DERRY, N.H. — It’s an understatement to say the road Fortune, a six-piece rock band from Peabody, took to the stage at Tupelo Music Hall for Friday night’s show, was a long and winding one.
Back in 1985, when big-hair and metal bands like Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, David Lee Roth and Anthrax were top sellers, the seeds of the band began in the halls of Peabody High School when guitarist Peter DiStefano asked a young singer named Bob Vose about joining a band he had started. After numerous jam sessions, and with the right players in place — including guitarist Bill Plourde — Prowler, Fortune’s progenitor, was formed.
By 1988, Prowler had morphed into Fortune. Following a slew of local shows, the band hit the road for fame and fortune. A summer-fall Winnebago tour took the band from gig to gig on a journey from Boston down to Baltimore, through Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Arizona and finally to Los Angeles.
There, the band showcased at SIR Studios, according to bassist Lou Spagnola. Robert Ace, who discovered chart-topping, big-hair rockers Poison, showed initial interest in co-managing the band and possibly landing the boys from Peabody a major label contract.
While local shows sold out and the band’s fan base grew by leaps and bounds, the changing tide of local music mirrored what was taking place nationally — grunge was overtaking hard rock and hair metal. The record deal with a big-name label eluded them, Spagnola said. Eventually, a distribution deal was inked with the Alpha-Brunette record label in Japan, which led to the releases of the 1993 self-titled debut, “Fortune,” and 1996’s “Storyline.”
“Fortune’s road to the present took many a turn – while most were positive experiences, some were not the roads they had planned to travel,” he said.
For more than three decades, Fortune continued to pack venues throughout New England. It earned a reputation for smooth three- and four-part vocal harmonies, dynamic and melodic textures of multiple guitars and keyboards, and a tight rhythm section. Members continued to write and record original material, but the lure of large payoffs from cover gigs would become too good to pass up. While some original songs still made their way into the set lists, those were now accompanied by songs from the likes of Journey, Boston and Whitesnake.
Throughout the ‘90s, and straight through 2017, Fortune was tapped to open shows at large venues for acts such as Cheap Trick, Kansas, Bad Company, Blue Oyster Cult and Jefferson Starship. Car dealer Ernie Boch Jr., regularly hired them for corporate events, and had them headlining his VIP party at the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival for 10 years running.
A typical Fortune show features the type of songs that “bands don’t try to cover” such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen, “Foreplay/Longtime,” by Boston, or “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by The Who, as well as many others ranging from Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to Journey and Yes. The lineup today includes Vose on lead vocals, Plourde and Chris Lester on guitars, Steve Baker manning the keyboards, Spagnola on bass and Dickie Paris on drums.
Over the years, the band’s style has changed a bit.
“The earlier Fortune releases were more on the hard rock/progressive side with pop structure and strong harmonized vocals,” Spagnola said, “the songs (we worked) on over the last decade have elements of hard rock and commercial pop, but with more contrast of light and shade from heavier guitar sounds with keyboards and acoustic guitars.”
And shows have truly became a multi-generational affairs as folks not even born when Fortune kicked off its musical journey have discovered the joys of “classic” rock ‘n’ roll.
“It goes without saying that the majority of our crowd is over the age of 40,” Spagnola said. “But I’ve noticed kids in their 20s at our shows, and have seen many come out to multiple shows. Word of mouth and YouTube videos are almost always the way they find us.”
Fortune kicked off 2018 firing on all cylinder with a corporate event in Chicago, with special guest Barry Goudreau as an additional guitarist. With shows booked through the rest of the year, the band was ready to continue rocking into the new decade.
Then, the band got the worst kind of news imaginable, Spagnola said, when founding member, guitarist DiStefano, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rapidly spreading type of brain cancer.
Band members made an immediate and unanimous decision to put the group on indefinite hold.
Spagnola said that while fans understood, they nonetheless expressed a longing to see the band back on stage. But the band’s united decision was rock solid. “No Pete, no show. This wasn’t simply a band where Peter was a member; this was a brotherhood, with roots of friendship thicker than blood or water,” he said.
With the band’s show schedule on hold, members began rummaging through Fortune’s unfinished original material.
Members decided reworking a Fortune original, “Long Way Down,” co-written by DiStefano and Vose, would be the best tribute the band could pay to their ailing brother.
With the help of Kenny Lewis, owner of Middleton’s Mixed Emotions recording studio, the members of Fortune gathered to record basic tracks, while saving a surprise for last. Thanks to a soundboard recording from a Blue Ocean Music Hall show almost a decade earlier, Lewis was able to take DiStefano’s guitar and vocal tracks from that show and synchronize it with the new recording.
A rough mix was then brought to DiStefano, where the band played it for the founding member and his wife, Michelle. In private conversations with each band member before he died on Dec. 20, 2019, DiStefano reiterated his desire to see the band continue on. Spagnola said that while each member had different takes on that possibility, it wasn’t something anyone truly was looking forward to doing without the band’s founding guitarist.
In the months after DiStefano’s death, band members decided the best possible tribute to DiStefano’s memory would be to continue rocking out for fans. With Lester — a mainstay in Sully Erna’s Avalon and Eagles Tribute Dark Desert Eagles — joining the band in 2020, Fortune returned to the stage.
As all the band members agree, “this was not a comeback, it was a continuation…and Pete will always be with us.”
If you go
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A Street, Derry, N.H.
When: 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 7
Tickets: $20/$25 per person
COVID-19 restrictions: Proof of vaccination, a negative COVID 19 PCR test (administered within the last 72 hours), or a negative COVID rapid test (administered 48 hours or less). At-home COVID-19 tests not allowed.