Immediately after the Beatles broke up, and rock music moved on to the plodding orchestration of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and the heavy metal of Grand Funk Railroad, the Raspberries arrived to remind everybody why the Beatles were great in the first place. Although many mistook them for a British Invasion band—their upbeat, lively melodies, sunny lyrics, and singer Eric Carmen’s smooth high voice recalled 1960s English groups like the Kinks and Paul Revere and the Raiders—they were actually from Cleveland, Ohio.
For almost four years, the Raspberries made super-catchy, soaring, aggressively rocking music, landing hits such as 1971’s “Go All the Way,” which sold 1.3 million copies, followed by “I Want to Be with You” and “Let’s Pretend.” But they came along a few years too late—or perhaps too early—and never quite turned into a major sales force. After charting one of their best singles, “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” at number 18, the band’s 1974 album Party’s Over didn’t go anywhere. “Democratic foursomes don’t work in the ’70s like they did in the ’60s, when there were fewer musical directions,” Carmen told Rolling Stone in 1975. “We had matured into four dissimilar individuals and it became ludicrous for us to continue.”
Members include Jim Bonfanti (born on December 17, 1948, in Windber, PA; group member, 1970-73), drums; Wally Bryson (born on July 18, 1949, in Gatonia, NC), guitar; Eric Carmen (born on August 11, 1949, in Cleveland, OH), vocals; Michael McBride (joined group, 1973), drums; Scott McCarl (joined group, 1973), bass; Dave Smalley (born on July 10, 1949, in Oil City, PA; group member, 1970-73), bass.
Group formed in Cleveland, OH, 1970; on Capitol, released debut album Raspberries, 1972; Fresh, 1972; Side 3, 1973; and Starting Over, 1974; group broke up, mid-1970s; reunited, 1999; released reunion EP Refreshed on Legendstar label, 2000.
Addresses: Record company—Capitol, 1750 N. Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028. Website—Raspberries Official Website: http://www.raspberries.net.
But the Raspberries’ brief career—and Carmen’s solo career, beginning with the hit 1976 single “All By Myself”—proved hugely influential. The band didn’t know it at the time, but back-to-basics rockers in New York City, London, and elsewhere were just as frustrated as the Raspberries with over-orchestrated, pompously heavy rock music in the early 1970s. Some of these young, do-it-yourself musicians went in a harder direction, learning from New York Dolls and Stooges records to create punk rock. Others were smitten by the aggressively catchy guitars and rumbling drums of Big Star, Badfinger, and the Raspberries and formed influential and popular bands such as Rockpile, the Knack, Cheap Trick, and Blondie.
The Raspberries grew out of several Cleveland groups. Drummer Jim Bonfanti, who played on the Outsiders’ 1965 garage-band hit “Time Won’t Let Me,” was in the Mods. So were bassist Dave Smalley and guitarist Wally Bryson; they soon changed their name to the Choir and became big in Cleveland. Bryson left briefly to play in Carmen’s band, Cyrus Erie, and recorded some forgotten singles for Epic Records. In 1970, after Carmen tried briefly for a solo career, the four came together as the Raspberries.
It’s not entirely clear how the band settled on its colorful name. According to liner notes for Capitol Records’ 1991 Collectors Series, the band brainstormed fruitlessly before simply adapting the name from Carmen’s Magic Raspberries publishing company. Carmen, however, remembered the story differently in a 1973 Rolling Stone interview: “We were sitting around one day, trying to think up something that would capture the real flavor of our music and also set us apart from traditional freaky groups like, for instance, Savoy Brown or Jethro Tull. We weren’t having any luck. I got disgusted and for a joke threw up my hands and said, just like the Little Rascals used to do on TV, ‘Awww, Raspberries!’ The rest of the guys jumped on it and we became the Raspberries.”
The band earned lots of critical attention, including long, enthusiastic write-ups in Rolling Stone, Billboard, and the British music tabloids. The Raspberries formula was simple but effective: Beach Boys harmonies with harder rock, wry-but-lovelorn lyrics recalling early Kinks, a stomping, herky-jerky rhythm section and Carmen’s Paul McCartney-inherited voice, perfect for both love ballads and rock ‘n’ roll screams. They also dressed in identical “mod” suits during concerts—and sometimes arrived on stage in tuxedos, a departure from the fringed hippie outfits in vogue at the time.
But after a four-year burst of creativity, and excellent if somewhat uneven albums such as 1972’s self-titled debut and Fresh, the band quickly ran into frustration. In post-breakup analyses, Carmen blamed Capitol Records for marketing the group to the teen market. “We were young and inexperienced so we did what they told us,” he said in a 1975 Los Angeles Times interview. “We didn’t want to be tied to that damn teenybopper market. We tried to convince our record company that we could do more than silly AM hits, but they wouldn’t listen.” Appropriately, a line from one of the band’s last songs, “Starting Over,” begins: “Used to be so [expletive] optimistic.”
Carmen had immediate success as a solo artist, notching three big hits on his first solo album, Eric Carmen, but he never fully realized his pop goals. In the Raspberries’ “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),” he sang: “Well, I know it sounds funny/but I’m not in it for the money, no/I don’t need no reputation/And I’m not in it for the show/I just want a hit record/Want to hear it on the radio/Want a big hit record/One that everybody’s got to know.” After the first LP, he had just one more top-20 hit in the next decade.
The singer learned to compensate, however, by writing hits for other people—“That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” for teen pin-up Shaun Cassidy and “Almost Paradise (the love theme from Footloose)” for Loverboy’s Mike Reno and Heart’s Ann Wilson, among others. His own “Hungry Eyes,” the background music when Patrick Swayze first teaches Jennifer Gray to dance in the movie Dirty Dancing, was also a hit in 1984. And Canadian diva Celine Dion turned “All By Myself” into a monster international hit in 1996.
Carmen has since become an enthusiastic member of the oldies circuit, performing in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band; with similarly forgotten rock stars such as Merry Clayton and the Contours on the 1988 “Dirty Dancing” tour; and with a Raspberries reunion in 1999. (Bryson, Smalley and later member Scott McCarl released their own EP to mark the occasion.) But the band’s achievements never matched its aspirations.
“Our audiences were always the most bizarre mix,” Carmen said in a 1988 Rolling Stone story. “You’d have a thousand screaming girls in the front of the stage and then ten very serious rock critics in the back of the room going, ‘Uh-huh, I think we understand this.’ And unfortunately the great mass of pot-smoking eighteen year-olds that bought albums and made you a substantial commodity in the great marketing world of records never took to us. It was not hip for people to like us, because their little sister liked us.”
Fresh, Capitol, 1972.
Raspberries, Capitol, 1972.
Side 3, Capitol, 1973.
Starting Over, Capitol, 1974.
Raspberries: Capitol Collectors Series, Capitol, 1991.
Refreshed(EP), Legendstar, 2000
George-Warren, Holly, Patricia Romanowski, and Jon Pareles, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, third edition, Rolling Stone Press, 2001.
Billboard, April 10, 1999.
Chicago Sun-Times, May 9, 1988.
Hit Parader, May 1973.
Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1975.
Melody Maker, October 28, 1972.
Rolling Stone, January 18, 1973; June 19, 1975; May 6, 1976; April 7, 1988.
Eric Carmen Official Website, http://www.ericcarmen.com (April 4, 2003).
Raspberries Official Website, http://www.raspberries.net (April 4, 2003).
Additional information was obtained from the liner notes by Greg Russo with Steve Kolanjian to Raspberries: Capitol Collectors Series, Capitol, 1991.
"Raspberries." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/raspberries
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