Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp – Part 2

Dave Amato and Me

I am sitting in my hotel room high above Universal City at 10:45 p.m. pondering the events of the day.

For those who many not know, REO Speedwagon is my all-time favorite band, and today, my band got to perform the song “Tough Guys” on stage with Kevin Cronin and Dave Amato.

We chose “Tough Guys” from the list of songs to perform with REO simply because it wasn’t the typical “Roll With The Changes” or “Ridin’ The Storm Out” that we assumed most other bands would be doing. It was upbeat and rocking, with some cool little guitar harmony part that our counselor, Craig Goldy (Dio) had taught us.

One of the sticking points in “Tough Guys” is an unusual chord progression that happens really quickly after the guitar solo. It’s a musical break where the guitar plays an Em – C progression. If you’re not careful, you’ll fly right by and miss perhaps the most important part of the song.

As a band that had formed less than 24 hours ago, we butchered that progression more than a dozen times before we were finally able to play the song straight through without a hitch.

Prior to jamming the song, Kevin and Dave did an hour long Q&A session where people from the audience could ask them about their music and career. One of the campers asked Kevin how the band keeps things fresh after playing their catalog of hits hundreds of times.

Here’s where fate stepped in.

Kevin said that the band always tries to change things up a little every night, and that one of the things he always looks forward to was performing “Tough Guys”, because there’s a quick little section in the song ( Em – C ) that breaks up the monotony.

At this point, I turned around to my fellow bandmates with a sly smile. They all nodded in agreement.

An hour later, our band stood side by side with Kevin and Dave on stage and watched as their eyes lit up when we told them we were doing “Tough Guys”.

There simply aren’t enough words to describe the feeling I had standing on that stage playing with those guys. It was a moment that was gone before it even started, but as a kid who spent hours locked in his room learning every song from their “Hi Infidelity” and “Wheels Are Turnin'” albums, it was a dream come true. Then afterwards, to have Kevin give us kudos for remembering the Em-C chord progression was something even more special.

In the end, we were the only band out of fifteen that performed “Tough Guys” with REO Speedwagon.

Although still high from our triumphant performance, we knew there as no time to rest. We still had a Foreigner and Night Ranger song to learn.

The Foreigner song would be a no brainer.

And then came the hardest decision of the entire camp. Which Night Ranger song to do?  Our decision would be the song that we’d perform with the band on The Whisky A Go Go stage in just two days.

The list of songs to choose from included Night Ranger hits like “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” “Sing Me Away,” “(You Can Still) Rock in America” and “Sister Christian” as well as a few cover songs by Damn Yankees and AC/DC.

For me, there was really only one song I wanted to do — and I was beyond excited when the band all agreed as well.

For those of you who can’t make our show Sunday night, here is the song we’ll be performing with Night Ranger at The Whisky on Sunday night.

Saturday is going to be another busy day. We’re starting off with rehearsal, followed by a visit from Jeff Pilson and Bruce Watson of Foreigner for a Q&A and jam session. We’ll then be playing our very first show at The Lucky Strike on Hollywood Boulevard.

Tonight we sleep. Tomorrow, we rock!

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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.

 

‘Psychotic Symphony’: Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal Discusses New Supergroup Project, Sons of Apollo

Photo by:Hristo Shindov

Featuring ex-members of Dream Theater, Guns N’ Roses and Journey, Sons Of Apollo is an exciting new supergroup consisting of Mike Portnoy, Derek Sherinian, Billy Sheehan, Jeff Scott Soto and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal.

The group’s highly anticipated album, Psychotic Symphony, is a welcome introduction to the band, and pulls heavily from the quintet’s eclectic musical influences, which range from vintage prog to classic and hard rock.

Particularly notable on Psychotic Symphony are Thal’s jaw-dropping runs on his 24-fret Vigier double-neck, and his fluid transitions from fretted to fretless.

Guitar World recently spoke with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal about Sons of Apollo and more in this new interview.

How did Sons of Apollo come together?

We certainly weren’t strangers to each other. I had worked with Mike on Metal Allegiance and over the years have jammed with him and Billy in various situations. I also jammed with the guys and Derek at Progressive Nation at Sea a few years ago and have been a huge fan of Jeff’s ever since I heard him on the Yngwie album. It was only a matter of time before we [began to make] music together.

How would you describe Psychotic Symphony in terms of its sound?

When I think of the album, I think of the writing and recording process and the personal involvement. To me, when I hear the album, I hear five guys paying tribute to their influences. I hear The Who, Van-Halen, Led Zeppelin and Randy Rhoads. Everything that inspired each member of the band to play music the way that they do. There’s Billy’s distinct, undeniable tone, Mike’s tremendous playing, Derek—who is the greatest guitarist you will ever hear on keyboards—and Jeff, who takes the craziest songs and makes them into something you can sing along to. He’s a great singer with a fantastic voice.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Ron “Bumblefoot” That by Clicking Here!

