'Phoenix's Elvis,' Jerry Riopelle, Dies
Jerry Riopelle (Facebook)

‘Phoenix’s Elvis,’ Jerry Riopelle, Dies

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PHOENIX (CelebrityAccess) Jerry Riopelle, 77, a musician that came to embody the Arizona market, died after a battle with cancer on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.

Riopelle, who lived much of his life in Los Angeles, grew his career in Arizona after his songs hit heavy rotation on KDKB-FM in the ’70s plus his endearing live performances.

“He became part of the cultural fabric in Phoenix, and an adopted local hero who saw the Valley as his most important market long before he moved to Scottsdale,” the Arizona Republic said.

“The people in Tucson thought I was from Phoenix,” he once told the Republic. “People in Phoenix thought I was from Tucson. And I was just treated, always, like a favorite son when, in fact, I was living in L.A., working in film music and things like that.”

Riopelle, who was inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2007, recently announced he was giving two final performances at the Talking Stick Resort, which sold out quickly, but both were canceled, with promoter Danny Zelisko making the announcement.

“We are sad to announce that Jerry Riopelle has become very sick and will be unable to perform,” said the Danny Zelisko Presents announcement. “He will begin treatment this week and try his very best to get better so that he can perform these farewell concerts for his legion of fans in the new year.”

Zelisko told the paper, “He had previously had prostate cancer but got over it. And then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t feeling so good and it turned out the cancer had come back. This all happened so quickly. He had just started going to Mayo Clinic and was getting treatment for it and it just had progressed too far.

“He put a spell on the audience,” Zelisko added. “Anybody who was there at those shows at the Celebrity, when he was selling out two and three shows at a time two and three times a year for about a decade, they knew they were in the presence of a really special performer. Exciting, sexy, great music. He was like Phoenix’s Elvis.”

Zelisko met Riopelle when the musician was living in L,A.

“But we were so proud to have him as ours. He had this string of really great albums and the songs from those albums were classics in Phoenix. KDKB played him in the same rotation as Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen. That’s how big he was. And he sold more tickets. When Jess Nicks opened Compton Terrace, Jerry played to 15,000 fans. John Stewart opened for him and Stevie Nicks came out and sang ‘Gold’ with John Stewart.”

Riopelle, in a 2011 interview with the Republic, credited KDKB with launching his career in Phoenix.

“Airplay is magic,” he said. “I had eight songs in full rotation at one time on KDKB. It was just kind of crazy. And then the concerts took hold. We worked so hard on them, and I lived close enough, being in L.A., that I could work the market pretty regularly. So we put a lot into it. We treated the shows as though they were incredibly important.

“I’m a family man. I decided not to live my life out on the road way back when. But Arizona was close enough that I could work it often. And I did. I built it up. It’s almost like a family thing when I play here.”

“If I could, I would build an Arizona musical Mount Rushmore,” Dan Engler of the Verde Independent wrote. “The monument would have Marty Robbins and Alice Cooper as bookends. Inside would be Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks. Front and center, though, would be Jerry Riopelle … .”

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