The Cars and Bob Seger: Yay for Snowstorms!

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.

Bob_Seger_-_Night_MovesIn 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 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.”

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The Cars by Stephen Sherman, 1977; shared with permission.

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 the first song. The Cars’ set lasted just under 30 minutes, and included:

  1. “Bye Bye Love” with Ric on vocals.
  2. “I Don’t Want To,” sung by Elliot.
  3. “Leave or Stay”
  4. “You Can Have ‘Em,” also known as “Sleepy Wasted Afternoon.” [Sweet Ben jumping the starting gun! ❤ ]
  5. “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.
  6. “Come Back Down”
  7. “Strawberry Moonlight”

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!

#CelebratingBenjaminOrr

Andy Bergsten: Connected for a beat

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

Andy & Paul
Paul McCartney and Andy

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Andy Bergsten


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

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

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

In other words:

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The Cars, c. 1977; Danny Louis on the far right.

“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

 

Lyrics: Wake Me Up

DISCLAIMER: I have changed a couple of the lyrics from the generally-accepted versions posted on the web because (1.) I am 100% confident these are the words our Benjamin is actually singing, (2.) the Cap’n Swing version (called Indigo) makes the lyrics even more obvious, and (3.) Ric’s book, Lyrics and Prose, clearly supports the words I changed (thanks, Jen!). I marked the lines that I edited with an asterisk. Take a listen and see if you agree.

Wake Me Up by The Cars

Wake me up in the middle of the flight

Show me which way to go where the wind won’t blow

Swing me up, sweet purple June

Hold me like I’m a child that’s about to go wild

I’d like to know just where you’ve been; if you would like to try again

I’d like to slow this spin I’m in…

Would you like to begin?

 

Silver Sunday tease my eyes*

I am too dissatisfied with your other side*

Roll me up and drop me down

Lay me back in New York town; that’s where I’d like to be found

I’d like to know just where you’ve been; if you would like to try again

I’d like to slow this spin I’m in…

Would you like to begin?

 

Roll me up and drop me down

Lay me back in New York town; that’s where I’d like to be found

Lyrics: Cool Fool

Cool Fool by The Cars (written by Elliot Easton © 1977)

From your junkie drawer you fell onto the floor

And then got up for more…

I remember the night, how you blew away

You just couldn’t wait

You were weakened with love and you were closing the gate

 

From your fairy den your eyes rolled up again

I thought I knew you when…

I remember the night, how you blew away

You just couldn’t wait

You were weakened with love and you were closing the gate

 

From your liquid sea you shout ‘no sympathy’

Then you preached yeah nothing’s free…

I remember the night, how you blew away

You just couldn’t wait

You were weakened with love and you were closing the gate

Wake Me Up

Of all the songs Benjamin sings, this one touches me the deepest. It is the first of two Cars’ songs that made me literally, uncontrollably cry the first time I heard it.

Originally recorded as “Indigo” by Cap’n Swing, the Cars made a demo of this song in 1977. It didn’t appear on any of their albums until it showed up in a group of demo tracks on the 1999 release of “The Cars: Deluxe Edition.”

The lyrics are poignant, to be sure, and the keyboards draw the perfect mood, but it is the desperation in Ben’s voice, the longing to set life and relationships right again, that cause an ache in my heart, having struggled through the bitter loss of a precious friendship. The Cap’n Swing version is great, but it just doesn’t evoke the burn of emotion; doesn’t make my knees want to buckle, like this recording does.