Eric Carr Related

Art Lindauer (2011)
Guitarist/vocalist discusses working with a pre-KISS Eric Carr in the cover band trio Flasher.

John Henderson (2004)
Musician shares his memories of collaborating with a young Paul Caravellos (Eric Carr) and his memories of Carr's pre-KISS bands

Victor Cohen (2002)
Rhythm guitarist/keyboard player discusses working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen

David Bartky (2002)
Bassist recalls his musical beginnings and collaborating with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen

Robert "Bob" Pryor (2001)
Guitarist discusses his musical influences and working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen

Into the cellar with Victor Cohen...

By Julian Gill

Victor was the rhythm guitarist and keyboard player in Eric Carr's pre-KISS bands, The Cellarmen and Creation. Personally, this interview marked "mission accomplished" for interviewing the surviving members of the band. Thanks to Victor for taking the time to answer this Q&A and sharing his memories of the Cellarmen and Paul Caravello with his fans.

KF: Tell us a little of your background - i.e. where you grew up, your family, etc?
VC: I grew up on Midwood St. in Brooklyn. I lived in the same house from the time I was born until the day I got married. I have an older sister and brother.

KF: What sort of music was in your household growing up? Any performers/players? Or, what type of music?
VC: My father played the harmonica and later the concertina. My first musical memories were from my older brother. He played the guitar. One day he brought home an album from a new artist named Bob Dylan. I listened to that album over and over.

KF: What artist would form your earliest memory of "music"?
VC: Although I listened to rock music from the fifties and early sixties, my first real love of music was folk music. My favorite acts were Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, Harry Belefonte, the Kingston Trio and especially Phil Ochs.

KF: Which artist first grabbed your attention as a "performer"?
VC: When I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I knew I wanted to be in a band. All those screaming girls! Yes, I needed to be in a band.

KF: What groups/artists did you enjoy as you became aware of music as entertainment?
VC: I always loved the Beatles, Motown, the Doors, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana, and almost everything else.

KF: What was the first record you bought?
VC: The first album I ever bought was "Rubber Soul."

KF: You played keyboards and guitar, what led you to choose those instruments?
VC: My parents wanted all their kids to play instruments. My sister and I were given piano lessons as kids. But playing piano wasn't 'cool' in those days so I switched to guitar. I played lots of folk music with several friends from the neighborhood.

KF: Do (did) you play any other instruments?
VC: While in Salt and Pepper, we decided it would be a good idea to have horns in the group. Serita and I bought saxophones and George was supposed to get a trumpet. He never did. But Serita and I played sax on several songs. You can hear them on a few Salt and Pepper recordings, including 'Coordination'. I still have my sax, but mercifully I never play it anymore.

KF: What would you consider your primary instrument?
VC: I only play keyboards now.

KF: What was your first guitar/keyboard, and when and how, did you get it?
VC: My first real guitar was a beautiful powder blue Fender Mustang. I played it with the Cellarmen for the first few years. I sold it when I went full time to keyboards. I wish I still had it. My first keyboard was an Ace-Tone. I then got a fantastic Vox double keyboard with the black and white keys reversed. It was great. I finally got a Hammond organ and Leslie speaker that I used through most of my days playing with Eric. It sounded great but was very heavy to lug around.

KF: Are you self-taught, or did you take lessons for the instruments you play?
VC: I took a few years of piano lessons as a kid, but I am mostly self-taught. Eric had a great ear for music. He could listen to a song and quickly know all the parts. He taught me many of the songs we played. In the early days he would learn songs like 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' or 'Light my Fire' and show me the organ parts, note for note. He couldn't read music, but if I hit a wrong note, he could come over to the organ and show me the correct one. That is why he was able to play so many instruments and sing so well. To this day Eric's dad thinks 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' was one of the Cellarmen's best songs.

KF: How did you get into playing music, rather than just enjoying listening to it?
VC: I always enjoyed playing music. To this day I prefer jamming to listening, and prefer playing live to recording.

