Our Starship’s not in Kansas anymore

Classic rock legends perform with DPO at Schuster

By Tim Walker

“I loved Paul Rodgers, I loved Lou Gramm. And then I loved Michael Jackson.”

These are words spoken by Grammy Award-winner John Elefante, the former lead singer of Kansas. He and Mickey Thomas, the vocalist of Starship, will be joining the Dayton Philharmonic on April 30 for A Night of Symphonic Rock Featuring Classic Rock Legends, a special one-night-only performance downtown at the Schuster Center. The Philharmonic, conducted by Patrick Reynolds for the evening, will also be joined by the Faithfully rock band from the 2014 Music of Journey performance. The entire 2016 Rockin’ Orchestra series is sponsored by Dayton Freight.

“There are just so many singers, the list is a mile long,” continues Elefante when asked about his musical influences. “I love great interpreters too. For instance, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. He’s not the best vocalist in the world, but that guy can really bring it. I love Tom Petty. But for me it’s all about the songs, man. A great song is just … for instance, “Working My Way Back to You,” by the Four Seasons—and later, The Spinners. That, for me, is an absolutely perfect song.”

Perhaps best known for his years as the lead vocalist of Kansas in the 1980s, a tenure which produced two classic albums and the hit songs “Fight Fire With Fire” and “Play The Game Tonight,” Elefante’s musical career has encompassed so much more than that. He is a very well known and respected singer, producer and songwriter in the field of Christian Contemporary Music, and has produced over 100 major label releases. As a performer, he has released four solo albums and three albums as a member of the band Mastedon, and his music video and single “This Time,” from his 2013 solo album On My Way To The Sun, received worldwide attention and praise for its strong pro-life message.

“The recording industry has changed so much over the years—I was playing at Disneyland in California when I was 14,” Elefante says. “Again, it all comes down for me as to whether a song is a good song or not. I will say this, though—there is one thing in the modern music industry that I detest. And that is vocal tuners. They have brought a lot of people into this industry that shouldn’t be here. You listen to the radio sometimes, and I have such a keen ear for something that’s been auto-tuned, and it’s actually like a dog whistle to me … it actually bothers me. It hurts my ears.”

Auto-tuners won’t be needed, however, at the Schuster Center performance.

“Of course we’re going to be doing a healthy dose of Kansas,” Elefante says. “We’re opening the show with Boston’s “Foreplay/Long Time.” You’ll also hear “More Than a Feeling,” “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner … it’s just pure classic rock.”

Joining Elefante and the Philharmonic onstage will be Mickey Thomas, lead singer of Starship, a band which enjoyed multi-platinum success in the 1980s with MTV-ready hits such as “Sara,” “No Way Out,” “We Built This City” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Thomas joined Jefferson Starship in the late 1970s after the departure of Grace Slick and Marty Balin, and stayed with the band through multiple name and personnel changes, including a brief return by Slick. He was also the lead vocalist on “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” the 1976 hit single for Elvin Bishop.

“I’ve never performed with Mickey onstage,” Elefante says. “But I’ve performed a show with him, if you know what I mean. So I’d met Mickey. And I knew that Steve Cook, the promoter of the gig, is a huge fan of Mickey’s, and I told him a long time ago ‘Man, it would be great to get Mickey in on one of these.’ And he pulled it off, so I couldn’t be happier, man.”

With two great classic rock legends on vocals, an evening’s worth of favorite songs, the Faithfully band and the Dayton Philharmonic, A Night of Symphonic Rock promises to be an unforgettable evening of great music at the Schuster Center. “And wait till you hear Christine LaFond, the girl who’s going to be singing with us,” Elefante continue. “That girl … she’s like another Anne Wilson. You’re going to hear the Three Tenors that night. Glass is going to break.”

A Night of Symphonic Rock With Classic Rock Legends John Elefante and Mickey Thomas takes place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 30 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. in Dayton. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit daytonperformingarts.org or ticketcenterstage.com or call 937.224.3521.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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