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.’

31398165_574525549594975_5098643110346411232_n
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
ben crop 1
Ben cropped from the front cover
ben crop 2
Ben, cropped and rotated
IC417Petroglyph2313-page-001
The insert
ben crop 3
Ben cropped from the insert
IC417Petroglyph2314-page-001
Other side of the insert
back cover 01 crop
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

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. ❤

In other words:

ben and david spero
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:

Review: The Cars Live at the Agora 1978

Here is the 6th piece I wrote for Joe Milliken and Standing Room Only, and it wraps up the series. Though I am adding this to my blog last, it was actually written and published in October of 2017, in between the release of the expanded editions. This is also the review that was quoted on the big screen at a presentation at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 (photo below).


I’m not going to make you wait until the end of this review to give you my opinion: this album is off the chain!

Now remember, I am not an expert on discerning levels of sound quality, or at picking out nuances in the way music is mixed, but I do know how to enjoy a great show, and there is not a single track on this two-album set that disappoints.

While some critics (and concert goers) have been known to whine and fuss about The Cars not being a ‘dynamic’ live act, no one can deny that when it came to the music, this band could recreate their remarkable studio sound flawlessly from the stage. Because of this, many fans have lamented that The Cars never released a live album during their active years together. Sure, there are a handful of bootleg recordings that make their way around the Fanorama, but not a complete live show remastered and released by the band, itself… until this year, that is!

cars.agora1_
Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

On April 22, 2017, Rhino Records put out a limited run of 5,000 copies of one of The Cars’ early live performances as part of the worldwide vinyl movement, Record Store Day.  The Cars Live At The Agora, 1978 documents the energy and the fresh sound of the band at the beginning of their rise to success.

Just to give you some context, The Cars consists of songwriter Ric Ocasek on rhythm guitar, and he trades lead vocals with long-time friend and bandmate Benjamin Orr, the bass player. Elliot Easton handles the lead guitar, while Greg Hawkes works his keyboards and David Robinson keeps everybody locked in with his drums. This five-man lineup started playing together in early 1977, and within 18 months they had a record contract in their pockets and their first album on music store shelves.

With their debut single, “Just What I Needed,” gaining popularity on the airwaves, the band took off on their first major tour, spanning the United States, and including stops in Canada and parts of Europe. The Agora show here, recorded at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland on July 18, 1978, for WMMS radio (about a month into their tour), is a shining example of the band’s ability to interlock their individual roles to create a tight, rollicking performance that keeps the listener bouncing from song to song. No, not a bunch of jumping around and physical gyrations, no long monologues or extended soloing by band members, no pyrotechnics; just an ensemble of creative and classy musicians doing what they do best: rocking the house.

The set list for the night is an interesting blend, giving the enthusiastic audience a taste of where these boys have been and where they are going. Not only are there near-flawless performances of all nine incredible songs from their debut album, but The Cars also burn through some raging rockers from their regular club set (the hard-edged “Take What You Want” and the powerful punk of “Hotel Queenie”) and treat the crowd to “Night Spots,” which will show up on The Cars’ future album, Candy-O. They end the concert with a gritty cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else,” letting Elliot take over the lead vocal on their last song of the night.

Other audio delights pour from the speakers. Listen for Greg’s crazy-cool assortment of eclectic sounds on “I’m In Touch With Your World,” and then catch him later as he pushes the show in a whole new direction with his melodic saxophone (“All Mixed Up” and “Something Else”). Also, I love how you can really hear the power of David’s drums on “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” and how Elliot kills it on that classic guitar solo in “Just What I Needed.” My favorite tracks feature Benjamin pouring his all into the vocals, like on “Bye Bye Love” and “All Mixed Up;” you can just feel his racing pulse as he belts it out. And woven throughout the entire show are great harmonies, some highlighted backing vocals, and brief audience interactions that draw a smile.

cars.agora2_
Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

The cherry on top? Rhino Records really nails it with the packaging of this release. The signature red-and-black color scheme of the early Cars’ years, combined with the terrific photos of each band member and the reproduced hand-written show notes displayed on the backside of the album cover – it’s definitely a stare-worthy addition to the vinyl stack. Inside the cover are tucked two records; three of the sides contain the music, and the fourth displays what would prove to be the first in a series of custom etchings to grace the 2017 releases of Cars albums. Awesome!