KF: From first becoming active in bands, what was the sort of timeframe prior to joining the Cellarmen?
VC: I started playing with Dave in the fall of 1965 and we got together with Eric and Bob as the Cellarmen in the spring of 1966.

KF: Did you ever "gig" in band's prior to the Cellarmen? If so, what do you recall of your first live performance?
VC: Each of us had played a few shows with friends, but none of us played in any real bands until the Cellarmen.

KF: You knew David Bartky prior to the Cellarmen. From David's comments it would seem you were in a band with him prior to the Cellarmen. What do you recall of meeting David, and the band you were both in prior to the Cellarmen? Was this "band" just the two of you practicing or rehearsing, or were there other members?
VC: I met David in high school and he told me he was forming a band with his friend Roger who played lead guitar. They were called the Invaders (I still like that name). I went to Dave's house with my guitar and we jammed together. Dave had a real knack for the bass, even at that early age, and had a good ear for harmony. The first two songs Dave and I ever played together were 'A Well Respected Man' by the Kinks and 'Travelin' Light' by Herman's Hermits. We sounded really good together and I was very excited about being in a real band. But Roger never rehearsed with us and it became obvious that we needed to find other players.

KF: You and David saw Eric's ad at Lee's music Store. What do you recall of the events leading to the rehearsal/audition with Eric?
VC: When it became obvious that the Invaders were just me and Dave, we needed to find other players. We went to the music store and found Eric's ad. We called him up and we knew it was a good match. We were the same age and liked the same music. The next weekend my dad drove us to Eric's house, none of us were old enough to drive.

KF: What do you recall of your first encounter with Eric?
VC: I was knocked out. He had long hair (for the time) and had a great voice. This was the first time I had ever played with a drummer. It made a big difference. We knew right away that we would work together. Eric already had 'The Cellarmen' on his bass drum from his prior short-lived band, so that became our name. Eric's mom made us a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs and we set out to find a lead guitarist.

KF: Did you have any lasting first impression about him?
VC: His voice. I couldn't believe how good he sounded.

KF: Initially the Cellarmen were you, Eric, and David, with Bob joining shortly after. Did you all plan to add a lead guitarist, or how did you initially envisage the band to be structured?
VC: The band was modeled after the Beatles and we definitely needed a lead guitarist. Dave knew Bob from school. Within a few weeks of meeting Eric, the band was complete. Bob added a new dimension to the group. He liked 'surf music' and had an excellent voice. He had fast fingers and could make the guitar sing.

KF: Was Bob's addition on lead a reason for you switching to keyboards? How/when did you come to transition to that instrument?
VC: At first I played rhythm guitar. We were a cover band and many good songs of the time, including many Beatle songs, had keyboards. Keyboards are a much more versatile instrument and add more to a band than rhythm guitar. I bought an organ and gradually made the switch. I was a better keyboard player than guitarist and within a year or so, dropped playing the guitar.

KF: What do you recall of the first Cellarmen gig in August 1966?
VC: It's interesting; each of us has a different recollection of what our first gig was. We would play anywhere, anytime. We also became very popular so it's hard to remember which job came first. My recollection of our first job was at the East New York 'Y'. We played outside, in the afternoon for some teen camp event. Eric's mom made us matching vests and Eric wore sunglasses. He was quite cool.

KF: Describe the Cellarmen's best gig? Where/how/what/why? I guess this means most memorable!
VC: It's hard to say. I always liked playing in clubs. We worked every weekend. There were nights when there were hundreds of teenagers dancing and cheering. I loved it. We played one weekend in a club called the Bay-A-Go Go, in Brooklyn. It was a pretty big deal since we got our names in the paper and I think on the radio. The week before, the Vagrants, with guitarist Leslie West, played there.

KF: Do you recall any disastrous Cellarmen gigs?
VC: Never.

KF: While the Cellarmen primarily played covers, did you have any favorite material which you played?
VC: I always liked the songs with keyboard parts. Unlike the others in the band, I liked lighter music. I even liked 'The Archies', go figure. We ended every set with a short version of '96 Tears' by '? and the Mysterians'. It was our theme song, we must have played it 96 million times. I think Eric hated that song.

