Rock Sugar combines iconic pop and heavy metal songs in Tahoe onstage Saturday, July 27.
Talk is cheap, unless it’s done really well.
Jess Harnell has made a living – and a good living at that – with his voice. He does voices for cartoons, sings on commercials and announces. But using his voice onstage with a band. That would be a dream, and Harnell is living one now.
He fronts Rock Sugar, a band that combines pop and metal songs from the 1980s. Only a singer with an extraordinary voice could pull off such a feat.
“When my brother was building model airplanes, I was building voices,” Harnell said. “I live the ultimate dream life right now because I get to be on all these cartoon shows that make people happy and then on select weekends I get to go out with my crazy friends and play rock star for a few days in front of big crowds in great places like Harrah’s.”
Rock Sugar performs Saturday in the South Shore Room, the venerable venue once the domain of the Rat Pack.
“I’d like to do a Frank Sinatra version of “Back in Black,” Harnell laughed.
He said the band will pull out a new combination at Tahoe, so who knows. Anything can happen with Rock Sugar.
“When I was a kid I always had an affinity for voices, Harnell said. “I always picked out the interesting things in people’s voices and tried to imitate them. That led me to a really good career doing sound-alikes on television. Now that talent that I’ve had ever since I was a little kid, led to Rock Sugar. I can do Guns N’Roses, Def Leppard, Poison.”
Which can be parlayed with Journey or Madonna.
Harnell’s imitations are so accurate one of the singers he copied thought he was hearing his own voice. He objected and now Rock Sugar can’t sell the CDs online or at retailers.
“We’re talking about somebody who was my hero growing up, and now basically the guy who made me want to sing is trying to make me stop singing,” Harnell said.
The live show is unaffected, and it includes voice lessons from Harnell, who teaches the audience how to emulate Guns N’ Roses, Steve Perry and Ozzie Osborne.
“Our goal is to make it the most fun rock show you have ever been to,” Harnell said. “It is extremely interactive. We feel like we are hangin’ with our friends no matter how big the show, and we try to make everybody feel like they are part of the show.”
Harnell and his friend since childhood Chuck Duran had a pretty good band, Loud and Clear which recorded two CDs and served as the house band in Hollywood’s House of Blues. But it never made enough money to support the band members.
“We did well in that melodic rock community,” Harnell said. “It was sort of aggravating because we really wrote great songs and they would have fit right in the the Bon Jovi’s and the Def Leppards of the world. But your chances of getting rich are greater by winning the Lotto than being in a rock band. It does happen. But it happens for a very, very few.”
But when the novel concept of Rock Sugar was born, the band finally made it.
“We thought, what if we combined ‘Crazy Train’ with ‘Jesse’s Girl?’ ” Harnell said. “Our first show was opening for Vince Neil.”
Quickly, Rock Sugar was playing in stadiums, festivals and arenas opening for Aerosmith, Linkin Park and AC/DC.
“It was like a gun starting a race,” said Harnell.