In other words:

from liberty shediac show
Derek St. Holmes, Liberty DeVitto, and Benjamin Orr. July, 1999, at Rockfest 99 in New Brunswick, Canada. Photo courtesy of Liberty DeVitto; shared with permission.

“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

 

Side note:

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

More on The C.A.R.E. Session

I gave a brief summary of this project in the article I recently wrote about Michael Stanley, but let’s look a little more closely at Ben’s involvement in the C.A.R.E. Session, shall we?

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.

In Cleveland, Ohio, it was radio executive John Gorman and media personality Denny Sanders, two beloved local icons, who caught the vision and decided to rally their town for the cause. Gorman does a great job of telling the story of the project’s inception in his own words on his blog, so I’ll let you read that, and I’ll just record the statistical particulars here:

  • 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.’

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My stash from Matthew Fuller.

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.

possibly ben screenshot from video_LI
Maybe 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.

front cover 01 crop
Front cover
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Ben cropped from the front cover
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Ben, cropped and rotated
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The insert
ben crop 3
Ben cropped from the insert
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Other side of the insert
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Back cover

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. ❤

ben and david spero
David Spero and Ben Orr, 1985. Photo by Bob Ferrell. Retrieved from Facebook.

Quoting Benjamin

On the reasoning behind the band name: “Who can forget the day he got his driver’s license? Or his first car, or his first drive-in? If I hadn’t had a car, I wouldn’t have driven over from Parma Heights to Fairview Park to go shopping, and I wouldn’t have met my future wife — Kris King from Bay Village. She’s a curly-haired strawberry blonde. Gorgeous!” — “The Cars take off fast in the record derby,” The Plain Dealer, June 9, 1978.

QuotingB

Let’s make a record!

Songs That Didn't Make It To Vinyl 5The discovery of “Looking To See You” from The Cars’ April, 1977, show at The Rat brought to my mind again that the band had a whole cache of great songs that they could have cobbled together into another record. I’m not saying that I wish the debut album was any different — for heaven’s sake, it’s perfection! — but it would have been cool to somehow have my cake and eat it too. They could have done a “lost tracks” compilation, or “road to the record deal,” that kind of thing, don’t you think?

Anyway, that got me pondering which songs I would put on an additional album if I had a say, and in what order. I noodled out my choices, but I want to hear yours! So let’s play a little game: Let’s make a record! All you have to do is:

  1. Look through the list of songs I compiled below. I think I’ve got all of the ones played by The Cars at some point in their career that did not end up on one of the seven studio albums. I’ve added YouTube links in case you need to revisit some of the tunes, and I included the dates in case… well, just because, I guess. Please let me know if I missed a song! (Also, you’re welcome to specify other versions of a song title if you have a favorite; I just grabbed one for each.)
  2. From that list, choose no more than 11 titles that you would include on a whole ‘new’ Cars record. (I capped it at 11 because that is the highest number of tracks on any one of their original studio albums.) You can decide if you want to group them by a time period, or a specific style, or if you want to make a concept album using the songs to tell the story. Or you could compile a ‘greatest hits’-type group, or focus on one of the band members. There are tons of possibilities.
  3. Now make your track list. Think carefully about sequencing. What song would really be a great opener to set the tone for the album? How about a great finisher? Don’t forget to split the list into Side A and Side B — remember, we’re playing with vinyl here!
  4. Brainstorm a title for your record.
  5. For extra bonus points, make a YouTube playlist to share with us!
  6. Overachievers can even go the Robinson route and create some album art. What colors and images would you use? How about photographs? Fonts? Sleeves? Liner notes??? The sky’s the limit! [You can work with any format, but if you’d like to monkey around with graphics, try exploring Canva. It’s free and very user friendly.]
  7. Share! Submit your track list (and/or your YouTube playlist, album art, liner notes, etc.) by posting in the comments below, sharing on Facebook, or by sending me an email through the blog if you don’t want to throw it all out there. 😉

Then… let’s see… should we put everyone’s records up for a vote? I say YES! I’ll gather everyone’s ideas and then organize a little poll here and on social media. I’ll keep all the entries anonymous to avoid personal popularity votes; every record will stand on its own merits. Ooo, I can even have several categories, like Best Track List, Best Cover Art, Best Overall Album, that kind of thing… Oh man, I’m already getting carried away, I can tell.

