Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Wayne Newton has seen his fair share of controversy and financial problems over his nearly six-decade career. However, Mr. Las Vegas is still standing—and will be bringing his Vegas swagger to Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on Friday, Dec. 2.

During a recent phone interview, I asked him what makes him still love singing.

“I think it’s the fact I’ve done it my whole life,” Newton said. “When I was 4 years old, my parents took me to see a Grand Ole Opry roadshow that had come to Norfolk, Va., which is where I’m from originally. On the show was Hank Williams and many of the other greats of country music. We were way up in the nosebleed section, given my father was an auto mechanic, and we couldn’t afford better seats than that. I couldn’t even see the performers. I found myself looking around at the faces of the audience, and I saw the happiness that they were deriving from those performers and those songs. I turned to my mother and said, ‘That’s what I want to do!’ I wanted to bring that kind of happiness to people myself. I think that’s what’s always been my motivating force.”

What about days when Wayne Newton feels under the weather? He said experience helps him pull through.

“I think that from the work ethic that I had to develop at such a young age, singing in the lounges in Vegas at the age of 15—six shows a day, six days a week—I kept learning different instruments to provide me with some vocal relief,” he said. “The one thing I learned is that’s when you earn your money—when you go onstage, and you’re not feeling good. I’ve always had a rule with my musicians: Being sick is OK, but if you’re not in the hospital, you’d better be onstage. There’s no question that it’s taxing when you don’t feel well.”

Newton has been revered as a singer and entertainer, but he’s never been known for songwriting and putting out original material—and he’s OK with that. He mentioned a song that he did about Elvis, based on a letter written by Elvis that Newton bought through a Sotheby’s auction.

“That’s never been something that’s motivated me as much as doing songs that I love to sing, and songs that bring happiness to the people,” he said about songwriting. “I am not one of those performers who would be happy walking out on stage and going, ‘And then I wrote, and then I wrote, and then I wrote.’ I have always wanted to do what people wanted to hear. I wrote a song called ‘The Letter’ which went No. 1 on the country chart, and that was fun, and I still get requests to do that song, but it’s such a downer, because I wrote it after Elvis Presley died.”

Speaking of Elvis: Newton was not only a fan, but a close friend.

“When I met him, he was so unassuming and the first one to find humor in what people thought of him,” Newton said. “He never took himself seriously in any way. We became really good friends and remained friends until the day he passed away. His father called me the night that he did pass and told me when I was working at the Frontier in Vegas.”

There’s no doubt that Newton still loves Las Vegas, even with all of the changes the city has gone through.

“I think it will continue to change. It certainly has changed in the years I’ve been here since I came here in 1959,” he said. “When I came here, it was Frank, Sammy, Dean and Elvis. I got put into the mix somewhere in there. Then as some years passed, and those people passed, there were fewer real stars who could fill the showrooms. The shows and the management of the hotels turned to a different idea. The first idea was the magicians; that went on for about 10 years. Then it went through the impressionist stage with Danny Gans, Rich Little and people like that who were doing impressions of other performers. Now we’re going through the Cirque faze. But in the last four or five years, it has started to go back to star policy again. … Now we have Celine Dion, J-Lo, Britney Spears, Elton John and all of them are doing two weeks and coming back a year later doing another two weeks. They’re doing permanent stays in the hotels they’re in. The star performer is coming back, and it’s full circle. It’ll probably last five to 10 years, and they’ll move on to something else.

“Thank god there’s always been room for me! The thing I love about Vegas is that there’s room for every kind of show. It doesn’t matter what it is. Where else could you go around the world and find that many shows and that many stars on one street on any given night? The sound systems are great; the show rooms are great; and the lighting is great.”

Regarding his problems in the business and financial world, he offered some perspective.

“As I was coming up in the business and working as many nights as I worked, we had to depend on managers and business managers,” he said. “Those people took great advantage of the performers, including myself. There’s no one to blame but yourself in so many ways. On the other hand, when you are a performer who is recording, doing television and motion pictures, and performing in nightclubs, you don’t have the time to consider the true business end of it, and you have to turn it over to someone to trust—and finding people to trust when it comes to money is a very difficult thing to do.”

Wayne Newton will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 2 at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $55 to $65. For more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit

Published in Previews

The holiday season is approaching, as are cooler temperatures—and hotter events, now that season is back in swing.

The McCallum Theatre has a busy schedule in November, with a number of great events to consider. At 8 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 2, you’ll be singing “Urgent,” because Foreigner will be performing. Foreigner is one of the world’s best well-known rock bands, with 16 Top 30 hits, 75 million records sold and great songs such as “Dirty White Boy,” “Feels Like the First Time” and many others to its credit. Tickets, if there are any left by the time you read this, are $47 to $97. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, bossa nova and jazz great Herb Alpert will take the stage alongside his wife, Lani Hall. Herb Alpert has made some great records in his long career, and many of them are now Latin and American music staples; Alpert is credited with bringing the Latin side to American jazz in a truly innovative way. Tickets are $37 to $77. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 19, be ready to say, “Oh myyyyy,” because George Takei will be appearing. Of course, Takei is known for his iconic role as Sulu on Star Trek, but he’s also a hilarious Internet celebrity, and on a serious note, he’s known for speaking emotionally about his family’s imprisonment in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Tickets are $37 to $97. But wait, there’s more: At 3 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 20, The Beach Boys will be performing. I admit that I’m not a fan of the current inception, which does not include creative genius Brian Wilson and Al Jardine. The current lineup is fronted by the Wilson brothers’ cousin, Mike Love, who has been scorned by many original Beach Boys fans. But if you’re feeling nostalgic, go ahead and check it out. Tickets are $67 to $97. Be sure to check out the McCallum’s online schedule for more events. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787;

