Kevin McCarty: Boston Boys, Part 3

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.

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Scituate Fire Benefit t-shirt. Photo courtesy of Jeff Carlisi.

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.

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John, Kevin, and Ben up at Kevin’s property in Maine, circa 1994. Photo credit unknown.

“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.

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The Rutland Daily Herald, August 17, 1994

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.

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Kevin and Ben, August 21, 1994. This is the only known photo of The Beacon Hillbillies, courtesy of Kevin McCarty.

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.

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Ben at Riverweed, August, 1994. Photo credit: Chris Kamburoff.

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.’

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John, friend Eric, Ben and David night fishing. Photo credit unknown.

“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.”

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Invitation for the 1994 Christmas party at The Rat (not the same year that Kevin and Ben went). Photo credit: Vin Kalishes

“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.

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Ben and his son, circa 1996. Retrieved from Pinterest.

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.

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Kevin McCarty, circa 2013

“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?”


Some notes:

  • ICYMI: Read the rest of the Boston Boys series here: Part 1: Barry Marshall and Part 2: Peter Montgomery
  • 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!

Peter Montgomery: Boston Boys, Part 2

Peter Montgomery: Boston Boys, Part 2

At long last, here is the next installment of my Boston Boys series. Let me just warn you, this one is a bit of a doozy.

We left Part 1 having learned that Barry Marshall had established a working relationship with Elliot Easton as a session musician, and with a hint about another recording job Barry pulled Elliot in on. That project was the album First World Blues (FWB) by The Montgomerys.

At the time I initially got in touch with Barry, FWB had just been released. Having learned that Elliot played on ten of the twelve tracks, I was eager to hear it and promote it. I immediately fell in love with the record and, wanting to go deeper, I connected with Peter Montgomery, the band’s founder, lead vocalist, and songwriter. When I offered to do a write-up about his project, I had no idea of the rabbit hole it would take us down… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a step.

Raised in Scituate, Peter Montgomery was just a kid when Barry was establishing himself in the Boston music scene. Peter remembered, “We have to rewind back to when I was 12 years old because my mother hung around Barry. My father was a dentist and we lived in this huge mansion but it was always filled with hippies… my mom was like this hippy guru, and Barry was one of those hippies. He was kind of a radical. He and my mother fought the Scituate police on a lot of issues, and they were both active in the school and learning disabilities, and stuff like that. That’s why they were friends even though they had this huge age difference.”

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Peter Montgomery, 1992

Peter openly admits that he was – and is – a bit of a handful. Dyslexia, struggles with ADD, and a general lack of maturity dictated his early years, but his irreverent sense of humor carried him through a lot. His boyish good looks and roguish charm didn’t hurt, either.

“Barry was a musician and he played in one of the first bands that I knew of, and so I kind of idolized him. He taught me my first chords on the guitar.” Peter confessed that he was a terrible student: his timing was always off, his memory was awful, and he couldn’t ever seem to learn an entire song. But he was determined to play and spent countless hours practicing (though with little progress). “Barry was a gentle soul, so he didn’t do an impatient thing or get frustrated. He would teach me songs I already knew on the radio, like The Beatles and Neil Young and stuff like that. As long as I’d get a little bit of the song it would be enough for me to keep practicing.”

As a teen, Peter found songwriting to be an outlet, a way to process his emotional highs and lows. “My songwriting was bad and childish when I was young. I thought words didn’t matter enough to take all that seriously when it came to writing catchy songs!” he reflected. Though he feels like his early efforts really sucked, he would eventually steer his talent into a style of expression that combined the best of his personality with cathartic output. In other words, smart-ass songs that gave him a better handle on life.

Peter was 25 years old when he pulled together his first band. “When I first started The Irresponsibles in 1985 it was with this other guy named Domenic Laudani. Even though he had only just learned to play guitar, he had this instant ability to write songs, like way better than me. I had to do a lot of catch-up. Frankly, I think it was him that, in my mind, kind of spurred me on to be a better songwriter.” Rounding out the group were Chris Capen on drums and Jim Mather on bass.

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Dominec Laudani and Peter Montgomery, 1985.

Over the next ten years, The Irresponsibles ventured out of Scituate and began playing all around the greater Boston area and into New York, gathering a larger and larger following as they went. It was kind of a slow build. The Irresponsibles’ sound was a little ahead of its time… or a little behind the times, depending on how you looked at it. While the world was largely mimicking Flock of Seagulls hairdos or skittering left and right to MC Hammer, Peter was writing songs that tipped a hat to those Beatles tunes he learned as a kid, laced with his own wry sense of humor and offbeat style.  By the early 90s, the musical trend had shifted to welcome his pop-rock stylings, and things were starting to pick up.

