Every time something new pops up in the Cars world I am ecstatic on two fronts: first, because another elusive piece of the band’s history has fallen into place, and second, because it bolsters my hope that there is even more yet to be revealed. And that’s on top of the thrill I always feel at just seeing or hearing my forever-favorite band. Anyway, you can imagine my elation when I returned from a recent trip to discover that a VERY cool friend had sent me some VERY cool files: new recordings of The Cars at The Rat!
Now you might remember that The Cars played The Rat for a four-night engagement spanning Thursday, April 28, through Sunday, May 1, 1977. A few months ago I uploaded an audio file from that weekend, though I wasn’t sure which of the dates it was recorded on. Well, with these two totally new shows, I’ve been told that they are specifically from April 30th, so they would be the Saturday night performances. As you’ll see below, each set offers us a previously unpublished gem, which makes these audios even more delightful.
In case you haven’t seen it before, on the right is an advertising flyer from that weekend. The Cars shared the bill with The Good Rats. I’m not sure who was the headliner; the way the ad is designed makes it look like The Cars were the big draw, but they were a fairly new band at the time (though the members themselves were not unknown). I think The Good Rats were still enjoying the regional success that followed their 1974 and 1976 albums, and they were coming up from New York, so they might have been a bigger deal? Oh, and each of The Cars’ sets was only about 1/2 an hour long, which seems more like a warm-up than a main event.
Okay, I got off track there, because I’m sure it doesn’t matter who was the headliner, but I was trying to imagine the order of the night. I’m going with The Cars, then The Good Rats, then repeat. There, I feel better now that I have that settled. Haha!
No more goofing off — let’s dive right in. Here’s the first set list, with the audio below:
00:00 Leave Or Stay
03:04 Cool Fool
05:48 You Can’t Hold On Too Long
08:54 Don’t Cha Stop
12:25 My Best Friend’s Girl
16:23 Gimme Little Sign (Brenton Woods cover)*
19:40 I Don’t Want To (Elliot Easton on vocals)
22:18 Strawberry Moonlight
25:16 You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
29:54 Just What I Needed
Some of my reactions to this set:
A lot of times when you go to shows, the crowd doesn’t seem to pay too much attention to the opener. The band might start, but people are still milling about, greeting friends, ordering drinks, and so on. I’m sure that was the case here, too, but the recording also picks up the sounds of cheers and whistling from the crowd at the beginning. I love it!
You have to know that I am thrilled that these recordings have come out of hiding — thrilled. But… there is one eensy weensy thing I wish I could change: I noticed that most of the transitions between songs have been edited out. That’s a little bit of a bummer because I feel like we can often glean several tasty bites of mood and personality from those breaks. Oh well! Not everyone’s as obsessed as we are. Better to have it with some edits than to not have it at all!
Let’s discuss the duo vocals on “You Can’t Hold On Too Long.” I have to admit it makes me wrinkle my nose a bit. Is it because I’m too in love with the album version? Or is it more that Ric’s voice clashes too much with Ben’s in this case? I mean, obviously there are many recordings where the two share the vocal duties successfully, but the disparity in their styles just doesn’t seem to blend well here.
I wish I could hear the what’s going on in the background after “You Can’t Hold On…” because I want to know what Ben is responding to when he says, “It’s not called that at all.” Sounds like he’s feeling squirrely!
I love Greg’s keyboard riff behind the chorus of “My Best Friend’s Girl” — it’s catchy! On the other hand, the absence of Elliot’s guitar solo is tragic. I’m glad that was eventually remedied; it totally changed the whole vibe of the song.
The big surprise in this set is the band’s cover of “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Wood (which I also carved out and posted separately). It’s been known in the Fanorama for a long time that they played this in their early days, but this was the first time I heard it. It’s great! Ric takes the lead vocals, but Ben’s voice is prominent in the chorus. Not sure who is doing the falsetto backing vocals, but there’s strong speculation that it’s Elliot. Hopefully someday we’ll have a definitive answer!
Here’s another recording of “I Don’t Want To” with Elliot on lead vocals. I think there is only one other published performance of this one, captured during the March 21, 1977, show when they opened for Bob Seger. Man, I love this song! I still need to get a lyrics post done for this — SO funny! Hey wait… there’s that high voice in the back again, but it sounds like Ben? Hmmm, the falsetto mystery continues…
By the end of the set the crowd is fully involved; you can hear them screaming and cheering as the band launches into “Just What I Needed” as their last song of the set. Hard to tell if it’s an encore but I would guess it is. Ben still hasn’t got those lyrics down all the way (LOL) but his adlibs are undeniably yummy. Elliot’s guitar melody during the chorus, which is rather hidden in the studio version, is front and center in this recording, and it freaking ROCKS.
“Thank you very much, we’ll see you in the neighborhood. Bye bye!” — Ben ❤
Whew! What an electrifying ride!
I wonder what they did while The Good Rats were playing? Probably changed their clothes, had some drinks and a few smokes, maybe put on a hat? Maybe they held court in dark corners and chatted up the girls.
This is a little bit of a detour, but if you’re a visual person like me you might get a kick out of it. I recently isolated a portion from an old Boston television program that showed footage of the inside of The Rat. If you have a few extra minutes, click on this video for a peek at what the venue probably looked like when The Cars were playing there.
Okay, let’s move on to their second performance that night:
00:00 Bye Bye Love (Ric Ocasek on vocals)
04:20 You Can Have ‘Em (aka Sleepy Wasted Afternoon or Blue Moon Saloon)
07:21 Ta Ta Wayo Wayo
15:48 Take What You Want
21:41 My Best Friend’s Girl
26:06 Something Else (Elliot Easton on vocals; Eddie Cochran cover)
28:50 Just What I Needed
32:35 Cool Fool (encore)
Let’s jump right into it:
The guys start off with a sizzler! (Mmm, Ben on the harmonies during “Bye Bye Love.”) Ric seems to loosen up a bit vocally on this performance so it’s not too unpleasant to have him taking the lead. Greg is killing it on keys, too.
