Our Corner of the Rock 'n' Roll Life
[T]his band's rhythmic precision and its compact song delivery are a function of its passion--tight, like they say, is right.
-- Milo Miles, Boston Phoenix
In the early 1960s, jazz was quite popular on American college campuses. In the Boston-Cambridge area, coffeehouses were promoting various styles of music that generally are categorized under the umbrella term, folk. Jazz and folk music, though, were about to get a heavy dose of competition from an unexpected quarter. The first generation of college students that grew up on rock and roll was about to hit town.
New England's earliest significant contribution to rock must have been Bill Haley. He got his start in a hillbilly band, the Down Homers, sang over the radio in Hartford, Connecticut, and then lived and performed in Keene, New Hampshire. Later came the Connecticut bands, the Nutmegs ("Story Untold") and the Five Satins ("In the Still of the Night"). Boston had a number of decent early rock bands, particularly a few of those that were organized following the success of Freddy Cannon. Into this developing state of musical affairs stepped Boston University undergraduate students Chip Damiani, Vern Miller, and Barry Tashian, who arrived at Myles Standish Hall in the autumn of 1963.
Tashian already had a taste of success with a Connecticut band, the Ramblers, beginning in the late 1950s; and they even managed to get some attention outside the region, including an appearance on American Bandstand. Vern Miller got his start playing that noble instrument, the tuba. Then when he was twelve, he earned money for an electric guitar by mowing the lawn in a cemetery. One contemporary source described Chip Damiani as "a gypsy of sorts." He was also something of the boy wonder of the group, for he did not have real experience playing his instrument. Damiani was entirely self-taught; and he showed considerable development during his tenure with the Remains, adding his own distinctive touch to the band's sound.
Miller and Tashian met and played a little music. Damiani joined them; and by the spring of 1964, this outfit was playing once a week in the back room of Gene Brezniak's Lounge Bar. "We'd work for twenty-five bucks apiece," said Miller, "and all the beer we could drink." "It was just loud, raucous, savage, and fun."
Tashian spent that summer traveling in Europe with Bert Yellen. It was in London that they first heard the music of the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. These and other British-Invasion groups, such as the Yardbirds, seem to have had a tremendous influence on the Remains.
In the fall of 1964, Bill Briggs arrived at Boston University, evidently with an electric piano; and he joined Damiani, Miller, and Tashian. Not much later, they went to a party to seek suggestions about what to call their band. A student named Barbara came up with the name, the Remains.
By November, the Lounge Bar's cellar was being called the Rathskeller. It had some tables and a jukebox, and it was now opened up to live music. A regular weeknight became "Remains Night" at the little Kenmore Square club. Soon fans were standing in long lines, waiting to get in. The band stood on a low stage built from planks and milk crates. Then they "turned up their amps," said Miller, "pounded the drums and played uncivilized Rock and Roll while the audience drank beer, danced, and perspired. It was dark, damp, noisy, smelly, and fun. No matter how wild the crowd got, the music never stopped."
Don Law, Jr., heard the Remains at the Rat and alerted recording industry executives. The band accepted an invitation from Epic Records for an audition in January, and the session went very well. Epic signed them immediately.
Things were moving fast for the Remains. They began playing on weekends at New England colleges. In one early show at the University of Massachusetts, they shared the stage with Bo Diddley and the Shirelles and performed before a crowd of 4,000.
Jon Landau is a prime source of information about the Remains. He first caught their act around this time. Now, the band quickly became known for being incredibly loud. Landau said that their volume on the first song he heard was "beyond belief." Tashian was jumping up and down, Miller was dancing around, and Briggs and Damiani were beating their respective instruments into submission. Calls came for the Remains to turn down their amps. "Hey," answered Tashian with a smile, "this is our volume!"
"The Lost," said Willie Alexander, "played a few gigs with the Remains. ... The Roseland Ballroom! They lived right up the street from us. They went to BU at the time. They were great, really tight and really powerful. The Remains were the most professional band I'd ever seen. You could tell they really cracked the whip at rehearsals."
Band members took great pains when setting up their equipment. Briggs had good knowledge of electronics and he was quite fastidious when it came to the band's sound. Later, the Remains invested their earnings in hardware. They traveled with four 200-watt amplifiers. "How many groups have you heard that you can't understand the words?" asked Tashian. "Not us!"
