Benjamin Orr (September 8, 1947 ? October 3, 2000) was the bass guitar player and one of the vocalists for the New Wave band The Cars. He sang several of The Cars' greatest hits, including "Just What I Needed", "Let's Go" and "Drive".
Born Benjamin Orzechowski in Lakewood, Ohio, to Russian and Czechoslovak parents, who actively supported his musical endeavors. He became proficient in several instruments including the guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, and drums. Known locally as "Benny 11-Letters," he grew up in Lakewood, Ohio and Parma, Ohio and dropped out of Valley Forge High School to join a local band The Grasshoppers as lead singer and guitarist. The Grasshoppers were the house band on the syndicated TV show Upbeat produced by WEWS-TV in Cleveland. In 1965, the Grasshoppers released two singles on the Sunburst label, "Mod Socks" and "Pink Champagne (And Red Roses)", the latter written by Orzechowski. The Grasshoppers dissolved in 1967 when two of the band members were drafted, after which Orzechowski was drafted as well, although he received a deferment after approximately a year and a half in the Army.
Around 1970 Orr moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he met Ric Ocasek and formed a musical partnership that would continue through to the end of his life. Along with lead guitarist Jas Goodkind, the two formed a folk band called Milkwood. The group released one album, How's the Weather? in 1972, which failed to chart. By the mid 1970s Orr was working in a Boston night club band, Cap'n Swing, whose members included future Cars leader Ric Ocasek and guitarist Elliot Easton. After the group broke up in 1975, the three of them joined up with keyboardist Greg Hawkes and drummer David Robinson to form The Cars in 1976.
As a key member of The Cars, Orr's biggest success came with the song "Drive," where he was featured on lead vocals and had a part as the storyteller in the accompanying music video. The song reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
After several top hits and multi-platinum albums with The Cars, he released his only solo project The Lace in 1986. He co-wrote all music and lyrics, and the album had one Top 40 hit, "Stay the Night". A second single "Too Hot to Stop" was also released, but did not chart in the Hot 100. The album had a very familiar rhythm and feel of The Cars but was also free of Ocasek's frequently cryptic lyrics. The album cover for The Lace was shot by personal manager Jean Renard and featured Ben Orr on the front and his co-writer Diane Grey Page on the back. The video for "Stay the Night" went on to number one on both MTV and VH1, and Orr won an ASCAP award for the song.
Orr continued to work with The Cars for one more album before their subsequent breakup in 1988, after which he and the other members pursued solo work. Sometime in the mid-90's, Orr recorded tracks with guitarist John Kalishes for an unreleased follow-up to The Lace. From 1998 until his death in 2000, he performed with three bands, including his own band "ORR", The Voices of Classic Rock, and Big People.
Illness and death
In April 2000, Orr was diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer and subsequently hospitalized , yet he continued to perform in concerts with the band Big People at summer music festivals and state fairs.
He reunited with all the former members of The Cars one last time in Atlanta, Georgia, for an interview that was used in a Rhino Records video and DVD of a German concert performed in 1979, The Cars Live.
His final public appearance was on September 27, 2000, in a Big People concert in Anchorage, Alaska. Six days later, he died at home in Atlanta, on October 3, 2000, aged 53, surrounded by his fellow Big People band members Jeff Carlisi, Derek St. Holmes and Rob Wilson . Big People still performs his classic Cars hits. Orr was also survived by his 5-year-old son, Ben, from a previous relationship.
Ric Ocasek wrote and recorded the song "Silver," which was his musical tribute to Orr. It appeared on Ocasek's 2005 solo album, Nexterday.
All Benjamin Orr lyrics
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