I know I don’t comment about him much, but man, David’s playing really catches me in “You Can Have ‘Em.” He’s always so steady and solid back there, and I certainly can’t escape his perfect fills and flourishes here. Dude is on fire!
This set offers another tasty — and previously unpublished — surprise: “Jezebel!” I’ve loved this tune since I first heard Cap’n Swing’s demo of it, but I did not know that Ric had held onto it to include in The Cars’ repertoire. I definitely like the CS version better, although Ben’s vocals are luscious, no doubt about it. This song is great, too, because it is one of the few Cars songs that gives Elliot room to really stretch out and shine.
Elliot puts in another blistering performance on the mic with “Something Else.” That cover is so perfectly suited for him, and Greg’s scrumptious saxophone adds even more heat to it.
They attempt to close out the show with “Just What I Needed,” but the audience is wild for an encore. I particularly relate to the shrieking girls, who you know just want to see more of Ben. Haha! They return and launch into “Cool Fool” with swagger and energy. The crowd loves it.
And then it’s over. Another half an hour of raw talent from a band on the verge of changing the face of music. How fortunate we are to get to listen to the past!
I’ve given you a lot to unpack so I’ll leave you to it. Let me know what other bits and pieces stand out to you from these two terrific performances. Have fun!
Cover image photo credit: Larry Bouchie
Please remember that these live audios are not to be bought or sold!
Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel and tap on the little bell to get a notification when I upload something new. Also, I’ve started keeping a playlist of the live shows in chronological order. You can check it out here:
First we’ll add a few more deets about the undertaking and its background.
The single “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” released at the end of 1984 by the one-off UK ‘supergroup’ Band Aid, was a big hit: a heartfelt, no holds-barred ballad to bring awareness of the famine going on at that time in Ethiopia. Bob Geldof (the leader of The Boomtown Rats and a political activist) was deeply moved by the plight, and led the charge to raise money to provide relief for Africa. He wrote the song and solicited the voices of his friends, who happened to be the poppiest of the pop artists of the day, and who all donated their time to the cause. I’m sure many of you will remember this groundbreaking song and its ‘who’s who of 80s music’ video.
The project sort of became “the charity single heard ’round the world,” as the reverberations bounced from continent to continent. Sales of the record far exceeded Geldof’s expectations, and it spurred a chain reaction of artists wanting to do their part to assuage the hunger crises around the world. In fact, it inspired a whole movement by groups of artists taking to vinyl to raise money; it was a bit of an 80s phenomenon.
C.A.R.E. stands for Cleveland Artists Recording for Ethiopia.
The Session — the actual recording of the song and video — took place through the week of April 15 to April 26, 1985, at Beachwood Studios in Beachwood, Ohio. The studio time and tape was all donated, thanks to Keith Voigt and EDR Entertainment.
The song was called “The Eyes Of The Children,” and was written by Michael Stanley with Mark Avsec, Kevin Raleigh, Bob Pelander, and Danny Powers.
50% of the proceeds went to USA for Africa to combat the famine there, and 50% was given to The Hunger Task Force of the Interchurch Council and The Catholic Hunger Network for the benefit of the hungry in northeast Ohio.
Musicians on the project were: Tommy Dobeck (drums and percussion), Michael Gismondi (bass), Bob Pelander (piano and synthesizer), Kevin Raleigh (synthesizers), and Danny Powers (guitars).
Featured vocalists, as listed on the insert, were: Skip Martin (Dazz Band), Ben Orr (The Cars), Joe Vitale, Jennifer Lee, Rickie Medlocke (Blackfoot), Kenny Pettus (Dazz Band), Kevin Raleigh (MSB), Michael Stanley (MSB), Visions (Dianne Woods, Cherrelle Brown, Alecia Burton), Alex Bevan, Paul Fayrewether, Mimi Hart (The Bop-Kats), Bob Pelander & Danny Powers (MSB), and Donnie Iris.
Vocalists on the chorus, as listed on the insert, were: all of the above, plus Audrey Goodwin, Shari Brown, Mark Addison (Nation of One), Bill Pettijohn & Billy Sullivan (Moonlight Drive); Jim Bonfanti, Dave Smalley, Wally Bryson (former members of The Raspberries), Tom & Frank Amato (Beau Coup), Mary Martin, Mark Avsec (Donnie Iris & The Cruisers), Billy Buckholtz & Steve Jochum (Wild Horses), You-Turn (Archie, Norris, Kenneth, Kevin, and David Bell), Dave Smeltz (I-Tal), Dennis Chandler, and Ellie Nore.
The song premiered on the airwaves on June 26, 1985, but the vinyl wasn’t released for purchase until late November. Delays with USA for Africa caused the pressings to collect dust in a warehouse for several months. Gorman joked that the record would make history as a disc that became an oldie before its release.
I’m not sure how financially successful the endeavor ended up being overall, in terms of the amount donated to charity. Having the records held up would’ve really hurt sales, I’m sure.
There are so many factors that made this project a good fit for Benjamin. Of course, he grew up in Cleveland, and had friends and family there that he loved. And in his teen years, he enjoyed some local celebrity as the leader of The Grasshoppers, a popular band who had a couple of hit records and appeared frequently on The Upbeat Show in 1965. He made a lot of connections with the up-and-coming musicians of those days, as well as with the local industry professionals. After he moved to Boston and made it big, he was never stingy with his celebrity status or his musical talent, He seemed immensely proud of his hometown, and it sounds like there wasn’t a bit of hesitation when he said ‘yes.’
Here’s how I got my copy of the record: I went to Cleveland in April of 2018 to see The Cars get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During that weekend one of the thrills was getting to go see Moving In Stereo, a Cars cover band, play live (who freaking ROCKED, by the way). I had interviewed the band members and wrote an article about them the year before, and now I was about to meet them in person! Oh man, they were so good to me. They gave me two tickets to see the show — Joe Milliken was my concert buddy — and afterwards, they invited us to hang out in the bar for a drink. While we were chatting, Matthew Fuller, the bass player and ‘Ben of the band,’ gave me a surprise: a box of Cars’-related goodies he had collected for me. I was jacked! And in that stash was the C.A.R.E. Session album in great condition — I still can’t get over it. What a treasure!
