Which veteran rock act has played to more people in Orange County than any other?
Not Bruce Springsteen. Not Elton John. Not even the Rolling Stones.
Try Greg Topper, who spent most of the ‘70s, ‘80s and half of the ‘90s pounding out the hits of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and other proto-rockers on his piano four and five nights a week in hotels, bars and clubs, earning a reputation as the county’s highest-paid nightclub act.
In 1994, however, Topper decided to call it quits to spend more time with his daughter, Caitlyn, who is now 11.
Now Topper and his old band, the Upsetters, are back and will be playing Saturday as well as Oct. 14 and 28 at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Irvine.
“It’s been a nice break,” the 55-year-old singer-pianist said recently from his home in Rancho Santa Margarita. “But I’m back and I’m ready to wail.”
The impetus for returning to the stage has been twofold.
“It’s not only that some of my fans have been bugging me to draw me out of retirement,” Topper said, “but also that people who like this kind of music have had no place to go.
“There’s been an enormous infusion in Orange County over the last five years--since I retired--of people between the ages of 35 and 60 who love that genre, but who haven’t been able to go anywhere and get it [live].
“These are the people who don’t like country, they don’t like jazz, they don’t like reggae, they don’t like Top 40, hip-hop or big-band music, but just want that real old go-getting rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “I’m not sure what the response will be. We’re going to kind of run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes it.”
In any event, Topper said he doesn’t plan to resume the kind of heavy schedule he kept previously. He expects to play perhaps two or three shows per month, but insisted that they’ll be dance-friendly shows, not sit-down concerts.
“I definitely want people to know they’ll be coming to see a band in a joint,” he said.
Topper’s biggest concern is that he will be in the middle of a roaring Little Richard rocker and trip the defibrillator that doctors inserted two years ago after he suffered a heart attack.
“I had surgery and they put in the defibrillator, which delivers about 20,000 volts if my heart decides to go south,” he said. “It gives it a jump-start. There was a little heart muscle damage, but basically, I’m fine.”
During his layoff, Topper said he did “a lot of traveling” with his daughter and also worked as a marketing consultant for some pharmaceutical firms.
That’s quite a change from belting out “Great Balls of Fire,” but now he’s ready to rock again.
“There’s no place in the county where you can walk into a bar and hear somebody playing Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry,” he said. “I’m back to remedy that.”
* Greg Topper & the Upsetters play Saturday at the Crazy Horse Steak House, 71 Fortune Drive, Irvine. 7:30 p.m. $10 cover. Also Oct. 14 and 28. (949) 585-9000.