“I can remember one time, Ben, Derek, and I going into a dive blues club in Atlanta and the band asked us if we wanted to sit in. When we asked Ben if he wanted to do it he just said, ‘I’m a bass player, not just that guy in The Cars!’ So, we went up there and played and Ben was fantastic!” — Liberty DeVitto, drummer with Big People, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken
When I asked Liberty if there was a special story as to why Ben was getting ready to lick him, Liberty replied, “He loved me!!” LOL
“Benny called me one day to tell me that he had a new band called The Cars and he was now calling himself Ben Orr. Because of our friendship, I played their record. What I didn’t realize was that this was a Hall-of-Fame-caliber band that would change the world. Whenever he came to town, he would come in for an interview on my radio show and we always found time to share a meal or two. I always got to eat. Benny basically just signed autographs and had his picture taken.
“In many ways, he never left Cleveland, returning to sing on local records to raise money for different causes, always giving a shout-out to his hometown and never forgetting where he came from.” — David Spero, artist manager, former Cleveland DJ, and former associate producer of Upbeat!, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, by Joe Milliken
Interesting note: This photo of David and Ben was taken in April, 1985, when Ben was in Cleveland during the C.A.R.E.S. Sessions to record “Eyes of the Children.” Click on the footage below to catch a bit of his involvement in that project:
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!
On the first time he saw Ben play: “I can remember seeing Ben’s and Ric’s names around town as another band, Cap’n Swing, but it wasn’t the same places that I was going to at the time, so I hadn’t gotten to see them play live. Then a mutual friend of mine and Ric’s, Maxanne Sartori, had mentioned them to me, and she thought they were good, so I went and saw Cap’n Swing at Paul’s Mall. They were kind of a mish-mash group of people, and when they came out, Ben was wearing these white satin karate pajamas and flip flops!
“I remember thinking, ‘What kind of look is this?’ Ben only sang and didn’t play the bass, but I did notice right away how great his voice was! The music was quirky-pop sounding, and not really coming from a hip place but a more nerdy place, so I wasn’t overly impressed.” — David Robinson, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken, p. 70.
“Ben was just a terrific singer… he reminded me of Rutger Hauer but with a great voice! I didn’t know The Cars well in the early days, but got to know Ben a little bit in his post-Cars days. He was a great guy, very talented, and a real pro in the studio.” — Charlie Farren, Boston-area vocalist and guitar player, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, by Joe Milliken
“Our personal relationship had its ups and downs, as Ben was a very complex person and could be moody. Plus, I was only in my twenties, but fortunately we did remain friends through it all. Ben was somewhat intense and seemed introverted, but he was really just taking time to get to know you, then he would open up a little more. He was quite a character once I got to know him, and he always had something fun or creative going on. The man never sat still!” — David Frangioni, recording engineer and producer, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken, p. 159
“Ben was a good friend, and we played a lot of great music together in just a few short years. We were pals. I’ve only known a few great singers who were pure ‘naturals’ like Ben. He just opened his mouth to sing and sounded perfect—like a hit record.
“His musicianship was stellar, and he was just a very fun guy to know and hang out with. He was consistently a good and kind fellow, and I’ll always miss him and remember fondly all the good times we spent together.” — Danny Louis of Gov’t Mule, formerly with Cap’n Swing and founding member of The Cars, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken, p. 65
“When I was told by Ginny Mayer before a gig that Benny had terminal cancer, I just couldn’t believe it. In fact, it took a while for me to be able to even comprehend it. Benny left us way too soon, but I will tell you this right now, he loved life and lived every single day to the fullest.” — Dante Rossi, fellow Cleveland musician of The Baskerville Hounds, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, page 184
Here’s my photo journal of my time in Boston celebrating Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars. The event itself was a sold-out-smash filled with rocking music, incredible surprises, and a guest list that sent me over the moon. Surrounding that, I had the time of my life in the same city where my Benjamin lived and worked.
I admit to siphoning a few photos from my friends’ Facebook posts. I hope no one minds! I was too hyper and/or forgetful to capture all I wanted. Photographers include Joe Milliken, Natalie Gaber, Kurt Gaber, David Curry, Eric Barao, Ralph Fatello, Peter Van Ness, Denise Fields, Christine Coughlin, and Mike Baratta. I appreciate you all!
Okay… here we go!
Leaving for the airport Wednesday night, my daughter Liz surprised me with some encouraging words and sage advice. Oh, and snacks, too. Such a sweet kiddo!!
On my way to the airport I stopped to pick up my new business cards, featuring a great design by @night_spots. I love them!
