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Cranktones virtually crank It up for Kern County


Last year's Christmas with the Cranktones concert at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace. This year, the concert will be presented online with viewers able to donate to the Kern County Cancer Foundation by phone or the organization's website.

In a holiday gift to the community, Guitar Masters concert series founder Rick Kreiser has brought “Christmas with the Cranktones” back to Kern County this week.

“Thanks to our sponsors, we are presenting this annual event in a pandemic-free virtual concert setting online,” Kreiser said.

Albeit in a different format, this will be the Cranktones' sixth Bakersfield benefit concert to help raise money for Kern County Cancer Foundation.

If the band's name doesn't ring a bell, that's not surprising.

As Kreiser explained, “Honestly, they don’t really exist — as a band, anyway — except when they get together for a handful of Southern California gigs each year. And, for the last five years, they have put the cherry on top of our successful Guitar Masters seasons when they come to town for 'Christmas with The Cranktones,' a benefit for the Kern County Cancer Foundation.”

Noting that Guitar Masters is "dedicated to bringing the best musicians from around the globe to Bakersfield,” Kreiser said this holiday show is no different.

What do Ringo Starr, Neil Young, Aerosmith, Neil Diamond, Elton John, Frank Zappa, Carly Simon, James Taylor, ZZ Top, and many other top recording and award-winning artists have in common? Besides wealth and fame, it’s the Cranktones.

Individually, The Cranktones are "first call" studio musicians and world-touring band members for some of the biggest recording artists of all time. They come together a few times a year when their schedule permits for special events and projects like the Christmas concert in Bakersfield.

The “unofficial leader” of the Cranktones, Carl Verheyen, longtime member of legendary rock band Supertramp and a frequent guest artist at the Guitar Masters concert series, is excited to virtually bring the group back to Bakersfield. 

“We love your town, so it’s never hard to convince the lads to play one more show every year,” Verheyen said.  “The fans are so appreciative and into our show, and we’re always happy to lend a hand to a great cause."

The "lads" are some of the best musical sidemen in the business, including Jim Cox on keyboards, Chad Wackerman and John Ferraro on drums, Tom Child on bass, and Craig Copeland on guitar and vocals.

Cox’s credits include studio and touring gigs with Ringo Starr, Rodney Crowell, Mark Knopfler, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss. Regarded as one of the most skilled and talented drummers in all of rock and modern jazz is Chad Wackerman. Shortly after landing his first professional gig with trombonist Bill Watrous, he earned a spot touring the world with Frank Zappa. A veteran of countless recording sessions, Wackerman was most recently on the road with James Taylor.

Fellow Cranktones drummer John Ferraro is another musical “road warrior,” having spent his career laying down the beat in studio and on stage with artists ranging from Rod Stewart and Boz Scaggs to Burt Bacharach and Carly Simon.

Craig Copeland, one of the best-kept secrets in the L.A. studio scene, is an outstanding guitarist and vocalist who has lent his skills to artists as diverse as the Beach Boys and Herb Alpert. And Disney Imagineering executive Tom Child completes this band of brothers on bass guitar.

Kreiser added, “Over the years, it's become a tradition to invite a special guest to join in for a few tunes. Our very first special guest, British guitar legend Albert Lee (who has played with Emmylou Harris and The Everly Brothers), stopped by and 'tore it up' with the Cranktones.”

Many of the attendees of past concerts are local musicians who are awestruck at the musical craftsmanship of the Cranktones.

“The best part of every show for me is to look at the faces of the musicians on stage as they're trading licks with fellow band members and, in particular, our special guests," Kreiser said.

Kreiser also has a personal reason for this special concert benefitting the Kern County Cancer Foundation: “We have walked the cancer road — either through a personal diagnosis or as a caregiver supporting a loved one.  For me, it's the latter, as a son, husband, father and friend. I'm just happy to be able to help the Kern County Cancer Foundation continue their mission.”

Michelle Avila, executive director of the Kern County Cancer Foundation, the beneficiary of “Christmas with the Cranktones,” said the previous five concerts have raised $225,000 to aid Kern County residents during their cancer journey.

She explained, “The Kern County Cancer Foundation is dedicated to assisting local residents who need financial assistance with screening, diagnosis, and treatment for cancer and associated diseases.”

Steve Flores is a contributing Californian columnist and member of the Kern County Cancer Foundation board.