Village People keep bringing the party

Courtesy of Sixuvus Ltd.

Now in their 35th year, the Village People have displayed remarkable staying power and continuity with three original members and two others with more than 30 years with the group.

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

I’ll be honest. I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up the phone to speak with Eric Anzalone, best known as “The Biker” from the Village People.

It’s easy to be cynical about a group that has been touring for 35 years on essentially three songs, none of which ever hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts – “Macho Man” peaked at No. 25 and “YMCA” hit No. 2 in 1978, while “In the Navy” got as high as No. 3 the next year.

But somehow, instead of being another flash-in-the-pan disco act, the Village People are more or less intact in their fourth decade and continue to travel the globe. That doesn’t happen unless people want you to do it.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We love what we do,” Anzalone said from his home in New Jersey. “I mean, come on – it’s a pretty cool gig, and you can’t pick a more fun way to make a living. We’re the quintessential party band.”

This isn’t one of those acts that tours on its name while employing few, if any, original members. (Credence Clearwater Revisited and Molly Hatchet come to mind.) Three of the six Village People are originals from 1977: Alexander Briley (the G.I./Army guy), Felipe Rose (the Native American) and David Hodo (construction worker).Lead singer and police officer Ray Simpson (who joined in 1979) and cowboy Jeff Olson (who joined in 1980) are close. Even Anzalone, who took over for the late Glenn Hughes in 1995, has been with the group for 17 years, longer than the man he replaced.

In 2008, the Village People got their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it was neither a symbolic nor real conclusion of a successful career. The Village People don’t tour, per se. They just go where they are wanted, when they are wanted. The group plays about 150 to 200 dates a year, and Anzalone estimates they circumnavigate the globe once a year.

“We know how special this is in the music industry, and we don’t take it for granted. We’re so grateful that our fans keep coming out,” he said.

Their concert is what makes the Village People accessible and keeps them true to their sound, which resonates with fans. They wear their costumes and sing their hits live to prerecorded instrumental tracks.

“When we sing with a band, it doesn’t sound like the record, and that’s really what people want to hear,” Anzalone said. “We’re not a funk or R&B band, and the disco sound was different. When we play with a band, it sounds more like a wedding cover band, and that’s not the show. It’s also a lot easier to travel without a band.”

Travel for any group can be exhausting, but when you are viewed as the torchbearers for the disco era, as the Village People are, there are more expectations. In their heyday, the guys could move seamlessly from the stage to the dance floor and whatever else came next, but such a lifestyle isn’t sustainable for 35 years.

“You get older, you get wiser and you realize you can’t bounce back the way you used to – I mean, the way we used to,” Anzalone said, laughing. “We always get invited to parties after the shows, and usually we say, ‘Thanks, but we’ve got an early morning tomorrow.’

“But sometimes we’ll go and have some fun. The parties just don’t last as long.”

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