Arrived Thursday morning, got my rental car and made my way to the hotel, where I was able to check in early. First thing I did? Got Turbocharge plugged into the big screen and mourned the fact that one of my heroes, David Juskow, wasn’t coming to Boston. I also found out that I was going to miss seeing my dear friend, Dante Tomaselli. I had to take a few minutes to absorb those disappointments. I showered, changed my outfit, and painted my toenails before meeting my dear friend, Nicole, for the first time! I wish I had snapped a photo of us when we first met; we were both so very excited! We talked a mile a minute and had to explain to the waitress why we still hadn’t decided on our orders when she came by for the umpteenth time.
After a brief but tasty lunch and chick chat, I headed back to the hotel to meet Joe, and then guess what? Nicole treated me and Joe to an elegant dinner at The Top of the Hub! What an amazing time we had! The conversation just flowed as we talked about Boston, the book, and the pros and cons of letting our kids play sports. We missed out on most of the view as it was very foggy outside, but we hardly cared, we were enjoying each other so much. The one blemish on the evening was that Nicole’s love, Mike, couldn’t come due to an unexpected meeting at work. Fortunately, I knew I would finally get to meet him on Saturday night.
Fat and sassy from our scrumptious dinner with Nicole, Joe and I met filmmaker Eric Green (writer and director of the documentary Live on the V: The Story of V66) at The Pour House for drinks and an interview for Eric’s pop culture blog. It was an honor for me to hang out with him, and we all had a blast! We chatted for a bit, recorded the interview between him and Joe, and then chatted some more. He is so interesting, intelligent, and funny, I felt like I could have talked to him forever.
Friday morning was busy with visiting and prep, but in the early afternoon Joe and I were able to find the former location of The Rat (before determining that we were at the wrong location for dinner with Judith Orr. Haha! Luckily she wanted to change restaurants anyway, so it all worked out.). As you see, I’m wearing my red pants in honor of Ben.
Inside the Eastern Standard there is a very cool poster commemorating the former Rat venue. It was a surreal feeling to be standing on the ground where so much rock-and-roll history took place.
Joe and I enjoyed a yummy dinner at Bertucci’s on Friday night with beautiful Jude and her sweet friend, Christine. We shared stories and laughs and lots of huckleberry taffy, and it was really a precious time for me. I like Judith SO much; she’s hilarious and open, and such a happy person. I had hoped to get together with her at least one more time before I left but aside from seeing her at the book event, I wasn’t able to meet up with her again; time just got away from me. She lives in my timezone, though, so I’m optimistic we’ll see each other before too long.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel in time to catch the screening of Turbocharge with this group of crazy kids! I never get tired of watching this hilarious film. I couldn’t help but miss David Juskow, though; he had been wavering on whether to come to Boston to join us for the weekend but in the end, he just wasn’t able to make it. Still, our little group had a great time hanging out together (Alan’s wife, Denise, was there, too; she took the pic for us).
Thank goodness my podcast partner-in-crime and I met for coffee in the mornings so we could make time to act like ding dongs. Dave and I found ourselves going separate ways much of the weekend so it was great to have that daily check-in. I am eternally grateful for our easy, funny, relaxed friendship. I don’t know what I’d do without him!
On Saturday morning during coffee, Dave invited me to head to Rockport with him, Kurt, and Natalie, and I convinced Joe to come, too. I’m so glad we went! Here I am outside of David Robinson’s shop. We parked nearby but the place was closed when we walked past, darn it! Oh well. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was eager to explore the area and see what Rockport was all about.
Boats aplenty at Rockport Harbor!
Lots of cute art galleries, jewelry shops, candlemakers… and a stinky lobster place! Haha!
Stopped to enjoy the street action with Olive and Ash, the ‘brother and sister Juggle Crew.’ Heck yeah! I have a soft spot in my heart for kids who take the initiative and put effort into carving their path.
The view of the Atlantic Ocean from Bearskin Neck.
The view of Back Harbor.
Perfect day! Kurt’s wife, Natalie, is an absolute treasure. She’s so patient with all of us Cars fans and always has her camera snapping away for us. She’s witty and observant, and so very kind! It was a treat to hang out and do some casual shopping with this sweet, quiet, lovely lady.
Rockport is such an adorable little town. We walked out to Bear’s Neck and back, grabbing some yummy ice cream on our return stroll. Mine was chocolate peanut butter. Mmmm!
There’s just never enough time to spend, you know? But I am so grateful… It’s amazing to me that I have actually met these amazing friends in person, and on multiple occasions! I truly love these guys (and Nat, too, who is behind the camera!).
