One of the most exciting articles I’ve written for my blog is the piece I did with Leo Yorkell, published on February 14, 2019. I remember my curiosity when he first contacted me through Twitter, and how fun it was to talk with him on the phone. He was so genuine and funny, and his love for Ben was unmistakable. I was thrilled with his insights into Ben’s life in the mid-90s and how he fit the puzzle pieces together of Ben’s softball-playing adventures. Then he really blew me away when he started digging around and unearthed old photos, videos, and newspaper clippings (like the one below) that had long been packed away, and generously shared them!
One of the treasures Leo had found was the video footage he shot of Ben playing in Cleveland Circle, Boston, in the summer of 1997. As part of this month’s #CelebratingBenjaminOrr tributes, we’ve uploaded Ben’s full 6-song set, uncut, including the previously unreleased performance of “Stay The Night.”
This short show is one hit after another, and is sprinkled liberally with Ben’s winning smiles. Beyond that, here are half a dozen other notable nuggets:
0:16 Ben cuts it close when mounting the stage and gets to the mic just in time for his first line, but remains unruffled even as his guitar strap refuses to cooperate.
1:45 The ORR band’s cool arrangement of “Let’s Go” has Rich Bartlett and John Kalishes trading guitar licks while Ben looks on.
The run of Ben’s facial expressions between 5:20 and 5:30 is priceless.
What a treat to catch glimpses of Edita and young Ben in the audience, and to see how even from the stage Ben adores his son. We can also see the late Dave Tedeschi at both the beginning and end of the show.
12:24 Ben acknowledges someone else in the crowd. Does he say Vinny? Maybe Vin Kalishes is there? Is it the same person Brad smiles at at 10:18 and Ben at 10:30?
At 15:20 Ben flubs the lyrics, and then tucks his arm behind his back, causing Tom to laugh. How much you wanna bet he was flipping the bird?
What else stands out to you?
Enjoy the video, and please comment below to join me in giving a grateful shout out to Leo for his role in keeping Ben’s legacy alive! ❤
So we know the story about Roy Thomas Baker driving out to see The Cars play in a snowstorm at the end of 1977, and everyone shaking hands on going to England with him to produce the first album. Well, that wasn’t the first time The Great Snowflake proved fortuitous for the band. Mother Nature gave our boys a little gift at the beginning of that year when they were just starting out.
In March of 1977, Bob Seger was riding high on the huge success of his recently released breakthrough album, Night Moves. Though it was his ninth studio album, it was the first one to catapult him into nationwide success and his first to go platinum. He had booked a show at the Music Hall in Boston for Friday, March 18, with Derringer as his opening act. [Nerd alert: Seger had not headlined in Boston before. Another first for him!]
Friday arrived and Derringer opened the show as planned, but Bob got stuck. Heavy snowfall prevented his plane from landing and he was forced to fly back to New York. Apparently Derringer had finished their set before the postponement announcement came, and, amazingly, they played another rockin’ set before the fans were sent home.
The concert was rescheduled for Monday, March 21, but Derringer was not able to play that date for some reason. I didn’t do deep research on the ‘why’ behind that because what matters is that the opener slot was left vacant. Even up to the day of the show, the replacement act had not been announced: the newspaper ad stated, “It is expected that a local band will open tonight.”
The Cars were still fairly new at that time — in terms of the combination of members, anyway. Greg had joined the band sometime in January as the fifth and final Car part (groan!), and their first live show all together was at The Rat on February 7. In Joe Milliken’s book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, we learned that band manager Fred Lewis convinced music promoter Don Law to let The Cars slip onto the bill for that Seger show, though they only had a handful of gigs in the bag.
Obviously, this was a terrific stroke of luck for The Cars. Not only did it give them a chance to reach a greater audience, but it also put them on the radar of the bigger wigs in the music industry. Yay for snowstorms!
So let’s get to the actual recording. I wish it was video footage! Still, I am so grateful for this auditory treat. The person who captured the concert on tape showed up just a bit late, so we miss a smidge of the first song. The Cars’ set lasted just under 30 minutes, and included:
“Bye Bye Love” with Ric on vocals.
“I Don’t Want To,” sung by Elliot.
“Leave or Stay”
“You Can Have ‘Em,” also known as “Sleepy Wasted Afternoon.” [Sweet Ben jumping the starting gun! ❤ ]
“Don’t Cha Stop” (called “Don’t You Stop”), with a Greg synth riff in place of EE’s later solo and some slippery vocal timing on the chorus.
“Come Back Down”
I couldn’t find a written review of The Cars’ performance (I guess Bob Seger was terrific!), but the crowd sounds appreciative of the band in the audio file. I also don’t know the number of people actually in the audience, but I think the seating capacity of the Music Hall was around 3,500, which was quite a bit more than The Rat held. Haha!
A few notes:
It’s cool — and a little strange! — to experience these early incarnations of “Bye Bye Love” and “Don’t Cha Stop.”
We definitely hear a little more addressing of the crowd than Ric usually participated in during a live show.
I love the little bits of banter that Ben sneaks in, like when he mentions the ‘strange people up there in the balcony’ around 12:25.
And is that Greg that says, “Good Lord! Look at that!” right before Ben’s comment?
And speaking of Greg, listen for his badass saxophone work!
Also, don’t miss Ben’s introduction to “Come Back Down” at about 16:12.
Oh, and about “I Don’t Want To”… I think this is an original Cars’ song because of the way Ric introduced it, even though I’ve never heard of it referred to anywhere else in The Cars’ discography. I wonder who wrote it? Probably Ric, I know, but it seems like something Elliot could have penned. I’ll have to do a lyrics post for it, too, because this song is hilarious. And does anyone else feel their heart rate spike when Ben sings, “bay-be bay-be bay-be, bay-bay!” or is it just me? I think that’s my favorite part of the whole show.
Okay, your turn! Click below to listen to one of the earliest published recordings of The Cars. Enjoy!
Back in February I was poking around on Facebook and I stumbled across this hidden gem that Boston musician (and Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music) Lisa Guyer posted back in 2014:
What the heck? Here was an event Ben was involved in that I had never heard of before, and with another of my favorite Boston rockers, Charlie Farren! Lisa’s post gave me some obvious clues to the story behind the photo and I was eager to start digging.
Initially, there wasn’t much to find. At the end of the day my little file consisted of the Facebook screen shot above, one newspaper clipping, and a newfound familiarity with the Hatch Memorial Shell and the song “Dirty Water” by The Standells.
Though I couldn’t find an exact listing for it on the Guinness Book of World Records website, apparently there is a category for most guitarists (or musicians?) playing one song for the longest period of time. In 1994, 1,322 guitarists jammed with Randy Bachman to “Taking Care of Business” for 68 minutes and 40 seconds, and I think that was the record… But then it gets kind of confusing, because there seems to be some crossover between setting a record for the largest guitar ensemble playing one song, and the largest guitar ensemble playing one song for the longest time, and I just can’t figure it all out right now so… let’s just settle on knowing that in 1997, hundreds of guitar players and musicians in Boston gathered in attempt to break a Guinness world record by playing “Dirty Water” by The Standells for a really long time.
That song, by the way, is a beloved Boston anthem. The tune has been cranked for cheering crowds after home victories by the Bruins and the Red Sox since about 1995. Written by Standells producer Ed Cobb and released in 1965, the lyrics draw attention to some of the less savory elements of Boston history and what used to be the disgustingly polluted Charles River, and yet the singer declares, “I love that dirty water. Boston, you’re my home!” The simplicity of its garage rock beat and catchy riff seal the deal as a natural song choice for tackling this world record (whatever exactly it may be).
And the venue… Officially titled the Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell, Bostontonians have been enjoying a variety of free outdoor concerts, movies, and public events at the Hatch Shell for over 90 years. Its unique structure is located on the Charles River Esplanade and is surrounded by a large and inviting lawn. The Shell’s spacious wooden interior, which is famous for regularly accommodating the Boston Pops Orchestra, provides plenty of room for multiple guitarists, drummers, and keyboard players to spread out. Isn’t it gorgeous?
After gleaning these tidbits, I had to table the topic. But a most happy circumstance has brought it back to the forefront! Jonathan R. discovered and generously shared a very recent YouTube upload of some live footage from this event ~ including Benjamin!
