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Feature story on Eric Carmen


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On 1/14/2014 at 8:04 PM, Catnip said:

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a feature story scheduled to run on January 19th...this Sunday. It is written by Chuck Yarborough and will also be available to read online at their website. Make sure to check it out!!!

Will definitely check this out..Thanks :D

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If it happens. it will mean taking off of work again so that I can be online when the tickets go for sale. Remember how fast the EC Hall Of Fame Show sold out, and also the HOB in Cleveland? They went lightning fast. I immediately clicked on the buy button for the Hall Of Fame show the second I could, and I got one of the standing room only tickets. Whew!

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I'm pretty sure Chuck will write a good review. He was pretty impressed with how much time Eric spent with him on the phone and said he got a lot of great material. It was originally intended to be a small piece but because he got so much information his editor took it to a feature story. I am putting my faith in him writing nice things. If not, well my size 5's can take care of that  ;)

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Eric Carmen's 'Brand New Year' may mean a brand new start for the ex-Raspberry

By Chuck Yarborough

In 1988, Eric Carmen had a single, “Reason to Try,’’ that rose to No. 87 on the Billboard singles charts.

From then till now, with a few exceptions, the Raspberries co-founder and solo artist who arguably is one of the most successful native Cleveland rock ’n’ rollers in history has done little else but raise a family in Gates Mills.

But the current winter put an end to that creative dry spell, and right quick.

“The first really big wet snow that we had bent all the trees,’’ Carmen said in a lengthy telephone interview from his home. “If we have a 10 mph breeze, the power goes out in Gates Mills.’’

So that storm did just what you’d think.

“It totally shut everything off,’’ Carmen said. “No heat, no phones, no electricity.

“I had four fireplaces going, trying to keep warm,’’ he said. “The most comfortable place was the living room. I was sitting on the couch, reading a book by flashlight.’’

What’s unusual is that Carmen said he rarely sits in that room, unless he has company. What’s fortuitous is that the living room is home to his piano.

“There was a total vacuum of sound,’’ he said. “I walked over to the piano and started to play that rolling intro on the piano, and before I knew it, the music for the verse and B section and chorus was written.’’

The song he’s talking about is “Brand New Year,’’ his first single in decades.

Proof that the musical muse is a mysterious creature lies in the inspiration behind the song: Two women he knows have been through rough times in the past year. One has had to deal with the fallout of her own health traumas after serving as a nurse in the Middle East. Another – “someone we all know in Cleveland’’ – has had to deal with her own issues.

Carmen, a private person himself, declined to reveal their identities.

“I started to think about all the people who must have had a year at least that bad or worse,’’ he said. “As a writer, I’m always looking for what I call the universal, something everyone has felt and they can identify with. That’s the reason for the success of ‘All By Myself.’ Who in the world HASN’T felt that way in some point?’’

So he came up with the title and the line “It’s been a long, hard year’’ – and once that happened, the lyric wrote itself, Carmen said.

The beauty of the song is that it has what Carmen called “a foreboding start,’’ but then segues into a positive and uplifting tune. Even more uplifting for fans of the Raspberries and Carmen’s solo career is that the song has reawakened a desire to write and perform in the 64-year-old singer-songwriter.

“By the time 1997 had rolled around, I had been in the music business for all my life, from the age of 15,’’ Carmen said. “I started recording professionally when I was 18. I had seen how record companies work, how the business works, and truth be told, I was pretty disgusted by everything by that time.

“Taking 16 years off probably was the best thing I ever did,’’ he said. “It’s solely responsible for my ability to sit down with absolutely no preconceived idea what I was going to write.’’

That’s what’s different now. Back in the day, when he was under the thumb of Clive Davis at Arista Records, the strain of trying to please Davis was just about too much, Carmen said.

“At Arista, if Clive doesn’t like it, you’ve got a problem,’’ said Carmen, who spent time at Arista, Epic and Geffen before the new single with Sony. “Clive has strong opinions, and Kelly Clarkson can attest to that. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes he’s not.’’

The battles helped put Carmen’s pen in the drawer for all those years.

“Writing is about bringing something from inside you that you’re trying to say, and not just trying to say something to please someone else,’’ Carmen said.

One thing that’s sure to please a lot of people is a Sony Legacy double album due out March 25 that will include 30 tracks covering his pre-Raspberries, Raspberries and solo career. It will start with “Get the Message'' and end with “Brand New Year’’ as the bookends.

At least one of those songs is going to sound the way Carmen always wanted it to sound. That would be “Get the Message,’’ the B-side of his first 45 with Cyrus Erie, the band that preceded the Raspberries, recorded in 1968 and released in 1969. The A-side was a harmony-driven piano ballad called “Sparrow.’’

Producer Mike Petrillo insisted on “doctoring’’ “Sparrow,’’ speeding it up and adding a guitar, much to Carmen’s dismay.

“They destroyed the two songs and spent an absolute fortune [$90,000, which is about $535,000 in today’s dollars] doing it,’’ Carmen said.

Then when Petrillo went looking for the B-side, his first question to Carmen was, “What’s your worst song?’’ According to Carmen, Petrillo wanted a bad song so listeners couldn’t get confused about what was the A-side.

