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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Barry Tashian/The Remains

In the mid-'60s, a Boston band called The Remains seemed primed for stardom.  They were a great rock 'n' roll band; they were fantastically popular in their home town; they had a major label deal with Epic Records (US home of British hitmakers The Yardbirds and The Dave Clark Five); they even opened for the freaking Beatles on tour!  But mass success never happened.  That is one of rock 'n' roll's great mysteries, if you ask me.  The Remains will be our Featured Act on next week's This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, which streams live Sunday night, March 13th, from 9 to Midnight Eastern at Werstcott Radio

This interview with The Remains' frontman Barry Tashian was conducted in 1998 for my ill-fated, uncompleted history of Nuggets and the garage/punk bands of 1960s.  This is its first publication.

Writer Jeff Jarema described The Remains as the great American hard rock band of the mid-'60s.

You know, (laughs) if that's what they're sayin', I'll accept that.

Let's start with your own background prior to The Remains.  Had you been in any bands previously?

Yeah, I was playing music since I was in about the fifth grade, sixth grade.  I had little group through high school and junior high school .  And the year before The Remains started, three quarters of The Remains played together--Vern [Miller], Chip [Damiani] and myself.  It was a frat party band.  Then when Bill Briggs joined up we started The Remains in September of '64.

In between that you visited Europe, and kind of soaked up what was going on in that environment.

Yeah.  I'd been to London, and had seen The Kinks on TV, and I'd bought a copy of "You Really Got Me."  And the Stones were really popular.  And so I really came back to Boston that September with an idea of goin' back to school, but also of starting a band that was really gonna be...I kind of had a vision to start a band that was really tight, that really listened, each member listened to what one another was playing.  And that was pretty much the reason for the band.  But we started practicing in the basement of the dormitory and, you know, really just for fun, just having fun.  We really enjoyed it.  And something clicked, and we really got cohesive.  And before Christmas vacation of that school year we had a deal with Epic Records, and our first single came out the following March.  That was "Why Do I Cry."
It seems so amazing that all this could happen in such a compressed time frame, especially for a band that, as you said, just started playing in the basement for fun.

Um-hmm.  Yeah, it does seem amazing.  And also, more amazing [is] what we did in the two years that we were together.

You seem to have been an immediate hit just playing clubs in Boston.  How quickly did a buzz develop about The Remains?

Yeah, we were playing across the street from the dormitories on Wednesday night.

At The Rat?

Yeah--or, as we called it, the Rathskellar.  And first we played upstairs in the bar, it was just a bar.  And later on they opened up the cellar and put picnic tables down there, you know, and there was a jukebox down there.  It was real dark, a little stage set up on milk crates or something, a bar down there.  It was packed out at mid-week, with lines down the sidewalk.  So it was hot, it was what was happenin'.  And, you know, that was great.  And we got a manager and a booking agent, and we were on our way to playing all the colleges in New England, and a lot of clubs too. 

Did you perform many originals in your live set?

You know, not as many as we recorded.  We used to cover songs like ì"Mystic Eyes," and "Satisfaction," and "Get Off Of My Cloud," and "You Really Got Me," "Johnny B. Goode."  You know, just stuff that we liked.  "Walkin' The Dog," "Got My Mojo Workin',""High-Heeled Sneakers," all the fun songs. 

The Remains were more overtly influenced by harder-edged British groups--the Stones, The Kinks, Them, and others of that ilk--rather than by The Beatles.

Yeah.  I think so, yeah.  Well, anyway, we're having a reunion for the first time in 22 years.  We practiced over this past weekend, up in Westport, Connecticut.  And we're playing all the songs from our albums--all the songs that we wrote, all the stuff  that we didn't perform back in those days.  And it's great!  It really is comin' out great.

Is this reunion likely to be a one-off, or something you'll do again in the future?

Well, we have this festival overseas in September, September 26th, the Second Annual International Purple Weekend, international Mod weekend in Leone, Spain.  So, we'll see how it goes.  I'll tell ya, this weekend, Bill rocked!  All four original guys. 

In the liner notes for the Sundazed CD A Session With The Remains, Vern was quoted as saying that if you ever all got in the same room together and played again, you'd probably pick right up where you left off.

