The story of Boston's garage rock legends, The Remains.
By Perry Eaton
July 14, 2016
On Sunday, Paul McCartney will play Fenway Park. The appearance will mark 50 years since The Beatles’s final show in Boston. That concert took place on August 18,1966 at Suffolk Downs, one stop on what would be the band’s last tour. The legendary group’s opening act that summer, The Remains, was a burgeoning garage rock quartet comprised of Boston University friends. The tour ended up being the final one for The Remains, as well, but not before they experienced a firsthand dose of Beatlemania.
In 1964, Barry Tashian was a freshman at BU. He had temporarily packed up his guitar upon enrolling in college and was living in Myles Standish Hall in Kenmore Square, when he decided to travel Europe that following summer.
“That [trip to Europe] turned out to be a fateful journey because I went to London, and I saw all these great bands over there that hadn’t really quite reached the States yet,” Tashian said. “I saw the Kinks and the Zombies on television over there and went down into the entertainment section in London and saw some clubs with great bands. They were redoing songs that I had grown up listening to as a kid.”
In the fall of 1964, Tashian returned to BU for his sophomore year filled with inspiration. He and three classmates—Vern Miller, Bill Briggs, and Chip Damiani—quickly began rehearsing in the basement of Myles Standish, and before long, they were gigging regularly as The Remains at The Rathskellar down the street.
“It was the beginning of a new phase of bands in Boston,” Tashian said. “I think we were right on the front edge of that. There were bands around that were well-known in Boston, but it was a different style. I would call them more of an old style. There was this wave of new bands redoing the old sound.”
A fast taste of the big time
Within months, this new sound caught the attention of a booking agent, who secured The Remains gigs at colleges around New England, and of a representative from Columbia Records, who released their single “Why Do I Cry?” on their subset Epic Records. The band decided to put their junior year at BU on hold in order to play and record more regularly. And the opportunities kept on coming.
“We were down in New York during Christmastime for quite a while, and we played this club called Trude Heller’s,” Tashian said. “It was kind of this popular touristy spot. When we were there, Ed Sullivan came into the club and shocked us by listening to us for a set and then telling us that he wanted us to be on his program the following week.”
The Remains aired on Ed Sullivan’s Christmas show on December 26, 1965. They relocated to New York and got a new manager. Then came the biggest opportunity of their young careers: a 14-city North American summer tour opening for the biggest band in rock, The Beatles.
Private jets, rock ‘n’ roll, and pandemonium
The tour kicked off in August 1966 in Chicago. Both bands traveled in a private jet from stop to stop, giving The Remains, a band not yet two years old, a taste of the rock ‘n’ roll high life. The whole experience happened so quickly that Tashian’s memories are very vague, but he does recall a funny experience involving Beatles guitarist George Harrison.
“I remember after the Toronto show, I went to George Harrison’s room and hung out with him for a while,” Tashian said. “I saw my first-ever cassette player that night; he played me Ravi Shankar. I also left my sunglasses in his room, and we got up early the next day, and I saw The Beatles arriving at the gig. I noticed that George was walking up the steps into the plane and came up the aisle, and he had on two pairs of sunglasses. I thought, ‘Wow, cool, he wore my sunglasses.’”
Both bands played Boston next, packing Suffolk Downs with 25,000 screaming fans. Despite being late to the show because their bus never arrived at the Bradford Hotel where they were staying, the band was welcomed in a big way, even if not necessarily on purpose.
“I remember riding into the venue in a black limousine onto the track and there just being pandemonium,” Tashian said. “It wasn’t the first time on that tour that we were riding along and people thought it was The Beatles.”
Not to say The Remains didn’t have a strong crowd of their own—Tashian said that, by that point, there was a local Remains fan club, and somebody had hired a plane to fly overhead with a banner that read, “Welcome home, Remains. Boston loves you best.” Included in the crowd: a 13-year-old Joseph Kennedy, who caravanned up from Hyannis with 34 friends and relatives to catch The Beatles. Per the Boston Globe the next day:
“A leaflet circulating around the track declared in bold letters: ‘Beatles plan retirement.’ Young Kennedy frowned. ‘I don’t believe it.’ A friend sitting next to him, 15 year-old Chuck McDermott, agreed: ‘It wouldn’t be a sound economic investment to retire now.’”