The vinyl is hard to get ahold of now, though there are still a few copies available floating around online (mostly from Europe). At this time there are no plans for the show to be released on CD; fortunately Rhino has now made it available digitally through several music channels. Click below to download the album. If you don’t have it already, get a copy – it’s a must-have for every Cars fan!

https://rhino.lnk.to/latasmp?ref=http%3A//thecars.org/


 

my writing at the rrhof
My review, quoted at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during a listening party for this album in the Foster Theater, 2018. Photo courtesy of David Curry.

Lyrics: Forever You Have My Heart

“Forever You Have My Heart” by The Mixed Emotions

I have cried (I have cried) so very hard (so very hard)

Since we have been apart

Wherever you go (‘ever you go) you’ll always be loved (always be loved)

Forever you have my heart

 

It’s been a short time, I’ve cried many tears

Life is so grim since you’ve gone

Though you have left my side (my love) my love, my love

Forever you have my heart

 

Return to me please

My heart for you grieves

My arms will be waiting for you

 

Please come back to stay ’cause while you’re away

My life, my love, my thrills, my dreams

 

I’ll wait for that one day to come (day to come) we’ll never have to part (have to part)

Remember this, I promise you

Forever you have my heart

Forever you have my heart

Forever you have my heart

In other words:

65909966_10206419413159883_5798125757049864192_n.jpg
Photo courtesy of Doniell Rossi, used with permission.

“When I was told by Ginny Mayer before a gig that Benny had terminal cancer, I just couldn’t believe it. In fact, it took a while for me to be able to even comprehend it. Benny left us way too soon, but I will tell you this right now, he loved life and lived every single day to the fullest.” — Dante Rossi, fellow Cleveland musician of The Baskerville Hounds, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, page 184

John Ward Hickernell: A Moment in Time

“There are decent people, even in rock and roll. If all you’ve been exposed to are the crazy ones, and then you run into a cool one, it sticks in your head.”

For John Ward Hickernell, Benjamin Orr was one of the cool ones.

smile 03John recently posted some eye-catching photos on Facebook of Ben at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. No surprise that they grabbed my attention, since I’d never seen them before, but John’s explanation of the pics had me even more curious: it turns out he had happened upon the small group behind the scenes while The Cars were waiting to take the stage of a major concert. Wow, that seems pretty lucky, huh?

Would John mind sharing more details of his memories with us? Not at all! He assured me, “It was a pretty cool day, and time has passed, and people are passing, too, and just seems kind of cool to get the photos out there, and the story, and the pin, and the whole nine yards. I don’t feel like I own them; I just happened to catch the moment.”

Don’t you just love the kindness of people? Thank you so much, John ~ let’s dig in!

It turns out that The Cars were in Cleveland to play at the World Series of Rock (WSoR). The concert was originally scheduled to take place on August 5, 1978, with Fleetwood Mac headlining, joined by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Todd Rundgren and Utopia, Blue Öyster Cult, and The Cars. Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham fell ill but rather than cancel, the August 5 show was rescheduled for August 26. Unfortunately, that bumped Seger and BÖC from the bill; they were replaced with Eddie Money and Bob Welch.

Aug 5 ticket
Image via liveauctioneers.com

The Cars had been touring behind their debut album since June with almost no break. They had played a sold-out concert at Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom on July 18, which would have definitely been a homecoming show for Ben, and in fact, you can hear him acknowledge it on stage at the end of “Bye Bye Love.” Their performance, which was broadcast live on local station WMMS (and released on vinyl in 2018 as The Cars’ first official ‘live’ album), was packed with precision, perfection, and an abundance of attitude, proving to yet another eager audience that The Cars were a force to be reckoned with.

