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There's trouble in the Village

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Sometimes the simplest of story ideas can put you right in the middle of a mess. So it was when I reached out to the Big E to ask about interviewing The Village People for this issue.

Who doesn’t know The Village People – either you were there for their explosion onto the music scene in the late 1970s (I was!) – or you’ve caught their act over the years, maybe on a late-night TV show or more recently, in a commercial for Miracle Whip, American Express or my favorite, the disco ball scenario for the buy-sell website, LetGo. 

I thought they’d make a fun story, with lots of appeal.

Little did I know, however, when I contacted the group’s PR person, controversy was brewing behind the scenes.

It seems while founding group members Felipe Rose  – the Native American – Alex Briley – the GI – and longtime member Ray Simpson  – he replaced Victor Willis, the original Cop, when Willis left in 1980 – have made a career of keeping the group going for the majority of the past 40 years (with a few incarnations of the Biker, The Cowboy and the Construction Worker along the way), in recent years Willis has been stirring the pot, trying in court to win back the rights to many of the group’s  songs – which he wrote, but walked away from, years ago.

Apparently, Willis won his copyright lawsuit this past May, and as I discovered while searching online for additional images for my story, recently took over The Village People’s website, announcing “Victor’s Back” and changes were coming.

I let the Big E know about my findings, and did a quick followup with my pr contact to insure The Village People would still be appearing at the fair. As of my print date, the men I interviewed this summer are still scheduled to perform.

But the tale continues. I’m a nosy journalist, and as such, I’ve been checking the Internet feeds now and then to see what Willis has been doing. Apparently, he recently held auditions in L.A. for Village People performers, and has formed a new group – effectively kicking out those men who have kept the group’s image alive all these years. There’s even rumors Willis taped the auditions for a reality show. The new “Village People” are due to debut at a concert in Australia in December. However, the men I interviewed were there in May and the word is, many fans are upset (and there are no ticket refunds for those who’ve already bought passes).

So, if you are a Village People fan and you want to see Felipe Rose, Alex Briley and Ray Simpson in what may well be one of their last remaining performances – and support the newer members of this group – make your way over to The Big E at 8 p.m. on Sept. 17. It may be your last chance to “Y.M.C. A.” with these boys.

Thanks for reading,

Debbie Gardner