We caught another Rat!

We caught another Rat!

Every time something new pops up in the Cars world I am ecstatic on two fronts: first, because another elusive piece of the band’s history has fallen into place, and second, because it bolsters my hope that there is even more yet to be revealed. And that’s on top of the thrill I always feel at just seeing or hearing my forever-favorite band. Anyway, you can imagine my elation when I returned from a recent trip to discover that a VERY cool friend had sent me some VERY cool files: new recordings of The Cars at The Rat!

Now you might remember that The Cars played The Rat for a four-night engagement spanning Thursday, April 28, through Sunday, May 1, 1977. A few months ago I uploaded an audio file from that weekend, though I wasn’t sure which of the dates it was recorded on. Well, with these two totally new shows, I’ve been told that they are specifically from April 30th, so they would be the Saturday night performances. As you’ll see below, each set offers us a previously unpublished gem, which makes these audios even more delightful.

In case you haven’t seen it before, on the right is an advertising flyer from that weekend. The Cars shared the bill with The Good Rats. I’m not sure who was the headliner; the way the ad is designed makes it look like The Cars were the big draw, but they were a fairly new band at the time (though the members themselves were not unknown). I think The Good Rats were still enjoying the regional success that followed their 1974 and 1976 albums, and they were coming up from New York, so they might have been a bigger deal? Oh, and each of The Cars’ sets was only about 1/2 an hour long, which seems more like a warm-up than a main event.

Okay, I got off track there, because I’m sure it doesn’t matter who was the headliner, but I was trying to imagine the order of the night. I’m going with The Cars, then The Good Rats, then repeat. There, I feel better now that I have that settled. Haha!

No more goofing off — let’s dive right in. Here’s the first set list, with the audio below:

  • 00:00 Leave Or Stay
  • 03:04 Cool Fool
  • 05:48 You Can’t Hold On Too Long
  • 08:54 Don’t Cha Stop
  • 12:25 My Best Friend’s Girl
  • 16:23 Gimme Little Sign (Brenton Woods cover)*
  • 19:40 I Don’t Want To (Elliot Easton on vocals)
  • 22:18 Strawberry Moonlight
  • 25:16 You’re All I’ve Got Tonight
  • 29:54 Just What I Needed

Some of my reactions to this set:

  • A lot of times when you go to shows, the crowd doesn’t seem to pay too much attention to the opener. The band might start, but people are still milling about, greeting friends, ordering drinks, and so on. I’m sure that was the case here, too, but the recording also picks up the sounds of cheers and whistling from the crowd at the beginning. I love it!
  • You have to know that I am thrilled that these recordings have come out of hiding — thrilled. But… there is one eensy weensy thing I wish I could change: I noticed that most of the transitions between songs have been edited out. That’s a little bit of a bummer because I feel like we can often glean several tasty bites of mood and personality from those breaks. Oh well! Not everyone’s as obsessed as we are. Better to have it with some edits than to not have it at all!
  • Let’s discuss the duo vocals on “You Can’t Hold On Too Long.” I have to admit it makes me wrinkle my nose a bit. Is it because I’m too in love with the album version? Or is it more that Ric’s voice clashes too much with Ben’s in this case? I mean, obviously there are many recordings where the two share the vocal duties successfully, but the disparity in their styles just doesn’t seem to blend well here.
  • I wish I could hear the what’s going on in the background after “You Can’t Hold On…” because I want to know what Ben is responding to when he says, “It’s not called that at all.” Sounds like he’s feeling squirrely!
  • I love Greg’s keyboard riff behind the chorus of “My Best Friend’s Girl” — it’s catchy! On the other hand, the absence of Elliot’s guitar solo is tragic. I’m glad that was eventually remedied; it totally changed the whole vibe of the song.
  • The big surprise in this set is the band’s cover of “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Wood (which I also carved out and posted separately). It’s been known in the Fanorama for a long time that they played this in their early days, but this was the first time I heard it. It’s great! Ric takes the lead vocals, but Ben’s voice is prominent in the chorus. Not sure who is doing the falsetto backing vocals, but there’s strong speculation that it’s Elliot. Hopefully someday we’ll have a definitive answer!
  • Here’s another recording of “I Don’t Want To” with Elliot on lead vocals. I think there is only one other published performance of this one, captured during the March 21, 1977, show when they opened for Bob Seger. Man, I love this song! I still need to get a lyrics post done for this — SO funny! Hey wait… there’s that high voice in the back again, but it sounds like Ben? Hmmm, the falsetto mystery continues…
  • By the end of the set the crowd is fully involved; you can hear them screaming and cheering as the band launches into “Just What I Needed” as their last song of the set. Hard to tell if it’s an encore but I would guess it is. Ben still hasn’t got those lyrics down all the way (LOL) but his adlibs are undeniably yummy. Elliot’s guitar melody during the chorus, which is rather hidden in the studio version, is front and center in this recording, and it freaking ROCKS.
  • “Thank you very much, we’ll see you in the neighborhood. Bye bye!” — Ben ❤