There are actually five video clips all together. I’ve created a playlist of the segments in chronological order.
The video clips armed me with new keywords to search and angles to pursue, and I was able to find a couple more articles from The Boston Globe. Here are some additional factoids I picked up:
The event was the brainchild of Promotions/Artist Relations Director Candi Bramante (now Bettencourt). Candi’s family owned Daddy’s Junky Music, and this gathering was, in part, a way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that beloved New England guitar and audio equipment chain. She’s also the one that uploaded the footage to Youtube. I’m SO grateful she did!
The original vision for the record-breaking attempt was hammered out and refined at the Hard Rock Cafe in March of 1997 with input from Charlie Farren, Johnny A (Peter Wolf) and Brandan Sweeney (Notary Public), among others. Those who met together were hoping for around 3,000 guitarists to join the cause.
The entry fee to register as a player was only $5. Part of the proceeds from the event were donated to charity, including contributions to the House of Blues Foundation and the Bob Woolf Charitable Foundation.
Lisa Guyer and Mama Kicks performed as the ‘house band’ and backed the other musicians for the entire show. Wowza! No wonder she said in her Facebook post that the song now makes her cringe a little!
Many other Boston legends are seen in the footage, like Rich Bartlett, Tom Hambridge, Hirsh Gardner, John Muzzy, and Phil Bynoe. I can’t make out some of the names that the announcer says in the videos so if you recognize any other artists, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.
Other musicians slated to play (but I’m not positive that they did) were Barry Goudreau, John Cafferty, Gary Gramolini (of the Beaver Brown Band), Jon Butcher, Johnny A, Stu Hamm (Joe Satriani), and David Minehan (The Neighborhoods). You can see the highlighted guests on the back of the event t-shirt to the right. I wonder if any of the coordinators kept their final list of all the participants?
The whole swarm ended up playing “Dirty Water” continuously for one hour and 29 minutes, which reportedly set a record for the longest time a band (the rockers on stage) played one song for an audience. Unfortunately, the gig only ended up with about 1,200 registered guitarists, which was 400 short of setting the Guinness record they were actually targeting. It certainly wasn’t a bust, though: amateurs, professionals, and spectators alike all had a great time, coming together as a Boston rock-and-roll family. ❤
You know, there were at least a half a dozen photographers crawling on and around that stage. What a treasure it would be if they would dig out their booty and share photos of the show with us! Pretty please?
And while we’re at it, I would love it if Candi Bettencourt would upload the entire uncut footage. Even if it’s not the best camera work, fans would rejoice in being able to experience this bit of Boston history with so many incredible musicians.
There are a couple of cool photographic dots we can connect here, by the way.
First, this is the same event our friend AJ Wachtel told us about; it was the last time he remembers getting to hang out with Ben. This photo on the right is from that day — click here to read the full article.
Also, Mazarkis S. pointed out that this event is also the likely location of another classic Ben photo. It’s kind of tricky, because Ben wore his ABATE shirt a couple of times (I’m thinking particularly of Ben with Tom Hambridge at the Snowfest in Two Rivers, Wisconsin), but based on the color of the lanyard and access pass, I believe Mazarkis is right.
That’s about all I could come up with. I’ll post the newspaper articles in an album on Facebook. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that maybe others will chime in with their memories, photos, or videos of that day. I remain optimistic that more bits o’ Benjamin history will surface; surely there is more to discover!
Whenever I am researching something specific like this, I end up going down sooooo many little rabbit holes, which is frustrating because it then takes forever for me to finish an article, but it’s also cool because I tend to discover some pretty interesting stuff. Here are a couple of the ‘bonus features’ I found when I was working on this article.
This hilarious 2020 commercial features a snippet of “Dirty Water.”
The Standells were central characters in an episode of The Munsters!
Last one: Created from a block of silicon, and based on the Fender Stratocaster, the world’s smallest guitar is about the size of a single human blood cell and has strings that can be plucked. Seriously! Basic nerd link: click here. Super-science-nerd link: click here.
Okay, enough of that. I’ll leave you with this bit of grand delight. Enjoy!
About half way through their Heartbeat City tour, The Cars stopped in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and played at the CNE Grandstand (formally known as the Canadian National Exhibit Stadium). Though the band wasn’t in town for long, a couple of cool things took place at that August 8, 1984, show.
Before I get to those unique happenings, let me get a little bit of business out of the way. I don’t have a ton of background on the concert itself, simply because I just haven’t had time to do in-depth research, but I do believe that this was the second time the band performed at the CNE, having stopped there during the Panorama tour. They weren’t strangers to Toronto, though; the also played at the El Mocambo for the debut album, and at the Maple Leaf Gardens in support of Candy-O. And I know that the Canadian press wasn’t super impressed with this particular show, but then, they never really seemed to be in The Cars’ corner over the years (with the exception of writer Peter Goddard).
Wang Chung was the opening band, and then our band took the stage. I’m not positive that this is the actual set list played that night, but here is what The Cars worked through on August 6 and August 10 (both the same), so it’s gotta be close.
It’s Not the Night
Touch and Go
Looking for Love
Gimme Some Slack
Jimmy Jimmy (Ric Ocasek song)
Just What I Needed
A Dream Away
You Might Think
My Best Friend’s Girl
Encore: Heartbeat City
Encore: You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
And while though those two paragraphs above are a bit light on details, I DO have an excellent eyewitness account of the concert to share. Fellow Cars fan Doug Parsons was just 16 years old when he stumbled into the chance to see The Cars live. Rather than try to retell his experience in my own words, I’ll let you read his take on how The Cars rocked his world:
I was born and raised in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The Cars never played in Atlantic Canada when they toured, which was very frustrating to me, as they were my favourite band. It was only through a rather strange sequence of events that I got to see them in Toronto in the summer of 1984.
Earlier that year, I made a new friend and I spent a lot of time with him that spring. We really were an “odd couple” … we basically had nothing in common except that our older brothers knew each other. He lived with his father in Dartmouth, but his mother lived in Toronto. Sometime in June, he mentioned to me that he was going to visit his mother in the summer for three weeks and asked if I would like to go along. Having never been to Toronto, I was obviously excited to go. I didn’t expect that my parents would let me go, but they did, so I ended up going with him.
He had a girlfriend there, and I REALLY liked his girlfriend’s best friend (sounds almost like a Cars song, doesn’t it?). So one night we were over at his girlfriend’s house, and while I was unsuccessfully trying to chat up her friend, I heard over the radio that was on in the room that The Cars were going to be playing at the CNE Grandstand … and it was WHILE we were in Toronto! Needless to say, I immediately starting bugging my friend to go to the concert with me, which he unenthusiastically agreed to do.
So fast forward to the night of the concert. We got on the bus to the CNE, and after about 20 minutes my friend says, “I think we are going the wrong way.” So he asked the bus driver, and indeed we were going the wrong way. Fortunately, we made it to the CNE while Wang Chung were still on stage. I heard them play “Dance Hall Days” and they sounded great, but I was really only interested in seeing The Cars perform.
So, after what seemed like a LONG intermission … the lights went down, and the crowd started to roar … and then I heard “Hello…hello again!” And I was up on my feet and I didn’t sit down until the lights went back up. I had seen a few concerts in Dartmouth, but nothing of this magnitude. The stage layout was so futuristic with all of the TV screens playing exotic-looking videos. And song after song that I had played on my record player so many times … “Let’s Go” … “Cruiser” … “Just What I Needed” … and on and on. But the two songs that REALLY blew me away were “Good Times Roll” and “It’s Not the Night.” I was not expecting “Good Times Roll” to have such a cranked-up guitar sound, and as much as I liked the album version, I LOVED the live rendition. “It’s Not the Night” was just plain amazing, with all of the layered synthesizers and Ben’s incredible vocals. It really gave me chills.
This was my first outdoor concert, and the beautiful weather and the excellent acoustics of the CNE made it a truly sublime experience. To this day, it remains my all-time favourite concert.
And my friend? TOTALLY indifferent. Sat for the entire concert and said afterward that he found it boring. Like I said, we really were an odd couple. After we got home, we basically stopped talking to each other, which was probably for the best, as he started to associate with some rather unsavoury characters.
