when somebody came to the side of the stage and told Peter they were all done. That’s when he found out Ben was so angry, though Ben didn’t say a word.

In the moment, the band was unruffled; there was a bit of a mutual ‘fuck you’ vibe going around. Most of the crowd assumed they were just a short opener, while others realized what had taken place. Peter didn’t care. In fact, he stayed at the club and partied with his friends for most of Ben’s set. He and Ben didn’t speak.

Ben never came back to The Glades after that gig.

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The view from Peter’s apartment at The Glades with the tiny Boston skyline off on the right. Photo courtesy of Lesley Borrelli; shared with permission.

Looking back, trying to analyze his own actions, Peter can’t excuse what he did, mocking Ben. He was angry, sure, but he sees now how foolish he was. With his cavalier attitude and an immature sense of humor, he had a bit of a habit of being mindlessly inappropriate, insensitive even, and had gotten himself into trouble more than once. In this case, it cost him what could have been a great relationship with Ben.

Peter paused for a long moment. “It’s very, very regrettable for me.” The sorrow in his voice was sincere as he said, “Yep, I know… I guess I’m kind of a prick… it was completely the wrong thing to do. The big fucking blunder of a lifetime.”

At the time, though, he charged on. It finally looked like The Irresponsibles were going to snag the brass ring when they won Musician Magazine’s 1996 Best Unsigned Band competition from a pool of 3,000 entrants. They were given thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and were featured in Musician Magazine and Billboard, but even better than all that, one of the judges – and one of Peter’s guitar heroes – wanted to work with The Irresponsibles!

Adrian Belew is probably best known for the nearly 30 years he spent as a guitarist and frontman of the progressive rock group King Crimson. He has also racked up an impressive resume as a solo artist, session player, touring musician, guitar designer, and mobile app creator. In 1996, he was a hot producer with his own private label, having handled a little-known Christian band, Jars of Clay, whom he launched into the mainstream with their crossover hit single, “Flood.” And now Adrian was looking at Peter’s band, and Peter was jacked.

when pigs flyThe Irresponsibles were signed to Belew’s label, with a specific goal in mind: to get the band sold to a bigger fish. In 1997, Belew produced a seven-song EP called Backwards Boy, which was intended to be a marketing tool to entice another label. When they didn’t get any bites, Belew agreed to record additional songs and repackage Backwards Boy as a full-length album called When Pigs Fly.

Though the effort generated some positive attention, it ultimately stalled in terms of propelling The Irresponsibles to the next level of exposure. It was disappointing all the way around, but Belew believed in the band and, in 1999, tried one more avenue. Peter recalls, “I thought I’d never hear from him again, but he figured we could have kind of one more shot if we toured with him. So, to his credit, he invited us on a really extensive 2-month tour of the US, and it was a blast. That was one of the best times of my life.”

Through the summer of 1999 The Irresponsibles performed an unplugged set in front of Belew’s acoustic Salad Days tour, playing in states like California, Colorado, New York, and Tennessee. “It was great, but again, nothing really happened for us as far as getting bigger. It was lucrative; we sold a ton of CDs, we made money, but nothing in the way of our future prospects occurred,” Peter sighed. “So when I got home I ended up meeting the girl that I had kids with, and we all [The Irresponsibles] just kind of fell apart.”

[I put together a playlist of most of The Irresponsibles’ music I could find on YouTube. There are so many addictive songs there! Some of my favorites are “Aggravator,” “Self-Sabotage,” “Character Assassination,” and “Top of the World.” Oh, and “Lobster Boy” is a hoot. I hope you’ll do some exploring of your own here:]

quality of life

The band put out one final full album in 2001, Quality of Life, and started another one, but retreat was necessary. Still, Peter couldn’t let go of music. After a couple of years, the time was right to try something new. He explained, “I was still writing songs and I thought to myself, ‘I’m just going to gather up every best musician I can find in Boston and just form somewhat of a super group,’ and that’s how The Montgomerys started.”

In his 40s at that time, this new project became more about having fun and expressing himself through his writing. “I’m always hopeful that something could happen, like getting a song in a movie, but I’m not out there trying to be Justin Bieber,” he laughed.