After listening to both sides of the album, I’ve discovered that there are three different edits of the song. Here’s the first: the official video. You can hear Ben sing two lines: “you’ve heard it all before” at 0:23 (big thanks to Laurie H. for pointing that out!), and “across the ocean, across the highway” at 0:58. He looks so handsome! I wonder what he’s holding in his hand? It almost looks like car keys, and it seems like he’s signaling someone to turn the levels of something up? After the song, don’t miss that adorable little snippet of the ‘making of’ interview with Ben.
Interesting… Ben makes it sound like he was already in Cleveland working on his album when Kid Leo (a DJ at Cleveland’s WMMS station) called him? Oh, and I think there’s a Ben sighting in the big group sing-along, too. If you look closely at the video between 2:34 and 2:36. there’s a guy in the back row on the right that has a profile similar to Ben’s. And if you look around 2:25ish, you can see the same man behind a singer that is wearing a red shirt with white on the sleeves, and it certainly looks like Ben from that angle, too.
Anyhoo… the second version of the song is found on Side One of the record. I went ahead and digitized it (the sound quality is a bit stinky, though; sorry!). This track is about a minute longer than the video, and includes a second verse and a repeat of the bridge that were omitted in the video edit. Happily, this gives us two more Ben lines! I made my own video for this, and I used scans of the cover art from the album and the sleeve for the slideshow. I’ll add those images here so we can fixate on them… er… see them better. Probably a little overkill, but oh well.
Here’s the video I made:
You can hear Benjamin at 0:24 (“you’ve heard it all before”), at 0:59 (“across the ocean, across the highway”), at 2:00 (“that this will all go away”), and at 2:35 (“across the ocean, across the highway”). He’s sounds ah-mazing, as always!
The third and final version of the song is Side Two of the record, and it is noted as the ‘long version.’ The name fits. It has an additional two-plus minutes of music and chorus repetition, and goes out with a wacky sputter. I found an upload of it on YouTube, if you want to check it out.
Also, here is a video that includes the full interview that Ben was in, along with other media coverage of the project. Nothing new of Benjamin himself here, but several segments with the late Michael Stanley, and you can get a good feel for the heart of it all.
Just for kicks, and for the sake of my little completist heart, I’m including the lyrics of the full song here. I’ll emphasize the lines that Benjamin sings.
“The Eyes Of The Children” by Michael Stanley, Mark Avsec, Kevin, Raleigh, Bob Pelander, and Danny Powers
It's not such a strange situation
You've heard it all before
Someone needs a helping hand
And even the best of intentions
Sometimes they just aren't enough
So now is the hour to do all you can
Someone's crying alone in the night
Across the ocean, across the highway
There but for the grace of God go you and I
And the eyes of the children don't see black or white
There's no politics, no nations on a cold and hungry night
The promises and visions are only just a start
But it's the eyes of the children that keep the fire burning
Keep the fire burning in our hearts
There is no use in pretending
That this will all go away
If somebody somewhere won't take a stand
And how much time would it take you
How much pain could you ease
And how many lives do we hold in our hands
Someone's crying alone in the night
Across the ocean, across the highway
There but for the grace of God go you and I
And the eyes of the children don't see black or white
There's no politics, no nations on a cold and hungry night
The promises and visions are only just a start
But it's the eyes of the children that keep the fire burning
Keep the fire burning in our hearts
And if you stop and think about it
Most of us have got it good
And if we try and find the answer
Well you know someday we might
Gotta try and make a difference
Gotta try and put things right
And the eyes of the children, they don't see black or white
There's no politics, no nations on a cold, cold and hungry night
The promises and visions are only just a start
But it's the eyes of the children that keep the fire burning
Keep the fire burning in our hearts
Let’s see… anything else? Oh yes, I think I mentioned this in a recent post. I discovered that this snapshot below of Benjamin with his good friend David Spero (another Cleveland legend in the music biz) was taken while Ben was in town working on this project. It was originally published in Joe Milliken’s book Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars. It’s a perfect way to end this article. ❤
All of Cleveland was thrown into mourning with the recent death of local icon Michael Stanley. He passed away on March 5, 2021, after a seven-month battle with lung cancer.
As a relentless rocker and a longstanding popular radio DJ, Stanley embodied all the dreams and passions of the people in his beloved hometown. He loved them, and they loved him. Author and music critic Holly Gleason wrote of Michael on variety.com, “He’d been produced by the biggest rock producers of the day in Don Gehman, Mutt Lange and Bill Szymczyk … and toured with the Eagles, REO Speedwagon, Fleetwood Mac. Living the rarest air of rock ‘n’ roll without ever forgetting the folks in Cleveland, he was ours.”
I’m afraid I am not well-versed on Michael’s extensive discography, but I definitely know his name. In fact, I had really hoped to meet him when I was in Cleveland in 2019 with Joe Milliken promoting Let’s Go!, but it didn’t work out. The familiarity for me came through Michael’s connection to Benjamin Orr. Born only 6 months apart, it seems like the two had the potential to be pretty deep friends. They had so much in common: they were both hardworking musicians, native sons of Cleveland; kindhearted, loyal, and generous with their time and talent. It’s no surprise, then, that they collaborated on some very cool projects for their hometown.
The first one that I know of is the Cleveland C.A.R.E. project. Inspired by the groundbreaking record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” released at the end of 1984, radio executive John Gorman and media personality Denny Sanders (both legends in Cleveland) secured a roster of dozens of all-star Cleveland artists to create their own charity single. In addition to supporting the efforts to wipe out famine in Ethiopia, profits from the project would benefit the local food banks, too. They tapped Michael Stanley to write a song suited to all those voices, booked nearly two weeks of studio time in April of 1985, and hit the record stores in November with “The Eyes Of The Children.” Benjamin shows up in the music video at 0:58, with Michael right after him. This video also has an interview segment featuring Ben starting at 3:33.