Whew! What an electrifying ride!

I wonder what they did while The Good Rats were playing? Probably changed their clothes, had some drinks and a few smokes, maybe put on a hat? Maybe they held court in dark corners and chatted up the girls.

This is a little bit of a detour, but if you’re a visual person like me you might get a kick out of it. I recently isolated a portion from an old Boston television program that showed footage of the inside of The Rat. If you have a few extra minutes, click on this video for a peek at what the venue probably looked like when The Cars were playing there.

Okay, let’s move on to their second performance that night:

  • 00:00 Bye Bye Love (Ric Ocasek on vocals)
  • 04:20 You Can Have ‘Em (aka Sleepy Wasted Afternoon or Blue Moon Saloon)
  • 07:21 Ta Ta Wayo Wayo
  • 10:08 Jezebel*
  • 15:48 Take What You Want
  • 21:41 My Best Friend’s Girl
  • 26:06 Something Else (Elliot Easton on vocals; Eddie Cochran cover)
  • 28:50 Just What I Needed
  • 32:35 Cool Fool (encore)

Let’s jump right into it:

  • The guys start off with a sizzler! (Mmm, Ben on the harmonies during “Bye Bye Love.”) Ric seems to loosen up a bit vocally on this performance so it’s not too unpleasant to have him taking the lead. Greg is killing it on keys, too.
  • I know I don’t comment about him much, but man, David’s playing really catches me in “You Can Have ‘Em.” He’s always so steady and solid back there, and I certainly can’t escape his perfect fills and flourishes here. Dude is on fire!
  • This set offers another tasty — and previously unpublished — surprise: “Jezebel!” I’ve loved this tune since I first heard Cap’n Swing’s demo of it, but I did not know that Ric had held onto it to include in The Cars’ repertoire. I definitely like the CS version better, although Ben’s vocals are luscious, no doubt about it. This song is great, too, because it is one of the few Cars songs that gives Elliot room to really stretch out and shine.
  • Elliot puts in another blistering performance on the mic with “Something Else.” That cover is so perfectly suited for him, and Greg’s scrumptious saxophone adds even more heat to it.
  • They attempt to close out the show with “Just What I Needed,” but the audience is wild for an encore. I particularly relate to the shrieking girls, who you know just want to see more of Ben. Haha! They return and launch into “Cool Fool” with swagger and energy. The crowd loves it.

And then it’s over. Another half an hour of raw talent from a band on the verge of changing the face of music. How fortunate we are to get to listen to the past!

I’ve given you a lot to unpack so I’ll leave you to it. Let me know what other bits and pieces stand out to you from these two terrific performances. Have fun!

*previously unpublished

Cover image photo credit: Larry Bouchie


Please remember that these live audios are not to be bought or sold!

Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel and tap on the little bell to get a notification when I upload something new. Also, I’ve started keeping a playlist of the live shows in chronological order. You can check it out here:

Let’s Make A Record: The Results!

Let’s Make A Record: The Results!

