When some of the world’s best studio and touring musicians have a little time on their hands during Christmas break, interesting things are bound to happen. What better way to celebrate the 65th edition of Guitar Masters than to feature “Christmas with The Cranktones,” on Dec. 13, at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace benefiting the Kern County Cancer Fund.
You see, this band only gets to play together when its members comes home for the holidays.
“Around the L.A. studio scene, many of the musicians are called to play on the same recording dates, so you get to know each other pretty well. After a while, you’re not only playing for a paycheck, but you really like to hang with each other and play for fun, too,” said lead guitarist Carl Verheyen of Supertramp during a recent visit to his Malibu home.
“It was back in the late '80s,” he explained, “and I was looking for an outlet to play a night of blues at Christmastime. It just seemed natural to try and put a few guys together that I knew and liked.”
His first call was to one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets: studio singer Craig Copeland, who's played with Chris Isaak, and The Beach Boys. Verheyen had been playing with drummers John Ferraro and Chad Wackerman since 1975, and thought it would be a kick to try an Allman Brothers-style two-drummer format. So he called them both. Ferraro had been on the road with Larry Carlton and George Benson at the time, and Wackerman had just finished a long stint with Frank Zappa.
Keyboard genius Jim Cox was next on Verheyen’s list. “As an integral part of the Cranktones, we're happy to say Jim’s four-month tour with Lyle Lovett is on holiday hiatus, so he'll be manning the Hammond B-3 for our show,” Verheyen said. Cox is no stranger to Bakersfield audiences, either. He has been on our Guitar Masters stage with John Jorgenson, and on earlier tours as a member of James Taylor’s touring group, and Lyle Lovett’s Large Band.
Rounding out the band is bassist Tom Child, whose "real job" is a music producer on Disney's Imagineering team for stage shows and all those memorable rides at the "Happiest Place on Earth."
“The infectious energy of old friends getting together to play music during the holiday season is really a lot of fun for us, especially when the musicianship is at such a high level,” Verheyen said proudly.
As frequent visitors to the bands’ packed-house shows at one of their only other performance venues — L.A.’s famous Baked Potato — we can attest to exactly what he means.
“Plus, it’s a very relaxed group," he said. "The guys choose a few tunes that we all love to play and that we hope will entertain the audience as well. We’re so used to playing from charts in a studio, or for a headline act in an arena somewhere, that when we have the chance to play as a group, it’s just the best!”
Each year as fall approaches, Verheyen starts thumbing through his extensive contact list of world-class musicians to see who might be available to sit in with the band for the show.
This year’s special guest happens to be the guitarist who appeared in the Cranktones' very first show, over seven years ago. Multi-Grammy winner Laurence Juber is a true guitar master, perhaps best known for his work as lead guitarist for Paul McCartney’s Wings.
However, this show is about more than just great music. Guitar Masters is again partnering with the Kern County Cancer Fund, and will donate all sponsor proceeds from the event to this worthy cause.
“KCCF provides access to resources and financial assistance to continue cancer treatments to patients, regardless of where that care is received,” explained Executive Director Michelle Avila. “We’re so pleased that Guitar Masters has chosen to partner with us for these excellent shows. The funds stay right here in Kern County and often make a critical difference to patients receiving care.”
Last year, Guitar Masters needed a larger venue to accommodate demand, so the event is now hosted at the Crystal Palace.
“Buck’s spirit is everywhere in this place," remarked Verheyen, "and the guys just love playing here.”
— Rick Kreiser is the founder of Guitar Masters concert series.