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino is rocking into November. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 5, white-boy soul-singer Robin Thicke will be stopping by. Remember him? He had that song called “Blurred Lines” that was all over the place a few years ago that so resembled Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” that Thicke wound up in court. Thicke bottomed out pretty hard in 2014 when his follow-up to the Blurred Lines album, Paula, only sold about 30,000 copies. Watch as Thicke tries to get a comeback going. Tickets are $59 to $99. At 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 11, Culture Club (upper right) will finally be coming to the desert. The band announced a tour in 2014 that was slated to kick off at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa—but it was canceled before it began, because Boy George required surgery. You won’t want to miss this one. Tickets are $59 to $89. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 800-827-2946;

The Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa will host an evening with Sheena Easton at 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 10. Did you know the Scotland native has sold more than 20 million records during her career? Tickets are $75 to $85. At 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 11, former Three Dog Night member Chuck Negron will take the stage. The former college basketball player has been performing for more than five decades now! Tickets are $40 to $75. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995;

Morongo Casino Resort Spa is offering some laughs in November. At 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 4, the star of BuzzFeed’s web series Whine About It, Matt Bellassai, will be stopping by. Bellassai had been getting 3.5 million weekly views, but in early 2016, he put his show on hiatus. If you’re looking for a funny Pride related-event, this is the one to pick. Bellassai is infamous for his comedic dialogue about being a single gay man living in the Big Apple. Tickets are $25 to $35. At 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 18, Mr. Fluffy himself, Gabriel Iglesias, will return to the Coachella Valley with his new show, #FluffyBreaksEven. After several appearances in movies, he’s still a stand-up comedy genius and continues to amuse sold-out audiences. Tickets are $65 to $85. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499;

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace will most likely see a boost in attention from locals and tourists alike thanks to Paul McCartney’s performance there in between Desert Trip weekends. At 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 11, there will be a great lineup of desert rockers: Fatso Jetson, Mondo Generator, The Freeks and Glitter Wizard. Fatso Jetson performed at a show at Pappy’s back in April, and I can tell you that the band kicked ass. Tickets are $10. At 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 26, it’ll get weird when the Meat Puppets and Mike Watt and the Secondmen perform. The Meat Puppets are coming back to Pappy’s after a performance there in 2013; it’s a great band from punk-label SST’s glory days. Mike Watt performed in the Minutemen, who were also on SST in the early ’80s; he’s a phenomenal bass player. I’ve seen Watt play with the Secondmen, and they’re mind blowing. Tickets are $20. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956;

The Hood Bar and Pizza has a show in November you won’t want to miss. At 9 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 23, there will be a special Thanksgiving Eve bash with Mighty Jack, The Sweat Act and 5th Town. This should be a fantastic show. I’ve become a big fan of 5th Town, which includes Long Duk Dong vocalist Chelsea Sugarbritches, and Blasting Echo keyboardist Linda Lemke Heinz. One of my favorites is 5th Town’s song, “Pretty.” Admission is free. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220;

The Date Shed has some nice events taking place this month. At 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 4, Metalachi will be coming back. Metalachi is on to something … performing metal songs in mariachi form? Brilliant! Opening the show will be Gutter Candy and Wyte Gye. Tickets are $10 to $15. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe Street, Indio; 760-775-6699;

The Purple Room is ramping up its schedule for the season. At 6:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 11, there will be a performance by Kal David and Lori Bono and the Real Deal. Kal David is a legend we’re lucky to have in our local scene. His blues credentials run deep: He’s performed with B.B. King and opened for Stevie Wonder. Tickets are $25. At 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 19, Branden and James (below) will be performing. Consisting of a cello (James) and a tenor voice (Branden), the duo will be perform everything from Bach to Justin Bieber. Tickets are $25 to $35. The Purple Room Supper Club, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422;

Published in Previews

Morongo wanted the best, and Morongo got the best when KISS stopped by to perform on Sunday night, Oct. 30.

KISS performed in the outdoor tent at Morongo, which has a capacity of about 3,000. It was immediately obvious that this would be a scaled-down show; after all, tents aren’t conducive to over-the-top pyro and members of the band flying around. Also worth noting: This edition of KISS lacks Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, as they were replaced in the early ’00s with Tommy Thayer (guitar) and Eric Singer (drums).

When the lights dimmed and the KISS curtain fell, all four members appeared onstage in their usual makeup, and with the help of some minimal pyrotechnics, they started “Detroit Rock City” and were welcomed with a loud reception. Frontman Paul Stanley acknowledged crowd after a performance of “Deuce,” telling the audience, “As you can see, this is a tent. There’s a lot of things we can’t do, but we can kick some ass,” which got him a loud ovation before “Shout It Out Loud.”

Before playing “Do You Love Me,” Stanley brought up KISS’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2014, saying, “Things have changed a bit in the past couple of years. We’re now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Everyone knows the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hates KISS, but they have to listen to you, and thank you for making it happen.”

During Gene Simmons’ bass solo, blood came out of his mouth along with that infamous tongue—launching KISS fans into a frenzy before the catchy bass lines started to “God of Thunder.” Ace Frehley was well-known for working to develop the pyrotechnics that shot out of his Les Paul Gibson guitar during KISS’ heyday, and Tommy Thayer continued that tradition during his guitar solo after “Shock Me.”