From what I understand, sometime between 1987 and 1991, while Michael was co-hosting Cleveland’s evening program PM Magazine (later called Cleveland Tonight), Michael interviewed Ben. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the footage of that will surface for us to enjoy.
Michael and Ben crossed paths again for another Cleveland project some years later. The city’s football team, the Cleveland Browns, went dormant for a few years in the late 90s. When they were ready to get back in the game (literally) in 1998, Michael wrote “Here We Go Again” to celebrate their return, and recruited a pile of big names to perform on the recording and appear in the video for it. In the clip below, the first singer’s face we see is Michael’s, and he’s rocking the stage starting at 2:57. Of course, Ben, who seems to have been a devoted fan, was right there in the thick of it. You can see him in the music video at 2:43, 2:53, and 4:15.
When Benjamin passed away on October 3, 2000, Michael felt the loss. The very next night, during his concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on October 4, Michael paid tribute to Ben by sharing some fond memories, and then he dedicated a poignant acoustic ballad to him. Thanks to MS fan and historian Dave Wade, we have the honor of seeing this touching moment. You may want to grab a Kleenex.
Only a few short weeks later, on November 10, 2000, Michael would emcee Ben’s memorial celebration at the Hall, opening and closing the service for the family.
I like to think that Ben and Michael formed a solid friendship, bonding over music, the highs and the lows of the business, and over their mutual love and loyalty for Cleveland. I hope, too, that they are now rocking together in heaven.
Cleveland City Council has declared March 25th as Michael Stanley Day on what would have been his 73rd birthday. Sending a hug out to all of my grieving Cleveland friends. ❤
I recently received a treasure trove of live shows from a very cool friend and Cars fan, along with permission to share them. Because it makes the most sense, and because I’m a big nerd, I’ve decided to upload them in chronological order to my YouTube channel, and post a little write-up here with whatever little deets I can dig up about the performance, along with my own $.02.
This second audio is another oldie: The Cars at Boston University. There was no specific date for this show when it was given to me, other than March of 1977. I think it must have been recorded sometime toward the end of the month because both Ric and Ben mention Maxanne Sartori leaving WBCN, and her last day was April 1, 1977. This is just a short four-song set, but it sounds like it was part of a larger concert with multiple bands (based on the blurb from the emcee at the end).
The Cars kick it off with “Just What I Needed.” It’s an interesting version. In some of the earlier Cars recordings Ben seems to mimic Ric’s low, draggy vocal style, and he kind of starts off that way here, but then I love how bits of natural Ben break out here and there. It’s a treat, too, to get to hear Elliot’s guitar parts so clearly. Obviously the song was still evolving at this point (though I do think Ben flubbed the words at :53, as opposed to it being a lyric that was later changed). I can’t tell for sure who is singing back up… is that Ric, maybe? It doesn’t really sound like any of the guys to me. Oh, and I did click backwards a few times to listen to Ben’s little laugh at about 1:45.
When Ric takes over the mic after that song, it’s really cool to hear how relaxed he sounds. He drops the clues for us about the date and purpose of the show, and then introduces “I’m In Touch With Your World.” It doesn’t sound like Greg was incorporating all of his instrumental gew-gaws quite yet, although I do hear a toot or two on the whistle and a few other odd little sounds here and there. I love it!
From there, Ben leads the band into “Cool Fool” and there is no trace of Ric impressions… it’s a full-on vocal Ben fest. The whole performance smokes: Elliot is off the chain, ripping it up left and right. David can’t be thrown off the beat for anything, and Greg holds it all up with his subtle keyboard work and the reappearance of that whistle. Dudes must have been sweating after that one!
As the crowd swells with cheers of approval, I adore Ben’s response: “Thanks! Okay… this one’s our bye-bye song and for our very special friend, Maxanne.” The band jumps into “Strawberry Moonlight” with a raucous energy; the perfect way to end their set.
The last little snippet of audio features an announcer indicating that The Cars are just one of the bands that will be playing that day, but then he gets cut off and it’s a bummer because I feel sure he would have identified the occasion for the concert. Oh well, it’s better than nothing. I have my fingers crossed that someone reading this might have memories of that show they’d like to share with us. That would be cool!
Going back through memories that are over twenty years old can be a little like trying to fish eggshells out of a bowl: dates and details get a little slippery. But there are a few events that are crystalline in songwriter, singer, and guitar player Kevin McCarty’s past, experiences that left a deep, happy groove in his mind’s eye. Benjamin Orr gave Kevin his sincere friendship, along with a handful of rock star moments that Kevin will never forget.
As with every connection in this series, my introduction to Kevin McCarty came about in a loopty-loop sort of way. It actually started with Jeff Carlisi, believe it or not. Jeff sent me a photo of a concert t-shirt he had been given that used to be Ben’s. The design included four acts on the bill: Benjamin Orr, The Irresponsibles, Black Number Nine, and Kevin McCarty. This was about the same time that I was getting to know Peter Montgomery, and it was my first clue that Peter knew Ben, since he led The Irresponsibles. Well, Peter put me in touch with Kevin (whose name I also recognized from Joe Milliken’s book). Kevin and I hit it off immediately, and we had a great time walking down memory lane together.
Like our other Boston boys, Kevin was born and raised in Scituate, Massachusetts. He picked up a guitar at a young age and jumped on the rock-and-roll road with enthusiasm. He loved the first Cars album and zeroed in on Ben as his favorite from the beginning. Though Ric wrote all the songs, it was Ben’s voice – that voice! – that Kevin connected with.
In the early 1990s, barely out of his teen years, Kevin was working with Brad Delp and his band RTZ (Return to Zero). He headed out on tour with them, starting out as one of the truck drivers as they traveled the country promoting their first album. He worked with such diligence and devotion that by the end of the tour he was given the title and duties of ‘tour manager’ for their last gig. He also gained a tight group of friends.
