Helping hands

The recent memorial for John LaPado reaffirmed Chico’s sense of community

ALIVE AND KICKIN’<br> Left to right, “Ska-T” Pressman, Kim Gimball and Barbara Manning.

Left to right, “Ska-T” Pressman, Kim Gimball and Barbara Manning.

Courtesy Of Paige Gimbal

The John LaPado Band staged a show at the Elks Lodge in late January that still merits a story two weeks later. The night continues to reverberate throughout the community, though the namesake of the band didn’t even show up.

Of course, he had a great excuse. This was his memorial as much as it was a concert. And though most of the 500-plus people in attendance weren’t the church-goin’ types, music itself was the best kind of memorial service.

Who needs a preacher when the piano player rocks?

The event was as much about a community coming together as it was about LaPado himself. He would have liked it that way.

He was part of the same community known for the closely knit “tribe” of musicians that celebrates the longevity of the Spark ‘n’ Cinder band every five years … and an overlapping group of friends who helped fellow musician Jimmy Borsdorff when he had his bout with cancer. A variation of the clan also banded together to mourn the loss of fellow musician Danny West.

The “tribe” seems to be a thriving, multi-generational conglomerate.

As multi-instrumentalist Kim Gimbal puts it, this latest event “featured more musicians than ever from the extreme edges of this extended musical community. It showed us we can all band together to raise the barn.”

Big Mo

Photo By David Robert

Those edges included Paradise musician Maurice Huffman, better known as “Big Mo,” who scorched the stage with a hearty blues tune.

“I never actually met John,” Mo says. “But apparently he liked my music and requested that I sing that night.” Huffman himself recently helped raise more than $30,000 for Paradise resident Niki Bell, who was severely injured in a boating accident. To do so, he recruited one of the newest members of the area’s music community: harmonicist Norton Buffalo, who is known nationally as a solo recording star, touring partner with the Steve Miller Band, and session player with Roy Rogers, Bonnie Raitt and Bette Midler.

“In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve built a strong circle of friends,” says Buffalo, who plans to join more local benefits. In fact, he’s already organizing an event in the Chico/Paradise area that he hopes will raise more than $20,000 for KZFR, and a humanitarian effort sponsored by the United Nations called “Water for Life.”

FROM THE TOP<br /> Gary LaPado makes the six-string sing.

Courtesy Of Paige Gimbal

Unlike Buffalo, most Chico musicians survive from gig to gig, barely covering the rent for their modest homes. Yet, they can be counted on time after time to bring the community together with a benefit, an election fundraiser, or a memorial for a friend.

LaPado himself played hundreds of benefits for others in his lifetime; those at the Elks Lodge were happy to give the energy back.

To name each of the 32 singers who shone as substitutes for the erstwhile lead singer on the 40-song marathon would reduce this story to mere list. The high points, however, easily spanned several generations:

The youngest performer, 16-year old Danielle Gimbal, moved many to tears with her rendition of “For Good,” from the hit musical Wicked.

Dylan Seid, a 30-something second-generation Chico musician, channeled the respect for his elders into the David Dean song “Goodbye,” with his father, John, shining on piano at the side of the stage. The rumbling around town is that Seid’s own songs and performances will be the “next big thing” on the local scene, but tonight it was all about giving it up for one of his mentors.

Barbara Manning, popular singer/ songwriter who also considered LaPado a mentor of sorts, and who made her first impact both locally and internationally in the 1980s with her band 28th Day, bowled over the audience with her version of the Tracy Nelson song, “Stay as Sweet as You Are Now.”

Gary LaPado, who was young enough to see his big brother as a father figure, performed throughout the night on both vocals and guitar. Those who have heard Gary before knew he could play like Hendrix and sing with the power of Springsteen, but the emotion of this night pushed him beyond even that great potential.

The rest of the night was a steady stream of LaPado’s 50- and 60-something contemporaries substituting as guest vocalists on tunes from his favorite set lists.

At one point of the evening, self-appointed minister and master of ceremonies C.W. Chase asked the audience, “How many of you learned something from John LaPado?”

BACK IN THE DAY<br /> Spark ‘n” Cinder circa 1977 (left to right), Sam Yarbrough (vocals), Jimmy Fay (drums, vocals), Billy Baxmeyer (bass), Bob Wallen (percussion, manager), Jerry Morano (percussion), Michael Cannon (keyboards, vocals), John LaPado (pedal steel, rhythm guitar), Joe Hammons (lead guitar).

Courtesy Of Paige Gimbal

About half the folks in the audience raised their hands.

On a wall to the right of the bandstand, a constant slide show of memorable photographs had been recycling all night. At that very moment, as if planned, a larger-than-life image of LaPado showed up on the screen—raising his hand with the rest of us. Of course, there was laughter and more than a few shivers; it was the kind of humor he would have shared.

In the back of the Elks Lodge, in a display of artwork by the now-departed musician, was a message scrawled on a scrap of paper by LaPado in his final days for those who would attend his anticipated memorial: “Whatever happens,” the note said, “this has given me a new confidence in human beings to take care of each other.”