Category: Dear Diary

My Rock Star Moment

Me - August 6th, 2004
Me – August 6th, 2004

Even though it happened ten years ago, it still feels like it was yesterday.

I was standing alone in my upstairs bathroom. An introverted thirty-four year old man looking at himself in the mirror — and shaking like a leaf. It was 3 pm and soon I would have to muster up enough courage to drive over to South Bethlehem for sound check.

August 6th, 2004 is a day I will NEVER forget.

I suppose it’s best to give you a little bit of a back story before I continue on with this tale. So here goes..

From the first day I picked up my grandmother’s hand-held potato slicer, pretended it was a guitar and did my best Ace Frehley interpretation, it’s been my dream – shredding my guitar on a huge stage while staring out into a sea of people. And so began the days of callused fingers, long walks downtown to the music store for weekly lessons and countless hours spent practicing Mel Bay scales and Metal Method licks.

Unfortunately, my new found interest in music, repetitive practice and Les Paul guitars also brought along with it the constant torment and ridicule by my siblings and their friends. Many of them telling me (in not so many words) that what I was doing would never amount to anything. But rather than wallow in denial and self-pity, their words only served to reinforce my passion. So while other kids of the MTV generation played sports or hung out with friends after school playing Atari, I spent most of my afternoons trying to figure out how Eddie Van-Halen got his Kung-Fu. I was so sure of what the future held that I even wrote entries into my journal describing all of the things that were going to happen to me after I had officially “made it” as a rock star.

on a side note, I’m still waiting for the hordes of women to chase me down the streets of New York City.

The crowd
The crowd

Yes, I had dreamed about this moment forever…. and suddenly, forever was now!

On August 6th, 2004, my band was going to be the opening act for Clay Aiken at Musikfest – on the biggest stage of them all! Yes, THE Clay Aiken!

OK, before you start giggling uncontrollably, remember this. Clay Aiken had just placed second in season two of American Idol and was almost on the same level as Justin Bieber, One Direction or any of those other boy bands. That is to say, people were going absolutely bonkers for him. It was the fastest sellout in the festival’s history (6,000+ people) and we had the greatest singer ever in our arsenal who had gotten us the gig…..

…but here I was, standing in the bathroom…a complete nervous wreck!

To this day, I’m not sure how I held it all together. Somehow, my “Rock Star Moment” was here, and I wasn’t about to let it slip away. Grabbing my Les Paul and blue-flamed do rag, I slowly made my way to Bethlehem.

The rest of that evening was a bit of a whirlwind for me. There was time spent setting up gear in front of the stage, testing guitar levels and watching the thousands of people standing in line waiting to get in. Then there was the anticipation of going out there and feeling a rush that no drug could ever deliver.

Prior to August 6th, the most people I had ever played for was maybe 40 in some smoky bar at two in the morning. And even though I was fully aware that they weren’t there to see us, I got to taste the experience of walking out on stage in front of six-thousand people!! Finally looking out, instead of always looking in.

I liked what I saw.

mu

I’ve never had that kind of experience since and most likely never will again. It was through the love of music, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck that the cosmos aligned for me that particular summer night – and it was the beginning of a special journey we would all share together as a band.

As a seven-year old boy imitating his guitar hero on a vegetable slicer it seemed like such a far away dream. But just the idea of having a dream – no matter how small it might be or how long it takes you to achieve is something that doesn’t fade after the lights finally go out and the music stops. When you realize that dreams do indeed come true, the magic becomes a part of you forever.

Tell me, what are some of your rock star moments?

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Look What I Found: Rocker’s Profile – February 8, 1989

529223_10151534435774339_780686317_nI’ve decided to start a new series here on the blog called “Look What I Found.”

I’d like to use this topic whenever I stumble upon something cool or unique from my past. Not only will the nostalgia of finding these treasures remind me of a much more innocent time, but writing about the things that I discover will really help put in perspective what my goals in life were at the time.

During the mid to late 80’s I kept semi-regular journals describing what was going on in my life as well as the things I had in mind for when I made it to the big time. One of the things I often liked to do in my journal was pretend that someone was doing an interview profile of my life for my fans to enjoy.

This one was from ironically enough, 25 years ago today. A journal entry from February 8th, 1989. In it, I ask myself questions and answer them. Enjoy!

