Living The On The Blue Experience

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Report by Shawn Perry
Photos by Joe Schaeffer

Ocean cruises and music go together like pineapple and rum — often with the same results. There’s a charter framed around just about any musical genre you can think of — oldies, blues, country, prog, you name it. The folks behind On The Blues produce three: Monsters of Rock, Cruise to the Edge, and On The Blue, formerly known as the Moody Blues Cruise. So, as a lover of cruises, music, rum, and pineapple, I leapt at the opportunity to sail aboard On The Blue.

As in years past, the On The Blue: New Horizons cruise for 2024, sailing out of Miami with port stops at Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic and Nassau in the Bahamas, was billed as a star-studded, five-day, five-night adventure aboard the mid-sized Norwegian Pearl liner. Hosted by Justin Hayward, famously known as the primary singer, songwriter, and guitarist of The Moody Blues, the event also featured The Zombies, Alan Parsons, Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, Little River Band, Al Stewart, Uriah Heep, Vanilla Fudge, Glenn Hughes, Rare Earth, John Ford Coley, Leonid and Friends, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, The Weeklings, The Skatalites, Randy Hansen, The Young Dubliners, Tom Toomey, The Empty Pockets, Mellow Yellow, Fernando Perdomo’s Yacht Club, Marbin, Bruce Sudano, The Bottom Feeders, and Dueling Pianos. Whew!

In addition to the music, you could indulge in such extra-curricular activities as Q&As with the artists, photo ops with them, painting rock star portraits of Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix with them, art and music memorabilia auctions, themed-nights, dance parties, late night karaoke, casino gambling, movie watching, and the occasional midnight mud wrestling match. OK, that last one didn’t actually happen, but one can dream.

Bon Voyage!

The point is there was no end to what you could do, even if it meant working out, luxuriating in the spa, rock climbing, shooting hoops, bowling, laying by the pool, soaking up the sun, braving the trade winds, doing laps around the perimeter of the boat, shopping, grabbing a coffee or Frappuccino at Starbucks (they have two), lounging, lollygagging (i.e., doing nothing), eating and drinking at any one of the ship’s 16 restaurants and bars, likely followed up by more working out, depending on how many trips you make to the all-you-can-eat Garden Café buffet. The only way to possibly get bored is by not leaving your stateroom. And what’s the fun in that?

After I checked in and made my way onto the ship, I was already faced with a dizzying array of options: Do I eat? Sure. Order a drink? Why not. Meet other cruisers? How could I not. Settle down for a show? Which one? Even though the ship wasn’t scheduled to shove off until later that afternoon, music began early. While I was still finding my bearings, I walked through the Atrium and caught a glimpse of Marbin, a progressive jazz-rock band out of Chicago. They showed up on the Atrium stage throughout the cruise, and every time I passed by, my ears started to tingle. These guys were good.

Most of the passengers appeared to be boomers, with a few high-spirited, musically inclined Gen Xers and Yers in the mix to keep everyone on their toes. I scrambled over to the Stardust Theater to catch the last of Vanilla Fudge. As expected, the foursome with three original members (a feat in itself) was killing it. They were just finishing up with a swinging rendition of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch.” Afterwards, drummer Carmine Appice made a hasty retreat from the ship, never to return. For the group’s second performance on the Pool Stage a few days later, they brought in someone else to keep the beat. More on that later.

Little River Band

Passengers packed the Pool Stage for Little River Band just as the Norwegian Pearl pulled away from the dock and made its way to the open Atlantic Ocean. Unlike Vanilla Fudge, none of the original members are with Little River Band any longer. That didn’t deter fans from cheering on the band as they rolled into favorites like “The Other Guy,” “Help Is On Its Way,” and “Lonesome Loser.”

Frankly, I couldn’t imagine this lineup sounding any better. The interplay and harmonies were to die for. As someone who used to hold bands with ALL original members closer to my heart, I’ve finally come around to the fact that age can affect many musicians’ ability to play at a level to meet their fans’ expectations. Purists may insist groups in this circumstances should call themselves a tribute. In the case of Little River Band — with longtime (since 1980) bassist and singer Wayne Nelson working it front and center on the boat’s only outdoor stage — I’d have to give them a pass.

