My Day With the Masters

Every year on the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend it’s Taste of Madison, held around our magnificent Capitol Square, when a bunch of local restaurants (65 or so this year) offer various items for tasting—most in small portions costing between $2 and $4. (Except the beers, which are $5.) There are four music stages, one on each side of the square, each one sponsored by various radio stations in the group I work for. The Lake’s day to sponsor a stage was Sunday.

Our headliners were billed as the Rock and Pop Masters. It’s a most interesting concept—various lead singers from 60s/70s/80s bands perform in various combinations; it’s largely up to the radio station or other sponsor to choose the combination they want. Yesterday, the adult contemporary station in our group chose John Ford Coley, Robbie Dupree, and Jimi Jamison from Survivor. Today we booked Peter Rivera of Rare Earth, Mike Pinera of Iron Butterfly and Blues Image, and Joe-Lynn Turner of Rainbow and Deep Purple. The same band backed both sets of headliners—in fact, the band playing today consisted of 4/5th of the current touring version of Orleans, which played Madison on Memorial Day weekend.

For the most part, you’d be right to have a certain natural skepticism about this sort of thing. After all, you avoid those oldies CDs with the fine print that says “selections are new stereo recordings by one or more of the original artists,” right? But if you’d been there today, you wouldn’t have cared. Turner was onstage most of the time, even if it was just banging a tambourine. Rivera and Pinera would come out, play, and then retreat backstage, but when they were on, the crowd ate ’em up. Rivera, the original lead singer of Rare Earth, sounded in great voice on “Get Ready” and “(I Know) I’m Losing You”; Pinera evoked the Summer of Love in fact on “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” (although he wasn’t in Iron Butterfly at that time) and in feeling on “Ride Captain Ride.” Robbie Dupree even came out and sang his 1980 hit, “Steal Away,” which was a bit incongruous compared to the rest of the set list, but nobody minded.

The Lake jocks were all there, and we got up onstage a couple of times. As the mere weekend guy, my role was mostly to smile and wave, although I did say to the crowd that I thought was in the most dangerous place on the stage—between our two morning guys, fighting for a microphone. We also hung out backstage, where Turner entertained us with tales from the road, including one night in Oklahoma, when the entire bill of a stadium show Rainbow was on—REO Speedwagon, the Scorpions, and Ted Nugent—ended up partying around the hotel pool. Mood-altering substances and scantily-clad female fans were much in evidence but the highlight, according to Turner, came when somebody handed the teetotaling Nugent a sombrero—a glass of milk spiked with kahlua. It only took one to get him hallucinating, apparently.

Also backstage I had the chance to visit with Larry Hoppen, one of three Hoppen brothers in Orleans (and in the backing band this weekend). I asked him if Orleans was working with original leader John Hall much these days. They aren’t—he’s busy representing an upstate New York district in the U.S. House of Representatives—but Hoppen said they did play with him at a show in Washington for House Democratic freshmen. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced them; he said it was a thrill to meet some of the political bigshots they’d only heard about previously.

I talked to Dupree for a moment, too. A show like the Rock and Pop Masters gives artists some flexibility to take on dates when they can, although Dupree observes that the people who book the shows (like our radio stations) have the biggest effect on when and where any individual artist plays. My sense was that he wasn’t getting as many bookings as he wanted, but I could be completely wrong about that—I had to go up onstage at that moment, and we didn’t finish the conversation.

Turner joked about getting a radio show on Sirius; Pinera spent a lot of time messing around with a laptop; we didn’t see Rivera except when it was his turn to play, so it was harder to get a sense of what kind of guy he is. But they’re all fortunate, still able to make a living as musicians many, many years after the hits stopped coming. I asked Hoppen if the guys in Orleans thought, when they formed the band, that they’d still be in it 35 years later. He told me no, but said that when “Still the One” became such a big hit, it gave them enough momentum to stay with it, and now, he thinks they’ll never stop. He said of himself and his brothers, “Our parents played music all their lives, to age 75 and 81, and we’ll probably do the same thing.” If I had to guess, I’d say Hoppen’s hope is shared by all of the Rock and Pop Masters.

Recommended Listening: Davewillieradio salutes Larry Lujack, the great Chicago DJ and father of us all, on the 20th anniversary of his departure from WLS, the station at which he made his reputation.

And here’s the highlight of the Rock and Pop Masters show.

“Ride Captain Ride”/Blues Image (buy it here)

5 thoughts on “My Day With the Masters

  1. That sounds like, oh, I don’t know, the AWESOMEST DAY EVER? I definitely would have asked Dupree a question or two about “Steal Away.” (cough)

    Love “Ride Captain Ride.” Someone suggested it as a Mellow Gold contender – I don’t remember who – but I don’t hear anything mellow about it, do you?

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