Right.  Yeah, that's what happened.  Only we're sounding better.  Now, I'm glad that this box set [Rhino's four-CD Nuggets package] is out, and that The Remains are represented by two tracks.  "Why Do I Cry" was a song that, when we started putting the band together that September, I remember I just sat in my little apartment and put that song together in about twenty minutes.  And I knew it was something cool.  And my friend Bert was sittin' right there.  So, that turned out to be the band's first single.  And I think it got up to # 3 in Boston.  It came out in March of...'65, I think it was.

How did the studio differ from your live sound?

Well, you know, we were kids and we had fun when we played live.  You know, maybe have a couple of beers, you know, just try to get the people rockin' and dancin'.  In the studio, [it] was more of a sterile atmosphere, you know, high-ceilinged studios.  And we just couldn't cut loose.  So really the Capitol demo that's out on Sundazed now, A Session With The Remains, is the best representation of the live band.  But the stuff we did for Epic, I mean, it was very well-done and well-recorded, and it stood the test of time.  It still sounds good today. 

The drumming is especially noticeable, the energy level.  It's a quantum leap from the Epic sessions.

The amazing thing is Chip is still playing like that.  It was amazing to see him. 

What did you think of that first single, "Why Do I Cry?"

Yeah, I was pretty happy with it.

You traveled to Nashville to record your econd single, "I Can't Get Away From You."

We recorded a lot of stuff down there.  It was the best-sounding stuff we recorded anywhere. 

Your third single was recorded there, too:  a solid cover of "Diddy Wah Diddy," backed with the incredible "Once Before."  "Once Before" is probably my favorite Remains track.

I like "Once Before" a lot, too.  We were just playing that this weekend.  They got us a funkier sound down there in Tennessee, just like they said they would.  And I'm really glad we came here, because that's my favorite studio stuff that The Remains did.  I think we did about eight tracks down here, maybe more.  "Time Of Day," "Me Right Now," "Once Before," "Can't Get Away From You,""But I Ain't Got You," "Diddy Wah Diddy"--how many is that?

Let's see, I've got a list right here.  There was also "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy."

Oh, I forgot that one.  So anyway, that and "Don't Look Back," which we did in New York with our new drummer, N. D. Smart.  N. D. was great, but he just wasn't the same as Chip, so that kind of spelled the breakup of the band after the Beatles tour. 

There used to be more of a notion of a band being specific members, rather than being interchangeable.

It was with us!

Yeah, it seems like there was more of a notion then of a band retaining its...I don't want to say "integrity," 'cause that has the wrong connotation for what I'm thinking of....


Identity!  Yeah, that's it.  How was your relationship with Epic at this point, after three non-charting singles?  I gather that the band wasn't thrilled with Epic.

Right.  We always thought they should be doing more for us.  They did, once we got on the Sullivan show, Hullabaloo, and we were in New York and got the Beatles tour and everything--they did do some stuff for us.  They took out some ads in the trades, and they did what they could, I think.

Looking back, I really can't understand why your records didn't hit big. 

No one can answer that.  It was not the will of the great beyond power.

How did the Capitol session come about?

Our manager in New York set it up as an audition with Capitol Records.  We went into Capitol Studio A at 9:00 in the morning.  We'd been playing at a club in New York--on Dean, I think it was--until three or four the night before.  So we were a little short on sleep, but we were young and we were hot, and still warmed-up from the night before.  So we just went in there and set up, and didn't do any kind of over-dubbing or anything, just direct to two-track.  We just played through the songs that we used to play in our club set.  And we just happened to get a really good sound on it.  We had fun--we were groovin', we were hot and we were enjoyin' it, you know?  And we were working hard, we were ambitious, and we really had that mind-set at the time.  Like, "We bad!," you know?

Capitol never contacted you after that?

No, they didn't take it.

Chip Damiani split about this time?

Yeah, it wasn't too long after that.  Our last date with Chip was at the Westport Country Playhouse.

He didn't go on the Beatles tour.

No.  He was of the opinion that we [should] stay in New England and just play our gigs and be happy. 

How did you get on the Beatles tour?

