Singer, guitarist and main songwriter for the Remains, Boston’s first and finest rock & roll band, recalls the days when his band played on The Ed Sullivan Show and Hullabaloo and were the opening act on the Beatles’ 1966 U.S. tour. Keeping the flame alive, Sundazed Records has just released a cache of Remains nuggets.
If you were anywhere near a television set in December 1965, you more than likely saw the Remains. That is, you would more than likely have tuned in The Ed Sullivan Show for its holiday special and there you would have seen Boston’s finest rock & roll combo—shoe-horned between the comedic stylings of Stiller & Meara and some crazed-looking dude twirling plates on sticks. There they were—Barry Tashian, Vern Miller, Bill Briggs and Chip Damiani—performing a song they’d written for the occasion.
“It was an all-star lineup on that Sullivan show,” recalls Barry Tashian, the Remains’ singer, guitarist and main songwriter, half a century later. “I found myself standing next to Brigitte Bardot backstage. We were disappointed that Topo Gigio wasn’t on the bill too. We were allowed to do one song. Instead of doing our one hit, ‘Why Do I Cry,’ which would have made sense, Vern [Miller, bassist] and I wrote a song that week and combined it with a rave-up we did for ‘I’m a Man’.”
The Remains’ regional hit, “Why Do I Cry”:
One of the hallmarks of the Ed Sullivan Show was that all of the acts performed live, no dubbing, no gimmicks. When Elvis and the Beatles performed on the show, it really didn’t matter how they played since you couldn’t hear them for all the screaming from the audience. However, the Remains were basically performing without a net.
“I had a rented amp which was about 25 feet away, and I couldn’t hear what I was playing,” says Tashian. “I felt crummy about how it came out.”
Regardless, the band’s appearance on the most popular variety show in the U.S. had all the hallmarks of a storybook ending: an unknown band, formed in a dorm at Boston University the previous year, make their name playing “every college in New England” as well as becoming regulars at the Rathskeller on Kenmore Square [later known as “The Rat,” Boston’s premier rock dive for the next three decades], then relocate to New York City where they’re playing a club in Greenwich Village and the world’s most famous talent impresario sits down at a table and digs their crazy sound enough to offer them a slot on his TV show later in the week.
“We went to New York, not knowing what to expect,” says Tashian, who now lives in Nashville and performs with his wife, Holly, in an acclaimed bluegrass and country duo. “Once there, we got a six-week stand at a Village club called Trude Heller’s, which was more of a tourist attraction than a place where people hung out. They had a bouncer who had a fountain pen that was really a pistol. We played there for six weeks, six nights a week, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., alternating sets with Georgy Porgy and the Crybabies—a guy and his two sisters.”
Tashian’s roommate, Bert Yellen, was the son of Manuel Yellen, a big wheel at Lorillard Tobacco [Kent cigarettes], one of the sponsors of the Ed Sullivan Show.
“I never really knew who spoke to whom, but we got a phone call and were given advance notice that Ed Sullivan was going to come see us at the club,” recalls Tashian. “I thought, as any 20-year-old would, ‘No way…how could that happen?’ But there he was, sitting up in the front next to his program director. After our set he stood up and walked up to the stage and said, ‘I’d like to have you boys on the show next week’.”
That show turned out to be Ed’s Christmas special of 1965.
And the storybook didn’t end there. A few months later, the Remains were on the popular music show Hullabaloo, taped in a Brooklyn studio, performing a raucous version of the Willie Dixon/Bo Diddley-penned “Diddy Wah Diddy.”
But the climax of the story occurred shortly thereafter. That is, the Remains were picked to be an opening act for what turned out to be the final U.S. tour of the Beatles. The soft-spoken, self-effacing Tashian claims it was just “dumb luck.”
“We had apartments on the Upper West and Upper East sides and we’d meet to rehearse at a place called Harlequin Rehearsal Studio on Times Square,” says Tashian. “We got a new manager, John Kirland, who was more of a publicity agent. One of his friends, Bob Bonis, just happened to be in the office one day when we were checking to see if we had anything coming up. Bonis had worked at a booking agency that had experience bringing British bands on long tours of the U.S. He looked at us and asked, ‘Do you guys want to go on the Beatles tour?’”
Not too long after that, Chip Damiani, the drummer, quit the band.
“He had real fear that we’d be attacked on the tour, you know, that no one wanted to listen to an unknown band while waiting for the Beatles. It was a fear that was real enough for him to jump ship,” says Tashian.
The band’s management quickly found a replacement—N.D. Smart II.
“He was only 18 but had played with Lonnie Mack,” said Tashian. “We rehearsed with him. Every drummer has his own style, and Smart’s couldn’t have been further from Chip’s style. He was a really good drummer but it just wasn’t the same without Chip.”
The Remains were just one of four acts given opening spots on the Beatles tour.