Rocker’s Profile 1989

Rocker’s Name: James Edward Wood

Age: 19

Birthdate: October 5th, 1969

Instruments: Guitar, Vocals, Piano

Years Playing: 3 years

Date Started: May 24, 1985

Favorite Guitarists: Phil Collen (Def Leppard), Randy Rhoads, Van-Halen

Favorite Bands: Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon

Unfavorite Bands: Slayer, Megadeth, One hit wonders

Favorite Songs: Dust In The Wind (Kansas), Armageddon It (Def Leppard), All of Hysteria & Pyromania, Too many others to list

Favorite Album: Hysteria, Pyromania, Blizzard of Ozz, (Ozzy Osbourne), Appetite For Destruction (Guns n Roses)

Favorite Food: Cheese Fries, Country Club Melts

Band Experience: Silent Rage Mar 11, 1988 – July 6, 1988

Favorite Guitars: Gibson Les Paul, Gibson Explorer, Fender Stratocaster

Hobbies: Songwriting, Teaching Music

Current Goals: Become respected for music

It’s interesting to see how much things have (or haven’t) changed in a quarter century. Obviously, you could tell that I was (still am) a huge Def Leppard fan. It’s also worth noting that at the time this interview was taken I had only ever been in one band. As of today, I’ve been in six. And in 2006, after more than twenty years of waiting, I finally was able to purchase my very first Gibson Les Paul.

But if you were to ask the dude being interviewed if he ever saw himself working a 9-5 job in the 21st century, I’m sure he would have laughed in your face. Because the truth is, all I saw at the time were gold records, tour buses and a sea of women calling my name. Responsibility? HA! That was the furthest thing from my mind in 1989.

Such was the naivety of youth.

Dear Diary: April 29th, 1988 – Battle of The Bands

Battle of The Bands April 29, 1988
Me at the Battle of The Bands April 29, 1988

It’s milestone day, and this one is a doozy for sure. Raise your bottle of wine cooler, crank up your boom box and break out your Bon Jovi! Thirty years ago this very day was my first EVER gig with a band.

On April 29th, 1988 my band, “Silent Rage” competed in the Bath Firehall Battle of The Bands. I know this not because I have a perfect memory (hell, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast some mornings), but because I was smart enough to keep a journal of my musical exploits.

I actually formed Silent Rage with some friends in March of 1988, and can still remember vividly how much we busted our asses. Sometimes, we would rehearse four nights a week for hours at a time. Eventually, we got our very first show.

It was an under-21 Battle of The Bands gig in the town of Bath, Pennsylvania, and needless to say, with my band’s first gig now officially booked, I was stoked. Although I honestly don’t recall who won that night (it wasn’t us), I do remember the names of the bands we competed against: Lethal Tender, Cobalt Blue, Mizery and Detour.

But as I sit back and remember this day thirty years later, I recall a bull-headed, 18-year-old guitarist who thought he knew everything about music and being in a band. There would be a lot of growing pains for me over the next twenty-some-odd years. Pains that began that very night. For, while in full rock and roll mode, I neglected to realize one of the first rules or rock: timing is everything. So, when we were approached by the promoter asking if we wanted to go on last, I jumped at the chance. I thought, “Now THIS is a rock and roll dream!”

With the 8pm start rapidly approaching, I remember being downstairs pumping my chest and proclaiming to anyone who’d listen how WE were the headliners that night, and how WE had that coveted final spot. Little did I know it, but my hasty decision likely led to our own undoing. For, by the time we went on to perform, it was well past midnight and most of the under-age crowd had already had their fill of botched AC/DC and Led Zeppelin covers and had headed for the exits.

In true Hair Metal fashion, this was our set list that night. The first set list I ever played with a bassis and drummer:

1. Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne)
2. You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC)
3. Talk Dirty To Me (Poison)
4. Pour Some Sugar On Me (Def Leppard)
5. I Can’t Drive 55 (Sammy Hagar)
6. I Won’t Forget You (Poison)

I liked the idea of “I Won’t Forget You” at the end. Kind of made the whole thing sentimental, in a rock and roll sort of way.

Me and Steve on bass
Me doin’ what I do, along with Steve on bass

Here is the journal entry I wrote after the show was over.