KF: What do you recall of the sessions for the recording of "I Cry At Night" and "Your Turn To Cry"?
VC: The Cellarmen were mostly a performance band. All of the recording we did were secondary. That's why we really don't remember much about them. My recollection is that we were together for less than a year when Eric showed us these two songs and asked us to learn them. We did, a shortly thereafter, Eric's dad drove us to a recording studio in someone's basement to record them. I think we were only there for about an hour and a few weeks later, we each had a copy of the record. I think it was around 1967, since I was still playing guitar and none of us were driving yet.

KF: Would you care to rate, or offer an opinion on, those songs?
VC: I always liked "I Cry at Night" better than "Your Turn to Cry". As I look back, I believe that "I Cry at Night" could have been a hit. It was as good as many songs of that time. We just had no clue how to pursue this. If we were smart enough to get professional management or a record label behind us, I think we would be on "Where Are They Now, One Hit Wonders" today.

KF: Can you correct the timeframe for the three known Cellarmen recording sessions? When were "I Cry At Night"/"Your Turn To Cry", "Then I Made A Wish"/"I Found You", and Chrystal Collins' "No Matter How You Try"/"When You Grow Tired" recorded?
VC: I guess they were all recorded in 1967 and 1968.

KF: You recorded "Then I Made A Wish"/"I Found You (The One I Adore)" written by Bob Dorsey and Harry Simon at Vincent Vallis' Jodi Recording Studio. With Vincent and Henry De Meo producing, and Henry adding the trumpet on one of the songs, what do you recall of this session and how it came about?
VC: You know more about this recording than I do! I think this was put together by Eric's father. We just learned the songs and recorded them. We never performed them afterwards. When the record came out it was under the name "Paul Caravello and the Cellarmen". This was news to the rest of us. They were very forgettable songs.

KF: What do you recall of the Chrystal Collins session and how that came about? Was that another Jody Records connection?
VC: I've read that Chrystal Collins was a friend of the group. Not true. As I recall, she was with Jodi Records and needed a back-up band and we were hired to do the session. We never saw her again.

KF: Why did the Cellarmen break up? Do you recall anything of the last Cellarmen gig?
VC: My recollection is that we were playing at a bar called 'Buckley's' on Church Ave. in Brooklyn. Someone in the crowd was interested in hiring us and asked us who the leader of the band was. Someone (probably me) said that we didn't have a leader and gave them one of our cards. At our next rehearsal Eric was very upset that we didn't consider him the leader and quit the band! I think we played a few more gigs that were already booked, but there was a lot of silence between us.

KF: The Cellarmen recorded an unaired segment for Joe Franklin's "Memory Lane" Television show. How was that set up, what do you recall of the event, and do you recall why it didn't air?
VC: We never recorded a segment for the Joe Franklin Show. (I think that show was a live show anyway.) We did, however, record a pilot for a local rock show. I forgot the name, but it was an 'American Bandstand' rip-off, that was going to feature local groups. We played 'Touch Me' by the Doors. When it was over, the host came over to talk to us. We had no idea he was going to do this and we basically froze and had nothing to say. The show never made it to TV.

KF: From most of the interview material, Eric is described as the "leader" of the Cellarmen. From your perspective, how was the band structured? How did you guys interact, was it equitable?
VC: From the beginning, I always thought we were equal partners. We always shared all money equally, and had an equal vote in deciding which songs to play. But, looking back, it was Eric that was the driving force in the band. He was a more serious musician than the rest of us. He always had the ambition to succeed and was willing to put in the hours to perfect his musical skills.

KF: When did the Cellarmen break-up and what happened next?
VC: The Cellarmen broke up in late 1968. Dave, Bob and I were confident that we could go on without Eric and added Marty as our new drummer and Gary as our new lead singer. This band was called 'Smack.'

KF: After the Cellarmen broke up Eric played in a garage band called "Things That Go Bump In The Night". Did you have any involvement in that, and if so (or even not if you know anything about the band), what you recall of the band?
VC: While Dave, Bob and I were rehearsing with Smack, Eric started this new band on his own, with all new players. One of their first gigs was at the 'Colonial House' where the Cellarmen had been the house band. I went to see them there, I think Bob and Dave came with me. Maybe it was jealousy, but I didn't think they were that good. Eric was clearly the best one in the band. Shortly, thereafter, they broke up.