Back in April I launched a fun little challenge for fans to create their own ‘new’ Cars album using only songs that the band performed but did not release on one of their six studio albums. We had a total of fifteen official contributions (those that came in before the voting started). From there, I organized the entries and set up a poll so readers could vote for their favorite submissions in four categories:

  • Best Album Title
  • Best Track List
  • Best Cover Art
  • Most Likely to Become a Bootleg (overall favorite)

Before I announce the winners, I’d like to share a couple of last-minute entries that came in. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive them in time to include them in the voting, but we can still enjoy them. Check out these cool compilations below:

LATE ENTRY Ellen Flint

LATE ENTRY Rick

I do have a little treat for everyone who sent in a submission: this badass 3″ Cars album sticker designed, printed, and donated by our very own Kurt Gaber! How cool is that???

prize for entries

If I haven’t already contacted you about getting your sticker to you, please send me a note, either through the blog or on Messenger. I’ll get them out ASAP!

And now to announce the results and winners in each category:

1

Best Album Title WINNER: Entry #01: Abandoned Cars by Steven Manson

2

Best Track List WINNER: Entry #04: Detour by Katherine Fendley

3

Best Cover Art WINNER: Entry #01: Abandoned Cars by Steven Manson

4

Likely Bootleg/Overall Favorite WINNER: Entry #04: Detour by Katherine Fendley

Congratulations to our winners! Wow, Steven and Katherine’s albums really battled it out. An Honorable Mention goes to Entry #08: Impound Lot by Becky Broderick for sticking close to the lead in all categories. And guess what? I have special prizes for them, too! These cool Cars logo decals were also printed and donated by Kurt Gaber, and will be sent out to Steven, Katherine, and Becky with their participation stickers. Woot woot!

prize for poll winners


A few random follow-ups:

I had originally presented the submissions without using names in order to help keep the voting objective, but for those who are curious, here’s the list of all of the participants by entry number:

  1. Abandoned Cars: Steven Manson
  2. Breakaway: Harold Strassler
  3. Cool Fool: Craig McGuire
  4. Detour: Katherine Fendley
  5. The Edge: Brandon Billings
  6. Hybrids: Chuck Walker
  7. Ignition: Silver Sunday
  8. Impound Lot: Becky Broderick
  9. In Deep: Michelle Turner
  10. The Novelty Knock: me!
  11. Sharp Subtle Flavor: David Curry
  12. Sleep Wasted Afternoon: Mary Theresa
  13. Untitled: Paul Sampson Fish
  14. You Can Have ‘Em: Beki Hampton Garland
  15. You Got It: Tina Megahey

After I had published the original article, I discovered that a couple of qualifying songs had slipped past me. Aargh! Two of them, “I Don’t Want To” and “Something Else,” were just total brain blunders. How could I have overlooked these fan favorites, and with Elliot on vocals? Jeez Louise. (Note: I will say that I did purposefully stay away from cover songs that the band just appeared to use to round out their sets, like “Gimme Little Sign” by Brenton Woods, etc.)

The third, “Jezebel,” was a new discovery for me. Of course, I knew that the song had been around with Cap’n Swing (and possibly before that), but I was in the dark that The Cars had performed it, too, until Jon M. gave me a heads up about it. Coincidentally, I received an audio from another source a few weeks later that included The Cars singing “Jezebel” during a weekend gig at The Rat. New to me!

I’m going to edit the original “Let’s Make A Record” article and update my graphic to keep things accurate. Sorry about the goof up!

This was a lot of fun for me — thank you to everyone who read the articles, submitted their ideas, or voted. And another big thank you to Kurt Gaber for providing the prize giveaways! What other fun things can we do, Fanorama? Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Let’s Make A Record: The Vinyl Voting!

A couple of weeks ago I put out a call for fans to create their own ‘new’ Cars album using only the songs the band recorded but that didn’t make it on one of the original six studio albums. I’m so happy that people responded! It’s been really fun to go through everyone’s playlists, to see the cool artwork, and to hear of the creative titles you’ve all come up with.

I do apologize for taking so long to get my butt in gear and post the submissions. Things have been a bit rough around here. Plus, I wanted to find a way to ‘display’ all of the albums in a consistent format, and I needed to figure out how to set up a friendly way to vote. I think I’ve got it. 

So here’s what I’ve decided to do. I created a graphic for each of the entries, keeping them anonymous by leaving the contributor’s name off. I included artwork (if it was submitted), along with the album title, track list, and any other extra notes that came with it. If the person created a playlist for his or her album, I’ve added it underneath that entry.