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One of my goals on the cruise was to get insights from a wide variety of people on board. Most I spoke with were repeat offenders, having either performed or been in the audience multiple times. To that end, there was no shortage of enthusiasm when it came to sharing their experiences.

“It’s a paid vacation,” Vanilla Fudge guitarist Vinny Martell told me. “The food is, of course, great. The entertainment is great. You get to see a lot of people that you know, get to see all these bands. The fans are fantastic. They come up to you. They want to talk. I got a lot to say, so I end up yapping away left and right and I’m having a kick doing it.”

Cruisers on the pool deck

Susan Enterline, who was the president of the Zombies Fan Club for nearly 10 years, was on the inaugural Moody Blues Cruise in 2013. “It was a watershed moment for so many of us, fans and bands alike – and actually literally life-changing for me – and so will always stand out as a uniquely magical, unprecedented experience,” she said. “That first cruise began life as a latter-day ‘Woodstock On The Sea,’ but it quickly morphed into a veritable ‘ship of dreams’ — not just due to the music, which was divine and constant, but the vibe. The sense of being liberated not just from the mundane world and its cares, but an opportunity to recapture the joy of the past with fellow celebrants fully embracing the tie-dyed, free-flowing personas of days gone by.  And, perhaps most importantly, at this later stage of life, we could actually mingle with the artists we had adored for so many years. Most of them freely roamed the decks and were affable about being approached for an autograph or conversation.”

Indeed, one of the perks about being on the boat is accessibility to your favorite musicians. It’s not like they’re hiding away, waiting to perform. In between their show obligations, they walked and socialized among us. Some were surrounded by a small entourage; others wandered around on their own. Most often, they’re willing to chat, pose for pictures, give autographs, and kiss babies (though nary a baby was spotted). To the super fans, especially those there to see specific artists, it’s a dream come true.

I had any number of encounters, but most of the deeper conversations were struck up as I joined others waiting in line for a show. I’d ask the person in front of me if they were excited to see whomever we were waiting for, and they would immediately spring into action, like giddy school children anxious for that magical moment. They would, of course, list how many times they’d seen the artist or what their favorite song was and how it felt. More than likely, they were wearing a concert T-shirt (a majority were Moody Blues shirts), which happened to coincide with the theme the day we launched: Best Concert T-shirt.

Alan Parsons

The next day, our first full day at sea, I joined a few hundred passengers to take in my first complete show: Alan Parsons. He was one of four (Justin Hayward, The Zombies, and Al Stewart were the other three) of the On The Blue performers whose shows required a color-coded (blue and red) laminate with a reserved seat. While most of the shows were right on the money timewise, things were running a little behind for Parsons reportedly due to the soundcheck. Things started up before you knew it, and I was still looking for my seat just as the band finished up their second number, “Don’t Answer Me.” That was disappointing  — next time, I’d get in line earlier. Fortunately, the rest of the afternoon set more than made up for it.

If you know anything about Alan Parsons, you know he worked primarily as an engineer for the Beatles and Pink Floyd before he ventured out on his own with the Alan Parsons Project. Even then, he lingered somewhat in the background, writing and producing the songs, playing keyboards, even adding vocals where necessary. Tonight was no different as Parsons sat behind the other seven musicians onstage, playing keyboards, strumming the occasional acoustic, and singing here and there.

I’d never seen Alan Parsons (though I’ve met and interviewed him) in concert before, so I was genuinely eager to see this performance. Everyone hit their marks with little deviation from the recorded versions of the songs, plus you couldn’t ignore the extraordinary vocals from singers P.J. Olsson and Todd Cooper. We were all treated to timeless, pitch-perfect hits like “Time,” “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You,” and “Eye In The Sky,” featuring Parsons on lead vocals. Clocking in at just under 60 minutes, the set was over in a snap. I could have easily used another hour of Alan Parsons music. It conjured up any number of sea-venturing visions in my head.

