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September 26, 2017

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KWTD’: ‘Rock Vault’ loaded with hits — including a right hook by Howard Leese


Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

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

The Kats Report Podcast

'Raiding the Rock Vault'

John Katsilometes and Tricia McCrone talk to John Payne and Andrew Freeman of "Raiding the Rock Vault," which plays nightly at LVH Theater.

‘Raiding the Rock Vault’ at LVH

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

Andrew Freeman performs with other band members during rehearsal for "Raiding the Rock Vault" in the LVH Theater at LVH on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

Click to enlarge photo

Andrew Freeman performs with other band members during song rehearsal for "Raiding the Rock Vault" in the LVH Theater at LVH on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

It was the great rock historians Spinal Tap who said, “There is a fine line between clever and, uh … stupid.”

“Raiding the Rock Vault” is on the clever side of that lever, keeping its sense of humor while rocking very hard nightly at LVH. In can be a rocky road, putting on a million-dollar rock revival booked for a year at a hotel that has never been more off the beaten path. But the band, actors and producer “Sir” Harry Cowell, adjusting the set and lineup (Oni Logan of Lynch Mob stepping in for the vacationing Paul Shortino) and show’s format (gone is the 15-minute intermission that led to the loss of dozens of fans, and at least one fistfight, in the show’s first week).

Vocalist, bassist and the show’s co-creator John Payne and vocalist and band member Andrew Freeman joined Tricia McCrone and me last week for “Kats With the Dish” (the show airs 7 a.m. Fridays on KUNV 91.5-FM). They talked of setlists, creative license and fisticuffs:

John Payne on how the show came to be: “I stole it from a small child (laughter). Simon Napier-Bell, The Yardbirds’ manager, came to me about two years ago and had an idea to put a band together of really cool musicians, but with a really great set and show. It would be a bunch of covers being played, but on a really high scale. We’ve all seen it in pubs and bars and places, but if it’s done with like a Pink Floyd-type lighting show, then it should get a lot of attention. But it didn’t. We went to see a couple of people. We went to see Irving Azoff, who is a really important guy in the music industry, and he loved the idea. He took it to a couple of places like William Morris and The Agency, and they said, “For the fee that you want to get, I don’t know if we can risk this much money.

“The idea started off in a bar in Burbank over a drunken evening, so we went back to the bar for another drunken evening to actually commiserate and lick our wounds. Then I came up with another idea of making it more theatrical and making it a chronological story, from the '60s to the '90s, playing my favorite songs and choosing the best musicians and then tour it. I got David Kirshenbaum in, who is an award-winning producer, and came up with the storyline, and then I wanted to add the evolution of radio, from AM to FM to MTV and then a parallel story with four actors. After 36 scripts, we ended up at the LVH.”

Payne on taking the show idea to Las Vegas: “It was meant to tour, and we did one show at the Mayan Theater that we filmed to send it to promoters, and everyone who saw the show said, ‘Have you thought about taking this to Vegas?’ I spoke with Paul Shortino, who was living in Vegas, and he said, ‘I can get you a meeting with the LVH.’ We took the meeting with the LVH, and they said, ‘We want it.’ ”

Payne on how Freeman got in the show: “I was working on the album for the show. We originally did it for Simon Phillips, and Andrew came in just to sing the guide vocals, and he did such a good job that I couldn’t get rid of him.”

Payne on the status of the show’s soundtrack album: “There are going to be 100 tracks released of just our versions of classic rock songs. We are starting off with one album now with 10 songs, but we are also going to do a show album, where we record the show and do a double vinyl album. It’ll be a nice retro thing.”

On how the musicians for “Rock Vault” were chosen:

J.P.: “I had worked with a lot of the guys before. The classic rock circuit really isn’t that large. You do festivals, and you bump into these guys along the way. You kind of know who to ask and who not to ask.”

A.F.: “You show up to L.A. and you meet all these guys, and you think, ‘Why are these guys not doing anything?’ Then you spend a year in L.A. and figure out why they are not doing anything.”

J.P.: “They are drunk down at the Rainbow every night. This is extremely hard work. To get the show together, it was like almost 20 hours a day I was working to get the show together. There were days without sleep.”

A.F.: “I was totally sleeping all those days.”

Payne on the dustup onstage in the show’s first week: “We had a 15-minute break in the show, and Tracii (Guns, from Guns N’ Roses) and Michael T. (the show’s keyboardist) stepped out for a cigarette. After 10 minutes, everyone is supposed to be back onstage. When the break was over, we came back with Bon Jovi, so I start playing the baseline of the song, and I turned around and there is no Tracii Guns. I look up at the keyboard riser, and Howard Leese is up there with his guitar on playing keyboards. He was a keyboard player originally in Heart. Tracii Guns runs onstage, and we are probably 16 bars into Bon Jovi.

“I turn around and Michael T. Ross jumps up on the riser, and Howard Leese clocks him with a right-hander as hard as he can and shouts expletives at him and pushing him. Meanwhile, the song is still going.

“The show ends, and we go downstairs and all hell breaks loose. Tracii is upset because of the fighting, saying he is going home. Doors are slamming. The next day, I get everyone together and say, ‘Howard is going to apologize to Michael, and we will all sit down and have a group hug and get back on course.’ So we all sit down and they are all shaking hands and everything, and I say, ‘Howard, will you apologize to Michael?’ and he says, ‘Nope!’ He won’t do it again then, will he?’

“The show now goes straight through without the break.”

On the show’s setlist choices:

J.P.: “The arguments are part of the fun.”

A.F.: “One time we were doing a Journey song, and a guy in the crowd shouted out, ‘Don’t ever do that again! Don’t ever play Journey again!’

J.P.: “We had one guy complain and want his money back because he said, ‘I didn’t know any of the songs.’ I wanted to choose what were the iconic songs for me, personally. Everyone has their own personal list. There is no best song of those years. There are a couple of questionable songs in there. We used to have ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,’ and a lot of people didn’t like that.

“The other one that does get questioned a lot is Bryan Adams’ ‘Run to You.’ ”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at

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