Let’s check out the submissions:

#01 Abandoned Cars

Playlist for Entry#01: Click here.

#02 Breakaway

#03 Cool Fool

#04 Detour

Playlist for Entry #04: Click here.

#05 The Edge

#06 Hybrids

#07 Ignition

#08 Impound Lot

#09 In Deep

Playlist for Entry #09: Click here.

#10 The Novelty Knock

#11 Sharp Subtle Flavor

#12 Sleepy Wasted Afternoon

Playlist for Entry #12: Click here.

#13 Untitled

#14 You Can Have 'Em

#15 You Got It

Playlist for Entry #15: Click here.

Now let’s get to the voting!

I chose four categories:

  • Best Album Title
  • Best Track List
  • Best Cover Art
  • Most Likely to Become a Bootleg

I wasn’t sure exactly where to go to do a quick free survey, but I think this one does the trick. Click on the link below and another window should pop open with the poll. This will enable you to toggle back and forth between the two screens if you need to. Unfortunately, it does not let you go backwards, so be careful to answer each question as it comes up. (That’s on me — I didn’t want to spend the $15 for that option. Haha!) In light of that flaw, my encouragement would be to spend some time exploring each album and take notes on your winning choices. This should hopefully eliminate any frustrations.

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE!

Just for kicks, I did a quick tally of how often each song was chosen. And, of course, I had to make a graph of it.

Most Chosen Songs graph

It’s no surprise to me that “Take What You Want” led the selection. It’s such an iconic jam! I was surprised that “Midnight Dancer” placed so high because it seems like no one ever posts that song in the Facebook groups. I didn’t expect it to have that much traction, I guess. 

I wish I had time to do more analysis from different angles, like what song was the most common album opener? The most popular closer? What percentage shunned the ballads? How many choices were Ben vocals and how many for Ric? Not hard stuff to noodle out, but I just can’t do it right now. If anyone else wants to take a crack at it, I’d love to hear more stats! 

Okay, so go ahead and scout out the albums, cast your votes, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments here or on Facebook. I’ll leave the poll open until Friday, May 7, and I’ll shoot to have the results published sometime during the next week. Oh, and I’ll try to figure out some cool Cars prizes to mail out to the participants and the winners. Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out!  

Quoting Benjamin

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

QuotingB

Let’s make a record!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaaaand…. GO!

Quoting Benjamin

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

waiting1

Crystal Gerard: A Pursuit of Passion

Anything and everything music: live bands, spinning records, dance clubs, photography, creative coifs…  All her life, Crystal Jane Gerard has had a passion for rock and roll and a relentless determination to pursue it. And she’s proved it time and again: from writing an enthusiastic A+ English paper about meeting Adam Ant, to skipping a day of beauty school to catch John Waite leaving his hotel after a show, to walking out on a job for Benjamin Orr.

original cars pin croppedSince her early days in high school, Crystal has loved The Cars, especially Benjamin Orr, and everyone knew it! Her yearbooks were riddled with comments (and even sketches of Ben!) from friends who would mention her obsession when they would sign off for the summer. She had all The Cars’ albums and would pore over her collection, tallying which songs were Ben’s and which were Ric’s. Most of her favorite songs were Ben’s.

Right after graduating high school, Crystal attended beauty school, finished her certification in 1985, and launched into a career as a hairdresser. She had the world at her feet: she was young and pretty, she loved her job, and she spent all of her free time immersed in the music world.

In November of 1987, The Cars were touring behind their sixth album, Door to Door. Unbeknownst to fans at the time, tensions within the band were running hot. Ben was traveling separately from the rest of the members, and while it is true that he did not enjoy flying, I believe it was also a way for him to separate himself from spending more time than necessary in a work situation that had grown intolerable to him.

To that end, Ben had his own tour bus and his own travel itinerary. The Cars played in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 25, 1987, and then Ben and his bus left for the next destination: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After about a six-hour trip, he arrived on Thursday, November 26. The band was scheduled to play the MECCA Arena on Friday, November 27.

On that Thursday night, Crystal was hanging out at her favorite new wave dance club, Park Avenue. In Milwaukee in the 80s, Park Avenue was the place to ‘see and be seen.’ The venue sometimes hosted over-the-top theme nights that literally led to lines of hundreds of people waiting to get in.