It was really right place at the right time.  When we moved to New York and got new managers, one of them was also working at GAC, which was General Artists Corporation, which was a big booking agency at the time, who put together the Beatles tour.  And I just remember him walking into the office one day, sayin', "You guys wanna go on the Beatles tour?  Because I can get you on there if you want to go." Sure! "Only thing I'm gonna do is ask you to back up some other people."  Anyway, I explain all this in my book, Ticket To Ride [Dowling Press, 1996].  
How did you come to record Billy Vera's "Don't Look Back/"

That one Billy Sherrill, our producer in Nashville that did The Remains, came to New York, and we had one session with Billy in New York, our first session together, where we cut "You Got A Hard Time Comin'."  Billy took us over to a few publishers to get some songs, and one of 'em was Al Gallico Music.  And there was Al Gallico himself, sitting on a desk.  And he was pitching us a few songs.  He pitched us several songs--I still have these ten-inch acetates that they used to pitch songs with.  And one of them was Billy Vera's song, "Don't Look Back."  It's a little bit different rhythmically on the demo--they sort of do a...not a Bolero beat, but some kind of, sort of  like a "doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo, doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo." And we just kind of straightened it out to a flat-out backbeat.  But that's how we got the song. 

Listening to The Remains' version of "Hang On Sloopy" on the Sundazed disc, I can just imagine how you were able to take a raw demo and make it your own.\

Yeah, we put our stamp on it.

The Remains had broken up by the time the album came out.


It just wasn't worth doing anymore?

Obviously, for many reasons, it wasn't.  The loss of Chip, and just the experience of the Beatles tour, it was kind of ego-puncturing (laughs).  When you're on the same stage with The Beatles for three weeks straight, it kind of makes you grow up a little bit.  And, you know, I kind of figured if I started something a little different that it would be just as successful as The Remains, just as fast as The Remains were successful.  Of course, that didn't happen.

I've been very fortunate to make music all my life.  I'm still in music exclusively, that's what I do for a living.  I'm lucky.

What became of the other group members?

Well, Chip the drummer has a constrruction business in Connecticut.  Billy Briggs sells cars in Boston.  And Vern Miller is a school teacher.

Prior to the appearance of "Don't Look Back" on the original Nuggets collection in 1972, how did you think rock history would remember The Remains?

I didn't know.  I didn't know what rock history was.  I thought the real guys were Little Richard, Fats Domino, and all those.  And here were people looking at The Remains and thinking they were the real guys.  And it was amazing. 

Do you recall any rediscovery of The Remains in the wake of Nuggets?

No.  I wasn't even aware of the Nuggets record being out back then.  I kinda dropped out and was kind of incommunicado for a few years.  Just got into pure rhythm and blues, and blues and country--you know, Hank Williams, George Jones, Otis Redding.  Both pure genres.  I just wasn't keeping track of the rock scene at all.  It was getting too psychedelic and too kind of washed out.  I had my roots in rhythm and blues.  So then I went on and worked with Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons.  Yeah, I learned a lot.

When did you first become aware of new fans discovering The Remains?

That's a good question, and an interviewer asked me that yesterday.  It was just along about the middle '70s, or the early '70s, from the first reissue.  Bruce Patch, who ran a label called Spoonfed, called me up in Connecticut and asked if he could re-release the album.  And I was more than happy to say yes.  It was the first time I had heard any interest about the band.

What did you think of Sony's Remains compilation?

That's great.  I like it a lot.  I'm very proud to have been a part of that.  We had a lot of fun, and our material stands up today, and sounds even better.  The older we get, the greater we were!

Tell us a bit about the records you did with your wife, recording as Barry and Holly Tashian.

Our first album was Trust In Me.  I think it's out of print now.  It was on Northeastern Records, late '80s.  Then we had Live In Holland, on Strictly Country Records.  Ready For Love, our first Rounder release, in '92.  And Straw Into Gold, '94, our second Rounder release.  And that won the Independent Labels' Country Album of the Year award from NAIRD.  And then last year--I think it was last year--our latest album, Harmony, also on Rounder.  And that was nominated for a Nashville Music Award, which is specifically [for] people who live in Nashville.  And the book [Ticket Tio Ride] came out in '96.  And it's a diary of the day-by-day, city-by-city.  I kept a diary back then, so it's got my diary, full of club photos, memorabilia and fan recollections.  It's like a scrapbook.

Parting shot:  have you seen the movie That Thing You Do!?

Oh yeah.  I was watching it, and I thought, "Who told them about us?" It's so close, so close.  The main difference being that The Remains never had a big hit.  But as far as breaking up after a big tour--very, very close.  I thought they did a great job.

2016 POSTSCRIPT:  The Remains' reunion Tashian mentioned lasted long enough for the group to record and release a new album in 2003.  Drummer Chip Damiani passed away in 2014.

Barry & Holly Tashian's albums, as well as Ticket To RideBarry Tashian's book about The Remains' tour with The Beatles, are available for purchase from their website, Barry & Holly Tashian