Rick Derringer was only 17 in 1965 when he recorded his first big hit, "Hang on Sloopy," with his band The McCoys. The guitarist then launched a career that included touring with The Rolling Stones, playing music with John Lennon and jamming with Jimi Hendrix.
He performed for a time with Johnny Winter, playing on his hit album "They Only Come Out at Night," which featured "Free Ride," and on the hit "Frankenstein." In 1973, Derringer released what would be his only Top 40 solo hit, "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo," which still gets played on classic-rock stations.
Now 65, Derringer will perform songs from throughout his career Sept. 7 at the State Theatre in Modesto. Derringer said his long career means he knows how to put on a good show.
"You really learn to judge the audience and feel their pulse and respond accordingly," he said in a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Ohio. "The bottom line is the audiences are always a winner. They enjoy the concert, they have a great time."
Derringer said he and his band will definitely play "Real American," which has become his most downloaded song. Pro wrestler Hulk Hogan began using it as his entrance music about 30 years ago. The song took on added resonance after the Sept. 11 attacks and has since been used in Hillary Rodham Clinton and Newt Gingrich's presidential campaigns and at President Barack Obama's political events.
"The song has really transcended all political boundaries," Derringer said. "It became what I envisioned -- a great patriotic song for real Americans wherever they might be. Audiences love it and they all know it."
Derringer said he doesn't talk a lot about his devout Christian faith in the show, although it is a big part of his life. He posted his testimony on his Web site, has recorded a gospel album ("Aiming 4 Heaven") and sometimes performs a different version of "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" with the new lyrics "Read the word; live it, too."
"Not everybody is a Christian and not everybody wants to hear about that," he said. "What I try to do as a Christian is to be a good example to other people."
Derringer says he has no favorite time of his career, though he does have some cherished memories, like playing with Led Zeppelin at the band's last two concerts and performing with Stevie Ray Vaughan. He also is proud that he helped Weird Al Yankovic early in his career by producing Grammy-winning albums and videos, including the Michael Jackson parodies "Who's Fat" and "Eat It."
Derringer is deeply grateful for his fans' continued support and that he is still able to perform concerts. He considers music another language and is glad he can use it to connect with audiences. "By playing music, you are communicating in a more personal way than language even," he said. "People can use language in negative ways. Language allows them to lie. Music does not. Music, you are communicating from your heart to someone else's heart. I just want to communicate my heart to the audience a little better each time."
He hopes to attract a big turnout to his State Theatre show. "I'm not a young man," he said. "Anything can happen at any time. It might be the last opportunity to see me. I want to encourage people to come out and have a great time."
If You Go: Rick Derringer WHEN: 8 p.m. Sept. 7 WHERE: TICKETS: CALL: ONLINE: