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September 2, 2014

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Business dispute ices John Payne in ‘Raiding the Rock Vault’ at LVH

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

John Payne and Robin McAuley perform with other band members during rehearsal for “Raiding the Rock Vault” in the LVH Theater at LVH on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

‘Raiding the Rock Vault’ at LVH

Howard Leese, center, performs with other band members during song rehearsal for Launch slideshow »

Um, maybe it’s a publicity stunt?

As they say in Britain, not bloody likely. It is an apt dialect to assume here as two of the creative and business overlords of “Raiding the Rock Vault” at LVH are from England. They would be producer “Sir” Harry Cowell (the “Sir” in quotes, as it is a nickname) and writer/director/frontman John Payne.

A bit of a snit has developed between these two gentlemen, and the result is that Payne has been suspended “indefinitely” from the band and all facets of the production. This directive, issued by Cowell and not by the hotel, went into effect before the May 18 performance.

During a phone conversation this morning, Cowell said that he could not say much about why Payne, a longtime friend, was removed from the show. But it is clearly a business dispute within the band that does not directly involve its relationship with LVH, where it opened in March 2013.

“It’s an awkward situation,” Cowell said. “John and I have been friends for 25 years, but business is business.”

LVH officials are remaining on the sidelines as the band sorts out this dispute.

“We don’t get involved with intramural band issues,” LVH entertainment chief Rick White said over the weekend. “The makeup of the band is a band decision. It’s not our call. Sir Harry, as the producer, makes the ultimate call. … We are partners in the show, we help set pricing and marketing strategies, but we are not involved in the production of the show.”

Payne is not talking at all about the show. He recently bought a home in Henderson and has been unflagging in his optimism that the production will play Las Vegas indefinitely.

A topnotch vocalist and bassist, Payne is most famous for his affiliation with the latest version of Asia. In the weeks since his departure from the show, he has been replaced by bassist Hugh McDonald (of Bon Jovi, Alice Cooper’s band, Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and Cher’s backing band) and vocalist/bassist Mark Boals (who has backed guitar great Yngwie Malmsteen).

Also added to the rotating list of musicians is guitarist Jason Boyleston, who has backed Paul Rodgers and is a member Mickey Thomas’ Starship lineup.

Of course, Payne has brought more than musicianship to the “Rock Vault” production. Along with Grammy Award-wining producer David Kershenbaum, Payne initially envisioned and drafted the blueprint and script for “Rock Vault.” Payne also is the recognized frontman who has recruited guest vocalists such as Thomas, Jon Anderson of Yes and Lou Gramm of Foreigner.

Payne has largely determined the show’s setlist, its lineup and has been the lone Rock Vault-ian to address the crowd at the end of each performance.

The suspension of Payne comes at a crucial moment for the production, which is not only one of the most musically fulfilling shows in Las Vegas, but also among the luckiest. If not for a financial rescue mission enacted by hotel owner Goldman Sachs, the show would’ve been forced to find a new venue last December.

Even with more robust ticket sales through the first six months of this year, it is no certainty that the show would be able to stay afloat financially absent the hotel’s investment.

But after several years of being on the market, LVH is in the process of being sold by Goldman Sachs. Those familiar with the bidding process, who are not LVH or Goldman Sachs officials, have specified David Siegel’s Westgate Resorts as the purchasing entity.

But that sale is not finalized, and until it is … it isn’t. The new ownership team will doubtless review its finances and decide whether keeping “Raiding the Rock Vault” in the grand LVH Theater is a good idea.

Meantime, “Rock Vault” simply rocks on. Payne is still listed as a band member on the production’s website. His bass-playing image is still featured on signage in the hotel, and the show’s schedule and ticket prices remain unchanged. The production is abuzz from a visit Saturday night from Rodgers, one of the great singers ever in rock history, who performed Saturday night at the Cannery over the weekend.

The “Rock Vault” audiences at LVH continue to be strong and responsive, and Cowell entertained a group of investors from Europe on Sunday night as the show’s attendance topped 700.

Even so, Cowell says he can’t be sure if the show’s co-creator will ever return to the production, emphasizing that, “For us, it’s business as usual.”

With emphasis on “business,” of course.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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