And my best friend’s girlfriend’s friend? Turned out that she liked my best friend’s little brother. Just like in a Cars song.
Oh man, I can just feel his heart start to race when he heard those opening lyrics, can’t you? I love that he shared his memories with us! And from his account we can determine that the set list that night did vary a bit. Good to know!
Okay… so the first cool thing. According to one review (from The Toronto Star, August 9, 1984, pictured below), there were only about 8,000 people in attendance. Interestingly, one of those people was none other than the actor, Rob Lowe!
Now, you all know who Rob Lowe is, right? Having made his acting debut at the age of fifteen in a short-lived sitcom in 1979, Rob burst into the 80s movie scene in the coming-of-age classic, The Outsiders. From there it was silver-screen sailing, as he starred in one Brat Pack classic after another, establishing himself as a teen idol and relentless heartthrob. A sex tape scandal in 1988 knocked his reputation for a loop for a bit, but he continued to work steadily, and in the 2000s, he reclaimed his status as an acting force to be reckoned with (and still just as handsome as ever!) on the set of The West Wing and beyond.
Well, rumor has it that Rob was a big fan of The Cars during his high school days. He’s alluded to it himself on Twitter, and actress Melissa Gilbert (among others) has reminisced about driving around and listening to The Cars with Rob. Coincidentally, The Cars used a little snippet of Rob’s appearance on Andy Warhol’s TV in their mini-documentary about the making of the video for “Hello Again.” Check it here at 1:50. Anyway, in 1984 Rob was in Toronto filming Youngblood with co-stars Patrick Swayze and Cynthia Gibb. On the night of the Cars’s show at the CNE Grandstand, photographers spotted him in the crowd enjoying himself. Awesome! I wonder if he got to visit backstage and meet the band?
From The Toronto Star, 1984
From The Toronto Star, 1984
Oh, and if you needed to see that photo of Ben from the article a little clearer… here it is. It’s very similar to the one by Philip Kamin in the Peter Goddard book; the one that Kurt Gaber uses for the memorial shirts. What a stunner!
Now the second cool thing.
While The Cars were in the Toronto area, they were presented with an award for selling over 200,000 units of Heartbeat City — also known as ‘going double platinum’. A little blurb about it was printed in RPM Weekly on September 22, 1984, with a bit of a grainy photo. Luckily Louise Potts posted a clearer version of the picture on Facebook.
Isn’t that great? I love when these little puzzle pieces fit together, and what a treat to get a glimpse of the other commitments that filled the band’s time while they were on the road. The obsession continues!
(Oh, and here’s an extra little factoid: Greg’s double platinum award sold at auction in March of 2019 for $400. Wowza!)
Two thousand nineteen marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of the last band Ben ever played in: Big People!
Joe Milliken’s book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, is an amazing resource for background on this band (and Ben’s whole life, obviously!), with a whole chapter devoted to how the group came together, including quotes from all the major players. I’ll just give a brief summary here:
Originally the brainchild of drummer Michael Cartellone (Damn Yankees, Lynyrd Skynyrd), Big People was a supergroup consisting of guitarist Jeff Carlisi (38 Special), guitarist and keyboard player Pat Travers (Pat Travers Band), and vocalist and rhythm guitarist Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent). The initial purpose was to play a few weekend club sets and enjoying jamming together, but others in the business suggested they push forward as a full-time band.
Ben was approached to join the group as the bass player in March of 1999. Cartellone ended up being hired to play drums for Lynyrd Skynyrd before Big People could really get off the ground, but fortunately Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel) was at the tail-end of his commitment to Billy Joel and he was free to join this exciting new endeavor.
Big People pulled together a setlist that was packed with hits, as each member brought the best of their rock-and-roll resume to the stage. Under the encouragement and wisdom of manager Charlie Brusco (and later Billy Johnson) and tour manager Joe Dlearo, the band began rehearsals in April, 1999, and the guys knew they had stumbled on something great. In Let’s Go! Pat Travers said, “At the rehearsal studio for our first play together, I suggested playing ‘Just What I Needed,’ and when Derek, Ben and I sang together for the first time, wow! What a blend. Our three voices, with myself on the bottom, Derek on top and Ben singing the lead, had this amazing sound to me that was tight and sweet.” (p.180)
As the guys played together over the next few months, their harmony continued to build, both in rock-and-roll badassery as well as in friendship. They were picking up more and more gigs, and the audiences loved them. Eventually they landed a tour with Styx, which gained the band even more exposure. They were really clicking along and had plans to write original material together.
It was also during this time that Ben met Julie Snider, the woman to whom he would soon become engaged, and who would tenderly and tirelessly care for Ben until the end of his life. Footage and photos of Ben during this time show him to be relaxed, happy, and looking much more youthful than he did in the mid-90s.
There are SO many great quotes in Joe’s book about all of this, and I’ll feature some of them in future “In other words:” posts, but you’ve just got to read the book to get a true feel for the promise and excitement that everyone was feeling about Big People’s potential.
I recently had the honor of connecting with both Liberty DeVitto and Jeff Carlisi and asking them about their time with Big People. They each have such fond memories of those idyllic days, and find it hard to believe that twenty years have gone by since they were all rockin’ together.
And while I don’t want this article to be a downer, we can’t ignore the fact that it sucks so much that it all had to end. Ben really was the hinge that held it all together, and when he passed away in October of 2000 the band’s momentum fell flat. Their manager prompted the guys to hire a new bass player and get back in the game after Ben died, but their hearts just weren’t in it anymore. Jeff told me, “We didn’t have any interest in keeping it going once Ben was gone.” Liberty echoed that sentiment when he said, “When we lost Ben we lost a rockstar. There was no sense in going on. We love Ben. He was a great guy and a great singer and player.”
Big People’s first official show was on July 24, 1999, up in New Brunswick, Canada, at a place known at the time as Shediac Can-Am Speedway (now called the Shediac Centre for Speed). The three-day weekend event, called Rockfest ’99, featured acts like Nazareth, Collective Soul, ZZ Top, Styx, and April Wine.
The guys were excited on their flight to Canada, eager to make their public debut. The show itself went well. Like all bands playing out for the first time, there were rough edges to smooth out, but Jeff felt really good about the music and about the natural chemistry between the guys. “I remember calling my wife after the show and saying, ‘It’s like I’ve always been in this band all my life.'”
Their second playout followed in August of that year, at a festival called Itchycoo Park ’99: The Camping Experience. This is the show I really want to focus on here, since it’s one we can actually watch.
Held in the middle of a big farm field in Manchester, Tennessee, Itchycoo was kind of an unusual event in its day in that it combined a music festival with camping. It was a bit of a throwback to Woodstock in that way, and is considered an early (if unsuccessful) forerunner to long-established camping concert events like Bonnaroo (which is held on the same site), Sonic Bloom, and Coachella.
Looking at the extensive list of bands on the bill, this event should have been an absolute smash (at least in my opinion!). It featured some of the most iconic names in music history, including Sammy Hagar, Joan Jett, Paul Rodgers, Styx, Ann and Nancy Wilson… so many legends! Check out the posters below; you won’t believe it. And the whole weekend — all four days — for only $80. Holy cow!!
Early ad, from the Itchycoo Park Facebook page
Schedule, from the 45worlds.com
Event guide, from the Itchycoo Park Facebook page
As you can see, early advertisements of the original lineup don’t list Big People, but later they were added to the roster to perform on Thursday, August 12, at 4:00, sandwiched between Rick Springfield and Mark Farner. Jeff believes they actually played Friday, probably between Paul Rodgers of Bad Company and preceding John Entwistle of The Who, and the event guide (above right) supports that schedule. Of course, the actual slot doesn’t matter; Big People was going to take the stage!
As it would turn out, the event organizers were in for a pretty crushing blow. Expecting to draw at least 60,000 people (but hoping for 80,000), the event actually only sold around 20,000 tickets. On top of that, the Tennessean reported a few other stink bombs:
a few of the acts were no-shows, including Ann and Nancy, who were slated as the grand finale
the agency providing security for the event departed in mid-afternoon on Sunday, causing the officials to recruit spectators as security guards for the remainder of the festival
promised electrical hookups for RVs weren’t provided
vendors complained bitterly about the lack of communication, poor overall organization, and puny profits.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the Itchycoo Park festival did not return the next year. Interestingly, only three years later the Bonnaroo festival would sell out their event on the same site, and that event has continued to be a roaring success for nearly twenty years.