KF: You, Dave and Bob continued as Smack, which included Gary and Marty. What do you recall of hooking up with those guys?
VC: We knew Marty form the neighborhood. He had seen the Cellarmen play and was a great drummer. We had played in a battle of the bands and saw Gary with his prior band. I saved their card and called him. He had (and still has) a fantastic voice.

KF: About how long did Smack last before Marty quit and Eric rejoined you for the summer?
VC: Smack started playing in early 1969. We played many of the same clubs in Westchester as the Cellarmen did. We became the house band at a club called the 'Willow Inn' in Armonk, N.Y. In the spring of 1969, Marty announced that he wanted to go to work in a camp for the summer. Strange choice. The owner of the club didn't want us to leave, so we asked Eric to play with us through the summer. His band had already broken up and he rejoined us. Smack was a really great band, especially when Eric came back. Our selection of songs was better and we now had two great lead singers. We all had a blast that summer of '69. It was a remarkable time and we were on top of the world.

KF: Describe Smack's best gig? Where/how/what/why? I guess this means most memorable!
VC: We played mostly at the 'Willow Inn' we knew most of the crowd by name. They were coming to see us. The place was always packed and we felt like rock stars. We partied every night and got paid to do it.

KF: How much effort did it take to get Eric to join Smack for the summer?
VC: We asked and he said yes. We were all still friends.

KF: Describe the events surrounding the demise of Smack?
VC: I'm not sure why, but when Eric rejoined us, we all agreed that at the end of the summer, we would all go our separate ways.

KF: Do you keep in touch with the remaining members of the Cellarmen and Smack?
VC: This past summer, the original members of Smack, Dave, Bob, Marty, Gary and myself, got together at my house for a jam session. Bob flew up from Texas just for the occasion. We had a great time reminiscing and playing the old songs. It actually sounded pretty good.

KF: You continued to play in bands with Eric in the form of Salt and Pepper. How did you both end up in that band with John Henderson - did you go for it separately or together? VC: Was Salt and Pepper established at the time you and Eric joined? What do you recall of auditioning for that band?
When Smack broke up, I was looking for a new band. We had been using an agent named Kevin Brenner from Creative Talents. He told me that another one of his bands named Salt and Pepper had just broken up and was looking for new players, including a keyboard player. I called John, who was the leader of the band and auditioned. Three members of the band were staying, John, his wife Serita, and Bart. They already had a new lead singer, George Chase. When I auditioned, they had a drummer, but he was not staying. I got the job, and John asked me if I knew any drummers. I called Eric and he joined the band a week later.

KF: Who else was in Salt and Pepper, and were there any lineup changes while the band went under that moniker?
VC: The band consisted of John on lead guitar and lead vocals, Serita on lead vocals, George on lead vocals, Bart on bass, Eric on drums, and me on keyboards. Eric and Bart also sang. They wouldn't let me get near a microphone. We played with this same line-up for three years, from early 1970 to August 1973.

KF: What do you recall of your first gig with Salt and Pepper?
VC: Even though Kevin Brenner helped put the band together, and knew all of us, he made us audition for his agency at a club named the 'Fore 'n Aft'. We blew the place away. I had rehearsed with these guys, but I had never seen them live. I was blown away also. John, Serita and George were not only great singers, they were also great dancers and knew instinctively how to get a crowd going. Eric and I learned a great deal from them about showmanship and professionalism.

KF: Salt and Pepper did some recordings, what do you recall of any sessions?
VC: John wrote several songs and we recorded them and a few cover songs. Bart had some connection with a studio in White Plains. We did these recordings independently, with the hope of landing a recording contract. Eric sang background on some of these songs, but sang part of the lead vocal on 'Down by the River'. Eric was a Neil Young fan.

