Greg Hawkes & Eddie Japan Play Cars Classics at Daryl’s House April 29 | Music | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
click to enlarge Greg Hawkes & Eddie Japan Play Cars Classics at Daryl’s House April 29
Photo by Paul McAlpine
Cars’ keyboardist Greg Hawkes in 1982.

"Just What I Needed," "My Best Friend's Girl," "Drive," "Shake It Up"—the Cars created some of the biggest hits of the 1970s and '80s. The band's image was that of cool, serious rockers, so it might be a surprise to some fans to learn that their keyboardist, Greg Hawkes, who'll play Cars classics with Boston band Eddie Japan at Daryl's House on April 29, counts big band prankster Spike Jones as one of his influences and performed musical comedy before joining the nascent new wave icons.

"Oh, I love Spike Jones!" enthuses Hawkes, who toured and recorded with comedian Martin Mull and was briefly half of a Firesign Theatre-esque duo prior to meeting Cars founders Ric Ocasek (guitar, vocals, songwriter) and Benjamin Orr (bass, vocals) when he played on the sole 1972 album by their previous project, the folk-based trio Milkwood. "I guess some sensibility of that comes out on [toy instrument-augmented Cars track] 'I'm in Touch with Your World,' which I played ratchet and Acme siren on."

Hawkes was born in Fulton, Maryland, in 1952 and majored in composition and flute at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He was with a band called Waves and doing studio work when he met Ohio transplants Ocasek and Orr during the Milkwood sessions, which led to his membership in their next project, Richard and the Rabbits. When that outfit disintegrated, he joined Mull's revue and folk rockers Orphan before replacing future Gov't Mule keyboardist Danny Louis (then known as Danny Schliftman) in the newly assembled Cars.

click to enlarge Greg Hawkes & Eddie Japan Play Cars Classics at Daryl’s House April 29
Eddie Japan
The quintet quickly became staples on Boston's budding punk scene, and local radio airplay of their demos got the big labels a-callin'. They signed with Elektra for their 1978 debut The Cars, which sold six million copies; Candy-O came in 1979, bearing the Top 20 "Let's Go," followed by 1980's Panorama ("Touch and Go"), 1981's Shake It Up (the Top 10 title track and "Since You're Gone"), 1984's Heartbeat City ("You Might Think," "Magic," "Drive," "Hello Again"), the 1985 Top 10 single "Tonight She Comes," and 1987's Door to Door ("You Are the Girl"). The band split in 1988, although in 2005 Hawkes and Cars guitarist Elliott Easton put together the touring New Cars with Todd Rundgren and his Utopia bandmates Kasim Sultan and Prairie Prince. In 2010, the Cars started up again, minus Orr, who died in 2000, to record Move Like This in leader Ocasek's hometown of Millbrook. Following their 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and Ocasek's 2019 death, the surviving Cars called it a day.

Hawkes hooked up with Eddie Japan to coproduce the ensemble's 2017 album Golden Age and began playing Cars songs with the seven-piece act soon after. "I was reluctant to do it at first, because I didn't want it to be perceived as a tribute band," says the multi-instrumentalist, who indulges his lighter side by performing and recording solo ukulele versions of Beatles, Tin Pan Alley, Christmas, and, yes, Cars songs. "But the members are great musicians, and it's been really fun. So we've kept it going, just doing a show once in a while. Forty-five years after the first Cars album came out, I'm still amazed that people know the songs—let alone that I'm still playing them."

About The Author

Peter Aaron

Peter Aaron is the arts editor for Chronogram.
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