As for the Big People experience? Luckily for us, we can witness it ourselves, even 20 years later.
The band launches into “Just What the Doctor Ordered” with guns blazing. Liberty’s explosive drumming and Derek’s vigorous vocals let you know that in spite of the smaller-than-anticipated turnout, these guys are here to kick ass. And they do! Every one of them are masters of their craft, seasoned professionals with the hearts of grown-up kids looking to jam with their buddies. So much freaking talent on that stage!
Derek acts as the main frontman for the group, playing to the crowd and ushering each song into the next. He is a natural showman, animated at times, clearly thrilled to interact with the audience. We can excuse him for fumbling around the lyrics a bit because his voice is an indomitable siren call to rock.
I’m addicted to watching Liberty play. Always a splashy drummer, his movements are exuberant and fluid, his sticks clearly an extension of his arms. I simply canNOT sit still when he’s going at it.
Jeff Carlisi roams the stage unruffled. At times he stands facing the crowd with all the aloof confidence of young Caesar, at other moments he is grinning like a kid at his first rock concert. When it’s his turn in the spotlight he steps up to the edge of the stage and blazes through his solos with restraint, like it’s just a walk in the park.
Pat Travers definitely brings the most ‘hard rock’ attitude to the stage, wowing the crowd with his passionate guitar playing. His performance of “I La La La Love You” is captivating. I love it, too, how he covers the keyboard parts for “Let’s Go” by handling most of it on his guitar and later switching to the synthesizer.
And then there’s Ben. He smiles throughout the show, looking much more lit up and youthful than he has in so long (compare this to his performance at Viele’s Plant just a year before). His vocals are strong and sexy. And the camera clearly loves Ben. There are many slow pans, capturing his content, cat-that-ate-the cream looks. Later, when he removes his sunglasses, we can see he is clear-eyed and happy. Serene. At peace. It’s so great to see him connecting with crowd, and joking around with his bandmates.
The stifling heat threatens to make things difficult. Big fans are set up around the stage, but it’s clear the guys are affected. Derek mentions it a couple of times, Liberty is pouring water over his own head, and the guys are mopping their faces between songs. At one point Pat stores his guitar pick on his cheek, apparently adhering it there with his sweat (ew! lol). But there’s Ben, looking as cool as a cucumber in his heavy leather jacket and shades. Electric angel rock-and-roller all the way, baby!
Big People’s happy, confident chemistry is palpable. Derek’s hyper-puppy energy offsets the cool demeanor of Pat and Jeff as they volley through their lead guitar solos like it’s the US Open. Liberty’s energy is both controlled and contagious, while Ben is, as always, unassuming and quietly badass. They are on a big stage but they make it feel more intimate by the way they interact, trading smiles, jokes and rock-and-roll flirts with each other through the set. All five connecting, all five communicating with each other.
It’s obvious these guys love each other so much, and that is something that both Liberty and Jeff emphasized to me. Jeff said, “In those two years or so, the six of us [including Julie] traveling on the road… we lived so much life together. That’s the best part about that whole thing: those relationships. They changed my life.”
Jeff has given me the go-ahead to start a Facebook group for Big People. Please come join! It will mainly serve as a centralized collection site for all information and memorabilia I can round up about the group, as well as biographical tidbits and current happenings of the various members. Jeff indicated that as he came across stuff in his own files he’d send it to me to share, and I am hopeful that others will contribute as well. And of course, I welcome all fans to chime in with their thoughts, memories, and photos, too.
I’m hoping to write lots more about Big People in the future. In the meantime, please click below to enjoy the one concert we currently have access to, live at Itchycoo Park!
“There are decent people, even in rock and roll. If all you’ve been exposed to are the crazy ones, and then you run into a cool one, it sticks in your head.”
For John Ward Hickernell, Benjamin Orr was one of the cool ones.
John recently posted some eye-catching photos on Facebook of Ben at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. No surprise that they grabbed my attention, since I’d never seen them before, but John’s explanation of the pics had me even more curious: it turns out he had happened upon the small group behind the scenes while The Cars were waiting to take the stage of a major concert. Wow, that seems pretty lucky, huh?
Would John mind sharing more details of his memories with us? Not at all! He assured me, “It was a pretty cool day, and time has passed, and people are passing, too, and just seems kind of cool to get the photos out there, and the story, and the pin, and the whole nine yards. I don’t feel like I own them; I just happened to catch the moment.”
Don’t you just love the kindness of people? Thank you so much, John ~ let’s dig in!
It turns out that The Cars were in Cleveland to play at the World Series of Rock (WSoR). The concert was originally scheduled to take place on August 5, 1978, with Fleetwood Mac headlining, joined by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Blue Öyster Cult, and The Cars. Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham fell ill but rather than cancel, the August 5 show was rescheduled for August 26. Unfortunately, that bumped Seger and BÖC from the bill; they were replaced with Eddie Money and Bob Welch.
The Cars had been touring behind their debut album since June with almost no break. They had played a sold-out concert at Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom on July 18, which would have definitely been a homecoming show for Ben, and in fact, you can hear him acknowledge it on stage at the end of “Bye Bye Love.” Their performance, which was broadcast live on local station WMMS (and released on vinyl in 2018 as The Cars’ first official ‘live’ album), was packed with precision, perfection, and an abundance of attitude, proving to yet another eager audience that The Cars were a force to be reckoned with.
Still, with only “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” on the radio to recommend them, The Cars were generally considered ‘new’ and had much to prove. Playing the WSoR with its crowd of more than 70,000 fans was a considerable step up from the 2,000 at the Agora, and was likely the largest audience the band had played in front of to date. I imagine they were nervous, excited, and probably still a little stunned at how well the debut album was being received around the country.
It’s worth noting that the order of the WSoR lineup that day was determined by the traveling schedules of the acts. Eddie Money kicked off the show, followed by Todd Rundgren; they both had flights to catch so they went on early. The Cars played their set next, then Bob Welch, who was arriving from St. Louis, played fourth. Of course, the fiery finale featured Fleetwood Mac. A review of the concert from Cleveland Scene writer Dave Voelker pointed out the unique position The Cars were in.
“The Cars were left with the unenviable task of following Rundgren’s ecstatic set — a position they wouldn’t have had if Todd & Co. didn’t have to play in Chicago later that same day,” he wrote. “They’re still a little unseasoned, but I’m confident that many in the audience now know there’s a lot more to the Cars than their main claim to fame, ‘Just What I Needed.’ Particularly, the raw power of ‘Don’t Cha Stop’ and ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’ seemed formidable and impressive, marking this sharp new band as an attention-worthy contender.”
Jane Scott from The Plain Dealer noticed, too. In her August 28 review she wrote, “The Cars, an up-and-coming Boston band, had fans dancing across the field with its ‘Just What I Needed’ and ‘Best Friend’s Girl.’” Clearly, our boys could handle playing for such a huge crowd.
Without going too deep into the WSoR’s colorful history, let me give you a quick overview of this popular but short-lived concert series. From 1974 to 1980, legendary Cleveland concert promoters, brothers Jules and Mike Belkin, worked diligently (if gingerly) with officials from the Cleveland Municipal Stadium to host a run of summer concerts featuring the hottest rock bands of the day. Each event included multiple acts on the bill, and fans packed the playing field and bleachers of the open-air venue for hours, partying to icons like The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, and Aerosmith.
And when I say ‘partying’ I DO mean partying. The festivals quickly gained a reputation for being rowdy and dangerous, riddled with drugs, alcohol, and varying levels of stupidity and crime. And this show was no different. Though The Plain Dealer reported that the crowd of 73,000 was considered one of the best-behaved audiences in recent attendance, the police still had their hands full. Several violent incidents occurred before, during, and after the show, including multiple stabbings, robberies, and an accident in which a man fell from the upper deck during the concert while swinging from the rafters and was transported to the hospital in critical condition.
But none of that was on the radar of twenty-one year old John Ward Hickernell, a self-described “musician-artist-hippie-type kid who would to go any extreme to make art.” As a multi-instrumentalist himself, John was chasing the rock-and-roll dream (most notably playing guitar for The Estes Brothers). His focus wasn’t the fame and the glory, but experiencing the creative ecstasy of it all, and he pursued art in any and every form. Is it any wonder, then, that Todd Rundgren was his role model?
He explains, “Todd’s always been my creative inspirational individual. I’ve always been awed at what it must be like to possess that kind of creativity, like ‘what am I going to do today? Because I can do just about anything and if I don’t know how to do it, I’m going to learn how.’”
John’s mission, in addition to capturing the day on film, was to try to make a connection with Todd, and here’s where his personal story begins. I had the privilege of chatting with John and listening as he related his experience behind the scenes at the World Series of Rock.
John began, “Back in those days concert security was much different than today. Maybe one guy to watch over a massive area of space, and that guy was more than likely a hippie, too. I’m sure that I looked the part with my vest with many pockets of film and my shoulder bag and camera, out on safari shooting pictures. So with a few words to the one lone security guy he let me pass right on through and into a closed-off section of Cleveland Municipal Stadium.”
The day was oppressively hot, made more intense by the sun beating down and the mash of the crowd. The stadium was bursting with happy-go-lucky music fans and John documented the sight, snapping pictures as he worked his way along the near-empty concrete walkways enclosing the open-air venue. Coming to the end of one of the first-level ramps he noticed a small handful of people milling around. As he drew nearer he was able to identify Ben Orr, Ric Ocasek, and Todd Rundgren in the group.
John’s dream was about to come true; his hero, Todd, was within a few concrete feet of a handshake! But can you believe it? “[Todd] was hanging around and I ran out of film,” John groaned. “As I loaded a fresh roll I looked for him and he was gone, heading to the stage with Utopia. So I ended up with one ‘lone shot.’”
A disappointing turn, for sure, but not all was lost. John dug The Cars, too. He remembered Ben as a local kid from his days on The Gene Carroll Show, and was happy to see him now in this more personal setting. John could see that Ben had a special guest with him – his mother – and John was leery of interrupting the band’s privacy, but it ended up being a very relaxed scene.
John recalled, “Ben was very nice. At first I thought he may have been a bit pissed that I was shooting pics and invading a moment. I do have one picture I came across and he was with his mom, and he’s adjusting his glasses… he’s doing a ‘middle finger glasses adjustment.’ At the time, me being a little bit naïve, I kinda thought okay, maybe he’s not quite happy with me taking pictures. Of course, now I know that that’s kind of an inside thing in the music business: if someone’s got an attitude with you they’ll adjust their glasses with their middle finger.
“But after exchanging a few niceties with Ben that tone faded; he was cool and he smiled more, and he didn’t give me the finger anymore.” John laughed.
Still, John hung back, but he could see how attentive Ben was to his mom. John respectfully observed the way “Ben was close to her the whole time, pointing things out, like out in the crowd and the bleachers, and stuff like reminiscing about being in the stadium for other events, ball games ….that’s what I gathered. And the physical resemblance they had was very obvious. She seemed a bit taken back. She smiled a lot but didn’t say anything to me.”
Though the encounter was just a moment in time, it struck a chord deep down in John that has resonated over the years. As I listened to John share, I was really moved by his heartfelt reflections. “Being a Cleveland boy myself, I can remember going to Indians games there as a child; I’m sure he and his family did as well, so you know it could’ve just as easily been me. And [The Cars] were on the edge of being a huge success. So I totally had a tie to that whole feeling, or imagining how he must’ve felt, for sure. You know, the ‘local boy does good’ sort of thing. We ALL dreamed of that! There it all was right in front of me. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. Made it all the more heartbreaking when he passed.”
John quietly focused on taking photos, storing up tangible snapshots to accompany the impressions in his head.
“Ric kind of acted like he might have been a little bit self-conscious,” John reminisced. “That’s just my personal take on it. They were very nice. I took dozens of photos, taking time to chat. I will say that after a bit they seemed to be posing, so it got intense because I was the only guy there with a camera.”
John was gracious enough to share several of his terrific photos of Ben and Ric with us from that day:
At one point, Ben gave John a gift: a little white promotional Cars pin, which John has kept all these years. “He just reached in his pocket and he pulled out a pin and he says, ‘Hey man, I hope they turn out good,’ [referring to the photos],” John remembered. “He asked me if I was with the Scene, a Cleveland music rag paper that we all lived for each issue! I let him know that I wasn’t, but I worked for the company that printed Scene and that I actually ran a press that printed it.”
As they wrapped up their time together, Ben asked John to send him some of the photos if they turned out. And that was it. “I don’t think they were up there for more than half an hour, and then they receded back into the bowels of the stadium.”
Thrilled with his encounter, John continued to hang around in the relative quiet of the concrete passages backstage. He absorbed Utopia’s set with rapture. “I remember how cool ‘Eastern Intrigue’ sounded in the stadium from backstage. It was so great: no bounce, no echo like you would hear being out front, or anywhere else in that stadium for that matter.” He doesn’t remember much else in terms of the music that day; he was more into documenting the show with his camera. But while John wasn’t focused on the Cars’ set itself, it’s not because he didn’t have an appreciation for the band or their music. In truth, his feelings are quite the opposite.
“You know, it’s all timing. Sometimes all the planets line up and something unpredictable happens, and that’s kind of the way it was with The Cars. If you look at the end of the 70s, we’d been through glam rock and glitter, and Bowie and Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed… tons. And then of course there was disco and stuff like that, but The Cars really had a different writing style that was clearly evident in the way they played, and their persona just pushed it over the edge. They really were a bridge into the next realm.
“I remember seeing them at Live Aid in the 80s. They were well-established stars at that point. Ben was talking to a VJ from MTV; he was obviously having a good time, acted a bit buzzed, smoking a cigarette, it was a hell of a party. That was the last I saw of him other than magazines and videos.
“All musicians dream of success; they just do. [The Estes Brothers] had gotten very close just a year and a half earlier, so I felt a deep connection to all that: the road that musicians take and keep trying time after time. I know he did, as well. We all do. There are thousands who chase it their whole lives — damn good musicians. So I always felt that connection. Thinking about the moment in the stadium… it held deep meaning for me.”
“It’s hard to explain how I felt about him, but I could relate, maybe… just a sad story to me. That’s all there seemed to be for me for a lot of years. I was down more than I was up. But avoiding useless rambling… Seeing him with his mom [in Cleveland] was personal for me. And for him.”
John concluded emphatically, “You can tell all you need to know about a person sometimes from just one gesture. The mere fact that he had his mom there tells you the kind of person he was. What else do you need to say? That pretty much told me how cool he was.”
Oh, P.S.! John did end up meeting Todd many years later! John recounted, “For many years I was always like a step behind him ‘til finally in ’08 or ’09 they had an exhibit at the Rock Hall. He was there doing a meet-and-greet type sort of thing and oh my gosh, the line of people went all out the Rock Hall, down to East 9th Street, so I’m standing in line, you know, and I get up to where I’m inside the building and I could see him, and then… well, of course, they had to go.”
So John bought a ticket to the museum anyway, figuring since he’s there he might as well look at his exhibit. He went downstairs and there was no one down there, but then he said, “All of a sudden these two big doors swing open and here comes this whole troop of people: Todd Rundgren, Kasim Sulton, the curator, a couple security guards, a photographer, his wife Michelle, and their son Rebop. That ended my days of being two steps behind him. I got to meet him and take a ton of pictures of that. I’ve met him a bunch of times since.”
It’s not often that we get to hear what goes on before and after a concert. I’m thrilled and grateful that I had the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of this special show, thanks to David Curry, Chuck Nolan, and Jeff Viele.
Viele’s Planet was a popular adult bar and concert venue in Springfield, Illinois, from July of 1994 to October of 2006. The owner, Jeff Viele, specialized in booking original music acts, and also sometimes catered to younger music enthusiasts by hosting non-alcoholic, all-ages shows for the local community. The location accommodated about 400 people, and featured a stage and a long dance floor area as well as patron seating. Through the years, artists such as AFI, Mojo Nixon, and Metal Church played there. And guess who else? That’s right, our favorite guy!
Jeff Viele contacted Orr’s management when his good friend, Chuck Nolan, began campaigning to get Benjamin to come for a show. Chuck was (and is) a huge Cars fan, and he had met Benjamin during a show in Quincy, Illinois, in 1997. Chuck invested a lot of time and energy in getting to see one of his rock heroes play live in Springfield. Between Jeff and Chuck, arrangements were made for Benjamin to perform at Viele’s Planet on August 15, 1998.
Preparations leading up to the day of the event involved collecting the supplies and equipment required on Benjamin’s professional rider. Included on this list was a drum set. Benjamin’s management was very detailed about the specifications they wanted. Chuck contacted a local music store, brought in the faxed specs, and was assured that the owner would have it all available on the day of the show. Chuck stayed on top of things, phoning the store the week of the performance to make sure everything was coming along.
“We show up the day of the show, and the owner is acting like he hadn’t thought about any of this since the first time we spoke! He’s like, ‘Uh, uh… oh! Here’s some sub-Kmart-level drum kit you guys can have tonight.’ Unbelievable!” Chuck groans. “Here I am greeting rock royalty, my childhood hero with my tail between my legs! It was obvious this substandard drum kit wasn’t going to work.” He’s able to laugh about it now. “Thankfully, I had made some calls, and my friends in a band called The Love Hogs (who were scheduled to open) were in possession of a great drum kit and they came through for us. Heart attack averted!”
August 15th arrived. Around 3 pm, Benjamin walked into Viele’s, looking like a classic biker dude, with his sleeveless black t-shirt and his shaggy blonde hair flowing from under the bandana tied around his head. He and his tour manager, David Tedeschi, took a seat at the bar while Jeff bustled about getting ready for the night. Chuck soon joined them. They made small talk about where Benjamin lived, his kids, and his motorcycles. Chuck had designed some huge subway flyers to promote the show, and they caught Benjamin’s eye in the bar. He was so impressed that he asked if he could have a couple to take home to frame and put in his children’s rooms. Of course, they let him.
While Benjamin’s road crew was getting things set up on the stage, Chuck had plenty of time to chat with Benjamin. They got to talking about Benjamin’s set list, and Chuck mentioned some of the deeper cuts that he’d enjoy hearing Ben perform, like “Down Boys” and “Think It Over.” Ben responded that he’d love to play other Cars’ songs, but he only had permission to do certain numbers.
They also talked quite a bit about The Cars and the possibility of a reunion. Chuck tried delicately to approach the subject of the band’s break up, but “like a true gentleman, Benjamin would not go into specifics.” Chuck does remember that after a few moments of quiet contemplation, Benjamin said something along the lines of, “You know, I want you to know something. I was never mad at any of the other guys. Ric is the only one I had a beef with at the time, and honestly, I’m not even mad at him anymore.” (Please remember that Chuck is paraphrasing to the best of his memory; it’s not gospel.)
With the band and the soundman finished setting up, Benjamin did his vocal sound check as well as the sound check for the drums. Click here to see RARE and amazing footage of Benjamin playing the drums for “Just What I Needed” — shared by Chuck Nolan and uploaded by Dave Curry. (Thank you SO much, Chuck!) Once they got the technicalities squared away Benjamin and his team headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner.
In addition to the bar’s own advertising, Viele’s had teamed up with local classic rock station WYMG to heavily publicize Benjamin’s performance. The radio station invited Ben out to the Illinois State Fair where they were promoting him and the show. After dinner, Jeff and Chuck drove Benjamin out to the fairgrounds. The parking was terrible and they had bit of a walk ahead of them. Jeff was worried that they wouldn’t get Benjamin to his location on time, but luckily Jeff recognized a guy zipping around in a golf cart. The friend gladly agreed to let the guys hitch a ride to the Miller beer tent, where Benjamin arrived for his interview as scheduled.
In the meantime, Dave Curry and his good friend Tom arrived at Viele’s around 7 pm. (Both men had also met Benjamin in 1997 at the Quincy show.) Tom had made arrangements to hand off a copy of the book Frozen Fire to David Tedeschi. The two spent the next several hours with Tedeschi and some of the other crew members, thumbing through the book and chatting easily about the early days of The Cars. Dave remembers, “Tom and I had recently found a warehouse online that had copies of the book very cheap, so we had purchased multiple copies. Well, all of the crew guys wanted one. I had more than a dozen at my apartment (which was five minutes away) so I went back home and got them. I even got a copy for Benjamin.”
Before long, folks started arriving for the show. “Regarding the turnout, I’m sorry to say it wasn’t good,” Chuck laments. “We had booked it on the last night of the Illinois State Fair. Springfield’s music scene is, for the most part, apathetic but on a State Fair night, your average middle-aged Cars’ fan was probably home passed out, with a belly full of corn dogs!” Estimates for the show range from 50 to 100 people. “I never heard Jeff Viele complain, either,” Chuck continues. “I think the memories were priceless to him.”
It was nearly 11:00 pm when Benjamin and his band took the stage at Viele’s Planet. The ORR band was made up of Rich Bartlett on lead guitar, Tom Hambridge on drums, Chris Lannon on bass, Tommy West on keyboards, and Benjamin on rhythm guitar.
Chuck describes the experience. “The band members were top-notch professionals, and to hear that voice in your local watering hole was very surreal! Rich Bartlett was particularly impressive, hitting all of Elliot’s signature phrasings, but adding his individual sense of flair. I thought Ben picked great songs from The Lace, and the live delivery had even more heart than the LP.” In spite of the small turnout, Chuck says, “Overall it was like seeing an arena level show with a private party vibe. Everyone there was a true fan.”
The entire show is available on Youtube (link below); it was filmed by the late Pat Egizi. Here is the set list:
Too Hot To Stop
Just What I Needed
I’m Coming Home Tonight
Even Angels Fall
Moving In Stereo
Bye Bye Love
Encore: Stay The Night, I Am
As we often see with his late 1990s shows, Benjamin played it ‘fast and loose’ with the lyrics. You can tell he is having fun with it, bantering with the audience. During his performance of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime” he sings, “Last night Chuck was down in the lab talking to Dracula and his crew…” Chuck got a kick out of that, of course!
After the show Benjamin and the crew headed downstairs, which served as a kind of ‘dressing room’ for the band. Dave, Tom and Chuck all hung out there, too. Benjamin sat on the couch with a beer, signing autographs and chatting with people. Dave was able to talk with him for a while. Ben’s pleasure was obvious when Dave offered him the copy of Frozen Fire, in which Dave had written, “Benjamin — Thanks for coming our way. Dave Curry, Springfield, IL.” Benjamin carefully tucked into his black leather shoulder bag nearby.
He signed Dave’s copy of The Lace, and Dave also asked if he would autograph a couple of the promo fliers for his nieces. Ben signed the first one using a black pen, which didn’t show up very well. He apologized and was going to switch to a pen with silver ink instead, but Dave explained with good humor that his nieces were eight-year-old twins, and that it would be near-pandemonium if Dave brought two fliers that were not identical. Benjamin kind of laughed and shook his head, and he happily obliged. (Dave recently discovered that his niece Melissa still has hers, pictured right. Isn’t that so sweet?)
Both Dave and Chuck remember that Benjamin enjoyed talking about his son. “He was a proud father, showing everyone a picture of his son,” Chuck recalls. Dave confirms with a laugh, “He had pictures of Ben Jr. that he took out and showed me. Lots of Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles on that kid, as I remember.”
They both also recognized the sincere kindness and humility in Benjamin’s character. Dave had acted as a guest DJ on a local radio show earlier in the year, and he related to Benjamin that as part of his set he played a few songs from The Lace. Benjamin’s surprise was genuine, and his “thank you” was both humble and sincere.
Chuck remembers that at the end of the night “Ben shook my hand and said ‘ciao’ in that deep, resonate voice… Not an iota of rock star attitude in him, a good guy.”
It was after 3am when Jeff Viele finally locked up and left his bar. He headed over to a local late-night diner called Mr. Ted’s. Now this place was a little rough, as you can imagine… it was the catch-all eatery for everyone leaving the bars and trying to sober up before heading home. There was one particular fry cook that was a bit surly and would engage in yelling matches with the clientele.