KF: Salt and Pepper opened for the likes of Nina Simone and Labelle (featuring Patti LaBelle) at the Academy of Music (later called the Palladium). Did you play any other notable gigs and what were the live highpoints for you in the band?
VC: We opened for Stevie Wonder at Brooklyn College. I also remember playing at a fashion show in Manhattan where we met Walt "Clyde" Frasier of the Knicks and a few other famous people. I was impressed. We did a show with the cast of the Broadway show 'HAIR' and backed up several of the cast members. But most of our gigs were in clubs and bars. We worked at least two or three nights every week.

KF: Salt and Pepper eventually started going by the name Creation. You didn't quit the band until August 1973, do you recall when the band started using that name and why?
VC: At some point, John told us that we were changing the name of the group to Creation. I read later that the reason was that there was another band using the name Salt and Pepper. That makes sense, but I don't remember it. But we had a big following in clubs in upstate NY and the club owners didn't want to advertise the name Creation. They insisted on keeping the name Salt and Pepper so our fans would show up. We worked under both names for a while.

KF: Creation did some recording of material such as "Stranger". Were you involved in these sessions, and what do you recall of any recording Creation did?
VC: Yes, the 'Stranger' was part of the recordings I mentioned above. If I recall correctly, these were done shortly before I left the band.

KF: What led you to depart Creation? Did you stay active in the music business, or where did your path take you?
VC: I played in bands steadily from the time I was 15 until I was 22. With the exception of the first few months of Smack, Eric and I were band-mates for the entire time. In 1973 my wife and I were expecting our first child. I decided to change direction and go to law school. I have been practicing law for 26 years now and have no regrets. I still play in bands from time to time and still enjoy playing in bars and clubs occasionally.

KF: Describe Creation's best gig? Where/how/what/why? I guess this means most memorable!
VC: I remember playing on New Year's eve in a club in upstate NY. We packed the house and the crowd was wild. We ended one set with 'Higher' by Sly and the Family Stone. The entire place shook. I just remember that moment. I felt on top of the world.

KF: Any disastrous shows with either Salt and Pepper or Creation?
VC: Never.

KF: The focus of both bands seems to have been on John and Serita Henderson. What do you recall of them as people and musicians? Were they, and the other members of the band, fun to work with and musically driven?
VC: Serita was an excellent singer and a beautiful woman. She sang lead on a few songs, including a great rendition of 'Chain of Fools' by Aretha Franklin, but mostly sang harmony. She was married to John and worked throughout her pregnancy with their daughter. It was quite a sight to see her on stage singing while she was eight months pregnant! John was an extremely talented musician and one of the best singers I ever heard. He had (and still has) a voice like Smokey Robinson.

If anyone in Creation was going to be a star, I would have predicted it would have been John, not Eric. George was the third singer. He had a wonderful R&B voice. When he sang 'Me and Mrs. Jones', he brought down the house. The three of them had beautiful harmonies and great stage presence. They were the heart and soul of Creation. Eric, Bart and I were the backbone. Playing with these people was an honor for me and one of the most fun experiences of my life. Although Eric went on to bigger things, I know he felt the same way I did about Salt and Pepper/Creation.

KF: While you weren't a member of the band at the time, what do you recall of the events surrounding the Gulliver's fire in 1974? Did you and Eric ever discuss that incident, and how well did he cope with the situation?
VC: When I left the band, I was replaced by a young keyboard player named Damon. He was a lot more talented than me. The band didn't miss a beat and continued to work steadily. In June of 1974 I heard about the terrible fire on the news. They didn't mention the name of the band that was playing, but I called Eric just to touch base. He was frantic. He told me they had been playing at Gulliver's and that Damon and George were missing. He had spent the night going from hospital to hospital looking for them. He didn't mention that he had pulled Serita out of the club that night and was considered a hero. Of course, it was later confirmed that George and Damon had died in the fire. Many years later, I had a jam session at my house. Many of the old band members attended. At one point, Eric, Bart and John just stood together and discussed the night of the fire. The rest of us just walked away. It was obviously an emotional time for them.

