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EC comments on his Essential CD...

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Northeast Ohio rocker thrilled with sound of 'Essential Eric Carmen'

Northeast Ohio rocker thrilled with sound of 'Essential Eric Carmen'

Submitted<p>Eric Carmen, then of The Raspberries, performs at a TV studio in Cleveland in 1973.


When he was a child,

Eric Carmen

used to put his head between the speakers of his parents wall-mounted hi-fi system and listen to his favorite songs and albums again and again. As part of this studying, he at times turned off the left speaker, then the right, listening intently on what emanated from each. '(I) tried to deconstruct what was going on,' says the frontman of beloved Northeast Ohio rock band The Raspberries and hit-making solo artist. 'I think that might be my greatest gift - the ability to deconstruct. 'I would play (The Beatles') 'Ticket to Ride' a thousand times, and there were places on that record that made the hair on my arms stand up,' he continues during a phone interview from his Gates Mills home. 'I had to figure out what that combination was.' Knowing that, it's easy to appreciate the incredible pleasure it was for Carmen to take part in the digital remastering of a handful of his solo recordings for the just-released double-disc affair, 'The Essential Eric Carmen,' a collection that also boasts tracks from The Raspberries and even one from predecessor Cyrus Erie. 'I'd never actually been in a remastering session,' he says. 'I've been in a mastering session. This was a whole new thing.' Carmen says that when he spent a day last year with producer Mark Wilder in a New York studio, the man with a great reputation for breathing new life into old tracks started with the Cyrus Erie track,


which opens the collection. After 20 minutes of Wilder messing with the digital file on a computer and twisting and turning the knobs of some vintage equipment, the guitar sounded better, the vocals clearer. Carmen requested more kick drum and got it. He then asked if there was a frequency that would make his voice sound 'less prepubescent.' Done. Carmen went from being embarrassed by the track to loving it. 'It actually sounded the way it sounded when we played it,' he says. 'And I realized this Mark Wilder guy is an absolute genius.' According to Carmen's official bio, he was singing before most kids could talk. As a kid, he spent a lot of time around the Cleveland Orchestra, tagging along to rehearsals with his aunt, who played the viola with the renowned group. He would hang out and play in the balcony, backstage and sometimes even on stage as the large ensemble performed. 'If that doesn't inspire you, you're dead,' he says. 'It was a pretty incredible experience to be able to sit in the middle of that orchestra when I was 7 years old.' He counts a wide range of influences, from Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein to The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys, but he recalls two musical moments that pointed him toward chasing the rock-star dream. Like other rockers in their 60s, including Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, he vividly remembers that famous appearance by The Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' 50 years ago.  'It was like an epiphany for everybody,' he says. 'Girls were screaming at them, and they were cool.' The other happened when he was driving along Mayfield Road, he says. He heard The Byrds' cover of Bob Dylan's 'Mr. Tambourine Man.' The layered sound sent chills up and down his spine, and he had to pull the car over. 'I was overwhelmed by that sound.' Carmen grew up in Lyndhurst and went on from Brush High School to John Carroll University. 'I didn't go to John Carroll for very long,' he says.  As an English major, there was still a math requirement. 'I went to the first couple of sessions, and I thought, 'There's absolutely no way I'm getting through this course,'' he says with a laugh. 'From a very early age, obviously, I was very focused on music,' he says. 'From the point I dropped out of college, I became even more focused because I thought, 'If I'm not successful at this, I'm not sure what else I can do.' ' The Raspberries - which also featured Jim Bonfanti, Wally Bryson, and John Aleksic, the latter being replaced by Dave Smalley - had a string of hits, including

'Go All the Way'


'I Wanna Be With You.'

The band was known for a sound that blended big melodies with power chords. Carmen recalls going to Mentor Headlands with Smalley back then, girls there asking him if he was the guy who wrote those songs.  'I would say, 'Yes I did.' It was a fun summer.' Of course, the fun eroded. Part of the problem, he says, is he was carrying too much of the songwriting load for a band that recorded four albums in two years - production 'unheard of in today's world' - meaning a lot of time spent alone at the piano in his apartment. Reluctantly, he says, he decided to go out on his own. 'I never really wanted to be a solo artist at all,' Carmen says. 'All the acts I grew up loving were bands, but there came a point in The Raspberries where there was just so much strife and friction and difficulty in everything that I really didn't have a choice anymore. 'I realized we were in a box we weren't going to be able to get out of, and it wasn't fun anymore and I realized it was time to leave.' Being

'All by Myself'

- the title of his first solo single and hit - gave him chance to change his approach to songwriting, he found, freeing him from writing with the strengths of his former bandmates in mind. 'My songwriting was pretty much tailored to the band,' he says. 'Once there was no band, I thought, 'I can really spread out and try some things here. 'It was a very freeing experience writing only for me.' While he went on to co-write the hit song

'Almost Paradise'

for the 1984 film 'Footloose' - sung by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson - he is probably better known for a movie song he didn't write but did perform:

'Hungry Eyes'

from 1987's 'Dirty Dancing.' 'It's the gift that keeps on giving,' he says.  The song was sent to him as a demo from an old friend asking him to consider recording it. 'I listened to the demo, and I thought, 'It's not bad. The chorus could be OK,' ' he says. 'I called (him) and said, 'You sure you don't want me to write something?' ' The answer was no, but Carmen was allowed to produce the song himself, recording it in Beachwood with a couple of musicians, some state-of-the-art tech of the time and a very small budget. 'In five days, we recorded the song, mixed, mixed a second time for movie theaters - because they have five speakers - and we were done,' he recalls. The movie comes out, he says, and two weeks he got a plaque in the mail because the movie's soundtrack album had gone triple-platinum. 'I thought, 'What's going on with this?' It just became a phenomenon.' The album went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide. Carmen can't expect that kind of success from 'The Essential Eric Carmen,' but the project has been hugely satisfying. Largely spearheaded by producer Timothy J. Smith, the two collaborated on picking the 30 songs, largely agreeing. Smith told him that some artists don't like to be very involved in compilations such as this, while others like to be heavily involved. Carmen told him he wanted to do everything he could to make it terrific and, along with choosing tracks and sitting in on some of the remastering, wrote a blurb about each song in the liner notes. 'They told me to keep the comments brief - they said just a sentence or two sentences. I said, 'For some of them, I can do that.' (With) others, like 'Get the Message,' I said it really is the story.' (In the notes, Carmen explains how the recording of that song served as a lesson as to how producers sometimes think.) When he got an early copy of the album, he went out to his car to play it in its Bose system. 'I was by myself in my car smiling,' he says.  Carmen believes 'Essential' is a great representation of his work, one that should introduce some songs to casual fans and dispel the notion that he only wrote ballads after leaving The Raspberries. 'My fondest hope is that when people buy this record they're going to hear some of the best songs I ever wrote, that they never heard,' he says. 'It will be interesting to see people's take on this because as a 30-track album it's a career retrospective - it's not a collection.' He has had previous collections, but never one with this many songs or remastered cuts.  'I've never gone out and said, 'This is the one you should go out and buy,' but I can honestly say about this particular double CD, if they only buy one package of mine, it's this one because it has the best of everything and the sound blows every other record I've made away.'      


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Sometimes I'm reading these Eric stories and thinking it all sounds so familiar, and then a little nugget or gem pops out of Eric's mouth that's totally new! 

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