The Legend of the Copaman
It was a long time ago, in the fall of 1991, that the legendary Copaman first took to the stage. It was a cold, slightly cloudy Friday night atop a hill overlooking Prescott, Arizona, that a legend was born. On that fateful night, Mike Lewis went from being a mild-mannered college student to becoming one of America's most beloved entertainers - the Copaman!
A slow night of geriatrics devouring food at happy hour was the setting for an unusual form of entertainment that was quickly spreading across the country, but was slowly creeping into Prescott (pronounced "Press-kit", like a biscuit) - not lambada, but karaoke. Four college students entered the bar at the Sheraton resort and transformed the city forever.
Prescott is a community that has changed little from its days as the frontier capital of the Arizona territory. When you cross the hills into the valley, you are slowly stepping back into a time of lawlessness and cowboys - when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday kept justice and disco was unheard of.
On the night in question, a karaoke machine had been set up, yet no one dared to sing - until Mike began singing an ode to Led Zeppelin with "Rock and Roll." While he made a valiant attempt, Robert Plant's notes were just too high for Mike to hit. Although it was not the performance that would make him a star, it did net him a free Mai-Tai.
Next on the list was Huey Lewis and the News with their hit "Power of Love". Mike thought the common last name would give him the ability to sing the hit; however, this was not the song to launch his career. As a result of his attempt, though, he was provided with an additional Mai-Tai.
Finally, two hours, four beers, and two Mai-Tais after entering the bar, the karaoke DJ approached Mike and asked him to rejuvenate the crowd with yet another song. At that, Mike replied with his immortal reply:
"Charley, I don't care - pick a song, any song, and I will sing it."
The Early Performances
Charley entered "44-02" on the karaoke machine, and instantly, those immortal bongos began their rhythm. Mike stood for a second, cleared his throat, and began singing the greatest song in the history of the world - Copacabana.
Mike made his way through the first two verses when his first pitfall ushered in his trademark. In the middle of the song, the words on the display disappeared, and the song settled into a 90 second playing of a Caribbean beat. Not knowing what he should do, Mike decided he better do something - he jumped off the stage into the middle of the room and he danced!
He performed the now immortal Copadance. At the conclusion of the dance, Mike almost forgot to sing the remaining verse. He returned to the stage and belted out the last verse to the song and the Copaman was welcomed to the world with the thunderous applause from the Prescott community.
The following week, the Copaman was welcomed back to the bar with an instant selection of "44-02" on the karaoke machine. Without any alcohol, it seemed that the Copaman was doomed to failure. However, if he could pull this off, the Copaman could achieve legendary status.
The Copaman approached the stage. He did not know if he could capture the essence of the previous week's performance, but he decided he would try to duplicate it as best he could.
He sang the first two verses, when suddenly, the Copaman froze - was the crowd expecting him to replicate his dance? He didn't get much time to think about it when there were sudden cries from the audience: "Dance, Copaman, Dance!"
"Dance, Copaman, Dance." That is exactly what the Copaman did - he jumped from the stage and landed squarely in the center of the crowd. He danced like he had never danced before - the crowd was silent. It wasn't bad; it was so good, they had no reaction to this performance of sheer artistic genius. When Copaman returned to the stage, he was met by such applause as had never been heard before in the Sheraton bar - or since.
The Rise of the Copaman
Over the next few months, the Copaman had slowly turned into something of a celebrity in Prescott. Bar owners were sponsoring their own karaoke nights and wanted the Copaman to perform - with his entourage from his cult following. The Copaman was approached about singing for television commercials. For all of 1992, the Copaman never had to buy a beer. And neither did his fraternity brothers, who acted as roadies for the "Copaman - Round the Valley Tour '92."
The highlight of this tour was when the Copaman was asked to perform for the entire Gamma Iota Chapter of Theta Xi Fraternity at their mixer with the Pi Beta Phi Sorority. The Copaman sang with true emotion as he performed for the home crowd.
Over the next few months, the Copaman performed at Buzzard's, the Fire House, Penelope's, and continued to headline at the Sheraton. Before the end of 1992, though, the Copaman faced his first taste of the fall from the spotlight.
The Copaman had a meteoric rise to fame. Now, events conspired to topple him. The Sheraton had decided to convert its bar to a casino. The Fire House had gone out of business. Buzzard's had begun playing more country-western music and less karaoke. The Copaman was soon losing his most popular venues.
