Ron Onesti: It's all about rock 'n' roll heaven

Posted6/22/2018 6:00 AM
  • Davy Jones of the Monkees, left, is just one of the many stars with whom concert promoter Ron Onesti has worked, but have now passed away.

    Davy Jones of the Monkees, left, is just one of the many stars with whom concert promoter Ron Onesti has worked, but have now passed away. Courtesy of Onesti Entertainment Corp.

If you believe in forever, Then life is just a one-night stand.

If there's a rock 'n' roll heaven, Well you know they've got a hell of a band.

Those are lyrics from the song "Rock And Roll Heaven." I was driving home from The Arcada a couple of nights ago and this song came on. It has always been a favorite of mine because it brings entertainers with whom I have worked with, but who have passed on, to mind.

The song specifically refers to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bobby Darin, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison and Jim Croce, but really represents all music icons who have passed on. Performers, sidemen, producers, etc.

The words have such a deep meaning. They put the brevity of life and the reunion of the musical souls who have given us the gift of their music, into perspective. Life truly is so short, and that eternal stage in the sky is busier than Carnegie Hall.

In my three-plus-decade career in the entertainment biz, I have been so very fortunate to work with legends, icons and one-hit wonders. Most of them are/were from the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s. And as we lose so many of these stars of our childhoods every year, their memories resonate as their songs come on the radio during my long drives from venue to venue.

"Rock And Roll Heaven" was made popular in 1974 by the Righteous Brothers: Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. I worked with those guys several times, but after Bobby left us, the tune had a deeper meaning when Bill sang it during his solo shows at The Arcada.

"Rock And Roll Heaven" was actually first recorded by the band "Climax," fronted by Sonny Geraci. He also fronted the band the Outsiders, who gave us the hit "Time Won't Let Me."

I had the privilege to work with Sonny many, many times. It was his performances of the song that really made it become one of my personal anthems. He would always be in a white, long-sleeved shirt with cuffs opened wide, no cuff links.

The song was actually written for Sonny in 1973 by Johnny Stevenson and Alan O'Day, who also wrote and recorded the pop hit "Undercover Angel." But when the Righteous Brothers needed a "comeback hit" after a brief breakup, they covered the Climax tune and added the names of Darin and Croce, who had died just a few months before.

But when I hear that song, it makes me think of the artists who have played The Arcada and have passed on.

Paul Revere (of The Raiders) performed his last public show at The Arcada before he passed away. A great guy with a great sense of humor.

Joan Rivers filmed her last stand up comedy special for Showtime here. She was wonderful and loved the theater. At the time, she was on television more than any other celebrity. When I asked her why she worked so hard, she replied: "When you are born during the Depression, and have family that was affected by the Holocaust, you learn to appreciate all opportunities!"

Don Rickles, like Joan, could be a bear on TV, but was sweet, kind and gentle in person. We went out for dinner after his shows and created a great bond. We also shared a birthday, May 8.

I worked with Frank Sinatra Jr. on several occasions. I was to be given an award by Chicago's Italian American community a few days after his last performance at The Arcada. He took it upon himself to record a quick congratulatory video for me. Shortly after, he was gone.

Patti Page celebrated her 80th birthday with an amazing concert at The Arcada. Her huge hit "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window" is still one of the biggest pop hits of all time.

The frontman for the hard rock group Stone Temple Pilots, Scott Weiland, was known for his struggle with drugs. He performed with his solo band for us and really seemed out of it. A week later, he was gone of an overdose.

And speaking of pop music icons, we had David Cassidy a couple of times. On both occasions his struggle with alcoholism was prevalent in his performance. It was very sad to see how it all ended for this guy.

Another legend "gone too soon" was the Monkee's Davy Jones. He loved it here at The Arcada, often coming a few days early so he could spend time in the beautiful town of St. Charles. He was "my brother."

Paul Kantner, founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, was scheduled to play at The Arcada twice. The first time, the band played without him as he had a heart attack on his way to the theater. The second time, he had another heart attack before our show. He didn't make it, but the show went on. We had a single light shining on his guitar where he would have stood.

One of my all-time favorite experiences was when we had the legendary Hollywood icon Mickey Rooney for an 89th birthday retrospective of his career. He was sweet and spectacular. I spent an entire week with him. The stories he told me could fill a book. He was such a proud World War II veteran he carried his medals and his VFW cap with him always. A truly treasured experience for me.

Two other Hollywood superstars I was fortunate enough to work with were Jerry Lewis and Debbie Reynolds.

Jerry didn't want to be bothered, but he did allow me to sit in his dressing room with him for two hours! He talked about Dean Martin, his telethon, "The Nutty Professor" and many other old Hollywood topics.

Debbie did the same as we lunched and talked about her daughter Carrie Fisher, and her incredible Hollywood memorabilia collection. What a beautiful, classy and sweet lady with an elegant motherly way about her.

Producing thousands of shows for this long a time at The Arcada, especially those of a classic nature, we are bound to lose some past performers. But what becomes magical is the mark these legends leave on our historic stage.

It has been said that The Arcada is "haunted." Well if it is possessed, at least I believe it is the souls of these superstars that are hanging out, making their presence known by paintings falling off the wall, doors slamming shut and whispers in the night. Or maybe its just an old building that needs a bit of work.

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email

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