The First Family of Entertainment
Charlene Carabeo Tappeiner
In Las Vegas, a city unlike any other in the world, anything and everything goes on, from 24/7 gambling, drinking, partying, and God knows what else. For the locals, we don’t want to know “what happens” in our city; we call Vegas “home.” We proudly cheer for our Golden Knights, soon the Raiders, and WE ARE the entertainment mecca, having the best of the best of everything at our fingertips! The best "BAND of LAS VEGAS,” Zowie Bowie, has been electrifying Las Vegas audiences for 23 straight years and was recently awarded the "Best of Las Vegas!" for the sixth time by the Las Vegas Review Journal. One man’s passion and perseverance created the band and is the reason for Zowie Bowie’s success. He stars front and center with his swiveling hips, his usual splash of leather and chains, and gives you his David Lee Roth kick at the end of every performance because… HE CAN! His name is Chris Philips.
Born and raised in Tempe, Arizona, Philips grew up in a musical family, his father being an attorney and jazz pianist, and his mother, a first-grade teacher and top-ranked opera singer. Philips’s childhood was flooded with records playing of Neil Diamond, black and white movies, Sundays waking up to the Sound of Music, and evenings acting out scenes from different musicals. But Philips recalls two specific events that made him want to be a Vegas showman and entertainer.
During his first visit to Las Vegas, Philips at age ten went to the Hilton with his uncle to see Tony Orlando. Already blown away by the stunning showroom, 32-piece orchestra, and sophistication of what Vegas used to be, Philips was hypnotized when Tony Orlando chose to greet him and not the other hundreds of screaming fans saying, “How are you doing, young man?!” That one moment inspired Philips to want to make people feel exactly as he did — special and exhilarated! This coupled with Philips’s first experience at a live concert seeing Van Halen, he explained was “like when you do ACID for the first time— it changes your perception of the world!… That powerful, overwhelming presence and energy that [David Lee Roth] had, running out on the stage and hitting you with this explosive rock music… He started doing those KICKS!!” Laughing, Philips asked himself, “How do I do that for a living?!”
Philips’s quest to perform began as a drummer in the Hollywood circuit for ten years, but it wasn’t until his late 20’s that a friend asked him to sub as a lead singer. After one night on a microphone, Philips, sold his drums, cut his hair, and decided that that was it. His calling was to be up front and singing! He started a band in Scottsdale and put together a show with the intention of bringing it to Las Vegas. Philip’s band became somewhat of a phenomenon to 4000 people every weekend for high-end celebrities and sports figures and got the attention of the Fratitta family who owned Station Casinos. “Chris, we’re building a flagship property called Red Rock,” said Frank Fratitta, and he mentioned that a club was being built with the intention of housing Zowie Bowie. Philips’s big break came, and he remembers driving to Las Vegas, seeing billboards of himself, and newspapers and magazines all advertising his band. Just like that, Zowie Bowie’s dream started to take flight.
Going on its 14th straight year of residency at Red Rock Hotel and Casino and 9th year on Fremont Street, Philips stated, “I’m 52 and I feel like I’m not even 20 and never want to grow up! I’ve had so many wonderful experiences and met so many wonderful people, but nothing has come close to the past two years…” Behind every strong man is a strong woman, right? Philips went out on a limb and asked a beautiful woman named Jennifer Turco, whom he had been eyeing on facebook, whether or not she would be interested to meet him and see a show. Although Turco had never seen Philips on stage, she did know him as the “orange (slightly tanned) guy” on the billboards around town. At first glance after he called out her name, Philips remembers seeing Turco turn in slow motion, like in a movie, and said to himself, “Okay… I’ll be seeing you the rest of my life!”
Within a few months, out came the “I love you’s” and the discussion of marriage. Turco, already a proud single mom to a sixteen-year-old son at the time and true scholar named Logan, did hold onto dreams of having a daughter. After deciding to tie the knot at their lavish Hartland Mansion wedding for 300 guests, the Philips’ immediately began trying to have their first baby. After a year making gallant efforts to conceive and using every type of fertility medication, Jennifer remembers looking through a microscope to view Chris’s “seeds” and exclaimed, “It looks like a dead warzone!” Losing hope, Chris admitted to Jennifer, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to have kids. I understand if you want to leave me.” Breaking up was not an option for Jennifer, so in that moment when they decided to continue trying for a baby versus landscaping their backyard — POOF! Jennifer took a pregnancy test and it came back positive! Ten months later they gave birth to their beautiful babygirl, Ava, and “everything has been different, for the better,” said Chris. “Now everything that I do… not only makes sense, but my life now has a purpose.”
With a new, wonderful chapter for Chris and Jennifer, so many factors go into making their marriage and professional lives a success. Jennifer claims that “opposites do attract.” What she is strong in, Chris compensates by being strong in all other things. They are a tag team caring for Ava. Chris cares for the baby during the day while Jennifer is at work, and then Jennifer takes over when Chris leaves to go perform in the evening. “When you realize that something is PERMANENT and forever, like, a wife and a child, you perceive everything differently and treat what you have with a lot more respect. It has forced Jennifer and I to deal with our differences and make everything work no matter what,” says Chris.
Regarding Zowie Bowie’s continued success, Chris expressed, “Our show is about involving ourselves with the people’s lives who come to see us. Be it celebrating a birthday, or anniversary, it’s my job to make them feel good, and have them leave with some sort of substance that makes them want to come back… Its more about the feeling that they get when they see the band. They see us as a family.” And a family indeed they are.
One of the most important things for Chris is to surround himself with good people — his singers and the band. “Right now, we are a family (not just bandmates) … I first started the band without a piano player. We had a fake piano, and I pretended to play it,” Chris laughed. “Dan Walker, (their piano player of 23 years and the only original band member next to Chris) upon entering the band, not only gave Zowie Bowie validity, but Dan gave us our sound, a jazzy, fusion approach to our music. It’s what Dan does that gives us our Zowie Bowie flavor, and he’s captured that. We… are secretly in love.” (We all busted out laughing.) “Being the wife of an entertainer is fun,” Jennifer chimed in, “but I am fortunate that my husband works with two amazing girls that are not only talented, but they are so beautiful,” speaking of Nieve Malandra and Jaime Lynch. Elvis Lederer, guitarist, Alfonso Bernal, bass player, and George Bryant, drummer, round out the rest of the band, and you can see them all featured in a Golden Knights commercial singing a song that Chris wrote for NBC CHANNEL 3 called “Road to Victory.” Chris, in the future, would like Zowie Bowie to keep evolving by featuring more of their own original music, and by becoming more than just a dance band, featuring all of his influences of different types of rock/dance music with big band music.
Sipping our last few drops of wine, Jennifer stated, “I’m so unbelievably proud of my husband. He’s done a 180 with his life, and there’s so much more meaning to my life, because of him.” Chris continued by saying, “I would have a giant hole in my life if I didn’t have my two girls, [Jennifer and Ava]. I wouldn’t have known what I was missing… and now, I’d never want to go back to the life I had before. To our friends and fans, I can’t thank you enough. I have no interest to do anything else for the rest of my life. Things are going better than ever, and I still feel like an 18-year-old in a garage band, wanting to conquer the world! I hope that feeling never goes away. As long as there’s vodka around, I think we’ll be okay!”