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The Raspberries cut through the epic pretensions and pomposity of '70s-era rock to proudly reclaim the spirit and simplicity of classic pop, recalling the heyday of the British Invasion with their exquisitely crafted melodies and achingly gorgeous harmonies. The group was formed in Mentor, OH, in early 1970 by singer/songwriter Eric Carmen and drummer Jim Bonfanti, local pop heroes thanks to the respective tenures in the hugely popular bands Cyrus Erie and the Choir; guitarist Wally Bryson and bassist John Aleksic (both Choir veterans as well) completed the original lineup, which made its live debut in mid-October. With their short hair, matching suits, and Beatlesque sound, the Raspberries ran in direct opposition to the prevailing hard rock mentality of the Cleveland scene, but after just a handful of gigs, the band was among the city's most popular live acts. However, after cutting their first demo session, Aleksic left the lineup in March of 1971, and with the addition of rhythm guitarist Dave Smalley, Carmen assumed bass duties.
The Raspberries' demo tape ultimately found its way to producer Jimmy Ienner, and in the wake of a major-label bidding war, the band signed to Capitol, issuing their self-titled debut LP (complete with a raspberry-scented scratch-and-sniff cover sticker) in the spring of 1972. The debut single "Don't Want to Say Goodbye," stalled, but the follow-up, "Go All the Way," a magnificent fusion of Who-inspired guitar snarl and Beach Boys-styled vocal harmonies, went on to sell over a million copies on its way to cracking the Top Five. Carmen and Smalley swapped guitar and bass chores prior to recording the Raspberries' sophomore effort, 1972's Fresh; the record generated two more hits, "I Wanna Be with You" and the beautiful "Let's Pretend," and solidified the band's stature as critical favorites. Nevertheless, tension within the ranks -- sparked largely by Carmen's creative primacy and the shadow it cast over the songwriting contributions of Bryson and Smalley -- were beginning to boil over, and accordingly 1973's Side 3 boasted a more raw, aggressive sound than its predecessors, typified by the visceral crunch of the opening "Tonight."
Side 3 failed even to crack the Top 100, however, and following a triumphant Carnegie Hall date, both Smalley and Bonfanti exited the Raspberries to form their own band, Dynamite. They were replaced by bassist Scott McCarl and ex-Cyrus Erie drummer Michael McBride. 1974's acclaimed Starting Over continued the harder-edged approach of Side 3, yielding the band's final chart smash, the superb "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)." A nasty post-gig confrontation between Carmen and Bryson soon resulted in the latter's departure from the group, and after playing a handful of shows as a three-piece, the Raspberries disbanded in 1975. Carmen then mounted a solo career, tapping McBride to play drums on his self-titled debut LP, which launched the number two blockbuster "All by Myself." He did not return to the upper rungs of the charts for over a decade, however, scoring a major hit in 1987 with his Dirty Dancing soundtrack contribution "Hungry Eyes." "Make Me Lose Control" reached the number three spot a year later. Bryson, meanwhile, resurfaced in the short-lived Tattoo before joining the power pop group Fotomaker for three albums during the late '70s.
In March of 1999, all four original members (Smalley, Carmen, Bryson, and Bonfanti) met up for the first time in years sparking rumors of an impending reunion. A few months later (after three of the four members played together onstage in Cleveland to celebrate the 80th birthday of rock journalist Jane Scott), a Raspberries reunion tour was confirmed as fact by Billboard Magazine. Unfortunately for fans, the reunion failed to materialize. Carmen continued to write and record as a solo artist, while Bryson, Smalley, and latter-day member Scott McCarl opted to resurrect the Raspberries as a trio, issuing the album Refreshed in 2000. ~ Jason Ankeny & Greg Prato
- Mentor, OH
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