Backstage with Ron Onesti: We Could All Use A Piece Of Rock And Roll Heaven Right Now!
Ron Onesti: We could use a piece of Rock And Roll Heaven right now!
If you believe in forever,
Then life is just a one-night stand.
If there’s a rock and roll heaven,
Well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.
Those are lyrics from the classic song “Rock And Roll Heaven”. I was driving home from The Arcada one late night, and this song came on. It has always been a favorite of mine because it brings entertainers with whom I have worked with or just have been a fan of that have passed on to mind. And as we are going through these tough times, I am always trying to stay as positive as possible. That song helped me realize just how lucky we truly are. We are not only still alive, but we have also had so many Rock legends and icons in our lives.
The song specifically refers to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bobby Darin, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison and Jim Croce, but really represents all music icons who have passed on. Performers, sidemen, producers, etc.
The words have such a deep meaning. They put the brevity of life and the reunion of the musical souls who have given us the gift of their music, into perspective. Life truly is so short, and that eternal stage in the sky is busier than Carnegie Hall ever was.
In my four-plus decade career in the entertainment biz, I have been so very fortunate to work with many superstars and one-hit wonders. Most of them are/were from the 50s,60s,70s and 80s. And as we lose so many of these stars of our childhoods every year, their memories resonate as their songs come on the radio during my long drives from venue to venue.
“Rock And Roll Heaven” was made popular in 1974 by “The Righteous Brothers”, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. I worked with those guys several times, but after Bobby left us, the tune had a deeper meaning when Bill sang it during his solo shows at The Arcada.
“Rock And Roll Heaven” was actually first recorded by the band “Climax”, fronted by an old and dear friend, Sonny Geraci. “Climax” also had the megahit, “Precious And Few”. Then Sonny fronted another band, “The Outsiders” who gave us the hit, “Time Won’t Let Me”. I had the privilege to work with Sonny many, many times. We lost my buddy Sonny in February of 2017.
“Heaven” was actually written for Sonny in 1973 by Johnny Stevenson and Alan O’Day, who also wrote and recorded the pop hit, “Undercover Angel”. But when The Righteous Brothers needed a “comeback hit” after a brief breakup, they covered the Climax tune and added Darin and Croce who had died just a few months before.
But when I hear that song, it makes me think of the artists who have played The Arcada, and have passed on.
Paul Revere (of The Raiders) performed his last public show at The Arcada before he passed away. A great guy, with a great sense of humor.
Joan Rivers filmed her last stand up comedy special for Showtime here. She was wonderful and loved the theatre. At the time, she was on television more than any other celebrity. When I asked her why she worked so hard, she replied, “When you are born during the depression, and have family that was affected by the Holocaust, you learn to appreciate all opportunities!”
Don Rickles, like Joan, could be a bear on TV, but was sweet, kind and gentle in person. We went out for dinner after his shows and created a great bond. We also shared a birthday, May 8.
I worked with Frank Sinatra, Jr. on several occasions. I was to be given an award by Chicago’s Italian American community a few days after his last performance at The Arcada. He took it upon himself to record a quick congratulatory video for me. Shortly after, he was gone.
Patti Page celebrated her 80th birthday with an amazing concert at The Arcada. Her huge hit, “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” is still one of the biggest pop hits of all time.
Front man for the hard rock band “The Stone Temple Pilots” Scott Weiland was known for his struggle with drugs. He performed with his solo band by us and really seemed out of it. A week later, he was gone of an overdose.
And speaking of pop music icons, we had David Cassidy a couple of times. On both occasions, his struggle with alcoholism was prevalent in his performance. It was very sad to see how it all ended for this guy.
Another legend “gone too soon” was Monkee Davy Jones. He loved it here at The Arcada, often coming a few days early so he could spend time in the beautiful town of St. Charles. He was “my brother”.
Paul Kantner, founding member of The Jefferson Airplane and The Jefferson Starship was scheduled to play at The Arcada twice. The first time, the band played without him as he had a heart attack on his way to the theatre. The second time, he had another heart attack before our show. He didn’t make it, but the show went on. We had a single light shining on his guitar where he would have stood.
One of my all-time favorite experiences was when we had the legendary Hollywood icon Mickey Rooney for an 89th birthday retrospective of his career. He was sweet and spectacular. I spent an entire week with him. The stories he told me could fill a book. He was such a proud WWII Veteran he carried his medals and his VFW cap with him always. A truly treasured experience for me.
Two other Hollywood superstars I was fortunate enough to work with was Jerry Lewis and Debbie Reynolds.
Jerry didn’t want to be bothered, but he did allow me to sit in his dressing room with him for two hours! He talked about Dean Martin, his telethon, “The Nutty Professor” and many other old Hollywood topics.
Debbie did the same, as we lunched and talked about her daughter Carrie Fisher and her incredible Hollywood memorabilia collection. What a beautiful, classy and sweet lady with an elegant motherly way about her.
Producing thousands of shows for this long a time at The Arcada, especially those of a classic nature, we are bound to lose some past performers. But what becomes magical is the mark these legends leave on our historic stage.
It has been said that The Arcada is “haunted”. If it is possessed, I believe it is probably the souls of these superstars that are hanging out, making their presence known by paintings falling off the wall, doors slamming shut and whispers in the night. That band up there is really something, and those players helped to make The Arcada, at least for us, Heaven on Earth.