The band dug into their own pockets to release their first album, Aggravator, in 1992. Peter is not particularly proud of it; it was an effort that started in 1985 and limped its way through growing pains and personnel changes. “It’s a terrible album,” he groaned. “I aggravator covermean, you can really hear the struggle.” By the time it was in their hands, the band lineup had settled into Peter on lead vocals and rhythm guitar (which he felt he could finally manage), Dave Thomas on lead guitar, Mark Nigro on bass, and Dan Rudack on drums.

Half the songs on the record were produced by Barry Marshall, and half were produced by the late John Kalishes. Kalishes was best known in Boston as the hard-rocking lead guitarist in the band Susan. He was later a fixture at The Bell Buoy in Scituate, where Peter would meet him and ultimately bring him on board to work with The Irresponsibles.

Life was getting busy for Peter. The band’s manager, John Lay (Squeeze, Robyn Hitchcock), arranged for the group to contribute five songs to a fifteen-song compilation CD called Snacks and Prizes, with Peter producing alongside Barry Marshall. Lay also pushed to book gigs in the more mainstream venues in and around Boston. The band released their second album, Big Orange, with production duties once again divided between Barry and Kalishes. They were getting ink in the Boston papers and their shows were packed; people were really taking notice of this impertinent and catchy band.

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Big Orange. L-R: Mark Nigro, Dave Thomas, Peter Montgomery, Dan Rudack
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John Kalishes in the studio, around 1992

During the mid-90s, Peter’s home was the epicenter of an active party scene. “I lived at this unbelievable place called The Glades, which was John Quincy Adams’ descendants’ summer housing, and it was on this beautiful peninsula of land surrounded by ocean. Everybody wanted to hang out where I lived,” he explained. His spacious apartment offered plenty of room for gathering, as well as gorgeous views and access to the beach. There were always girlfriends, rotating roommates, and a variety of buddies coming and going.

John Kalishes showed up quite a bit, accompanied by his good friend, Benjamin Orr. The two loved to fish and would hang out on the shore with their poles. They would bring their catch up to the apartment and cook it up for everyone, often staying and partying into the evening.

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Ben Orr and John Kalishes. Image retrieved from the internet; photo credit, date and location unknown.

Of course, Peter knew who Ben was; he remembered The Cars from back in the late 70s. “For a whole entire summer they played at this small club in Scituate Harbor where I grew up, at The Bell Buoy. Everybody used to go to see them for like $2.00 before ‘Just What I Needed’ broke.  And they would play at house parties. I think they even rented a house in Scituate at one time. They were all around.” While The Cars were making a name for themselves, Peter was still noodling with those half-song riffs. “I was 18, and I was even immature for 18, so I hadn’t quite gotten my shit together as far as rock-and-roll or anything,” he laughed.

And now, years later, here was Ben bustling about in Peter’s kitchen. But when I asked Peter for more specific details about Ben being at the house in 1995, he was at a bit of a loss. “I didn’t pay any attention to Ben. It was kind of like hero worship in reverse… or something. I didn’t want him to think that I thought he was awesome, so I stayed away from him.” With audible remorse, he lamented, “I don’t know what it was, but I was kind of a dick to him… It’s bizarre. And I regret the hell out it.”

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The Glades.

I encouraged him to elaborate. He said, “I did something wicked creepy, and I don’t know why. That guy could’ve been a really good friend of mine. He told me Big Orange was great. It’s not like I hated him or anything. I just kind of ignored him. I acted like he was no big deal.

“I think the first time I was ever with him – before he went to The Glades or anything – it was me, Kalishes, and Ben at this local favorite pub called Jamie’s Pub. It was just the three of us sitting at a table and Kalishes went to the bathroom and there was a silence, and that’s when Ben goes, ‘I really like your album, Big Orange.’ And I go, ‘Wow, thanks a lot. That means a lot, coming from you.’ And then we both went quiet, and Kalishes came back and we ate lunch,” Peter chuckled at the awkward memory.

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From Lesley Borrelli; shared with permission.

His tone changed as he continued his story. “So then later on, Ben and Kalishes come to The Glades a lot to go fishing and hang out in my apartment and cook fish, and that’s where the story comes in where Ben stepped on the cat [from Peter’s girlfriend at the time; see the image to the right]. I don’t remember any of that because I didn’t really try to ingratiate myself, I didn’t hang out with Kalishes and Ben, which… I wish I did! I mean, I could have been great friends with that guy, and I just didn’t seize that opportunity, which is a shame,” Peter said, exasperated with himself.

“And it gets worse because,” he went on haltingly, “I think through Kalishes, I ended up opening up for them [Ben’s ORR band] a couple times, and one particular time… I’m sure it was the last time… it was at some dinner theater, down Cape Cod? And before we started our show, just for the heck of it I just kind of mockingly… I started playing ‘Just What I Needed.’ And Ben pulled the plug on us, and he was wicked pissed off.”

Several others remember that night, too. On the happy side, Ben was proudly showing off his infant son. With his blonde hair and his sleeveless shirt, “he looked like a proud Nordic Viking displaying the fruit of his loins!” Peter laughed. “He was carrying his kid up high, just wandering around the room.”