Now back home, Kevin turned his attention to his own music. In 1993 his band, The Keepers, had some moderate success in the clubs, sharing the bill with acts like The Del Fuegos, The Irresponsibles (with Peter Montgomery), and Charlie Farren. When it came time to record some of his original material, strife inside The Keepers left Kevin without musicians in the studio. His buddies jumped in to help: Brad Delp, drummer Dave Stefanelli, and bass player Tim Archibald. Together they recorded a quick three-song demo tape. And guess what? John Kalishes was the producer.
Kevin had been introduced to Kalishes by their mutual friend, David Tedeschi. At the same time that John was producing Kevin’s demo, John and Benjamin had thrown themselves into writing and recording Ben’s new songs. At some point in 1993, then, John introduced Kevin and Ben, and the two hit it off right away. In spite of the 20-year age difference, they had a lot in common: besides music, both Ben and Kevin were big into fishing and being outdoors, interests that would quickly become their main connection.
“My family – my brothers, sisters and cousins – we all pitched in and bought 40 acres up in Maine just for fun,” Kevin shared. “Ben was a wicked hunter so I said, ‘Yeah, come on up to the property. You can hunt on my property,’ and he was really pumped about that.”
The guys would stuff their gear into Ben’s van, make the long drive north, and settle in for an extended weekend stay. Being out in the woods was enough for Kevin, but Ben was always interested in the possibility of game.
“We’d get an early start on tracking just to see the amount of deer coming through. We went up there a few times. I wouldn’t shoot a thing, neither would John. I’d bring Ben up there, and every now and again Ben would go up there on his own to go see if he could bag something, but as far as I know he never bagged anything on the property. Just a lot of tracking!” he said, laughing.
Time passed and their friendship grew. Kevin never met Ben’s estranged wife, Judith; he recalls that she was in LA in the spring of 1994, and that Ben was going through a hard time because she just didn’t want to come back. He remembers that Ben didn’t have good feelings about the relationship with Judith at that time, and though he didn’t talk much about it, Kevin sometimes had the impression that if Ben was feeling down he’d get ahold of Kevin to just hang out, to have some guy time and take his mind off of what was going on. And so they spent their time pursuing their common hobbies.
On one of those early trips to Maine, Kevin got his first glimpse of Ben’s stalwart kindness. Ben, John and Kevin were heading to the property and John was playing Kevin’s demo for Ben in the van on the way up. “I’ve never been a fan of my own voice, ever,” Kevin confided. “You know, I try… I do. But I’d love to have Ben’s voice!” he chuckled. “So Ben’s listening to it and when it’s over he turns around to me (as he’s driving and I’m in a captain’s chair in the back of his van) and he said, ‘You have a great voice.’ And I rolled my eyes, and I went [grunt, scoff] ’thanks’… and he got pissed. He goes, ‘Hey! Hey, I never tell anybody anything that I don’t mean. You have a great voice, it’s unique, I like it.’ And said, ‘Alright, hey, I appreciate it.’
“I was so self-conscious about my voice that I didn’t take the compliment directly, but he straightened that right out immediately. And I was like, ‘Okay… wicked sorry!’ My hero just paid me a compliment and I just blew it off, you know?” He laughed again. “I never did that again to Ben because I knew he was a straight shooter. People want to give you a compliment just to try to pump you up and make you feel better and that’s what I thought he was doing to me, but he made it very clear that that’s not what he was doing. He actually enjoyed the music.”
It wasn’t too long after that trip that Ben backed up his compliment with action.
There’s an annual benefit concert up in Plymouth, Vermont, called the Riverweed Music and Outdoor Adventure Festival. Kevin had played it many times. One day while hanging out at Ben’s place, he mentioned it to Ben and John, as he was gearing up for the coming summer event. Kevin was surprised and excited by Ben’s response. “He was like, ‘Can I play?’ and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I mean, your hero asks you if he can play? Uh, ‘Yeah! You wanna make a band?’” he related, laughing. “And we immediately came up with a band name and [Ben] goes, ‘Well, what are we playing?’ So I started playing my music and he started learning it on the bass and we went from there.”
Billed as The Beacon Hillbillies, Kevin, Ben, and John organized an acoustic set for the show that included half of Ben’s stuff (his solo material and The Cars) and half of Kevin’s original material. The trio began rehearsing in earnest at Ben’s home in Weston. All of them knew it was just a one-off gig; there was no intention of continuing the band after the Riverweed show. The collaboration would serve a greater purpose: it would mark Ben’s return to the stage after nearly seven years out of the spotlight. With his new batch of songs and his marriage to Judith foundering, Ben seemed determined to rekindle his career.
This temporary alliance of The Beacon Hillbillies set off a series of dominos falling, one after another, marking new stages in Ben’s personal life as well as his musical career.
The outdoor festival took place on August 21, 1994, at the Hawk Inn and Mountain Resort in Plymouth, Vermont. Arriving there was always a homecoming of sorts for Kevin, as he had played the annual event so often (among other Vermont gigs) and had many friends in the area. Kevin enjoyed introducing Ben to everyone, including Edita Hartig, the young bartender that was serving them as they waited their turn to play. And it was in that bar that Ben suggested to Kevin that the two walk up through the crowd together to take the stage, giving Kevin the ultimate rock star experience as the crowd parted for them.
Kevin first related the story of this cool gig to Joe Milliken for his book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars (p. 165), but he was off on the date. He had told Joe that it was in 1995, and he was so sure it was, but as Kevin and I discussed it more we realized that could not be right. Kevin is unshakable on the fact that he facilitated the first meeting between Ben and Edita at the Riverweed Festival, and I believe he did – in 1994. It turns out that Ben played Riverweed in 1994 and 1995, and that’s why Kevin was confused.
The stage was set up in a big open field. A series of bands was scheduled to play from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., and those attendees who were there to make a day of it were spread out with their chairs and blankets and coolers in the sunshine. While The Beacon Hillbillies were playing the fans were on their feet, dancing and singing along. Many knew Kevin’s original tunes, and fans went nuts when a Cars song came up in the set. Afterwards, Kevin signed autographs alongside Ben and John, a very heady experience.