I found these photos of the club online. Though they were taken around 1992 when Park Avenue reopened as Nitro, I understand that they are similar to how Park Avenue looked in the late 80s.

And it was here that, much to her delight and awe, Crystal saw Benjamin Orr standing at the bar. “I’m shy, but I had to talk to him or I’d forever regret it!” she said. “I went up to him and he was very nice. I don’t recall the conversation, but I did mention that I was a hairdresser. He said he needed his hair done before the show! I was thrilled and a bit nervous at the chance to not only have met, but to do hair for my teenage idol. He said I could come to his tour bus to do it.

“The next day, I told the salon I worked at that this amazing opportunity came up, that I could do a famous musician’s hair, and I had to take the afternoon off. For some reason they didn’t see the value in it and wouldn’t let me go.”

Crystal was not a slacker by any means; her job was important to her and this was a serious decision. But there was no way… NO WAY!… that she was going to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime chance. “Well, I got fired,” she continued. “I followed my heart and chose rock and roll over my job, and I’ve never regretted it, even for a moment.”

After thirty-three years, many of the finer details of Crystal’s experience that day are gone. As best as she can remember, the tour bus was parked near the loading area behind the MECCA Arena. She can’t recall if Ben showed her around the bus or not, but the two got settled in the main living area, where she cut and colored his hair, likely washing and rinsing in the small kitchen sink. “I packed up my gear, out came the foils, scissors, and so on, and I went to work.”

Crystal has generously shared her before, during, and after pictures with us. As you can imagine, she treasures these photos! A friendly reminder: If you share them on social media, please do NOT crop out the watermark!

01 before

02 during

03 after

The process took a couple of hours, and Ben was low-key and friendly. Crystal remembers that one thing they talked about was scuba diving, as it was one of Ben’s hobbies. Though she considered herself a newbie hairdresser at that time, Ben was happy with her work, and he invited her to come to the show that night, giving her tickets and backstage passes.

“I brought my bestie and ‘partner-in-crime’ and we got to go backstage. We briefly met the other Cars and I had them sign my Creem magazine. Paulina Porizkova was doing some sort of needlepoint work. Ben was eating jalapeno peppers out of the jar and offered some to us. He loved them! I took another photo of Ben before he opened the door to go onstage.”

creem magazine signed watermark

04 before going onstage

That November 27 show at the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee rocked. The tickets were only $16.50 — can you believe it? The set list included:

  • “Tonight She Comes”
  • “Touch And Go”
  • “Double Trouble”
  • “My Best Friend’s Girl”
  • “Everything You Say”
  • “Since You’re Gone”
  • “Fine Line”
  • “Let’s Go”
  • “Strap Me In”
  • “Candy-O”
  • “Moving In Stereo”
  • “Dangerous Type”
  • “Drive”
  • “You Are The Girl”
  • “Good Times Roll”
  • “You Might Think”
  • “Hello Again”
  • “Just What I Needed”
  • “Magic”

Crystal and her friend had a blast! Here are a couple of shots from the concert:

concert 01

concert 02

Ben generously invited Crystal and her friend to see The Cars play at another nearby show the following weekend, and they were happy to attend. Crystal had printed one of her photos of Ben and he signed it “love Ben Orr” (see above).

concert 03She later had the pleasure of seeing The Cars play at the Roseland Ballroom in New York in 2011, where Ric also signed one of her photos from that long-ago show. It gave her goosebumps to hear their wonderful music played live again, though she missed Ben very much.

Even though she is to not be able to bring all the particulars of that first weekend fully back to life, the experience of doing Ben’s hair shifted the course of her career. “Benjamin was my first celebrity client, and [working with him] inspired me to later pursue this type of clientele because to me, musicians usually have the most creative looks. Image is everything onstage.”

Crystal would go on to ‘brush the rock and roll hair’ of many other notable rock stars, including Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Butch Walker and the Marvelous 3, Brett Anderson from the Donnas, the Cocktail Slippers, Dale Watson, The Struts and The Posies.