Behind the scenes it was a different story. Tensions were running high because The Irresponsibles were being treated poorly by the sound crew — “like piss,” one band member said. They were confined to a little sliver of the stage, having been required to set up in front of Ben’s gear. They weren’t allowed to use the ORR equipment, either, so the drummer was forced to squeeze his kit on sideways. Their promised soundcheck never happened because the stage hands took forever in trying to figure out ORR’s fog machine. They were all wondering why they were even asked to play? They felt very unwelcome, and they were all mad.

On top of all that, the club was packed with familiar faces, adding to Peter’s heightened emotions. Unfortunately, he chose a retaliatory response.

Peter had a nasty back-and-forth with the crew, and then, yes, he mocked “Just What I Needed.” As The Irresponsibles launched into their set, Peter vaguely remembers seeing Ben talking to the sound guys at the back of the house. The band had only gone through maybe four songs when somebody came to the side of the stage and told Peter they were all done. That’s when he found out Ben was so angry, though Ben didn’t say a word.

In the moment, the band was unruffled; there was a bit of a mutual ‘fuck you’ vibe going around. Most of the crowd assumed they were just a short opener, while others realized what had taken place. Peter didn’t care. In fact, he stayed at the club and partied with his friends for most of Ben’s set. He and Ben didn’t speak.

Ben never came back to The Glades after that gig.

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The view from Peter’s apartment at The Glades with the tiny Boston skyline off on the right. Photo courtesy of Lesley Borrelli; shared with permission.

Looking back, trying to analyze his own actions, Peter can’t excuse what he did, mocking Ben. He was angry, sure, but he sees now how foolish he was. With his cavalier attitude and an immature sense of humor, he had a bit of a habit of being mindlessly inappropriate, insensitive even, and had gotten himself into trouble more than once. In this case, it cost him what could have been a great relationship with Ben.

Peter paused for a long moment. “It’s very, very regrettable for me.” The sorrow in his voice was sincere as he said, “Yep, I know… I guess I’m kind of a prick… it was completely the wrong thing to do. The big fucking blunder of a lifetime.”

At the time, though, he charged on. It finally looked like The Irresponsibles were going to snag the brass ring when they won Musician Magazine’s 1996 Best Unsigned Band competition from a pool of 3,000 entrants. They were given thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and were featured in Musician Magazine and Billboard, but even better than all that, one of the judges – and one of Peter’s guitar heroes – wanted to work with The Irresponsibles!

Adrian Belew is probably best known for the nearly 30 years he spent as a guitarist and frontman of the progressive rock group King Crimson. He has also racked up an impressive resume as a solo artist, session player, touring musician, guitar designer, and mobile app creator. In 1996, he was a hot producer with his own private label, having handled a little-known Christian band, Jars of Clay, whom he launched into the mainstream with their crossover hit single, “Flood.” And now Adrian was looking at Peter’s band, and Peter was jacked.

when pigs flyThe Irresponsibles were signed to Belew’s label, with a specific goal in mind: to get the band sold to a bigger fish. In 1997, Belew produced a seven-song EP called Backwards Boy, which was intended to be a marketing tool to entice another label. When they didn’t get any bites, Belew agreed to record additional songs and repackage Backwards Boy as a full-length album called When Pigs Fly.

Though the effort generated some positive attention, it ultimately stalled in terms of propelling The Irresponsibles to the next level of exposure. It was disappointing all the way around, but Belew believed in the band and, in 1999, tried one more avenue. Peter recalls, “I thought I’d never hear from him again, but he figured we could have kind of one more shot if we toured with him. So, to his credit, he invited us on a really extensive 2-month tour of the US, and it was a blast. That was one of the best times of my life.”

Through the summer of 1999 The Irresponsibles performed an unplugged set in front of Belew’s acoustic Salad Days tour, playing in states like California, Colorado, New York, and Tennessee. “It was great, but again, nothing really happened for us as far as getting bigger. It was lucrative; we sold a ton of CDs, we made money, but nothing in the way of our future prospects occurred,” Peter sighed. “So when I got home I ended up meeting the girl that I had kids with, and we all [The Irresponsibles] just kind of fell apart.”

[I put together a playlist of most of The Irresponsibles’ music I could find on YouTube. There are so many addictive songs there! Some of my favorites are “Aggravator,” “Self-Sabotage,” “Character Assassination,” and “Top of the World.” Oh, and “Lobster Boy” is a hoot. I hope you’ll do some exploring of your own here:]

quality of life

The band put out one final full album in 2001, Quality of Life, and started another one, but retreat was necessary. Still, Peter couldn’t let go of music. After a couple of years, the time was right to try something new. He explained, “I was still writing songs and I thought to myself, ‘I’m just going to gather up every best musician I can find in Boston and just form somewhat of a super group,’ and that’s how The Montgomerys started.”

