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When The Cars split in 1988, drummer David Robinson always wondered if they would take one final ride off into the sunset. They did just that.
The rock band, which emerged from the new wave scene of the late ’70s, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame after being nominated twice before. While the group broke up in the late ’80s, its influence was deeply felt into the’ 90s and beyond.
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana covered “My Best Friend’s Girl” at the band’s final live show in 1994, and Cars frontman Ric Ocasek produced albums for younger groups, including Weezer, No Doubt and Bad Religion. The Cars briefly reunited in 2010 for one final album and a brief tour.
But any dreams of The Cars potentially releasing more music came to a screeching halt in 2019 when Ocasek, who sang, played guitar and wrote most of the group’s songs, died in 2019 at age 75. Benjamin Orr, who played bass and also sang, died in 2000 at age 53 from pancreatic cancer.
Today, Robinson is teaming up with Heritage Auctions to offer one of three Mosrite guitars made for the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers in 1987. The 72-year-old said Cars memorabilia has become difficult to come by, making it a rare opportunity to score a piece of music history.
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Robinson spoke to Fox News Digital about giving The Cars its name, what prompted the band to break up and how he remembers Ocasek today.
Fox News: What can fans of the Cars expect from this exciting auction?
David Robinson: So for starters, I do not play guitar * laughs *. I do not follow guitar auctions too often. I look at a few from time to time. And there aren’t many Cars guitars for sale – or drum sets, for that matter. But this is a guitar that I’ve owned since Ben Orr passed away in 2000. And very few people have even seen it. I’m selling it partly because I need money to pay for part of a house I’m remodeling. And I do not mind parting with it because it’ll contribute something to my house building.
Fox News: What’s the story behind these instruments?
Robinson: The Mosrite guitar company was in business for, I think, about 50 years. And they got really popular in the ’60s when The Ventures used them. They played surf music. And they were very popular, especially in Japan. So the guitars are pretty well known. But in this case, mine was custom-made for Ben at a time when Elliot [Easton] and Ric [Ocasek] both had matching guitars made at the same time, which was 1987.
It’s the only five-string bass that the company ever made, as far as I know. So in a 50-year run, to have just one five-string bass is pretty remarkable. They’re a pretty well-respected guitar company. And it’s also a particularly beautiful bass. It has a custom finish and just all kinds of custom additions. It’s just a one-of-a-kind on its own. But since Ben owned it, I think that makes it special.
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Fox News: What’s life like for you today?
Robinson: Well, there’s only three out of the five of us left, but we still have a lot of business to take care of. We still sell records. We still do work on our catalog. I do not do too many interviews unless something specific comes up. But I have a business. I have an antiques shop / art gallery.
And I have band-related projects that keep me busy. I design the album covers, logos and T-shirts, things like that. And we just signed a new merchandising deal with Sony. So I’ll be working on a bunch of T-shirts. We’ll have a nice website where the fans can communicate about the T-shirts and give opinions. We’ll have contests and special shirts. And it’s going to appeal to the real, true fans.
Fox News: What do you believe has been the secret behind the band’s lasting success and influence in music?
Robinson: Well, I do not know if it’s a secret or not. I’ve played in other bands, and you just really need the right chemistry. And when you find it, other people can recognize it. I think that’s the best way to put it. But we’ve been lucky that fans continue to like us, and it has not gotten dated. Right now, I think – at least on the internet – it’s more active than it’s ever been, practically.
Fox News: The Cars reunited for one final album and tour in 2010. Looking back, what sparked that get-together?
Robinson: That was something we always wished for since we broke up. There was not much of a reason why we did not do it, except that it was up to Ric, who wrote the songs. And he had a solo career, a pretty good solo career, going for himself. But I think he had been working on songs. And I do not know, just on a whim, I think, he just checked with us to see if we wanted to do it. And we were all on board. And it was fun.
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We did it just like we did our first two or three albums. We recorded some of it at Ric’s house and some of it in a small studio near his house. And we did not particularly care about how it’d be received. I thought people might be thinking that we were going to try to make it sound like we used to sound, but we do not work that way. We just made another record with the same guys.