The day after her October 2 birthday in 2000,  Ben passed away. Crystal heard it on the radio and she was crushed. “I felt this personal connection because I did his hair. I felt close to him; I loved him all my life. He was so kind.” She couldn’t help but cry at the loss; Benjamin had changed her life. She will always be grateful to him for the way he influenced her career.

Crystal moved to New York City twenty-six years ago in order to pursue her passions.  “A lot of people do many creative things at once. You can’t do that in a lot of cities,” she noted. She has stayed close to the music biz: She was a New Music Scout for Little Steven’s Underground Garage from 2006 to 2017, while maintaining her salon clientele. She also worked as a DJ at NYC’s Beauty Bar for many years, and spun an eclectic mix of garage rock from the ’60s-’80s for the SXSW festival and other special events. In fact, she DJ’d for The Empty Hearts in New York in 2017… but that is another story for another time. Stay tuned!

adam ant by crystal gerard
Adam Ant by Crystal Gerard

Today, Covid-19 has limited her DJ work, but Crystal is not letting go of her musical pursuits. She is in the process of creating an Instagram page to showcase her incredible rock photography, a skill she’s had a lot fun cultivating over the years. She is also available for hair appointments. If you’d like to connect with her, you can shoot her an email at crystalblu1966@gmail.com!

I’m so grateful that Crystal was willing to share her experience and her passion with us! ❤


I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Kat F. for making me aware of Crystal’s story. Thank you, my friend!

All photos are courtesy of Crystal Jane Gerard (unless otherwise noted) and shared with permission.

Sources:

  1. I used this article from onmilwaukee.com for the background information on Park Avenue.
  2. I retrieved the photos of Nitro from mkelgbthist.org.

20 Years Ago: Big People!

Two thousand nineteen marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of the last band Ben ever played in: Big People!

Joe Milliken’s book, Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, is an amazing resource for background on this band (and Ben’s whole life, obviously!), with a whole chapter devoted to how the group came together, including quotes from all the major players. I’ll just give a brief summary here:

Originally the brainchild of drummer Michael Cartellone (Damn Yankees, Lynyrd Skynyrd), Big People was a supergroup consisting of guitarist Jeff Carlisi (38 Special), guitarist and keyboard player Pat Travers (Pat Travers Band), and vocalist and rhythm guitarist Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent). The initial purpose was to play a few weekend club sets and enjoying jamming together, but others in the business suggested they push forward as a full-time band.

Ben was approached to join the group as the bass player in March of 1999. Cartellone ended up being hired to play drums for Lynyrd Skynyrd before Big People could really get off the ground, but fortunately Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel) was at the tail-end of his commitment to Billy Joel and he was free to join this exciting new endeavor.

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Big People in 1999. Photo courtesy of Liberty DeVitto.

Big People pulled together a setlist that was packed with hits, as each member brought the best of their rock-and-roll resume to the stage. Under the encouragement and wisdom of manager Charlie Brusco (and later Billy Johnson) and tour manager Joe Dlearo, the band began rehearsals in April, 1999, and the guys knew they had stumbled on something great. In Let’s Go! Pat Travers said, “At the rehearsal studio for our first play together, I suggested playing ‘Just What I Needed,’ and when Derek, Ben and I sang together for the first time, wow! What a blend. Our three voices, with myself on the bottom, Derek on top and Ben singing the lead, had this amazing sound to me that was tight and sweet.” (p.180)

As the guys played together over the next few months, their harmony continued to build, both in rock-and-roll badassery as well as in friendship. They were picking up more and more gigs, and the audiences loved  them. Eventually they landed a tour with Styx, which gained the band even more exposure. They were really clicking along and had plans to write original material together.

It was also during this time that Ben met Julie Snider, the woman to whom he would soon become engaged, and who would tenderly and tirelessly care for Ben until the end of his life. Footage and photos of Ben during this time show him to be relaxed, happy, and looking much more youthful than he did in the mid-90s.

There are SO many great quotes in Joe’s book about all of this, and I’ll feature some of them in future “In other words:” posts, but you’ve just got to read the book to get a true feel for the promise and excitement that everyone was feeling about Big People’s potential.

I recently had the honor of connecting with both Liberty DeVitto and Jeff Carlisi and asking them about their time with Big People. They each have such fond memories of those idyllic days, and find it hard to believe that twenty years have gone by since they were all rockin’ together.

