Growing up in North Phoenix, Pat Torpey dreamed of the days when he would play Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the grounds of the Arizona State Fair.
After graduating from Sunnyslope High School, Torpey left the Valley for Los Angeles in the hopes of achieving that dream. It quickly came to fruition when he played drums for John Parr when the “St. Elmo’s Fire” singer opened for Tina Turner. But his long-lasting gig, hitting the skins for Mr. Big, gave him a second chance, this time supporting Rush.
Torpey returns to the Valley to play the Marquee on Thursday, June 22, with Mr. Big, who scored a hit with “To Be with You.”
“It’s always fun to play Phoenix,” Torpey says. “I’ve had some really, really great experiences there.
“When I was seeing bands at the Coliseum, it was a dream one day that I would be able to play there. I still have two sisters who live there. I would have gone to ASU, but I talked my mother into letting me take a year off to pursue music in 1979-ish. She said OK and I never looked back. I just kept at it and never ended up at any college. I’m just a graduate of Sunnyslope High School.”
The June 22 show is in support of Mr. Big’s forthcoming record Defying Gravity. Originally set for release on July 7, it is now hitting stores and streaming services on July 21. The album will be available on CD, LP, deluxe CD/DVD, digitally and a deluxe Collector’s Edition box set that includes deluxe CD/DVD, LP, poster, numbered lithograph, T-shirt, sticker. The box set is limited to 500 copies worldwide.
Torpey is looking forward to playing some of the new songs live with the band—vocalist Eric Martin, guitarist Paul Gilbert, bassist Billy Sheehan and secondary drummer Matt Starr.
“It really is like no other feeling,” he says. “It’s like you’re high on life. It’s like a drug and you can’t get enough.”
He says “some” because Mr. Big is going to focus on the hits and will slowly mix in new songs as fans become familiar with Defying Gravity.
“Everybody’s so busy traveling around that sometimes there’s not a lot of time for rehearsals,” he says. “The ones we play, they’re in our DNA. I could play ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ in a coma, if I needed to.
“You have to be mindful that some people haven’t heard the new songs. They come to hear the songs you’re known for. It’s a balance we need to keep.”
Touring is physically demanding for Torpey, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. As a result, he plays part of the show, with Starr taking on the bulk of it.
“Matt’s going to be with us,” Torpey says. “Matt’s been really great. He’s become the fifth Beatle here. He’s a great drummer. He can do anything. It’s not just about the playing. It’s about the hang. Matt’s a great guy. He and I have become tight, good friends. He’s easy to work with. I can’t say enough about him. He’s a super guy.”
The road to his Parkinson’s diagnosis has been a long one. Doctors originally said he had essential tremor, but as his symptoms intensified, they agreed it was Parkinson’s. His bandmates wouldn’t hear Torpey’s assertion that he leave the band. They found a way to make it work. So far, so good, and the last two years have been uneventful for Torpey.
“It’s like I hit a plateau,” he says. “My symptoms haven’t changed that much in two years. I’m on medication, but I haven’t had to increase it at all.
“The biggest thing I don’t like about it is the fatigue. It drives me nuts. I used to be a ball of energy. The brain still thinks that way. That’s the worst. At least I’m still doing it. I’m older, but I’m still rocking and rolling. I have to be thankful for that.”
Mr. Big w/Color of Chaos, Hands & Feet and Downhill Trend, Marquee Theatre, 730 N. Mill Avenue, Tempe, 480.829.0607, luckymanonline.com, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 22, $20-$45.