A New Dawn Rising
By: Andy Argyrakis
There’s no title more fitting for ARION’s international debut disc than A New Dawn Rising, thanks primarily to the fact that the beloved Chicago-bred band is back together and recording after more than twenty years apart. But in order to understand why this dozen-track disc (released on Kevin Chalfant’s Clique Records) is truly a fresh chapter for the melodic/progressive/ classic rock contingent, a look back at its storied history is in order.
Long before ARION even formed, co-founding brothers Steve and Larry Roppolo were playing together in a variety of musical incarnations dating back to 1966, even landing some tunes in a pair of Hollywood B-cult classics of the day (Cindy And Donna and Weekend With The Babysitter to be exact). Come 1979 after a slew of rotating collaborations, ARION was officially formed, and after vocalist Peter Merkle joined in 1982, the creative nucleus that continues through today was officially cemented.
At that time, ARION was a part of the Windy City club scene, tearing up legendary staples like the Thirsty Whale, Haymaker’s, Mother’s and the Midway Ballroom, while branching out towards a national touring operation that averaged 200 dates a year (including opening act slots alongside Todd Rundgren, Gary Moore and Gary U.S. Bonds). The momentum appeared to be going at full-steam, aided by several adventures along the way, from the occasional stray bullet that would light up a biker bar, to blowing a road block in then Governor Bill Clinton’s Arkansas (and spending the night in jail).
"Very few bands have had the experiences we’ve had and we could sit for five hours and tell you story after story," lets out Steve with a laugh. "We even unknowingly performed for Chicago’s Blackstone Rangers street gang, in a hotel they had physically taken over." "But the bottom line is, we still have that passion and the fire in our belly."
While the musical stars almost aligned perfectly at first, including interest from CBS Records, behind-the-scenes matters soon turned sour. After getting a third of the way through those label sessions, a corrupt management staffer embezzled all of the band’s advance money, making it impossible to finish the album.
"It was brutal because this was our dream. If we weren’t playing six nights a week, we were rehearsing, which gives you the idea of how dedicated we were," recalls Steve, before Peter interjects. "There’s a line in the new song ‘Not Satisfied’ that talks about paying a terrible price for what we believed and just feeling empty inside. But nowadays, we’ve got nothing to lose and I feel like we picked up right where we left off."
Prior to the reunion though, that final blow took the remaining wind out of ARION’s sails, leading to an official disbandment in 1990, in turn, leaving behind a faithful following throughout the Midwest and beyond. In fact, the group was missed so much after the break-up that fans demanded a live recording of whatever was left in the group’s vaults, resulting in 1996′s posthumous, self-released CD Dreams (which also included three tracks from the aborted CBS sessions).
Nonetheless, members realigned their lives, with Steve and Peter exploring other professional careers in Chicago and Larry establishing residence and new musical roots in Hawaii (though he did return to the Windy City briefly to perform in a cover band with Steve). Throughout the 2000s, friendships remained rock solid, while attention for ARION picked up in unexpected places, from fans finding one another on the internet to exorbitant eBay bids on the limited run EP and Dreams releases.
As 2010 rolled around, Steve in particular made a resolution that ARION’s legacy was far from complete, and after the others agreed with his vision, plans were made to not only reconvene, but also record what would become their first proper long-player. What originally started as a five-song experiment soon doubled and eventually expanded to a dozen tunes, after which longtime band confidant (and one-time member) Lou Gould passed on the new demos to a famous friend.
Enter Kevin Chalfant, longtime singer for The Storm (featuring three members of Journey) and Two Fires, who also spent time fronting 707, Shooting Star and even a stint with the Alan Parsons Live Project. In addition to his thriving solo career, Kevin built his own recording studio and established Clique Records. After signing on as co-producer and adding his background vocals on several tracks, Chalfant called on his longtime collaborator Beau Hill (Alice Cooper, Winger, Europe, Kix) to mix the tracks and the Grammy Award-winning Rodney Mills (The Doobie Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special) to master the results.
"We’ve always attracted a lot of musicians and sophisticated listeners," suggests Steve. "When you sit down and listen to the disc from start to finish, you find a lot of nuances that make for a rich listening experience."
The results find several brand-new songs, along with a few chestnuts from yesteryear, finally seeing the high-end release ARION has always deserved, while the trio’s playing chops are even tighter than the first go-around thanks to over four decades of music making. As for those who missed the ARION from back in the day, A New Dawn Rising is sure to appeal to a fan base spanning Queen to Kansas, Led Zeppelin to Todd Rundgren, alongside shades of Yes and the Alan Parsons Project. Additionally, those who purchase ANDR will score a unique insight into the band’s initial era via a bonus, ten minute live rendition of "Look At The Water," recorded in 1990.
In a sense, A New Dawn Rising is the best of both worlds- an unapologetic rock n’ roll collection that doesn’t seek to conform to today’s often times watered-down trends, but also an opportunity for ARION to expand its audience through social networking, international distribution via Clique and licensing opportunities.
"No one looks at Eric Clapton and thinks of him as an old guy, but rather like a wine that keeps getting better with time," observes Larry. "You could call us dinosaurs if you want to because we’re over the half-century mark, but so what? We’re constantly evolving our style and our chops. When creative people aren’t creating, it’s like they’re dying. But we’re not going to apologize for who we are or what comes out of us because we play what we play."
Adds Peter: "At the same time, we love all the social media opportunities and being able to connect with people all over the world, especially those we haven’t seen for a long time. It’s a great way to continue the concept of community and reaching out to listeners. Music is a really important facet in our lives and we look at this band like a brotherhood. We’re here to create the magic and we want everyone who listens be a part of the experience."
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer, who has covered such celebrated artists as the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen and Katy Perry. Visit his website