According to Jon Landau, the Remains were improving fast; and their audiences were growing. They were performing many covers, such as "All Day and All of the Night," "Baby, Please Don't Go," "Bo Diddley," the Rolling Stones' "Empty Heart" and "I'm Free," and even an incredible version of "Louie Louie." Landau was particularly taken by their treatment of Van Morrison's "Mystic Eyes." When they performed it, he said, "It was theirs and theirs alone." Yet the Remains' first single, released in March 1965, was a recording of their spirited original, "Why Do I Cry." This is a song that, according to Landau, they did "unbelievably well live."
The Remains would start many of their songs with just Barry Tashian's voice and spare instrumentation. Then other voices would join in, and band members would close ranks and really hammer the refrain.
Barry and the Remains, in a way, was a folk-rock band, drawing much inspiration particularly from the electric-blues masters; and they were not without their ties to the great Harvard Square folk community. They once played a private party at the legendary Club 47. Jim Rooney, who has gone on to become an excellent and important record producer, was managing the club by that time. John Cooke of the Charles River Valley Boys came around to a couple of Remains shows to shoot photos.
In March, the Remains played a benefit at the King's Rook Coffee House in Ipswich. That summer, Tashian was to play electric guitar with Richard and Mimi Farina at the Newport Folk Festival; but I imagine most readers already know that Newport was not receptive to amplification in 1965. "I had a press pass," said Tashian, "so I was hanging around backstage, on stage, etc." He met Gram Parsons around this time at Isis on Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge; and it should come as no surprise that he took a quick interest in Parsons' group, the International Submarine Band.
Boston had a diversified music scene, with such acts as Tom Lehrer, the Chambers Brothers, the Rockin' Ramrods, and Tom Rush. WBZ, with its new all-rock format, was probably the biggest radio station in town. Even up in Northern Maine, we were listening to 'BZ and to Arnie Ginsburg on WMEX; and each of these stations devoted a portion of its airtime to Boston bands.
The Remains' live performances were tightening up; and so, not incidentally, was their schedule. Balancing school with this new and very successful career was not easy. They took a one-year leave of absence from BU; and by fall, they were full-time on the club and college circuit.
Things were not going quite as well, though, in the recording studio. The band's sound, said Miller, was "loud and gutsy." They set up in Columbia Studios, and the first thing they were told was to turn down their amps. "Nobody knew how to deal with us. They had never recorded this kind of stuff before." "Looking back, we might have done better with a Webcor in somebody's garage." Still, their second single, "I Can't Get Away from You," came out in the fall and did well in New England.
The Remains must have felt like they had really made it when, the last week in December, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. They let the show's sound engineers set up their equipment. An unidentified band member told a reporter, "We weren't set up right at all." Nonetheless, the Ed Sullivan Show was added to their resume; and later, when they taped a spot for Hullabaloo, they did their own set-up in their usual meticulous way.
The Ed Sullivan Show was the Remains last stop before they entered their biggest year. By 1966, they were rearranging old songs and trying out new material. Every show had something different to give. Rock journalism was in its infancy; but Barry and the Remains had the fortune of being chronicled by Jon Landau, who listened closely, wrote well, and clearly appreciated the band's efforts. He said,
It has been reported altogether too often that the Remains' sound was not captured well in the recording studio. Their third release on Epic came out early in March 1966. "Diddy Wah Diddy" b/w "Once Before," produced by Billy Sherrill, was a fine single. It hit the stores, though, at about the same time as Captain Beefheart's recording of "Diddy Wah Diddy," which certainly didn't help sales. The Remains might have had better luck if the very strong "Once Before" had been the featured side.
Around this time or certainly not much later, the Remains moved to New York City and made their headquarters in a large Village loft. John Kurland was managing them, and General Artists Corporation of America was doing their booking.
The legend of Barry and the Remains rests heavily on what happened next. In April, after playing a full club date at Ondine in New York City, they went into a recording studio and set up; and at 9 in the morning, dressed in sports jackets and ties, they recorded a demo tape for Capitol Records. Band members have long said that these are the only recordings that come close to reflecting the energy and excitement of their live shows.
