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updated: 3/31/2011 6:56 AM

Ides of March guitarist came home to Northwest suburbs

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  • Ray Herr plays guitar with Great Lakes recruit Michelle Gray, following the 2006 Thanksgiving dinner at American Legion Post 208 in Arlington Heights.

    Ray Herr plays guitar with Great Lakes recruit Michelle Gray, following the 2006 Thanksgiving dinner at American Legion Post 208 in Arlington Heights.

By Eileen O. Daday

Ray Herr played his guitar at restaurants and clubs throughout the Northwest suburbs, but his claim to fame stretched back to 1970, when he played guitar with the Ides of March in their biggest hit, "Vehicle."

The single rose to No. 2 on the national charts and broke ground for its use of a brass section in a rock band.

Herr continued to record with the Ides, including their other major hit, "L.A. Goodbye," which reached the top of Chicago charts, but he left the band after that and never looked back.

Herr died Tuesday from esophageal cancer. The Hainesville resident was 64.

"Ray had that certain star quality that just lit up the stage," said Jim Peterik, lead singer of the Ides of March who now lives in Burr Ridge. "When he was part of the Ides' lineup, there was never a dull moment. We had to keep up with Ray."

Herr grew up in Arlington Heights and was among the first four-year class to graduate from St. Viator High School, in 1965. During high school, Herr played in the bands Second Story and The Orphanage at the Cellar, a popular teen venue in Arlington Heights that showcased local rock bands.

He auditioned with the Ides of March in 1969, and was part of the band's rapid rise to national fame, when "Vehicle" became the fastest-selling single in Warner Bros. Record's history.

It wound up selling more than 1 million copies, and led to an album by the same name, as well as extensive national tours. The Ides recorded their second album, "Common Bond," and one of its singles, "LA Goodbye," stayed on top of Chicago's charts for five weeks.

Ray Graffia, lead singer and guitarist with New Colony Six, another popular rock band in the late 1960s, remembers his band vying with the Ides of March for radio time.

"At the time, there were six of us sharing the charts, the New Colony Six, the Cryan' Shames, the Ides of March, the Buckinghams, American Breed and the Shadows of Knights," Graffia says. "It was friendly competition."

When Herr broke away from the Ides of March in the early 1970s, he returned to play in the Northwest suburbs. Friends say he played regular solo gigs at the Banana Boat in Rolling Meadows, P's & Q's in Palatine and Mrs. P and Me in Mount Prospect.

By the 1980s, he joined with friends in a band called the Ron Showboat Show Band, that played at the VIP Lounge in Mount Prospect.

More recently, Herr was an active member of the Sons of the American Legion, based at the American Legion Post 208 in Arlington Heights. He joined members there in a band called the "208's," and he helped to organize an open mic night, that gave a venue to up and coming musicians to perform.

Herr often played with them, providing backup guitar and bass, and lending his star power to young performers.

"He was something of a celebrity around here," says John Jarosz Jr. of Rolling Meadows, commander of the Sons of the American Legion. "He was a real draw."

Herr also played at many of the American Legion events, including its summer car shows, during Frontier Days ever summer, and on Thanksgiving, when the post hosted Navy recruits from Great Lakes Naval Base.

He even served one term as commander of the Sons of the American Legion and helped further its service project, which was raising money to ship musical instruments overseas to military troops.

Herr was preceded in death by his parents, Ray and Elsie. He is survived by his wife Debbie.

A memorial service will take place at 6 p.m. April 9 at American Legion Post 208, 121 N. Douglas Ave. in Arlington Heights.

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