This weekend marks the fourth time the prominent Lehigh Valley guitarist Craig Thatcher has brought his Eric Clapton Retrospective show to the Opera House. Spanning all the various creative phases of Clapton’s career, Thatcher’s band seems to channel the great guitarist virtually note for note. And it’s not only the guitar work: with Craig Kastelnik on the Hammond B-3 organ and the dynamic rhythm section of bassist Wayde Leonard and drummer Don Plowman, the Craig Thatcher Band is quite up to the task of performing this great music.
The show is this Saturday, 10/10 with doors at 7:30 and showtime 8:30. Tickets are only $20 and can be purchased online at MauchChunkOperaHouse.com or by calling the box office at 570-325-0249. Wine and beer will be sold, with all proceeds benefiting the Opera House.
A consistent recipient of accolades from the Lehigh Valley Music Awards of the years, Thatcher has was recently able to take some time from his schedule to respond to a few pre-show questions:
CT: I was seeing all sorts of “tribute” acts out there but nothing–at least on the east coast–portraying the music of EC.
His music is so widespread and depending on the time period, quite varied in style and taste. And I, having been so influenced and nurtured by EC’s guitar playing from a very young age on (having first heard of him in 1966 when I was 10), felt that I could assemble a group of musicians who could accurately reproduce the music, and not just one era, but all of the various stylistic periods.
And I think that’s what we’ve accomplished. I was certainly aware that in order to make this special and not a bar-gig that we’d need to perform in very special venues only–such as the Mauch Chunk Opera House– so I enlisted the help of Seth Weber, a prominent former-Philly attorney who happened to really like the band and wanted to help us with the project. Seth opened the door for us at MCOH, the State Theatre in Easton, the Sellersville Theatre, the House of Blues in Atlantic City and several other venues. Seth also contacted EC’s attorneys for permission to do the show and fortunately, they agreed to let us do so.
JT: We understand you’ve been able to take this show to some exotic locations like Telluride, Colorado and even Europe. How has it been received?
CT: Actually, we’ve/I’ve performed in those locations and quite a few other cool areas, with 3 tours of Europe last year alone, but it wasn’t the Eric Clapton Retrospective. We performed either as Craig Thatcher Band, Eric Steckel and the Craig Thatcher Band, or me alone, as guitarist for Simone, the daughter of the world renowned jazz artist, Nina Simone.
As far as audience reaction to the EC show, it’s mostly been very, very positive. There will always be detractors, as there are for any type of show or musical style, but that doesn’t bother me as I’ve been in this business for a long, long time and if I let a few negative reactions bother me I would have quit a long time ago. Let me add, we aren’t trying to act like, look like or dress like Eric Clapton or any of his band members, present or past. We’re just tracing the musical history of some great musical performances–and song writing–from EC’s broad audio history.
JT. How did you assemble your band? It seems perfectly suited for EC’s music.
CT: The show is based around our trio which features Wayde Leonard, bass/vocals and Don Plowman on drums. Wayde really does justice to Jack Bruce’s playing and vocal style, which isn’t an easy task, so he’s perfect for the Cream-era Clapton material. Don can play any style and fits right in and together, we’ve always played a lot of EC music anyway, so we’ve always been quite well-versed with it.
However, in presenting a full show–unless we just do the Cream era (I am hoping to do a “Cream of Eric Clapton” type show at some point)we needed to have an organist, as it’s so prominently featured in many EC tunes; at least one female backup vocalist; and a second guitarist–especially to recreate Layla properly (actually, we could use 3 guitarists on that one).
So Craig Kastelnik is the logical choice for keys and his wife Pat sings and plays percussion. We’ve worked together in many other musical situations so it was pretty obvious. The member that wasn’t obvious to me was the second guitarist. We needed someone to provide mainly rhythm guitar and most of the pro-players I’ve worked with wouldn’t be happy doing that.
Sometimes the rhythm guitar isn’t very noticeable, until you remove it, and then one can tell that something’s missing. So to me, it’s a very important part. To fill that role I decided upon one of my young guitar students who can play, is easy to work with and very respectful. And that is Chris Morrison. He’s been very happy to be a part of this show and we are pleased to have him. He does an excellent job.
JT: Is there a particularly memorable EC concert you’ve been to?
CT: Well the most memorable for me was the Cream Reunion at Madison Square Gardens a few years ago. Jack Bruce was in even better shape than the earlier reunion shows at the Royal Albert Hall. It was truly an amazing opportunity for me to see just the three of them as I never did get so see Cream live back in the ’60s. And I’d have to say the second most memorable show for me was the Eric Clapton/Steve Winwood show, again at the Gardens. There were definitely shades of Blind Faith occurring at that show! Of course there’ve been many great EC solo shows as well. I remember one show I saw at the Spectrum in Philly in August of 1990. It was less than two weeks later when EC was performing with Stevie Ray Vaughn and after the show, Vaughn was killed in the helicopter crash, along with several other members of EC’s entourage, including his personal valet. That was a tough time for many of us.