Performing Saturday at the Bing Crosby Theater is a big deal for Peter Rivera. The former leader of the underrated R&B band Rare Earth has envisioned an “evening with” type of performance for the last half decade.
“This is definitely a bucket list kind of thing for me,” Rivera said from his north Spokane home. “I’ve bopped around town the last few years thinking about where I could perform this kind of show, and the Bing is the place. The Bing is Spokane, and I feel like I am Spokane after living here for years.”
Rivera, 77, is a charismatic vocalist-drummer and could live anywhere. The inveterate tunesmith, who called Los Angeles home for much of his career, has children who reside in Atlanta, Texas and North Dakota. However, Rivera has been hanging out in his north Spokane home for a dozen years.
“People have asked me so many times, ‘Why are you here in Spokane?’ It’s easy to answer. I love living in Spokane since it’s big enough not to be a small town, and it’s small enough not to be a big city.”
It sounds like there is a tune in there, and perhaps Rivera can write a signature song of Spokane a la Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” or Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”
“I’m writing all of the time,” Rivera said. “It’s my passion.”
Rivera has been crafting songs for 60 years, starting with Rare Earth, which signed with Motown in 1969.
“We were thrilled to sign a contract with Motown,” Rivera said. “We thought about the artists signed to the label, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Temptations, and it was like, wow. The Motown artists were so amazing to us.”
However, Rivera reveals the Motown administration was reluctant to embrace Rare Earth.
“Motown was a primarily Black record company, and the people behind the scenes weren’t so welcoming,” Rivera said. “However, the recording artists there loved us. It was so much fun recording next to Marvin Gaye and seeing him in the hallway. (Temptations vocalist) David Ruffin was one of my close friends. He loved that we recorded Temptations songs.”
Rare Earth’s version of the Temptations “Get Ready” hit No. 4 on the Billboard charts. Rare Earth’s version of the Temptations’ (“I Know) I’m Losing You” also hit the top 10. “Born to Wander” reached the top 20.
“It was an amazing time for us,” Rivera said. “We had success, and we were at a place, Motown, where you had all of this amazing talent like Michael Jackson, who I remember watching him at a photo shoot. It couldn’t have gone much better.”
The hits continued with “I Just Want to Celebrate” and “Hey, Big Brother,” but Rivera left the band in 1974, only to reunite in 1976. But he left Rare Earth for good in 1983.
“Sometimes you just have to move on,” Rivera said. “I had more to accomplish.”
Rivera has enjoyed a solo career and continues to record. His latest album, “Encore,” will be featured at the Bing.
“I’m excited to play the songs from ‘Encore’ and the hits, as well,” Rivera said. “I’m really looking forward to this special show since all of the songs I’ll play at the Bing will have horn sections. There will be 11 or 12 people onstage. Aside from the horn section, I’ll have two keyboardists and three vocalists.
“I’m excited about presenting such a show in front of my friends who live in Spokane. I’ll be performing in front of people I see at the gas station, at the park, at the Costco. This is my city.”
The community’s collective kindness touched Rivera when his wife of 43 years, Dabar, died in 2013. “I can’t thank people enough for all that they did,” Rivera said.
While dealing with his grief, Rivera continued writing. “It’s what I do,” Rivera said. “I can’t stop.”
Rivera has another album’s worth of material that will not be previewed at the Bing.
“I’m inspired by what’s happening today,” Rivera said minutes after the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict was announced. “The world is very different than it was, say, 30 years ago.
One of his latest compositions, “Trust,” was inspired by current events. “I’m not going to let you take away my freedom / I’m not going to let you tell me how to choose / I’m looking hard for something to believe in / cause all I know there is too much to lose.”
And then there is the personal, which is impacting Rivera as he deals with his mortality with “Stay Ahead of the Reaper.”
“How do I keep going / I have to stay ahead of the reaper / They say we can’t live forever / At least I’m gonna try / Not ready for the reaper to be here / I don’t think it’s my time to die.”
Rivera remains inspired in the twilight of his career. “I still have so much to accomplish,” he said. “At least I’ll have checked one thing off of my box, which is playing the Bing.”
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