Orr in 1978 on The Midnight Special
|Birth name||Benjamin Orzechowski|
|Born||September 8, 1947|
Lakewood, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||October 4, 2000 (aged 53)|
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Genres||Rock, new wave|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, singer, songwriter|
|Associated acts||The Cars, Voices of Classic Rock, Big People|
Benjamin "Ben" Orzechowski (September 8, 1947 – October 4, 2000), known professionally as Benjamin Orr, was an American musician best known as a singer, bassist and co-founder 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 scored a moderate solo hit with "Stay the Night."
Early life and career
Benjamin Orr was born in Lakewood, Ohio 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.
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. 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, 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.
Orr first met Ric Ocasek in Cleveland in the 1960s after Ocasek saw Orr performing with the Grasshoppers on the Big 5 Show. 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 three of them along with Hawkes 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 long time girlfriend, Diane Grey Page, who also sang backing vocals 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. An accompanying music video for the song was in heavy rotation on MTV.
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, and cover band Big People, 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).
Illness and death
In April 2000, Orr was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and hospitalized; 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.
His final public appearance was on September 27, 2000, in a Big People concert in Anchorage, Alaska. He died at home in Atlanta on October 4, aged 53, surrounded by fellow Big People band members Jeff Carlisi, Derek St. Holmes and Rob Wilson. Manager David Tedeschi was not present, but was devastated by the loss of his best friend. Orr is survived by his son Ben.
Ric Ocasek wrote and recorded the song "Silver", which was his musical tribute to Orr. It appeared on Ocasek's 2005 solo album, Nexterday. The Cars reunited ten years after Orr's death and released their seventh studio album, Move Like This, in May 2011. Orr was given special thanks in the liner notes: "Ben, your spirit was with us on this one."
- The Lace (1986) - US# 86
With the Grasshoppers
- "Mod Socks" b/w "Twin Beat" (1965)
- "Pink Champagne (and Red Roses)" b/w "The Wasp" (1965)
- How's the Weather? (1973)
With the Cars
- The Cars (1978)
- Candy-O (1979)
- Panorama (1980)
- Shake It Up (1981)
- Heartbeat City (1984)
- Door to Door (1987)
|Title||Release||Peak chart positions||Album|
|US||US Rock||US AC||CAN|
|"Stay the Night"||1986||24||6||2||31||The Lace|
|"Too Hot to Stop"||1987||—||25||—||—|
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart.|
- "The Cars". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved December 17, 2017.
- "Benjamin Orr - Biography & History - AllMusic".
- Scott, Jane. "Meet the Men with Green Feet" The Plain Dealer January 30, 1965: 34
- Scott, Jane. "The Cars take off fast in record derby" The Plain Dealer June 9, 1978: Friday 28
- Adams, Deanna. Rock 'n' Roll and the Cleveland Connection (2002): 50–52
- Scott, Jane. "Cars are roaring back; Blossom is a sell-out" The Plain Dealer August 7, 1984: 5-C
- "The Lace - Benjamin Orr - Credits - AllMusic".
- Whitburn, Joel. Rock Tracks (2002): 103
- "MTV Programming" Billboard December 13, 1986: 42
- "Rock musician Benjamin Orr dies". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. October 5, 2000. p. B2. Retrieved November 20, 2010.
- "Voices of Classic Rock & Rockforever.com – Presents BEN ORR". March 24, 2008. Archived from the original on March 24, 2008. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
- "The Cars' Benjamin Orr hospitalized". Mtv.com. May 24, 2000. Retrieved September 17, 2018.
- Petkovic, John (November 10, 2000). "A Rock Star Who Stayed True to his Roots". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio.
- Saidman, Sorelle (October 4, 2000). "MTV reports Benjamin Orr's death". Mtv.com. Retrieved July 18, 2011.