For a shimmering moment in the fall of September '83, John Cafferty was bigger than the Boss. Everyone called the kid from Rhode Island a Bruce Springsteen disciple, but as the titular voice of cultish rock flick Eddie and the Cruisers, the leader of the Beaver Brown Band was hotter than his N.J. hero.
The song was called On the Dark Side, a gritty, blue-collar anthem delivered in that whiskey-and-gravel delivery. "Next thing you knew," says Cafferty, "it was top of the charts."
When Cafferty comes to town Saturday with the All Star Rock Tour — a '70s-'80s mishmash featuring Orleans, John Ford Coley and Deep Purple's Joe Lynn Turner — he'll bust out On the Dark Side. But he'll also nod to a career that was bolder than you remember. Rocky IV, anyone? In a glory-days interview with Stuck in the '80s, Cafferty talked Eddie, Sly and beat-up VW bugs.
We're loving the All Star Rock Tour. Ever bump Joe Lynn Turner out of the way and sing Smoke on the Water?
There's no bumping Joe Lynn Turner outta the way! He's a force of nature. He's the most rock 'n' roll guy I've ever met.
The Beaver Brown Band started in '72, more than a decade before you hit. What were the early days like?
We were just kids when we started. We were in college. We needed summer jobs. I was going to be a lifeguard at the beach. When we started, there were no lofty goals. We just wanted to play at the bars at the beach.
Then, in '83, things went crazy with Eddie and the Cruisers.
There's an old saying that you gotta be great every night because you never know who's going to be in the audience. Right about that time, in 1980 or '81, we were playing in Greenwich Village, and a guy named Kenny Vance (a movie sound track producer) was walking down Bleecker Street and heard the music coming out of the Bitter End. … We never knew he was there. He called us up about two years later: "I just read a movie script and I think you guys might have the music I need."
Did On the Dark Side exist before the movie?
It wasn't called On the Dark Side. I had a couple songs that Kenny liked. I read the script, and it said the song started out with a classical piano piece and goes into classic rock chords. I just put two and two together.
How did you hook up with Stallone for Rocky IV?
The guy who directed Eddie and the Cruisers, Marty Davidson, liked to get unknown talents and make gritty films. One that he made was Lords of Flatbush. It had Stallone in it. So Sly was aware of us and liked our story.
And that lead to the recording of Hearts on Fire.
I was home for a week and my wife's car got stolen. She had a '57 Volkswagen bug. … I get a call that afternoon that Sly Stallone wants me to come down to the studio.
So you had to get a loaner?
I got this '64 Volkswagen bug, all dented up with primer paint all over it. I drive down to the studio and look in the rear view mirror and I see a Lamborghini pull in behind me. And it's Sly, and he says, "Ehhh, nice car." First time I'd met him. He just wanted to hear me sing the chorus to Hearts on Fire. I knew what he wanted, so I just sorta screamed at the top of my lungs. He said, "That's it. I love this guy!"
To listen to the entire John Cafferty interview, go to our Stuck in the '80s blog at tampabay.com/blogs/80s.