So, when we walked back toward the car and passed David Robinson’s shop, guess who was sitting out on the porch, shooting the breeze with friends? That’s riiiiiiight! THE David Robinson! Dave, Kurt, and I all tell the details of this ultra-cool turn of events on episode 55 of the NiGHT THOUGHTS podcast, but suffice it to say, I was so very happy to spend time with him. And he remembered meeting me in Cleveland! It still makes me all quivery with delight to think about it.
Though we knew beforehand that David would be coming to the book event with friends, it was great for me and Joe to confirm plans with him in person and make sure he was all set. I know Joe really enjoyed getting to connect with him, too, since it had been a few years since he interviewed David for the book.
This is the beautiful piece I bought, a necklace handmade by David Robinson.
A sample of David Robinson’s favorite music. Can you even imagine how cool it was to talk tunes with him like just a bunch of friends hanging out? I mean, when we first came upon him my knees were weak, but by this point I was pretty relaxed because he just put us all at ease. I don’t think it was until we were buckling in the car to head back to Peabody that the full force of happiness really hit me again.
We spent about an hour and a half enjoying David’s company. He was kind, cool, and funny, and said very nice things to us (and yes, his hands were warm!). Terrific memories with some of my favorite people in the world.
The event poster outside of 9 Wallis. I’m pretty proud of my design, if you don’t mind me saying. I’m thankful to Joe for giving me so much creative freedom, and for my son, Nick, who pulled Ben out of that Robert Post photo for me. Since it’s about 3 feet high and on stiff signboard there was no way I could fly it home with me, but Joe’s holding mine with his. Yay!
Our little merch table. I love the items Joe and I put together. We’ve got a few leftover; we’ll be making them available for purchase on Facebook.
It was an honor to have the incredibly talented Kathy Sullivan join us at the party, and we were thrilled to have her set up her fabulous artwork, including two amazing portraits of Ben… and a third one that I didn’t know about yet. I’ll definitely do a separate post about her just for this blog, but I did have the pleasure of interviewing her for an SRO article and writing an abbreviated review for my sister blog, Read~Rock~Review.
Many of you might know of Brett Milano from The Cars’ final interview in 2000, or from the liner notes he’s penned for a couple of the band’s post-heyday releases. He is also a long-time journalist and author of four music-related books, too! The moderated discussion he led with Joe to kick off the night was a nice, relaxed conversation. These two were great together! Our dear friends, The Covinos, filmed this part of the show and I’ve uploaded it to the book’s YouTube channel. Link below!
Before Moving In Stereo took the stage, I had the privilege of introducing them to David Robinson in the green room. Again, he was so low-key and funny, and took his time chatting with everyone, joking around, and wishing them luck. David’s girlfriend, Nancy, was so sweet, too. I wish I had thought to get a picture with her. As a side note, before I escorted David and Nancy back to their seats I did show them my Panorama shoes — David loved them!
Moving in Stereo – The Ultimate Musical Tribute to The Cars! These guys rocked the club for 75 minutes — and I do mean ROCKED. I received so many compliments from people during and after the show about the band’s performance, not just from Cars fans, but from Ben’s family and friends as well as from the other notable musicians that were in the audience. I’m so proud of our boys!
The whole band delivered a high-energy, tight, magnetic show!
I was totally taken off guard when Joe called me up on the stage before the band’s encore, and even more surprised when he revealed for the first time publicly how I came to be involved with the book. I’m not always aware of my facial expressions; thank goodness David Curry reminded me to SMILE.
Joe had a special gift for me as his way of thanking me for my dedication to the book project. You can’t imagine my shock and pleasure when he presented me with a stunning portrait he had commissioned from Kathy Sullivan just for me: our beautiful Benjamin from Musikladen. My sweet friend, Nicole, was in on it, too, and knew it was coming, so she captured it on video. Check out the link at the end of this article!
Kathy Sullivan’s remarkable portrait. And see the purple wave of spirit and stars behind him? It’s a beautiful inclusion of the ‘sweetpurplejune’ connection. This treasured gift moves me every time I look at it, which is about 100 times a day.
Me with my beautiful and treasured friend, Nicole! It was a dream come true to finally meet her face to face after nearly three years of social media connection!
I was thrilled to meet and spend time with author Brett Milano, whom I have long admired. I even remembered to have him sign my copy of his book, The Sound of Our Town.
I’m afraid I was a little starstruck when I saw legendary drummer and producer Hirsh Gardner making his way across the venue. What a treat to meet him! And he was nice enough to rock out with me and even share his yummy drink. Haha!
