Category: 1980’s

Interview: The Alarm’s Mike Peters Discusses New Album, ‘Sigma’, Touring and Living Life to the Fullest

Photo by: Andy LaBrow

Originally intended to be part of double-compilation called Blood Red Viral Black, The Alarm’s infectious new album, Sigma acts as the sequel to 2018’s critically-acclaimed Equals and features contributions from such musical giants as original Alarm guitarist Dave Sharp and Billy Duffy from The Cult.

Sigma, as well as its predecessor, mark a creative change for Peters, who crafted most of the songs from lyrics he’d written while he and his wife, Jules, were going through cancer treatment. The result is a second volume of material fueled by heartfelt emotion, angst, and revelation.

In addition to the new album The Alarm will soon embark on one of summer’s most highly-anticipated tours, where the alternative British rockers will join post-punk auteurs Modern English and the charismatic Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel on what’s being hailed as The Sigma LXXXV Tour.

Peters’ Love Hope Strength charity will also host bone marrow drives at each concert aimed at finding finding donors for people suffering from blood cancers. To date, the charity has registered in excess of 200,000 people, with more than 4,000 potentially lifesaving matches.

Sigma will be released on Friday, June 28.

I recently spoke with Mike Peters about the new Alarm album, touring and more in this exclusive new interview.

How does the new album compare with some of The Alarm’s previous work?

Mike Peters: It’s very much a sequel from our last record, Equals, which came out last year. The music of both albums was conceived at the same time. Originally, it was going to be a double-album called Blood Red Viral Black, but on the eve of release we decided to switch focus and release a single album, Equals, with the knowledge that a sequel would be released twelve months later. There’s a lot of connection between the two records.

The material for these two albums came about a little bit differently than what you’ve done in the past. Can you talk a little about the songwriting process?

In times gone by I’d usually start at the top of the mountain. Where you’d have that initial expression, phrase or chorus, and then you’d work your way down to find the bridge, verse and finally, the lyrics. With this set of music I started at the bottom of the mountain with lyrics first. A lot of songs came out of the turmoil of the situation when I found myself relapsed from the leukemia I’ve carried most of my adult life. At the same time my wife, Jules, was diagnosed with breast cancer, so it was a double whammy. I put everything on hold while we faced this challenge together. There were lot of places where I found myself threatened, emotionally, and I’d write down my feelings. It was only after we came through the worst of these times that I showed my wife all the things I’d written down. That’s when she said to me “This is the start of a new Alarm record. Then I printed all the lyrics out and laid them on the floor around me and started looking for the music in the lyrics to go back up the hill. These albums are very different from how I’ve worked in the past. It’s been quite liberating.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Mike Peters by Clicking Here.

Advertisements

Goodbye Palmer Elementary

It was the suddeness of the hypnagogic jerk that roused me from my sleep. It’s centrifugal force igniting every molecule of my brain back into consciousness. My eyes opened to the sight of the ceiling fan gently rotating above my head. Nearby, the metal vents on the floor rattled with a soothing clinking sound as cool, conditioned air made its way from the basement into the living room where I lay.

I’d been power napping on the couch for a little more than five minutes. Something I tend to do frequently on weekends these days, especially when I’m out late the night before. Although I do enjoy these afternoon breaks from reality they rarely last longer than fifteen minutes. What can I tell you, I’m old. Not “Hey you kids! Get off my f#cking lawn” old, but more of a “It’s Saturday afternoon and I feel like taking a nap” old. There’s a difference.

I gazed over at the clock and noticed the time: 2:00 p.m. I sat up quickly and pursed my lips. “There’s something I need to be doing today,” I thought to myself. “Somthing important and, if I don’t act quickly enough, something I’m going to miss.” I fished the cell phone from my pants pocket and glared at the calendar app, where I saw the overdue notification blaring on the screen:

“Walk Through.. Palmer School”

I rose from the sofa with all the energy of a grizzly bear that’d just woken from a winter hibernation. With cracking knees and slight disorientation I grabbed the keys from the kitchen counter and made my way to the car.

Palmer Elementary is part of the Easton Area School District and, if memory serves me correctly (remember, I said that I’m old), it’s the oldest one still being used under the same name. The school is unique because it’s actually two buildings in one. The original one is called The Cole building and the other attached structure, built a few years later, is referred to as The Auld building. About the only thing I remember about Palmer Elementary was its odd, sprawling shape, and the green-tiled walls and wooden stage that were now riddled with the ghosts of generations of students who’d spent kindergarten through fifth grade roaming it’s corridors from September until June each year.