The most memorable song from the setlist was “War Machine,” which included an animated sequence on the stage’s video monitor of knights going into battle, and Gene Simmons spitting a fireball at the end of the song.

During the encore, I unfortunately developed a sour taste in my mouth as drummer Eric Singer sang a Peter Criss-penned hit, “Beth.” While Singer sang it beautifully, it felt a sacrilegious to keep it in the setlist. Paul Stanley later took a moment to praise America’s military and led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance along with an instrumental of the “Star Spangled Banner,” before closing out the night with “Rock and Roll All Nite.”

While I applaud Morongo Casino for upping their game and landing some amazing acts including KISS, this show proved that it would be ideal for the casino to build a proper concert venue. The tent does not have great acoustics, and a few people told me the music actually sounded better outside of the tent.

It’s obvious that KISS remains a popular draw, and remains one of America’s greatest rock ’n’ roll bands.


Detroit Rock City


Shout It Out Loud

Do You Love Me

I Love It Loud

Flaming Youth

God of Thunder

Psycho Circus

Shock Me

Cold Gin

Lick It Up

War Machine

Love Gun

Black Diamond



The Star-Spangled Banner

Rock and Roll All Nite

Published in Reviews

During the ’70s, KISS captured the attention of teenagers worldwide, appearing on lunchboxes and as action figures—all while selling millions upon millions of records.

After longer than four decades, the band remains a big deal. KISS will be performing at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on Sunday, Oct. 30.

KISS was truly innovative, with four distinct and powerful personalities in its early days. In fact, all four members recorded their own solo albums in 1978. During a recent phone interview, frontman and guitarist Paul Stanley said that when KISS first started out, those strong and different personalities led to some difficult times—which in turn led to the departure of both Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Original member Gene Simmons, of course, remains in the band.

“I think initially what propelled the band in the beginning was the combustibility of the band,” Stanley said. “The four of us were all so different, but that caused the danger of imploding or exploding. At some point, the chemistry had to change to have the band continue. The thought ‘all for one and one for all’ is great—until it’s not ‘all for one.’ When priorities and egos get out of hand, then, unfortunately, you have to pick a side, and for me, that side is always KISS. If something is a risk to the band, then there needs to be a change.”

KISS has become a huge business and has gone beyond the lunchboxes, pinball machines and action figures. Over the years, the band’s image and name have graced credit cards lottery cards, slot machines and even caskets: Yes, there’s an official KISS casket, in which Dimebag Darrell of Pantera was buried.

When I asked Stanley whether the business side of things takes away from the art side, he was clearly annoyed by the query.

“Maybe a journalist would think so,” Stanley said. “I don’t think so, and the fans don’t. Speaking as objectively as I can, there are people who perhaps like the merchandise, and that’s terrific. There are also people who like the music and don’t like the merchandise.

“A band ultimately can only survive on being a band. If your music isn’t any good, the engine isn’t there. What we do is propelled by being an incredible live band. When people come to see us, I have to say that it, in many ways, is a drive. The people coming to see us are not about demographics. This is the world’s largest cult. It’s really about the people who believe in the same thing, and KISS as a band is life-affirming, and believes in self-empowerment and celebrating life. This is much more timeless than some bands who have fallen by the wayside singing about saving the whales. Everything has its place, but there is a lot of truth in simplicity. What we were once lambasted for in terms of subject matter has stood the test of time, while other things have fallen by the wayside. Merchandising getting in the way of what we do? No! If it ever did, it would be pushed aside. But the two can co-exist very easily.”

Stanley noted that many of KISS’ critics have fallen by the wayside, too.

“I remember early on when some critics would talk about … sliding across the stage or dancing on the piano,” he said. “For us to do it, (that showmanship) was something that was lacking. Those journalists have been recruited into other jobs at this point, if they were lucky, or they’ve fallen off the map. Our success speaks for itself. You can’t thrive for 40 years unless you have something valid to offer.”

Paul Stanley is 64 years old and has had hip-replacement surgery; he’s hinted that a second surgery may be in his future. When I asked how much longer he thinks he can continue his over-the-top stage performances, he implied that he has no plans to slow down.

“It’s far less challenging after a hip replacement. When we’re injured, that’s the issue,” Stanley said. “When we are lucky enough to have medical science or medicine heal us, we’re that much better for it. Twenty-five years ago, I did shows with cracked ribs. That’s just par for the course. I’m Superman with an electric guitar. I’m a superhero; I’m an athlete; and I’m all of those things. I’m in uncharted territory. What I do is unlike anything else. You don’t see basketball players at my age or football players at my age. The rock musicians you see at my age are ready for the rocking chair—and not the rocking music.”

Stanley said his short run as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera in 1999 in Toronto as an example of his work ethic.

“It was one of the most gratifying and satisfying things I’ve ever done creatively,” he said. “It took enormous discipline and was a completely different technique of singing. In theater, you don’t get to complain about your pinky hurting or showing up late. Rock musicians are a bunch of wusses. You need to go into the theater to see the discipline of being consistent and working toward a high bar, which is a great lesson for everyone. Honestly, for me, it was exactly what I expected, and to attain that was an incredible amount of work. I was getting standing ovations every night.”

I asked what non-original members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer bring to the table and the creative process.

