The lost boys

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-1The 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.

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4 Responses to “The lost boys”

  1. 1 Jerry LePore
    March 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    It’s too bad the Remains never made it big. In Barry Tashian’s book “Ticket to Ride,” which chronicles the band’s two and a half weeks as one of the opening acts on the Beatles’ final tour, the Remains had broken up by the time the group’s debut album was released. I’m sure Epic Records didn’t put much effort into marketing a group that had already split up.

    The first time I first heard a Remains song was in 1983. I was thumbing through a cutout bin of 8-track tapes (my ’79 T-Bird had an 8-track player in it) at a local record store and picked up a copy of the “Nuggets” compilation. I knew most of the songs on “Nuggets,” but there were a few that I had never heard before. Since space was limited on the back of the 8-track cartridge, only the song titles were listed; artists were not. “Don’t Look Back” became an immediate favorite of mine, mainly because of the bass/guitar break in the middle of the song. A few years would pass before somebody could tell me the name of the group that did the song.

    Is there any truth to the rumor that Remains keyboardist Bill Briggs is the brother of film star Marilyn Chambers? Her given name is Marilyn Briggs, and I’m pretty sure both of them grew up in Westport, Conn. It could just be an urban legend, though.

  2. 2 Paul
    March 16, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    I had an eight-track for a couple of weeks in the early ’70s. Then my car was broken into on York St. in New Haven and the deck was stolen. That was the end of my 8-track days. I do remember having the first CSN album on 8-track. Remember how those decks sometimes had weird edits and fades in the middle of a song when it was changing from one tape track to another?

    Yes, the Remains were really good and had some worthy tunes. A great live band. Tom Puleo tells me the Boss opened up with Diddy Wah Diddy at Fenway Park on a recent tour. Nice touch.

  3. 3 Mark
    April 13, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    re: Marilyn and Bill. They both went to Staples High School in Westport. Bill graduated 1964 and Marilyn in 1970 with my brother. I know Marilyn had at least one brother because she refers to him in a comment she posted on the school site (you have to be a member to see it). She just refers to “my brother” without a name. But there were three male grads named Briggs–Bill, Richard and Jim who all went to the school between 64 and 70. So, the rumor isn’t just something made up out of thin air, but I can’t confirm that Bill is, for sure, her brother.

    I’m surprised anyone outside my school put the names together. I’ve wondered, but haven’t had contact with anyone who knew her family for years.

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