The school is now scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new, state of the art strucuture, but the district was kind enough to let people walk through its hallowed halls one final time before it’s leveled into dust. I only attended Palmer for one year, fifth grade, back in 1979. A mind boggling thought to consider forty years later.

All Purpose Room

As a fifth grader, I was confined to The Auld building and as I entered the door to that part of the school again I felt a wave of emotion rush over me. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to find the homeroom class where I’d spent most of my time. Heck, I couldn’t even remember the room number, even though I suddenly recalled it was something familiar that I could easily associate with.

As I trudged through the corridors I found myself walking in a certain direction. I passed something that was once called The All Purpose Room; a large room with filing cabinets, chairs and even a stage for talent shows. It was there that I recalled it’s significance. On June 5th, 1980 this room served as the location for Palmer’s Silent Spelling Bee where me and a bunch of my teammates came in second place.

It was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me at school up to that point, because the entire Spelling Bee was being filmed live on this crazy new contraption called a video recorder. Our tiny little selves could actually watch our performances on the television screen almost instantly after it happened!

As I walked out of that room my thoughts raced back to the Second Place ribbon I’d kept from that day. One that, almost 40 years later, still resides in a curio cabniet is my office.

I exited the all-purpose room and into another winding corridor that led past the gym, where the smell of old wood and the blood, sweat and tears of youth still lingered heavily. It was then that my strides began to come more in earnest, as if I knew there was some place I needed to be. I walked past doors with signs printed on them that said “Janitor,” “Teachers” and “Boiler Room,” along with black, scuff-marked floors from decades of abuse by children’s boots and shoes. Each sign and scrape as oddly familiar as the nose on my face. Finally, I came to the beginning of a single long corridor, and my heart skipped a beat.

“It’s down here,” a youthful voice inside my head said. “Down here on the left! Take your time. It’s not the last room, but the one just before it.”

Room 409

I started doubting myself. Could it be possible that I’d actually remember the exact location of my homeroom? A school that I’d only spent one year of my life in? I trudged the corridor, peeking into each room on the way down as I slowly made my way toward the end.

Finally, with my heart still racing, I came to the second to last classroom on the left. I peered at the number that hung above the door and laughed out loud. It was Room 409. The same number as that f#cking cleaning product, Formula 409. THAT was how I’d always remembered my 5th grade classroom!! I stood there, staring at those three digits for the longest time, remembering the ten year old boy who regularly walked through it’s archway and into learning. Although I was hesitant about entering nearly forty years after I’d last walked out, I nonetheless forced myself inside.

Room 409, just like all the other classrooms in the building, was completely empty, but my mind quickly filled in the blanks. I could once again see the desks that were occupied by me and my classmates. I could see my teacher, Ms. Reiersen, with her dirty-blonde bob, standing at the blackboard near her desk lecturing. I remembered looking out the window at the monkey bars and longing for recess. I recalled the hottest of days in May when the open windows did little to relieve the unbearable heat. It was in this room where I learned about reading and social studies. It was also where me and my friend Steve came up with the idea of auditioning for the school talent show by wearing paper bags over our heads and doing a skit called “Unknown Comic News.”

If you don’t know who The Unknown Comic is, look him up on YouTube.

I walked the room very slowly taking it all in, running my fingers softly along the walls and reading the memories people had scrawled on the chalk board. I pushed on the closet doors to see where my childhood coat once hung. Yes, it still took a herculean effort to open them. I thought about all the kids that went to school with me at Palmer and how forty years had passed by in a blink of an eye. That’s when it hit me that all of us will be turning 50 this year

Well, they are, I can’t possibly be THAT old.

After what seemed like a lifetime (in reality, it was) it was time to say goodbye to Room 409, Palmer School, and that long ago part of my life. I’m not afraid to admit that I looked back several times through glassy eyes to see if time would stop. Of course, it didn’t.

I’d taken a lot of pictures to remember this day but something still felt missing, and then I realized what it was. I walked back to the board, grabbed a chunk of chalk from the tray and, the same way I would’ve done forty years ago, scribbled a final message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Director Harrison Smith Talks ‘Death House,’ New Projects

When Harrison Smith agreed to co-write and direct the action/horror thriller, “Death House,” the filmmaker had one goal in mind: to make Gunnar Hansen’s intertwined vision of good and evil a consummate reality. The film’s premise, which brings many of the greatest horror icons together in one film, is a rollercoaster funhouse ride of scares and screams as well as a nod to the best of 80s horror.