Fox News: What originally caused the Cars to part ways?
Robinson: I do not know. It was really Ric that left the band. And then we decided not to carry on without him.
Fox News: You were the one that came up with the name for the group, The Cars?
Robinson: Yeah, but there’s no sort of backstory about it * laughs *. We just threw out some ideas. I think I made a little list. And when we got to The Cars, everybody sort of just said, “Yeah, that’s not bad.” And we had some minor reasons why we liked it at the time. We thought, “Well, people can spell it. It does not hint at what kind of music we play or when we played it.”
Now when I hear it, I’m so used to hearing it, that I do not know what people think of it when they first hear it. It’s like when you hear the name the Beatles. I guess if you did not know what it was, it would sound like a pretty stupid name * laughs *.
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Fox News: What was the inspiration behind “Just What I Needed?”
Robinson: I did not write it, but it started as our most popular song. We took off when we made a demo tape, and we were lucky enough to get it played on a radio station in Boston. And we sort of picked out the song for them to play. I think we gave them other songs, but they picked the same song. And it just took off immediately. It was just a tape that we had made.
Fox News: What did it mean for you and the band to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
Robinson: Well, I got to be honest with you. At first, I was a little suspicious of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I noticed that they had inducted people that I did not think were rock ‘n’ roll or represented the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. And even years ago, when I first heard about it, I thought, “I do not know if that’s something you could have a museum and go look at things about rock ‘n’ roll.”
And I think when I first went there before we got inducted, I was a little disappointed because I realized it seemed difficult to present something in a museum setting that was raucous music, for the most part. But then it got better and better over the years. Then, when we first got nominated, I checked the list to see who was inducted. And I thought, “Well, I guess I judged them a little too harshly.” They had pretty much inducted almost every band I loved.
Fox News: How did everyone else feel about the induction?
Robinson: We all thought it was great. It certainly wasn’t going to hurt us to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame * laughs *. But one of the things that was a surprise is when we got there to play, I think I did not ask enough questions about the actual venue. And it used to be in New York, where I think only maybe 2,500 people could come. So we got to this hall. And I think it was a 10,000-seat place. And as soon as I came into the place, someone said, “Well, this is where the Beatles played.” And I just thought, “Wow, that’s just as good as the induction into the Hall of Fame.”
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Fox News: What’s one memory of Ric that makes you smile whenever you think about him?
Robinson: He used to be, especially when we were really struggling at the beginning, really generous. He tried to include everybody and draw everybody out, making sure that everybody had some input into things. And he was not a lunatic. He did not scream and yell and fight with us or anything. And it was interesting to hear his song lyrics all the time.
Fox News: How did you cope with his passing?
Robinson: Like everyone else, I was just shocked by it. We spoke on the phone maybe six months before he passed away. But when it finally sunk in, I thought, “This really puts an end to an opportunity to make another Cars record.” Some bands might try to form a band around people that were not really key members. And we would never have done anything like that. I felt lucky that we had done that last album in 2010. It was not going to be the same without Ric.
Fox News: How’s the rest of the band today?
Robinson: As I said, I have not done an interview in years, so people just assume you’re out of the loop or not doing anything. But Elliot plays guitar all the time. He lives out in LA. He sits in with bands constantly and does appearances at guitar shows. And he is really linked to the guitar scene out there.
Greg [Hawkes] has been playing constantly for years. He plays with Todd Rundgren’s band, and now he plays Cars songs with a band from Boston called Eddie Japan. So that’s what they’ve been doing. I usually have band-related projects that come up, but they just sort of come out of the blue. If there’s going to be a repackaging of an album, I do the whole cover over again. I change it and add things to it.
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I keep myself busy with the art side of things. I haven’t played my drums since 2011, probably. Sometimes I’ll sit in with a local band, but not very often. I have a lot of other things to take up my time. But if there’s an opportunity to put out any unreleased Cars stuff or anything like that, we’re right on it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.