Chip Damiani decided not to go on the Beatles tour, and he left the band. Published reports differ about why, though he had been reluctant to move away from Boston; and only a few months earlier, he told a reporter that he hoped to return to college.
Before the Beatles tour got under way, Epic Records released the Remains best single, "Don't Look Back." The same day, a new Beatles album, Revolver, came out.
The first two shows with the Beatles at Chicago on Friday, August 12, 1966, must have been an incredible experience for the Remains. They played a short opening set--their very first concert performance with exciting new, seventeen-year-old drummer N.D. Smart--and then backed up Bobby Hebb and the Ronettes. Only an hour and a half of rehearsal time had been available for them to work out accompaniments for these two acts. They were flying by the seats of their pants; but the Remains were up to the task, and their efforts did not go unnoticed. The Chicago American called the Remains "the best of the curtain-raisers."
Concerts followed at Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Philadelphia, and Toronto.
Back in 1964, the Beatles sang to a capacity crowd at Boston Garden. Then in 1966, they gave an outdoors concert at Suffolk Downs. The Boston Globe notice, written by Sara Davidson, is of special interest to us New Englanders; and, surprisingly, it contains a quote from one of the fans, fifteen-year-old Chuck McDermott. A decade later, he would make a name for himself as the leader of a fine Boston country-rock outfit, Chuck McDermott and Wheatstraw.
This trip took place amid controversy over John Lennon's comment that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Demonstrations followed, including parties where the group's records were burned. In Memphis, protestors carried signs telling the English visitors to "Go home!" When the tour reached Memphis, one Beatle said, "Send John out first. He's the one they want." Security was tripled because of death threats, and the start of the afternoon show was delayed on account of a bomb scare. In the second show, part way through the Beatles' set, people heard what sounded like a gun shot. As it turned out, someone had set off a cherry bomb. The Memphis audiences, though, were generally better behaved than those in other cities.
The Beatles tour continued through Cincinnati and St. Louis on the way to the much-anticipated concert at Shea Stadium in New York. A print-ad that was running at the time, for a Remains' appearance on the Hullabaloo television show, included a picture of the band members with half of their faces in light and half in shadow. This reference to an early photographic image of the Beatles would have been hard to miss.
For Barry Tashian, the Shea Stadium appearance was a high point of the tour, as he felt incredible energy from the crowd just before he stepped out on stage.
After New York, the Beatles tour made concert stops at Seattle and Los Angeles. The Remains really liked to interact with their audience; but at many concerts on the Beatles tour--such as the Dodger Stadium show and especially the final concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco--they were isolated from crowds that were a considerable distance away.
Just about anyone who is interested in the Beatles, the Remains, or both will want to read Ticket To Ride , Barry Tashian's fascinating book about this, the last Beatles tour.
After the trip ended, Paul McCartney spoke with the press about tentative plans for the Beatles to do it again in 1967. No one knew that these would be their last concerts ever. At the same time, members of the Remains were thinking about new directions for their own band. They referred to their forthcoming album as the best of what they used to do.
Then shortly after the Beatles tour, Barry Tashian did something truly remarkable. He disbanded the group! In a much-quoted comment, he later told Blitz magazine, "I'm not even sure why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time." To Remains fans, though, this decision was impossible to understand. This was the hottest band out of New England, had been heavily booked for many months, and had just received priceless publicity by traveling with the Beatles. Their most recent recording sessions, with producer Ted Cooper, were among their most successful. And their debut album--a really good one--was about to be released.
We know now, of course, that band members were feeling restless. In Los Angeles, they spoke of moving to the West Coast; and earlier in the tour, at Cleveland, they exchanged some decidedly un-Remains-like ideas. They should record, they believed, at a lower volume. They should stop jumping around on stage.
N. D. Smart said that he had always thought of himself as possessing much originality; but part way through the tour, he came to see himself as an imitation of a Beatle. He saw the need for a quest to learn who he was. According to Barry Tashian's journal entry for August 30th, he was feeling a much bigger let-down than expected after parting with the Beatles. We are not told what effect this sensational tour had on the others.
