Keyboard great Rick Wakeman plays the Hard Rock March 31.
Keyboard great Rick Wakeman plays the Hard Rock March 31.Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City

Rick Wakeman talks to Chuck Darrow about Hard Rock AC gig; KC & Sunshine Band at Bally’s for 50th anniversary

Also: Poker tournaments announced by Live! Philadelphia and Borgata.

Rick Wakeman is nothing if not a trouper. 

The legendary progressive-rock keyboardist best known for his early-1970s work with Yes (including the band’s 1972 masterpiece album, Close To the Edge), has battled multiple health problems for years. But that hasn’t prevented him from hitting the road for a U.S. tour that brings him to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City on March 31.

“Yeah, I do have some health issues that make life a little bit difficult, but you can do one of two things,” reasoned the 73-year-old rocker during a recent phone call to his home in Suffolk, England. “You either plow through them and go, ‘I'll deal with it,’ or you don't deal with it. I like to think of myself as a ‘deal-with-it’ kind of person. I mean, I've got arthritis in my hands and in my feet and legs. But the hand arthritis is interesting: After a show, they're no worse. So it's not exacerbating the situation. I can live with that. I know how to deal with that. I wear half-gloves--I wear them to play as well, and they do help.”

As for his diabetes, Wakeman advised he has it under control through a combination of medication and diet, and that he has learned to live with the dramatic fluctuations in weight that can accompany the disease. “The whole diabetes thing means you have the old ‘yo-yo’ weight. One minute you're putting on weight, the next minute it disappears. But you get used to that,” he said, adding that his eye problems caused by age-related macular degeneration, which results in blurred, straight-on vision, are being treated with monthly injections.

Wakeman’s litany of physical ailments should not be mistaken for complaints: He made it a point to express his gratitude for, and contentment with, his life today.

“I'm quite happy,” he insisted. “I wake up in the morning, throw the covers back and—boom!--if nothing's dropped off, I go ‘Hey! Another day!’

“Obviously, you deal with life a bit differently when you’re on the road. But I've got a great team. I get nicely driven everywhere. I get fed. I just try and look after myself a little bit better now, because I enjoy playing. I enjoy meeting people. And in order to do that, I've got to take a little bit more care of myself than I used to.”

Nonetheless, Wakeman, does not kid himself about his conditions and their potential effects on his career. He acknowledged there are no guarantees they won’t ultimately force his retirement from performing.

“If it gets to a stage where I can't play to the standard that I set myself, then I would have to rethink what I do,” he offered. “Because I never, ever want to go on stage and have people applaud me for what I used to be. That doesn't interest me at all.”

Wakeman, who has also played with such artists as Cat Stevens and David Bowie (that’s him playing piano on the iconic “Life On Mars?” from the 1971 album, Hunky Dory) is as famous in his native England for his sharp sense of humor as he is for his prodigious musical talents. And, he promised, that side of him will be on display at Hard Rock.

The program, he said, is “just me on my own grand piano and some keyboards, because there are some pieces that don't work as well on piano. They work better on keyboards, and vice-versa.

“And it's a mixture of music that I've been involved with over the years. There's some Yes, there's some David Bowie stuff, there's some Cat Stevens stuff. There's some of my other stuff, and a few little surprises here and there.

“In between the music, I tell completely ludicrous stories, some of which are possibly true.”

Given that “prog-rock” musicians, as a group, tend to be somewhat serious and introspective, how does the man who some consider the greatest prog keyboardist of all time even think of injecting some lighter moments into his performances?

“I love comedy,” he said emphatically and unapologetically. “I think laughter is a great medicine for us all. And I just find so many things in life funny.”

So, how would Wakeman like to be remembered—beyond for the capes he has always worn onstage, that is?

“I'd like to think I've made some people happy and put some smiles on faces, and it would be nice if some of the music lives on a little bit,” he said.

“It's a great honor to be a musician and to leave music behind. And it'd be nice if some of it was remembered fondly. I think it would just be nice to be remembered.”

Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets here.

KC marks 50 at Bally’s

Those of you who like to put on your dancing shoes will want to be at Bally’s Atlantic City March 25 as disco-era titans KC & The Sunshine Band will get booties shaking.

The Miami-born band who kept the world dancing with such tunes as “Shake Your Booty,” “That’s the Way” and “Get Down Tonight” during its late-1970s heyday is currently on a tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding.

Show time is 8 p.m. Tickets here.

Big poker deals at Live!, Borgata

Two poker tournaments are in the cards at Philly and AyCee casinos.

March 19 will see the kickoff of a week-long, 13-game event at Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia. It’s being staged as a benefit for Philabundance, the Philly-based food bank that feeds those in need. That’s  why participants who donate $10 or 10 cans of food will receive an additional $10,000 in tourney chips.

And in Atlantic City, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa was so pleased with the success of The Return, the mega-tourney staged in January, that it has scheduled Almighty Millions, a single-event contest with a $1 million guaranteed prize pool.

It starts on May 7 and has an $800 buy-in which gets players $100,000 in chips.

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