It Takes Two

Rod Stewart and Tina Turner have a lot more in common than Grammy Awards, lengthy careers and the same hairstyle on occasion. 

Both are among the best-selling artists of all time, their songs have become more than just hits, they each have an undeniable energy, both have their own signature gravelly voices that lend themselves to anything they choose to sing. And the two also mesh pretty well together when they share the same stage. 

So when producer Kurt Brown decided to put a tribute show together with these two strong vocal personalities, nothing short of the best in the business would do. 

"It Takes Two — Tribute to Rod Stewart & Tina Turner" comes to the Riverside Resort for the first time Wednesday-Sunday, May 29-June 2. 

Starring Cookie Watkins as Turner and John Anthony as Stewart was a no-brainer, really. These two don't just have the looks, the hair and the vocals going for themselves. 

Both have worked on and off together in "Legends in Concerts" for years and so they each know their characters inside and out. 

When John Anthony decided he wanted to be a musical performer, he gave it everything he had. Having been trained in saxophone and guitar, he knew since grade school that he wanted a life filled with music. While he drew his musical inspiration from the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the band Chicago, it was watching his cousin’s band rehearse that ultimately gave him the impetus to go for it himself. By teaching himself to sing, combined with the fact that he looks exactly like Rod Steward, Anthony soon found himself on the cover of Las Vegas magazines as one of the area’s best tribute artists. 

Since 1997, Anthony has charmed audiences for "Legends” time and time again. His success as a tribute artist has earned him accolades and recognition that any artist would be proud of. He’s endorsed by “Smiler,” the official Rod Stewart fan club magazine, he’s found widespread recognition on TV shows and in magazines, and he’s even won the Reel Award Contest for best Male Tribute Artist Performer. 

Watkins has that same sassy attitude, the same killer legs and wicked moves as Turner because she's been portraying the Queen of Rock and Roll for more than 30 years.  We talked with Watkins about her career, and the show she and John Anthony bring to Laughlin. Here's her take...  

 

Talk a little about your background. 

I actually started singing at a very young age by way of my brother who was a vocalist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the mid '60s and when he opened up his mouth and started singing, I said, "Well, I can do that, too." So I started doing it and playing piano and any instrument in the school band I'd pick up and try to play it. I continued through school with music — I wanted to be a classical singer and that was my education in music. I did pretty well, and was accepted to Manhattan School of Music in New York. I went there right after high school and embarked into the world of New York. From there, I did theater, I recorded, I sang background for numerous major acts, and I just happened to be singing the songs  written in the Village in a club and record company people were coming down to see me. They didn't sign me and the reason why, they said, "You remind us too much of Tina Turner." She was going to be a major recording artist. I said, "Well, OK, let's see what I can do about that." Then I was cast in a Broadway show called "Beehive." The character they wanted me for was to portray Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner. Long story short, I did the show, I won numerous awards for my character, and the show came to Vegas about 20-something years ago. 

We'd done all we could do with the show in New York, we did a national tour, then we went to Japan. Then the show was done, at least for me. The producers said they were going to do a "Beehive" show in Las Vegas, and I thought, "I've never been to Las Vegas, but I'm too old to be doin' that show again." Well, I got a phone call from the producers, and they asked me would I come down to help with casting some of the girls. They said, "We just can't find the right somebody to do your character, so we'd like your help aiding the young lady that could probably do the role." So I walk in and they looked at me and said, "Oh, my God, you have not changed!" They asked me, “Could you just sing this for these ladies so they can see how to do this?" So when I opened up my mouth to sing, they put me in another room and they asked me, if I would like to do my role and go to Vegas? So I came to Vegas back in 1993. We did the show for about a year at the Sahara, and then we moved to the Luxor when the show finally closed.  

 

How did you get into the tribute business?  

I was ready to go back to New York, when I got a phone call from somebody named Johnny Stuart. My first question was "who are you and how did you get my number?" He said, "I'm the producer of a show called 'Legends in Concert' and I hear you're a hell of a Tina Turner."  

Next thing I know, I'm singing for him in his office and I was cast in "Legends in Concert" for about 20 years. And then I decided "This is nice, this is fun, but I could do more. I wanted my own show performing, producing embarking on a little more than that. About 12 years ago, while I was working for "Legends," I put together a pretty good Tina show and I was playing in Europe. From there people saw me and they started booking me in some of the casinos. When I realized how well this was working, I said, "Why don't I just do this at home?" And that's what I started doing.   

 

Talk about this upcoming Laughlin show and what's in store. 

We're calling the show "It Takes Two" because Tina and Rod made a recording of a Marvin Gaye-Kim Weston song. They redid it and that's all in the show because, well, it takes two. The Laughlin job was put together by Kurt Brown Productions. I guess he saw some footage of me and wanted me for this show, and he also works with a Rod Stewart (John Anthony). I've never been to Laughlin — I've been in Vegas all these years, but never been to Laughlin. I  think it's going to be quite fun. John is a good friend and he's been working with me off and on for the last 20 years, so I'm going to do the show with him and see what happens. We're going to sing, both of us, the best of each artist's songs and recreate that '80s Rod Stewart-Tina Turner vibe. We're gonna do all the duet songs that Rod and Tina have done in the past. I have a whole group of singer-dancers backing us up, and a great band. They always work with me, but they're going to add to John's show and sing and do some steps for his set also. When I do a show, I have everything but the pyro, and that's pretty much what's going to happen for Laughlin.   

 

Your thoughts on appealing to an older crowd? 

I think it's gonna be a nice treat for the people down in Laughlin. From what I was told, Laughlin has an older audience but what people don't realize, Tina Turner is 79 years old and she doesn't look it. That's the dancing and the movement. I'm 63, when people look at me, they're like "huh?" I don't look my age either. I'm like, "Yeah, did you expect me to show up in a wheelchair. What's wrong with you? I'm rolling on the river, but I didn't say I was rolling in a wheelchair." 

Tina is retired and Rod plays Caesar's but not all the time and he doesn't run around the stage like he used to. I watched a lot of his footage from years ago, just to get the vibe and he was a mess. He's running all over the place, so I can see both John and I running around the stage and getting everybody exhausted in the audience trying to keep up, and that's what the show is all about.  

 

It doesn't sound like your portrayal is much of a stretch. 

No, it's very natural to me, to just cut up a rug on stage. I've had many people ask me if I've ever been a comedian or tried? I'd ask, "why, do you think I'm funny?" "You have no idea," they answered. It wasn't until I did a 90-minute show at the Cannery in Vegas — the performance was filmed and I watched it. It was like watching Carol Burnett doing Tina Turner because I'm just running my mouth, I thought no wonder I wear myself out. But, they loved it and I thought, "Oh, goodness, this is what they're talking about." But I can't help it, it's my personality, it comes out in the Tina mode.  

 

Meeting Tina Turner... 

I got to meet her many, many years ago when she had her big comeback. I sang on about three or four songs from different writers because the record companies tried to pick things that sounded like Tina. Their thinking was maybe if the songs sound like her, she'll like the song. She ended up not liking too many of the songs, but she said, "Who's this singing? This is the same voice." She inquired so much about who was singing, she wanted to meet me, so I met her — not knowing almost 38 years later, my profession has been performing as a Tina Turner tribute artist. I guess the record companies weren't that off when they said I reminded them of her. 

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