I’m cooling my jets now, but let’s set a deadline of April 15 for entries if you want to be part of a vote. I’ll see if there’s enough interest in going further. Regardless of if we end up doing that part of it, I really want to hear everyone’s ideas! You can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. It’s your record!

Okay, here’s the list of titles (with links):

Here’s a playlist of all of the songs together in the same order, if that’s easier:

Aaaaand…. GO!

Live at The Rat: the Evolution Continues

1977.04.28 ad for The RatFrom what I can tell, this was The Cars’ fourth weekend gig at The Rathskeller in Boston. They played Thursday through Sunday, April 28-May 1, 1977, sharing the bill with The Good Rats (a New York band with a cool history). It is unclear which night was recorded here.

The flyer advertisement I used at the beginning of the video includes a photo of the early band, before Greg Hawkes joined in January, 1977. The guy on the far right is Danny Louis, the original keyboard player. Elaine Hawkes once commented that she thought the reason the guys were still using this photo to advertise the band was because they were too broke to get new promo shots taken right away.

Another note about the video: I’m not sure if the photos by Joanie Lindstrom are from this actual Rat performance. They look awfully similar to the Robert Post set that was taken in early February, so they could be from that.

Okay, let’s check out the show. Here’s the set list:

  • 0:00 “Just What I Needed”
  • 3:30 “I’m In Touch With Your World”
  • 7:05 “Strawberry Moonlight”
  • 10:08 “Lover and A Holiday”
  • 13:50 “Bye Bye Love” (Ric on vocals)
  • 18:15 “Wake Me Up” (!!)
  • 22:00 “Cool Fool”
  • 24:54 “Looking to See You” (an unreleased surprise)
  • 29:08 “Don’t Cha Stop”
  • 32:45 “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”

There’s a bit of a rocky start, and it sounds like Ben jumps in just a little too soon, but he corrects himself and then away he goes. A pretty cool show here: more fiddling with the instrumentation and the vocal delivery, and the songs move another notch closer to their final versions. There’s a little feedback problem in “Strawberry Moonlight” — eek! — and Ric on vocals for “Bye Bye Love” — double eek! The live version of “Wake Me Up” is a gem and I’m so glad to have it, in spite of the poor audio quality. ❤

To me, the most notable thing about this show is the song labeled “Looking to See You.” This was completely new to me! The originator of the audio file isn’t even sure if that’s what it’s called because, as far as we know, there are no other published recordings of it. It’s a great song! I assume it was written by Ric, but I know nothing about it. Maybe others can fill in the details?

Enjoy the show!


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 notifications of when I upload new stuff. I’ve started keeping a playlist of the live shows in chronological order. You can check it out here:

Lyrics: Drive

“Drive” by The Cars

Who’s going to tell you when it’s too late?

Who’s going to tell you things aren’t so great?

You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong

Who’s going to drive you home tonight?

Who’s going to pick you up when you fall?

Who’s going to hang it up when you call?

Who’s going to pay attention to your dreams?

Yeah who’s going to plug their ears when you scream?

You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong

Who’s going to drive you home tonight?

Who’s going to hold you down when you shake?

Who’s going to come around when you break?

You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong

Who’s going to drive you home tonight?

Oh, you know you can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong

Who’s going to drive you home tonight?

Here’s a lovely acapella version, because who doesn’t want to hear that beautiful voice all on its own?

The Michael Stanley ~ Benjamin Orr Connection

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.

michael
Image retrieved from the WMMS Cleveland Facebook page.

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. ❤

It reminds me of him.

If Ben Orr was a teen television star…

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Edd Byrnes, circa 1959. Image retrieved from Pinterest.