Ricky Nelson Remembered

Afterwards, I was back on the Pool Stage, reserving a spot on the upper deck to check out Ricky Nelson Remembered, featuring the late singer’s sons, Matthew and Gunnar. I’d heard about the twin brothers — who had a successful, albeit brief run on their own as Nelson during the late stages of the 80s hair band era — and what they were doing with their father’s music and was curious to see and hear the results. Short answer: pleasant surprise. Backed by drummer David Keith (whose previous credits include pounding it out for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow), Matthew (on bass) and Gunnar (on guitar) took the wide-eyed audience through an oral and virtual history around Ricky Nelson’s legacy. Video on the screen above the stage showed the wisecracking, handsome teen idol from The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet making waves in the late 50s and early 60s. Who knew he was as popular and influential as Elvis Presley at the time!

In between bona fide goldies like “Travelin’ Man” and “Lonesome Town,” both brothers shared stories about being part of the Nelson family, meeting other famous legends along the way. Before launching into the Beatles’ “One After 909,” they offered a heart-warming story about Sir Paul McCartney. They also covered “She Belongs To Me,” a song written by Bob Dylan, a neighbor and frequent visitor to the Nelson household. After they finished with a passionate take of their dad’s comeback single from 1972, “Garden Party,” everyone, me included, felt a little more appreciation for the music of Ricky Nelson.

Both Matthew and Gunnar Nelson hung around after their set, talking with fans and taking pictures, so I thought I’d get their take on the cruise. After playing on Monsters of Rock, which features a lot of their contemporaries from the 80s, Matthew explained me that On The Blue is a much more “mellower and a nice little vacation.” Gunnar blurted out that “it was hot…very, very hot” on stage. He added with a straight face: “Look how fair we are. Our dermatologist is screaming right at us for doing this.” Then he broke into a smile with “We had a great time.” According to Matthew, the duo will be touring into the summer, continuing to pay tribute to their dad, as well as playing Nelson shows.

Marbin

The music never stops on On The Blue. That means, in between performances by the bigger names, there are plenty of lesser-known acts playing around the ship. At one point, I caught a hard-rocking set by the Bottom Feeders, who specialize in playing deep cuts by well-known bands. I was happy to hear them run through Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard” and Led Zeppelin’s “Custard Pie.”

Elsewhere, there were tributes, such as The Weeklings doing the Beatles, Randy Hansen doing Jimi Hendrix (which he’s done since 1975), and Leonid and Friends (celebrating the music of Chicago). I caught glimpses of The Weeklings and Randy Hansen — just as he demolished a Fender Stratocaster in typical Hendrix fashion — but regrettably missed Leonid and Friends altogether. I overheard one passenger singing praises about them. Damn!

Late into the night, there was Dueling Pianos with Tyson Leslie & Will Doughty in the Blue Lounge and Fernando Perdomo’s Yacht Club, who played an intoxicating mix of lighter classic rock with skillful precision. I caught up with Perdomo — a working musician from Los Angeles with a flurry of credits under his belt — to get his impressions on being part of the On The Blue cruise.

Fernando Perdomo

“Beyond The Blue cruise is such an amazing experience,” he said. “Your entire record collection is on board and also an amazing group of new bands for people to discover.”

The guitarist and singer told me his band was formed specifically for the cruise. Larry Morand, OTB producer, proposed the idea to Perdomo about putting together a “yacht rock” band. “I jumped off the bed because I love the style music,” Perdomo explained. “The biggest thrill is seeing your idols watching your show. I’ll never forget seeing Alan Parsons on last year’s OTB watching us play while holding a large inflatable alien. He later told me he loved our band and my guitar playing at the artist party. One of the greatest moments of my life.”