4/29/1988: Well, the Battle’s history. We didn’t win. We were on last and I think that was the biggest factor, because everyone was gone. I think we did extremely well and  I was sweating my ass off under the lights. The songs really sounded good. The sound man even told us that ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ sounded great.  I threw out all of my picks. We had fun. I remember looking out and seeing people singing along to the first three songs we did: ‘Crazy’, ‘Shook Me’ and ‘Talk Dirty’.

I was so nervous until we finally started ‘Crazy’,  then all hell broke loose. My guitar solo was great. Even though we didn’t win, I’m so happy to have done it. Winning is shit, I did what I do best; I want to do it for a living.

I learned a lot that night about what to do and when to do it. I also learned perhaps the biggest lesson of all about being in a band – the importance of group decisions. One member shouldn’t speak for all. To this day, I believe that had I asked what the others thought about going on last, the outcome that night might have been completely different.

In the end, I have no regrets. It was one of the best nights of my musical career, which began with my first guitar lesson three years earlier. For, with that killer opening guitar riff to “Crazy Train”, my rock and roll dream began.

Dear Diary: March 30th, 1988

meI really am grateful that I took the time to semi-regularly write a journal during my high school days. It gives me the opportunity now to look back and see where I was and just how far I’ve come. Back then, the future was bright and there were no limitations. Oh sure, there are definitely some things I lament doing and not doing, but all things considered, I wouldn’t change a thing. The good, the bad, the mistakes I’ve made – they’ve all made me into the person I am today.

This was my situation 25 year ago this very day: I had just graduated from high school nine months ago and was already a college drop out, living at home and without a job. Most of my time was spent either practicing my guitar, driving a beat up 1974 Ford Torino, bumming money off of my mom and grandmother and doing anything I could do to make it to the big time.

One of the biggest regrets I had musically in high school was not being able to participate in my senior year Battle of The Bands competition. It was an annual event held in the high school gym every spring, and gave students the opportunity to showcase their musical talent in front of the greatest audience of all: their peers. Even if you didn’t win, just being in the battle was a right of passage for future rock-star musicians.

At the time, I had no band and thus couldn’t participate. But for some reason that now escapes me, (I blame it on the ten Zimas I drank on my wedding night), I was somehow able to submit an entry for the competition the following year, 1988. By this point, I had already formed my first three-piece band and had begun the process of taking over the world with our brand of face melting metal. Needless to say, I was elated to have this opportunity (albeit a year later) and wanted to really shine.

Reading this journal entry now, a quarter century later is surreal. I was (still am) a huge Ozzy/Randy Rhoads fan and at the time must have played the song ‘Crazy Train’ a million times. I was also hugely into Poison and AC/DC, so those songs also had to be included on the live demo tape we recorded for the judging panel to see if we had what it took to compete. We never did get a call back about being in the battle that year, and I never followed up on it. By that time, my band had already started playing real gigs and the battle (much like the reason we could compete in it in the first place) soon became a distant memory.

Even better than the entry I wrote about the battle of the bands was the question I posed to myself afterwards. I asked myself what it was that was making me so happy in life. My answer is pretty cool.

Here’s my journal entry from 25 years ago: March 30th, 1988:

explorer3/30: I attended a meeting of the Battle of The Bands. It will be quite a competition. I think we’ll get in. They only take eight bands and I’m confident that ‘Silent Rage’ will be one of them. We have a demo and I think it is really good. My situation has really changed since last year at this time. Back then, I was the high school student who dreamed of being in the battle and now I’m actually living the thing I should’ve done last year. Even if we’re turned down, at least we tried.

All I know is, the other seven bands they choose better be extremely good. We played and recorded Crazy Train three times on my cassette player and kept the best version; the one that’s there now. The first attempt had no bass, then too much bass and on this one, it’s an even balance. I swear, some parts of that song make me think Randy Rhoads was controlling me. Even the Poison shit sounds professional. Where it goes “I’ve gotta have you, oh yes I do!” I swear, that little lead I play is C. C. Deville. My original is quite good too and Shook Me by AC/DC is kick ass.

Why are you so happy lately?

The band is the reason. For once in my life, I’m doing something that I really want to do. I’m in my career. No one understands why I talk about it so much. They think it’s probably a phase. It’s not.

I didn’t want to play guitar to be a hobby. I wanna be the best. I want to someday look in a guitar magazine and see my picture as an artist and be recognized as a guitarist and songwriter. Sure, in the beginning everyone gets into it for other reasons; like girls, money and fast cars. I originally thought girls were the reason I got into it too. But deep down, I had this weird feeling and as each day passed, I fell more in love with music than ever before.