“They are as much a part of this as Gene (Simmons) and I,” he said. “They are part of the heart and soul of this band. They are part of the passion of this band and the integrity of what we do. Every night, I just look around the stage and think this is the band I wanted us to be: Four people who take incredible pride in what they do and want the band to be better. If you make the band bigger, you make yourself bigger. Creatively, Eric is one of the great drummers in rock ’n’ roll. He’s played with everyone from Brian May to Bono to Gary Moore to Tony Iommi. He’s phenomenal. Tommy just blows people away from other bands when they see them. To have these guys ride in this band and in its history is worth its weight in gold. There’s nobody in this band who is a sideman. Everybody in this band pulls their weight and makes everyone work harder.”

Stanley said fans who have been hoping for another KISS reunion with Frehley and Criss—hopes buoyed by Stanley’s appearance on Frehley’s 2016 album, Origins, Vol. 1—need to know it’s not going to happen.

“No, and I find myself at a loss for words there,” he said. “Ace and Peter were part of what made this band possible, and they’re also part of the reason that they couldn’t remain in the band. The band couldn’t survive with them. At this point, I’ve been playing with Eric Singer for over 20 years, and Tommy has been in the band for 13 years. There’s no reason to go backward. I played on Ace’s last album and shot a video with him, and it’s been great to have him in my life. That is more than good enough, and that is a terrific thing in itself.”

The band starts off its live shows with an announcement saying, “You wanted the best; you got the best,” and Stanley promises nothing short of greatness for the upcoming show at Morongo.

“We just did 40 shows in 10 weeks, which is pretty mind-boggling and would be a challenge for anyone to do,” he said. “The band has never sounded better. The band is phenomenal; the setlist is great, and we are everything that you’ve heard and more. We hit the stage every night, not to live up to expectations, but to blow them out of the water, and that’s what we do.”

KISS will perform at 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $100 to $150. For more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit

Published in Previews

Desert Trip. Desert Daze. The Joshua Tree Music Festival. Alice Cooper. Clint Black.

Welcome to the start of season, folks: It’s a blissfully crazy music month here in the Coachella Valley.

The McCallum Theatre is up and running for the 2016-2017 season. It all begins at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 15, with Aida Cuevas and Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles. Cuevas is a Latin Grammy winner who has been at it for more than 30 years, and she’s accompanied by what is being billed as America’s first all-female mariachi ensemble. Tickets are $27 to $87. At noon, Sunday, Oct. 23, the McCallum will celebrate its Fifth Annual Family Fun Day. There will be fun, games and a performance of B—The Underwater Bubble Show, about a character named Mr. B who is transported to a magic world of bubbles. Tickets are $9 to $25. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29, Sue Sylvester … um, we mean Jane Lynch will entertain with a musical-comedy performance—as well as show tunes! You won’t want to miss this one! Tickets are $47 to $87. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787;

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino is hosting some fantastic shows this month. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 22, the Doobie Brothers will be returning to the Coachella Valley, after performing at Stagecoach back on May 1. Since the group first appeared in Northern California in 1970, the Doobie Brothers have sold more than 40 million records—becoming a legendary name in rock music in the process. Hmm … I wonder where they got their name? Tickets are $39 to $69. At 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 28, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs will share the spotlight. Interestingly enough, McDonald fronted the Doobie Brothers for a period of time. Meanwhile, Scaggs has been making waves in music since the ’60s, when he was a member of the Steve Miller Band. Tickets are $29 to $69. If all these legends aren’t enough to get you excited … at 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29, there will be a performance by Alice Cooper (right). That’s right, ALICE COOPER! Many, many things can be said about Alice Cooper. You can discuss the makeup, the live performances that have included a guillotine, collaborations with the Amazing Randi and Salvador Dali … and, of course, songs that have become heavy-metal staples, like “School’s Out,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “I’m Eighteen.” You need to get your ass to this show. Tickets are $39 to $79. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000;

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has one rather compelling event (if Desert Trip is not your thing, that is): At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 8, there will be a performance by ZZ Top. I’ve seen ZZ Top twice, most recently at Stagecoach in 2015, where the band delivered a kickass and unforgettable performance. No matter what your attitude may be, take some ear plugs! They play LOUD. Tickets are $85 to $115. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995;

I’ve been quite impressed with the events that Morongo Casino Resort Spa has hosted recently, and I’m excited to see what the coming year will bring. At 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7, country star Clint Black will be performing. Black is a big name in country music—and has been since the ’80s. He’s also tried his hand in music production and has acted in films such as Flicka 2 and Anger Management. Tickets are $35 to $45. At 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 21, The Fray will be performing. The Fray confused a lot of people as the band rode up the charts of the alternative-mainstream music world. People labeled The Fray as an “emo” band and as a “Christian” band. Really, neither label is accurate. If you listened to the radio sometime in the last decade, chances are you’ve heard hit-single “How to Save a Life.” Tickets are $67.50 to $77.50. Cleveland does not have much of a local music legacy to speak of—but see an exception to the rule at 10:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 28, when there will be a performance by Cleveland’s Breakfast Club. It’s actually a fantastic cover band featuring some of Cleveland’s best local musicians. The group is fun to watch! Tickets are $20 to $40. If that’s not enough … you want the best? Well, the best is coming to the Coachella Valley: At 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, KISS will take the stage. KISS? Yep, KISS! These days, that means Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and two non-original members, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. Personally, I’m ready for Ace Frehley and Peter Criss to return! Tickets are $100 to $150. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499;

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has a packed October schedule. At 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 14, Tommy Stinson’s Cowboys in the Campfire will be performing. Stinson (below) served as the bassist of the Replacements and Guns N’ Roses (after Axl Rose fired Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum). Stinson has departed GNR and released solo recordings recently; they don’t sound too bad. Tickets are $15. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 15, The Evangenitals will be returning to Pappy and Harriet’s. While the group is a Pappy’s regular, the band is always worth seeing. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956;

Published in Previews

During the 1980s, a lot of memorable R&B groups came and went—but Shalamar left more of a lasting impression than most. In fact, the band continues to influence R&B groups to this day.

