By Alexis Chavez
His long curls sway with each cord he strikes on the guitar. Men and women dance and shout, their happiness hardly containable. The year is 1976, and Carlos Santana mesmerizes the crowd, especially a then six-year-old Michael Shapiro, who will remember the very first concert he attended with his father for years to come.
What Shapiro took away from that show was not the virtuoso guitar styling of Mr. Santana, but the pandemonium with which he was met. “I remember the feeling of wanting to be that and do that. It wasn’t about the music, it was about the adoration,” Shapiro remembers. “It was about all those people loving him, and I just wanted to be loved.”
Although born in the Bay Area, Shapiro spent his first six years splitting time between his mother in Portland and father in Las Vegas, until finally settling in Vegas. He began playing trumpet in 5th grade, though he never forgot the power with which Santana played the guitar. After years of begging his father, he decided to make one of his own.
Armed with a little bit of cardboard and a lot of imagination, Shapiro cut out the shape of a Flying V guitar as a base and used an old tennis racket as the frame. Rummaging through the garage, he found turntables, knowing that the needle on the record player makes sounds when touched. He broke it off, mounted it on the cardboard, and strung rubber bands across it. He found wires, touched them together until there was sound, plugged them into the microphone input on the stereo, and voila! His new “guitar” played through the stereo. Needless to say, his father bought him a new guitar the next day.
By his teen years, Shapiro was playing gigs with his band. One of his first shows was in Los Angeles. He was surprised when at the end of the night the lights came on and the bartenders began putting the barstools up and announcing last call. “I had just assumed the whole world was 24/7,” he says.
Living the Vegas lifestyle was familiar ground for Shapiro, who struggled with the excesses of life in Sin City. “I had what we call a spiritual awakening. It’s been seven years for me,” says Shapiro.
With a new lease on life, Shapiro moved back to the Bay Area in 2006. Shortly after, he formed the band Reckless in Vegas, alongside drummer Ryan Low and bassist Mario Cipollina, both Bay Area natives.
The trio recorded some original albums, but they didn’t fare as well as hoped. Then, in July 2012, during meditation, Shapiro saw the band’s name in lights, in an old-timey Vegas scene, filled with mobsters and Rat Packers. Inspired by his grandfather, Barney, who owned a hotel in Vegas in 1955, Shapiro began heavily researching the era. “I got swept up in the melodies; they were so well written and captivating. And thought, ‘How do we do this current?’” he says.
When it came time to find a producer, Shapiro knew just who to call: Dan Shea, who had previously worked with Reckless in Vegas. What they’ve created is a throwback to the era of Vegas showmanship, with a modern twist. Their newest album, “The Hard Way,” is full of well-known tunes from yesteryear, renewed for a new generation. From an almost-metal rendition of “Luck Be a Lady,” to a live show mash-up of “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane and Sinatra’s “A Very Good Year,” Reckless in Vegas is anything but ordinary.
Sometimes you have to get back to the basics to begin anew. Shapiro’s move back to the Bay Area has once again reunited him with Las Vegas, this time through his art. He has weathered his personal storms, but what has always guided him through is his love of music. “There’s something magical about that.”