The first incarnation of The Montgomerys included Mike Levesque (David Bowie) on drums, Bob Melanson on bass, and Tony Savarino on guitar. They recorded two albums: Unnatural Selection around 2005, and Walkie Talkie in 2009. And then Peter took a detour. His family was falling apart, and he dove heavily into songwriting to cope. Four years later, the result was a deeply personal, heartbreakingly transparent, 16-track concept album called Baby Sunshine, released in 2017 under the name Pete Montgomery, detailing his relationship and breakup with the mother of his kids.

Like those guitar riff sessions from his younger days, it took Peter exhaustive practice until the harder life lessons finally gelled. He emerged from those dark days a little older and a little wiser. Two-thousand-eighteen found him gathering momentum again as he geared up for another Montgomerys album. Not quite subdued, but with an edge of thoughtfulness, he set off writing again, and the result would be one of my favorite albums, First World Blues, released January 1, 2020.

True to form, these new songs are dressed with self-deprecating humor and cheeky honesty. But now there seems to be a sharper intelligence behind his lyrics, a greater sense of purpose born from taking some hard knocks.

The Montgomerys’ personnel shifted a bit before getting into the studio. Mike Levesque remained on drums, and now bassist Mark Nigro, who had been with Peter in The Irresponsibles, came on board. Barry Marshall, having worked on almost all of Peter’s albums, was back in the producer’s chair.

“I’ve been with Barry since I was 12 years old. I strayed off to have Adrian produce us, and I strayed off to make one Montgomerys album without him, but you know, I feel guilty about it (laughing). My loyalty is to Barry.”

Barry brought another meaningful element to this album: his connection with Elliot Easton. And now we’re at the intersection where Peter’s story meshes with Barry’s article.

Peter was keen on the idea of inviting Elliot Easton to work on First World Blues. “Elliot was always my favorite guitar player. It’s just like everybody says: he puts a whole song in this small little part that he’s playing. He can go from one sound to another sound right in the context of one guitar solo. And he can change flavors of it, like he can go from country into heavy metal. He’s the most original guitar player I’ve ever heard, and so tasteful and colorful; there’s so much personality in those leads.”

Barry felt like FWB was a worthwhile project, and so he reached out to Elliot to make arrangements. As before, Elliot was happy to schedule in some studio time.

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Elliot Easton, June, 2019. Photo retrieved from Facebook.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of Elliot writing guitar parts as studio musician. I mean, his own style is so unique and recognizable, and as he’s expressed before in interviews, it’s HIS voice. Obviously, when someone looks to hire Elliot it’s because they want his talent and his style, but as an artist, how do you strike a balance between gaining that delicious Elliot-ness without compromising your own message?

Barry assured me that it was an easy, natural partnership. Elliot’s skill and short, punchy style stay intact, but Elliot is able to understand that it’s not about him. He is open and intuitive; he is able to catch the songwriter’s vision and communicate it through his guitar contributions. And his experience playing on so many different projects across a variety of genres gives him a huge palette to choose from.

“It’s a great experience working with him because he’s very, very quick, and he’s very, very good,” Barry said. “The great thing from a producer’s point of view… I feel like I have a feel for what he can do so that helps to make it easier, and he can read what I’m looking for, and Peter, too. I think he liked Peter’s songs, too, and he would throw out ideas [to enhance the songs].”

Peter agreed. “He has an innate ability to go, ‘Oh, I got something for that,’ and then there it is, which is amazing to me. I’m such a mediocre guitar player that I need to be a good songwriter, because after that, what do I got?” he laughed. “I have to be able to write the songs because I can’t fucking play guitar like Elliot Easton!”

So here’s how it worked. Barry and Peter sent a rough demo to Elliot before flying to LA for the first of four recording sessions. Peter remembers, “The first half of the bunch, I pre-sent him the songs and he actually charted them out. He gave me the signed charts afterwards, which was kind of a thrill, and eventually I’ll probably frame some of them. But I think it was a lot of work because the next time we went down there he said he would just come into the studio and wing it! (laughing)”

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Elliot’s handwritten charts.

Once in the studio, they tackled each song, one at a time. They’d have a little powwow to discuss the heart of the song so that Elliot could catch the vibe and vision, and they’d kick around different possible sounds or maybe a reference to another song.  And then Elliot would come back with a ‘how about this solo or that riff’ response. Sometimes Elliot would figure things out right off the top of his head, within five or ten minutes of hearing the song. On average, he could figure out the rhythm and solo parts for a song in about an hour or so, and they’d go ahead and get them recorded.