After the Riverweed show, Ben and Kevin stayed in Vermont for a bit, hanging out with Kevin’s friends. “They had gotten us a badass mansion, so we stayed in it and just hung out there and partied for literally a week and a half.” Kevin remembered. “It was a big deal that Ben Orr was coming to the concert. It wasn’t because I was Kevin McCarty, it was because Ben Orr was coming up.” It was another sampling of how it felt to be a rock star.
Everybody had a blast, enjoying the posh accommodations as the visit stretched and summer days melted one into another. Edita was among the friends hanging out that week, and she and Ben got to know each other better. She was pretty and sweet, and lots of fun to be around. Believing that things were finally over between Ben and Judith, Kevin was pleased to observe the sweet attraction Ben and Edita felt for each other. “I could tell he really liked her, and she liked him, too. There was a definite chemistry there,” he noted. After ten days or so, Ben returned to Boston but he and Edita kept in touch. Ben was soon traveling up to Vermont to spend time with her.
Meanwhile, Ben threw himself into reentering the Boston music scene. He assembled his first incarnation of the ORR band, including John Kalishes and guitarist Charlie O’Neal, along with bassist Rick O’Neal, keyboardist Igor Koroshev, and drummer John Muzzy. They made their live debut at The Rat on Sunday, December 18, 1994, and from there, booked a series of shows into 1995. Kevin ended up opening for ORR about a half a dozen times, either as a solo acoustic act or with his band, Kevin McCarty and The Wrest.
One of Kevin’s early appearances with Ben was a little rough. “He had me open up for him in Rhode Island. ORR was playing, one of their first major shows. I was the sole opener with just me and my acoustic guitar. I didn’t go over very well, me personally, and for some of the crowd, I guess. I was actually heckled. I had never been heckled in my life! We just had a bad couple of tables out front and they were right in my face. But it still ended up being a great evening. I mean, I was signing autographs right next to Ben; people wanted mine, too!” he chuckled.
And then there was the show advertised on the t-shirt that Jeff showed me: a benefit concert for the victims of a fire in Scituate. All of the bands on the bill were happy to participate. “Ben was always great about that, donating his time. So we all just donated our time and put on a show for everybody. I was proud as a peacock having my face on the same jersey as Ben’s.” [More on that show coming in a separate post.]
Through most of 1995, Kevin and Ben hung out quite a bit. It was a natural, easy friendship. Kevin looked up to Ben so much. Certainly, their common interests, similar personalities, and Kevin’s mammoth respect for Ben played a part in keeping them so close.
It also helped that Kevin didn’t want anything from Ben, other than his friendship. Kevin explained, “He was sweet to a fault, you know? He was nice as nice could be. He and Brad Delp were the same that way. They wanted people who treated them real, like a person and not a party toy. I know that’s one of the main reasons that I was able to hang out with either of them. I just treated him like a normal person, I never asked him for anything. Ben would always check with me if I needed anything, and I’d always say, ‘no, no, I’m fine.’”
But it was obvious that there was a contingent of coat-tail riders and party people that hung around Ben, taking advantage of his generosity, and it seemed to Kevin that it was very wearing on Ben. “And once again, I don’t want to say I know that for a fact, but I do know those people very well, and I witnessed the party that wouldn’t stop. I think it was a little overwhelming and Ben just didn’t like that. We had more fun just in the woods. That’s where we enjoyed our time.”
I could hear the smile in Kevin’s voice as he wound his way back through those idyllic days in his mind.
Often times, it was Ben, John, David, and Kevin out on David’s boat on the ocean near Scituate Harbor. They’d spend the day noodling around in the studio and then go fishing into the night, eventually finding a place to dock and party. Sometimes they’d head over to The Glades to cook up their catch, hang out with Pete Montgomery, and have a ‘romping good time.’
“We did so many different things! He actually gave me one of his Harleys, which I wouldn’t take. And he goes, ‘Well, it’s yours. Nobody else is going to ride it. I won’t let anybody else ride it, it’s yours.’ And I said, ‘Ben! [with exasperation] Ben, you don’t have to give me a Harley!’ and he said, ‘Nah, I don’t want anybody else to ride it. I only want you to ride it.’ So that would be a thing: we’d go up and ride. I just left it in his garage and I’d go up there and go for a ride every now and again.
“Fishing, camping, touring around… We loved to go to the old ‘mom and pop’ shops wherever we were and find the grossest thing to eat and dare the other one to eat it, you know, like the old eggs that looked like they had been there for 30 years. He had some dried fish jerky that was the grossest thing on the planet. It was so salty, I mean, as soon as you opened it up the entire vehicle smelled like low tide. It was horrific! And we would dare each other to finish it – it was something that his dad used to eat all the time and he hated it. But he would say, ‘Oh wait, I know! This is the grossest thing ever!’ and so of course, me always looking up to Ben, I was like, ‘I’ll go for it. Absolutely.’ John wouldn’t, but Ben would always get me into the ‘gross stuff’ eating contest,” he remembered, laughing.
And hot sauce? “Oh yeah, I’m still into the hot sauce! I love it!”
Another memory popped into Kevin’s mind. “I actually wrote one line in one of his songs on [Ben’s unfinished solo] album. It was funny.” It was a fishing day, and Kevin had headed over to John’s to pick him up, and the two planned to go meet Ben at the harbor. Kevin walked in to find John not anywhere near ready to go. “John was still in his sweatpants and a lot of nothing and I’m like, ‘Dude!’ and he was like, ‘I’m stuck!’ and I go, ‘What do you mean?’ and he goes, ‘I’m stuck on this song. I just can’t figure out what to do.’
“John was a great writer. And I asked, ‘Whatta you got?’ and he said, ‘I sent you a message in a sake bottle, it crashed on the rocks…’ and I said, ‘Aw, man.’ He goes, ‘You know what I mean? I ended it. Where do you go from there? It crashed on the rocks.’ And I said, ‘… and shattered something awful.’ And he said, ‘Oh my god! YES! Kevin! Yeah, finally!’ He was all excited that he could come out because he wasn’t going to leave the house unless he got that, and it just happened to just run right through my head and come out my mouth. And he got up and got dressed and we went out and had some fun. I was glad I could help. But that was my only contribution to anything in the band ORR. That was it!”