Micki Free, a former member of Shalamar, now makes great music on his own—including a lot of Native American music. He’ll be stopping by Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on Friday, Sept. 23, with blues-rock band American Horse.

During a recent phone interview, Free discussed growing up in Germany.

“My stepfather was in the military,” Free said. “I spent probably 10 years in Germany. They usually do 2-3 years of duty, rotate back home, and they can go back out if they want. We ended up in the same place in three tours of duty in Germany, and I loved it there. It was an awesome place. We met the most awesome people because of the people who were coming into there, and to this day, I still love German food.”

While in Germany, Free discovered a lot of music.

“I was small, but I remember it was the coolest thing over there, because it was all British Invasion kind of stuff,” he said. “I was listening to the Stones, Hendrix, The Who and Steppenwolf—and that really got me into music, seeing those bands on TV on the one channel they had over there. I wanted to play guitar, and that music was my first introduction into cool music, especially Jimi Hendrix.”

Free said he at first was hesitant to join Shalamar, given that the band’s music generally went outside of his interests—but he was persuaded to join by Gene Simmons.

“Gene Simmons from KISS discovered me when I was 17 or 18 years old. At that time, I was in a three-piece band trying to emulate Jimi Hendrix,” Free remembered. “That’s what I wanted to play—I’m a blues-rock guitar-player. Shalamar asked me to be in the band, and at that time, Gene Simmons was managing me, and I didn’t know who they were. Gene and I went to Tower Records and bought a cassette and listened to it. I didn’t want to be in that band, because it wasn’t what I wanted to do. There was no way in the world I would want to play that kind of music, and I didn’t like it. Gene said to me, ‘If you join Shalamar, we can negotiate you a solo deal, and it would be like getting into a limousine instead of a taxi cab.’ Knowing Gene, I knew exactly what he meant. So I joined Shalamar. A year later, I met Prince, and we were friends for over a decade, and I won a Grammy, had a platinum record, and so on.”

Free said his experience in Shalamar was overwhelmingly positive.

“After I got into the band and became really good friends with the singer, Howard Hewett, who I’m still friends with to this day, they were an awesome R&B group rivaled by none,” Free said. “Massive Top 10 hits—they were huge. I got a taste of R&B and could appreciate it and dug it after that.

“With R&B today … if there’s any good R&B, it’s good, but it’s not like it was back in the day. Hip hop and rap dominate the charts, and the music business as I know it and did know it—it’s gone. Will it come back? I don’t think so. I moved on to what I do, which is playing blues rock with American Horse, or playing Native American flute.”

Free says that he hears a lot of ’80s R&B in modern DJs and performers such as Chromeo.

“A good mixer, also known as a DJ, goes for beats. He goes for things that people have heard before and that they like,” Free explained. “When you put all that together now, you still have to go to the kitchen cupboard and get the good ingredients—because that’s where they are. You have some good stuff coming out, but you want some good grooves—grooves with a catchy hook line that you remember, and that’s what makes those guys happening. … Do I like it? No, because it takes money out of my mouth as a live performer. Do I appreciate it? Yes, I dig it.”

Free explained his brand of Native American music.

“There are 500 nations. Every Native American nation has its own values, its own ways that they do things, and I can answer to the way I play Native American flute, being both Comanche and Cherokee,” Free said. “There’s an organic sound that I get through playing native flute, which is not a flute you play sideways like you see in concerts; it’s a wooden flute and very organic. A long time ago, I heard a flute player at a powwow, and it was one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard in my life.

“So I had to play the flute. I didn’t know how; I didn’t have one, but I had to play one. Somebody gifted me a flute, and within two weeks, I was playing it well. I can play seven instruments, and I’m self-taught. My Native American music is very organic, and I can play traditional, but I play it like I do a guitar. I covered Neil Young’s version of ‘Down by the River.’ Niko Bolas, who was a producer for Neil Young, heard it and freaked out. I got in touch with Niko, and he remixed it, and it sounds amazing.”

Free’s friendship with Prince made him a subject of Charlie Murphy’s “Hollywood True Stories” on Chappelle’s Show. Murphy told a story about playing basketball against Prince and his friends—including Micki Free.

“After I joined Shalamar, people were telling me, ‘There’s a guy who is like you! He wears ruffled shirts and wears eyeliner, and his name is Prince!’ I didn’t really get into Prince, because I didn’t really care about it until the premiere of Purple Rain, which I went to,” Free said. “By then, Prince was really cool and happening. A year after that, Prince and I are meeting each other in clubs in Los Angeles and kind of became friends. I’d sit with him and listen to some of the music he would bring in to play, and from 1982-’89, we were really tight, because he spent a lot of time in Los Angeles. I’d go to his house, listen to music, watch movies … and, of course, there’s the infamous basketball game.

“That story is true. I just did an interview with ESPN, if you can believe that, and they called it ‘The Most Famous Pick-up Basketball Game in World History.’ We played basketball against Eddie and Charlie Murphy, and Prince was like Michael Jordan—he kicked butt, and then cooked us pancakes. It’s all true.