I’m sure I took singer/songwriter Eric Barao by surprise when I leapt into his arms as soon as I recognized him; I was just so happy to finally meet him in person! I feel like I’ve known him forever. And what a good sport he was to bring Ric Ocasek’s jacket for me to try on! LOL
It was such an honor to have these three ladies in attendance: Diane Page, Judith Orr, and Kris Orr. Such precious women in Ben’s life, and so instrumental in helping Joe tell Ben’s story. I was thankful to spend time with Diane and Judith but unfortunately I didn’t get to formally meet Kris. Please excuse Kurt’s photo bomb. LOL
Hanging out with the Babaloo girls, Becky, Marla, and Kim! These ladies came from the far corners to celebrate Ben with us and I’m so thankful!
I had the pleasure of connecting with The VINNY Band frontman Ralph Fatello during the planning stages of this event, and I went right down the rabbit hole! His music is great, his photography is stellar, and he is such a kind and gracious man. The icing? He invited a couple of his very good friends to join him and his wife to our little party, and boom! David Robinson was on the guest list! Thank you so much, Ralph!
P.S. Ralph told me after the event that the vibe and venue has inspired him to start planning for something he’s put off for far too long: A reunion of The VINNY Band! Active between 1976 and 1984, The VINNY Band was an all-original group that played extensively in Boston and New England, and toured through South America and the Caribbean. All of their recordings were produced by our very own David Robinson. Follow them on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss the details!
It was such a delight to finally meet Paroo, and she was kind enough to share her beautiful story about her encounter with Ben. SO precious!
I’ve been social media friends with Kurt for so long I feel like I’ve known him all my life. Still shaking my head that we’ve met in person as often as we have — three times now! Just can’t decide if I think of him as my big brother or as my little brother. Haha!
We love these guys SO much! Hard-working, hard-rocking, and some of the kindest and funniest men in the business. And the BEST Cars tribute band ever! Moving In Stereo was the perfect choice to join us in celebrating Ben in Boston.
I was completely aware of the magnitude of this moment for Joe. Incredible. Plus I also love that David is examining Eric Barao’s new solo CD and that he has a print of Kathy Sullivan’s portrait of Ben. Ralph Fatello on the right adds even more coolness to this already epic photo.
So thankful Peter Van Ness, the owner of our venue, 9 Wallis, took a chance with this greenie and our little show! He rolled the dice, showed me the ropes, and kept me laughing. I think we’re both pretty happy with the results! Thank you a million times, Peter; so grateful to call you my friend!
Hostess-with-the-mostest, Vickie Van Ness! From crowd control to keeping track of my tab, Vickie kept everything running smoothly all night long! And I think she’s the one that invented the drink special for the night. It was called The Drive, and it was dangerously delicious!
As many of you know by now, working on this book has been a life-changing experience, on so many levels. Editing, proofreading, publishing, marketing, organizing events… I’ve learned so much and had so much fun! I’ll forever be grateful to Joe for letting me in on this project, and for sharing Ben with me in a way that no one else could.
My sense of style: Ocasek jacket and Panorama shoes. Still hyper and happy at the end of the night. It took me a few hours to come down from the adrenaline high.
On Sunday I headed back to downtown Boston to try to capture the views that I missed on Thursday night. From the observation deck at the top of the Prudential building, there are the city blocks where they lived and worked… Ben, Ric, David, Greg, and Elliot making the music that changed my life (and many others’) forever. Boston will always have a precious place in my heart!
So many greats have walked in and out of that school, including our own Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes.
The ultimate rock-and-roll hotel! Unfortunately the Cars room was occupied and I was unable to tour it, but still a very cool place, nonetheless. Next time!
On the Verb’s wall of famous patrons….
There’s Greg! Can you find him? I am determined to stay here at least one night in my life!
Another Cars mention on the wall of The Verb Hotel.
Goodbye, my beautiful Boston! I hope to see you again! ❤
A couple of extras:
Here are those YouTube videos of the book discussion and Joe presenting me with my special gift. Enjoy! ❤
And here’s the link to the podcast episode where I give more deets of the trip:
Today I woke up to the sad news that Dante Rossi passed away.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dante in Cleveland less than six months ago, where he was hale and hearty (and very charming!) and having the time of his life. We were all gathered to celebrate the release of the book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars. Dante played a significant role in Ben’s career back in Ohio in the 1960s, and it was fitting for him to shine in the spotlight at that event. Many of us were eager to thank him for his music, his meaningful relationship with Ben, and for coming and honoring Ben’s memory with us.