For whatever reason, it turned out that this night was Jeff’s turn to bump heads with the cook, and as they were exchanging loud insults with one another the door to the restaurant opened and low and behold, who should be standing there? That’s right: “It was Benjamin and his manager. They took one look around the place and you could tell by their expressions they were NOT impressed… they turned right back around and walked out,” Jeff laughs. “That was embarrassing!”
On November 29, 1978, The Cars continued promoting their debut album in Europe by scooting on over to Bremen, Germany, where they performed for the German television program, Musikladen. The concert was aired on June 7, 1979, and later released on DVD by Rhino Records on October 24, 2000 (just three weeks after Benjamin’s death).
[Included on that DVD is the final interview with all five band members, which offers some great insights into this performance as the guys reminisce about their first crazy year of fame. I will pull information from that source in this write up of the Musikladen concert, but I will post separately about the actual interview itself at a later date.]
Musikladen was sort of the ‘Midnight Special’ of Germany, running from December of 1972 to November of 1984. Around 90 episodes were aired, plus 59 billed as Musikladen extra (including this performance by The Cars) with most being made in the period between 1974 and 1979. All episodes were produced by Radio Bremen and directed by Michael Leckebusch.
The Cars take the German stage exactly one week after their Rock Goes to College performance, and only two days after playing in France. Interestingly, this show has a whole different feel to it than either of those two. Where the guys were facing antagonism in the UK, and the Paris concert was so elegant and rather formal, here in Germany the whole atmosphere seems more relaxed, and truly conducive to an intimate jam session. The venue appears quite cozy, with colorful but muted lighting. The platform is fairly low, and is small and uncluttered, snugging the band together. The audience is perched on their seats right up to the edge of the stage, and they are open and receptive throughout the show.
There are a few drawbacks here. Unfortunately, the tight space doesn’t allow for much variation in camera angles. I can live with this because I still feel like I get a good view of all that is going on during the show, and every member is well represented. It is especially wonderful to get to see more of David, since he is usually hidden toward the back; here he is included clearly in much of the footage.
As far as the technical stuff goes, there is a raster pattern (had to look that one up) that blemishes the screen from time to time, but it is so quickly tuned out of my brain that I never notice it anymore. The lighting definitely adds a warmth to the atmosphere, but combined with the limited camera range it sometimes creates shadows that take some getting used to. Again, easy to overcome. I am not picky about the nuances of sound quality so you’ll have to be your own judge in that area; I love it and think it sounds great.
There is SO much to this show that I can’t possibly review it all in one piece. I’m sure I’ll eventually do separate little posts to get out what I can’t keep inside, but here’s what I will tell you now: the thing I find unique about this live show is that every man seems to have his own story. Somehow, it’s not *all* about Benjamin this time (believe me, I’m as shocked as you are! LOL). Again, I think the cozy ambiance of the setting brings everyone in close and invites a connection with each member.
Ironically, the guys report being hungover and not feeling well the day they recorded this concert; a bit too much German hospitality in the form of trays of apple Schnapps. I would not have guessed that from watching this footage. They put on a fabulous show, playing almost flawlessly and really coming across like they were having a blast. I imagine that if I could have sat in Ric’s basement during a rehearsal session it would have been a lot like this performance.
Off the top, I kind of think that Greg is the star among stars in this show. He emits his usual adorable, talented nerdiness, but then goes far beyond that. Watching the footage of him working his insane instrument skills during “I’m In Touch With Your World” left my mouth hanging open the first time I saw it, and it continues to thrill. A little later he comes out from behind his synth lab and joins the guys on guitar for “Take What You Want” — it’s awesome! It’s particularly endearing becausehe doesn’t adopt any kind of guitar player mannerisms, instead his robotic-style movements and wide-eyed looks remind us that he’s still the same old Greg.
I feel like Elliot finally gets the opportunity to really shine here. The camera absolutely adores him as it zeroes in on his blistering solos, and he plays it up one side and down the other. You can see in every close-up that he is having the time of his life; that he is, without a doubt, doing what he lives for and loves with a crazy passion. His interactions with Benjamin are classic, and he has fun with Greg, too, when Greg shows up on Elliot’s side of the stage.
As I mentioned before, I love that David doesn’t escape the camera. There are great shots of him doing his thing and driving the songs forward. In the interview footage, he recalls being passed out before the show, and having to be helped in and out of the venue. He played the show ‘in a complete daze’ and has no recollection of the actual gig itself. And yet when you watch him work his drums his arms move with power and energy and he never misses a beat. Truth be told, his performance here just steals my heart, knowing that he feels like trash but he continues to bang it out like a rock star. Of course, there are times when he looks like he’s ready to lean over and barf off to the side, but I didn’t really notice that until after I listened to the interview.
As for Ric… Well, I always have such a hard time connecting with Ric. He still sort of paces around like usual, appearing to monitor the guys like a nervous middle manager, but in these close quarters it comes across more social than menacing. He does seem more unclenched and loose in this concert, chewing gum and mouthing the words to Benjamin’s lead in “Bye Bye Love.” Oddly, the thing that my 13yo daughter found enchanting was that he pulled out a pink guitar for MyBFG. I guess that will do it.
Of course I have to save Benjamin for last. My man is oozing with rock star attitude throughout this entire show. He’s got the shoulder shimmies and the rock-and-roll kick; the bad-ass pick grab and the aggressive bass moves. Don’t even get me started on what he is wearing. He melts the audience with his smooth voice as he introduces songs and thanks them for their attention, and then he ignites them with his edgy vocals and pouty lips. (Well, the audience appears to be mostly men so maybe they don’t spontaneously combust like I do? LOL) All the while, he, too, seems more relaxed than in the other two concerts, like he’s really enjoying himself, being silly with his formal bows and his “I’m thanking you all” comments. We definitely get a strong glimpse into his personality in this show.
[Miscellaneous tidbit: at about 13:00 minutes in the camera shows a bit of the audience and there is a female photographer that looks entirely stunned by what she’s seeing. Me: “Yep, that’s Benjamin, baby. You’ll never get over it.”]
Okay, your turn to watch it. As always, I’ll give you the set list first. The longest of the three recorded European shows, the band played the following songs:
Good Times Roll
Bye Bye Love
I’m In Touch With Your World
My Best Friend’s Girl
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
Take What You Want
Since I Held You
Don’t Cha Stop
Just What I Needed
Such a terrific line up! Here’s a newly found link to the show in its entirety. Enjoy!
On November 27, 1978, The Cars performed at the Theatre de l’Empire in Paris, France. At the time of this performance, their debut album had only been ‘out there’ for about 6 months. They were (relatively) young and hungry to make their mark, but polished and professional; they had been working the stage for years to get where they were. The show they played for a difficult audience in the UK was less than a week behind them, and one might expect that the band would be defensive, cautious, or exuding tension, but the very opposite attitudes were evident. The Cars were confident in their sound, their style, and in one another. They played with class and expertise and that incredible synergy that would continue to be their trademark through the years.
As to the actual preservation of this event, my research so far has turned up only sketchy details. I believe the concert was aired on a French program called Chorus on December 3, 1978. This television series was hosted by Antoine de Caunes, and was evidently France’s version of rock music television, giving venue to many of the up-and-coming new wave and post-punk bands of the day.
The Cars played a total of seven songs: Good Times Roll, Bye Bye Love, My Best Friend’s Girl, Moving In Stereo, All Mixed Up, You’re All I’ve Got Tonight, and Just What I Needed.
Apparently in 2010 a 3-DVD boxed set of the show Chorus was released including footage of bands from 1978-1981, but according to the track listings, The Cars are not included in the set. Rumor has it that when the socialist government took over in 1981 de Caunes arrived in his office one day only to realize his whole collection of complete, unedited gigs on Beta tapes that had been in his office had been thrown out. If that’s true, there may not be an official recording of The Cars’ entire show left.
A scouring of the ina.fr website (France’s official audiovisual archives) yields little additional information but a smidge of hope… There is a short ‘teaser’ segment video, about 1 minute long, that allows us to see the beginning of the concert (a portion of “Good Times Roll”). The website also offers a video available for download for about $2, but from the description it seems that it is only the first three songs of the concert, and appears to be about 12 minutes long. I’m having a time trying to translate the French and navigate the website to purchase this but I’m not sure if they sell to the United States. I have sent a message to their staff; hopefully I can get my hands on it.