A photo set of Beatles fans ran in the Boston Globe the morning after the Suffolk Downs show. —
Not looking back
Despite the boys’ good faith, it was true. It was the last time The Beatles played Boston. It was also the last hurrah for The Remains, who, despite the incredible opportunity, felt somewhat lost after the tour ended.
“It was pretty amazing to do that tour, but after it was over, it was really kind of a big drop from the top back to regular life again,” Tashian said.
Drummer Chip Damiani had also left the band just before the Beatles tour had started. With a taste of the big time still fresh on their minds, the group decided to not continue playing.
“We probably could have toured back through all of those cities, and our recordDon’t Look Back had just come out,” Tashian said. “I’m sure we would have had some good chart action. But we didn’t. We didn’t really play again for another 15 years.”
Harking back again
Tashian doesn’t necessarily regret the decision, and looks back on the experience with fond memories. After the group had some time to pursue other things, Tashian relocating to Nashville and continuing to record music, the band eventually began playing again, even if just sporadically.
The Remains in Rotterdam for the Primitive Festival in 2005. —Courtesy of Karl Hofer
While The Remains only released two albums before breaking up in the ‘60s, their catalog has accrued a cult following over the years. In 2008, a documentary about The Remains, called America’s Lost Band, premiered at the Boston Film Festival. Two years later, the band was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2010 Boston Music Awards. It’s not quite a U.S. tour with the Fab Four, but Tashian continues to enjoy playing with the band, and the crowd tends to reciprocate the love.
This past spring, the band returned to town to play ONCE Ballroom in Somerville. For the lead singer, it was nice to hear the city rock as hard as it did 50 years before.
“We love Boston,” Tashian said. “It sounded really great in there. I felt like were were back in 1965.”
Fifty years on, Klaus Voormann tells the story behind Revolver’s psychedelic cover
Opening with a sharp swipe at Harold Wilson’s supertax rate for big earners, it ends half an hour later in a revolutionary mystical soundscape sculpted from LSD and dope, and drenched in technical wizardry the like of which had never been heard before. In between, a dozen of the finest pop songs ever written – including Eleanor Rigby, Good Day Sunshine and Here, There and Everywhere – all wrapped up in a piece of artwork as unexpected and intricate as the music it was created to contain.
Half a century after the release of Revolver, the Beatles album hailed not only as the group’s creative summit but arguably pop’s greatest achievement, the artist who designed the record’s monochrome sleeve – itself acclaimed as one of the finest pop artworks – has revealed how he did it: on a kitchen table in an attic flat, for £50.
Klaus Voormann – veteran Beatles confidant, inventor of the mop-top haircut, and member of the group’s inner circle of friends since their formative years playing Hamburg bars and strip joints – has decided to tell the story of his relationship with the Fab Four not in words, but in pictures. Voormann’s graphic novel, Birth of an Icon: Revolver 50, opens with his first encounter with the group one night in 1960 in a Hamburg bar, the Kaiserkeller, and traces their metamorphosis in five years from leather-clad rockers to multimillionaire psychedelic potentates, the greatest band in the world.
Revolver, the Beatles’ seventh album, was released in the UK on 5 August 1966. England had just won the World Cup and London was swinging. “Things stay in my memory because people keep on asking me about that time,” Voormann, now 78 and based in his native Germany, told the Observer. “I remember, where I created the Revolver cover. It was on the third floor of a house, in a little attic apartment, it was in the kitchen. Parliament Hill, Hampstead. I was staying there. I went back there recently, the building is exactly the same.”
A trained artist and musician, Voormann and his girlfriend, the photographer Astrid Kirchherr, were quintessential continental beatniks when they befriended the Beatles – sporting black clothes and a moody face beneath a low fringe. The look, especially the hair, heavily influenced the band’s early image. Voormann went on to spend much of the 60s and 70s alternating stints on the pop and rock circuit, playing bass with Manfred Mann, George Harrison and John Lennon – including on Lennon’s Imagine – with his work in graphic design and fine art.