“I’m the only surviving member of ‘Team Blouses.’ Some people want to know the truth of that story, and I’m the only one who can tell that story.”

Free lost touch with Prince in the early ’90s and was devastated when he heard Prince had died.

“I was in the studio in Nashville recording my new Native American flute CD. My phone blew up, and somebody said, ‘Prince died; it’s on Facebook.’ I was like, ‘Right … Facebook. There’s so much junk on there.’ Then … certain people I know who are affiliated with him (started calling), and they’re telling me that Prince is gone, and I’m in shock. It wasn’t like I was a Prince protégé; I was just a guy who Prince met, dug, and had something in common with. We hung out for 10 years. A one-on-one meeting with Prince wasn’t like the music he gave the masses, which was awesome, but like going to church. He was very deep, very religious and he could make you feel special. The way he passed was very tragic.”

What can those who attend his show at Morongo expect? He said he has musicians coming with him who have played with Elton John, Billy Joel and John Fogerty, among others.

“They can expect to get smoked and see a good show. I’m coming with the A-Team, baby,” Free said. “It’s going to be good blues rock, and I’m going to do one song that Prince did by the Rolling Stones called ‘Honky Tonk Women’ that is so funky and so fun.

“If you haven’t seen me play, just look me up on YouTube. We’re just going to have some fun, and I’m going to take a little break, and the people are going to ask me, and I’m going to tell them about how I played basketball with Prince.”

Micki Free will perform at 10 p.m., Friday, Sept. 23, at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $40. For more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit

Published in Previews

As we begin to (hopefully?) enjoy slightly cooler temperatures, there are a lot of hot events taking place ’round these parts throughout the month of September.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a great schedule this month. At 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 2, iconic comedy duo Cheech and Chong will be performing. Their marijuana humor made them a huge deal—and their jokes have stood the test of time, as many younger people are now laughing at their special brand of silliness. Oh, yeah, Dave’s not here, man. Tickets are $29 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 9, Toto will take the stage. There aren’t too many bands whose members can claim 200 Grammy nominations and performances on 5,000 albums between them. Toto just might be one of the most underappreciated bands of all time. Tickets are $29 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16, there will be a double bill featuring Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 frontman Rob Thomas. Both Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 were huge hits on adult-contemporary radio in the ’90s, and Thomas was featured on Santana’s hit single “Smooth” in 1999; it’s one of the most successful singles of all time. Tickets are $49 to $119. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000;

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has one event that you won’t want to miss: At 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 24, ’80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper will be performing. Lauper is probably best remembered for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” although she’s had other hits through the years, including “True Colors.” Her career reached a whole new level in 2013 when her hit musical Kinky Boots took Broadway by storm. Tickets are $75 to $95. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995;

Spotlight 29 has some fine offerings in September. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 3, comedian Rodney Carrington will perform. Carrington has many other talents beyond comedy: He’s a singer and an actor, too. He’s released nine successful comedy albums. Tickets are $35 to $55. Another fantastic show will happen at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 23, when new-wave band Squeeze stops by. The group is known for hits such as “Cool for Cats,” “Up the Junction” and many others. The band recently recorded a new album, Cradle to the Grave—its first album of new material in 17 years. Tickets are $45 to $65. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566;

Morongo Casino Resort Spa continues to attract big names. At 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 9, the ’90s Remix Tour will be coming through, featuring Blackstreet, Ginuwine and Dru Hill. Confession: Blackstreet is one of my guilty pleasures. I secretly loved “No Diggity” in high school … and probably didn’t hide that fact so well. Ginuwine and Dru Hill lit up the R&B charts in the ’90s. This is one show you’ll want to go see. Tickets are $55 to $65. At 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16, country hit-maker The Band Perry (above right) will be performing. Siblings Kimberly Perry, Reid Perry and Neil Perry took the country world by storm in 2010 when they released their self-titled debut album, and have played sold-out shows around the world ever since. Tickets are $45 to $65. At 10 p.m., Friday, Sept. 23, Micki Free of Shalamar will take the stage. Shalamar was a highly influential dance music group during the late ’70s and ’80s that had several hit singles. Free also won a Grammy Award for his contributions to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. If you’ve seen Chappelle’s Show, you’ve probably heard Charlie Murphy’s story about his friends playing a game of basketball against Prince and the Revolution—and Micki Free. Tickets are $40. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499;

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace one can’t-miss event coming up. At 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30, Shooter Jennings will be performing. Shooter Jennings, the son of Waylon Jennings, has had an interesting career. While he’s recorded alternative country music, he also recorded a bizarre conspiracy theory-related album titled Black Ribbons. His most recent release, Countach, is an entire album covering the songs of electric-music pioneer Giorgio Moroder, which has a guest appearance from… Marilyn Manson? Yeah … . Tickets are $25. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956;

The Date Shed hasn’t released a full schedule of events yet; it remains to be seen whether the venue will branch out, or just keep booking the same acts over and over again. Speaking of returning acts, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 24, punk/reggae band The Expendables (below) will be back at the Date Shed. Then group has been around since 1997 and has shared the stage with bands such as Slightly Stoopid, NOFX, Less Than Jake and many others. Tickets are $17. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699;

Published in Previews

It’s been four years since Flo Rida released a full-length record—but that doesn’t mean the hip-hop artist is holding back new material. All along, he’s been dropping new music as singles and as promotional material—while continuing to tour and, yes, work on a new album.

After a successful performance last year at Fantasy Springs, Flo Rida is returning to the area for a show at Morongo Casino Resort Spa on Friday, Aug. 12.

