Boston-area rock ‘n roll legends Barry & the Remains are most noted as a great American band that never quite made it but deserved to.
The Remains were known for their intense live shows and I was lucky enough to see them twice, once in their neighborhood and once as the opening act for the Beatles at Shea Stadium on the Fab Four’s last tour (1966) of the States.
The Remains are the subject of a new documentary, America’s Lost Band, which will be screened at a number of film festivals this year, including the Southeast New England Film, Music & Arts Festival in Providence, R.I., April 2-5. The screening is April 3 at 9:30 p.m., to be followed by a live acoustic performance by the Remains with the original members, Barry Tashian (guitar, vocals), Chip Damiani (drums), Bill Briggs (keyboards) and Vern Miller Jr. (bass).
The first time I saw the Remains was definitely the best. A junior in high school in the spring of 1966, I went up to Boston for the weekend with a bunch of friends (all seniors) to visit the friend of a friend who was at a prep school in the area. He had a friend who was a friend of the Remains, and we went to see them at a mixer in a small hall in a Boston suburb. I had never heard of them.
They were really something. Most of the material was blues-based rock and British Invasion covers with a few originals. We were used to mostly cover bands in Connecticut and the Remains smoked them all. The hall had two levels and we were in the balcony, where the band went in between sets. The group had a Rolling Stones look and sound to some extent, playing covers such as Mercy, Mercy, Like A Rolling Stone and a fiery rave-up of I’m A Man. They sported shoulder-length hair and Stones-like apparel, tight jeans-cut pants and colorful shirts, very British looking. Tashian was quite the front man, singing, playing stinging guitar in a melding of a Chuck Berry/Kinks style and on occasion pulling out a harmonica. At the time, one of the best bands I had seen live.
We met them in between sets. I talked with Barry. He was really nice, and there was some talk among us of trying to get them to come to Connecticut. That never happened.
By the time Shea Stadium rolled around in August, Damiani was gone, replaced by N.D. Smart, and their look had changed dramatically, more Beatle-ish with shorter Beatle cuts and suits to match. From my upper deck right-field perch, I couldn’t really hear them that well. But they went down fine with the crowd.
Several months later, when their album, The Remains, was finally released on Epic, I was a little disappointed. But I wasn’t the only one. It was generally perceived the studio tracks didn’t capture the live excitement of the band. This was a pretty common problem with some groups in the ’60s, getting that live sound on tape. Worse, the band was breaking up as the album was released.
When the album came out on CD with bonus tracks in the ’90s, I appreciated it a little more and I still enjoy most of it, particurlarly the originals Why Do I Cry and Heart and a Billy Vera tune Don’t Look Back. A Sundazed release in the late ’90s of essentially an audition in a Nashville studio for Capitol does a somewhat better job of portraying the band’s strengths.
Tashian is now based in Nashville and plays and writes in a more country style of music with his wife, Holly. They have recorded five albums, some country award winners. The current Remains are also cut in that mold with a recent album (2002), Movin’ On. Smart went on to play with the late, great Gram Parsons, one of the early country-rock innovators. Tashian also played with Parsons and was in Emmylou Harris’ hot band for nine years.
Oh yeah, the Beatles. How were they? Believe it or not, you could hear the Beatles amid the outrageous screaming and they sounded very good. There is a website, provided by Jerry Lepore, that includes a set list from that show and I remember most of it but I have one quarrel with one of the tunes. I clearly remember Ringo’s spotlight as Yellow Submarine, not I Wanna Be Your Man, because it was disappointingly the only song from Revolver that they played!
The biggest impression, though, was that any time one of them, particularly Paul or John who were on opposite sides of the stage, turned or waved to one half of the stadium, it crested in an ocean of flash bulbs. An image I’ll never forget.