“1966 was the time when the Beatles were really, really busy,” Voormann recalls. “They were doing one album after another. They were just happy by then that they were spending more time in the studio, in the control room, messing around with sounds, than they ever did before. They had a German tour coming up, and also a Japan tour. They had just a few more weeks available to work on their new LP, the one which would be called Revolver, and then suddenly they were off on tour. I came to Abbey Road Studios to listen to the tracks for that album as they were recording them.”
The commission for the album cover design was unexpected, but, for the Beatles, characteristically spontaneous and left-field. “I got a phone call from John. He just said: ‘Got any ideas for our new album cover?’ I thought: ‘Shit! Doing a cover for the most famous band in the world!’ At moments like that you could suddenly forget that they had once been scruffy little Liverpool boys. I thought, ‘My God, I can’t do that!’”
As a freelance graphic designer in the early 60s, Voormann had created artworks for vintage jazz albums issued by Deutsche Grammophon. But to come up with ideas for a groundbreaking Beatles record, he needed to hear the new music.
“So the band all asked me to come down to Abbey Road Studios. This was when they had recorded about two-thirds of the tracks for that album. When I heard the music, I was just shocked, it was so great. So amazing. But it was frightening because the last song that they played to me was Tomorrow Never Knows.”
The album’s climax, a sonic collage heavily influenced by hallucinogens and hash, and held together with a hypnotic drum pattern, baffled many fans and disorientated critics, but fed into the thinking for a design for the album’s cover. “Tomorrow Never Knows was so far away from the early Beatles stuff that even I myself thought, well, the normal kind of Beatles fan won’t want to buy this record,” says Voormann. “But they did.”
Voormann chose to work in pen and black ink, dotted with cut-out portions of photographs of the band members and forming a “waterfall” of imagery.
He says: “When I had finished my work for the cover, [Beatles manager] Brian Epstein was really moved by my design. He said to me: ‘Klaus, what you did is what we really needed. I was scared that the band’s new material wasn’t going to be accepted by their audience, but your cover built that bridge.’”
Voormann adds: “It took me about three weeks to create the cover, but in terms of concentrated work, about a week.” Much of that time was spent with scissors, scalpel and glue, selecting and arranging fragments of photographs within line drawings of the band members.
“In choosing to work in black and white, I wanted not only to shock, but I wanted also for the work to stand out in a muddle of colour. But a psychedelic influence in the Revolver cover? Well, what is psychedelic? Look at Bruegel, or Hieronymus Bosch. Those guys were far out! I don’t know if they ate mushrooms, or whatever. But I know that whatever is inside of you doesn’t have to come out through drugs.”
Creating one of the most recognised and acclaimed covers for one of the greatest pop albums brought Voormann scant reward in the material world. “I got £50, or £40, for it. I would have done it for nothing – and I didn’t feel I was in a position to make it hard for them, by saying, ‘You have to pay me this or that much.’ They [EMI] said £50 is the absolute limit for a record sleeve. That’s what I got. Of course, I could have thought, ‘Well, Brian, if you think that cover is so good, come up [in money].’ Brian just left it to EMI, and EMI paid me £50, or £40.”
Following the success of Revolver and its cover – which won Voormann a Grammy award for artwork in 1966 – the Beatles looked to Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, leading figures of the British pop art movement, for their next cover, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for which the couple were paid £200. Next, the group approached another British pop artist, Richard Hamilton, who came up with the white minimalist cover for the 1968 double album, The Beatles – each one an individual artwork thanks to its unique number embossed on the cover. But for many, Revolver stands out as not only the best Beatles cover, but also one of the great works of 20th-century graphic design.
“What was captured in the Revolver artwork was almost the first revolt against the San Francisco, west coast scene, whose look was all about super, hyper colour,” says Professor Lawrence Zeegen, dean of design at Ravensbourne College, London. “Voormann was brave … he kept things very stark. It fits the sound of the album – this very British version of what was happening with psychedelic music was important to capture visually.”
Copies of Birth of an Icon: Revolver 50 can be bought via www.voormann.com