KF: Did you ever see a "Mother Nature/Father Time" (MN/FT) or "MN/FT as Bionic Boogie" rehearsal/gig?
VC: No, I was too busy studying and having kids.

KF: Did you ever hear the "Lightning" (1979) album Eric recorded with members of MN/FT? Do you recall any excitement as the album was released, and did Eric ever comment about it, and getting signed to Casablanca?
VC: No.

KF: Do you keep in touch with the members of Salt and Pepper/Creation?
VC: I am friendly with Bart and have kept in touch with John, who is now a record producer and manages several bands. I haven't spoken to Serita in quite a while, but would like to do so.

KF: What was your reaction when you found out that Paul Caravello had become Eric Carr in KISS?
VC: I was living in Texas and got a call from Dave. He swore me to secrecy and told me about Eric and KISS. I was shocked! I ran out and bought up several 'Teen Beat' type magazines with KISS photos.

KF: How often did you see Eric in the years following your departure from Creation?
VC: I really didn't see Eric for the first few years. I moved away and we went in different directions. I stayed close with David and Maria, and kept tabs on Eric through them. When I moved back to the New York area, we got together about once a year or so. I'm sorry we didn't get together more often.

KF: You only saw Eric perform once in KISS. What, if anything had you known about the band prior to finding out that he had become the band's drummer, and what were your impressions of the show?
VC: I was never a big KISS fan before Eric joined the group. (I don't think Eric was either.) After he joined, I became a big fan. I went to see them at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. I brought my kids who were about 11 and 12. I thought the band was great. I couldn't believe how much Eric had grown as a performer. He was always a great drummer, but he had become a great showman too.

KF: You stated in an interview with Byron Fogle, concerning Eric's illness, "He had already been replaced in KISS with Eric Singer". This was at a barbeque in early September 1991. How did you know that Eric had been replaced with Eric Singer and how was his mood about his musical prospects?
VC: Eric came to my house on Labor Day weekend 1991. It was just my family, Eric, David, Maria and their daughter. We had a very nice day together, but everyone was nervous about Eric's health. He looked weak, but was in remission as far as we knew. He told me that he had been replaced in KISS. He really didn't want to talk about it. I got the feeling that he was planning on returning to KISS when he got better. We spent the day just reminiscing about the old bands and eating hot dogs. I remember saying good-bye to him in my driveway. It was the last time I saw him. We had made plans to get together in a week of so. I left him a phone message a few days later, but he never returned my call. I found out later that he was back in the hospital. He died two month's later.

KF: You had some interaction with Eric while he was sick. While it was a tough time for all those involved, if you wouldn't mind commenting, is there anything particular that sticks in your mind of Eric during that time?
VC: I didn't visit Eric in the hospital. I wish I did. I just felt funny. I spoke to his family to get updates on his condition. It was such a sad time for everyone. I realize now how young he was when he died.

KF: I understand you participated in a memorial concert for Eric. Tell me about it.
VC: I saw a website about a memorial concert to be held in honor of Eric. It was put on by the members of a band called 'Shadows Edge'. I contacted them and asked if I could participate. They agreed. The concert was held at the Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. on November 24, 2001, the tenth anniversary of Eric's death. Other performers that night included the bands 'Carrisma' 'LiveSay', a band called 'Smack' (believe it or not), Eddie Ojeda from 'Twisted Sister' and a fantastic KISS tribute band called KISSNATION. I tried to get the other members of Eric's early bands to participate, but for various reasons, they could not. I decided to perform the Cellarmen songs 'I Cry at Night' and 'Your Turn to Cry' as a tribute to my old friend. Shadows Edge backed me up. The audience was very gracious. It felt great.

KF: Final words - your space! Is there anything you would like to address to Eric Carr's fans, and also those who've enjoyed the music of The Cellarmen?
VC: Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of meeting many Eric Carr fans. Some were only kids when he died. He would have been so proud to be remembered by so many. I know you've heard this before, but it's true. Eric always appreciated his fans and never got an inflated ego about his success. He was just a very talented musician who was lucky enough to fulfill his dreams. Eric's success always made me feel special. I miss him very much.

October 2002

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