Still, with only “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl” on the radio to recommend them, The Cars were generally considered ‘new’ and had much to prove. Playing the WSoR with its crowd of more than 70,000 fans was a considerable step up from the 2,000 at the Agora, and was likely the largest audience the band had played in front of to date. I imagine they were nervous, excited, and probably still a little stunned at how well the debut album was being received around the country.

65143458_10211848908537456_8200270329700941824_n
Image via fleetwoodmac.net

It’s worth noting that the order of the WSoR lineup that day was determined by the traveling schedules of the acts. Eddie Money kicked off the show, followed by Todd Rundgren; they both had flights to catch so they went on early. The Cars played their set next, then Bob Welch, who was arriving from St. Louis, played fourth. Of course, the fiery finale featured Fleetwood Mac. A review of the concert from Cleveland Scene writer Dave Voelker pointed out the unique position The Cars were in.

“The Cars were left with the unenviable task of following Rundgren’s ecstatic set — a position they wouldn’t have had if Todd & Co. didn’t have to play in Chicago later that same day,” he wrote. “They’re still a little unseasoned, but I’m confident that many in the audience now know there’s a lot more to the Cars than their main claim to fame, ‘Just What I Needed.’ Particularly, the raw power of ‘Don’t Cha Stop’ and ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’ seemed formidable and impressive, marking this sharp new band as an attention-worthy contender.”

Jane Scott from The Plain Dealer noticed, too. In her August 28 review she wrote, “The Cars, an up-and-coming Boston band, had fans dancing across the field with its ‘Just What I Needed’ and ‘Best Friend’s Girl.’” Clearly, our boys could handle playing for such a huge crowd.

Without going too deep into the WSoR’s colorful history, let me give you a quick overview of this popular but short-lived concert series. From 1974 to 1980, legendary Cleveland concert promoters, brothers Jules and Mike Belkin, worked diligently (if gingerly) with officials from the Cleveland Municipal Stadium to host a run of summer concerts featuring the hottest rock bands of the day. Each event included multiple acts on the bill, and fans packed the playing field and bleachers of the open-air venue for hours, partying to icons like The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Pink Floyd, and Aerosmith.

And when I say ‘partying’ I DO mean partying. The festivals quickly gained a reputation for being rowdy and dangerous, riddled with drugs, alcohol, and varying levels of stupidity and crime.  And this show was no different. Though The Plain Dealer reported that the crowd of 73,000 was considered one of the best-behaved audiences in recent attendance, the police still had their hands full. Several violent incidents occurred before, during, and after the show, including multiple stabbings, robberies, and an accident in which a man fell from the upper deck during the concert while swinging from the rafters and was transported to the hospital in critical condition.

john rocking with estes bros
2nd from left: John rocking with The Estes Brothers, c. 1975.

But none of that was on the radar of twenty-one year old John Ward Hickernell, a self-described “musician-artist-hippie-type kid who would to go any extreme to make art.” As a multi-instrumentalist himself, John was chasing the rock-and-roll dream (most notably playing guitar for The Estes Brothers). His focus wasn’t the fame and the glory, but experiencing the creative ecstasy of it all, and he pursued art in any and every form. Is it any wonder, then, that Todd Rundgren was his role model?

He explains, “Todd’s always been my creative inspirational individual. I’ve always been awed at what it must be like to possess that kind of creativity, like ‘what am I going to do today? Because I can do just about anything and if I don’t know how to do it, I’m going to learn how.’”

John’s mission, in addition to capturing the day on film, was to try to make a connection with Todd, and here’s where his personal story begins. I had the privilege of chatting with John and listening as he related his experience behind the scenes at the World Series of Rock.

John began, “Back in those days concert security was much different than today. Maybe one guy to watch over a massive area of space, and that guy was more than likely a hippie, too. I’m sure that I looked the part with my vest with many pockets of film and my shoulder bag and camera, out on safari shooting pictures. So with a few words to the one lone security guy he let me pass right on through and into a closed-off section of Cleveland Municipal Stadium.”