In “Death House,” Agents Toria Boon (Cortney Palm) and Jae Novak (Cody Longo) are given a tour of a state of the art, government prison where medical and mental experiments are carried out on the worst of humanity by Drs. Eileen Fletcher (Dee Wallace) and Karen Redmane (Barbara Crampton). But when an unexpected power outage releases the monstrous inmates Boon and Novak, who are beginning to learn more about their own dark pasts, have to fight for survival through a labyrinth of horror. It all culminates in a final, violent showdown in the prison’s deepest level with a face to face encounter with The Five Evils.

In addition to a fun story and stellar cast, which includes Kane Hodder (“Friday The 13th”series), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Sid Haig (“House of 1,000 Corpses”), and Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”), “Death House” also features a plethora of Easter eggs guaranteed to please even the most ardent horror fan.

I recently spoke with Harrison Smith about “Death House” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did this project come about?

Gunnar had brought the idea of creating a movie with a who’s who of horror names to his agent, Michael Eisenstadt. His original script, called “Death House,” was about a group of college kids who create a documentary about going into an abandoned asylum. But when they get down into the bowels of the building, they discover that the patients have never really left. Instead, they’ve been living there as subterranean beings. Michael eventually got the script into the hands of Rick Finkelstein from Entertainment Factory, who then brought it to me. 

Gunnar Hansen

How did the script evolve into what would become the final film?

I met with Gunnar and the two of us started going over it. The whole documentary idea had been done before, but the one thing Gunnar really wanted retained was his vision that good and evil are intertwined and need each other. He told me he had this Biblical concept of these “Four Horsemen” so I suggested we change it up by adding a woman to finish out the points of a pentagram and calling them The Five Evils. Around that same time, the Super Bowl was airing the world debut trailer for “Jurassic World.” That’s when it hit me: why not make “Jurassic Park” without the dinosaurs? And instead of it being an asylum, let’s make it a prison. We’ll have a young group going on a tour when the ride breaks down and the monsters get out. That appealed to Gunnar. I took even more inspiration from the film, “Escape from New York.” Now we were able to put horror names in as real characters.

The sad thing was that during all this time, Gunnar never let on that he was dying. No one actually knew until a few weeks before he passed [Hansen died in 2015]. That was why he was emphatic about getting it done. I wanted to make sure I preserved his vision, and after reading the final draft Gunnar gave Rick his blessing.

Was there ever any thought given to having the horror icons reprise their famous character roles for “Death House”?

Never. When that idea was first pitched I made it clear I didn’t want to make anything like that. Just look at “Freddy Vs. Jason” as an example. That film went through fourteen drafts and took ten years to make, and that’s what we got? Just because you can do it doesn’t mean that you should.

What was the casting process like for “Death House?”

All of Gunnar’s friends had already told him they’d be on board, so it was a matter of finding a place for them. Robert Englund was also set to appear, and even went out of his way to try to make it happen, but by the time the money moved for filming he already had other commitments and just couldn’t do it.

What can you tell me about the addition of Cortney Palm to the project?

We originally had cast Bianca Bradey, from Wyrmwood, as Agent Toria Boon. She loved the script and we loved her. She’s Australian and we had everything set up with her visa, but it wasn’t going to carry over when it finally came time to shoot. I’ve always been a fan of Cortney’s work in “Sushi Girl” and it was also around the same time “Zombeavers” came out. She and I were Twitter friends so I reached out to her about it. She has charisma and a great look and delivery. She gave everything she had and is absolutely terrific in this film.

How would you describe the story of “Death House”?

I would describe it as a roller coaster ride through the fun house. It’s also a “flipping around cable in 1983 at 2 o’clock in the morning” kind of film. One where you come across it and you say to yourself, “Man, I’ve got to finish this!” That’s what I was going for. It’s very “Escape From New York” / John Carpenter-esque and a tip of the hat to that great 80s cheesy action horror. What’s interesting is that there’s also lot of stuff in the film that’s in the headlines again today, like Transhumanism, which is the idea that mental illness is contagious and can be spread through social media. It’s a smart script that ends with you asking questions, which is what every good film should do.

Are there plans to do a sequel?