In his 40s at that time, this new project became more about having fun and expressing himself through his writing. “I’m always hopeful that something could happen, like getting a song in a movie, but I’m not out there trying to be Justin Bieber,” he laughed.

The first incarnation of The Montgomerys included Mike Levesque (David Bowie) on drums, Bob Melanson on bass, and Tony Savarino on guitar. They recorded two albums: Unnatural Selection around 2005, and Walkie Talkie in 2009. And then Peter took a detour. His family was falling apart, and he dove heavily into songwriting to cope. Four years later, the result was a deeply personal, heartbreakingly transparent, 16-track concept album called Baby Sunshine, released in 2017 under the name Pete Montgomery, detailing his relationship and breakup with the mother of his kids.

Like those guitar riff sessions from his younger days, it took Peter exhaustive practice until the harder life lessons finally gelled. He emerged from those dark days a little older and a little wiser. Two-thousand-eighteen found him gathering momentum again as he geared up for another Montgomerys album. Not quite subdued, but with an edge of thoughtfulness, he set off writing again, and the result would be one of my favorite albums, First World Blues, released January 1, 2020.

True to form, these new songs are dressed with self-deprecating humor and cheeky honesty. But now there seems to be a sharper intelligence behind his lyrics, a greater sense of purpose born from taking some hard knocks.

The Montgomerys’ personnel shifted a bit before getting into the studio. Mike Levesque remained on drums, and now bassist Mark Nigro, who had been with Peter in The Irresponsibles, came on board. Barry Marshall, having worked on almost all of Peter’s albums, was back in the producer’s chair.

“I’ve been with Barry since I was 12 years old. I strayed off to have Adrian produce us, and I strayed off to make one Montgomerys album without him, but you know, I feel guilty about it (laughing). My loyalty is to Barry.”

Barry brought another meaningful element to this album: his connection with Elliot Easton. And now we’re at the intersection where Peter’s story meshes with Barry’s article.

Peter was keen on the idea of inviting Elliot Easton to work on First World Blues. “Elliot was always my favorite guitar player. It’s just like everybody says: he puts a whole song in this small little part that he’s playing. He can go from one sound to another sound right in the context of one guitar solo. And he can change flavors of it, like he can go from country into heavy metal. He’s the most original guitar player I’ve ever heard, and so tasteful and colorful; there’s so much personality in those leads.”

Barry felt like FWB was a worthwhile project, and so he reached out to Elliot to make arrangements. As before, Elliot was happy to schedule in some studio time.

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Elliot Easton, June, 2019. Photo retrieved from Facebook.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of Elliot writing guitar parts as studio musician. I mean, his own style is so unique and recognizable, and as he’s expressed before in interviews, it’s HIS voice. Obviously, when someone looks to hire Elliot it’s because they want his talent and his style, but as an artist, how do you strike a balance between gaining that delicious Elliot-ness without compromising your own message?

Barry assured me that it was an easy, natural partnership. Elliot’s skill and short, punchy style stay intact, but Elliot is able to understand that it’s not about him. He is open and intuitive; he is able to catch the songwriter’s vision and communicate it through his guitar contributions. And his experience playing on so many different projects across a variety of genres gives him a huge palette to choose from.

“It’s a great experience working with him because he’s very, very quick, and he’s very, very good,” Barry said. “The great thing from a producer’s point of view… I feel like I have a feel for what he can do so that helps to make it easier, and he can read what I’m looking for, and Peter, too. I think he liked Peter’s songs, too, and he would throw out ideas [to enhance the songs].”

Peter agreed. “He has an innate ability to go, ‘Oh, I got something for that,’ and then there it is, which is amazing to me. I’m such a mediocre guitar player that I need to be a good songwriter, because after that, what do I got?” he laughed. “I have to be able to write the songs because I can’t fucking play guitar like Elliot Easton!”

So here’s how it worked. Barry and Peter sent a rough demo to Elliot before flying to LA for the first of four recording sessions. Peter remembers, “The first half of the bunch, I pre-sent him the songs and he actually charted them out. He gave me the signed charts afterwards, which was kind of a thrill, and eventually I’ll probably frame some of them. But I think it was a lot of work because the next time we went down there he said he would just come into the studio and wing it! (laughing)”

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Elliot’s handwritten charts.

Once in the studio, they tackled each song, one at a time. They’d have a little powwow to discuss the heart of the song so that Elliot could catch the vibe and vision, and they’d kick around different possible sounds or maybe a reference to another song.  And then Elliot would come back with a ‘how about this solo or that riff’ response. Sometimes Elliot would figure things out right off the top of his head, within five or ten minutes of hearing the song. On average, he could figure out the rhythm and solo parts for a song in about an hour or so, and they’d go ahead and get them recorded.

Barry explained, “One of the key things about doing this is that you certainly don’t want to micromanage it. You want to let him do what he does – that’s why we want him on the record! We’re giving a little bit of guidance, but for the most part, Elliot is coming up with [the guitar parts].”