65318285_10211848907257424_5904929116821389312_n
Cleveland Municipal Stadium, August 26, 1978

The day was oppressively hot, made more intense by the sun beating down and the mash of the crowd. The stadium was bursting with happy-go-lucky music fans and John documented the sight, snapping pictures as he worked his way along the near-empty concrete walkways enclosing the open-air venue. Coming to the end of one of the first-level ramps he noticed a small handful of people milling around. As he drew nearer he was able to identify Ben Orr, Ric Ocasek, and Todd Rundgren in the group.

todd 01.jpg
Todd Rundgren and Utopia

John’s dream was about to come true; his hero, Todd, was within a few concrete feet of a handshake! But can you believe it? “[Todd] was hanging around and I ran out of film,” John groaned. “As I loaded a fresh roll I looked for him and he was gone, heading to the stage with Utopia. So I ended up with one ‘lone shot.’”

A disappointing turn, for sure, but not all was lost. John dug The Cars, too. He remembered Ben as a local kid from his days on The Gene Carroll Show, and was happy to see him now in this more personal setting. John could see that Ben had a special guest with him – his mother – and John was leery of interrupting the band’s privacy, but it ended up being a very relaxed scene.

middle finger 02.jpgJohn recalled, “Ben was very nice. At first I thought he may have been a bit pissed that I was shooting pics and invading a moment. I do have one picture I came across and he was with his mom, and he’s adjusting his glasses… he’s doing a ‘middle finger glasses adjustment.’ At the time, me being a little bit naïve, I kinda thought okay, maybe he’s not quite happy with me taking pictures. Of course, now I know that that’s kind of an inside thing in the music business: if someone’s got an attitude with you they’ll adjust their glasses with their middle finger.

“But after exchanging a few niceties with Ben that tone faded; he was cool and he smiled more, and he didn’t give me the finger anymore.” John laughed.

Still, John hung back, but he could see how attentive Ben was to his mom. John respectfully observed the way “Ben was close to her the whole time, pointing things out, like out in the crowd and the bleachers, and stuff like reminiscing about being in the stadium for other events, ball games ….that’s what I with bettygathered. And the physical resemblance they had was very obvious. She seemed a bit taken back. She smiled a lot but didn’t say anything to me.”

Though the encounter was just a moment in time, it struck a chord deep down in John that has resonated over the years. As I listened to John share, I was really moved by his heartfelt reflections. “Being a Cleveland boy myself, I can remember going to Indians games there as a child; I’m sure he and his family did as well, so you know it could’ve just as easily been me. And [The Cars] were on the edge of being a huge success. So I totally had a tie to that whole feeling, or imagining how he must’ve felt, for sure. You know, the ‘local boy does good’ sort of thing. We ALL dreamed of that! There it all was right in front of me. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. Made it all the more heartbreaking when he passed.”

John quietly focused on taking photos, storing up tangible snapshots to accompany the impressions in his head.

“Ric kind of acted like he might have been a little bit self-conscious,” John reminisced. “That’s just my personal take on it. They were very nice. I took dozens of photos, taking time to chat. I will say that after a bit they seemed to be posing, so it got intense because I was the only guy there with a camera.”

John was gracious enough to share several of his terrific photos of Ben and Ric with us from that day:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At one point, Ben gave John a gift: a little white promotional Cars pin, which John has kept all these years. “He just reached in his pocket and he pulled out a pin and he says, ‘Hey man, I hope they turn out good,’ [referring to the photos],” John remembered. “He asked me if I was with the Scene, a Cleveland music rag paper that we all lived for each issue! I let him know that I wasn’t, but I worked for the company that printed Scene and that I actually ran a press that printed it.”

 

As they wrapped up their time together, Ben asked John to send him some of the photos if they turned out. And that was it. “I don’t think they were up there for more than half an hour, and then they receded back into the bowels of the stadium.”

Thrilled with his encounter, John continued to hang around in the relative quiet of the concrete passages backstage. He absorbed Utopia’s set with rapture. “I remember how cool ‘Eastern Intrigue’ sounded in the stadium from backstage. It was so great: no bounce, no echo like you would hear being out front, or anywhere else in that stadium for that matter.” He doesn’t remember much else in terms of the music that day; he was more into documenting the show with his camera. But while John wasn’t focused on the Cars’ set itself, it’s not because he didn’t have an appreciation for the band or their music. In truth, his feelings are quite the opposite.

