Tremendous Talent

Veteran 14-piece bands are a rare breed. Not only is it difficult to find work at all, making money isn’t usually part of the deal and longevity — forget about it. But the Lon Bronson Band has found a way to conquer the odds over and over again.
For these guys, it’s about getting together for the simple pleasure of playing music they love, and they call it “industrial strength R&B, rock, soul and funk.”
Bronson’s band combines their musical philosophy with such an eclectic repertoire of songs that it has become an ideal that has been working well for more than 30 years in a town not really known for stability in the world of entertainment, Las Vegas. It is that over-the-top sound Bronson brings to the Avi Resort & Casino for two shows on Friday, March 6 (7 p.m.) and Saturday, March 7 for a matinee (1 p.m.).
Bronson, the group founder, leader and trumpet player has a lifetime of “street cred” in his reservoir of musical history. The Emmy-nominated musician has been involved in so many projects in different configurations over the years. He has conducted symphony orchestras; arranged, composed and produced for national television, production shows and large-scale corporate events; and he’s been a professor at UNLV. He’s been a musical director for many national artists, comedians and more.
One of their biggest fans is Drew Carey, who used to fly them to California for all of his special occasion shows. “This is a house band so good, you’ll never want to leave the house,” he said.
So getting together with “the guys” is first and foremost about having fun.
“This group is a labor of love,” Bronson told the Laughlin entertainer. “It’s had a lot of cool things happen with us since it started. We’re one of the last larger bands with a horn section, and we don’t play any big band stuff, if people are thinking Tommy Dorsey when they hear about the horn section.
“It’s good to keep an ensemble that large together for 30 years — and that’s not the norm but it’s been our way for years.”
Many entertainment venues are concerned with cost, so bands often have to make do with fewer members to make any money. That hasn’t been a concern for guys who got their start the old fashioned way — they earned it, in spite of the odds for success.
“We came in with a different angle,” he explained. “We’ve never been in existence to make money. We were an entertainment industry effort, that’s how we started in 1990, at the Riviera.
“The story goes, I was given one shot to try it at 2 a.m. on a Monday, which was technically Tuesday,” he said. “That was our start time, because back then it was a different town. So our first shot happened because the guy at the Riviera owed me a favor, telling me there’s not a chance in hell this is gonna work since a lot of bands started in the middle of the night. There were shows all day long and all night. Well, we became a massive hit in 1990 and never looked back. We caught the attention of the industry because there was a hunger for that type of Vegas entertainment that hadn’t existed since the ’60s.
“Instead of one night, we spent 13 years at the Riviera,” he said with a laugh. “We were solid and expanded our repertoire as a group, and our audiences grew. They moved us to the reasonable start time at 10 p.m. and we became more mainstream eventually. For the longest time, every dancer, every musician, every headliner in town would show up after their show and watch the band or sit in with us.”
“We’ve had the Righteous Brothers, Tom Jones, Joe Walsh and the Bare Naked Ladies sit in,” he said. “We were very industry oriented. That’s how we made our name in Vegas, which led to TV things.”
Bronson has been the musical director for an abundance of celebrities, from David Cassidy and Faith Hill, to Triumph The Insult Comic Dog and “The Rat Pack Is Back” which has been performed in Laughlin for many years. His Emmy nomination came about because he was the musical director of a two-hour TBS Network Special, “Earth to America,” airing in November 2005.
One of his most notable accomplishments — the band recorded a live CD with Tower of Power and member Stephen “Doc” Kupka during a concert in Las Vegas in September 2012, called Doc Goes Vegas, released in January 2013 and received rave reviews.
After the years at the Riviera, the band continues its run in Vegas, headlining at the Golden Nugget showroom and other venues along the way. They were the “house band” for Caesar’s Palace 50th Anniversary Gala Concert backing artists like Jennifer Lopez, Donny & Marie, Bill Medley and Tony Bennett. Currently they are in residence at the Smith Center, Las Vegas’ Concert Hall and Arts Center.
While they may not fit “the norm” of the entertainment fad-following town Vegas has become, they continue to fill the concert hall on a regular basis. Could there be something to all those musicians creating a massive sound too big to ignore?
“The big horn sections lends us to perform certain types of R&B and rock, by artists like the Temptations, Otis Redding, and James Brown,” Bronson said. “For the shows at the Avi, one of my lead singers, Bruce Williamson, is an ex-lead singer for the Temptations, so when he sings Temptations’ songs, it’s really cool.
“Because of our horn section, we do a lot of rock that has horns, like Chicago, Van Morrison, Steely Dan, and Tower of Power,” he added “Our horns allow for more diversity in the material we choose. It’s an exciting mix of songs we’ve loved over the years. We have lots of material — over 400 songs, no two shows are alike. Each one is completely different.
“We create a wall of sound people don’t hear any more,” he said. “No one can afford to carry that many horns any more.
Recording with Tower of Power was a career highlight.
“We’re good friends with them and they actually sell our CDs on the road wherever they go,” he added. “We certainly wouldn’t consider ourselves a Tower of Power tribute, because we also do cool covers of the Beatles, the Allman Brothers and Grand Funk Railroad —the list is endless.”
Another recording project with TOP is currently in the works.
“I’m actually working with Doc and we’re writing songs together. We’ll be recording the later part of this year for another project,” he said. “Working with Tower of Power seems like a good fit. He’s an amazing musician and was a co-writer of all their hits. Working with him is truly an honor.”
His shows at the Avi are keeping with the diverse theme of the band.
“Every show is different,” he said. “That’s the key to success now. We graduated from late-night industry lounge shows with a two-drink minimum to ticketed shows at the Smith Center. We’re very much a ticketed event drawing on a local audience in Las Vegas.
“It’s fun to come down to Laughlin as a headliner,” he added. “We’re too big a group to travel too far, so everyone’s looking forward to it. We have to thank Larry Taylor, he’s the inspiration for these dates. I have a feeling we’ll get a fair amount of fans from Vegas, feeling like jumping in the car and coming down to catch the show.
“I’m glad the Avi’s going to have us. Laughlin is like what classic Vegas used to be, we’re from that era, it’s how we got our start and becoming the alternative to all the Cirque nonsense. More and more the entertainment situation is becoming nothing short of appalling.”
The secret to the band’s longevity has nothing to do with novelty, but everything to do with the tremendous amount of talent that shines through every member individually and collectively.
“We’re not an instrumental horn band, that’s why lead singers are prominently in the picture. We have Bruce who was the lead singer for the Temptations, but the people who are familiar with us know he’s one of four different lead singers,” Bronson explained. “It’s a little bit of a variety show which is what I credit for our longevity. People always get something different and no two shows are the same.
“I think the kind of reaction we’ll get in Laughlin will be positive. Mature audiences absolutely love live music and will eat it up with a spoon and fork. Live music fans always love us. There’s no tape, no sequencing, no pre-recorded anything. It’s all live with that wall of sound coming down on you.”


LON BRONSON BAND

Grand Ballroom at the Avi

Friday, March 6 (7 p.m.), Saturday, March 7 (1 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info