A self-proclaimed car buff, Greg Weichel makes no secret of the fact that a 1951 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 tops his classic car wish list.
“It was actually considered to be America’s first muscle car,” says Weichel of the now rare and costly automobile.
While ownership of a Rocket 88 has eluded Weichel, the founding of a muscle band back in 1999 spoke to the trumpet player’s other great love of performing live music the way it was meant to be heard, with full horn and rhythm sections backing guest vocalists to present classic songs spanning the last 80 years.
The Rocket 88s have since morphed into The Rocket Revue but the approach that has brought the band its enduring success has remained intact.
That will again be clearly evident this New Year’s Eve when The Rocket Revue, with guest Beau Dixon, closes out 2016 at the Parkway Banquet Hall (1135 Lansdowne Street West, 705-742-4100). Tickets cost $42 and are available now at Moondance (425 George Street North, 705-742-4295) or at the hall.
Along with Weichel on trumpet, the band line-up consists of a who’s who of local music in the form of Gary Peeples (guitar), Alan Black (drums), Brent Bailey (keyboards), Andy Pryde (bass), Shea Bailey (percussion), Rob Roy (trombone), and Jim Usher and Steve McCracken (saxophones). All have played over several years with a number of acts but this collaboration, says Weichel, remains special for one very clear reason.
“We’re all friends,” he says. “All the guys know each other quite well and they all get along.”
“They’ve gotten to know each other pretty well, as people and as players. They know that Brent can grab that solo and go with it, and they know that Gary is going to do some tasty stuff over there on this song.”
“I’ve been in a lot of bands over the years where that’s been kind of difficult. Players with different bands sometimes struggle with ‘How do we do this?’ and ‘Who’s going to do that?’ but The Rocket is pretty smooth. Everybody steps up and everybody knows that everybody has to have their own shot.”
VIDEO: The Rocket Revue Promo
In working with Dixon, the band is going with a tried-and-true approach. The singer fronted The Rocket Revue last New Year’s Eve at Trentwinds and was his usual explosive self.
“He is not just a great singer, he’s a great entertainer and a great personality,” Weichel says. “He’s very good at feeling the pulse of the crowd.”
“He’s doing some beautiful songs: some nice ballads and some heavy-duty rhythm and blues stuff. They’re great tunes for the band to play, and great tunes for a crowd that’s into partying and dancing.”
For Weichel, bringing the band he founded back on stage is will be especially poignant this time around. In early July, while making his rounds as a driver for United Parcel Service (UPS), he was involved in a serious car crash that left him with multiple injuries, including a severe concussion.
“I couldn’t play the horn for three months. The first rehearsal was very difficult for me,” says Weichel, noting he has returned to work on modified duties.
“I’ve had mountains of physiotherapy. It’s been a very slow process. I go to the physiotherapist and I’ve got 25 things he’s working on. You get frustrated. You don’t know if things are going to come around and how long that’s going to take. But I’ve tried to be optimistic and do everything they ask me to do. I am a trumpet player, so I’m used to working hard.”
“It was a very good thing (to get together with the band), even though I wasn’t fully ready to do a three-hour rehearsal. The guys knew I wasn’t going to be playing super hard, so they backed off a bit. We have six weeks to the show. I’m on a workout schedule with the horn and all my other stuff too.”
Weichel’s road to recovery marks the second major challenge The Rocket Revue has faced in recent years. In 2015, lead vocalist Buzz Thompson suffered a series of mini strokes which have left him unable to sing.
Not said but clearly understood is The Rocket Revue isn’t returning to the stage without Weichel. Simply put, that’s not an option — a sign of continued respect for the man who made brought it all together close to 17 years ago.
While performances by The Rocket Revue are few and far between, giving a show by the band major event status, the band’s first three gigs in 2000 all occurred on the same weekend in the form of a private party hosted by Ronnie Hawkins, a gig at the Historic Red Dog, and an appearance at Peterborough Musicfest. Weichel says what has transpired since has been, and remains, “a work in progress” anchored by an overriding desire to always give a solid performance.
“We’re in a very fortunate position musically in that are there are all sorts of great musicians out there that want to play with us. It’s just a question of us scheduling the gigs and getting them booked. Others who have played with us before want to come back. That’s a great sign. They know it’s a great band, so I want to take more advantage of that in the next year or so.”
To that end, Weichel hints at a few shows being staged in 2017, including a possible gig with singer and harmonica master Jerome Godboo. Still, he’s cognizant of the fact that everything has a shelf life, particularly a band that has so many pieces.
“When you’re dealing with a band like the Rocket, people move on. You can’t criticize them for that. In fact, I’ve always encouraged that. I’ve never tried to hold anyone back from progressing and doing their stuff because you can’t. I consider everyone who has played with the band over the years a great friend. If anybody does that or goes through a situation, the band will always be there for them if they want to come back and play with us.”
But for now, the focus is on the New Year’s Eve gig with the band rehearsing regularly with Dixon.
“We don’t advertise what songs we’re going to do,” says Weichel.
“The Rocket is a very diversified band. Some of our music is very obscure, some of it is very much recognizable, some of the tunes are original tunes by guys in the band. That makes it exciting for the audience.”
“Peterborough is a very unique place, especially when it comes to the arts and music. We’ve had so many great players and some of them have become very famous. And all kinds of famous people want to come here and play. Lots of them have over the years. We’re pretty happy to be a part of that.”