The Cleveland foursome, an architect of the power-pop sound that inspired bands from The Knack to Fountains of Wayne, is enjoying a comeback that has gained momentum since a hometown reunion concert in 2004.
The group will perform Saturday and Sunday in New York and Dec. 14 in Cleveland. More dates are expected this fall in the Midwest and on the West Coast. Recently released Live on Sunset Strip, The Raspberries' only live album and first new release in 33 years, is now available in an expanded edition at raspberriesonline.com.
A parfait in the era of meatloaf, The Raspberries fostered the classic pop melodicism of The Beatles in the early '70s just as the masses were flocking to the album rock of Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith. During its brief heyday, the band released four albums (Raspberries and Fresh in 1972, Side 3 in 1973 and Starting Over in 1974) and then split. Though Carmen found solo success with such hits as All by Myself and Hungry Eyes, he often eyed Raspberries progeny with envy and regret.
"Had we come along seven years later, we might have owned the world," says the 58-year-old singer/songwriter from his home in Gates Mills, Ohio, an upscale Cleveland suburb where he retired a decade ago to raise his family. "We were perceived as guys making pop singles in an album world."
Critics praised the band, which reached chart heights with candy-coated gems Go All the Way, I Wanna Be With You and Overnight Sensation (Hit Record). But mainstream fame eluded the neatly coiffed quartet in matching suits.
"It was my fault," Carmen says. "I didn't want us to be like everyone else with beards, torn jeans and hair to the waist. Back then, the rock intelligentsia got us, and the 16-year-old-girls got us, but their 18-year-old brothers buying Jethro Tull albums didn't."
In 2004, House of Blues approached the group to open its Cleveland club. Carmen huddled with drummer Jim Bonfanti, guitarist Wally Bryson and bassist Dave Smalley and agreed to play one concert. It sold out in four minutes.
The band played 10 shows over the next several months. New York attendees included E Street Band members Steven Van Zandt and Max Weinberg, Jon Bon Jovi, Rick Springfield and Paul Stanley. May Pang, John Lennon's former girlfriend, arrived to present a photo of the ex-Beatle in a Raspberries T-shirt. The string of dates ended with a 2005 show in West Hollywood, recorded by Beach Boys producer/engineer Mark Linett. His tapes became Strip.
Now Rykodisc is offering "the option of a record, and there's talk of that," says Raspberries manager Al Kaston. "The reunion isn't a fluke. The guys enjoy playing with each other."
Though Carmen is happy with the band vibe, he's uncertain about resuming a career in a rocky industry. "We're going with the flow, but we're realistic," he says. "Do we put new songs on a MySpace page and give it away? That seems to be the new paradigm."
He also wonders how today's audience will receive Raspberries' confections.
"In our records, there was a sense of joy and hope and optimism that had disappeared from music and has not been prevalent since," he says. "I spent my youth between two stereo speakers trying to learn how to arrange harmonies. I must have listened to The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man 10,000 times, asking, 'What is it that's making the hair on my arms stand up?'
"We were about something other than getting on Star Search or American Idol and becoming a product. When MTV came into play, that was the beginning of the end. Music took a back seat to what people looked like and how they danced."
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY