David Robinson the drummer who gave The Cars their name, their logo, their look, their album covers and their timelessly tuneful backbeat remembers when the guitars arrived. Well, more or less. After all, it was 35 years ago, at the end of the Door to Door tour. Just months before The Cars broke up.
Around the beginning of 1987, The Cars' lead guitarist Elliott Easton suggested ordering matching Mosrites for the band one for him, another for rhythm guitarist and vocalist Ric Ocasek, and one for bassist and singer Benjamin Orr, whose instrument now heads to auction 35 years later. They were "exotic-looking guitars," Robinson says now, made popular by the Ventures and other surf-rock bands of the 1960s. Orr's was particularly unusual: Robinson later learned it was the only five-string bass Mosrite ever made during its on-and-off 66-year history.
Each was red, because of course that was the color scheme Robinson, The Cars' de facto art director, had chosen for the band upon its formation in 1976. Everything had to be black, white or red. Sleek, sexy.
"It was before a gig toward the end of 1987, and the roadies set the three guitars on stands," says Robinson, the lone Massachusetts native in the Boston-based band. "We walked in and saw them, and they were stunning. They were just right for the band."
But the band never played those Mosrites, at least not together on stage or in studio. By February 1988 The Cars had broken up. And though the band reunited in 2010 for one final album and a brief tour, and reassemble for its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, its five original members had become just four: Pancreatic cancer claimed Orr in October 2000. He was just 53.
Shortly after Orr's death, Robinson wound up with two guitars that once belonged to his battery mate in the rhythm section: the Fender Precision Bass Orr often played on stage and in the studio, and that red Mosrite with the five strings. Robinson won't ever let go of that P-Bass, which is currently on loan to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But, he says now, it's time to let someone else own that red Mosrite, which is among the centerpieces in Heritage Auctions
' April 3 Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature® Auction.
"I always planned on keeping it, but now I am building a house, and my thinking was, if a little bit of this house gets built because of Ben's guitar, I will feel good about that," says Robinson. "Elliot sold his. I don't know what happened to Ric's. But I never played Ben's, and who knows what happens to it after I die?
"It's better that I can tell the story now, because one day the Mosrite guitar world will be like, 'Wait, a five-string bass?' I'm the least important part of its story the drummer." He laughs. "But by sharing it now, people will know it's the real thing and where it has been for the last 30-something years. I think the fact it's the only five-string is equally as strong as the fact it belonged to Ben. And it's so beautiful."
It's signed, too, by its maker and Mosrite namesake Semie Moseley, who notes on the back of the headstock that the guitar was "Made for Benjamin Orr by Semie Moseley 1987." There's even a note thanking the bassist for the privilege.
Robinson, of course, underplays his significance to this or any other story such is the demeanor of "the drummer," after all. Not only was he a Car, but before that he was one of The Modern Lovers. Which means he played on some of the most influential proto-punk singles of the early 1970s ("Roadrunner," "Pablo Picasso") and some of the new wave era's most enduring hits (almost everything off The Cars' 1978 eponymous debut, "Let's Go" from 1979's smash hit Candy-O and "Since You're Gone" and the title track from 1981's Shake It Up, for starters).
In fact, Robinson played on two of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Cars (at No. 353) and The Modern Lovers (at No. 288).
"You don't realize the scope of what you've been doing until something like that happens," Robinson says. "I mean, the Modern Lovers never even made a real album. That first album was demos! As for The Cars, we're lucky." Again, more understatement from the drummer. "People haven't forgotten about us."