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I'm happy to share with you that I had the privilege of opening for two superior rock icons on Friday night March 23rd at Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown--TOMMY SHAW(lead guitarist/singer with superband STYX and DAMN YANKEES) and JACK BLADES(bassist/guitarist/singer with NIGHT RANGER and DAMN YANKEES). Visit their site at The duo reunited after a hiatus of several years and have recorded a great CD called "Influence", songs they cover from Simon & Garfunkel, Yes, Steely Dan, ELP, the Zombies, and more. I heard a week prior to the show that the duo was coming to Allentown, and I pursued a course of action that actually was based on trying to "sit in" with them on keyboards and vocals. After reviewing the songs on their new CD I realized they were laden with keyboard solo parts(and great harmony opportunities). Since they were touring with just acoustic guitars and a few effects pedals, I thought they may be interested in that added musical ingredient. I went on the "forum" section of their website and hooked up with some folks going to their NYC show at B.B. Kings on Wed March 21. They got a letter backstage to Tommy and Jack informing them of my request to sit in with them. And so I waited with anticipation... Crocodile Rock Cafe owner Joe Clark and I have known each other over 20 years--he had Tom Epler and I open for Molly Hatchet way back in 1987 at another club he owned, and in 2001 a trio I performed with called "Three Together" (w/Jake Kaligis & Gordon Gorin) opened for Todd Rundgren at Crocodile Rock. I called Joe Thursday night to see what he thought of my idea--he said he would run it by the guys when they arrived Friday afternoon but he was not optimistic. At 3:00PM Friday afternoon I received a call from Croc Rock club DJ Tom Taylor. Tom said, "Hey Jim--it's not gonna work with you playing with Tommy and Jack--but they ran it by their management--and they'd like you to OPEN for them." I was told to be there by 6PM to set up--doors opened at 7PM and I was to go on at 7:30. I quickly updated my website to reflect this wondrous opportunity, sent out an e-mail announcing it, packed my car with keyboards and acoustic guitar(and PA system which I was not going to have to use), showered/dressed and grabbed a half-eaten tunafish hoagie and chips and set out at 5PM to try to beat the Friday traffic. I arrived before 6PM to the strains of Shaw-Blades doing their sound check. After a half-hour of glorious harmonies and steller 12-stringed twanging I got to meet the guys and thanked them for the opportunity. They were very gracious and they exited to grab some dinner--the Croc Rock staff helped me get hooked up to their incredible in-house system, I ran through a few songs and it was time to let the crowd in... The DJ played some dance David Bowie music and I concentrated on song selection--I decided I'd open with two Doors tunes--"Touch Me" and "Light My Fire". I was told I had a half-hour to play so I took the stage at 7:30PM and introduced myself to the crowd--I assured them they were in for a great night and they immediately seemed ready to hear some music--and welcomed my Doors songs with eager ovations. I then grabbed my acoustic and hit a button on my keyboard to play pre-recorded keyboard parts with full orchestration on "Comfortably Numb" from Pink Floyd. I then did an original tune "A Little '60's Tune"(you can hear it here on my website at the MP3 samples); I switched gears and did "Tiny Dancer" from Elton, then Bowie's "Space Oddity" on acoustic with the prerecorded keys again. Since it had been raining for a few days I thought of the 1967 Hollies hit "Bus Stop" and that got the crowd dancing a bit("Bus Stop wet day she's there I say 'please share my umbrella")...With weather on my mind, and since "it's been a long and lonely winter" it led me to think of "Here Comes the Sun" and so I did that on keys(there had been many taunts from the crowd for some Beatles). At that point I felt like I was nearing the 8PM cutoff but the soundman flashed both his hands at me--meaning '10 more minutes".. "She's Got A Way" from Billy Joel was my next selection--and after another warm reception from the Shaw-Blades fans I asked them what they might want to hear--complete cacophany broke out and nothing was discernable--except the bouncer who bellowed "FREEBIRD"!! I drolled like Ronnie Van Zant from the Skynyrd live album "What song is it choo wanna hear??!!" The crowd pulled out lighters as I began "Freebird" on the piano--I did a short version and rocked it out on the keys...and I was done. A final burst of applause and grins from the ladies made me feel like I did my job--I kept the music related to the Classic Rock mode they were going to hear that evening--and it worked like a charm. I broke my equipment down--had it off the stage in 10 minutes...and we awaited Shaw-Blades to take the stage... What I did not realize until later that evening is that the Boston MA show the guys were to do the night before had been cancelled due to Tommy Shaw having extreme laryngitis...the tour manager told me they shot him with a steroid and he sounded flawless with Jack Blades and a third guitarist backing them up with incredible vocal power as well when they took the stage around 8:30PM. "Summer Breeze" was one of their first songs along with Tommy's Styx hit "Too Much Time On My Hands"(we all did the 2-claps after "Too Much(clap-clap)Time On My Hands")...some stand out songs were the Damn Yankees tune that Tommy and Jack did while in that band--(Can You Take Me)"High Enough"...also "Your Move" from Yes would have made Jon Anderson proud. Never leaving the stage for 2 hours, and surrounded by a litany of acoustic guitars to choose from, Shaw-Blades joked and entertained like real pros--their show was chock-full of humorous stories of the road(Jack at one point admitted that he didn't know the lyrics to CSNY's "Love the One You're With" was "there's a rose in A FISTED GLOVE")--he actually did phone tag with Stephen Stills to insure those were the right 10:30 PM, and after great renditions of "Crystal Ball" and "Fooling Yourself" from earlier Styx days and the finale--a slow brooding version of "Blue Collar Man"--the boys were done--an incredible show! I was 16 when I first played "Fooling Yourself" and "Grand Illusion" in my first band back in 1978(my bandmates were in their '20's)--though I did not get to play those keyboard parts on THEIR songs--they allowed me to do much more--have the stage to myself for 40 minutes...after a few hurried autographs near the exit door the guys bolted into a waiting Hummer that owner Joe Clark got behind the wheel of and drove them off to their hotel(word from the tour manager was that Tommy was still not feeling well and perhaps the steroid shot was wearing off--I'm crossing my fingers that they can fulfill their ambitious tour)...the tour manager gladly took my CDs and said "we'll play it on the bus"--so after 30 years of doing Styx songs--Tommy can hear some Jim Loftus cool is that...thank you all for lasting through this long journal entry--hoping you felt closer to the event!



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