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The McCoys and The Raspberries: The Solo Years

A rumored axiom in the world of rock ‘n’ roll is, “Like cocaine flakes, no two bands are alike.”  But in the case of the McCoys and the Raspberries, these bands have similarities.

Both hail from the Midwest.  Members of The McCoys from Ohio and Indiana, the Raspberries from Ohio.

Both had five songs that made the “Top 70” on the Billboard charts. The McCoys knocked out the #1 smash “Hang on Sloopy,” a version of “Fever” that went to #18, (while its flip side, “Sorrow,” was later coolly covered by the Merseys and David Bowie) “Come on Let’s Go” (#22), “Up and Down” (46) and “So Good” (#53).

The Raspberries’ big five included a #5 hit with “Go All the Way,” “I Wanna Be With You (#16),” “Overnight Sensation (#18), “Let’s Pretend” (#35), and “Tonight” (#69).  But after the groups dissolved, all that remained were successful though relatively short-lived solo careers for their leaders: the Raspberries’ Eric Carmen and the McCoys’ Rick Derringer.

Carmen’s ex-‘Berries bandmates never got a firm foothold in bands while Rick and two of the McCoys’ boys, bassist Randy Jo Hobbs and Rick’s drummer-brother, Randy, became the “Core 3” in Johnny Winter’s band.  Rick and Hobbs later joined Johnny’s brother, Edgar’s, band.

But before these McCoys saw any Winter, the 17-year-old Richard Zehringer had signed to Bang Records and noticed that its logo had a pistol. He deduced that a derringer sounds cooler than “Zehringer” and thus was born Rick Derringer.  Rick recalled of Bang: “They were looking for four young guys who were really talented and really naïve so they can take advantage of us.”

 

The group, which opened for the Stones on their first American tour in 1966, made a Monkees-ish career move: eschewing bubble-gum-ish music for their own sound which became an offer that record buyers refused and sent the band into a tailspin.  In between a stint with Edgar Winter, Rick unleashed a great solo album All American Boy, with one song (“Hold”) co-written by Patti Smith.  Derringer also fired off guitar licks for Steely Dan in songs like “Showbiz Kids” and “Chain Lightning.”  In a 2020 interview, Derringer cited that he was the inspiration for the title of one of Dan’s biggest hits.  Rick recalled: “One night in the studio, (Donald) Fagen told me I should call him up.  And he wrote down his phone number and said, ‘Ricky.  Don’t lose that number.’”

But when it came to session and production work, groups (like Alice Cooper, Kiss) and artists (like Cyndi Lauper and Barbra Streisand) called Ricky. He even produced and played on Weird Al Yankovic’s first six albums.

Then there are the vastly underrated Raspberries’ records.  On their four albums, Carmen composed some well-crafted power pop perfections which will be heard in soundtracks a thousand years from now—when Guardians of the Galaxy Volume, Pt. 1,000 is released.  “Go All the Way” was used in the first Guardians movie and the Killers did a great version of it for Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows.  Perhaps Eric’s constantly pleading with his date to go all the way only for her to rebuff him inspired the singer to write “All by Myself “ when he went solo. It was a career move he made because his fellow Raspberries didn’t appreciate his efforts.  He skillfully dissected the power structure of every rock band: “The rest of the guys in a band have a choice, and the choice is to support these two guys, whether it’s Mick and Keith or Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.  The other guys either decide to support the two front guys or they don’t, in which case they are challenging the front guys for leadership and the band breaks up and the front guy goes solo. That’s pretty much the story of the Raspberries.  I read one of the funniest interviews ever with, I think it’s Tom Hamilton, the bass player of Aerosmith, and he calls himself and Joey Kramer and the other guy ‘the three less interesting guys.’”

But there was a time when two other guys, named Lennon and Springsteen, found the entire band interesting.  Lennon was even photographed wearing a Raspberries t-shirt.  Carmen noted: “In 1974, when the band was recording our fourth album Starting Over at The Record Plant in New York, John Lennon was in the studio next to us producing, Harry Nilsson’s Pussycats album. John frequently would come by and stick his head in the door, while we were mixing and told me that he was absolutely blown away by ‘Overnight Sensation’ and said that he and Ringo were going to ‘do promotion.’”

