Dennis Laverty, who has made low-budget documentaries about Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ early years and Elvis Presley’s influence on Bruce Springsteen, turns his attention, in his third film, to one of the rock world’s most perennially underrated bands. “Bound for Glory: The Story of John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band” can now be seen on Vimeo (you can watch an embedded copy of it, below).
Like Laverty’s previous two works, the approximately 100-minute “Bound for Glory” tells its story with vintage performance clips and interview segments, and old photos. “Based on the research by Rick Bellaire,” reads a credit at the start of the film, referring to Bellaire’s work on the band for the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Historical Archive, which can be seen here.
Even without any “new” material, per se, it’s an impressively thorough film, and should both satisfy hardcore fans and spark new interest in those who are only aware of the band’s biggest hits.
The band formed in Rhode Island in the early ’70s, taking its name from a can of paint labelled for the color, Beaver Brown. They were sort of a parallel-universe version of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with a working class sensibility honed in a East Coast shore town (Narragansett, R.I., instead of Asbury Park) plus a hard-working, gruff-voiced frontman, and an instrumental attack that prominently featured saxophone and keyboards. Springsteen jammed with them, often, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and offered Cafferty some songwriting tips; in one of the interviews in this film, Cafferty calls him a “mentor.”
Their big break came when their music was used in the 1983 movie “Eddie & the Cruisers,” though only one band member, saxophonist Michael “Tunes” Antunes, appears in the movie itself.
The movie, which was about a Jersey bar band (Southside Johnny, another friend and occasional jamming partner, served as a technical adviser), was not a big hit when it came out. However, it found an audience via screenings on HBO, and a home video release, and the soundtrack (and its singles “On the Dark Side” and “Tender Years”) became belated hits.
All of a sudden, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band were stars, and they rode high for a few years. But the hits stopped coming, and the big record labels lost interest. A 1989 movie sequel, “Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!” (once again featuring their songs), didn’t help much.
Cafferty and his current Beaver Brown Band (featuring several original members) still perform, but as he says in one of the interviews in the film, they’re “weekend warriors,” just playing a gig or two on weekends, for the most part. They haven’t released an album of new material since the ’80s.
The film doesn’t just tell their story, but is evocative of an era when heartland-rock (as it was called) was a hot item. MTV-ready music videos and MTV interviews are included, as is an appearance on “American Bandstand” (with a very polite and almost comically square Dick Clark interviewing the musicians).
Cafferty and his bandmates come off well in the film. They seem grounded and unpretentious: happy with what they achieved, not tortured that their glory days didn’t last longer. The style of this film — a nuts-and- bolts look at who they were, and what they did — suits them.
John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band will perform at the Municipal Beach Park Concert Series in Somers Point, June 23 at 6 p.m., with the Billy Walton Band opening, and at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival in Tappan, N.Y., June 24 at 2:30 p.m.
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