Kevin remembers that Ben had a great since of humor and loved to play tricks on people. One night after fishing for stripers on the ocean, they landed at one of their usual spots: a local Chinese restaurant where they would hang out and party. The place had karaoke going on, and at one point the guy running the machine asked Kevin if he’d take a turn with the mic.
Kevin wasn’t inclined to do a song (karaoke wasn’t really his favorite thing), but he said he’d think about it. When Kevin returned to the table, Ben wanted to know what was going on. After Kevin filled him in, Ben saw an opportunity to have some fun. “Ben said, ‘Kevin, tell you what. Go up to him, tell him to play ‘Drive,’ and just take the microphone and walk away.’” Kevin followed directions and passed the mic to Ben under the table. They were sitting in the back corner, in a private spot and Ben sang “Drive” karaoke.
Kevin laughed as he remembered, “And everybody in the room’s going, ‘Oh my god, this guy sounds just like the guy!’ and they’re all looking around trying to see who is singing the song and Ben’s just ducked down in the corner singing ‘Drive.’ That was SO much fun! I mean, at the end everybody was like, ‘that was awesome!’ and everybody’s looking around going ‘who sang that?’ And Ben handed me the mic underneath the table and I put it behind my back and walked it back up to the guy and I hand him the mic. That was awesome, that was a great night.”
“But that’s the way he was, he was really a kick in the pants. He had jokes like when we went to the Rathskeller Christmas party… Ben and I went there, we got invited by Jimmy, the owner, and there was a pizza joint right next door and we went in there to get pizza and we’re sitting down waiting for our pizza. The booths are kind of weird, as in… you’re sitting in a booth, Ben and I are across from each other in a booth, and then there’s a short wall, and then another booth on the other side, to your right or left, whatever way you’re facing. And they call out ‘the pizza’s ready’ and Ben hops up and I go, ‘I got it’ and Ben says, ‘No, I got it’ – like I said, never lets you pay for anything. And the girl [in the next booth] leans over and says, ‘Oh my god, that guy looks exactly like the guy from The Cars!’ and I said, ‘He does, doesn’t he?’ and she goes, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe it.’
Ben sat down and they started eating, and the gal got up and went to the restroom. Kevin tells Ben what she said. “After she comes back she says something to Ben, too, telling him he looked just like the guy from The Cars. And Ben responded, ‘Really? Do I? Wow. Which one?’ and she’s says, ‘Ben Orr,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, no kidding! Aw, well, thanks!’”
The girl is still looking over, just sure that it must be Ben. “And I’m sitting there across the table, me, like the little dog going, ‘Can I tell her? Can I tell her?’ and he sees it on my face and he says, ‘You want to tell her don’t you?’ And I said, ’Yeah, I really do,’ and he says, ‘Go ahead.’” So Kevin tells her and she’s thrilled, gushing over Ben a bit, “…and he signs up whatever she wants and he’s just as sweet as hell, but he originally left her hanging, just for the fun of it,” Kevin snickered.
“But that’s about it with me and Ben. Man, we just really enjoyed our time together. We just had a blast and it was like mentor and student times, you know? That’s how I feel about our relationship. We were blood-related, even though we weren’t, and it was mentor and student.”
Gradually, though, the time they spent together diminished. Ben’s relationship with Edita Hartig grew more serious, and he spent less and less time in the Boston area, preferring to be in Vermont when he wasn’t on stage. “He ended up going up there more often on a solo mission and then decided to rent a house up there, I believe, at first. There’s a big ranch up there, and I think he ended up buying it… I think he did. And then he redid the studio. He had a big horse arena for Edita and stuff. It was quite an impressive place.”
Kevin recalls that John Kalishes stayed in the guest house at the Vermont place for a time while the two were continuing to write and work together, while Edita lived with Ben in the main house.
On September 29, 1995, Edita gave birth to Ben’s only biological child, Benjamin Charles Joseph. By all accounts, Ben’s son, whom he referred to as ‘Lil Ben,’ was the pride of his heart, and more of Ben’s time and attention were devoted to his family.
Though their outdoor adventures naturally took a backseat, Kevin always felt that he and Ben were solid friends, so he was surprised when their last interaction was somewhat awkward and painful. A few years had passed since the two had talked, and by this time Kevin had moved up to Vermont himself. He had started the Kevin McCarty Band and was at a point where he was ready to record an album, and he thought about how great it would be to collaborate with Ben again.
“And when I called him to do that, he was very standoffish on the phone. He was like ‘why are you calling me for this?’ and I said, ‘Whoa…’ and I said, ‘Because I look up to you and I’ve always appreciated what you put out, and you’d be a big help.’” Kevin didn’t find out until later that Ben was battling cancer at that time. “To be honest with you, I think he… well, he knew he was a hero of mine, as well as a good friend, and I really think he just didn’t want me to see him… I feel like if he was healthy he would have been excited to do it; that’s how he was. I think he just didn’t want to work with me. Not like that. He said, ‘Alright, well I’ll tell you what. I’ll think about it and I’ll give you a call back.’ And then I didn’t hear from him again so… and he passed away shortly after that.”
Kevin was devastated by the news of Ben’s death. “I was in my house in Vermont and my brother called. He wanted to get in touch with me as quick as possible so I didn’t hear it from anybody else,” Kevin recalled quietly.
“Ben was just such a real human being and a caring human being,” he said with feeling. “He meant what he said, said what he meant. He would do anything for you. He wouldn’t let you pay, anywhere we went, he wouldn’t let me pay. I’m like, ‘come on, dude’ and he’d say, ‘no, come on, I got it. Don’t worry about it. I got it.’ You know? He was just sweet… He was as sweet as they make ‘em. His soul, you know…” he trailed off, getting a hold of his emotions.