“You know, it’s all timing. Sometimes all the planets line up and something unpredictable happens, and that’s kind of the way it was with The Cars. If you look at the end of the 70s, we’d been through glam rock and glitter, and Bowie and Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed… tons. And then of course there was disco and stuff like that, but The Cars really had a different writing style that was clearly evident in the way they played, and their persona just pushed it over the edge. They really were a bridge into the next realm.

“I remember seeing them at Live Aid in the 80s. They were well-established stars at that point. Ben was talking to a VJ from MTV; he was obviously having a good time, acted a bit buzzed, smoking a cigarette, it was a hell of a party. That was the last I saw of him other than magazines and videos.

“All musicians dream of success; they just do. [The Estes Brothers] had gotten very close just a year and a half earlier, so I felt a deep connection to all that: the road that musicians take and keep trying time after time. I know he did, as well. We all do. There are thousands who chase it their whole lives —  damn good musicians. So I always felt that connection. Thinking about the moment in the stadium… it held deep meaning for me.”

ben 03.jpg

And Ben?

“It’s hard to explain how I felt about him, but I could relate, maybe… just a sad story to me. That’s all there seemed to be for me for a lot of years. I was down more than I was up. But avoiding useless rambling… Seeing him with his mom [in Cleveland] was personal for me. And for him.”

John concluded emphatically, “You can tell all you need to know about a person sometimes from just one gesture. The mere fact that he had his mom there tells you the kind of person he was. What else do you need to say? That pretty much told me how cool he was.”


Oh, P.S.! John did end up meeting Todd many years later! John recounted, “For many years I was always like a step behind him ‘til finally in ’08 or ’09 they had an exhibit at the Rock Hall. He was there doing a meet-and-greet type sort of thing and oh my gosh, the line of people went all out the Rock Hall, down to East 9th Street, so I’m standing in line, you know, and I get up to where I’m inside the building and I could see him, and then… well, of course, they had to go.”

So John bought a ticket to the museum anyway, figuring since he’s there he might as well look at his exhibit. He went downstairs and there was no one down there, but then he said, “All of a sudden these two big doors swing open and here comes this whole troop of people: Todd Rundgren, Kasim Sulton, the curator, a couple security guards, a photographer, his wife Michelle, and their son Rebop. That ended my days of being two steps behind him. I got to meet him and take a ton of pictures of that. I’ve met him a bunch of times since.”

Yay!  I love happy endings!


My main sources:

  1. The first place I looked? Deanna Adams’ definitive guidebook of Cleveland rock history: Rock and Roll and the Cleveland Connection, pages 243-244.
  2. This invaluable scan and this one, from World Series of Rock concerts at Cleveland Stadium 1974-1980 on Facebook, gave me great info on the August 26 show.
  3. This terrific piece by Matt Wardlaw provided some Agora info and the cool quote from Dave Volker.
  4. I got so much wonderful input from this great WMMS Facebook group!
  5. And a little Wikipedia, of course!
  6. All photos courtesy of John Ward Hickernell (except as noted) and used with permission. Thank you for your generosity, John!

 

Episode 46: Cleveland Connection

Image result for yin yang
“Yin and yang: complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.”

Our first episode of 2019 is such a happy one!

Here’s the set-up: Dave and Donna connected through Twitter back in 2016 through their mutual love of The Cars, and they became fast friends. After months of gabbing about the band together, Dave created the podcast so the two could share their thoughts with the world, and off they went. Largely due to their perfect yin-and-yang chemistry on the show, many people do not realize that Dave and Donna had never met in person!

Well, that little factoid became null and void over the weekend of January 11-13, 2019, when fans from all over the country converged on Cleveland, Ohio, to celebrate the publishing of Joe Milliken’s wonderful biography, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars. Joe’s incredible event set the stage for Dave and Donna to be in the same room together for the first time ever.