“Generally we let him go with his amp sounds and he knows exactly what he’s doing and how to get so many different sounds, with the pedal board of course. He’s a great, great session player. He really is. He really knows what he’s doing. I mean, he’s a great player anyway, but he’s particularly a good session player.”

To illustrate the full scope of Elliot’s power, listen to “Why’d He Never Write You A Love Song.” Barry points out, “That’s an example of Elliot doing something that you might have heard him do in The Cars a little bit, but I think that’s slightly outside of his normal. It’s a little bit like he plays in ‘I’m Not The One.’ It’s very mellow but it’s so beautiful. To me, that almost makes the song, you know what I mean?”

Barry and Peter flew from Boston to Los Angeles three times and recorded a total of fourteen songs over four sessions (including some tracks for Barry’s forthcoming album with The Marshalls). The studio itself had beautiful grounds, and even a pool, but this wasn’t a holiday get-away. Everyone was there to work.

For Barry and Elliot, there was some reminiscing about the old days and some joking around; a keyword in a conversation might trigger a memory. They might stop for a quick coffee break by the pool and stretch their legs, but as professionals, both men were aware of the clock. Barry said, “He would take cigarette breaks of course, but he would work pretty straight, definitely.”

Peter remembered, “After about five or six hours he’d get tired, and he’d kind of want to wrap it up, which was understandable, because it must be kind of exhausting to just come up with that stuff. I mean, even him, he can’t just lay it down and it’s perfect. He’s got to get it perfect, so there’s quite a few takes over the song, which I appreciated.”

“I smoked a little bit with him just so I could smoke with a rock star. And then I was really careful not to piss him off once we got back inside because I can piss people off pretty easy, because I’m too much for people, and I think, untethered, I would be too much for him,” Peter laughed. “I’m like that cartoon of that little dog who wants to be friends with the big dog: ‘C’mon Ralph, hey Ralph, let’s go, Ralph! Hey Ralph!’ I wanna make some famous guy my best friend.”

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Peter, Barry, and Elliot in the studio. Photo courtesy of Barry Marshall; shared with permission.

It doesn’t escape Peter that his behavior with Elliot in 2019 is the polar opposite of how he treated Ben in 1995. He explained, “I believe that what I did to Ben was me trying to control that impulse and really, it was idol worship in a way. I love The Cars and I idolize that guy [Ben] and so I was trying to control that.”

He continued about Elliot, “While he’s trying to concentrate you definitely don’t want to have too much chatter or conversation, because he’ll get a little snappy, but if he does get snappy? It’s funny. He’s very witty, a very witty person, which I kind of like. And he’s very nice, too. You can tell he’s got a big heart. You know what? Someone would have to have a big heart to be able to play parts like he plays because that comes from somewhere.”

The results of this studio time are terrific. First World Blues is fast-moving pop-rock album, with a couple of whimsical ballads mixed in to keep it on the rails. The lyrics are sassy and straightforward, the messages go deeper than you’d expect, and Elliot’s guitar elements are perfectly suited for each of the ten tracks he plays on. Check out my write-up at Read~Rock~Review for my full two cents.

Where do we go from here?

  • You can order your copy of First World Blues directly from Barry Marshall by sending him an email at barry_marshall@emerson.edu. Also, be sure to join Peter’s Facebook group!
  • And guess what? Barry’s own album, The Marshall Plan, is slated to come out this fall, including those additional tracks he recorded with Elliot in LA! Hit him up with a friend request on Facebook to keep tabs on his musical projects.
  • Go deeper with The Montgomerys and all of Peter’s music by subscribing to his new YouTube channel!
  • As for the blog… stay tuned, we ain’t done yet! I’ve got few more bits of yarn to unravel from these Boston ties. A Boston Boys Part 3 is in the works, as well as a couple of little fun side trips. Exciting stuff ahead!

[All photos courtesy of Peter Montgomery, unless otherwise noted, and shared with permission. Thank you to everyone who contributed!]

Leo Yorkell: “Play ball, Ben!”

Leo Yorkell: “Play ball, Ben!”

How many times have you seen those cool pictures of Benjamin Orr in a softball uniform and wished you knew the backstory? Well, I am SO excited to tell you that I have recently had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Leo Yorkell (pronounced yor-KELL), the man who organized many of those ball games with Ben, and he has been more than generous in shedding light on that lesser-known piece of history for us!

The groundwork was laid back in 1992, when Leo’s brother Michael started Admit One Productions, an event planning group for charity foundations in the New England area like Big Brothers, police drug abuse awareness programs, and others. The company used a variety of athletes and celebrities to participate in sports competitions and indoor and outdoor concerts to raise money for these worthy causes.

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1996 program signed by Ben. Photo courtesy of Leo Yorkell.

