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Watch Eric Carmen and the Raspberries Kick Off 2004 Reunion Tour With ‘I Wanna Be With You’

Power-pop fans were dealt a devastating blow Monday night when word came down that Raspberries frontman Eric Carmen died over the weekend at age 74. “Our sweet, loving and talented Eric passed away in his sleep,” his wife, Amy Carmen, wrote to fans. “It brought him great joy to know, that for decades, his music touched so many and will be his lasting legacy.”

The tributes that followed focused on his signature solo hits “All by Myself,” “Hungry Eyes,” and “Make Me Lose Control,” but his greatest contributions came during his recording career in the Raspberries, even though it lasted a mere two-and-a-half years between 1972 and 1974. During that time, the Cleveland power-pop icons released four albums, and timeless singles like “Go All the Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Let’s Pretend,” “I’m a Rocker,” and “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record).”

“Go All the Way” was their only song to reach the Top Ten, but their influence was massive. “They are THE great underrated power pop masters,” Bruce Springsteen wrote in 2007. “Their best records are as fun and sound as fresh today as when they were released. Soaring choruses, Beach Boys harmonies over crunchy Who guitars, lyrics simultaneously innocent, lascivious, and all about sex, sex, sex continue to make an unbeatable combination.”

Curiously, Carmen kept a very low profile after finally finding genuine stardom in 1987 thanks to “Hungry Eyes” from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. He scored an even bigger hit the following year with “Make Me Lose Control,” but he didn’t capitalize on the momentum by cutting an actual album. That didn’t come until the 1997 LP Winter Dreams, which was initially released only in Japan. It centers around covers like “Caroline, No” and “Walk Away Renée.” (It was eventually released in America as I Was Born to Love You in 2000.)

Raspberries guitarist Wally Bryson played on Winter Dreams, setting the stage for a full Raspberries reunion that got off to a very rocky start. The genesis for the regroup began in 1999 when the original quartet of Carmen, Bryson, bassist David Smalley, and drummer Jim Bonfanti gathered at the house of Cleveland-based manager-agent David Spero. It was the first time they’d been in the same room in nearly a quarter century. “They found that they really liked each other,” Spero told The Akron Beacon Journal, adding that they went to a local studio afterwards for an impromptu jam session. “It was like they never really stopped. They sounded great.”

This was near the end of a golden age of Seventies reunions when the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Kiss, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were all making a fortune by taking their fans on a time machine two decades into the past. But similar attempts by the J. Geils Band and Blondie to do the same were relative disappoints at the box office, and both of those groups were significantly more popular than the Raspberries.

When big offers failed to come their way, Eric Carmen bowed out of the reunion, and signed on for a tour with Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. (This led to the fantastically bizarre sight of Ringo playing drums every night on “Hungry Eyes” alongside Jack Bruce, Dave Edmunds, and Simon Kirke.)

The other three Raspberries attempted to solider on as a trio, but their reunion EP, Refreshed, was a massive flop, and they didn’t tour behind it. Instead, they used the EP as means to vent frustration at Carmen over the aborted tour. “You said there would be a tour,” Smalley wrote on the bitter “Pop Teasers.” “You put it on for summer/I packed the cooler/Man, what a bummer…I check my e-mail every day/I need some confirmation…They’re old/They’re going grey/Their gear is covered up in dust.”

Just when it seemed like dust would stay forever on the Raspberries gear, Carmen agreed to a reunion concert at the opening of the Cleveland House of Blues in November 2004. There was no hint of animosity onstage as they revisited all their hits, several deep cuts, and tunes that inspired them in their youth, including “No Reply” and “Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles. They opened with “I Wanna Be With You.” As you can see from video of that historic moment, Carmen’s voice was in remarkably pristine shape. (It’s hard to think of any reunited band in rock history that sounded quite this perfect at their comeback show.)

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The Raspberries played eight shows in the summer of 2005 at intimate venues across America, and another five in 2007 after the release of a live LP documenting the initial reunion. Their last show took place April 3, 2009, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, shortly before that year’s induction ceremony.

Sadly, Carmen didn’t live to see the Raspberries enter the Hall of Fame themselves or even appear on a ballot. That’s a gross injustice, but at least they played those 14 reunion shows between 2004 and 2009. Anyone lucky enough to have witnessed any of them will remember it forever.

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