(As presented by David “Viper” Lipper)
Music is like an ocean – constantly rising and falling; ebbing and flowing. To stay afloat in the music business is akin to not drowning in the actual ocean. There are some artists, however, who are literal Neptunes of the music world. When I first heard Jesse Katsopolis (fka: Cochran) and his Rippers at the original Smash Club in April ‘82, my world changed. They were rock, but not roll. Rhythm but not blues. Hip but not hop. No, they were something more, for I had heard God for the first time, and he was in the form of a cover of “Doo Wah Ditty (Ditty Dum Ditty Doo)”.
To witness the band at their peak was to witness a musical assault that would rarely, if ever, have mercy. Those early days at the Smash Club, covered in its thick layer of grime, sweat, and hair gel that made one feel filthy, but strangely blessed, were indeed a primal experience to behold. Jesse would command that room of hungry youths and confused San Francisco tourists like Rockuveus, the Greek god of rockin’. The Rippers, in turn, followed their fearless leader note-for-necessary-note for sets that would often last upwards of an hour. They predated grunge, completely missed new wave, and flat-out ignored synth-pop, but boy howdy could they rip through a sizzling “Pretty Woman”. From the first few notes of whatever golden oldie they would launch into, it was always obvious in those early days that the revolution was on. The life revolution.
Some would call Katsopolis the first real rebel leader of popular music, made clear by the motorcycle he occasionally rode. Under his stoic guidance, Jesse’s Rippers made their own rules; they practiced in the living room long after the girls’ bedtime. Though they were caught and given a talking-to by Danny, the Rippers never let it get them down. J + the R’s were rebels with literally no cause or purpose.
They changed the way we thought of the concept of a band. The non-Jesse members were each an integral element to the band’s creative energy, though often relegated to the background and rarely, if ever, referred to by name. For instance, few other bands even bothered to feature female backup singers who served no purpose other than to look “sooo late-80s/early-90s”. It’s tough to establish a musical career based entirely on the previous work of others, but that in a way is what makes J & the Rs so enigmatic. Sure, they could have been original, like every other band. However, they continuously took the path less traveled, which some didn’t dig, declaring remakes of old-timey rock songs old hat by 1988. These people obviously were not present for DJ’s prom.
Sure, there are those who have covered the same territory way better before and since, but…um…
For sheer euphoric power pop perfection, one need look no further than the group’s breakthrough single, “Forever”. Sure, some original fans simply could not get on board with the relatively soft tune, though Katsopolis never did what he did for the fans. He followed his own path, wherever his muse led. You were either along for the ride, or you weren’t. In this case, “the ride” came in the form of a Beach Boys cover, and one of the seminal recordings of the nineties. Perhaps the accompanying video creeped some out with its ample use of silk, twins, and candles, but not everyone liked the Mona Lisa either. One thing was for damn sure - the Japanese got it. They always do.
What drove the Rippers apart? Some suggest Katsopolis’s inexplicable radio career had become a distraction. However, the actual reason for Katsopolis’s exile from his own band resulted from the time consuming relationship with his wife (Rebecca “Yoko” Donaldson) and children. This lifestyle did not mesh with that of the remaining Rippers, steadfast to remain single and childless into at least their early forties. Additionally, the Rippers were not huge fans of the way Jesse solved every inter-band argument by having a heart-to-heart, hugging them, and calling them “Munchkin”.
Nevertheless, like a “q” and a “u”, Jesse needed the Rippers, and the Rippers only too late, realized they needed Jesse. Venturing out on their own, the Rippers, known then as Barry and the Rippers, quickly lost the interest of their fanbase. Evidently, demand for a rock band featuring former Brady Bunch star Barry Williams was low amongst the MTV youth. In turn, Jesse garnered no interest from the fans on his own, though he kept up his quest to make music with solo projects, the reopening of a sterile, modernized Smash Club, an attempt at managing Stephanie and Gia’s band they had for some reason, and his “Wings” – Hot Daddy and the Monkey Puppets. Regardless of his ill-fated post-Rippers output, Jesse Katsopolis remains a towering figure amongst musicians, and men on the whole.
Though they don’t have one original song to their credit, the Rippers’ shadow over the rest of popular music, like Jesse’s hair, is majestic and ever-growing. Thanks to illegal downloading, new fans continue to discover their discography. Every minute, a ten year-old boy picks up his first guitar dreaming to be the next Jesse Katsopolis. Truly, Jesse and his Rippers aren’t going anywhere.
Barry and the remaining Rippers died in a helicopter crash, but Michelle had gotten anesthesia that same day, so the story got very little attention.
So today, I am honored and humbled to induct Jesse and the Rippers into the Rock and Roll Hall of…
(Jesse wakes up)