The Raspberries (often known as just Raspberries) are an American power pop band from Cleveland, Ohio. They had a run of huge success in the early 70s music scene with their strident pop sound, which Allmusic later described as featuring "exquisitely crafted melodies and achingly gorgeous harmonies". Best known for their arena rock hit "Go All the Way", a track banned by the BBC due to its aggressively sexual lyrics, the group drew strong influence from the Beach Boys, the British Invasion era (The Beatles, The Who, The Hollies, and Small Faces), and the mod subculture. The members were also known for their clean-cut public image, with short-hair and matching suits, which brought them teenybopper attention as well as scorn from some media outlets as "uncool". In both the U.S. and the U.K., the group helped pioneer the power pop music style that took off after the group disbanded.
Though the band has achieved only cult success over the years, they have a loyal fan base and also a following among professional musicians such as Jack Bruce, Ringo Starr, Bruce Springsteen, and others. The group's "classic" lineup consisted of Eric Carmen (vocalist/guitarist/bassist), Wally Bryson (guitarist), Jim Bonfanti (drummer), and Dave Smalley (guitarist/bassist). Their best known songs include the aforementioned "Go All the Way" as well as "Let's Pretend", "I Wanna Be with You", "Tonight", and "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)". Seminal producer Jimmy Ienner was responsible for all four of the Raspberries' albums in the 70s.
The group broke up in 1975 after a five-year run, and Eric Carmen proceeded to a successful career as a solo artist. Bryson and Smalley resurrected the group's name in 1999 for another album, which featured indie rock artist Scott McCarl as the vocalist. In 2004, the original four-man lineup reunited and soon undertook a well-received reunion tour. Their music additionally experienced a resurgence of interest after its inclusion in the popular 2014 film 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and its related soundtrack.
The group's history begins in early 1970 as a partnership between singer-songwriter Eric Carmen and drummer Jim Bonfanti, local pop/rock 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 of that year. 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. Yet, 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. With the addition of rhythm guitarist Dave Smalley, Carmen assumed bass duties.
The Raspberries' demo tape ultimately found its way to producer Jimmy Ienner, a figure interested in a 'wall of sound' approach akin to Phil Spector, and, in the wake of a major-label bidding war, the band signed to Capitol. The group released their their self-titled debut LP (complete with a raspberry-scented scratch-and-sniff cover sticker) in the spring of 1972. Their debut single, called "Don't Want to Say Goodbye", stalled, but the follow-up, called "Go All the Way", a well-received fusion of a The Who-inspired guitar snarl and The Beach Boys-styled vocal harmonies, went on to sell over a million copies on its way to cracking the Top Five. Although some censors felt horrified due to the tune's sexual content, leading to an ban by the BBC, the group preformed the song live on several programs. Carmen and Smalley swapped guitar and bass chores prior to recording the Raspberries' sophomore effort, 1972's 'Fresh'.
That album brought the group additional critical acclaim and praise from their fellow musicians. The record generated two more hits, rocker "I Wanna Be with You" and the smooth ballad "Let's Pretend", solidified the band's stature as local rock heroes. 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, both genuinely talented as well— were beginning to boil over. Thus, 1973's 'Side 3' boasted a more raw, aggressive sound than its predecessors, typified by the visceral crunch of the opening "Tonight", and showed a group in flux.
'Side 3' failed even to crack the Top 100, however, and appeared rather out of place compared to the squeaky-clean, laid-back commercial music of the time. Following a triumphant Carnegie Hall date, both Smalley and Bonfanti exited the Raspberries to form their own band, which they soon titled "Dynamite". They were replaced by bassist Scott McCarl and ex-Cyrus Erie drummer Michael McBride. Still determined, 1974's acclaimed 'Starting Over' continued the harder-edged approach of 'Side 3', yielding the band's final chart smash, the much praised "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)". A nasty post-gig confrontation between Carmen and Bryson soon resulted in the latter's departure from the group. 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, before scoring a major hit in 1987 with his 'Dirty Dancing' soundtrack contribution. The tune, called "Hungry Eyes", has remained popular for years since then. Re-inspired musically, Carmen's "Make Me Lose Control" additionally reached the number three spot a year later. Bryson, meanwhile, resurfaced in a short-lived band— named Tattoo— before joining the power pop group Fotomaker for three albums during the late 70s. Despite their skill and bursts of critical praise, the other ex-Raspberries besides Carmen found mainstream success elusive.
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' name as a trio— issuing the album 'Refreshed' in 2000. That release picked up some praise from music journalists but went nowhere commercially.
As stacks of the popular book 'Eric Carmen: Marathon Man' was rolling off the presses, the dream that Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti would ever find themselves in a room together again, let alone reunite to perform, was labeled by many fans as likely as the Titanic rising from its ocean depths. Nonetheless, the band made an announcement in the mid-2000s along the lines of: "Ladies and gentlemen, I present for you the Titanic arisen." Raspberries guitarist Wally Bryson was overheard quipping, "If not now, then when?" (said via phone with Raspberries lead singer Eric Carmen on an evening in July 2004).
Drummer Jim Bonfanti was already on board, and bassist Dave Smalley joined onto the project shortly thereafter. The rest, as they say, is history. The original band members rehearsed in a rented space just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. They quickly re-learned all of their biggest hits and reacquainted themselves with their chops. For all four musicians, it was like time had stood still. They were back together again— for real this time— and had plenty of fans interested in future touring.
Raspberries first considered a reunion four years before then, but Carmen has remarked that the offer from promoters would not have allowed the band to put on a show with the production values it felt its fans deserved. "My caveat has always been that there's a mythology about the band, and I don't want to burst that bubble. If we couldn't put on a good concert, I didn't want to do it," he stated. After playing House of Blues clubs with Ringo Starr in 2001, Carmen loved the venues' vibe had had some inspiration. So, the House of Blues in Cleveland appeared to be the ideal place to play at.
"It's kind of fun to look around after all these years and see these people, who were my fellow musicians and my friends, working together again. And it sounds like us," Smalley stated. "Our fans have just not given up," Wally commented, "I've said it wouldn't happen, but they've been so persistent and loyal. I think we all kind of got the same feeling: 'Let's go and do this before we're freaking 95.'"
"The intention initially was just to play one show," Eric remarked. However, "s we started rehearsing, a number of very interesting things happened— not the least of which was, we sold this first show out in four minutes. It totally knocked the House of Blues for a loop." The band's long-awaited live reunion, bringing them across the nation, ended up being featured in a 2007 album titled 'Live On Sunset Strip' (also known as 'The Raspberries: Live on Sunset Strip'). The release earned praise from critics such as Allmusic's Bruce Eder, who stated that "these guys can still sing their hearts out and play their asses off ".