“Death House 2: The Farm” is already written and in it we’ll start answering some questions. Like the shower scene where Agents Boon and Novak are asking about each other’s tattoos and the possibility of having memories erased. It all takes place on a farm that’s being used for human trafficking.

Are there any other projects you’re currently involved in?

Spilled Milk” is a screen play I wrote that’s based on the novel by K. L. Randis, which is her true account of surviving sexual abuse from her father. I was attracted to the story because of this woman’s plight and the whole #MeToo movement. I wanted to write it from the standpoint that it really is a horror movie because it’s real. The script is in the hands of a female director, which is where it should be. Most of all, I’m excited for Kelly to get her word out.

I’m also getting ready to shoot a quiet, horror film noire called “The Special,” which stars Damian Maffei [“The Strangers: Prey at Night”] and Sarah French playing the wife. It’s a story that was brought to me by Mark Streensland and James Newman. There’s dark elements, a little bit of revenge and some things you don’t see much of anymore. It also has some great practical make-up effects. I’m very excited about it. 

What would you like people to take away from watching “Death House?”

Gunnar wanted this film to be for his fans. He didn’t care about the critics or a Rotten Tomatoes score. What he wanted was for all the people who came to see him and paid money for his autograph to have something to be excited about. So, look at the crazy creatures that are in the freezer, enjoy Kane Hodder and watch for all the Easter eggs—especially the ending post credits sequence which features the best Easter egg ever. It’s Larry Zerner, who played Shelly in “Friday The 13th: Part 3.” And for people who may not know much about classic horror, hopefully watching “Death House” will make them want to go back and learn more. “Death House” is for the fans, so have fun and enjoy it.

Death House” is available now on Digital, Streaming, DVD and Blu-Ray.

Concert Review: REO Speedwagon Brings Memories, Hits to Sold Out Penn’s Peak Performance

(l to r): Bryan HItt, Kevin Cronin, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato

Friday, February 22nd, 1985. Musically speaking, it’s a day that’s cemented in my head, much like my wedding anniversary and the day my daughter was born. It’s one of those days where something magical happens, and for some reason known only to the musical gods, one that you remember forever. I’d recently turned fifteen, and my buddy Mike and I were eager to cash in our concert tickets at the local college gymnasium, Stabler Arena.

Acoustically, I’m sure a basketball court with a makeshift stage wasn’t the greatest of places to play, but for pimple-faced teens with little cash resources, it was a prime spot to catch a band in your hometown without having to fork over all of the lawn mowing money you made last summer just to get bus fare to the bigger cities like Philadelphia and New York.

February 22nd, 1985 was special because it was first time I ever saw REO Speedwagon, who were out in support of their recently released album, Wheels Are Turnin’. An album I had already worn out on my turntable. The first video from the album, “I Do’ Wanna Know” was already a hit on MTV, and a tasty ballad called “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was steadily making its way up the charts toward #1.

(l to r): Neal Doughty Bryan Hitt, Kevin Cronin

Since that fateful evening thirty-three years ago, I’ve seen REO Speedwagon more than thirty times. I’ve seen them perform at music festivals, in intimate theaters and as part of a two or three-band package at large arenas. I even traveled to Los Angeles last summer to catch them perform with Styx and Don Felder as part of their United We Rock tour. Yes, I’m one of those fans.

Although seeing them in a distant city is fun, it’s an even bigger treat whenever they come to my town, and last night it was at the beautiful Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA.

On the calendar it was the final night of summer, and as I approached the box office I noticed a large sign prominently displayed in the window — “REO Speedwagon –  SOLD OUT”. That sign and what was to follow was a friendly reminder that just like fine wine the band, which consists of Kevin Cronin, Neal Doughty, Bruce Hall, Dave Amato and Bryan Hitt, has only gotten better with age.

Walking on stage to the drum intro of the classic “Don’t Let Him Go”, a song that’s been the band’s staple concert opener for decades, REO launched into a blistering set of songs spanning the group’s 45-year career. Songs like “Music Man,” and “Keep Pushin’” were driving and powerful reminders of the band’s early club days, while the aforementioned “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” was both symbolic and sentimental.

Songs from the band’s monster album Hi Infidelity were also featured prominently during their hour and twenty-minute set. In addition to “Don’t Let Him Go,” REO performed “Tough Guys,” “In Your Letter,” and “Take it On The Run.”

