Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 | 7:01 p.m.
Robin Leach has wound down his annual summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, and many of our Strip personalities again stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. As Robin gets ready to pick up pen, notepad and tape recorder to resume his Strip coverage, we continue today with entertainer Franky Perez, who makes music all over Las Vegas.
At age 38, I have been a professional musician for the majority of my life. I was blessed with a couple of things that have allowed me to have a long and, at times, fruitful career. One is the ability to endure constant rejection, and the other is how well I digest Top Ramen — two things musicians and artists know all too well.
At 17, my career started here in Las Vegas in Branden Campbell’s (now of Neon Trees) garage. Within weeks of first hearing my voice ring through a makeshift P.A., we the mighty Junk Hole (really, that was our name) were booking two-figure gigs in bars and clubs we were too young to enter as patrons.
Even then I knew that there was something special in the music this town was spitting out like coins into a slot tray. (BTW, where the f*ck did those go?!)
If you take the deep blues of The Rough Necks, the white boy funk of Home Cookin’, the virtuosity of Santa Fe, Lon Bronson’s nasty ass horns holding it down at the Riv, the infectious ska of Attaboy Skip (with Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers, who actually played in a soul band I put together pre-“Hot Fuss” but had to quit when his girlfriend found out our first gig was at a strip club), the desert/punk/funk of Summer’s Eve, and then pepper in some Ruckus (A&E’s “Best Ink”), some 12V Sex and a bunch of other great musicians and bands I don’t have enough time or screen to write about, you would have a small window into the music scene in which I cut my teeth.
When I was coming up, other than the lounges and showrooms, “music venues” didn’t exist in this town. There were no Brooklyn “teriyaki” Bowls, no Zappos drone-filled clubs downtown (BTW, Tony, I love what you did with the place), no House of Blues balls. Nothing. If you wanted a place to play, you either had to persuade a bar owner to allow you to set up in the corner or drag a generator and a leftover piece of casino carpet you bought from Happy Harry into the desert.
If you were really lucky or good (actually, just lucky), you got a shot at the big time: A gig at the Huntridge Theater. But that could only happen if you first got through Nicole, who booked it, and then made it passed Jaba da Huntridge, who sat in a folding chair wearing a security T the size of a tent taking tickets at the front door. (Jaba once tried to make me buy a ticket to my own show. I ended up having to sneak in by lugging another band’s gear.)
Man, I miss those days.
I now find it funny that as a kid all I did was dream about getting a record contract and getting the hell out of town, but then at 20 I signed a deal with Lava/Atlantic, got out and wrote an entire album about growing up here (“Poor Man’s Son,” Lava/Atlantic, 2003). To this day, this Valley and its colorful yet sometimes tragic cast of characters make their way into pretty much every song I write.
When performing here, I close every show with, “My name is Franky Perez, and I was born and raised in this town.” Everywhere else, it’s, “My name is Franky Perez, and I’m from Las Vegas, Nevada,” which always gets an amazing reaction from the audience. I sometimes like to Basque in the woo’s and whistles, but I know all too well that Las Vegas is the biggest name onstage.
I am by far not the only artist who has drawn inspiration from these streets. My friends Scott and Ken of The Crystal Method called their first album “Vegas” for Goodman’s sake! The Killers’ second effort was titled “Sam’s Town.” I would have called it “Bingo Palace” (now Palace Station), but that’s only because I spent my childhood in its arcade playing Pole Position and Track and Field while my mother rocked the Doppler in the bingo room for hours on end.
Even on the local level, I’d bet my players points (BTW, I don’t gamble) that every band in town has at least one song that refers to Las Vegas in one way or another.
As a performer, I have been almost everywhere and have shared the stage with some of the greatest musicians in the world, but I have yet to come across the kind of talent I have seen in this town.
Our musicians are players’ players. Our stars make seminal albums that not only break through the hazy desert skyline but also become part of the pop culture ether above it.
There’s art in the caliche, blues in the naked city, swagger in the lobby, melody in the buzzing neon, rhythm in the LEDs, poetry in the graffiti, and songs of love loss and hope in every corner store poker machine.
Be sure to check out our other guest columnist today, Jennifer Aleman, who is the company manager of “Crazy Girls” at the Riviera. On Thursday, we meet up with downtown D Las Vegas owner Derek Stevens and his primetime variety show star Frankie Scinta.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.