In theory, an Elton John tribute concert should be a slam-dunk way to raise money for a good cause.
That’s what Billy Brimblecom Jr. felt after a friend suggested the idea as a benefit for the Steps of Faith Foundation.
Since 2008, Brimblecom and J.D. Warnock have been band mates in Summer Breeze, which pays tribute to “yacht rock,” or soft-rock artists from the ’70s and ’80s, such as Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald, Toto, Hall & Oates and Kenny Loggins.
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For the past three years, Brimblecom, a drummer, has been the executive director of Steps of Faith, a group that assists amputees in a variety of ways. Brimblecom, who lost his left leg to cancer in 2005, had been considering ways to raise funds for the foundation through a Summer Breeze concert.
“We’d kicked around a few ideas, but the timing was never right,” he said.
“About a year ago, J.D. came up with the idea: We’d invite special guests, we’d add a horn section and … we’d do the early music of Elton John.
“He knew it would be really good, and I loved it right away.”
Friday night at Kanza Hall in Overland Park, Summer Breeze and a host of guests will present “An Evening of the Early Music of Elton John.” Advance tickets are $20, with all proceeds going to the Steps of Faith Foundation. (Kanza Hall is donating everything to the event.)
Brimblecom, a Shawnee Mission North graduate, hopes this will be the first of more opportunities for Summer Breeze to help Steps of Faith. In August, after seven years in Nashville, he, his wife, Allison, and their two children moved back to Kansas City, where he will continue his work with Steps of Faith.
“It’s a nationwide foundation,” he said. “Four of our 11 board members live in Kansas City or Lawrence. It made a lot of sense to work from here. Everyone was for it.”
Living in Kansas City made it more convenient to organize the tribute to Elton John. Locking in on the concept was the easy part, as it turned out. Learning 20 songs was another matter.
“He’s one of those guys who has had so many hits over a long period of time,” Brimblecom said. “Almost anyone of any generation knows and loves some of those songs.
“But once you try to play them and re-create them accurately, you discover you know them less than you realized.
“That’s the thing about doing these tribute shows. You think you’re the biggest Led Zeppelin geek and then you try playing a few of their songs and you realize, ‘Whoa. This is really difficult.’ ”
Summer Breeze will serve as the house band at Friday’s show, with some substitutes and additions. The core band will comprise 10 members. A couple of out-of-town members can’t make it to the gig, so replacements were enlisted. A horn section will be added, featuring an old friend of Brimblecom’s, trombonist Mike Walker.
“Mike and I have known each other since middle school,” Brimblecom said. “We haven’t played together since high school, so this has been great.”
Another guest musician is Brimblecom’s former drumline instructor at Shawnee Mission North, Matt Ronan, who will play percussion and add some vocals.
“He’s a super-talented musician,” Brimblecom said.
The list of special guests includes Brandon Phillips of the Architects; Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic of the Get Up Kids; and Chris Tolle and Gregg Todt, formerly of the heavy rock band Federation of Horsepower.
Todt said his affinity for Elton John/Bernie Taupin and their music goes back more than 40 years.
“I always appreciated the bluesiness of his early stuff like ‘Burn Down the Mission’ and ‘Take Me to the Pilot,’ ” he said. “ ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,’ the whole album, was kind of the soundtrack of my youth. It was everywhere.
“And I may or may not have sang ‘Your Song’ to a girl I was trying to woo when I worked at Texas Tom’s in the late ’70s … because I’m a giant dork.
“Bottom line: The vast majority of Sir Elton’s early output is pretty untouchable in my eyes.”
Pryor’s introduction to John goes back to one of his earliest hits.
“ ‘Crocodile Rock’ was the first 45 I had as a kid,” he said. “I think I first heard it at ShowBiz Pizza back in the day. It wasn’t until I was quite a bit older that I learned it wasn’t a children’s song. At least I think it’s not.”
Phillips, whose band plays firebrand punk rock, said John is something of a private but not so guilty pleasure.
“Being a punker is a lot like being Jewish,” he said. “Jews are not supposed to eat oysters, and punkers are not supposed to listen to Elton John. You must never tell anyone that ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ is in my top five songs ever written or that I believe the happy hour oysters at Le Fou Frog to be the best in the city.”
Brimblecom was introduced to John through his father and has been a lifelong fan.
“I was born in 1977,” he said, “but my dad was really into music, so I grew up listening to the radio a lot and got into classic rock at an early age. I feel like I grew up with this music, and I hope everyone at the show feels the same way.”
“An Evening of the Early Music of Elton John” begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23, at Kanza Hall, 7300 W. 119th St., Overland Park. Advance tickets are $20 and are available at OneBlockSouthKC.com.