At one point, Cronin took time out to pay homage to the band’s original guitarist, Gary Richrath, who passed away in 2015. Richrath left the band in 1989 but his memory lives on in the song “Son Of A Poor Man.” It was a song Richrath wrote about his life growing up and one which Cronin said summed it up perfectly.

“Time For Me To Fly”, another fan favorite and a song that I remember closed out the show in 1985, was featured midway into the set. It’s a classic rock staple that Cronin performs on an acoustic guitar with a unique tuning, and these days segues into Bruce Hall’s blistering bassline before the infectious “Back On The Road Again”. REO finished their main set with another round of classic rock heavy artillery – the thundering “Ridin’ The Storm Out”, complete with blaring sirens.

Bruce Hall and Dave Amato

After a short hiatus, the band returned for an encore, with Cronin sitting at the piano telling the sold out audience about how quickly lives can change if you choose a different path at the last minute. He then told the story of waking up one night back in 1980 with a song idea in his head. Instead of ignoring it and going back to sleep, Cronin got up and recorded the idea on his Walkman. The result would become the band’s first #1 song, “Keep On Loving You.”

The band then launched into one of their most recognizable songs, “Roll With The Changes,” which features Doughty’s iconic Hammond organ and guitarist Dave Amato’s fiery guitar prowess.

The one thing I’ve noticed during every REO Speedwagon show is that there’s always some sort of surprise, and this time was no different. Before leaving the stage for the final time the band performed an inspiring cover of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart”. Petty, another hero of mine and who, like Richrath, had recently passed away, reminded me of how far I’ve come in thirty-three years and just how fragile we all are.

As I strolled out of the venue and into the final hours of summer, the fog was as thick as pea soup. Time was still moving. Tomorrow, mother nature would officially begin her process of ushering in cool temperatures, crisp morning air and changing the leaves from green to bright red, orange and yellow.

It was then that something else occurred to me, and I found myself once again drifting back to that cold February night in 1985. It was something Cronin had said during tonight’s set to the die-hard fans who’ve been with the band from their earliest of days to tonight’s sold-out show at Penn’s Peak.

Rock and roll will keep us young forever.

REO Speedwagon Set List (Penn’s Peak – Jim Thorpe, PA)

Don’t Let Him Go
Music Man
In Your Letter
Keep Pushin’
Can’t Fight This Feeling
Tough Guys
Son of A Poor Man
Take It On the Run
Time For Me to Fly
Back On the Road Again
Ridin’ The Storm Out

Encore:

Keep On Loving You
Roll With The Changes
Listen To Her Heart (Tom Petty Cover)

Things I Think: My Favorite Songs from the 1980’s

It’s been a while since I posted a blog article on “Things I Think”, so I decided to go back and revisit a bunch of my favorite songs from the 1980’s. I’ve listed a bunch of them here, in no particular order of favorites.

These songs all remind me of growing up in the MTV generation. A time when going to the store to buy an album and then running home to listen to it alone in your bedroom was an experience. If you didn’t listen to an album in its entirety from first song to last (even if the hit was song #3) you weren’t doing it right. You listened completely and as you did, you made sure you read every lyric, liner note and thank you that was written on the sleeve. NO exceptions!

So grab an Orange Julius and Bavarian pretzel and put the quarters for Pac Man and Dragon’s Lair to the side for later. Here’s my list with a little commentary on why each song was so special to me. Let’s have some fun with this!

Ready? Let’s go.

“Africa” by Toto (From the album, Toto IV – released in 1982)

There are very few songs from my era as a teen that I will listen to whenever it comes on the radio, and this is one of them. Let’s be honest, how may writers do you know who can put the line, “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti” into a song and still make it fucking cool? The song is from the band’s Toto IV album, which won six Grammys, including Album of the Year. It is the band’s first and only #1 song (“Rosanna” was also a monster hit but only reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100).

“Kiss On My List” by Hall & Oates (From the album, Voices – released in 1980)

“Kiss on My List”; along with The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”, were the first two songs I vivdly remember listening to as the 80s began. The only reason the latter song didn’t make this list is because it was released in 1979. “Kiss On My List” was Hall & Oates second #1 song (“Rich Girl” was their first; four years earlier). I still remember listening to it on the radio in the summer of 1981, when I recorded my own “Weekly Top 40” countdown on a beat up cassette recorder. Of course, this song was always #1.