“We had 20 minutes, so we played some Remains originals (“Why Do I Cry,” “Don’t Look Back”) and some covers (“Hang On, Sloopy”). Then when we were finished with our set, we’d be the backup band for Bobby Hebb [whose single, “Sunny,” was riding high on the charts at the time]. And after that, out would come The Cyrkle, who’d had a couple of hits [‘Red Rubber Ball’ and ‘Turn-Down Day’].” The Cyrkle were, like the Beatles, managed by Brian Epstein.
After The Cyrkle finished their set, the Remains returned to the stage as the backing band for the final opening act, the Ronettes. They played 14 cities in three weeks and all of the musicians rode on the same plane together.
The Beatles on the 1966 U.S. tour playing “Rock & Roll Music”
“We really worked hard and the crowds were generally pretty good,” he recalls. “Chip’s worst fears did not come to pass.”
The member of the Beatles who proved most accessible to the Remains was, not surprisingly, George Harrison.
“He was a good guy and he’d let me sit with him on the plane and spend time up in his hotel room,” recalls Tashian. “I saw my first cassette player in his room. George had one that had headphones plugged into it. I didn’t know what it was. He handed me the headphones and said, ‘Here, listen to this.’ And it was Ravi Shankar, sitar music…he was already into Eastern music in 1966.”
Beatles manager Brian Epstein was on that tour, too.
“The first stop on the tour was in Chicago at the International Amphitheatre, right across from the stockyards, which you could smell from the stage,” recalls Tashian.
Bill Hanley, who’d been making his name back in Boston as a sound system expert, was a friend of the Remains. When they told him about the Beatles tour, he was determined to join up regardless of not being invited or having a ticket.
“Hanley had gotten to the Chicago venue ahead of time and set up this huge system,” recalls Tashian. “Just before the show, the union guys come over and ask us what all the equipment was. Hanley explained it to them and they got mad and told him that we had to use only the union sound equipment, which was old and cumbersome. Hanley said he would talk to Brian Epstein. Epstein took one look at the union equipment and one look at Hanley’s system and told the promoter of the show that the Beatles would be using Bill’s system. We could all finally hear ourselves on stage.”
Tashian describes the music on the tour as “very basic, really awful by today’s standards. Technology just hadn’t developed.” The shows all blur together for Tashian, though the Shea Stadium and Candlestick Park dates stand out—the former for having the brightest, nearly blinding, stage lights he’d ever encountered, and the latter for being dark and windy and the stage being a long way from the audience, which they couldn’t really see.
“In St. Louis, it was raining and there was water on the stage,” said Tashian. “[Photographer] Ed Freeman was told to keep an eye on Paul McCartney because sparks were passing between the microphone and his lips when he sang. Ed was told that if he sensed any trouble to pull the plug on Paul’s microphone. Luckily, it didn’t come to that.”
Tashian published a book in 1996 about that tour, Ticket to Ride, based on the diary he kept (at his father’s sage suggestion). The photographs in the book were all taken by Freeman, the only person the Remains were allotted to bring with them for the tour. Although Freeman went on to have a stellar career as a rock & roll musician, producer and fine art photographer, the magic ride for the Remains was nearing an end.
At the end of the tour, Tashian says, “We were done. That was an amazing experience but I needed to do something different. It was also when we realized we would never be a big as the Beatles. I was 21, and that’s the sort of thing that goes through the head of a 21 year old.”
A new live album, just released by Sundazed Records, resulted from a reunion gig at The Tea Party in Boston in March 1969, about three years after the band broke up. “I don’t think we even rehearsed. This was the first time we played with Chip since 1966. I don’t even remember a set list. We just winged it. It was huge.”
“Don’t Look Back,” off the Remains’ only studio album:
“We did a couple of dates in the early 1970s and stayed in touch as friends. We’ve played at various ‘Sixties’ conventions in Las Vegas and in the early 1990s we played Purple Weekend in Spain. We’ve gone to Europe a few times, places like Berlin, Barcelona and London. We found, to our delight, that audiences were waiting for us and appreciative of our music.”
Sadly, Damiani passed away in 2014.
Tashian has gone on to have a long and stellar post-Remains career, working with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris (replacing Ricky Skaggs as guitarist in her touring Hot Band for ten years) and currently teamed with his wife as one-half of the bluegrass-country duo Holly & Barry Tashian, with seven albums released on Rounder Records.
But those old Remains days continue to draw him back. And, lately, that has been for good reasons. Sundazed Records has reissued the Remains’ sole studio album, plus a compilation called A Session with The Remains, a live-to-tape recording of the band’s club set made as an audition for Capitol Records, and a searing document of their rave-up power: The Remains Live 1969, recorded at The Tea Party, the legendary rock ballroom in Boston.
“The live album from 1969 is not a reissue by Sundazed. It is being released for the first time, taken from a reel to reel tape found inside a cardboard box in my closet,” said Tashian. “I didn’t even have a proper tape player anymore so I borrowed one and played it. I was blown away by the intensity of the playing, and sent it to Bob Irwin at Sundazed. He loved it, worked on it and then released it. The photographs on the front and back are the only two that exist of us playing the show that night at the Tea Party.”