Music Feature: “Don’t Look Back” – Talking With Barry Tashian of The Remains
“And the pot was very good. I don’t know if you want to print that or not.”
by Tim Jackson
The Remains, who will perform a 50th year reunion concert on Saturday, September 27th at the Regent Theater in Arlington, MA (at 8 p.m. Special Guests: The Downbeat 5 and Cardinal), were one of the first great rock bands to come out of Boston. Often labeled an early example of “garage rock,” The Remains wrote and performed songs that were much more sophisticated than other groups given that designation. What’s more, the lead singer and writer for the group, Barry Tashian, was an impressive showman, an entertainer far beyond the ‘garage’ level. I spoke with him from Nashville where he now resides with his wife, Holly. “Whatever label they want to pin on us is fine,” Tashian said. “We just love to get out and do a few of these shows every year.”
Chip Daniami, the original drummer for the group, passed away suddenly in March, which left the surviving members of the Remains “dumbstruck and in shock.” They cancelled a show scheduled earlier this year, but decided the time was right to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Original members Tashian, Vern Miller (bass), and Billy Briggs (keyboards) auditioned three drummers. George Correia, a Berklee graduate who has worked with Clarence Clemons, nailed it. “He had charted everything and he and Verne locked immediately as a rhythm section,” Tashian says.
He and Briggs both grew up in Westport, Connecticut and I remember the impact they had on the town. I also grew up there and I attended the same high school. I recall seeing them in 1966 when they played the Staples High School auditorium in a triumphant return to raise money for the school’s choral group. They had a significant impact on my own career in music. Tashian was a powerful singer — his songwriting was steeped in rhythm and blues, but he added unique rock arrangements. I asked about how he and Briggs assembled the group and what venues were available to perform in 1965.
“We started the band in the dorms near Kenmore Square 50 years ago this month. We were a jam band, then we got some songs together and said, ‘Hey, let’s play across the street.’ We played on a Wednesday night. People really liked what was going on so they opened the downstairs where they had picnic tables. Then it was called Gene Brezniak’s Lounge Bar. He was a great guy. We were playing there once a week and that’s where Columbia Records first heard us. That club became The Rathskellar.”
By January of 1965 they were in New York recording and playing shows. “We must have played every college in New England – twice,” Tashian recalls. Things happened quickly. Now called The Remains they were recording in the Columbia Studios in New York and in Nashville at the Quonset Hut. “I never knew all the Nashville history about that place. A lot of country stars went through that legendary studio on Nashville’s Music Row. It’s where Patsy Cline sang ‘Crazy'”
In 1966, they played the Ed Sullivan Show. Tashian remembers it vividly: “Sullivan had seen us at Trudy Heller’s nightclub and came up to the little stage we were playing on and said ‘I want you guys to be on my show next Sunday.'” During that quick turn around Tashian and Miller wrote a new song called “Let It Through,” which they never recorded. “If I had to do it over, we might have done “Why Do I Cry” (their hit).” With grace and the perspective of age he continued, “But I’m proud of what we did. It was difficult. They wouldn’t let us use our own equipment. I had to run a guitar from this little Ampeg Amp 25 feet away. The same with the bass and the piano. They wouldn’t let us turn it up at all.”
What did happen is that they were able to tour with the Beatles. “Bob Bonus, who worked for the GAC agency, said to us ‘I could get you on tour with the Beatles if you’re interested.’ We said ‘sure.’ But we also had to back up the other opening acts, like the Ronettes and Bobby Hebb. We opened first.” However, such a stellar spot on what is now considered a historic tour had its downside: “It was a hard fall from the top. Following the tour, our next gig was “at the Catskills or something.” The band simply played out “whatever gigs were left on the books. The inspiration had past. That was it.”
Tashian remained active in the music business, working with the legendary Gram Parsons and for years with Emmylou Harris. He lives in Nashville and has toured with wife Holly, a fellow Westport-er. Vern Miller played with the popular New England band Swallow for years and today has an active career as a session player out of New Jersey: “But these annual gigs with The Remains have always been a highlight.”
I asked Tashian if he had any good anecdotes about the Beatles tour: “George became a kind of pal. I went up to his room and he had this little box on the table. He said, ‘That’s a ‘cassette tape machine’. He opens it up and takes it out and I said ‘wow, look at that tiny tape.’ It was a recording of Ravi Shankar. It just sounded great. It was made in Holland. The first cassette machine I ever saw. And the pot was very good. I don’t know if you want to print that or not.”
Tim Jackson is an assistant professor at the New England Institute of Art in the Digital Film and Video Department. His music career in Boston began in the 1970s and includes some 20 groups, many recordings, national and international tours, and contributions to film soundtracks. He studied theater and English as an undergraduate and has also has worked helter skelter as an actor and member of SAG and AFTRA since the 1980s. He has directed a trio of documentaries: Chaos and Order: Making American Theater about the American Repertory Theater, and Radical Jesters, which profiles the practices of 11 interventionist artists and agit-prop performance groups. His third documentary, When Things Go Wrong, about the Boston singer/songwriter Robin Lane, with whom he has worked for 30 years, has just been completed. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. You can read more of his work on his blog.