In this episode of the podcast, the two relive their adventures together (and apart and in-between) during those whirlwind few days in Ben Orr’s hometown, including:

  1. tracking down Rock Hall Robyn,
  2. visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Archives (brilliantly pre-planned by Dave),
  3. sharing Saturday breakfast,
  4. geeking out over their private screening of Turbocharge, 
  5. gawking over Kurt Gaber’s abundant swag and surprise slideshow of Ben pics,
  6. partying at the big event: the book celebration at the Music Box Supper Club!
  7. gushing over Joe’s terrific interview, the badass concert with Moving In Stereo, and all of the beautiful people in attendance,
  8. then even more gushing about the book event — haha!,
  9. describing what it was like meeting each other for the first time,
  10. reveling in the deliciousness of a Rascal burger at 2 a.m. (for Donna, anyway!),
  11. recounting the emotions, the thrills, and the regrets of the weekend, and
  12. landing back in real life.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From there they move into The Midnight Scroll, where listeners’ questions spark a discussion about why Ben sometimes affects a British accent, and if there is a future possibility of the other members of The Cars appearing on the podcast as guests.

Be sure to listen all the way to the end where you’ll hear Ben talking like the Fonz — and the new outro featuring our exclusive voice talent, Miss Lizzie!

Now it’s your turn: Get in touch! There are lots of ways to do it. You can email us at nightthoughtspodcast@gmail.com, or come find us on social media; join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @TheCarsPodcast  (individually we’re @night_spots and  @sweetpurplejune ), and subscribe to our audio outlets! You can listen by clicking the Youtube link below, or visit us on iTunes or Soundcloud. Wherever you connect, be sure to subscribe, share and comment!

Time to click below to join the party:

The Gifts of “Let’s Go”

The Gifts of “Let’s Go”

(Header photo courtesy of Natalie Gaber)

I’m groggy, lying in my bed Sunday morning. I have to check out of my hotel in half an hour but I don’t want to start a new day. How could Saturday night have flown by so quickly? Images keep flooding my mind, little snippets of conversations to replay, impressions to sort and kind words to tuck away in my heart… elements of a gift. And Ben… so much Ben in the air!

If I could just turn back the clock and experience the night of January 12 all over again.

49949363_10215385204196178_7230662315664736256_n
Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

Admittedly, I almost get off on the wrong foot. I take a few wrong turns trying to get to the venue and I’m about 15 minutes late; it is a relief to finally see the shining logo of the Music Box Supper Club beckoning me in the dusk. I whisper, “Okay Ben, here we go,” as I give a little tug on my memorial pendant.

From the minute I pull into the valet lot my mind is going over the to-do list: scope out the concert hall, find the production team, preview the slideshow, time cues, guest list adjustments… Heading up the stairs and ah, there’s Joe! Yay, Neil and Diane are here! Hugs all around. Wait, where is David Spero? On his way? Got it.

from matt fuller
Joe, Donna, Lars, and Matt. Photo courtesy of Matt Fuller.

The guys from Moving In Stereo are here, too! I make sure to give Matt Fuller, the bassist and co-vocalist for the band, an extra-tight hug. I am so grateful for all he did to connect us with Colleen, the owner of the venue, and to secure the gig for tonight. He’s been on board since the first hint of the event and was invaluable in my planning. I am introduced to drummer Bryan Beyer and keyboardist Joshua Hartman who are both filling in tonight. Noah Patera is unable to be here on his drums, but it turns out that Lars Altvater’s prior commitment has been cancelled. Rather than pull Josh off the keys, though, Lars chooses to spend the evening taking photographs and mingling. Like the other members of the band, Lars is the definition of class and professionalism. Rhythm guitarist and co-vocalist Danny Ayala and lead guitarist Bob Heazlit greet us with huge smiles and hearty hugs, too. I am so happy to see these talented men again!

