As we get ready to celebrate this year's Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame inductees, New Times asked some inductees, local musicians, and music fans for their favorite Celebrity Theatre memories.
On Thursday, August 17, the venue will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during a ceremony and concert featuring appearances from fellow 2017 inductees the Gin Blossoms, Meat Puppets, and Nils Lofgren.
The only venue in Arizona with a revolving stage, Celebrity Theatre has been hosting events at 440 North 32nd Street since 1964. It's dizzying to consider all the talented individuals and bands who have graced the stage. How many venues anywhere — let alone here in Phoenix — can boast that David Bowie, George Carlin, Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Miles Davis, Sam Kinison, Liberace, and Sammy Davis Jr. performed there? And those are just ones who will definitely never play there again (unless holograms count).
Miles Davis? C'mon! How awesome is that? As a fan, there are many shows that stand out: Fugazi in April 2001, The Shins in April 2007, Sam Kinison in the early '90s, The Damned on two occasions in 1989 and 1990, and Roger Hodgson of Supertramp last December.
Here are some of the other great Celebrity Theatre memories from Lofgren, Cris Kirkwood, and Kim Larowe, among others. (Responses have been edited for clarity.)
Mighty Sphincter; Brainz; Exterminators
Yes, Frank Zappa in 1979. He shook my hand as the stage slowly turned. I was the only one who got to shake his hand. I was with the whole Brainz band.
2017 AMEHOF inductee; original Meat Puppets drummer
I saw my first live show at the Celebrity Theatre — George Carlin with Kenny Rankin opening [in 1973]. It was one of my entries into the counterculture. My first rock show was Donovan [in 1974]. He spent the evening sitting down, playing his guitar. My first punk rock show was The Jam opening for Be Bop Deluxe [1977 or '78]. There was a small contingent of local punks there, and in response to [Be Bop Deluxe fans booing The Jam, they] were pogoing and they got kicked out. That’s a hat trick of milestones!
We played there once with the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers. I can't remember when. My wife and I saw Kids In The Hall there. Those were the shows that stand out. Obviously, the big Celebrity Theatre thing is Jerry Riopelle. That was the New Year's Eve tradition. I grew up a KDKB listener and I was a Jerry Riopelle fan.
Singer, Fat Grey Cat; Beats The Hell Out of Me
Faith No More: I was with my buddy Gregory Patterson, Ted, and Steve from HQ — incredible show. I was also at James Brown in 1986, which was my senior year of high school. B.B. King ... forget which year, but that Faith No More show was my tops for Celeb Theatre, and James Brown was a close second.
13th Floor Entertainment
Oh man. Danzig, White Zombie, and Kyuss!
2017 inductee; rock 'n' roll hero; sideman to the greats
I've been there many times and gotten to see a lot of great acts there. Ray Charles, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, but we got to meet Tony Bennett there, who is a hero of mine. Last month, I was there and got to see Willie Nelson for the third or fourth time there. They brought me up to play some guitar and I had a little bottleneck in my pocket, so Willie threw me some solos and we started trading off some licks. It was a small moment, but very precious to me. It meant a lot to play with him in a casual atmosphere.
A couple of years ago, before B.B. King died, we got to see him, and after the show my wife, Amy, and I got to spend some time on the bus with him. We were laughing and talking and he started kind of flirting a little bit with Amy, just in good fun, and she responded in kind. We were laughing and talking and having fun. After a little while, B.B. just stopped and put his hand on my knee and said, "You know Nils, you can leave if you want to." Amy and I just howled and I said, "Well, I trust you B.B., but I'll take another 10 minutes of your time rather than leave you and Amy alone." We had a good laugh about that. It was one of my favorite memories of Celebrity Theatre.
Drummer, Vic Morrow's Head
My favorite Celebrity Theatre moment was the first Damned farewell tour. I got kicked out for stage-diving, and I was able to sneak back in while they were busy throwing the next guy out, less than five minutes later.
Meat Puppets; Exterminators
George Jones in '89 or so. When the band came out to warm up the crowd, there were four empty seats in the front row and we went down there and sat thinking someone would throw us out, and no one ever did. We had some Meat Puppets business cards at the time, so I took one and wrote on the back, "George, we love you. The Meat Puppets. I was going to throw it up on the stage since we were so close, but Michelle [Tardif, Kirkwood's late wife] walked up and handed it to him. I thought we would get kicked out for that, too, but we didn't. He took it from her and he looked at it and said, "Get out of town by 10 o'clock." It was classic. I was absolutely infatuated with George. I had to got up and follow him around as the stage rotated. I couldn't stand him having his back to me.
The first time Curt and I ever smoked pot together was before a Weather Report show at Celebrity in the '70s.
The Father Figures; JFA
My highlights include when the Damned invited everyone on stage, seeing Muse in the half-round, watching Ice Cube try to act tough backstage when you could totally tell he was jazzed to be touring, and the best is when some hipster talked all the way through James Brown's first set and then told his date "Hey, let's boogie before traffic" during the first costume change and left. He missed over an hour of the Godfather of Soul.
(Editor's note: Full disclosure, the author of this piece is a member of Father Figures.)
The Fugazi show when the guy threw a beer on stage and he [Ian Mackaye, Fugazi's guitar-playing singer[ stopped playing and made him clean it up ... Or the NOFX and Youth Brigade show where there was no barricade and NOFX could barely play. They kept asking everyone to please take three steps back .Also, the HQ Soul Brains show was fun.
Rob "Fun Bobby" Birmingham
Local celebrity bartender and promoter
My friend Mike Borg, who looked like Larry Bird, and I were in about the 20th row for the Jane's Addiction show. We ate mushrooms right before 24-7 Spyz. I believe they were the opener. As Jane's ripped through their short set, the shrooms took hold and then it happened. As the band started "Jane Says," what literally looked like ocean waves of people crashed onto the stage. I believe that us two 6-foot-6 guys were the only attendees who didn't rush onto the stage. Very surreal. The band somehow finished the song in the middle of all these people, and then that was the end of the show.
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I was at a performance by a beyond-intoxicated Mitch Hedberg. He bombed so hard that the audience filed out over the course of the hour-plus ... He died less than six months later. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons
Owner, The Record Room
Was a barback there for a few years. Met Chuck Berry. Red Hot Chili Peppers with socks on their weiners. I remember getting pissed at the owner of Headquarters for kicking a hole in the wall at Suicidal or Danzig. Diana Ross had strict instructions that none of the staff look her in the eye or ask her questions. Jane's Addiction security wouldn't let us into the backstage after party until the guitar player said it was okay and took us back. Perry Ferrell was odd. There was food. And weed.
Some are embarrassing. Getting smashed before Guns N' Roses and getting caught peeing in the janitor's closet by my old man [who owned Celebrity Theatre at the time]. My little brother and dad sat backstage and forged signatures on glossy photos of B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc., to give to fans. There was a secret room up in the roof that you had to crawl through a crack in the wall to get to. It was where roadies would take chicks up to party and get laid. We used to smoke weed up there.