Recently, one of my sweet-talking friends thanked me by saying, “Baby, you’re the ginchiest!” Curious about a phrase I had never heard before, I had to go look it up. I’m so glad I did: According to the Urban Dictionary, ‘ginchiest’ means groovy, happenin’, kick-ass, or rockin’; “the pinnacle of cool.” What a great compliment!

The term was coined by the late Edd Byrnes who played heartthrob Kookie (pronounced ‘coo-key,’ not like cookie) in the 1950s television program, “77 Sunset Strip.” Anybody remember that show? It was on the air from 1958 to 1964, coming to an end about the time that Benjamin was climbing the ladder of local celebrity with The Grasshoppers in Cleveland.

Wikipedia does a great job of illuminating Edd Byrnes’ character:

The ‘breakout’ character, who had not been included in the pilot film, was Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III (Edd Byrnes), the rock and roll-loving, wisecracking, hair-combing hipster and aspiring PI who initially worked as the valet parking attendant at Dino’s, the club next door to the detectives’ office. “Kookie” often found a way to get involved in the firm’s cases, and was eventually made a full partner in the firm with his own office.

The Kookie character became a cultural phenomenon, with his slang expressions such as “ginchy” (cool) and “piling up Zs” (sleeping). When Kookie helped the detectives on a case by singing a song, Edd Byrnes began a singing career with the novelty single, “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb),” based on his frequent combing of his hair… Kookie was also used to provide product placement for Harley-Davidson, appearing on their Topper motor scooter in the show and in Harley-Davidson advertisements.

I had a lot of fun going down this little rabbit hole, searching for information and videos about the show. The more I watched, the more my mind could imagine Ben being such a character. My 15yo son went along for the ride, and he digs Kookie, too! We quote this clip all the time:

“And another cool cat bit the dust.”

Now, is it just me? Or do you think that Benjamin could have played that role to a T?

Check out Edd Byrnes and Connie Stevens performing “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)” on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show hosted by Dick Clark on April 4, 1959:

Swoon! Haha! I’m addicted. “You’re the maximum utmost!” ❤

Live at Boston University: Short and Sweet

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.

The first one I did was The Cars opening for Bob Seger at the Boston Music Hall on March 21, 1977. If you missed that one, you can read it here: The Cars and Bob Seger: Yay for Snowstorms!

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Photo credit: Stephen Sherman, 1977

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!

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Maxanne Sartori. Image retrieved from the internet.

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!

In other words:

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David Spero and Ben Orr. Photo by Bob Ferrell. Originally printed in the book Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars; retrieved from the book’s Facebook page.

“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:

Quoting Benjamin

Ben played all the instruments on his demos for The Lace. When asked why he chose a band when it came time to record the album: “It’s much easier to sit back and watch it be done. I play a lot of instruments, but I don’t play them well. I get through them. The only thing I’m efficient at is drums.” — from “Benjamin Orr: The Cars’ Mr. Casual Steps Out” by Rob Tannenbaum, Musician Magazine, March 1987

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For the record: A Detour with Dr. Gonzo

Here’s a little misconception that popped up during the Christmas season. 

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Image retrieved from Discogs.

Fans were (understandably) lamenting the fact that The Cars never recorded a Christmas song, though one track did come up in conversation. Our good friend and SuperFan Jon M. posted on Facebook about a single called “Dough Ray Me” attributed to ‘Dr. Gonzo,’ and shared the audio of the song. There was some confusion as to if it was actually a Cars recording or not. It sounds suspiciously like The Cars. The vocal could certainly pass for Ben being a complete goofball, and while the lyrics are too straightforward to have been written by Ric, the storyline seems like something that might appeal to the band.

Unfortunately, it’s not our boys, but the post sparked my curiosity.

Jon had also mentioned that Dr. Gonzo did a Christmas spoof of “Just What I Needed,” too. I got to wondering how these funny songs came to be, and if The Cars had any involvement in their creation. I figured I’d take the detour, if nothing else than to store away some more random Cars trivia (!). Through the magic of social media I was able to have a little chat with the talent behind the mic, Mr. John Means, aka Dr. Gonzo.

