Friday, October 24, 2008

Focus On ...The Many Faces of John Cafferty

The pictures of John Cafferty online are pretty small (how small was it?!) , so I had to use Michael Pare'. Even in his own post, John Cafferty has to look like Pare'.

In the recent movie Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. said "I'm a dude pretending to be a dude pretending to be another dude." While I sat and watched Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! (he does dammit!) I was reminded of this quote as I watched Michael Pare' lip sync mightily to the Springsteenish growl of John Cafferty. And it made me wonder who is John Cafferty? I've bought his records, I've even seen him live, but I know almost nothing about him. And what's more, I've never bothered to find out anything regarding Cafferty. That's actually part of what I liked about him, Cafferty served up fist pumping heartland rock in an uncomplicated way. You felt grounded and blue collar listening to John Cafferty, but you didn't have to think as hard as when you heard Springsteen. Instead of being The Boss, John Cafferty was the Assistant Manager. But a good one who would slash prices and throw in an extra item to make the sale.

So let's take a look at the man behind the music (please wait one moment while I process your request...) John Cafferty comes from Narragansett, Rhode Island. He had local success in New England before his "big break". That's it, that's all the info I could find. Well, that definitely filled in the blanks. John Cafferty led an E Street style unit, they were known as John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. That may sound like an X rated movie from the 70's but it really was their name. Despite the catchy moniker they were never able to truly stand on their own. Johnny had to rely on others to get his music out to the public. So it goes, John Cafferty - man in the shadows!
Eddie Wilson/Joe West

Between this and Streets of Fire, Michael Pare' had a serious jones for rock and roll musicals. But to me, he'll always be that kid from The Greatest American Hero. Which reminds me, Streets of Fire was a Bruce Springsteen song. The plot thickens!

Cafferty hit the national spotlight in one of the most roundabout ways imaginable. He provided the voice and soundtrack for the film Eddie and the Cruisers (1983). The film starred Michael Pare' as Eddie Wilson, a cross between Jim Morrison's tortured brooding and Springsteen's bar band warrior plus a little Dylan thrown in, trolling through the 60's looking for success. When Eddie got the big stardom using the Dark Side, he recorded his ultimate musical statement Season in Hell and then became embittered by the record company resistance to its lack of commerciality. Mysteriously, Eddie Wilson drove his car off a bridge and disappeared. Initially none of this mattered because the movie bombed at the box office. But the next summer it was heavily featured on the pay channel HBO which spurred the song "On the Dark Side" into the Top 10. "Dark Side" with it's poetic piano, stomping groove, wild sax and angsty heroism put the best features of The Boss behind a movie star face. Cafferty/Pare'/Wilson was born. The soundtrack featured decent bar band rock, rounding up the usual suspects ("Runaround Sue", "Runaway") and a minor hit ballad, Tender Years.

The triple threat returned for the 1989 sequel Eddie II and Cafferty had his "Hungry Heart" intact, handing Pare' some choice rock material like the chanting "Run Through The Fire" and my personal favorite-the straight ahead rock of Pride and Passion. This time out Pare' was Joe West, the flimsy cover Eddie Wilson devised for himself while hiding out. If you ever wondered if that construction worker you saw on the street really was Jim Morrison, your question is answered here. The movie tanked and pay cable couldn't save them this time out, but the movie permanently linked Cafferty to Pare's muscle T shirted visage.

John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band - "On The Dark Side"

Sylvester Stallone

You take that Flavor Flav joke back or you'll get this gun rammed down your throat! Yo!

While Sly never pretended to sing like John Cafferty, he used Cafferty almost as much as his signature band Survivor (must be a Scotti Brothers thing). For his craptacular classic Cobra (1986), Stallone used the group's patriotic anthem Voice of America's Son as the theme song. But if the thought of Stallone throwin' down with baddies in his big sunglasses, hanging toothpick and silver handled guns to get some Bridgette Nielsen isn't enough to evoke John Cafferty fever, the Beaver Browner did one better. For the awe inspiring Rocky IV ("I must break you") Cafferty voiced the ultimate in 80's training montage music - "Hearts On Fire". Now do some sit ups and go climb a hill.

John Cafferty "Heart's On Fire"

The Assistant Manager

Say what you will (or what I will), the man is into his fourth decade of rockin'. He's doing something right.

My personal nickname for JC, The Assistant Manager actually got a little glory for himself in 1985 with the Tough All Over album. Two singles, Tough All Over and "C-I-T-Y" made it into the Top 40. Personally, I liked the Tough All Over tape with it's wanna be Born in the USAisms right down to the shiny steely synths and thumping backbeat. The title song was another favorite and used to get played often on Friday Night Videos. Though the video is nowhere to be found so the best I could do was find someone's home movies set to the tune of that song. And "C-I-T-Y"? It was the "Y-M-C-A" of 80's midrange midwestern rock. When I saw the band open for Foreigner in 1985, the Beaver Brown laid out an energetic set that culminated in the group leading the audience in big hand signals to go with the chorus. Unfortunately, the good times couldn't last and eventually reissues of this album would have Michael Pare' / Eddie Wilson on the cover.

John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band "C-I-T-Y"

So who are you, John Cafferty? I don't think I've found my answer. Maybe he's a talented East coast bar band dude that got lucky. It may not sound like much, but it's more success in the music business than most. Though I poke fun at the guy, the reason I know all this stuff about John Cafferty is because I really do like his music. So here's to you John Cafferty. Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie Lives folks. To make this post complete, a little Eddie and the Cruisers rounds this one off. Skip to about 1:30 into the clip to see Michael go into full Pare' mode jammin' to the sound of Mr. Cafferty. As Peter Griffin would say, Yeah!

Eddie and the Cruisers clip includes "Wild Summer Nights"


Arsenette said...

I.. loved.. Eddie and the Cruisers (even the bad second movie...).. and my Mom has/had a major crush on Michael Paré.. I have the soundtracks (both of them) somewhere on Cassette burried in boxes..

Mr. Mike said...

That's really cool you have both soundtracks, sadly my copies are long gone along with the Tough All Over tape. Both movies are fun, but my favorite of the two is the bad second one which inspired this post. I came across it while channel surfing and could not look away. There's something compelling about a movie that revels in its hackneyed storytelling. As Eddie Wilson would say, it's all about the music!

Mr. Mike said...

Oh, one more note. It looks like someone posted the entire first movie on You Tube, that's where the last clip on the bottom came from.

Arsenette said...

Tempted to see if I can find CD's of the 2 movie soundtracks.. I actually liked those albums :p

Arsenette said...

P.S. The other song that's inspired by Stallone.. I keep thinking of Stallone's Brother Frank singing "Far from Over"..

Not that it's Eddie.. or Sly Stallone.. or even John Cafferty.. but hey.. sounds the same and it's the 1980's :p

Mr. Mike said...

After this post, I went out and downloaded "Tough All Over", "Pride and Passion" and "Tender Years". I was really happy to find the second song because I only had that one on cassingle a long time ago, I think it got stolen with my car in college.

Thanks for the Frank Stallone! Stayin Alive was a powerhouse in itself, Sly Stallone, Frank Stallone, John Travolta, Cynthia Rhodes and that lady from General Hospital. And remember, it's been medically proven that Stayin Alive saves lives.