“Remember in Joe’s book when Ben looked at me in the bar?” he continued thoughtfully. “And he was like, ‘what do you say you and I just walk up through it?’ I mean, there were hundreds of people there, and we decided, let’s just walk up through the middle of them all, and I knew he was doing that just for me. Everybody’s going to recognize Ben. You just look around and all these people are like, ‘[gasp]’ and they’re parting, it’s like parting an ocean and we’re walking through the ocean, and everybody’s patting us on the back and putting their hands out to shake, and I mean, he made a young rocker’s life in that moment, you know?” he said.
“We could have easily gone up and gotten a car and been driven backstage but he knew it would make a difference in my life, and I’m forever thankful for that experience. It’s one of those ones that just… you know, my family still tells the story, the people that were there. So to make somebody’s life like that, and it was very conscious of Ben, he knew what he was doing, and he knew that I was a good friend and he did me tenfold on that. That is what I’ll always remember.”
Ben made it about Kevin, not about Ben, Kevin emphasized. “For that one moment, I was as big of a rock star as he was. It’s like he said, ‘This is what it feels like. Let me give you that experience.’ And that … I mean, I don’t know anything sweeter than doing that for someone who has been playing music all their life and trying to succeed and not quite getting it, you know?”
Kevin packed all of his worldly goods into his car and moved to California in 2001. Shortly after he arrived, he was robbed — everything that was not on his person was stolen. All of his clothes, personal treasures, photos, master tapes, demos, important papers… everything. Such an awful loss for him! Unfortunately, this also means he has no visual memories to share with us from this time period. 😦
In later years, Kevin had the pleasure of working with Elliot Easton in the recording studio. Stay tuned for a separate article on that!
Also, check out this cool footage I found of The Rat and Pizza Pad (with a little glimpse of Captain Nemo’s Pizza) from 1985. Kevin isn’t sure which of those pizza places was the location of Ben’s little prank on the female fan. No matter; it’s so cool to visit the places that made up Ben’s world!
Hello friends! This weekend I am hosting a social media event on Facebook where I’ve invited friends and Ben fans to come and share music, videos, photos, and graphics to honor Ben on the 20th anniversary of his passing. I know not everybody has Facebook, so I’m creating a special page here on my blog where I’ll add the unique things I am sharing over there.
If you look to the left you should see the heading for Pages, and right underneath that there is a link for #CelebratingBenjaminOrr. That’s where everything will be. I’ll keep adding to it over the weekend as I add to the Facebook event to keep everyone in the loop as best as I can.
Feel free to share in the comments what you’re doing today to remember Ben. I’m very grateful that we can all celebrate him together in this small way. ❤
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!
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.
As 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
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!
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:
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.
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. ❤
Once upon a time, in the peaceful hamlet of Allston, Massachusetts, a diabolical plot was carried out: the murder of Michael Mackin! But who could be so evil? So cunning? And so sure that he… or she… could escape detection?
Okay, that’s not exactly what happened… er, at least not for real.
On August 8, 1987, Boston’s public access television station, WGBH, hosted a benefit as part of their annual fundraising events. The theme was “Murder at MYSTERY! Mansion” and those in attendance were charged with the task of solving a faux crime, specifically, figuring out who murdered Channel 7 reporter Michael Mackin. Other local celebrities and notable personalities were there, too, and, as witnesses to the ‘death’, were considered suspects.
One gentleman at the charity event was Massachusetts State Police (MSP) Corporal Bob McKeon. Bob was recruited as a volunteer by Carole Nash, owner of the Nash Modeling Agency in Boston, to play the part of the arresting officer at the end of the evening.
As best as Bob can recall from this night over thirty years ago, the excitement got underway while the volunteer actors were gathered on a stage and the guests were mingling nearby. The lights suddenly went out, and when they came up again, Mike Mackin was dead on the floor — the game was afoot! After his body was removed, guests had to interact with the suspects to try to determine who was responsible for the terrible tragedy.
Bob himself was downstairs in a private room, waiting for his cue for the grand finale. He wasn’t privy to all that was happening above so he isn’t sure how Vincent Price fit in, or if a dinner was served, or in what ways the guests obtained clues to solve the mystery. But he was far from bored: Mike Mackin was brought into the room from the stage, and the two had fun shooting the breeze while the event continued upstairs. A little later, Bob had the pleasure of chatting with Benjamin Orr and Diane Page for a bit when they stepped away from the action of the stage.
While Ben and Diane stayed close together most of the evening, Ben made his way down to the room for a short break. He and Bob conversed easily as they found they had obvious common interests. “Ben was a supporter of the MSP. He asked me about my career. Apparently he was friendly with some of the Troopers on the Mass Pike [located in Weston] and mentioned going to the shooting range with a couple of them. He spoke well of the Massachusetts State Police.”
Diane joined them shortly afterwards. Bob found Diane and Ben to be refreshingly genuine and open, and he enjoyed their quiet chat very much.
Eventually it was Bob’s turn to make his appearance in the drama. He headed back upstairs and prepared for his signal calling him to emerge through the curtain.
“When it came time to see who was responsible for Mackin’s murder, I walked onto the stage. I stood out like a sore thumb being dressed in two-tone blue and not black and white like everyone else,” Bob recalled. He played his part perfectly. “I slowly walked past all the alleged suspects and returned to Diane and arrested her for the murder. Then I surprised the crowd by arresting Ben as a co-conspirator before and after the fact.”
The evening was a success, and remains a wonderful memory for Bob.
“It was all in good fun and they raised a sizable sum of money during the event. I was happy they took a photo of myself with Carole, Diane, and Ben. It is a great memory of a fun event. I found Diane and Ben to just be normal folks when I was one-on-one with them. Ben was really nice and I felt sad when he passed.”
Of course, the ‘charges’ were dropped and no one’s permanent record was affected, though Ben did leave a favorable lasting impression on Bob McKeon.
Thank you so much for sharing your little bit of Ben history with us, Bob! ❤
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 Dirty Water Guitar Marathon took place on September 13, 1997.
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!)