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A personal highlight for me was seeing singer and bassist Glenn Hughes perform songs he had originally appeared on with Deep Purple. This particular Saturday (April 6) on the Pool Stage was significant given the fact that Hughes played many of the same songs with Deep Purple 50 years ago to the day at the California Jam. SiriusXM radio personality Eddie Trunk just happened to mention that during his introduction.

Glenn Hughes

Hughes and his three-piece band opened with 1974’s “Stormbringer,” the title track from the bassist’s second album with Deep Purple. Guitarist Søren Andersen nailed the Ritchie Blackmore licks to a tee, while the Voice of Rock (Hughes) pulverized the airwaves with his high-pitched screams and yelps. At 72, Hughes’ inspiring vocal histrionics defy logic. I half expected a pod of sperm whales to come and surround the Pearl during his set.

Although Hughes’ catalog is extensive (the solo stuff clear through to supergroup Black Country Communion), the setlist was all Purple. He turned in stellar stabs at “Might Just Take Your Life,” “Sail Away,” and “Mistreated” from 1974’s Burn album, as well as “Gettin’ Tighter” and “You Keep On Moving” from 1975’s Come Taste The Band. It all came to a piercing, high-energy end with “Burn.” It was another one that could have gone beyond its 60-minute slot. Even Hughes admitted he was just getting started.

Later that night, it was time for my second show requiring a laminate with The Zombies, whom, according to the band’s one-time fan club president, Susan Enterline, have been pretty “much in demand for every cruise after their first jaw-dropping performance aboard the Poesia in 2013.” The British band, featuring original keyboardist Rod Argent and singer Colin Blunstone, are one of the few combos from the 60s still together making new music. In 2023, they released Different Game, their first new studio album in eight years. Tonight, they’d dip into a lot of the new material, including “Different Game,” the title track from the new record.

The Zombies

Most in attendance, however, wanted to hear the hits. Accompanying Argent’s free-flowing electric piano work, Blunstone’s ageless vocals graced George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a light, jazzy aria the group recorded for their 1965 debut album, Begin Here. Other early ones like “Sticks And Stones” and “Tell Her No” had the first 10 rows shimmying like hyperactive teenagers at the Peppermint Lounge.

The Zombies’ celebrated second album from 1968, Odessey and Oracle, also received a thorough shakedown. Beginning with “Care Of Cell 44,” the group touched on a beautiful “A Rose for Emily,” the beatific “This Will Be Our Year,” and the Top 40 hit, “Time Of The Season.”

“Hold Your Head Up,” a hit by the band Argent, which the keyboardist put together after The Zombies disbanded at the end of the 1960s, was the longest one of the night with an epic keyboard solo. It was, as Argent told the audience, written by original Zombies bassist Chris White, who’s retired. He asked the audience to join in on the chorus that goes “hold your head up…woman…” explaining how “woman” is often misunderstood in the mix. That certainly gives credence to the notion that the song is an anthem for women — something Argent reminded everyone of with a wink and smile. No one had a problem singing along.

The band wouldn’t have been able to leave the ship without playing their breakout hit, “She’s Not There.” It was in that moment that I felt my body quiver, telling me I was in the right place at the right time. Where else could I possibly want to be? Sharing the ethers with The Zombies and their faithful flock was definitely something I’ll never forget about my On The Blue experience.

Rod Argent

That Sunday, I spent the day offshore, in Puerta Plata. Lots of cruise veterans never leave the ship, having been to these same destinations on previous trips. Aside from Rare Earth, another band without any original members, there wasn’t much going on. Eddie Trunk, a presence on all the On The Blue cruises, mentioned during one of his intros that whenever the ship is in a port is a good time to avoid the crowds at the restaurants. I didn’t stick around to find out.

Once I was back on the ship, I had a steak dinner and a bottle of wine at the Summer Palace, then prepared to get heavy with Vanilla Fudge and Uriah Heep. Yes, to make up for missing their full show the day we set sail, I really wanted to get a full serving of Vanilla Fudge. The band’s keyboardist and primary vocalist Mark Stein was ecstatic about being back on the ship. “The love we get from our lifelong fans has made my musical journey so worthwhile,” he said.

