The Remains, BU, and The Rat

Bill Briggs is the keyboard player for the Remains.

The stage was really slippery. It was a hastily constructed affair held up by beer crates! We got free beer and I used to bring a pitcher on stage with me, which I, of course, spilled all over the place. One time when I went to sit down on my chair I lost my footing and slid right under the piano! The place I’m talking about here is “The Rat,” although it was known at that time by its original name “The Rathskeller.” The place was FUNKY! It looked like a dungeon, dark, dank and musty. Nobody cared. It was a perfect place for Rock and Roll. No rules. No “Can you guys turn it down please?” And apparently (ahem) no requirements for admission except to pay the one dollar cover charge. The perfect place for a bunch of college kids to get blasted by the music and, of course, to just get blasted in general!

The thing about “The Rat” in 1964 was that all the other bands around town played there too. Some of them were The Lost, The Love Lace Lads and The Jay Baron 5. I remember sitting in the audience with The Lost and a bunch of other friends watching Jay Baron and thinking “This is perfect!” Just everybody having a good time and digging the music.

The Remains formed at Boston University in 1964. Barry Tashian (guitar, vocals), Vern Miller (bass) and Chip Damiani (drums) had met the previous year and had been playing a few gigs as a trio. I knew Barry because we both grew up in Westport Connecticut. Barry had his band “The Schemers,” and I was playing with Mike Haydn, later to gain fame as “The Guitar Player On The Beach” in Jaws. One time Barry came over to Mike’s and jammed with us and I was knocked out by his guitar playing! Barry left for B.U. in 1963 and I followed in 1964. I did drive up to Boston when I was still in High School and checked out the scene, playing a gig with the guys at Nichols College. This pretty much cemented my decision to go to B.U.

Barry went busking around Europe the summer of 1963 and came back with a whole new outlook on music. (You can listen to Barry’s interview about that on this site.) When he got back to Connecticut he needed a place to stay for a few weeks while his parents were out of town, so…I invited him to stay at my house. He told me about his vision for a band and played me a couple of records. I, in turn, played him a couple of songs I had been writing, one of which was “Say You’re Sorry,” which appeared on the first Remains album.

When I came up to B.U. in the fall we immediately starting jamming in the basement of Myles Standish Hall, my dorm in Kenmore Square. Barry and the guys had already played at The Rat a few times, but the place proved to be too small so they moved it downstairs into the basement. Things took off from there. Don Law (no introduction needed) was also from Westport, CT and knew Barry. He had been following us from the beginning, even coming down to The Rathskeller to hear us play a few times. Don was instrumental in hooking us up with H T Productions, a prominent booking agency in Boston run by Fred Taylor and John Sdoucas along with his wife Lee Sdoucas, and then introducing us to Epic (Columbia) Records with whom we signed soon after. After joining up with H T Productions we started working a lot at all the colleges and dances around New England such as Ruth Clemens “Where It’s At” and “The Banjo Room” over in Somerville.

In 1965 we started playing at Trudy Heller’s night club in New York City. One night who should walk in but Ed Sullivan. I guess he liked what he heard because he signed us to play his Christmas show (December 26th, 1965). I couldn’t believe how many acts he managed to have on in one show! There were 10 acts including us, all in the allotted one hour time slot. Some of the performers seemed a little mean (Jack Carter, a famous comedian was, like “Don’t bother me, kid.”) Now I see that he didn’t want to be distracted. He had a long segment on the show and he pulled it off perfectly! We got a taste of what it was like not to be in control of your own destiny. They made us put our amps OFFSTAGE and they only reference we had was one little monitor speaker center stage. It was basically like playing acoustically! We thought it wasn’t very good and we were kind of disappointed with our performance. But looking back on it and being a little bit more savvy about things like this, we realized…It Rocked! We rocked out on The Ed Sullivan Show! What could be better than that!

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