There are also four ‘audio only’ fan videos from the show on youtube: “Moving In Stereo”, “All Mixed Up”, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” and “Just What I Needed.” A quick search of ‘the cars france audio’ will pull them up for you. The sound quality is a little muffled but worth hearing, and the videos are hugely appealing, visually.
In the meantime, there is currently ONE youtube video segment** of them on the stage in France: the footage of them playing “Bye Bye Love.” And oh, what yummy footage it is!
The stage is wide and spacious, the atmosphere is reserved, and the lighting is soft and clear. The boys are all dressed up in classy rock-and-roll attire. The audio starts out a little muted but you can tell the band is perfectly tuned in to each other and ready to rock. After the initial camera work barely catches the epic bass riff at the beginning, the second cameraman is generous with his profile shot of Benjamin singing through the first verse and bridge before retreating to take in the whole front lineup of the band during the chorus.
The real visual triumph here starts during the second verse, when the production team has the presence of mind (and the space!) to scootch around the left side of the stage and around to the back, where we are given the rare treat of getting to see David in action with his drums. I love this! I always wish we had more footage of him doing his thing. (Side note: this clip inspired my 10yo’s nickname for David: he calls him ‘Baby Clothes.’ Hahaha!)
Not only do we get to enjoy David’s talents, but almost immediately afterward we’re able to watch Greg banging out his synth solo in its entirety, with a nice slow pan of the camera and great lighting. I get such a kick out of watching him work those keys; he’s such an incredible musician!
The camera work kind of falls apart a bit after that… There’s some nice close-up attention on Benjamin again but when it comes time for Elliot’s solo, which we can clearly see he is ready to absolutely burn the place down with, the cameraman is instead focusing on Ric, who manages a smile before he seems to realize he’s not the one who should be in the spotlight at the moment. Benjamin brings the show back around, though, when he zeroes in on Elliot for their traditional “Bye Bye Love” connection. Incredible way to end the song!
Some mini-delights of the video that you may or may not have noticed on your own…
I’d bet a case of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that Greg is wearing Benjamin’s tie from the Rock Goes to College concert. I am *so* adding that to my ‘twinsies’ article.
Looks like you can see the guys’ set lists on stage: one on the floor by Benjamin’s effect pedals, one on the amp stack behind Elliot, one on Ric’s side of the drum riser, and one taped to the top left of Greg’s keyboards. Kind of cool.
I love that Benjamin is wearing a little black Cars pin on the left side of his vest (the same vest from RGTC, by the way (thanks for noticing, Jen!)). I wish I could see clearly the pin on his right. I noticed that Elliot is wearing two very similar pins to Benjamin’s on his shirt… another ‘twinsies’ moment? If only I knew.
WARNING: It’s all about the Benj from here on out! LOL
I know that the lyrics “electric angel rock and roller” might very well refer to Maxanne Sartori (the Boston DJ who helped launch The Cars), but to me those words will always call up the image of Benjamin in this performance. Dressed in black from head to toe (with the exception of that sexy burgundy choker); his blonde hair perfectly styled and shining; that gorgeous red Vox hanging off his manly frame, and that face that I can never resist, he is the epitome of the beautiful rock star. Sheer perfection.
I will let you find your own delicious moments to squeal over in this video — there are plenty! — but I can’t resist pointing out a few of my favorites. As always, the energy between Benjamin and Elliot sparks from the beginning and includes that adorable smile exchange at 2:02 and their intense (but slightly out of focus) ending. When he’s not rocking it up with EE, Benjamin is making me crazy with his sensual facial expressions. Catch him at 2:41, the unmistakable appeal of 2:56, and the ‘hard to get’ attitude at 3:05. And that mouth at 3:12! Okay, okay, I’ll stop now.
Watch it for yourself and tell me your thoughts.
**UPDATE 7/13/16: Buntastic uploaded the 3-song set from ina.fr to youtube!!! Wahoo!
If you’ve found this blog on your own it’s probably because you did a search. And if you did a search it’s probably because you are crazy about The Cars, and if you are crazy about The Cars you have, in all likelihood, seen their iconic performance on Rock Goes to College. If somehow you missed it, get ready for the best rock-and-roll half hour of your life!
“Rock Goes to College (RGTC) was a BBC series that ran between 1978 and 1981 on British television. A variety of up-coming rock oriented bands were showcased live from small venues and broadcast simultaneously on television and radio during a 40-50 minute live performance. The venues were small university, polytechnic or college halls holding a few thousand people; often tickets were given to the Students’ Union to distribute for free. The bands chosen were also, in some cases, bands which did not have a mainstream following at that time although many went on to be very successful. A BBC DJ would also be present to introduce the band for the television audience.” (Wikipedia)
On November 22, 1978, in the throes of promoting their self-titled debut album, The Cars played at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. The episode was aired on RGTC on January 13, 1979.
The Cars did not have a good experience in the UK. Apparently there was some controversy about the promotion of The Cars’ picture disc for “My Best Friend’s Girl” which took a hit on the band’s potential popularity. Music critics slammed them, and Ric had a shoulder bag (including a lyrics/poetry book) stolen during their visit. Ironically, the single MyBFG peaked at number 3 on the UK charts, so at least they had that to soothe them. The Cars did not play in England again, though they did do record signings and promotional appearances from time to time, and later recorded their album, Heartbeat City, in London.*
In spite of being ‘officially’ less than two years old, the seasoned professionalism of this band is evident all throughout the video. Though the reception from the English audience was lukewarm at best, and some of their behavior was downright rude, The Cars rocked on and did what they were created to do: deliver a blistering show purely for the love of it.
Let me detail some of the garbage they had to put up with:
During the first verse of “Bye Bye Love,” some putz in the audience throws what appears to be a drink onto the stage. Benjamin’s face turns to stone, and the increased intensity of his vocals gives away the instant anger he feels. You are left with no doubt of his emotions when he mouths the words, “I’m going to get you” after the first verse. And through all that drama, our darling Benjamin doesn’t miss a note; in fact if anything his performance gets even hotter as he channels all that justified frustration into the song. You can see his demeanor change during the bridge to the third chorus and he flashes a smug little smile… Personally, I like to speculate that the jackass was removed from the audience at that point as you can see (what I interpret to be) triumph in Benjamin’s beautiful eyes as he follows him out.
Unfortunately all the jerks in the audience aren’t gone, because just before the beginning of “Don’t Cha Stop” you can hear an idiot in the crowd shout out, “Thank God it’s free!” (a sentiment I agree with, but for different reasons!). And still, the band is not deterred. Elliot lays into his smoking intro like nobody’s business, and he and Benjamin spend most of the song playing off each other’s rock and roll energy. It’s fabulous.
Elliot’s shirt is clearly wet in more than the ‘sweaty’ way – more drinks being thrown? Speculation, of course. The crowd is slow to respond between songs, wide camera sweeps show general inattention and milling around, and the chattering during the emcee’s intro reflects obvious disinterest. There are a few audio and camera issues that might leave you shaking your head, too. And yet, in spite of all this, The Cars play such a tight and exciting set; it leaves my heart pounding with the thrill. They rise above it all and it’s ALL about THEM. Glorious.
I am so grateful to be able to have access to this piece of Cars history — so yes, “thank God it’s free!” I’ve watched it a zillion times. I have SO much gushing to do about Benjamin; his charisma and appeal in this concert are off.the.chain. For the sake of time, however, I’m going to save all of those observations for later posts… So yeah, you’ve got that to look forward to. Hahaha! (You’re welcome!)
Okay, enough details, right? Are you ready to indulge? First off here is the official set list:
Just What I Needed
Good Times Roll
I’m in Touch with Your World
My Best Friend’s Girl
Moving In Stereo
All Mixed Up
Bye Bye Love
Don’t Cha Stop
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
And here we go; here’s the link to the video:
In addition to the set list above, there is footage of two more songs The Cars played during the show as an encore that didn’t air on the broadcast: “Candy-O” and “Hotel Queenie.” I’m adding links to those, too. Enjoy!
*Sources: the final interview included on The Cars Live — Musikladen 1979 DVD, released 10/2000; the article “The Cars Spin Home,” The Globe, December 1978; and Wikipedia