“I thought of ‘Get the Message,’ ’’ said Carmen, who to this day doesn’t understand why Petrillo & Co. didn’t want to put two GOOD songs on a 45.

“I figured on the piano, I could make it sound pretty bad. I played half of it, and Mike said, ‘Yeah, that’s good. It sucks.’

“The next day, we got one take,’’ Carmen said. That take included drummer Mike McBride dropping a drumstick in the middle of the cut. No fixes, no added guitar or sweetened vocals.

Two weeks later, the 45 was on the shelves ... and did poorly.

But for the Legacy recording, all the analog recordings were carefully transferred to digital, including “Get the Message.” Producer Tim Smith and engineer Mark Wilder, whom Carmen described as a scientist with an oscilloscope, were able to salvage the bones of a pretty good song.

“Mark worked his magic for 15 or 20 minutes, and suddenly, the song got much better,’’ Carmen said. A little bass drum, a little added bass guitar, some doctoring to the vocals, and Presto! A good song.

“Not only was I not embarrassed, but it’s actually really cool,’’ Carmen said. “It sounds the way it should’ve sounded in 1968.’’

That’s just one of many “pleasant surprises’’ fans can expect to find on the Legacy compilation.

And there’s one more “pleasant surprise’’ that may be in the works: a tour.

“I haven’t played out much since 1997,’’ Carmen admitted. “I toured with Ringo [Starr] in 2000 for a couple of months, and there was a pinch-me moment on that tour, being in New York doing ‘David Letterman’ between doing a date at the Beacon.’’

That moment? Realizing that Letterman’s “Late Show” is taped in the same studio from which “The Ed Sullivan Show’’ was broadcast.

“I sat on the floor watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan stage for the first time,’’ he said, recalling the first time the kid from Lyndhurst saw the Fab Four. And all of a sudden, he’s onstage with a Beatle, doing “A Little Help From My Friends,’’ with Starr on drums and Cream’s Jack Bruce on bass.

“Not many guys from Brush [High School] get to do this,’’ he said.

With “Brand New Year,’’ and the compilation album, it might be time to hit the road again, he said.

“We are just now discussing it,’’ Carmen said. If he does go out – and it’s increasingly likely that he will – it’s probable he’ll be joined by some of the members of Brian Wilson’s band. Those are the backing musicians on “Brand New Year.’’

There’s one more thing you have to discuss when you talk to Cleveland boy Carmen: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s based here, and the Raspberries aren’t in it.

“I think it’s pretty funny that KISS didn’t get in till this year,’’ Carmen said. “The process by which people are both nominated and voted in is pretty hush-hush and mysterious.

“But for years, every time they announce who is going in this year, there’s a million people who go online and ‘can’t believe’ that the Moody Blues aren’t in and KISS isn’t in, and yet somebody else is.’’

His own chances? Maybe.

“The Raspberries or me? It might happen some day,’’ he said. “Maybe it’ll happen in the influence category. [Bruce] Springsteen is a big fan.’’

When the two finally met six or seven years ago, Springsteen told him, “I think I wore out three copies of ‘The Raspberries Greatest Hits’ when I was writing ‘The River.’

“Another story I heard,’’ Carmen said, “is that when [Jon] Bon Jovi went to Bruce for tips on writing, Bruce gave him a copy of the ‘The Raspberries Greatest Hits.’ ”

Carmen knows the world has changed – he noted that “All By Myself’’ had 979,000 plays on Pandora in a six-month period, for which he received a whopping $39 royalty check. That’s about 0.0004 percent of a penny per play.

Sure, he’s justifiably bitter over it. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the love of making music. Which is why, once again, he’s ready to “Go All the Way.’’

Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 16, 2014


Great article! One nit: he mixed up Mike Petrillo with Mike McBride in the "Get The Message" story. Everyone here knows Michael McBride was the drummer in Cyrus Erie. But overall, an A+ piece on Eric, "Brand New Year," and the upcoming "Essential" CD. Now, bring on the tour!


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On 1/15/2014 at 8:54 AM, Cayennegirl said:

Marv, You are just going to have to travel again!   :) Cayenne

Well that's easier said than done. I've been to Cleveland 3x, LA 1x, NY 2x, and Chicago 1x, for Raspberries shows. This time around, I'm guessing Cleveland, LA and NY would be the closest to 'sure thing' cities. LA would be the most practical for me.

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Cleveland is good for me too because there's a flight which goes to Cleveland from N.O. and then routes to D.C. where my son is.

Would be very cool for some of us to meet up - and meet up again.  :)  


You were there, man!  So great they used your photos.  I left some ++ comments for Chuck Y. and wrote about the Hullabaloo being changed to Cyrus Erie West by Don L.  (Shout out to you Don!!). 


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On 1/17/2014 at 9:27 AM, marvin said:

Well that's easier said than done. I've been to Cleveland 3x, LA 1x, NY 2x, and Chicago 1x, for Raspberries shows. This time around, I'm guessing Cleveland, LA and NY would be the closest to 'sure thing' cities. LA would be the most practical for me.

Aw, come on, Marvin, forget practical. Think of the fun…and the frequent flyer miles we were racking up back then!  ;)  

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