The brothers were always looking for new ideas; ways to keep things fresh. Toward the mid-nineties the idea of high-exposure ‘rock and jock’ charity events was really picking up momentum. Leo’s two favorite fixations had always been music and baseball, and it seemed to him that pairing the two pastimes made perfect sense. He got to thinking… his company was well-versed in organizing softball events, and Michael already had a connection with John Cafferty and the members of the Beaver Brown Band. If the guys could expand their roster to include more musical artists they could establish a mixed team (athletes and musicians) that would play a circuit with enough guys to be able to swap players out and have the means to offer their clients exciting possibilities for future fundraisers.

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1996 roster listing Ben. Photo courtesy of Leo Yorkell.

Move now to the summer of 1995. Boston radio station WBOS 92.9 was doing a “rock n’ jock” softball game and concert in Cleveland Circle for The Genesis Foundation. Leo and Michael went to check it out and see who was involved. The game was fun and well-received, and afterward they decided to mingle and make connections. They saw a lot of familiar faces, as several athletes involved that day had participated in their own shows. They also caught sight of some of their favorite musicians. Leo was making mental notes of who was there: he saw Boston drummer Sib Hashian with his excellent afro, Randy Guss, the drummer from Toad the Wet Sprocket (a favorite of Leo’s), and legendary J. Geils singer Peter Wolf in the ranks. And then he saw Ben Orr.

Leo had been cool as a cucumber rubbing elbows with these other celebrities, but it was all different seeing Benjamin Orr in the crowd. Leo was starstruck.

You see,  Leo was (and is, and always will be) a HUGE fan of The Cars. Back in the day, he and his buddies would hang around Syncro Sound Studio on Newbury Street, walking back and forth in front of the building, hoping to run into the band members. A drummer himself, Leo saw David Robinson as a bit of a hero and role model, so much so that Leo bought all of his drum equipment at Jack’s Drum Shop because that’s where David got his stuff. He even went so far as to slip a fan letter under the studio door for David. “It was awful,” Leo laughs about it now. “I was young and such a huge fan, and David was just so cool. Of course, I never heard back from him.” Leo saw The Cars play live on every album tour, and was, like thousands of fans, hugely disappointed when they broke up.

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Ben Orr, 1995. Photo credit unknown.

And now here was Benjamin Orr, standing within spitting distance. Sure, he was sporting  platinum blonde hair, and he was a little older and a little heavier, but it was definitely Ben. Leo was thrilled. He had to go talk to him; had to take this opportunity to meet this rock icon. Leo’s brother Michael was less impressed but supported Leo’s willingness to strike up a conversation in the hopes that Leo could recruit Ben to work with them in the future.

Leo crossed the parking lot to where Ben had his head in the back of a huge white van with Vermont plates. “It was like a shaggin’ wagon, you know what I mean? And it had this ladder on it up top and very little windows. It looked like it was from the early nineties.” Ben was putting his glove away and getting his gear situated when Leo approached.

“I walked up to him, pretty nervous, and I go, ‘Excuse me, are you Ben Orr?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ And inside I was like, ‘Ooooh! Coooool!’” Leo introduced himself and couldn’t help but go into fanboy mode over the band, confessing to the antics of his early years on Newbury Street. “I’m gushing like a little girl, you know? And I’m telling him all this stuff and he’s just listening to me,” Leo laughs. He went on to explain to Ben that he and his brother did similar softball events, about eight to ten games a year in the New England area, and he mentioned that they were always looking for new guys to get involved. “I said to Ben, ‘I saw you play; you play pretty well. Would you be interested in coming and playing in some of our games?  If you come and join us we’ll give you first crack, and if you need a hotel room we’ll get you a hotel room, whatever you need. Just let me know.’

“Ben was so cool.  He said, ‘Thank you very much. I appreciate all the kind words about the band and me. I would definitely be interested in playing if you want me to, but you can’t go through me. I need you to go through my road manager.’”

That manager was Dave Tedeschi. Dave was there at the game but since everyone was getting ready to leave, Ben gave Leo Dave’s contact information and the arrangements were hammered out later over the phone. Leo’s original offer was, “We’re paying $300. Your guy comes, he signs some autographs, he plays some softball, he talks to some fans and he leaves. It’s like three hours, tops.” Dave was being a typical manager and trying to get more money so they haggled back a forth a bit, and ended up settling on about $400. “I understand the whole business end of things; that’s just the way it goes,” Leo said.

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Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken, used with permission.

And so began a working relationship between Leo and Ben that bloomed into a sincere friendship, with lots of cool little stories along the way. “Before he came to play with us Ben wanted to meet with us and talk to us and make sure that we were good people,” Leo remembers. Ben was playing a solo concert in Boston with Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons, who was opening up for him. Dave Tedeschi put Leo and his brother on the guest list and they headed down there early in order to spend time with Ben before the show. He was staying at the hotel next door, and Leo remembers meeting the band, with John Kalishes and Tom Hambridge, and Ben mentioning that his dogs had their own room.