“She Dont Know Me” by Bon Jovi (From the album, Bon Jovi – released in 1984)

“Runaway” was a big hit and, of course, there would be a ton of other songs to follow, but this song from the band’s debut album will always be my favorite. The very first concert I ever saw was on June 16, 1984 when Bon Jovi (on their very first tour) opened for The Scorpions in Allentown, PA. It was a magical day. This track is also the only hit that wasn’t written by Jon and Richie Sambora. It was actually penned by Marc Avsec, who also wrote the song, “Ah! Leah!” Because it wasn’t written by the band, it was essentially dropped from the set once Slippery When Wet became a smash in 1986.

“Cum on Feel The Noize” by Quiet Riot (From the album, Metal Health – released in 1983)

It was during the summer of 1983. My Dad was driving me and my siblings along a rural stretch of Pennsylvania back road when the drums kicked in on the radio, and my immediate instinct was to yell, “TURN IT UP!!!” “Cum on Feel The Noize” (actually Quiet Riot’s verion of a Slade song from ten years earlier) was the first song that, as a teen, I said was “my song”. A roaring combination of guitars, vocals and groove.

“If She Knew What She Wants” by The Bangles (From the album, Different Light – released in 1986)

I’ve loved these ladies ever since their 1984 debut, All Over The Place. They collaborated with artists like Prince and even opened for Queen on their 1986 Magic Tour. This was a tough one for me, because there are actually two Bangles’ songs from the 80’s I adored. And although I loved “Manic Monday” and “Walk Like An Egyptian,” my favorite track from their album, Different Light, was their infectious cover of Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants”.

“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart (From the album, The Best of Rod Stewart – released in 1989)

I may take some heat for this one, but that’s ok. As far as the 80’s go, “Young Turks,” “Infatuation,” “Some Guys Have All The Luck,” “Forever Young,” and “My Heart Can’t Tell You No” all spoke to me. But THIS track, actually a cover of Tom Waits 1985 song, wins the day. I just love Stewart’s arrangement; particularly the guitars in the bridge and the squealing hammond-synth sound as it goes back into the chorus. Gives me chills every time. On a side note, check out Waits intriquing, original version of the song, which sounds nothing like it.

Say It Isn’t So” by The Outfield (From the album, Play Deep – released in 1985)

When you think of the 80’s, most folks gravitate toward The Outfield staple, “Your Love” from their 1985 debut album, Play Deep.  Others will consider the anthemic, “Since You’ve Been Gone” from their 1987 album, Bangin’. For yours truly, I’m going with the first single from Play Deep, and my first exposure to The Outfield – “Say It Isn’t So”. I love the intro to this song and the infectious harmonies of Tony Lewis and the late John Spinks. Do yourself a favor – fast forward to 1:50 of this video and listen to them harmonize on the bridge portion of the song. Especially the line, “I see right through you”. Killer!

“Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper (From the album, She’s So Unusual – released in 1983)

Rob Hyman from The Hooters wrote this song with Cyndi, and when I interviewed him about it, he told me Cyndi’s inspiration for the song and title came from when she was reading TV Guide and noticed the 1979 film “Time After Time” was coming on. The song orignally was much faster, but the two ended up slowing it down to the masterpiece it became.

“And We Danced” by The Hooters (From the album, Nervous Night – released in 1985)

Speaking of hooters… well, The Hooters, this is another track that makes me wanna move. This song reminds me of summer time, and I’ll never forget the first time my neighbor, Mike, exposed me to this band out of Philadelphia. Thanks, dude!

“I Can’t Hold Back” by Survivor (From the album, Vital Signs – released in 1984)

This track holds a special place for me. The entire Vital Signs album, actually. This was one of the first videos I remember seeing on MTV when it finally went mainstream, and a song that spoke to a fifteen year old kid who was looking for love. It was also one of the very first songs I ever learned how to play on guitar. The Vital Signs album I owned then is still with me to this day, and is now signed and framed on a wall in my office. Needless to say, it’s sentimental.

“Heat Of The Moment” by Asia (From the album, Asia – released in 1982)

It was June of 1982. I was in seventh grade music class sitting in an ungodly hot room during one of the last days before summer vacation. As an end-of-year gift to the class the teacher, Mr. Brobst, allowed students to bring in some of their albums to listen to while we cleared out our desks. That was when a classmate named Danny put this album on the turntable. As needle met vinyl and the crackling hum and hiss began, it was the first time I heard that now infamous guitar riff and opening line: “I never meant to be so bad to you. One thing I said that I would never do …” I don’t think I have to say anything more.