Finally, in December 1992, the Copaman had no choice but to bid farewell to Prescott and take his show on the road.
The Copaman National Tour
The Copaman had set his sights on bigger and better things. He set out to take his show on the road and dominate bigger markets. For his conquest, the Copaman set his sights on the ultimate prize - New York.
Before leaving Prescott, the Copaman clearly stated his intentions with an unheard of double play on the karaoke machine. He began with the usual Copacabana, but then continued to sing with his rendition of "New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra. The Copaman took to heart Frank's immortal words - "New York - if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere".
The Copaman was a hit in Prescott, but would it play to the kids in Omaha? People told the Copaman that before conquering New York - a lofty goal by any artist's standards - could he conquer a medium-sized city like Omaha? To prove the naysayers wrong, the Copaman took up this challenge.
At his first stop in Omaha, he sang Copacabana accompanied by local talent. At first, the audience was unreceptive to this new form of entertainment. Over the next few weeks, though, the Copaman eventually won over the hearts of the Omahans. Not content with winning Omaha, though, the Copaman continued to follow his dream east to New York.
The Copaman was met in New York with a lukewarm reception. His form of entertainment was called "too cutting edge" by some critics and "downright stupid" by others. But, not getting discouraged, the Copaman decided to play at some other cities. He was big in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They loved him in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He played in Boston, Massachusetts. But, his goal was the elusive New York.
Finally, in 1995, the Copaman succeeded in achieving his dream - he made it in New York. But, unlike most people, the Copaman was not content to play on Broadway - he had his sights set on something bigger: Columbia Street in Utica, New York. And proving his critics wrong, he was met with a standing ovation - helped in part by a lack of chairs in the establishment.
In 1996, the Copaman left New York. The act had grown old, and the audiences were turning to a new generation of entertainers. The Copaman took his show to Dayton, Ohio, where he tried to make a name for himself. He began experimenting with new versions of the Copacabana, including "Copacabana '96 - The Dance Remix." It just wasn't any use. The Copaman was slowly losing his audience. As hard as the Copaman tried, he was unable to appeal to either new or former audiences.
The Copaman tried a last ditch effort to return to play the clubs in Omaha and Prescott that he had played in early 1992-1993. To the Copaman's horror, the clubs had gone bankrupt. The beer joints that had welcomed the Copaman a few years earlier had quietly become health-food restaurants, and the karaoke club he played in Omaha was replaced by a dry cleaners. The Copaman had finally hit bottom.
One shining moment on top again
In July 1996, on a whim, the Copaman played a crowd at Cincinnati. The Copaman was warned before he took the mike. This crowd consisted of local union auto workers. This blue-collar crowd was not used to that "crazy modern progressive sound." Add to the fact that there was no stage in this establishment; the Copaman would be in the middle of the crowd. If they did not like the music, he would be vulnerable. This would be the Copaman's toughest audience. It was a challenge the Copaman welcomed.
Walking to the mike and gripping it firmly, the Copaman began to sing. He sounded a bit rusty, as though some of the emotion of the past was gone. But, by the second verse, the Copaman was back. At the conclusion of the second verse, the Copaman saw that he had been accepted by the audience thus far and decided to continue with the pinnacle of his performance - the Copadance.
No one in the bar had seen anything like it. It was the topic of conversation for most of Cincinnati for the next several weeks. The Copaman had performed one last gig in Cincinnati, and only a handful of people had witnessed it. But, no one who was there that night will soon forget that performance.
The Once - and Future - Copaman
The Copaman has been laying low over the recent years. The lack of karaoke establishments has left the Copaman with a limited number of venues. But does this mean the end of the Copaman?
No. The Copaman still performs for select crowds. The Copaman still tries to perform whenever he can. But the Copaman will never vanish from the hearts of his true fans.
A rare picture of the legendary Copaman taken
during a performance in Krakow, Poland in 2002...
Who knows? In a few years, Copaman-impersonators might take over from Elvis-impersonators. A whole new generation of fans might welcome the Copaman's genius. The world was not ready for the Copaman; but when it is, he will be there.
The next time you are in a karaoke bar, select song 44-02. It is called "Copacabana," and it was originally sung by Barry Manilow. But, if you are lucky, you might be able to be a witness to the greatest musical performance of any millennium - the Copaman!