Every town and city has its own landmarks and unique culture. Phoenix is no different. Back in the mid 70’s one of the cool things to do was to “Cruise Central”. Central is a street that separates the east numbered streets and the west numbered avenues. By the late 70’s it was “Cruise Metro”. Metro Center was one those mega malls that are going the way of the dinosaurs.

Back in those days and well into the 80’s Phoenix had a favorite son, even though he wasn’t from here, that was our best kept secret from the world. He was kinda what Bob Seger was to Michigan before the rest of the country discovered him.

“In The Round” is the Phoenician nickname for The Celebrity Theatre due to its 360 degree slowly rotating stage. It’s where we just saw Franki Valli about a month ago. It was the locally famous Jerry Riopelle that put The Celebrity on the map for us youngsters back in the day.

In those days the best concert in town, regardless of which famous rock band was in town, was Jerry Riopelle. His annual New Year’s Eve show at The Celebrity was a must see and was always sold out.

Like a lot of folks, I keep a mental record of my top ten favorite books and authors. I do the same with albums and artists. On my top ten list, or what some of us musical fanatics call “Your Desert Island List”, which is the ten albums you’d like to have with you if you were deserted on an island for the rest of your life list, is a Jerry Riopelle album.

It’s kinda cheating because the album is a live recording so it has songs from a lot of his albums. The album, named for where it was recorded, is titled Jerry Riopelle In The Round. Yes, here locally at The Celebrity Theatre…

things change
image courtesy of

I can’t recall how many eight tracks I wore out of that album. I couldn’t begin to try to calculate the times the record needle ran through the grooves of that vinyl album either.

Jerry Riopelle came whisker close to making it big. He wrote songs for Brewer and Shipley, We Five, and Shango. Some of the people that covered his songs have been Leon Russell, Herb Alpert, Kenny Loggins, Rita Coolidge, and Meat Loaf… How or why Riopelle’s “Walkin’ On Water” never became a national hit only God knows… literally…

Of course music is timeless because it can magically transport us back in time in our minds. When I hear a Jerry Riopelle song I can’t help but think of my first car and all the blood sweat and tears I spent to buy it. I can’t help but remember my high school buddy Shawn. I remember all the time we spent together in the gym as adults… and I recall that he almost never missed a Riopelle concert. I think of him riding his bicycle in the bike lane up on Thompson Peak Parkway… and being hit and killed by a motorist in March of 2012.

They say all good things come to and end… I suppose that’s got some merit from a secular perspective, but not a Christian one.

Another one of those things that did come to an end was Jerry Riopelle’s New Year’s Eve show.

I was sad to hear that Jerry Riopelle passed the day before Christmas last December. I was even more grieved that he had been so forgotten that I didn’t find out until almost the end of January.

But things change. Small cities become massive metropolises. Kids don’t cruise in muscle cars anymore. Folks get older and don’t cherish the things they did in their youth. And people die…

With time and loss we tend to ponder our past, our actions, our changing thought process, and our own mortality. As Ecclesiastes says, and copied by The Byrds, there is a season for all things, “A time to be born, a time to die”.

That puts becoming famous in a far different light. Only God knew the heart of Jerry Riopelle. What I do know is this; not one single person in the after life wouldn’t go back and trade fame and fortune for another chance to choose The Truth…

Jerry Riopelle… rest in peace…