Unless you’re a highly accomplished musician – and maybe sometimes even then – there is no better way to bring out your insecurities than to start jamming with other musicians, especially if they’re better than you. I ran the gamut of feelings from “time to burn my guitar,” to “I don’t suck as bad as I thought.” In addition to detailing the final days of camp, I’ll talk about this humbling fact a little bit.
On Friday we had really hammered away at the songs we were going to do with the rock stars and so on Saturday, it was, effectively, showtime. (Some campers paid to get professionally recorded as well. But given that I am not a songwriter and saw no value in recording “Highway Star” with my band, I passed.)
I had breakfast at the hotel and shuttled over. We weren’t there very long before we realized that 10 am was approaching and so was Chuck Leavell. So we all congregated in the largest playing facility, Studio A.
And there he was, sitting in front of his keyboard. I sat in the first row and -since he’s a tree farmer -asked him how that was going. “Great, thanks for asking,” he answered in that slow, Southern Georgia drawl. Here he is with counselors Matt Starr on the left and Rudy Sarzo on the right:
I didn’t get called on to ask a question for the 1/2 hour Q&A but Chuck addressed questions about what it was like to play for the Allmans and Stones. I think he said part of his job in the Stones is to keep Mick and Keith from wringing each other’s necks. I found that quite amusing, and hoped he got paid well.
He told us how the Allmans didn’t bring a guitar player right in as you “couldn’t replace Duane” and how after the Allmans he was going to quit music at one point. Then his wife told him he got a call from the Rolling Stones. He is now their musical director.
And then each band went off to their rooms to practice so we could all jam with Chuck. We came back to the room a little while later, raring to go on “Gimme Shelter.” (It was the only Stones song we did and I would have done ten of them if I could.) And I will tell you this – we fucking killed it.
I wish I had a video. We were ON! I think it was the adrenaline of a real performance, combined with having the drummer behind all of us. Whatever it was, the place had three people in the audience when we started and was fairly well packed by the time we were done. The crew member who had been giving us strict instructions on what to do and not do when we go the clubs ran up to me and said “Great job” in my ear.
And so that performance reminded me of the thrill of playing for people and why musicians do it. It’s all – they will tell you – about that time on the stage.
Then we all shook hands with Chuck, got autographs, etc.
During lunch, we got a Q&A (outdoors – this is LA) from none other than Mr. Jon Anderson. Jon is a very soft-spoken guy and you really had to lean in to hear him. He talked about writing songs and collaborating with guys like Bill Bruford, Chris Squire. I don’t remember any “I will kill him” stories but it was entertaining nonetheless. I will confess that as much as I love Yes, he spent time talking about songs I had not heard that came later in their career.
Now, recall that I said that Yes songs were the most complex of all. Given another few days of focus on one song, say, “Roundabout” or “Long Distance Runaround,” I think we would have gotten there. (I had the tricky guitar intro to “Long Distance” almost there after a night of woodshedding.)
But we ran out of time and went with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” which we kinda knew. Our ace guitarist Seth did a better job than me with the opening lick so he took it over and then I doubled the riff. (Our other guitarist, Boonie, is good but prefers to be part of the rhythm section. I would say that he knows all the chords but it’s strictly rhythm, he doesn’t want to make it cry or sing.)
And so when it came time to jam with Jon, for whatever reason he came to our room rather than us going to him. And it was like the Beatles had arrived. The camp photographer came in, Britt Lightning* came in and sang – it was just crazy. We did “Owner” and fortunately I got one of the groupies to snap pictures. (You have to pay extra to get the camp photographer’s pix and I haven’t yet decided whether to do that or not.)
Somebody managed to grab part of the video of us jamming with Jon. The focus is on Jon and Cathy and the first thing you hear is me soloing over what sounds like some other song.
And while the thrill I got in playing “Owner” wasn’t quite the same, it was still great. How many people in the world can make that claim? I also got Jon (and later Steve Morse) to sign my guitar.
Now that was the last we were to see of Jon and Chuck. They were there to jam with us only at the studio. Club jams were to be for Ian Paice and Steve Morse only for whatever reason. When Leavell was leaving on the shuttle, I yelled over to him and said, “Hey, Chuck, Tell Mick and Keith thanks.” “Thanks, forever,” he replied. I fucking love the Stones. I do not understand why any lover of rock and roll doesn’t. End of story.