“(You Can Still) Rock In America” by Night Ranger (From the album, Midnight Madness – released in 1983)

Gotta give kudos to Mike again for introducing me to these guys way back when. Every Friday night during the school year required a mandatory visit to the mall. And it was on one of these occassions, as Mike’s mother was chauffeuring us over in this super-huge station wagon, that Mike dropped Midnight Madness into the cassette deck. If you could’ve seen my eyes when the first sounds of this track came through the speakers, they were as wide as saucers. It was something I had only heard glimpses of with Boston and Thin Lizzy, but it was also something else. Something insatiably magical.

“Eternal Flame” by The Bangles (From the album, Everything  – released in 1988)

I couldn’t end this list without giving another shout out to The Bangles. “Eternal Flame” was released as a single in 1989 and would go on to become the band’s second #1 hit (“Walk Like An Egyptian” was first). Without a doubt, this is my all-time favorite Bangles song. But when I hear it now, some thirty years later, it’s almost melancholy, because it reminds me of the end of the 80’s.

By 1989, I was already two years out of high school. The Friday night hang outs at the mall; the pep rallies and bonfires; and the cruising of the strip in my souped up ’74 Torino were over. All the friends I had grown up with were either half way done with college, entering the workforce or joining the military. As for me, I was still struggling to determine where I fit in with the big mystery called life.

The days of childhood innocence were over, but this song will forever hold a special place in my heart because, at least for me, it officially says “goodbye” to that decade.

Whew! Ok, there’s mine. Let’s hear some of yours! Drop a line in the comments below!

Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp – Part 1

“Hello. My name is James Wood. It’s nice to meet you,” I said, extending my hand to the three other guys in the room. It was the first time I’d met Bobby, Tom and Rik. The three guys who would form a band with me to perform at The Lucky Strike and world-renowned Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood this weekend.

If my middle-aged brain remembers correctly, it was thirty years ago next month when I formed my very first band. This after many years of guitar lessons, months of starts and stops, and high school dreams fueled by teenage angst and worldwide musical domination.

Back then, bands like Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Whitesnake and Dio were on constant repeat on my boom box. And now, in just a few short days, not only would I be jamming with the guys in REO and Foreigner, but I’d also be taking the stage with Night Ranger to perform at one of music’s most famous venues in front of a massive crowd. The same stage that regularly housed legendary bands like The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Van-Halen and countless others.

No pressure.

By the time I arrived at the camp’s studios at 1:30 p.m., our as of yet unnamed band was already behind the eight ball. We’d learned last week that we wouldn’t have a keyboard player (a pretty big deal if you had “Roll With The Changes,” “Keep on Loving You” or “Sister Christian” on your “let’s try” list), and our original counselor, Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Foreigner) had to drop out of camp at the last minute due to illness.

But it wasn’t until I made my way through the registration line and into Studio D (which would be our home for the next four days), that reality really struck.

Inside the room, already jamming, were counselors Michael Staertow (guitarist for Lou Gramm), Chris Wyse (bassist for Ace Frehley, The Cult) and Steve Ferlazzo (keyboards for Avril Lavigne and now Richie Sambora and Orianthi).

Oh, man.

Before long, our new counselor, Craig Goldy (Dio, Giuffria) made his way into the studio to join them. I was fortunate that I had to wait a bit for my tech (yes, you get one of those here at camp) to set up my guitar. I used that time to subconsciously absorb these guys wailing.

After the open jam formalities had ended, everyone made their way off to begin rehearsal in their own studios. That’s when Rik, Bobby, Tom, Craig and I started talking about which songs we wanted to do.

Since the guys from REO Speedwagon would be coming to jam with us on Friday, we looked at our list of songs to do —and unanimously decided on this one:

After about four passes at the song — where I must say I held my own– it was time to break for camp introductions.

David Fishof (executive producer) welcomed campers to the event and then introduced the all-star array of counselors, which also included Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Whitesnake), Tony Frankin (The Firm, Blue Murder), Matt Starr (Mr. Big), Tanya O’Callaghan (Dee Snider, Ronnie Wood), Kane Roberts (Alice Cooper) and Monte Pittman (Madonna).

We then returned to our studio for some more rehearsal time, where Craig gave us some cool little solo ideas to use that would help bring the song to life. I’m thinking by now we’re around 85-90% of having a song nearly ready to go — and it was only Day One!