And while I don’t want this article to be a downer, we can’t ignore the fact that it sucks so much that it all had to end. Ben really was the hinge that held it all together, and when he passed away in October of 2000 the band’s momentum fell flat. Their manager prompted the guys to hire a new bass player and get back in the game after Ben died, but their hearts just weren’t in it anymore.  Jeff told me, “We didn’t have any interest in keeping it going once Ben was gone.” Liberty echoed that sentiment when he said, “When we lost Ben we lost a rockstar. There was no sense in going on. We love Ben. He was a great guy and a great singer and player.”

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Courtesy of Eddie Duggan

Big People’s first official show was on July 24, 1999, up in New Brunswick, Canada, at a place known at the time as Shediac Can-Am Speedway (now called the Shediac Centre for Speed). The three-day weekend event, called Rockfest ’99, featured acts like Nazareth, Collective Soul, ZZ Top, Styx, and April Wine.

The guys were excited on their flight to Canada, eager to make their public debut. The show itself went well. Like all bands playing out for the first time, there were rough edges to smooth out, but Jeff felt really good about the music and about the natural chemistry between the guys. “I remember calling my wife after the show and saying, ‘It’s like I’ve always been in this band all my life.'”

Their second playout followed in August of that year, at a festival called Itchycoo Park ’99: The Camping Experience. This is the show I really want to focus on here, since it’s one we can actually watch.

flyerHeld in the middle of a big farm field in Manchester, Tennessee, Itchycoo was kind of an unusual event in its day in that it combined a music festival with camping. It was a bit of a throwback to Woodstock in that way, and is considered an early (if unsuccessful) forerunner to long-established camping concert events like Bonnaroo (which is held on the same site), Sonic Bloom, and Coachella.

Looking at the extensive list of bands on the bill, this event should have been an absolute smash (at least in my opinion!). It featured some of the most iconic names in music history, including Sammy Hagar, Joan Jett, Paul Rodgers, Styx, Ann and Nancy Wilson… so many legends! Check out the posters below; you won’t believe it. And the whole weekend — all four days — for only $80. Holy cow!!

As you can see, early advertisements of the original lineup don’t list Big People, but later they were added to the roster to perform on Thursday, August 12, at 4:00, sandwiched between Rick Springfield and Mark Farner. Jeff believes they actually played Friday, probably between Paul Rodgers of Bad Company and preceding John Entwistle of The Who, and the event guide (above right) supports that schedule. Of course, the actual slot doesn’t matter;  Big People was going to take the stage!

As it would turn out, the event organizers were in for a pretty crushing blow. Expecting to draw at least 60,000 people (but hoping for 80,000), the event actually only sold around 20,000 tickets. On top of that, the Tennessean reported a few other stink bombs:

  1. a few of the acts were no-shows, including Ann and Nancy, who were slated as the grand finale
  2. the agency providing security for the event departed in mid-afternoon on Sunday, causing the officials to recruit spectators as security guards for the remainder of the festival
  3. promised electrical hookups for RVs weren’t provided
  4. vendors complained bitterly about the lack of communication, poor overall organization, and puny profits.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the Itchycoo Park festival did not return the next year. Interestingly, only three years later the Bonnaroo festival would sell out their event on the same site, and that event has continued to be a roaring success for nearly twenty years.

As for the Big People experience? Luckily for us, we can witness it ourselves, even 20 years later.

The band launches into “Just What the Doctor Ordered” with guns blazing. Liberty’s explosive drumming and Derek’s vigorous vocals let you know that in spite of the smaller-than-anticipated turnout, these guys are here to kick ass. And they do! Every one of them are masters of their craft, seasoned professionals with the hearts of grown-up kids looking to jam with their buddies. So much freaking talent on that stage!

derekDerek acts as the main frontman for the group, playing to the crowd and ushering each song into the next. He is a natural showman, animated at times, clearly thrilled to interact with the audience. We can excuse him for fumbling around the lyrics a bit  because his voice is an indomitable siren call to rock.