The group hung out and chatted, and when it was time for Ben to head over to the venue, Leo and Michael went along. They bumped into Dale Bozzio in passing. Ben introduced them to her and they all laughed over a harmless flirty exchange between Ben and Dale. Dale’s young son was with her dressed in his Catholic school outfit, his little green pants and plaid shirt in amusing contrast to Dale’s teased blonde-and-red streaked hair and sexy 80s outfit. These crazy memories are still cemented in Leo’s mind.

Leo isn’t sure of all of the specifics of the first game that Ben played in, but he remembers that they had some ex-Patriots and some ex-Boston Bruins guys, and John Cafferty was there, too. The lineup also included two members of the Beaver Brown band: saxophone player Michael Antunes (‘Tunes’) and drummer Jackie Santos. The team was called the Legends League, and on this day they were playing against a local police department all-star team. Leo recalls, “We introduced each player and gave some stats about them as they walked onto the field. We played music samples during the introductions, too, which was fun.” Ben, in jersey number 21 (later Leo would give him number 1), took his place in left field, smiling and waving to the crowd.

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Benjamin Orr, Leo Yorkell, and John Cafferty, September 15, 1997. Photo courtesy of Leo Yorkell.

John Cafferty himself remembered this game fondly and the team’s surprise over their victory against the police department (read his quote about it here). Leo recalls that Ben hadn’t met Cafferty before this game. We know now, of course, that Ben would go on to play with John and other Beaver Brown members in the Voices of Classic Rock a few years later, at John’s invitation.  How great it is to make those little connections in Ben’s history!

After the game, Leo observed Ben’s behavior with the fans. The last thing they wanted was a star who was standoffish and picky about autographs but that definitely wasn’t Ben.

“He was freaking awesome! He talked to everybody. I’d been doing this for a few years… I had never seen anybody who was so nice, so kind, so engaging with people, and kids especially. I asked my brother, ‘are you watching this guy?’ He signed everything for everybody. He was just amicable, kind, gentle. He would kneel down to talk to a kid… He actually cared about people, you know?”

In fact, Ben was always the last one to collect his check after the game because he spent so much time with the fans; invariably, Leo would have to walk it over to him.

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Ben with the Legends League softball team, 1997, courtesy of Leo Yorkell.
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Ben with the Legends League softball team, 1997, courtesy of Leo Yorkell.

The summer continued and Ben (and John Cafferty) played often. Dave Tedeschi came to one or two of the early games, too. In fact, Leo remembers one time when their event was scheduled on the same weekend as an annual local Renaissance Fair, where Dave and Ben had apparently stopped. “They showed up with those big-ass giant turkey legs that you get, you know?  They’re gnawing away on these things,” Leo chuckles. “I was like, ‘What the hell? You’re going to get greasy fingers before the game? C’mon, man!’ It was hilarious.”

Soon enough Leo was able to deal with Ben directly when it came to scheduling. It was an important milestone for Leo. “When he gave me his phone number I knew that meant he trusted me, that we were friends. I did not take that lightly.” Leo would call him up and give him the details for the next event, and their phone conversations would sometimes turn into chats about everyday life. “As he played more I got to know him a whole lot better,” Leo reflects. “He is one of the top three greatest people I have ever met in my entire life, and I’ve met a LOT of people.”

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Ben and Leo Yorkell, 1996. Photo courtesy of Leo Yorkell.
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Ben and Leo Yorkell, 1996. Photo courtesy of Leo Yorkell.

The games continued over the next two years. Leo has so many great memories of those halcyon summer days. “Ben brought Edita and his son with him a bunch of times. They would pull up in that white van with two big ol’ Doberman pinschers in the back. Ben was so proud of his boy, introducing him as ‘Little Ben’ and pointing out often that he wasn’t a junior. He was the cutest little guy, with his blonde mop-top Beatles haircut.

“At one point we played a weekend series, with a Saturday game in Massachusetts and a Sunday game in Rhode Island. After Saturday’s game Ben was looking for a motel recommendation for himself and his family. I booked the room for him at a place I knew in Rhode Island, and I told him about a drive-in movie theater about a half a mile up the road. The next day when he arrived at the game Ben told me about how they went to the drive-in and had such a great time, and that the motel staff was so friendly. Ben was just so appreciative of me setting it up, and it was such a little thing, you know? But that’s just the way he was.

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The day after the drive-in. From bottom right: Ben and Leo, September 13, 1998. Photo courtesy of Leo Yorkell.

“There was never any pretense, no ‘rock star’ attitude or expectations. Sometimes athletes would give Ben shit for blowing a play or whatever, saying things like, ‘I hope you don’t play bass like you play softball’ and teasing like that, just goodhearted camaraderie. Ben had a great attitude.”