Together with original guitarist Vinny Martell, longtime bassist Pete Bremy, and Carmine Appice’s understudy, drummer Charlie Zeleny, the quartet blazed through hot versions of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” (nick the irony) and Trade Martin’s “Take Me For A Little While.” Prior to playing Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” Stein mentioned the group recorded the song around the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Stein, Martell, and Bremy buttered it up with a few sweet harmonies.

Vanilla Fudge

Junior Walker’s “Shotgun” featured an exhilarating drum solo from Zeleny and the final performance of the group’s epic attack on the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” left everyone in the vicinity of the Pool Stage stymied by its bombastic brilliance. Sounding as fresh and vital as they did in 1967, Vanilla Fudge was a standout on the cruise.

Another older band who continually pumps out records and consistently tours the States and Europe, Uriah Heep appeals to lovers of classic rock and heavy metal in equal measure. That’s why they appear on the rosters of so many different cruises (I saw them on another liner back in 2015). I spotted the group’s leader and only original member, guitarist Mick Box, strolling the deck with current drummer Russell Gilbrook on several occasions before finally cornering them for a few words. They couldn’t have been more amicable.

“Brilliant, mate,” Box smiled. “All the fans come out and see us play — one in the theater and one on the pool deck. For us, it’s great because we’re a people-friendly band. Let’s hope we can do one again.”

After we return to Miami, the guitarist told me the group would be hitting the road for five weeks with Saxon and releasing a new album by the summer. “It’s a roundabout we can’t get off,” he laughed.

Uriah Heep

The pair with the Heep’s other three members — singer Bernie Shaw, keyboardist Phil Lanzon, and bassist Dave Rimmer — were as tight a unit as you could imagine in the Stardust Theater. It was their first show in some time, so even with the time constraints, they weren’t about to mess around. They started off with newer songs “Save Me Tonight” and “Grazed By Heaven,” then moved into their classic catalog. The room was brazenly seasoned with the best of Uriah Heep — “Rainbow Demon,” “Stealin’,” “Sunrise,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “July Morning,” “Gypsy” and “Easy Livin’.”

Box, after all these years, is still the consummate utility guitarist. His hands and fingers don’t so much as play the instrument as they levitate and taunt it. Shaw commands the frontline with his bountiful vocals, his microphone at the ready in a belt-looped holster. Gilbrook, Lanzon, and Rimmer pick up the slack, churning up the melodies, rhythms, and tempos to temper the overall assault. Like most of the ship’s shows, it could have gone on for longer. I was just happy for the sampling I received from this fine group of Englishmen.

The Skatalites

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t see everyone on the ship. Glaring omissions include the aforementioned Leonid and Friends and Rare Earth, as well as The Skatalites, Mellow Yellow, Tom Toomey, John Ford Coley, and probably some others (I apologize to all these musicians if any of them are reading this). There’s always a next time (please take note On The Blue brass).

I did, however, venture onto the Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. They played the Stardust Theater on Monday afternoon, and I was urged to check them out. I’d seen other versions of Jefferson Starship with the late Paul Kantner and Marty Balin, but never a lineup with Mickey Thomas or the now-retired Grace Slick (one of my dear pals continues to have a crush on her). So, Mickey Thomas and the Starship it was. I was taken aback by how many hits the singer has been on.

Who could forget “Jane” and “Sara”? Certainly not Thomas as his smooth vocals greased the midnight train to the late 70s and early 80s. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” had guitarist John Roth scaling the walls (figuratively because at stage right, he wasn’t far from one) as bassist Jeff Adams, keyboardist Phil Bennett, and drummer Darrell Verdusco aligned to the song’s radio-friendly pattern. Mannequin, the 1987 romantic comedy attached to the song, hasn’t aged nearly as well.

