Three-time Hall of Famer Rapone keeps on rocking

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Johnston resident Frank Rapone is a member of three separate Halls of Fame, but he hasn’t rested on his laurels at all.

Rapone, who has lived in town for 40 years, is a licensed massage therapist by day and a keyboard master by night. He operates his own massage therapy practice in East Greenwich — though it is shuttered right now due to the coronavirus pandemic — but since the early 1970s until his recent retirement, Rapone tickled the ivories for Steve Smith and The Nakeds.

The famous Rhode Island group has rocked halls and concert venues for decades, earning an induction into the state’s Music Hall of Fame in 2013.

Rapone, the group’s original keyboard player, has been around so long that he preceded the lively frontman whose name the band bears. Rapone said Smith took over as frontman in 1973, at which point the group had two lead singers. He noted that Smith brought an energy then that he still displays today — the pandemic notwithstanding, Steve Smith and The Nakeds still perform every weekend as the group nears five full decades of performing.

“I was in the band when we hired Steve, and he does all the booking, the financial work, he drives the truck, he does all that,” Rapone said. “He does what has to be done. He does all the booking. If there’s a problem — there’s 10 guys in the band, so it’s a big band. He put out a newsletter of all the accomplishments of the band. If a problem arises, Steve will take care of it. If you have a conflict or a beef, Steve will work it out between the two guys.”

Rapone had left the band after his initial stint, but came back in 2001 and played up until his recent retirement. Though he’s left the limelight for now, he said Smith wants him to come back for one last gig as a proper sendoff.

It was a wild ride for Rapone. Steve Smith and The Nakeds have released three CDs and at one point during the 1980s toured behind Clarence Clemons, famed saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Rapone joked that the group was “fortunate enough to get on his coattails when Bruce wasn’t playing.”

“I guess that’s to do with longevity,” Rapone said discussing the band’s Hall of Fame induction. “The band’s been together right now for 47 years…it’s been the leadership.”

Rapone said the pandemic has created a “financial burden” for musicians that make a living through performances throughout the state. He said he has “never, never” seen the business grind to a halt like this before.

“Fortunately I have a day job of being a massage therapist, but three or four of the guys in the band, that’s all that they do is play,” Rapone said. “They might teach or they might have private students, but they look forward to that income.”

One Hall of Fame would be the pinnacle for most people, but not Rapone. He was inducted for excelling in his profession as well — Rapone was accepted into the Rhode Island Chapter of the Massage Therapy Association Hall of Fame in October 2016.

“That was the first one inducted when they created the Hall of Fame,” Rapone said. “It’s based on the work that you do with the association. I was on a lot of committees. I never ran for president because I was so busy with the band and massaging, but I was on a lot of committees. I was on the government relations committee, I was the massage therapy chairman.”

When he isn’t playing with the Nakeds or running his practice, Rapone brings his talents to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. He’s volunteered as a massage therapist at the event for more than 15 years, which earned him a third induction — this time into the Boston Athletic Association Volunteer Hall of Fame.

He said he was present for the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, serving as a volunteer.

“I was right at the finish line,” he said.

For now, Rapone is waiting for life to return to some semblance of normalcy as he hangs out with his fiancee, Eileen, and his dog, Finn. For now, though, he’s just doing what he knows best.

“Just laying low, working around the house, doing a little more playing on the keyboards,” Rapone said. “That’s about it.”

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