[Intermission: Leo’s willingness to share his video footage with me was above and beyond! He allowed me to put together a little montage of one of Ben’s games to publish with this article. Click to watch, and then scroll down to read more of Leo’s adventures with Ben!]

In addition to softball, Leo and Michael would organize charity football games. In the fall of 1997 they were putting together a game to benefit the Easton Firefighters and they asked Ben if he wanted to play. He was all in. Leo recalls, “These guys were firefighters, right? They were some pretty tough dudes. Ben was a lineman next to the center, and I was playing as a wide receiver since we were short a player. We had an ex-Patriot guy as the quarterback.”

With about two yards to go to score, the quarterback set up the play in the huddle and the team executed it perfectly. “I catch this touchdown pass and as I’m celebrating I look and Ben is on his ass, just laid out flat, right? He got plowed by a guy on the field… run over like nobody’s business. I immediately ran over there to see if he was alright and he was like, ‘yeah, yeah, I’m good, it’s all part of the game.’

“Now, in all this time I never lost sight of who Ben was, you know? And I know it sounds funny, but I was looking at him down there on the ground and out of nowhere I thought, ‘Jeez! This guy played at Live Aid! And there he is, like a turtle on his back!’ But really, I felt awful. He took a huge hit and he was walking pretty gingerly; it was bad. He had a great attitude about it but I could tell he was hurting. After the game we ended up sitting in his van for a long time, just talking – with those big Dobermans in the back!”

And then there was the music. Ben would let Leo know when he was going to be playing a gig nearby and invite him to come watch and hang out. One of those shows was in August of 1997 in Cleveland Circle. Ben told Leo about it and encouraged him to come. Leo had a connection that allowed him to use some public access TV equipment, so he offered to shoot some of the performance for Ben.

“I said, ‘Cool. I’ll get a camera, I’ll get a tripod, and I’ll film the concert.’ So he came, I saw him pre-show. Edita was there with Little Ben. Ben told me, ‘You know, our keyboard player didn’t show up so I don’t know how the hell we’re going to pull this off, but we’re going to go out there anyway.’ I ended up shooting the whole concert.”

[Another video intermission: here is an excerpt from that show in Cleveland Circle, featuring my all-time favorite, “Bye Bye Love”. It’s SO rockin’! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Leo!]**

“Now, my mom’s favorite song is ‘Drive,'” Leo continued. “I shot the show in August and I had Ben in a game in early September. My mom’s birthday is September 7. So I cut the footage of ‘Drive’ and put it on a brand new tape. I took the camera to the game and asked Ben if he would shoot a little video for me that I could add to ‘Drive’ of Ben wishing my mom a happy birthday. He was immediately excited and responded, ‘Oh, I got this man! Just roll it!’ And he recorded the coolest message just for my mom. She wasn’t expecting it at all and it just blew her away!”

Ben played ball for Leo and Michael from 1996 through the summer of 1998. Michael sold the company in November of 1998, and Leo lost contact with Ben at that point. Time passed as Leo immersed himself in working and traveling for his new job. He thought about Ben often and considered calling him, but life just seemed so busy and the time slipped by. He heard through John Cafferty that Ben was with Big People, and that he was engaged and based in Atlanta, but that was about all Leo knew.

Then one day he was in a hotel in Dallas, Texas, in October of 2000 when he came across a small obituary of Ben in USA Today. It was a terrible blow. “My whole heart sunk. I was pissed at myself for not staying in touch with Ben after the company was sold because he was a good guy. He was my friend. I was devastated.”

Leo had had no idea that Ben had even been ill. Later he saw the final interview where Ben was so sick, and it was awful. “I know this sounds rotten to say, but I was kind of glad that I had cut off ties with him in a way. Seeing him like that, I think I would have lost my shit. It would have been hard to get past; I would have wanted to support him, not feel sorry for him.” Still, his regret over not connecting with Ben before his unexpected passing has changed the way Leo lives today: he makes sure to keep in close contact with those people who are most important to him.

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Ben and Leo Yorkell, 1996. Photo courtesy of Leo Yorkell.

It took a long time for the shock to lessen, though it will never entirely be gone. And now, nearly twenty years later, Leo looks back on those videos he has, the autographed memorabilia that adorns his wall, and sorts through his internal memories with laughter and gratitude.

“Thank you for encouraging me to find the pictures and videos for this article. If it weren’t for you I would have never gone to look for them and see how great those times were. I’m grateful for that. I feel very privileged that I was able to get to know Ben and to share a part of our lives, you know?”

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Ben, September 1997. Video screenshot from Leo Yorkell footage, used with permission.

I am so appreciative that Leo took the time to reminisce with all of us! When I thanked him for contacting me and for being willing to tell his stories through my blog, he replied simply, “I love Ben, and I think everybody should know what a great guy he is. I’m so glad to share the joy that is Ben.”


**Update September 27, 2020: We’ve posted the entire uncut show of Ben playing at Cleveland Circle ~ enjoy!!