Starship featuring Mickey Thomas

Cian Coey, the lone female member of the band, earned her way to my heart when she took the lead for edgy runs through Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit.” If Grace Slick can’t or won’t come back, Coey has my support. She was spellbinding in catching all the nuances and melodic dips of the songs. I’m almost certain that if Kantner or possibly even Jerry Garcia were still with us, they’d get around to bringing her into something. Probably not a cruise like On The Blue, though one can only consider the numerous possibilities.

Thomas took back the spotlight when he sang “Fooled Around And Fell In Love.” The Elvin Bishop hit from 1976 introduced the world to Mickey Thomas, and he was only too glad to share it with the On The Blue audience. Two other notable tracks made the cut: “Find Your Way Back,” an early 80s Jefferson Starship number that scratched the Top 40, and “We Built This City,” a glossy Top 20 runaway with a bullet that confounded Airplane diehards and wholeheartedly embraced the mid 1980s.

I’ve always found the song catchy, infectious almost, so I was anxious to see what the current Starship would do with it. The audience hung onto every curve ball, clapping along to the snappy count and singing back to the chorus at both singers’ direction. Coey nailed Slick’s parts without breaking stride. Clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, with Thomas introducing the players midway, “We Built This City” turned out to be a real tour de force.

Al Stewart

I returned to the Stardust Theater once again after dinner to witness the elegant genius and mercurial wit of Al Stewart. Apart from “Year Of The Cat, “On The Border,” and “Time Passages,” I wasn’t entirely familiar with the singer-songwriter’s refined oeuvre, as it were. I saw him a day or two before suavely gliding across the upper pool deck, dressed in a silk shirt and pleated pants. There was also a one-time wine tasting on the cruise with Stewart and Alan Parsons as the hosts. No one ever looked over Al Stewart and suggested he team up with Keith Richards for a raunchy blues album.

Stewart was supported by a five-piece band called The Empty Pockets. There was nothing unordinary about the singer until he stepped up to the microphone, and that light, gentle voice came out and wrapped itself around the ears of everyone in the room. I’d heard it thousands of times on the radio back in the 70s, and it didn’t sound a shade different. If anything, it was reassuring and warm, like an old friend from the distant past.

In between songs, Stewart shared funny anecdotes, tall tales, music business woes, and history lessons. One fun fact he conveyed: Stewart took guitar lessons from Robert Fripp of King Crimson. Talk about rock trivia! “On The Border” “Time Passages,” and “Year Of The Cat” were all played, and so were more obscure cuts (at least to my ears) like “Antarctica” from 1988’s Last Days Of The Century and “Joe The Georgian,” a fun little ditty about Joseph Stalin from 1995’s Between The Wars recorded with one-time Wings guitarist Laurence Juber. He described it as “Russian dance music” to the amusement of the audience.

Al Stewart and The Empty Pockets

Stewart wasn’t shy about sharing the spotlight with The Empty Pockets. Josh Solomon dazzled everyone with his guitar breaks and occasional turns at the keys. Also on keys, Erika Brett movingly sang “Almost Lucy,” a song Stewart wrote and recorded for the Time Passages album. Even bassist Nate Bellon got in his licks with a salty impression of Rodney Dangerfield conversing with Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings. One can only speculate how that would have gone over on Monsters of Rock.

Once Stewart fell into “Year Of The Cat,” I could sense the end was near. The man’s gift for engaging and humorous storytelling could fill an hour on its own. The music is almost a bonus to that. Hearing those tender notes fade away was one more reminder that the cruise was winding down. Tomorrow was my last full day, and I intended to make the most of it.

Eddie Trunk on duty

With everything else there was to take in on the cruise, I snuck in a few minutes for a Q&A with Justin Hayward, plus the end of another one with Alan Parsons, which I sensed was heavy with questions about The Dark Side Of The Moon. On the same Atrium stage, which sits mid-ship on the seventh deck, Eddie Trunk did his Trunk Nation show on SiriusXM radio for the last two full days — Monday and Tuesday — on the ship.

