Blue suede tunes

Ben Klein and the Rocketeers bring rockabilly magic to the Panida

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

It’s clear from watching and listening to Ben Klein and the Rocketeers that this band truly enjoys what it does on stage. The sextuplet, comprised of players from Spokane and points throughout the Northwest, will take the main stage at the Panida Theater for one night only Monday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m.

Courtesy photo.

You could say frontman Ben Klein has Elvis in his blood. Klein’s father, Randy, performed as an Elvis tribute artist before his son was even born.

“I was born in 1981 and my parents were always big fans of Elvis,” Klein said. “Until about 2002 I wasn’t a fan, mainly because I didn’t know the music.”

Then, one day, when he and his mom saw a picture of Elvis in the supermarket, she turned to him and said, “You know, you kind of look like him.”

That same year Klein bought his father an Elvis CD and ended up appropriating it for himself, subsequently falling in love with the music.

“Elvis was so impacting on the music industry in general,” Klein said. “If you talk to a lot of artists — Aerosmith, Prince, Michael Jackson, the Beatles — I mean, Lennon and McCartney both said they wanted to play music because they saw him on The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Klein perfected his act and, in 2007, became a member of the elite E.P.E. Top Ten Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists in the World, placing in the top four in the Ultimate Contest. He has toured the country exhaustively with a tribute league called Legends in Concert, playing 84 shows in 117 days at one point, and also did two separate stints in the Norweigian Epic Cruise Ship.

While Klein does resemble the famed performer, his voice is his own, combining crooner sweetness with rockabilly growl.

But the concert won’t just focus on Elvis, even though the first quarter of the show will be a tribute to some of The King’s greatest hits.

“We kind of do a musical journey through quite a few different styles,” Klein said. “We don’t necessarily play one style of music. We’ll play rockabilly, rock ’n’ roll, old hits, crooner tunes. Elvis was truly the guy who bridged the gap between black and white music of that day — the epitome of style at that time.”

“The first set is a lot of what we call white rock ’n’ roll songs of that day” said lead guitar player Garrin Hertel. “Then the second set is stuff like Louis Jordan, who was the biggest name in black music in the 1950s, even bigger than Louis Armstrong. It was pre-rock ‘n’ roll with an R&B flavor to it. It’ll all come together at the end of the show.”

Most of the members of the Rocketeers have a jazz background, making it especially fun to work with them, Klein said. Joining Hertel is Dayan Kai on piano and lead guitar.

“We’ve been playing together for 15 years,” Hertel siad. “Dayan Kai, blind since birth, plays just about every instrument known to man at a level you can perform with. He’s absurdly good — kind of a savant. Olivia Brownlee is a singer-songwriter playing upright bass. … Andy Bennett is on drums and he’s been playing in area jazz and rock bands the last 20 years. Robet Folie is on tenor sax, he grew up in Seattle playing at Jazz Alley and upstate New York in various big bands.”

Expect a little bit of all your old favorites on Dec. 30 with this 1950s-style rock band, including Elvis, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash, with occasional crooner tunes from Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the end of the holidays in style.

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