Benjamin Orr

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Benjamin Orr
Orr in 1978 on The Midnight Special
Orr in 1978 on The Midnight Special
Background information
Birth nameBenjamin Orzechowski
BornSeptember 8, 1947
Lakewood, Ohio, U.S.
DiedOctober 3, 2000(2000-10-03) (aged 53)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
GenresRock, new wave
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, songwriter
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • Bass guitar
Years active1965–2000
LabelsElektra

Benjamin Orzechowski (September 8, 1947 – October 3, 2000), known professionally as Benjamin Orr, was an American musician and singer best known as the bassist, co-founder, and co-lead vocalist of the rock band the Cars. He sang lead vocals on several of their best known songs, including "Just What I Needed", "Let's Go" and "Drive". He also had a moderate solo hit with "Stay the Night".

Orr was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Cars in 2018.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Benjamin Orzechowski was born in Lakewood, Ohio,[2] to parents of Polish, Russian, Czechoslovak and German descent. His family actively supported his musical endeavors. He became proficient in several instruments including the guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, and drums.[3]

Known locally as "Benny 11 Letters", he grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, and Parma, Ohio and attended Valley Forge High School before joining local band the Grasshoppers as lead singer and guitarist in 1964.[4] In 1965, the Grasshoppers released two singles on the Sunburst label: "Mod Socks" and "Pink Champagne (and Red Roses)", the latter written by Orzechowski.

The Grasshoppers were also the house band on the Big 5 Show,[3] a musical variety television show produced by WEWS-TV in Cleveland. The Grasshoppers dissolved in 1966, when two of the band members were drafted into the U.S. Army, after which Orzechowski joined the band Mixed Emotions, and later the Colours.

Later, Orzechowski was drafted as well, although he received a deferment after approximately a year and a half in the Army.[5][6]

Orr first met Ric Ocasek in Cleveland in the 1960s after Ocasek saw Orr performing with the Grasshoppers on the Big 5 Show.[7] A few years later, Orr moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he and Ocasek formed a musical partnership that would continue in various incarnations, until the break up of the Cars in 1988. After moving to Boston, the two formed a folk band called Milkwood with guitarist James Goodkind.

In 1973, the group released one album, How's the Weather? which failed to chart. Remaining in Boston, Ocasek and Orr then formed another band, Richard and the Rabbits, featuring keyboardist Greg Hawkes, followed by another band, Cap'n Swing, which included guitarist Elliot Easton. After the group broke up in 1976, the four of them and drummer David Robinson formed the Cars.

As a member of the Cars, Orr sang lead vocal on some of the band's best known songs, including their first hit in the Top 40, "Just What I Needed", "Let's Go," and "Drive", their highest charting single in the United States.

Orr released his only solo album, The Lace, in 1986. He co-wrote the music and lyrics with his longtime girlfriend, Diane Grey Page, who also sang backing vocals[8] and appeared on the album's back cover. The album featured a Top 40 pop hit, "Stay the Night". The song was also a Top 10 album rock hit.[9] An accompanying music video for the song was in heavy rotation on MTV.[10]

A second single, "Too Hot to Stop", was also released, but did not chart in the Billboard Hot 100, though it reached No. 25 on the album rock chart. Orr continued to work with the Cars for one more album, Door to Door, and tour before the group disbanded in 1988, after which he and the other members pursued solo work. Sometime in the mid 1990s, Orr recorded tracks with guitarist John Kalishes for an unreleased follow up to The Lace.

From 1998 until his death in 2000, he performed with his own band ORR and two side bands, Voices of Classic Rock with Mickey Thomas and John Cafferty,[11][12] and cover band Big People,[2] with Pat Travers (of the Pat Travers Band), Jeff Carlisi (of 38 Special), Derek St. Holmes (of Ted Nugent), and Liberty DeVitto (of Billy Joel).

Orr was married twice and had one son.[13]

Illness and death[edit]

In April 2000, Orr was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and hospitalized.[14] However, he continued to perform with the band Big People throughout that summer at music festivals and state fairs. He reunited with the Cars one last time in Atlanta, for an interview that was included in the Rhino Records concert video The Cars Live.

Orr's final public appearance was on September 27, 2000, in a Big People concert in Anchorage, Alaska. He died at home in Atlanta on October 3, aged 53,[15][16] surrounded by fellow Big People band members Jeff Carlisi, Derek St. Holmes and Rob Wilson.[17]

Ric Ocasek wrote and recorded the song "Silver" as a musical tribute to Orr.[18] It appeared on Ocasek's 2005 solo album, Nexterday.[19] The Cars reunited ten years after Orr's death and released their seventh (and final) studio album, Move Like This, in May 2011.[20] Orr was given special thanks in the liner notes: "Ben, your spirit was with us on this one."[21]

Discography[edit]

Solo albums[edit]

With the Grasshoppers[edit]

  • "Mod Socks" b/w "Twin Beat" (1965) Sunburst Records
  • "Pink Champagne (and Red Roses)" b/w "The Wasp" (1965) Sunburst Records

With Milkwood[edit]

  • How's the Weather? (1973)

With the Cars[edit]

Solo singles[edit]

Title Release Peak chart positions Album
US US Rock US AC AUS[22] CAN
"Stay the Night" 1986 24 6 2 66 31 The Lace
"Too Hot to Stop" 1987 25
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Cars". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Benjamin Orr | Biography & History". AllMusic.
  3. ^ a b Zaleski, Annie. "Benjamin Orr Before the Cars". Ultimate Classic Rock.
  4. ^ Scott, Jane. "Meet the Men with Green Feet" The Plain Dealer January 30, 1965: 34
  5. ^ Scott, Jane. "The Cars take off fast in record derby" The Plain Dealer June 9, 1978: Friday 28
  6. ^ Adams, Deanna. Rock 'n' Roll and the Cleveland Connection (2002): 50–52
  7. ^ Scott, Jane. "Cars are roaring back; Blossom is a sell-out" The Plain Dealer August 7, 1984: 5-C
  8. ^ "The Lace - Benjamin Orr | Credits | AllMusic" – via www.allmusic.com.
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel. Rock Tracks (2002): 103
  10. ^ "MTV Programming" Billboard December 13, 1986: 42
  11. ^ "Rock musician Benjamin Orr dies". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. October 5, 2000. p. B2. Retrieved November 20, 2010.
  12. ^ "Voices of Classic Rock & Rockforever.com – Presents BEN ORR". March 24, 2008. Archived from the original on March 24, 2008. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  13. ^ Reformer, Chris Mays, Brattleboro. "'Let's Go': Book gets behind wheel with Benjamin Orr of The Cars". Bennington Banner.
  14. ^ "The Cars' Benjamin Orr hospitalized". Mtv.com. May 24, 2000. Retrieved September 17, 2018.
  15. ^ Niesel, Jeff (November 13, 2000). "Friends and Bandmates Pay Tribute to Ben Orr". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  16. ^ Petkovic, John (November 10, 2000). "A Rock Star Who Stayed True to his Roots". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio.
  17. ^ Saidman, Sorelle (October 4, 2000). "MTV reports Benjamin Orr's death". Mtv.com. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  18. ^ Browne, David (October 18, 2019). "The Mystery of Ric Ocasek: 'He Tried for Happiness, But Underneath Was a Lot of Pain'". Rolling Stone.
  19. ^ "Nexterday - Ric Ocasek | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic" – via www.allmusic.com.
  20. ^ Spitz, Marc (May 5, 2011). "Q&A: Ric Ocasek of the Cars". Vanity Fair.
  21. ^ "Ben Orr". December 28, 2012.
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 226. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.

External links[edit]