49895641_10156972653445909_5040895414715285504_o
Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

Leaving the band to finish their dinners, Joe and I go check out the concert hall. The space is terrific: a nice-sized stage with plenty of room for the video to be shown on both the left and right of it. Tables fan out into the large seating area, and a well-equipped bar is conveniently off to the right. The servers are bustling around getting ready for their night as we preview the video setup — it’s excellent!

Ah, here’s David Spero. Okay, up on the stage, figuring out logistics. I see people are starting to trickle in. Do I know them? Are they from the Fanorama? But I don’t want to be awkward and stare, and oh yes, I need to grab drinks for Joe and David, find a portable mike for the Q&A session, and figure out where the Mac’s Backs Books rep is going to set up — oh hey, she’s here and has it all under control. I should have known. Suzanne from Mac’s Backs Books has these events down to a science and is a joy to work with. Perfect!

Before I know it the place is filling up. I’m so giddy to greet my beloved friends and to make connections with others I’ve only known in text. Lots of hugs and happiness everywhere; the place is crackling with energy. And it’s already time to pull Joe from the foyer where he’s been signing books and get him to his position on the stage. But first… the green room. We need to refocus. I give Joe a minute of quiet to breathe, to settle down and plant his feet. We both need it, actually.

20190112_190912
Photo by Michael Kenny.

Now I cue the production guys, the house lights go down, and David Spero welcomes the guests. The video plays off perfectly and Ben’s presence fills the room. We see him grow from infant to teen to rock star, moving through the success and difficulty in his life, his unmistakable charisma intact. I can’t help but seek out the faces of those who knew Ben best to catch their reactions; my heart swells as I see their approval and happiness. I feel like creating this tribute with photos and music is one of the gifts I offer for the event and I am thankful it seems well received.

becky01.jpg
David Spero and Joe. Photo courtesy of Becky Broderick.

People continue to arrive as David introduces Joe and the two begin their talk like old buddies. All eyes are on them. The first of two of ‘the most beautiful moments of the night’ happens when David asks Ben’s former bandmates to stand and be recognized. A handful of men rise from around the room, and the crowd answers with hearty applause. Joe makes sure to mention Chris Kamburoff (Mixed Emotions) by name, who couldn’t be here because of health issues, and encourages Chris’s son, Ashton, to stand in his father’s place. More applause… and tears, too. Precious.

We take a few questions from the audience but the time has evaporated and I give David Spero the ‘five minutes’ signal. He wraps it up like a pro, and it’s time for me to escort Joe back out to the foyer. As we wind our way through the crowd people are shaking Joe’s hand, clapping him on the back, congratulating him. His smile is huge. Moving In Stereo is taking command of the stage and the slideshow is playing again for those who missed it as we make our way out to the table, where a line of people are already waiting for a signature.

from linda beyer
Moving In Stereo takes the stage. Photo courtesy of Linda Strong Beyer

I wish I could be in two places at once, both sitting beside Joe hearing all of the amazing Benjamin stories people are sharing with him as he signs their books and poses for pictures, and simultaneously rocking out near the stage to the pulsing sounds of the greatest Cars tribute band ever. Instead I go back and forth between Joe in the foyer and the guests in the concert hall, trying to greet everyone without being a creeper… I just want to hug each one and tell them how grateful I am that they came and that they have made my night so special just by showing up.

Throughout the evening I witness so many ways that this show has brought people together. I overhear happy exclamations of, “Hey man! It’s so great to see you again!”, observe pockets of social media friends meeting and hugging, am asked to take group photos of tablemates. Two Cleveland radio legends carve out time for a chat and an interview together. Fans stop me to ask about my Benjamin Orr t-shirt, and I am able to lead them right to the artist in the audience. The grandson of one of Ben’s early friends is a fledgling guitar player, and after the show I take him to meet the members of Moving In Stereo, where they talk about Les Pauls and check out the view from the stage. And I have the privilege of meeting people who read my blog or listen to the podcast and hear their words of encouragement. It is all so dear to me!

with joe kurilec
Me with Joe Kurilec of the Mixed Emotions. Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

I am also fortunate to encounter people who are important bricks in the tower of Cleveland rock history: Harry Harwat, Dante Rossi, Wayne Weston, Joe Kurilec, John Gardina, David Spero… ordinary looking people that you might pass on the street, but who played such foundational roles in Benjamin’s success, and I know that this night is also for them; it is about their legacy, too. I’m honored to have them sign my copy of the book.