Though the Remains had a lot going for them at the time, they had a few discouraging experiences, as well, that year. Doug Simmons of the Boston Phoenix has suggested that they felt stung by Chip Damiani's departure from the band. "Don't Look Back" was their best single; but even after their appearance on Hullabaloo and after the Beatles tour--with all the attention those events brought them--the record only bubbled under the national charts. Their greatest disappointment may have been Capitol Records' puzzling failure to offer an album deal.
The Remains still had engagements running into November which they filled, though their hearts were not entirely in it. Their album came out in September, but they never toured to promote it. Their final show took place at Bowdoin College in Maine, and that was the end of Barry and the Remains.
Or so they thought. But...
As Vern Miller said, the members of the group were not just some guys who were in a band together. They were a force in one another's lives.
The original members of the Remains reunited for a while in 1976. Recently we have received a copy of an ad for an August 28, 1976, show they shared with the band Boston, Duke and the Drivers, and the Road Apples. The Remains did shows in Spain and New York City in 1998 and have since appeared in Boston and Las Vegas. They do not expect to perform often. Tashian told Brett Milano of the Boston Phoenix, "I'd like to keep it so that it's an event when we play." Just like the old days, I'd say.
It seems extraordinary to be writing this, but ... the four original members of the Remains--Barry Tashian, Vern Miller, Bill Briggs, and Chip Damiani--have issued a compact disc of all-new recordings, the aptly titled Movin' On (CD, Rock-A-Lot, 2002). Thirty-six years after the debut album, Barry and the Remains have given us an excellent followup disc. Barry Tashian's voice has changed--it sounds younger! The first couple of tracks--"Don't Tell Me the Truth" & "The Power of Love"--and the closer--"Time Keeps Movin' On" sound a whole lot like the Remains of old. Sandwiched in between are nine original songs that draw inspiration from the early styles that formed the foundation of rock--heavy on country, with a Bo Diddley beat here and a garage-rock edge there. Even one of the country-oriented numbers, "You Never Told Me Why," sounds more Remains-like than not. Way back at the end of Summer 1966, members of the Remains spoke of diversifying the band's sound and doing more with country and rhythm & blues. It appears, then, that these guys have long memories.
www.reocities.com/nemsnewz/news/news0013.htm(scroll down to first items in newsletter)
The Remains recordings have been reissued often--as CDs, LPs, singles, and compilation tracks. The earliest compact disc reissue, that I know of, is The Remains (CD, Fan Club, n.d. ). Though in many ways this collection has been eclipsed by the later ones, Vern Miller's splendid notes still make it well worth tracking down.
Epic Records did an incredible job of remastering their Remains catalog. Some of the later recordings, in particular, benefit greatly from the care they took with this project. There are about a dozen sides here that I'm always in the mood to hear. Barry and the Remains (CD, Epic, 1991) is essential.
The legendary Capitol demos appear as tracks 1 through 7 on A Session with the Remains (CD, Sundazed, 1996). Chip Damiani had his doubts about the wisdom of recording at 9 a.m. "Curiously, I began to feel better about the whole affair when the producer told us there were to be no overdubs of any kind and that we should just do one of our sets exactly as we would do it live," he said in the booklet that accompanies this welcome release. "No rhythm tracks first," explained Vern Miller, "no multi-track, no overdubs, no frills and no restraints." Barry Tashian added, "I remember hoppin' around in the studio during the taping. I was 20 years old at the time. It was fun."
The Capitol demos have been my favorite Remains recordings since I first heard them around twenty years ago. To my way of thinking, it's indispensable. "We didn't necessarily play any better that day," said bass-player Vern Miller, "probably better than some and not as good as others. ... We loved to play together and I think that's what comes across on the Capitol tape."
Jon Landau once said that, in their '60s heyday, the Remains put a fantastic 18-minute version of "I'm a Man" on tape. So maybe we haven't heard it all even now. Stay tuned! -- Alan Lewis, revised January 17, 2001, and then polished up, on several occasions, through October 5, 2002
- William Briggs
- Rudolph Damiani
- Vern Miller Jr.
- Barry Tashian
Norman Dow Smart II replaced Damiani on drums prior to the Beatles tour.
PO Box 150921
Nashville, TN 37215
Web page: www.TheRemains.com
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