Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Riopelle interview and feature

So Young
Thanks to a bright invention, Valley favorite Jerry Riopelle is finally on the verge of becoming cool
By Jimmy Magahern

Published by Phoenix New Times, Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's rare to find anybody over 20 inside the noisy arcade castle at Mesa's Golfland during the Saturday morning $8 Video Game Blowout. Never mind anybody over 60.

That's why the gray-haired dude on the Guitar Freaks V machine sticks out like a sore joystick-jamming thumb.

Eyes squinted Clint Eastwood-like, behind rimless bifocals, he studies the frantic anime graphics on the console's screen while striking the pick lever on the simulated guitar controller he's strapped over his untucked burgundy dress shirt. Pressing the red, green and blue buttons that substitute for frets, he keeps pace with a wild Japanese ska tune, hitting enough of the notes at the right time to impress the two 15-year-old boys who've stopped to watch him play.

"Wow!" one of them says, after the screen flashes the word "CLEARED" and the score on the Groove Gauge reflects even a Wailing Bonus. "You passed the stage."

If anyone over at least 35 were in the arcade this morning -- and if they had lived in Phoenix through enough of the '70s -- they might recognize the old dude behind the toy guitar as Jerry Riopelle, the rock star only Phoenix understood.

Largely ignored by the rest of the world, Riopelle was one of the most-played artists on Phoenix rock radio during the '70s and has retained a loyal following of baby boomers here, thanks largely to a series of New Year's Eve concerts at the Celebrity Theatre that have become legendary gatherings of his fans, who rival the Deadheads or Jimmy Buffett's Parrotheads in terms of stubborn devotion.

"He's played and sold out the Celebrity more times than any other performer in the history of the building," says Evening Star promoter Danny Zelisko, who booked Riopelle into his first New Year's Eve headliner there in 1975 and has remained a close friend. "That's pretty phenomenal, when you think of all the artists who've played there."

This New Year's Eve, after a five-year semi-retirement, Riopelle will once again take the stage at the Celebrity for what will mark the 30th anniversary since that first gig -- and possibly, he says, his farewell New Year's show.

But on this Saturday morning in late November, he's not thinking about what he'll play at that era-ending event. Instead, he's hanging at the arcade, testing out the competition for the interactive music-based game being built around the invention he's been quietly working on for the past 11 years: a device that allows anybody to make music by breaking laser beams in the air.

"I want to try out the other music-related games," he says, waving his hands over the sensor pads in DanceManiax 2nd Mix, "so that the next time I have a meeting with Jason and John from Roxor, I'll know what they're talking about."

Among the ├╝ber game geeks who haunt the Valley's top arcade, just hearing Riopelle mention the names of the head honchos from Roxor Games, the upstart Austin-based company whose arcade and PS2 dance game In the Groove has managed to steal considerable thunder from genre dominator Dance Dance Revolution, elicits bows of respect.

"You've met Jason Asbahr?" says one teen gamer, rolling the name over with the type of awed adoration typically reserved for rock stars.

Not only that, Riopelle says, he's met with guys from Microsoft's Xbox team, a head engineer at Apple, and some folks at Sony in charge of engineering the next PlayStation -- all of whom have expressed interest in utilizing the technology behind his invention.

"Whoa!" say the chorus of gamers.

While most '70s rockers are settling into a kind of Mike Love retirement plan of sporadic casino gigs and bitter royalties lawsuits, Riopelle is onto an unlikely second act as a cutting-edge video game developer and interactive music visionary.

After four decades in the music business, a career he began working studio gigs with the iconic Phil Spector, Jerry Riopelle is finally cool.

"It's weird," he says, stepping outside the arcade for a break from the noise. "You're talking to a guy who, as a recording artist, was always behind the curve on the latest trends. All of a sudden now, it looks like I'm ahead of one.

"I just wish I was younger," he adds, in a quiet voice aged in eons of raspy rock 'n' roll singing. "I don't know if I'll have time to enjoy this money."

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Jimmy said...

By request, this week's song: "Red Ball Texas Flyer" (thanks for sending it in, Ron!)

Anonymous said...

A BIT OF HISTORY ABOUT "RED BALL TEXAS FLYER"..... For those of you born too late to be free...

This song is rich in a tradition that too, must fade away. Red Ball was the name of a trucking company with a kind of maverick reputation. It was known to haul most anything AND most anything else. Most of the trucks were 10-wheelers and back in those days, gasoline was no problem. You could go anywhere that wheels would roll.

There was a spirit about the Red Ball Texas Flyers. They lasted through the sixties and then somehow disappeared along with the "Burma Shave" signs and most of Route 66.

The song speaks of a route through East Texas which was Bill Compton and Hank Cookenboo's stomping grounds around Tyler and Longview, Teas.

NACOGDOCHES had two versions on the Dallas-New Orleans route. The Texas version was pronounced NA-KA-DO-CHES. The Louisianna version was pronounced NA-KA-TISH. They were both along that Red Ball Texas Flyer route.

Ron Wortham

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