Benjamin Orr was an American singer and bassist, who was one of the co-founders of the rock band ‘The Cars’. He was originally from Ohio and started pursuing music quite early in his life. Known in his neighbourhood as "Benny 11 Letters", Benjamin could play a variety of instruments, including the drums, guitar, bass guitar, and keyboards. In 1964, he became a member of a band named Grasshoppers and wrote one of their singles, ‘Pink Champagne (and Red Roses)’. In the 1960s, he became acquainted with the future frontman of The Cars, Ric Ocasek. The group was formed in 1976 in Boston, Massachusetts, with Ocasek as the leading and backing vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and songwriter; Orr as the bassist and backing and leading vocalist; Elliot Easton as the lead guitarist; Greg Hawkes as the keyboardist; and David Robinson as the drummer. During Orr’s time with the group, they released six studio albums. He and Ocasek were also part of the folk band ‘Milkwood’ with guitarist James Goodkind for a brief period. After ‘The Cars’ split up in 1988, Orr sought to establish himself as a solo artist. He passed away in 2000 at age 53.
Childhood & Early Life
Benjamin Orr was born on September 8, 1947, in Lakewood, Ohio, to Charles and Betty Orzechowski. His family was of Polish, Russian, Czechoslovakian and German ancestry.
Encouraged by his parents, Benjamin quickly developed into a musical prodigy. He learned to play the guitar, bass guitar, drums, and keyboards. In his locality, he became known as "Benny 11 Letters" due to his surname.
Benjamin spent part of his childhood in Lakewood before relocating to Parma, Ohio. He was a student at Valley Forge High School. In 1964, he became the lead singer and guitarist of a local group named Grassroots. They put out two singles through Sunburst label in 1965: 'Mod Socks' and 'Pink Champagne (and Red Roses)'. The second one was penned by Benjamin. In 1966, Grassroots split up.
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At the advent of the Vietnam War, two of his bandmates were drafted into the US Army, resulting in the dissolution of Grassroots. Sometime later, Benjamin Orr also received his papers but got a deferment after spending a year and a half in the army.
He and Ric Ocasek met in the 1960s in Cleveland. A few years later, Orr relocated to Columbus, Ohio, and the two friends began a musical collaboration that persisted through for two decades.
In the early 1970s, they moved to Boston where they formed the folk band ‘Milkwood’ with guitarist James Goodkind. Milkwood’s only album, ‘How’s the Weather’, was released in 1973 through Paramount Records. However, it did not garner much response from the listeners.
Still remaining in Boston, Orr and Ocasek continued to search for ways to become musically relevant. They set up the group ‘Richard and the Rabbits’ with keyboardist Greg Hawkes and later established ‘Cap’n Swing’ with guitarist Elliot Easton. After the latter failed as well, the three of them came together with Hawkes and drummer David Robinson to form ‘The Cars’ in 1976.
Their debut self-titled album was released in 1978 through Elektra Records. Comprised of nine tracks, it reached the 18th spot on the US Billboard 200 chart. In December 1978, it received the Platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America or RIAA.
In the ensuing years, ‘The Cars’ released ‘Candy-O’ (1979), ‘Panorama’ (1980), ‘Shake It Up’ (1981), ‘Heartbeat City’ (1984), and ‘Door to Door’ (1987) before parting ways in 1988.
In 1986, Benjamin Orr released the only solo album of his career, ‘The Lace’, through Elektra. Produced by Mike Shipley, Orr, Diane Grey-Page, and Larry Klein, it contains his only solo hit, the track ‘Stay the Night’.
Between 1998 and 2000, he was part of three groups, his own band ‘ORR’ and the sidebands ‘Voices of Classic Rock’ and ‘Big People’.
The Cars’ second album, ‘Candy-O’, was put out in 1979 through Elektra. Its cover art was created by artist Alberto Vargas. The album garnered positive responses from critics and fans alike and reached the third spot on the US Billboard 200 chart. As of December 2001, it had been certified 4xPlatinum by the RIAA
Family & Personal Life
Benjamin Orr was once married to his childhood sweetheart, Kristina, but they parted ways in 1981.
He was reportedly engaged to Diane Grey-Page from the mid to late 1980s. Thereafter, he was briefly married to Hollywood makeup artist Judith Silverman. He was in a relationship with Edita Hartig and had a son named Ben with her.
At the time of his death in 2000, Orr was engaged to a woman named Julie Snider.
In April 2000, Benjamin Orr was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was subsequently hospitalized. Despite this, he kept on performing with Big People, making appearances in summer music festivals and state fairs. He also performed with The Cars one last time in Atlanta, Georgia.
Benjamin Orr died on October 4, 2000, in Atlanta. He is interred at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Thompson, Ohio.