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I’m addicted to watching Liberty play. Always a splashy drummer, his movements are exuberant and fluid, his sticks clearly an extension of his arms. I simply canNOT sit still when he’s going at it.

jeff.gifJeff Carlisi roams the stage unruffled. At times he stands facing the crowd with all the aloof confidence of young Caesar, at other moments he is grinning like a kid at his first rock concert. When it’s his turn in the spotlight he steps up to the edge of the stage and blazes through his solos with restraint, like it’s just a walk in the park.

pat.gifPat Travers definitely brings the most ‘hard rock’ attitude to the stage, wowing the crowd with his passionate guitar playing. His performance of “I La La La Love You” is captivating. I love it, too, how he covers the keyboard parts for “Let’s Go” by handling most of it on his guitar and later switching to the synthesizer.

And then there’s Ben. He smiles throughout the show, looking much more lit up and youthful than he has in so long (compare this to his performance at Viele’s Plant just a year before). His vocals are strong and sexy. And the camera clearly loves Ben. There are many slow pans, capturing his content, cat-that-ate-the cream looks. Later, when he removes his sunglasses, we can see he is clear-eyed and happy. Serene. At peace. It’s so great to see him connecting with crowd, and joking around with his bandmates. 

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The stifling heat threatens to make things difficult. Big fans are set up around the stage, but it’s clear the guys are affected.  Derek mentions it a couple of times, Liberty is pouring water over his own head, and the guys are mopping their faces between songs. At one point Pat stores his guitar pick on his cheek, apparently adhering it there with his sweat (ew! lol). But there’s Ben, looking as cool as a cucumber in his heavy leather jacket and shades. Electric angel rock-and-roller all the way, baby!

Big People’s happy, confident chemistry is palpable. Derek’s hyper-puppy energy offsets the cool demeanor of Pat and Jeff as they volley through their lead guitar solos like it’s the US Open. Liberty’s energy is both controlled and contagious, while Ben is, as always, unassuming and quietly badass. They are on a big stage but they make it feel more intimate by the way they interact, trading smiles, jokes and rock-and-roll flirts with each other through the set. All five connecting, all five communicating with each other.

It’s obvious these guys love each other so much, and that is something that both Liberty and Jeff emphasized to me. Jeff said, “In those two years or so, the six of us [including Julie] traveling on the road… we lived so much life together. That’s the best part about that whole thing: those relationships. They changed my life.”

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Big People, 1999. Photo courtesy of Jeff Carlisi.

Jeff has given me the go-ahead to start a Facebook group for Big People. Please come join! It will mainly serve as a centralized collection site for all information and memorabilia I can round up about the group, as well as biographical tidbits and current happenings of the various members. Jeff indicated that as he came across stuff in his own files he’d send it to me to share, and I am hopeful that others will contribute as well. And of course, I welcome all fans to chime in with their thoughts, memories, and photos, too.

I’m hoping to write lots more about Big People in the future. In the meantime, please click below to enjoy the one concert we currently have access to, live at Itchycoo Park!

Setlist:

  1. “Just What the Doctor Ordered” (Ted Nugent)
  2. “Just What I Needed” (The Cars)
  3. “Caught Up In You” (38 Special)
  4. “I La La Love You” (Pat Travers)
  5. “Let’s Go” (The Cars)
  6. “Hold On Loosely” (38 Special)
  7. “Bye Bye Love” (The Cars)
  8. “Hey Baby” (Ted Nugent)
  9. “Boom Boom, Out Go the Lights” (Pat Travers Band)

Enjoy!

In other words:

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Photo by Ebet Roberts. 1978

Do you think about Ben a lot? “He was certainly my closest friend. He was in every band I ever had. It was a pretty close relationship. He crosses my mind a lot. I certainly see pictures of him around or I hear his voice.

“It’s funny, for some of these re-release things we would find some alternative cuts or things. I’d find demos or recordings where Ben and I played acoustically at Cambridge, Massachusetts, those clubs around Harvard. It was just him and I. They were kind of great. Every time I heard him sing on anything, whether it was a demo or a living room, it always sounded amazing. I could never get over how great his voice was, at least to me.

“So yeah, I think about him. Unfortunately, there were a lot of artists I was close to we lost in the past couple of years, Alan Vega and a bunch … I guess time rolls on.” ~ Ric Ocasek, Rolling Stone Magazine, December 17, 2017.