Before my junior year in high school was over, I was taking Music Theory. But even that wasn’t enough. In my senior year, I took Music Appreciation, Choir and Theory II. During that time I had guitar lessons and sometimes practiced for five hours a day. Now, the girls don’t matter. As long as I can live normally, I don’t care about the money or the fast cars either. I’ll drive a Torino until I’m 90. All I wanna do is play and make money that way. I want to write songs and have money to go out to dinner. After three long years it’s starting to happen.

I’m so happy about my life at this point, I can’t help but talk about it. Someday, my hope is that everyone else will understand it too.

Dear Diary: March 1988

diaryIt’s that time again. Time for another stroll through the archives of a struggling musician. Today’s journal entry takes us back 25 years to March of 1988; a significant date for me, because it marked the first time I ever joined a band.

My own quest for music glory actually began on May 24, 1985 (the day I took my first legitimate guitar lesson), but it took me nearly three years to get into my first working band. As an aspiring young guitarist, there is no better time then when you join your first band. You’re young, fresh-faced and haven’t yet gotten to the point where bitching, late nights and getting screwed over by club owners is routine. Instead, all you see are Grammy awards, cameras flashing, girls as far as the eye can see, hotel rooms being demolished and your name on the marquee. Ah, to be young again!

One of the things I liked to do with my journal entries back then was pretend that I was being interviewed by some big time journalist. I’d have back and forth discussions with a phantom interviewer (Rolling Stone, MTV, Guitar World – take your pick) regarding my career, and I always liked to answer the questions as if I already had achieved some degree of success in the music business. I found that by doing these “interviews”, it gave me the inspiration to keep pushing on. What’s interesting is that I’ve since discovered (by doing my own “real” interviews) is that a lot of my guitar heroes did exactly the same thing.

My very first band was called ‘Silent Rage’; a name which I’m sure dozens of other groups had. In fact, one such band even had success with it:

Believe it or not, this was exactly what I wanted to look and sound like. If you want to see what my dream band was back then, here it is. Ok, maybe I wouldn’t have named the album “Don’t Touch Me There”, but I mean come on… what’s not to like about hair metal, guitars and hot chicks on motorcycles?  It doesn’t get more rock and roll than that.

But, back to the journal entry….

I began this “interview” by asking myself whether I preferred doing cover songs as opposed to originals. This in turn made me consider the band I had just joined a few days earlier and what our possible first gig might be like.

From March, 1988

Interviewer: You say that you like playing live. Do you like doing cover tunes?

Me: To an extent. As an amateur on the club circuit, or gigging at all I would start out with an even mixture. Here’s how a typical night would go:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you for coming to Joe’s Bar and Grill. For your entertainment tonight, this is a young band which has a lot of talent: Silent Rage!”

Then we’d come on. All ready to jam.

We’d start off with a good loosen up song to get everyone going: “Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC. Then, we’d try something good and challenging like “Still of The Night” by Whitesnake. After that, an original or two (don’t forget to introduce them as such so people won’t go – “What the hell song is THAT?”) Tell them its original, maybe who wrote it or a little story of its origin.

Afterwards, get really going with “Here I Go Again” from Whitesnake. Then another original or two (again, introduce them as such). Take a break for 15 minutes (you should have been playing for about an hour or so by now).

Come back, do originals for the second set (maybe three). Then right back into it with a monster hit, “Crazy Train” by Ozzy. Follow it with “Photograph” by Def Leppard, some more originals and then afterwards thank everyone for coming and go out with “More Than A Feeling” by Boston and maybe (if the crowd is teeny-boppers) “Talk Dirty To Me” by Poison.

For the Boston song: try to get the audience to clap along during the chorus. In fact, try to get them involved in the show as much as possible. No, I don’t mean try to see which section is louder (save that until you’re at Stabler Arena).

Look good, do a few movements, look at your crowd and be friendly.

Above all: Rock and Roll!

***

One of the things I enjoyed most about reading this entry again (aside from having listed every single detail of how a show would go and my Whitesnake fetish) were my own individual song choices. I certainly had a lot to learn about what songs worked in clubs (and would find out the hard way). Having said that, you can definitely see my hair metal influence and the music that was popular at the time.

