In 1987, saxophonist Tim Cappello was in Santa Cruz for two days to film what would become one of the most famous scenes in the cult classic Lost Boys.
He played the shirtless, oiled-up sexy sax man who soulfully sang “I Still Believe” while rocking his instrument hard at the Boardwalk, surrounded by flames and mystified teenagers. As Cappello walked around town during his down time, it struck him how fitting Santa Cruz was for the film.
“It’s a hippie slacker town. Everybody was tie-dyed out and stoned. People are just coming up to me and chatting,” Cappello says. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m walking around in the script.’”
That was the last time he set foot in Santa Cruz. The shoot was a brief vacation for him in his otherwise-rigorous touring schedule playing sax in Tina Turner’s band. It was a fun two days, he says, and he deliberately made his character kitsch.
“Purple and pink tie-dyed pants that are as tight as yoga pants. Big Doc Martens, lots of chains, and all greased up. That’s not what you do when you want to be Guns N’ Roses,” Cappello says. “It was definitely not my intention to be sexy.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 14, Cappello returns to Santa Cruz, this time to play the Blue Lagoon. It’s part of his first-ever solo tour, and he’s literally alone, with not even a crew member to help haul gear.
“I was on tour with Tina for 15 years. Now I’m in my little Corolla stopping at every Motel 6 from New York to L.A.,” Cappello says. “This tour is the most fun I’ve ever had with music. I’m not a big fan of glitz and glamour.”
Cappello has been playing to rooms of 150 to 200 people. He plays sax and sings over a backing track, in front of TV screens with custom-made video collages designed to entertain his rabid cult fanbase. He’s playing music off his debut solo album Blood On The Reed, which he released last year. It’s made up of fun dance songs that capture the era he came from, when sax was an important component to bands of all genres.
“Bruce Springsteen. Huey Lewis. They all had one,” Cappello says. “I thought it was dead forever. I’m really shocked I’m starting to get calls for session work again.”
Cappello has been in the spotlight again the last few years. Last year, he made a guest appearance on Michelle Wolf’s Netflix show The Break for a bit called “Saxophone Apologies.” He also played saxophone on synthwave band Gunship’s 2018 single “Dark All Day,” which has nearly garnered 3 million views on YouTube.
In the ’80s and ’90s, Cappello existed on the fringe of pop culture, never able to break out as a star. At one point, Warner Bros. gave him a publishing deal to write songs, but it didn’t go anywhere.
“As I got better, the people at the company liked it less and less,” Cappello says.
But the cult around Lost Boys only grew as the years passed, especially in the age of the internet. Love for the sexy sax man scene skyrocketed. Saturday Night Live made a digital short in 2010 where John Hamm played a Tim Cappello character named Sergio. Cappello was honored to be the obvious inspiration for the sketch.
Then, in 2015, the Mad Monster Party horror convention asked Cappello to make an appearance. He accepted, and was shocked to see the overwhelming fandom that existed for him. That got him plugged into the convention circuit, and gave him the confidence to do something he always wanted to do: record a solo album.
As the center of attention, he could be as flamboyant as he wanted to be—his solo show is a lot of fun. With Turner, it was a tug of war. She wanted her band to be over the top, but Cappello was often too far over the top for her. He could never predict when she’d ask him to tone down his outfits.
“She bought me my first codpiece,” he says. “She said, ‘This would be a fun thing for you to wear.”
Now he can dress how he wants and play his songs.
“I cannot get over how much people love it. There’s a roar that comes at me that just physically knocks me back,” Cappello says. “The smiles on people’s faces are those enormously wide, ugly smiles. I’ve never experienced it before.”
Tim Capello performs at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 14, at Blue Lagoon, 923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $7. 423-7117.