Now back to that musician’s insecurity thing. For the couple of days I’d been there I could never really hear myself play. The practice room is loud, everybody’s noodling on their instruments, no sound guy is mixing it and you’re buried in the mix. Additionally, none of us had known what to practice so I was playing unfamiliar songs and for those reasons, I never felt I was playing to my strength. Just about everybody there will tell you it was a humbling experience. (I had to do a solo over “Owner” and it’s not fun to compete with Trevor Rabin’s “synthesizer sound” guitar solo.)
But for me, the best and worst things were to come. Around 3 pm we shuttled over to the Viper Room. Performances were from 5 – 8 so that the real headliners could come on. The shuttles were small vans that held maybe 10 – 12 people and I sat in front with the driver.
The three people behind me were chit-chatting and I heard the woman in the middle say “Yeah, he was really good.” And then I realized they were talking about my band’s performance of “Gimme Shelter” and specifically, the soloing. “Are you talking about ME?” I said. “Yeah,” said the guy who turned out to be from Hawaii. “You were great. I wish I could play like you.” He invited me to Hawaii (jokingly) if I would teach him how to play!
So now I’m pumped. I am the greatest fucking thing since sliced bread. (Temporarily.) So we get to the Viper Room and it’s small and cramped. All the bands are milling around waiting to play. We came on – if memory serves – second.
Our songs were “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” and “Gimme Shelter.” These came off really well I thought but the stage was tiny and cramped. For the record, you could have played any songs you wanted on Saturday night. One band did “Roadhouse Blues.” I lobbied to go for a non-list song but I think the band thought, well, let’s get tight on what we know. (But “Born To Be Wild” killed that one brief time in rehearsal.)
We only had about 10 minutes so that all bands could get on. After that, boom -done. We hung around to hear the rest of the bands. The band after us had a nice rock and roll sound and swagger. One band did AC/DC and Zep and devastated the landscape. But it was clear they had played together before. I hung around the bar for a while with Cathy and some other ladies who came over to check out Cathy’s fabulous shoes. And then it was over.
I haven’t mentioned till now that my buddy Steve’s son Brian had moved out to LA several years ago. When he was a kid, I taught him (irony alert), the “Smoke on the Water” riff and some blues scales. He took to it like a duck to water and to make a long story short, became a professional musician. So he teaches, plays gigs, appears to be one step above living out of his car and loves it. (We had actually hung out Wednesday night, my first night in town.)
He had a late gig Saturday night so he picked me up in his shitbox and we zipped over to his place. His girlfriend and her grandmother were there. We shot the breeze and took out the guitars. And I am here to say this – do you ever wonder what it would be like to play tennis with Serena Williams? And how you would feel?
Because Brian Klock is a motherfucker. I had seen him play out the other night and he was more of a Van Halen shredder. But we played “Stormy Monday” and when it came to his turn to solo, he just blew me the fuck away. His tone, his feel, his fluidity were all amazing. He could have stood toe-to-toe with all the counselors including Steve Morse. (As good as he is, I don’t believe he can be a counselor because his background does not include playing with the Ozzys or Pages of the world.)
So, like that, he left for his gig and I was back in my Uber contemplating how I went from being a great guitarist at 3 o’clock to feeling like the shittiest one who ever lived by 10. It’s all relative, folks. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. “I get up. I get down. I get up. I get down.” But I was tired and pretty much got over myself the next day.
But you know, good for Brian. He is a tremendously gifted player (who also happens to play a mean sax.)
And when I hit the sack, man I was beat. Standing up all day playing an instrument is freaking tiring. But all things considered, it beats working in a coal mine.
Next up – We wrap things up in a blaze of glory on Sunday night at the Whisky A Go Go.
*Britt is a hot (and hot-looking) guitarist in the band Vixen. She wasn’t a counselor this go-round but is, in fact, taking over day-to-day camp operations. She is also from Massachusetts and so we had some good wistful conversations about that. But boy can she play, Eddie Van Halen-like.
NOTE – Below was the last song I heard on Jet Blue en route to LA before my screen rebooted and never came back. I had to take a picture.