Trunk is a big force in rock and roll, mostly in hard rock and heavy metal circles. I was shocked when I saw him broadcasting on Cruise to the Edge years ago, though he handled himself like the pro he is when it came to the progressive side of things (he’s admittingly unfamiliar with a lot of progressive rock, as I would find out). When I saw him hanging around Starbucks, which is also in the Atrium and right next to the stage, I was compelled to ask him about his cruise experiences.

“I’ve done many just that were not music cruises, just with friends and family for vacation. When rock cruises started for me, Monsters of Rock was my inaugural. It started 12, 13 cruises ago. I’ve hosted every one of those,” he explained. “Now I’m doing some other ones as well, like this one, On The Blue. I love being on the ship and I love the variety of bands. There’s a lot of diversity in all these lineups.”

Trunk interviewed many of the ship’s artists on his show, which he was broadcasting live. One particular individual he chatted with was David Spero, a music veteran who’s managed the careers of Joe Walsh, Paul Rodgers, and the recently departed Dickey Betts, to name a few. He was aboard On The Blue to talk about his memoir, A Life In The Wings: My Sixty Year Love Affair With Rock and Roll. After he stepped off stage with Trunk, we sat down to discuss the book, which details his career that began when he worked as the cue cardholder on his father’s rock and roll music show in Cleveland. How he became a rock and roll manager is another story altogether.

A Life In The Wings: My Sixty Year Love Affair With Rock and Roll

“My friend Joe Walsh had a band called The Measles, the house band on my dad’s TV show. So, we hung out all the time,” Spero recalled. “He had had success with the James Gang, and one day he said, ‘I think you’ve got what it takes to be a personal manager.’ And I said, ‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna teach you’.” And the rest is…well, you know…

Spero’s cruise experience dates back to the 80s when he worked with Patty Smyth and again in the 90s with Walsh and fellow Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey. I wasn’t even aware there were rock and roll cruises back then. They certainly weren’t a regular thing and couldn’t have possibly been as well organized as On The Blue. How could they be?

Spero is still very active in the business. “I’m working on a musical right now with Cat Stevens,” he said. “And my band The Empty Pockets is on this cruise.” We both agreed they were a perfect complement to Al Stewart.

Conversations With The Masters: The VintageRock.com Interviews

On Tuesday, the last full day of the cruise, we pulled into Nassau. During the few hours I was out contributing to the Bahamian economy, a copy I donated of my book, Conversations With The Masters: The VintageRock.com Interviews, was sold during a charity auction. Interviews with five of the musicians onboard were in the book, and the organizers managed to round up signatures from four of them (Carmine Appice abandoned the ship before we left, remember?). A generous patron of means snagged up one of the last hard copies of the book (It’s on Kindle today) with autographs from Mark Stein, Alan Parsons, Glenn Hughes, and Justin Hayward. And it was for a notable cause. It felt nice to have that happen. All I can add is that it’s a good thing I didn’t sign it.

I checked out the Young Dubliners on the Pool Deck where would-be leprechauns jigged and jumped and river danced, then headed to the Stardust Theater for my final show with a laminate: Justin Hayward. As I said before, the On The Blue cruise used to be the Moody Blues Cruise. Of course, the Moody Blues closed shop in 2018, and after drummer Graeme Edge passed away in 2021, Hayward made it official and announced that the group was over. But the newly named cruise carried on, though COVID-19 delayed its return until 2022. No matter how you look at it, The Moody Blues and, by extension, Justin Hayward, are inextricably linked to the On The Blue cruise. That’s why he’s the host.

Justin Hayward

Hayward’s 90-minute set was light, airy, and sublime without a drummer. His band includes guitarist Mike Dawes, keyboardist and occasional percussionist Julie Ragins, and flautist Karmen Gould. He began with “Tuesday Afternoon” (rather appropriate since it was Tuesday) and followed with other Moody Blues songs mixed with a couple low-key solo numbers. Lesser-known Moody Blues songs like “Driftwood,” “Blue World,” and “Hope And Pray” drifted into chestnuts like “Never Comes The Day” (with Gould on harmonica), “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Question,” “The Story In Your Eyes,” and, of course, “Nights In White Satin.”

