School of Rock: Top 40 Lessons from a Local Legend

John Cafferty Visits MGilbert's Hospitality Class

Mike Gilbert’s Concert and Event Production class recently had an unusual guest lecturer: a bona fide Top 40 rock star. Local musician John Cafferty, leader of rootsy local rockers The Beaver Brown Band, stopped by to give students advice about the music industry and promotion in general.

"Pay Attention to the Details"
Gilbert’s class was hard at work on their final group project: promoting an on-campus concert. Responsible for every last detail, they were rushing against the clock to secure donations, sell tickets, promote the event and arrange for security.

Despite having racked up 4 Top 40 singles and multiple gold records, Cafferty proved refreshingly free of any trace of rock-star attitude. “I’m a Little League dad now,” Cafferty told the class, beaming as he told them about his kids. “But music still supports my family.”

Cafferty’s advice was practical and straightforward. “Be careful with contracts. Whether you’re promoting a show or signing a record deal, it’s got to be win-win.”

He continued, “I was lucky that I retained a lot of my music rights. I still get paid when they play my songs on the radio.” No matter what, he said, “make sure you have that level of control.”

For Cafferty, successful production is all in the details. “You can create so much drama with lighting,” he noted. “And sound really is power. You can do a lot with a little if you pay attention.”

Hospitality John Cafferty Musician Guest LecturerHelping Rhode Island Kids
These days, Cafferty keeps busy as a “weekend warrior,” traveling all over the country with his band. With Gilbert, he also helps run Rock n’ Jock Charities, an organization that raises funds for Rhode Island children with life-altering illnesses and disabilities.

“We’re Rhode Island guys, so we want to help Rhode Island kids,” said Cafferty. Now in its 10th year, Rock n’ Jock has raised more than $200,000 for local charities.

A Top 40 Adventure
Gilbert and Cafferty go way back: they met in the 1970s, before fame, limos and gold records. Back then, the Beaver Brown Band was a working band playing out 4-5 nights a week in venues all over New England.

It all changed, ironically enough, at a Manhattan bar called the Bitter End. “We weren’t any more or less talented than we had been the month before,” noted Cafferty of their discovery by a local A&R man. “It happened so fast.”

Soon they were playing shows with Springsteen and rocketing up the charts with anthemic songs like “On the Dark Side,” “Tender Years” and “Tough All Over.” They achieved their greatest notoriety when they composed all the songs for the fictional band portrayed in the 1983 film “Eddie and the Cruisers.”

They knew it wasn’t going to last. “We took our egos out of it and just had an adventure,” says Cafferty. “We started the band with no expectations. It was so surreal to us that it took off. Considering where we came from and how high it went, it was a wild ride. But it was also a lot of fun.”

Cafferty wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. “The greatest reward wasn’t getting on MTV or traveling the world — it was being able to do something that was in my heart.” He smiled and offered one last bit of advice: “Walk on stage looking to give something, not get something. People can tell.”