Jerry Riopelle is an old-school cat, which means that the singer/songwriter's been making records longer than almost anybody else in the Valley. As a staff writer and producer for Phil Spector's Philles Records in Los Angeles, Riopelle wrote his first top 20 hit ("Home of the Brave," recorded by Bonnie & The Treasures) in 1965. To put that into perspective, Alice Cooper — considered by many to be the old man of rock in Phoenix — was 17 years old at the time. In the ensuing 42 years, Riopelle's released a slew of Americana-flavored rock records (starting on the Capitol label in the '70s); had his songs covered by the likes of Meatloaf, Leon Russell, Kenny Loggins, and Herb Alpert; and continues to throw an annual New Year's Eve show in Phoenix. This year's show marks the 32nd engagement, and Riopelle's boosting it with several new tricks. We caught up with Riopelle to get the scoop on the show, his new anthology, and his "Human Beams" project.
New Times: What's the significance of these New Year's Eve shows for you?
Jerry Riopelle: It's the best time you can have in life, I think. It's unbelievable. It's an absolutely wonderful time of big sharing. It's practically a love-in. So many people know the words, and everybody's singing.
Jerry Riopelle, and The Tubes featuring Fee Waybill are scheduled to perform on Monday, December 31.
NT: Tell us about Human Beams.
Riopelle: It's an instrument that lets the real music lover be a musician. The reason we have starving musicians and things like that is because there's something you get from playing music that you don't get any other way. Musicians will all tell you this. You can be in a foul mood and then go to rehearsal and just have it lift you up and change your focus entirely, to where you feel just great. That's one of the things Human Beams was designed to do — to let you feel what it's like to create your own music. It uses a series of laser beams like strings, and breaking the laser beams causes musical notes to happen. And anybody of any age can make any kind of music at all. It's always in harmony with itself, no matter what you do. So you can't make any horrible errors. But you can get good at it, if you get into it. You can take it as far as using it professionally — I'll play it with the band.
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NT: You're also playing your 1974 album Saving Grace in its entirety. Why?
Riopelle: I love the sound of it. It was the biggest seller, and more importantly, it was the album that KDKB just flipped over and really broke me in the market. It just seemed like one of those ideas; people wanted to hear the whole album.
NT: You've lived in Phoenix for several years now. How has Arizona influenced your music?
Riopelle: I think the people have influenced me. People always ask what it is about Arizona, and I always say, "I don't know if it's Arizona so much as the music fans." They influence you in subtle ways. You perform for people who like your music, and you can tell what moves them, and you're just drawn to that. That's part of what you go for. There's a great music audience here.