There were several master classes to choose from this night, and I decided to attend the one called “Stories From The Road”, where a group of counselors talked about their careers with some of the all-time greats.

l to r: Michael Staertow, Chris Wyse, Steve Ferlazzo, Rudy Sarzo, Tanya O’Callaghan

The final event of the evening was a welcome dinner followed by an open jam with the counselors. Song performances included everything from The Cars, Eddie Money and AC/DC to Aldo Nova, Ozzy, The Beatles and Loverboy.

As the van took us back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but think about that 15-year-old me sitting up in his bedroom practicing all of these songs. And I think that’s when the true impact of what was about to occur over these next few days finally began to sink in.

Not gonna lie. I thought about getting up on that stage on Sunday night and f#cking up. But you know what? I don’t care. I came all this way to learn from and jam with the best, and here I am.

The streets of Hollywood are where it all began. The music I grew up with. The music that made me want to pick up a guitar and play. The music I love.

And in just a short time, I’m going to claim a small piece of those streets for myself.

 

Remembering High School- 30 Years Later

“How can it be thirty years?” I said as I was cleaning out the basement.

Looking into the gray, Stocker Brothers dairy milk crate, its frame still sturdy even after decades of sitting in dark silence, is actually what made me pose the question.

I had just spent the better part of the morning organizing the crawl space of my two-story colonial, a home I’ve been making mortgage payments on for as long as I can remember. During my tenure at this location, the basement had become a breeding ground for large, cardboard boxes of clothes, holiday items and various knick knacks, as well as six large boxes of comic books I’d collected as a kid along with my feeble attempts at Bob Ross paintings. The latter two categories being things I can’t seem to let go of — even after all of this time.

Time.

The thing inside the milk crate behind the wall of canvases is where I found it. There, along with the curious smell of old books and dust was a folded, paper program; kind of like something you’d get handed to you from an usher at a Sunday church service or a Broadway show as you entered the theater. It had obtained a dull, off-white color over the years but its red lettered appearance was still clearly visible:

Easton Area High School’s 131st Commencement: June 11, 1987 6:00 o’clock.

It can’t be, can it? Thirty years already? I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that I was roaming the halls of high school? Dreaming about being the next Bon Jovi? Longing for Friday night visits to the mall so that I could get the new Def Leppard album, read the latest Gross Jokes book in Waldenbooks, drink gallons of Orange Julius and then try to impress the girls by beating the high score on Pac Man and Galaga?

I slowly ran my fingers through the pages of the slightly weathered program and saw all of the people who stood by me that day. “Did they know where they would wind up?” I thought. “Would they remember and realize it’s been thirty years?”

Me, June 11, 1987

I remember that commencement. I remember wearing my class ring on my right ring finger and sitting in my cap and gown on an uncomfortable metal chair waiting for my name to be called, peeved once again at the alphabetical order of things and the fact that my last name started with a “W”. I still remember congratulating and hugging every classmate I met, whether I knew them on a “friend” basis or not. I can still feel the leafy stem of the flower against my bare hand after I accepted my diploma, and the sense of urgency I had for the final notes of the Alma Mater to ring so that I could toss my tasseled, red cap high into the air. It was the end game. The “so long”. The final, “see-ya-later” salute to thirteen years of education.

Who am I kidding? When I look back now it didn’t really seem like goodbye. Instead, walking out of Kirby Field House that night was just like any other night. It would soon be the start of summer, camping at the lake, amusement park visits and graduation/backyard parties. Heck, I even had one at my house where me and my buddy (and fellow graduate), Nathan Brown, played our guitars and drums as entertainment. Before long, September would roll around again and we’d all be right back together again in class, right? Just like it had always been for thirteen years in a row.

No.

Several friends went off to college to follow their dream. Others enlisted in the military, started families or immediately entered the work force. As for me, my own dream of becoming a rock star officially began June 11, 1987.

But that’s a story for another time.

As I continued to page through the program, I tried to see how many classmates I could remember and was thankful to discover I could still put faces to the names of most. Then I thought of Nathan, who’s own name I didn’t see listed in the graduating class and yet had attended graduation and received his diploma along with the rest of us. Had it have been another time, I probably would have called him up to ask him why he wasn’t mentioned in the list of graduates, but he died in 2014.

A lot can happen in thirty years.