The Florida-based rapper has worked with numerous big names and has taken the music world by storm by combining electronic dance music with his rap. During a recent phone interview, Flo Rida talked about his latest high-profile performance—July 31 at the Teen Choice Awards.

“I was proud to be a part of it,” Flo Rida said. “That event was amazing. (I had) a chance to perform this year and have records that appeal to the level of everyone. The teens were full of joy and reminded me of when I was a teen.”

Later this month, Flo Rida will perform another high-profile show: He’ll again work with World Wrestling Entertainment, appearing at SummerSlam as a musical guest.

“I’ve performed for them a lot of times, and they’re like family,” he said. “I look forward to going out there with my dancers. My passion is performing and getting the crowd pumped up.

“I’m always intrigued by all of those matches, because they go out there, and the crowd doesn’t know what to expect.”

Flo Rida’s most recent substantial release was an EP, My House, in 2015. He’s been continuing to work on his next album and has already released a couple of singles: “Hello Friday,” “Who’s With Me?” and most recently “Who Did You Love,” featuring Arianna.

“I’m actually still in the studio working right now. But as far as the new album goes, I’ve definitely put more melodies in the music,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to travel to a lot more places, so as far as production goes, I’ve had a chance to work with different producers a lot more. I haven’t come up with a title yet, so I’m hoping the fans will help me out.”

I asked Flo Rida about the Black Lives Matter movement, a subject which has found its way into a fair amount of rap as of late.

“I just think about love, peace, and happiness,” Flo Rida said. “As far as Black Lives Matters goes, I’m an African American, and I feel like all lives matter at the end of the day. The politics of all of it is more of a personal thing. I think it starts in your own home, your own neighborhood, and doing things that inspire each other. I think the world would definitely be a better place if people thought about that.”

Flo Rida said he enjoyed his performance last year in the Coachella Valley and is looking forward to returning to the desert.

“I love it there, because of the fact everyone knows my music,” he said. “The last time I was there, I had an amazing time, so I’m looking forward to being back there in hopes of topping the last performance.”

I asked Flo Rida what he’d like to happen next in his career.

“I’d like to have more placements of my songs in movies,” he said. “I look forward to getting into a film myself and branching out and taking advantage of anything that comes along with having a successful career.”

I had to ask: What kind of movie would Flo Rida enjoy doing?

“Action movies!” he exclaimed.

Flo Rida will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 12, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $65 to $75. For tickets or more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit

Published in Previews

It’s always nice to be inside with air conditioning and cold beverages during the sweltering August heat. Well, here are some upcoming events where air conditioning and frosty drinks are abundant—as is great music.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino is hosting some big names this month. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20, rapper Pitbull will be performing. It seems like every other hit pop song these days includes Pitbull on the track. After selling millions of albums and racking up numerous music awards, Pitbull is showing no signs of slowing down. Tickets are $69 to $129. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 27, former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar will be performing with a group that he’s calling The Circle. Joe Satriani and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are currently unavailable to perform with him as the supergroup Chickenfoot, so Hagar has recruited Michael Anthony (who also played with him in Van Halen and Chickenfoot), Jason Bonham and Vic Johnson. Tickets are $49 to $109. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000;

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has one notable event taking place in August. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6, British reggae band UB40 will be performing. UB40’s reggae credentials are incredible, and the band has had about 50 hit radio singles in the United Kingdom, with several here as well—many of which are reggae covers of songs, such as “Red Red Wine” by Neil Diamond and “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. Tickets are $55 to $75. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995;

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has suddenly become the place to be! At 9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 5, Flogging Molly (right) will be performing, right on the heels of a European tour. One of the two best-known Irish punk bands in America (the other being the Dropkick Murphys), Flogging Molly falls a little bit more on the traditional Celtic music side—and isn’t afraid to slow things down to tell an Irish hard-luck story that will bring a tear to your eye. Fun fact: Frontman Dave King was in heavy-metal band Fastway in the ’80s, and that band did the soundtrack for the terrible horror film Trick or Treat. Tickets are $55 to $65. At 9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 12, there will be a show by Flo Rida. Flo Rida is a fascinating figure in the sense that he’s been combining house music with hip-hop. He’s been highly successful, in part due to terrific collaborations with artists such as Sia, T-Pain, Fresh Kid Ice and others. Tickets are $65 to $75. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499;

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace continues to fill the Monday Open-Mic Night with local music figures as guest hosts. On Aug. 1, Big Dave Johnson, Pappy’s security man and bassist for Mojave Sky, will be hosting; on Aug. 8, it’ll be Stew Heyduk from the Pappy’s Sunday Band. On Aug. 15, Lisa Lynn Morgan of R. Buckle Road and Lisa Lynn and the Country Gentlemen will be hosting; on Aug. 22, the hosts are local musicians Nigel Roman and Jennifer Irvine. On Aug. 29, Brent Simpson from Daytime Moon and Spankshaft is in charge. Admission is free. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 13, Joshua Tree musician Gene Evaro Jr. (below) will be celebrating his album-release party. Gene has been on a fantastic run, playing a national tour with Elle King, and performing at various big events including the Joshua Tree Music Festival. His music has also made recent appearances on various soundtracks, including that of The Deadliest Catch. Every local-music lover should support Gene—and buy his album! Tickets are $12. At 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20, there will be a performance by Diane Coffee, featuring Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming. Diane Coffee is sort of a Broadway-meets-’70s-psychedelic-rock project. It’s definitely different … in a good way. Tickets are $10 to $12. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956;