Before playing a medley comprising “The Day We Meet Again,” “One Lonely Room,” “Out And In,” “In My World,” and “Meanwhile,” Hayward mentioned he worked it all out in a church where he regularly rehearses near his home. During one rehearsal, he said he was disrupted by a man looking for the church kitchen, which scattered giggles from the crowd. Though not quite as colorful as Al Stewart, Hayward easily has the history and fortitude to spin a few yarns of his own.

For anyone who’d stayed up on Friday night to watch War Of The Worlds in the Atrium, it was a treat to hear “Forever Autumn,” a song Hayward recorded for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of the Worlds from 1978. Hayward’s voice was tentative at some turns, but Ragins and Gould were there to make up for any vocal shortcomings. After a classically charged intro by Dawes, both Hayward and Ragins shared the vocals on “The Voice.” Though he spent most of the night strumming an acoustic, Hayward picked up his cherry red Gibson 335 for a lively “Question.”

You’d have thought “Nights In White Satin” would have been the show’s big climax, but it was followed by “Blue Guitar” (originally written and recorded with Moody Blues bassist John Lodge when they worked on their “Blue Jays” project in the mid 1970s), “The Story In Your Eyes,” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” the Moody Blues’ final Top 40 single in the States. It was impossible to feel anything but elated and ebulliently satisfied after this performance. No doubt, it made the thought of getting up the next morning to disembark the ship back in Miami a little more tolerable.

Mike Dawes, Justin Hayward, Julie Ragins, and Karmen Gould

Being aboard Norwegian Pearl for On The Blue is a classic rock lover’s delight. Hearing world-class musicians on the high seas with other like-minded folks is a fantasy for many. To make it all happen takes an extraordinary amount of logistics, planning, and execution. The Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) takes care of all the food and drink services, housekeeping, maintenance, and making sure the ship is on time and on target to all its destinations. On The Blue covers the backline, coordination with artist personnel, security, and staging of every event. They also have a crew that documents the whole thing, including the video and photography.

Photographer Joe Schaeffer (he took all the photos for this report) has been on nine Monsters of Rock Cruises, two Cruise to the Edges, and two On The Blue cruises. Passionate about what he does, he can’t say enough good things about being part of the OTB crew.

“I’d have to say the one constant is it’s like being a member of a huge family,” he told me.  “Behind the scenes you have people working in hospitality and security to help make sure the cruisers and artists stay safe and get what they need to have a great experience. You also have the stagehands and stage managers who work countless hours setting up and tearing down the equipment. Of course, when you are dealing with mother nature, you will have some minor issues, but it’s never anything that is not handled swiftly with our best interests in hand. Simply put, your experience with the On the Blue personnel is second to none.”

Norwegian Pearl

What happens next year is anyone’s guess. Recent news reports indicate that some liners could be shifted around due to tensions in the Red Sea. And, then, of course, there’s the artists themselves. During his Q&A, Justin Hayward hinted that he’d be up for another cruise in 2025.  Vinny Martell shared Hayward’s sentiments: “I’ll keep doing this…I don’t ever stop.”

His Vanilla Fudge bandmate Mark Stein is also on board for another cruise. “Reuniting with my peers during the On The Blue cruise gave me great joy,” he said. “Wonderful to hang with my dear friend Glenn Hughes after so many years, not to mention Mick Box of Uriah Heep, and, of course, Rod Argent of Zombies fame. It looks like destiny has chosen us all to keep on rockin’.”

Susan Enterline has been an avid and dedicated passenger since the beginning and she may have said it best. “It’s funny,” she remarked, “whenever we mention we’re going on a cruise, the first thing people ask is ‘Where to?’ I think most music cruisers will agree, ‘Who cares?’ It really doesn’t matter. It’s not about that; it’s about connecting with the music and the musicians and all the friends we’ve made…all of us getting back to where we once belonged. And still do.”

Mark Stein, Glenn Hughes, and Ash Sheehan

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