The days when the sky really was the limit!

Dear Diary: September 1987

Here’s another journal entry from twenty-five years ago. If you’ve been following along in my previous Diary entries, you already know about my dreams to make it big as a rock star.

For me, college was only a stepping stone towards reaching that goal. As far as I was concerned, as soon as the president of Atlantic Records showed up at my door with a contract for me to sign, I was gone.

Today’s entry deals with one of the best days of 1987 for me: the day I received my very first student loan check. I know what you’re thinking: “How can one of the best days of your life be about taking on a financial obligation?”

The truth is, words can not fully express how happy I was when I received the little white envelope at the Bursar’s office at Penn State. For you see, at the time it was money that I had very little concern or intention of ever having to pay back.

I found this entry particularly nostalgic when I re-read it again (and also a bit prophetic). First, it was written on the very first day of school in Easton; the first day I was no longer a student in the public school system. It reinforced the notion that I was indeed on my on again.

I also found it to be a sign of things to come. In the last paragraph, I mention the need of having someone “help” me when I become a rock star because I’ll waste all of the money I’ll be getting. In reality, I needed that “help” immediately. I wasted quite a bit of the money I received in student loans on such things as concert tickets and guitars. Loans that eventually took me nearly twenty years to pay off. A lesson well-learned.

***

Dear Diary: Well, here I am: Psychology 002 again. I’m really not in the mood for this today. I want my bed. Today, I’m going to once again find out if the refund check came back. (Notice that I didn’t say anything positive like, “I hope it’s here” because whenever I do, it isn’t). So I don’t get to get all worked up for nothing, I’m approaching it with an open mind. If it’s here it’s here, otherwise I just want a sure-fire date of when it will be.

I just thought of something: today is the first day of school in Easton, and the first year I don’t go there anymore. That’s weird to say. Weirder still, I can stay home on a Thursday and Mr. Jones (the principal) won’t call.  And I won’t get lost in Mr. Milisits’ music theory class anymore! I don’t even need a little yellow excuse. Radical Man!!

( a short while later)….

The check is HERE!! It’s out in the car and I think it’s only one of many: $1444! My knees were shaking. All that money at one time is really scary.

I swear, when I make it big as a rocker they’d better keep any cash in the thousands away from me. Sure, I want it, but I’d waste it. All I need is reliable equipment, food, a roof over my head, a car and maybe a couple of hundred to party or for clothes!

Dear Diary: August 26th, 1987

Twenty-Five years ago today I officially began adult life by starting college at Penn State Allentown. This was the first time I had ever gone to “school” without the comfort of seeing familiar faces and teachers. Everything was new to me, but I was also excited about the possibilities. Fortunately, I kept a semi-regular journal about my experiences, including one about this monumental day.

As I read this entry again, a few things strike me as funny. First of all, the mindset I had at the time. I was already making plans with what I was going to do with the LOAN money I was going to receive. You see, I had big plans for those funds; the least of which was actually using them to pay for school expenses.

Funnier still, I wasn’t concerned at all about the obligation I had to pay it back. The way I figured it, that was somewhere  “down the road” and by the time I got there well, not only would I have a degree in music, but I’d also be a rock star millionaire.

In my post high school world: Rock and Roll Stardom was the only goal. How I got there didn’t matter and the rest either I (or someone the record company hired for me) would have to figure out later.

August 26th, 1987 was also the very first time I began to realize that I was out on my own. Not only had I received a high school diploma a few months earlier, but I also received my independence from such things as curfews and attending classes.

There would no longer be Mom and Dad to drive me around or write excuse notes for me when I was “sick” anymore. Sink or swim, everything was all on me now.

Here is the entry I wrote in my diary on this day, twenty-five years ago.

August 26th, 1987 – Dear Diary: Today is the first day of Penn State. All I have left is Poetry and I’m off for home. To bring you up to date, here’s what’s been happening:

1. I’m a Freshman in college.

2. I think there is a loan coming by which I’m moving to Allentown, buying a piano, taking lessons, getting a job up there and a pet cat.

It’s weird being in college. I mean, I don’t have to go to any class if I don’t want to and don’t even have to call off sick. If I don’t feel like going, I just don’t go. Yes, I could flunk, but now the responsibility is mine. There is no band yet, but I’m trying.

Well, gotta go. I’ve got Poetry in 12 minutes.