Rock Camp – Day Three – Jammin’ with the Starz and our Viper Room Debut

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.ย 

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 –ย  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.

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “Rock Camp – Day Three – Jammin’ with the Starz and our Viper Room Debut

  1. Sounds all pretty amazing to me, Jim! And that female guitarist from Mass. reminds me of Nita Strauss. That lady, who played with Alice Cooper when I saw him a few years ago (shamefully I cannot remember who the other artist on bill was, who was the main reason I went to the show) is one hell of a shredder as well!

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    1. Not familiar with her. David Fishof is a good judge of character and chooses good people. I had a good conversation with Britt and she is as sweet as the girl next door. (If I was twenty years younger, single and knew how to hit on women I would have done so.) She’d have to work hard to pull off a bad-ass attitude. I can’t remember the last time I went to something where I liked so many people. There was zero attitude no matter where you looked, least of all from the stars. I probably won’t have the Whisky video until next week so I may save the final post for that. Haven’t touched the guitar since I got back. Hope this is all still interesting.

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  2. Well I might as well get to it. Yes, I’m enjoying your experience. Well written and put together. So much to like. The whole “no attitude’ doesn’t surprise. Solid folks all down the line, from the campers to the names to the organizers to the whole outfit. No excuse for it to be any other way. The Brian story is so cool. Just reminds me of how many good players are out there (and quit being so humble. I’m pretty sure you’re in that group). I guess I should save this question for later (feel free to save for last piece) but I’ll ask now. Return engagement or a new inspiration to find some more like minded folk and make some music?

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    1. I was telling Mrs. Music Enthusiast that writing these fucking series sometimes wipes me out. She wondered why and I told her it was because you have to take all this material and work it down to a reasonable length and get everything in there. A lot of editing. Probably like writing a screenplay or something but I doubt if CB would know anything about that.

      Solid folks all down the line. Fishof sets the tone. Great guy and he’d clearly rather have a nice family situation – which it is – than a bunch of egotistical, arrogant assholes. He said Gene Simmons was even cool.

      I knew Brian was good I just didn’t know HOW good. As to me, truthfully I actually think I’m a pretty good player. But to make it more concrete for you, it’s as if I had flown to, say, Italy with no knowledge of the language. Then I had to converse with a roomful of people but couldn’t hear myself. So the language thing was unfamiliar songs and the not hearing was not being familiar with the amp. All solvable problems but not in two days. Those were MY problems not band problems and it’s – to quote David Mamet – fuck or walk in that situation. You don’t have your own personal tutor or sound guy with you. Now if we had blown through blues, Stones and Allmans for two days, different story. So to some extent it was situational.

      As to return engagement, etc., that’s a fair question. I’m still processing it all. It was a a mind-blowing experience and I don’t know what to make of it. Do I continue with rock/blues and try to improve what I currently do? Do I try to play some jazz, hoping that will pull me up? I know a guy who wants to play some jazz. Pulling a rock band together with a bunch of guys my age who are more interested in relaxing on the couch is really challenging. I just don’t know about that, I really don’t.

      As to return engagement, not any time soon. That whole thing (including flight and hotel) cost me over $5k. If I have that kind of money again, I’d rather go on vacation with my wife. And you could go a hell of a long way by taking guitar lessons. The camp – to me- felt like a bucket list thing, one and done. Some guys keep going back but to me it would be reliving the same experience in a way. So, a big maybe to that but not any time soon. And if don’t, well, we’ll always have Paris.

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      1. Great stuff Doc. The people like Fishof really do set the tone. The people who make it work for everyone. They really are special. The knack of making it personal.
        You’ll be processing this for a while. Main thing I got out of it was you enjoyed it. And I enjoy the no bullshit Doc attitude. Goes with out saying that you would have added to the experience with your passion, your playing and just being comfortable in your skin. Enough smoke up the old butt, Welcome back. I’ll sit back and enjoy more of your comments.

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        1. I definitely was ready for it. Easily one of the top experiences of my life, right up there with the Allmans trip. We just got a good email back from Gregg, the drummer, thanking us all for what we added and cheering us on. Anyway, gotta get my head straight, get back to my job as a civil servant stamping papers in triplicate a part of the machine.

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  3. Itโ€™s fascinating to hear about it, at least for me. It must have been cool to meet all these people. Perhaps you do need to be a musician to fully appreciate this. And having your guitar signed by Chuck Leavell and Steve Morse certainly is a great souvenir!