Springsteen, who once told Eric, “I think I must have worn out that Raspberries Greatest Hits album,” appears to have borrowed very liberally from the Razzies because the opening piano part of Bruce’s “Jungleland” and (the song) “Starting Over” sound quite similar, with Eric’s tune recorded a year before Bruce’s.

And despite the fact that the Raspberries arguably had more of a musical impact than the McCoys, Ohio’s legislature honored the McCoys by declaring “Hang On Sloopy” the state’s official rock song.

Let’s hope that Ohio’s legislature will convene to also erect a commemorative plaque in front of the Cincinnati house where Bo Donaldson (“Billy Don’t be a Hero”) once lived.

-Mark Daponte

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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

6 comments on “The McCoys and The Raspberries: The Solo Years

  1. Enjoyed this piece immensely and did not know Mr. Zehringer’s connection to Steely Dan! Side One of Carmen’s first LP is some of the inspired and quality pop music ever recorded.

  2. Eddie Villanova

    The Rolling Stones’ first American tour was 1964 (without The McCoys). However, they did cover Hang on Sloopy when they played Ohio Stadium in Columbus in 2015.

  3. Larry Lewis

    Back in the day, I purchased two eclectic McCoys’ albums…”Infinite McCoys” (1968) and “Human Ball” (1969) and was happily surprised at the diversity, quality of the songwriting, and the band’s musicianship. Derringer gives Alvin Lee a run for his money on, “Human Ball Blues,” while brother Randy’s song, “Only Human,” is a solid addition to the then-emergent country rock scene….an earworm, in fact. The albums also feature psych, bossa, straight ahead rock and more.

    The two are available together on an import CD for 19 bucks on Amazon.

  4. Larry Lewis

    Big Raspberries fan here. I saw the final lineup 3 times. One gig was at Sir Morgan’s Cove in Worcester, MA….the intimate club in which the Stones had given a “practice” performance just prior to their 1981 tour. “Overnight Sensation” had just been releaed in ’74 and this new edition of the Raspberries was hungry to prove itself….with one of the best live shows I’ve even seen, by anyone.

    However, I also saw the Raspberries give what goes down for me as perhaps the most sad & cringeworthy gigs possible, in early 1975(?), just before ltheir breakup. The venue was the function room of a golf course’s country club outside of Worcester. Wally Bryson had left and the remaining trio were left to fend for themselves in apparantly fulfilling what had to be some contractual obligation…..or maybe they just needed money to get home? I dunno.

    The audience, seated at round tables, looked like the Al Martino-wedding scene in “The Godfather”…realtively older folks, dressed to the nines with jewelry, etc. The band soldiered its way through some of their hits…but they also played a lot of Who songs, as Eric did his best Pete Townshend on his Les Paul. The Godfather audience politely applauded….sometimes.

    During this show, the band had to deal with technical problems, as well. At one point, drummer Michael McBride said right into his mic, “I think this is more trouble than it’s worth.” Probably the most embarrassing show I’ve ever seen from any performers and my heart went out to the guys, as a fan & musician myself. Oh, and, I’d recorded this whole debacle from my seat. I wonder whether I still have that casette…..or the one I’d made at the Worcester club. The 3rd time I saw them was a relatively normal show in a theatre in ’74, also touring for, “Overnight Sensation.” Apologies for blathering on here.

  5. Ed J Toomey

    The Raspberries were a great rock band in the ’70s. Eric Carmen could belt out songs like no other. I too saw them in 1974-75 at the golf country club just outside of Worcester Mass. called The Holden Country Club. It was a good show w the Raspberries singing several of their recent hits including Go All the Way. Long live the Raspberries and Eric Carmen ! Should be in the Rock Hi all of Fame !

    • Larry Lewis

      Ed, that’s the show I saw…and I wrote about in some detail, just above your comment. I respectfully disagree with your take on that night, but it wasn’t the band’s “fault,” in any case. I have the entire performance on audiotape and, trust me, the band would have preferred being anywhere that night but at the Holden Country Club. I still dug them, even as I understood their situation and how, having lost a key member then in Wally Bryson, they had to fall back that night on their love of the Who, an early influence. I recall they did “Substitute.” (Again, imagine playing that song LOUD for the wedding guests in “The Godfather”…that was pretty much how this gig went.) Eric played strictly guitar….no keyboard. At least, they still had 3-part harmonies. I gotta find that tape.

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