Like most Phoenicians, Jesse Valenzuela’s childhood soundtrack was the music of Jerry Riopelle.
“His music was everywhere when I was a kid,” says Valenzuela, the Gin Blossoms’ longtime guitarist. “I met him a lot through the years at events in town.”
Riopelle was an Arizona legend before he died Christmas Eve 2018. His mix of rock, country, jazz and R&B paved the way for his induction into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame.
His family and friends will remember Riopelle during a tribute show at 8 p.m. Friday, February 7, at Talking Stick Resort’s The Showroom. Riopelle was booked to play Talking Stick Resort shortly after Christmas 2018.
“He had to cancel the shows because they found out his cancer had gotten very aggressive,” says Jerry’s son Paul, who lives in Goodyear. “He had to start chemo right away. They thought it was going to help, but then he just didn’t wake up on Christmas Eve. We knew he was ill, but we weren’t expecting it to be quite like that.”
The show will feature Valenzuela, the Jerry Riopelle Band (David Plenn, Llory McDonald, Paul Riopelle, Tara Austin, David Goodstein and Lloyd Moffitt), Walt Richardson, Ray Herndon, Francine Reed, Michael Nitro, Lawrence Zubia and Chuck E. Baby.
“It seemed like a terrific thing to do,” Valenzuela says. “I’ve been learning the songs. I’ve always known them, but never really played them before. They’re just really beautifully crafted.
“I actually cracked open the song yesterday. We’re going to have a nice rehearsal and get together with all the fellas and some musicians I know pretty well will be involved.”
Musicians held a similar show in Los Angeles and decided to revive the show for Phoenicians.
“It’s been a rough year and this is going to be bittersweet, but I’m honored to have all these different musicians who are willing to take part and honor him,” Paul says.
When Paul’s father was a superstar, he was only “a little kid.” He called the experiences of the 1970s and 1980s “surreal.”
“We all lived in L.A. and he had this thing he would do,” he says. “The recognition he got in Arizona, it was amazing. We’d go from L.A. to Arizona and he was a superstar.
“In Amsterdam it was like Arizona. Phoenix was convenient. He was able to build on that. It was easy to come back to build on that recognition with the attention he was getting.”
Paul says he and his father bonded over music, and he would follow him incessantly.
“I wanted to go anywhere I could with him—whether he was doing music, performing, going into the recording studio or rehearsal,” Paul says with a laugh.
“Our thing wasn’t going to a ballgame or fishing. It was always music. That’s how we bonded. It was something I loved to do. Of course, I miss him terribly, but my dad was always very supportive of my music and any endeavor I took on.”
In Jerry’s band, Plenn was the “baby of the group,” joining when he was in his late teens. He calls the concert bittersweet as well.
“It’s a little sobering,” says Plenn, who worked as a songwriter, penning “Easy Driver” for Kenny Loggins. He now owns the toy store The Dinosaur Farm in South Pasadena.
“We did a little preview of this in L.A. We put together a band and played some of the songs. It’s a celebration. It was a little more joyous than I expected it to be. The songs are up and alive again. They’re great songs. I heard the songs again and I thought, ‘This should be out, not locked in a little box and tucked away in the back of the closet.’ We should be enjoying these.”
Music of Jerry Riopelle
Talking Stick Resort, 9800 E. Talking Stick Way, Scottsdale, talkingstickresort.com, 8 p.m. Friday, February 7, sold out.