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Image retrieved from Facebook.

In the early 1980s, when stand-up comedy was thriving, Illinois native John Means landed in San Francisco and found his niche as Dr. Gonzo, “The Doc of Comedy Rock.” He would take the stage with a guitar slung over his shoulder, and he would pepper his joke routine with short bursts of cheeky parodies of the popular songs of the day. “That got me to open for a lot of bands,” John explained, “because I was sort of musical, and that kind of made me the ‘cartoon before the movie’ for a lot of rock bands.”

Enter Roger Clark of Little Roger and The Goosebumps. who had some notoriety (and a bag of legal trouble) in 1978 after his genius mash-up of the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” with Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” triggered a cease and desist order from Led Zeppelin management. Roger was compelled to destroy all of the unsold 45s. Of course, he couldn’t take back the radio exposure, and the song, titled “Gilligan’s Island (Stairway),” (later reissued under the name “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island”) became a cult classic. Incidentally, Robert Plant would say in 2004 that it was his favorite cover of the song.

Anyway, John teamed up with Roger in 1982 to write and record “Dough Ray Me,” a twist on Roger and Hammerstein’s “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. The gist of the lyrics is that Dr. Gonzo got high and decided to steal Ray’s car, then he crashed it, and now he owes Ray some dough. Very recognizable musical bits from “Just What I Needed” are sprinkled throughout. The 45 was released locally, billed as Dr. Gonzo & the Rent-A-Cars (the Rent-A-Cars were, of course, Little Roger and his Goosebumps), and even got a little radio airplay. “I think Dr. Demento played it, and local bay area stations humored me by putting it on the air a few times,” John chuckled.

With some help from his friends, John also shot a video for the song, featuring the late Monty Hoffman as the angry Ray. MTV was exploding in popularity at the time, so John decided to see if he could get a piece of the action. “We went to LA and went to The Cars’ record company and tried to pitch this thing and see if we could get it on MTV,” he recalled. “We wanted a blessing, we didn’t want to just do it and get in trouble. The MTV people liked it but the record company didn’t want them to release it, so they kind of put a stop to it getting on the air.”

Still, the video survived (and luckily, we can watch it on YouTube!). And there’s that Christmas parody that Jon M. mentioned, too. On an episode of the 80s show Night Flight, Dr. Gonzo takes to a junkyard with his guitar and rocks out an ode to Santa, also using “Just What I Needed.” The clip of that is preserved on Tracey L.’s YouTube channel (including some cute footage of an interview with Elliot!). See both videos below:

“The Cars were just a good vehicle, very recognizable. I could play a couple of chords on the guitar and people would realize I was going to do The Cars. I even did a Ric Ocasek… I’d pull my ears out and look like the fly in that one video and go, ‘Hey, look! I’ve got a rock star in my soup!’ Stupid stuff like that,” John laughed.

“Anybody I ever made fun of is because I was a fan of theirs. Their sound was just so good!” he said.

He always thought maybe he’d meet someone from The Cars but no luck, even when playing in the band’s backyard. “People just loved it when I did [the song] in Boston. It went over well and it was just a lot of fun.”

Throughout the 80s, John opened for some great bands, like Blue Oyster Cult, Night Ranger, Starship, Joe Walsh, and Devo. He also toured extensively with Huey Lewis and The News in 1983-84, and ended up in two of Huey’s music videos — how cool is that? “I got into it to be a stand up comic, not a rock star, but I got to live out my rock-and-roll fantasies, too.”

You can see him here as the ball handler at the Clown Toss booth (from about 1:55 to 2:35):

He also shows up a couple times in this one. You can hear Huey call “Gonzo!” at the 12 second mark, and then John has two little exchanges with Huey, one at 0:25 and another starting at 1:38 as Gonzo models a Back to the Future jacket.

Well now, we found all sorts of fun 80s trivia to tuck away, didn’t we?! And now we’ll return to our regularly scheduled writing. Haha!