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    1. Yeah, it was great. You think you’re gonna look at these guys and go “we’re not worthy” but they were just regular guys. I don’t know that you have to be a musician per se. That’s what the groupie experience is for.

      Actually the guitar is signed by Jon Anderson and Steve Morse. Chuck, counselor Craig Goldy and Cathy Rich signed my program. (I can’t believe I fucking personally know Buddy Rich’s daughter. On what planet is that even possible?) I was initially very leery of having anybody sign the guitar ‘coz it has a nice finish. But then I said fuck it. I regret not getting Ian Paice’s signature. He is one hell of a drummer and a legend.

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  4. When you play as good as you do, you can wear whatever you want. You see how Clapton (actually he hung with J J a lot) dresses these days? You and him could be heading to an afternoon double header. First 10,000 fans get a guitar pick. Maybe you and Eric doing the anthem.

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    1. I own only a couple of rock T-shirts, one of which has Duane on it and which I wore on Sunday night. Nobody knew that until I pointed it out. I was glad his presence hovered over the camp thanks to Chuck. I tell you if Clapton was at one of these camps – or Carlos – I’d mortgage the fucking house. And if i could get in a time machine, I’d go back and jam with Becker/Fagen. I’m reading a book about those guys but I could not get all the way through it without listening to Aja. Goddamit I love those weirdos. Did you know they played with Jay and the Americans? And Jay used to call them Manson and Starkweather?

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  5. That is so awesome Jim! Definitely a cool, once in a lifetime experience. I’ve enjoyed reading about it and would love to do something like that one day, but I have to finish learning how to play that dang stringed instrument.

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    1. Well, never too late, right? You start now, five years from now you go. There’s no “minimum skill” level. And you can always go as a groupie. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Daaannnngggg!!! You conveyed the reality and the fantasy perfectly. I loved reading this. Felt like I was there with ya. Thank you for sharing your experiences. As for old farts forming a band… I know there’s lots of ’em all over the place – Boomers On Parade, eh? – but check out these guys = https://bandanaband.com/ They’re having some good times.

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    1. Great. That’s exactly what I want the reader to take away.

      I would not be averse to being in a band. I have zero interest in writing songs. Covering the Stones, Allmans, maybe a little Dead, some jazz would make me very happy. But what you need is people who share your tastes; commitment to rehearse; a rehearsal spot where you can play as loud as you want; and venues where people will actually show up and listen. The guys in that band have all that and I have no idea how you get to that (or frankly, if I even want to.)

      Being in a band with people who are indifferent to the bands I mentioned is of no interest to me. I’d rather lay on the couch or soak up the sun. If people don’t want to play the Stones, fuck them.

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      1. Now there’s a tagline for you. “If people don’t want to play the Stones…” Oddly, that caused me to remember the first band I was in (at age 14). We called ourselves Harper Jaye (I don’t remember why). I was the “front man” vocalist, and my favorite songs we did were “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Satisfaction.”

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        1. Yeah, pretty collaborative, eh? Truthfully, stick me in a band, let me have a say in 60% of the tunes and then we can do what anybody else wants. Just give me a reason to show up. After that we can play in-A-Gadda-Da-Vida or a twenty-minute version of “Sometimes When We Touch” for all I give a shit.

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  7. Holy Bedpans, Batman! “Sometimes When We Touch”? LOL! Next on the list: “Feelings,” “Alone Again, Naturally,” and “Native New Yorker” !

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    1. Hey, now. Don’t get out over your skis. If we did that many of the great classics in one set our heads would explode. BTW, you forget “You’re Having My Baby.” and Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey.” If you’re gonna scrape the bottom of the barrel, make sure to get all the dregs!

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  8. This sounds amazing, Jim. I get what you mean about the feelings when youโ€™re jamming with other musicians (not that Iโ€™ve ever really classed myself as one, mind)…

    Anyhoo, Iโ€™m really enjoying reading about your experience (and living vicariously through them – jamming with proper great musicians (legends) who seem to be really down to earth!).

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    1. I’ve never really self-identified as ‘musician.’ Seems like somebody else to me. Guitar player but not musician. Doesn’t even make any sense.

      Glad you’re digging it. Down-to-earth definitely describes these folks. To a person, they seemed humble and not at all affected by their success, notoriety or fame. I almost regret bringing my entourage. ๐Ÿ™‚

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