What: Jerry Riopelle & Garland Jeffreys
When: 12/31, 9:00PM
Where: Phoenix, Orpheum Theater
Tickets: $45-$65

The Legendary Jerry Riopelle Returns
for his 33rd Phoenix New Years Eve Show

By Mariah Fleming

Jerry Riopelle - New Year's Eve - Orpheum

Interviewing Jerry Riopelle is a lot like listening to his music. What he says and how he says it hooks you, and you don’t want him to cut you loose. Riopelle’s first Phoenix New Years Eve show on December 31, 1974 propelled him to stardom of legendary proportions in Arizona. Ringing in the New Year with Riopelle is a beloved tradition for generations of his fans. And he’s making his magic for us again this year.

On Saturday he’ll take the stage at the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix. “I didn’t do the show for a couple of years. I thought I’d retire, but I don’t seem to be able to do it!” he explained. “I’m thrilled to be doing it again; to be able to see everybody, my friends and my fans.” He’s unveiling some new songs for the show. “My fans can go to my Facebook fan page and listen to the songs. They’re available on I Tunes and CD Baby too.” Find out more on his website at jerryriopelle.com

The songs come from a demo cassette Riopelle recently found. He’d recorded it 25 years ago with his friend, Ron Davies, who died. He and Davies sang together on the demo. “I was able to preserve his vocals and digitally record the songs we did together. I overdubbed (guitarist/songwriter) David Plenn and a new drummer. That’s the great thing about digital. You can make it sound new.” He said it is a tribute from him to his friend.

Remember Stuart Margolin, the actor who may be best remembered for his role in James Garner’s “Rockford Files”? Margolin played the quirky but well-meaning sidekick in The Rockford Files. He met Margolin forty years ago. Riopelle has written songs with Margolin for decades. “He was the best man at my wedding,” he said. “We’re writing a musical together called Candy Bar. He is a tremendous actor and director.” Candy Bar will tell the story of the woman in Riopelle’s well-known song of the same name.

Candy Bar was a notorious stripper in the 1950’s who had trouble with the law for drug possession, and her relationships with Jack Ruby and Mickey Cohen. She served three year in prison for shooting her estranged husband. After serving her terms she started a new life in South Texas and was called one of history’s ‘most perfect Texans’ in Texas Monthly, along with Lady Bird Johnson.

Riopelle has a storied history in Arizona where he is a legendary favorite. In 1974 he met Bill Compton, the visionary program director who was one of the original KDKB radio’s founders. “Bill Compton really ‘got me’ ” he told me. “Bill put eight of my songs in full rotation on KDKB. I got a whole lot of airplay on KDKB thanks to Bill.” Radio airplay was the key in those days, and Compton opened the door for him. Almost every song Riopelle has ever recorded is on his 2007 compilation titled “The Works,” which will be available to at the show.

Jerry Riopelle

Danny Zelisko Presents is bringing Riopelle to town. Zelisko has been a huge presence in Riopelle’s career. But it didn’t begin with Zelisko. “When I was doing a little tour with ABC/Dunhill to promote Saving Grace, I walked into KDKB to find two promoters who wanted to book me, both offering me the same money.” he said. “Doug Clark (a long time Phoenix promoter who brought many great acts to Arizona) offered me $1500 to open David Bromberg’s New Years Show and this kid was there, new to town, a new promoter named Danny Zelisko. Danny offered me the same.” Riopelle eventually did concerts with Zelisko which sparked a decades long friendship.

When Riopelle recounts that day, he still sounds thrilled about it. “I had never made more than $300 to open a show before that! I called my agent and to ask which promoter to go with, the kid or Clark. Clark had a solid reputation of shows behind him and he told me to go with Clark,” he explained. So he opened for Bromberg and Dr. John at the Celebrity. “It was the first time I ever stood up to play the piano. I kicked away the stool like Jerry Lee Lewis” he chuckled.

Tickets are still available and there is not a bad seat in the Orpheum Theatre. The gorgeous, historic venue is a perfect choice for a New Years celebration with Jerry Riopelle. If you’ve never heard Riopelle live, get your tickets and you’ll see why Phoenix falls in love with him all over again each time he plays here.

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