Splash House will be returning for Round 2 this year, from Friday, Aug. 12, to Sunday, Aug. 14, at the Riviera Palm Springs, The Saguaro and the Palm Springs Air Museum. The lineup features headliners Gorgon City (performing a DJ set) and Snakehips. Other performers will include Hudson Mohawke, Bondax, DJDS and many others. General admission tickets are $120—and as of now, the event is listed as sold out. For more information or to purchase tickets, should any others become available, go to

The Hood Bar and Pizza has one scheduled event that’s a must-see: At 9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 6, catch great triple-bill of Jesika Von Rabbit, The Yip-Yops and Herbert. This is the one local show in August you don’t want to miss. The Yip-Yops are back and performing under the band’s original name, after losing the IIIZ name to former record label Hood and Associates earlier this year. Meanwhile, Jesika Von Rabbit just performed a kick-ass show at Pappy and Harriet’s with the Death Valley Girls. Folks, this is the Low Desert’s chance to party with the cool kids from the high desert. Admission is free. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220;

Photo below by Guillermo Prieto/

Published in Previews

Ever since the band Creed first dissolved in 2004, frontman Scott Stapp has endured a hellish series of personal crises.

Stapp’s downward spiral reached its lowest point in 2014, when he suffered a complete mental breakdown brought on by drug and alcohol use. Stapp made Facebook videos in which he made delusional and outlandish claims; at one point, he even called his son’s school and claimed he’d found ISIS members within his family.

Thankfully, Stapp has since gotten himself together since then, and is now continuing his solo music career. He will be stopping by the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa on Saturday, Aug. 20.

During a recent phone interview, Stapp discussed his most recent solo album, Proof of Life, which was released in 2013—before Stapp’s mental breakdown. The album was based on Stapp’s personal struggles. 

“It was a very cathartic experience to systematically address some very deep struggles in my life and kind of chronicle it in music, from the beginning to what I had thought at the time was the end,” Stapp said.

He added that getting back into touring has been a positive experience.

“It’s been awesome. It’s been a pretty busy couple of years,” he said. “Prior to going back out on the road, I sort of stepped back into the public eye in doing a TV show. … I’ve been going nonstop ever since. I’ve enjoyed connecting with my fans through music and sharing experiences. I find while out on tour during my meet-and-greets that there are a lot of people who have gone through the same things, or have a family member that has gone through something. It’s been quite an interesting journey, to say the least.”

Stapp was recently named the new lead singer of the supergroup Art of Anarchy, following the death of former vocalist Scott Weiland, of the Stone Temple Pilots. Art of Anarchy also includes guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal formerly, of Guns N’ Roses, bassist John Moyer of Disturbed, guitarist Jon Votta and drummer Vince Votta.

“Those guys approached me and asked me if I wanted to be involved. We had a few meetings; we got together and jammed a little bit, and after those meetings and jamming, I decided to do it,” Stapp said. “I thought it would be a good project to get involved with. I love collaborating with new musicians and artists, and it’s something different.”

There’s a third solo album from Stapp in the works as well.

“I’m still a young man, in my opinion,” said Stapp, who will turn 43 on Aug. 8. “I feel there’s a lot of music ahead for me. I’ve already begun writing ideas and getting things together with a third solo album in mind. So there will definitely be another one.”

Many of Stapp’s problems may be in part due to bipolar disorder, with which he was recently diagnosed.

“I think the entire onset completely surprised me. It caught me off guard and turned my world upside down,” Stapp said. “I think the entire condition is surprising to say the least. I’m just thankful with the proper treatment and lifestyle changes that it can be managed, and I can move on and continue to have a happy, healthy and productive life.”

Many musicians and songwriters have said that medications prescribed for bipolar disorder have stunted their creativity. However, Stapp said that’s not the case.

“I feel the most creative that I’ve ever felt. I guess it just depends on the person and how severe their case is,” he said. “It’s really been a great way for me to take my recovery and put it into action. One of the philosophies of my recovery is to get out of myself and do things for other people. My wife and I really have a heart for children, and through both of our charitable foundations, With Arms Wide Open Foundation and the CHARM foundation, have been helping kids for over a decade. This is kind of an opportunity to continue that mission and partner with an organization called ChildFund and make a difference in some needy children’s lives all around the world. We’ve already met our goal in sponsoring a village in the Philippines, providing food and water, education, clothing and all the necessities kids need to live a healthy life, along with a village in West Africa … which has also been a huge success.”

As for Creed, Stapp said he expects the band to eventually play together again. The band reformed for a short period between 2009-2012, but the other members of Creed have been performing with vocalist Myles Kennedy as AlterBridge, a band which has proven to be quite popular.

“I’m sure we will (play again together),” Stapp said. “When the time is right, I would think something will happen. We’ll just have to wait and see. We communicate via text message, and it’s been positive.”

Stapp recently poked fun at himself in a Funny or Die video in which he reviewed the movie Creed, making it sound as if the movie was a biopic on the band.

“I get a kick out of it. You can’t take yourself too seriously, and it was a lot of fun to do that,” he said. “It’d be fun to do more things like that.”

While Stapp’s future is finally looking bright again, he said his current motto is “one day at a time.”

“I think there’s a lot in store down the road,” he said. “I’m playing a sold-out show almost every night while I’m out on tour. I’m having a blast, and I look forward to continuing to do what I do, and enjoy what I do.”

Scott Stapp will perform at 10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $20 to $40. For tickets or more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit

Published in Previews