Barry explained, “One of the key things about doing this is that you certainly don’t want to micromanage it. You want to let him do what he does – that’s why we want him on the record! We’re giving a little bit of guidance, but for the most part, Elliot is coming up with [the guitar parts].”

“Generally we let him go with his amp sounds and he knows exactly what he’s doing and how to get so many different sounds, with the pedal board of course. He’s a great, great session player. He really is. He really knows what he’s doing. I mean, he’s a great player anyway, but he’s particularly a good session player.”

To illustrate the full scope of Elliot’s power, listen to “Why’d He Never Write You A Love Song.” Barry points out, “That’s an example of Elliot doing something that you might have heard him do in The Cars a little bit, but I think that’s slightly outside of his normal. It’s a little bit like he plays in ‘I’m Not The One.’ It’s very mellow but it’s so beautiful. To me, that almost makes the song, you know what I mean?”

Barry and Peter flew from Boston to Los Angeles three times and recorded a total of fourteen songs over four sessions (including some tracks for Barry’s forthcoming album with The Marshalls). The studio itself had beautiful grounds, and even a pool, but this wasn’t a holiday get-away. Everyone was there to work.

For Barry and Elliot, there was some reminiscing about the old days and some joking around; a keyword in a conversation might trigger a memory. They might stop for a quick coffee break by the pool and stretch their legs, but as professionals, both men were aware of the clock. Barry said, “He would take cigarette breaks of course, but he would work pretty straight, definitely.”

Peter remembered, “After about five or six hours he’d get tired, and he’d kind of want to wrap it up, which was understandable, because it must be kind of exhausting to just come up with that stuff. I mean, even him, he can’t just lay it down and it’s perfect. He’s got to get it perfect, so there’s quite a few takes over the song, which I appreciated.”

“I smoked a little bit with him just so I could smoke with a rock star. And then I was really careful not to piss him off once we got back inside because I can piss people off pretty easy, because I’m too much for people, and I think, untethered, I would be too much for him,” Peter laughed. “I’m like that cartoon of that little dog who wants to be friends with the big dog: ‘C’mon Ralph, hey Ralph, let’s go, Ralph! Hey Ralph!’ I wanna make some famous guy my best friend.”

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Peter, Barry, and Elliot in the studio. Photo courtesy of Barry Marshall; shared with permission.

It doesn’t escape Peter that his behavior with Elliot in 2019 is the polar opposite of how he treated Ben in 1995. He explained, “I believe that what I did to Ben was me trying to control that impulse and really, it was idol worship in a way. I love The Cars and I idolize that guy [Ben] and so I was trying to control that.”

He continued about Elliot, “While he’s trying to concentrate you definitely don’t want to have too much chatter or conversation, because he’ll get a little snappy, but if he does get snappy? It’s funny. He’s very witty, a very witty person, which I kind of like. And he’s very nice, too. You can tell he’s got a big heart. You know what? Someone would have to have a big heart to be able to play parts like he plays because that comes from somewhere.”

The results of this studio time are terrific. First World Blues is fast-moving pop-rock album, with a couple of whimsical ballads mixed in to keep it on the rails. The lyrics are sassy and straightforward, the messages go deeper than you’d expect, and Elliot’s guitar elements are perfectly suited for each of the ten tracks he plays on. Check out my write-up at Read~Rock~Review for my full two cents.

Where do we go from here?

  • You can order your copy of First World Blues directly from Barry Marshall by sending him an email at barry_marshall@emerson.edu. Also, be sure to join Peter’s Facebook group!
  • And guess what? Barry’s own album, The Marshall Plan, is slated to come out this fall, including those additional tracks he recorded with Elliot in LA! Hit him up with a friend request on Facebook to keep tabs on his musical projects.
  • Go deeper with The Montgomerys and all of Peter’s music by subscribing to his new YouTube channel!
  • As for the blog… stay tuned, we ain’t done yet! I’ve got few more bits of yarn to unravel from these Boston ties. A Boston Boys Part 3 is in the works, as well as a couple of little fun side trips. Exciting stuff ahead!

[All photos courtesy of Peter Montgomery, unless otherwise noted, and shared with permission. Thank you to everyone who contributed!]