Dante was the vocalist and rhythm guitar player who originally started The Grasshoppers, securing Joe Mayer as manager and lining up a record deal for the band. When he decided to leave the group in 1964, it opened the door for Ben to audition to take Dante’s place. As we now know, Ben got the job, and the popularity, exposure, and experience of playing with The Grasshoppers were instrumental in helping Ben achieve his rock-and-roll dreams.
As for Dante, he joined up with another group of great musicians and formed The Dantes, which were renamed The Tulu Babies before ultimately settling in under the name The Baskerville Hounds. Between 1964 and 1972 the Hounds (as they were sometimes known) revelled in much local and national success, playing extensively in the greater Cleveland area and opening for such acts as The Rolling Stones and Sonny & Cher. In turn, The Baskerville Hounds had acts like The Shangri-Las, The Tree Stumps (featuring Michael Stanley) and The Grasshoppers open for them during the peak of their popularity.
The first hit for the guys was recorded in 1965 while they were still The Tulu Babies. It was called “Hurtin’ Kind” and not only was it a local smash, but it was popular in the UK as well, being covered by many British acts and even appearing in the soundtrack for the 2000 film Gangster No. 1 starring Malcolm MacDowell.
In 1967, the fame of The Baskerville Hounds continued to climb with the release of their self-titled album, which featured two singles that put them on the Billboard Hot 100 chart: “Debbie,” (#99) and “Space Rock part 2” (#60). The popularity of the latter track was reinforced when it was played so often on Cleveland’s hit television show Ghoulardi it became an unofficial theme song. The Hounds had a third song grace the Billboard chart in 1969 when they released “Hold Me” (#88).
[I’ve been listening to many of their songs today as I write this. If you’d like to explore their sound, the playlist I’ve created should help you get started.]
The band ultimately dissolved in 1972 (though there would be some reunions in later years) and Dante changed professions, opening Dante’s Barber Shop near Ben’s childhood home in Parma Heights. Dante and Ben stayed close long after Ben left Cleveland and hit it big with The Cars, and Dante was one of the speakers at Ben’s memorial service in 2000.
Dante said in Let’s Go!, “When The Cars finally got their record deal, I remember being invited to a Christmas party at Benny’s mother’s house and everyone was just so proud. Benny was thrilled; he just sparkled! All the hard work and fighting through adversity had finally paid off. Think about all the talented musicians out there that never make it, never end up being heard, but Benny had the tenacity and determination to see it through, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled for him.”
I’m so grateful I got to meet Dante in person and shake his hand; I’m thankful I got to tell him how much I appreciated all he did for Ben. It’s comforting to think that Dante and Ben may now be reunited and rocking together in their prime. May it be so.
Okay, so this is another one of my nerdy little mysteries … at least, it used to be!
I had heard this one 1987 interview on Youtube quite a while ago. It’s Ric and Ben with the late Bob Coburn on Rockline. A caller asked the guys what they do after a show, and Ben gave a rather odd and cryptic answer, which cracked Ric up, but left me baffled. Well, here… Take a listen:
Now what could he possibly mean? Surely not a literal hat, like his black bolero one from the Shake It Up days. Hmmm. Since I always chew on Ben’s words and turn them over and over in my head, his response really stood out to me but there was just no way I could figure out what in the heck he was talking about. So… I’m sure you can imagine how my eyes popped out of my head when I was reading Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars by Joe Milliken and I got to this part on page 108:
“The Cars had no drug scene. Most, as I recall, smoked cigarettes and pot, which was referred to as ‘putting on a hat’ or ‘le grand chapeau.'” ~ Stephen Bickford
Ahhhh! So that is what Ben meant! Goofy boy. He sounds so pleased with himself, too, the way he is snickering at his own joke. Hahaha!
Well, I guess we can lay that little riddle to rest.
Oh, and just to clarify, Stephen Bickford is a talented set designer who started working and traveling with The Cars around the time they were making Candy-O. He’s also the guy who (thankfully!) filmed a lot of the backstage antics that ended up in the epic The Cars: Unlocked DVD, and is credited with some great photos of Ben and the band, like this one:
“The time with Ben before and while he was ill were some of the most important, exciting, life- and spiritual-expanding moments I’ve ever shared with anyone. Ben taught us so much about life, in the way he went through the process of cancer treatment and in day-to-day life. He was also an absolutely fantastic father to his son, and loved him more than he ever loved anyone.” — Julie Snider-Mennie, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, page 192