And the band… THE BAND! I catch snippets of songs as I’m moving about, enjoying my favorites like “Let’s Go,” “Gimme Some Slack,” and “It’s All I Can Do.”  From time to time I stop at the table where my dear friends Kurt, Nat, and Dave are, and we look at each other and gush, “these guys ROCK!” but I don’t really get a chance to focus on the show until a bit later when Joe has a break in the autograph action and he’s able to come join the party. We rock out to “Good Times Roll” and “Just What I Needed” and people are dancing and singing along and the room is packed… it’s so awesome! Even with two stand-ins the music is so tight and true and my adrenaline soars even higher.

49785999_10161341852205300_8502099358290804736_n
John Gardina plays “Drive.” Photo courtesy of Becky Broderick.

Toward the end of the band’s hour-and-a-half set, the second of ‘the two most beautiful moments of the night’ takes place. One of Ben’s former bandmates, Mixed Emotions bassist John “Johnny Joe” Gardina, has come to the event. It takes some persuading, but he is finally convinced to join Moving In Stereo onstage for an encore performance of “Drive.” It’s so touching to see the smile on the face of this talented and humble man as he picks out the bassline to one of the most memorable songs Benjamin Orr ever sang. The way he stands toward the back like Ben used to, and how he adds his own flair to the melody, and shyly accepts the cheers of the crowd… All these little things reflect how much Johnny Joe loves and honors Ben.  It is both tender and badass at once, and a highly fitting way to end the night.

Now maybe you already know this about me: I’m not a professional publicist. I am a homeschooling mom with four kids and I’m a bit of an organizational freak, so while I know how to boss people around and get things done, I’ve never put together a shindig this big. Joe took quite a gamble, placing the responsibility of this event in my hands. And I know this night is not about me, not in the slightest. But I gotta tell you, as I look around at about 300 people partying over Ben and the book, I feel pretty proud of myself. No catastrophes, no resorting to Plan Bs, no disappointments, and Joe is rosy-cheeked with happiness. A definite success.

with deanna adams edit
Me with author Deanna Adams. Photo courtesy of Joe Milliken.

The cherry on top? One of my writing heroes, accomplished Cleveland author Deanna Adams, is in attendance, and when I meet her she praises me loudly for all the work I’ve done promoting Let’s Go!, and she announces that she wants me to be the public relations coordinator for her next book. I won’t hold her to that second part of it, but I take it as a very sweet and meaningful compliment, and I feel it deeply.

The lights come up but the connections continue. More introductions are made, hellos and goodbyes, group photos. My voice is a bit hoarse, but I can’t stop smiling. It’s all been so lovely! As Joe and I prepared for this night, I kept telling him, “Don’t be nervous. These people just want to party with you. You’ve already given them your gift.” And now I realize, as I run my fingers over my Benjamin Orr memorial pendant (as I’ve done so often this evening), that this party itself was full of gifts, too, that every attendee generously gave to us.

In other words:

Regarding how Benjamin would feel about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction: “He grew up in Parma Heights, Ohio… There was a weekly TV show he was on called Upbeat and The Grasshoppers were the big stars of it. He was a good-looking 16-year-old singing wonderful songs with that great voice. He’s been inundated with music since he was a kid. He was pretty proud to have come from Cleveland.” — Ric Ocasek, Rolling Stone magazine, December 13, 2017

30738701_964209670428053_7346806282771280818_n
Ric speaking during The Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, April 14, 2018. Photo credit unknown. 

In other words:

eerrhof.jpg“Benjamin. He would have loved this night, right here, in his hometown of Cleveland, this city that was so proud of him. His beautiful voice, solid bass playing and good humor was such a huge part of the band’s success. Not a bad-looking guy either!” — Elliot Easton, in his acceptance speech during The Cars’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, April 14, 2018