Interview: David Duchovny discusses his new album, ‘Every Third Thought,’ songwriting

David Duchovny, the award-winning actor, director and novelist has just released his new album, Every Third Thought. It’s the follow up to his 2015 debut, Hell or Highwater.

Crafted with elements of folk, classic rock and pop, Every Third Thoughtshowcases Duchovny’s eclectic influences, which range from artists like The Beatles and David Bowie to the bright, haunting and acoustic-driven songs from 1970’s bands like America.

Recorded in Brooklyn in December of 2016, Duchovny finds a deeper level of lyrical maturity and musical expression with Every Third Thought. His honest storytelling speaks of personal reflection but is meticulously crafted with universal themes.

AXS recently spoke with David Duchovny about Every Third Thought, songwriting and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How does Every Third Thought compare to your first album, Hell Or Highwater?

David Duchovny: This album is more musically varied and ambitious. The songs all started the same way, which was me throwing chords together with an acoustic guitar and then singing my words over it. Once I started collaborating more with my band–who are such advanced musicians–it allowed them to bring in their own sonic tastes. So, it wasn’t just me saying I’ve got this song but was more like I’m hearing a David Bowie, “Heroes” vibe, which was the case with the song, “Half Life.” Or from me saying “Last First Time” feels like a 70’s power rock ballad. They were able to open the song up and execute the things that I couldn’t.

AXS: Have you found that your lyrical style has matured with this new album?

DD: Having written a bunch of songs, I’m starting to get a better feel for how lyrics work. I still very clearly recall writing my first song, “The Things” on Hell or Highwater. I remember thinking that if I’m going to write a song, I’m not going to say anything specific in it because I don’t want people asking me what it means. And what could be more neutral than saying, “It’s about this “thing” [laughs].” I try to straddle the line of a song being very personal but also universal. Everybody’s life has a very similar shape. You try to write as personally as you can and write to the shape of everybody’s life.

AXS: What was the writing process like for Every Third Thought?

DD: It’s always different. Sometimes, I’ll have a melodic hook in my mind and a chord progression waiting for words. Other times, the words will come first and they’re waiting for a melody. I’ve got a bunch of lyrics off to the side on my iPad and a bunch of progressions off to another side. Sometimes, I’ll sit down and start introducing them to one another and see who wants to make out [laughs].

Read the rest of my
Interview with David Duchovny by Clicking Here!

Interview: Guitarist Nita Strauss Discusses her new Signature Model, The Ibanez Jiva

Photo by: Samuel Lathrop

Nita Strauss, the Los Angeles-based guitarist known for her shredding skills as part of the Alice Cooper band, was recently awarded her first Signature model guitar from Ibanez.

The Ibanez JIVA gets its name from the Hindu word, which means the vital energy of life and the creative essence that lives on after the body passes away.

Strauss’ JIVA is based on Ibanez’s popular S-series model and features a quilted maple top on a mahogany body. There’s also a 24-fret, ebony fingerboard with a uniquely designed “Beaten Path” EKG-Style inlay. The guitar also comes with Strauss’ signature DiMarzio pickups, which the guitarist designed herself.

The Ibanez JIVA’s unveiling at this winter’s NAMM Convention makes Strauss the company’s first female guitarist with a Signature model. Strauss has been on the Ibanez roster since 2008 and the JIVA is a well-deserved award that recognizes one of the most inspiring and hardest working guitarists in music.

Strauss is currently gearing up for a new round of touring with Alice Cooper and is deep into production on her first guitar-driven, instrumental solo album.

AXS recently spoke with Nita Strauss about her new Signature model guitar, her upcoming tour with Alice Cooper and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: Where did the idea and inspiration for your Signature model come from?

Nita Strauss: I think once you start playing guitar and learning about their components, you start figuring out what features would make it better. So, like most guitars players, I started designing my Signature guitar when I was in grade school [laughs]. I would always write down all my ideas into a notebook that I would carry around. This year is my tenth anniversary with Ibanez, and last year was when the discussion for a Signature model first started. I already had a clear picture of what I wanted from all the endless decisions I’d done in my head. So, once the final decision was made, it was a pretty straightforward process.

AXS: Why the name, “JIVA”?

NS: The word “jiva” is a Hindu word that means the part of yourself where all your creativity, ideas and life force comes from. It’s your jiva manifesting itself. Whether it’s your art, music or creativity, it’s the part of you that lives on after your body passes away. I thought, what more appropriate thing to call my guitar. On a personal note, my Dad’s band was called Jiva a long time ago. Since my dad’s the one who taught me how to play guitar, it’s also a fitting tribute as well.

AXS: What can you tell me about the guitar?

NS: It’s a mahogany body with custom maple top and ebony fretboard that weighs exactly seven pounds. That combination of wood gives it the tone I love and sets the guitar apart from others in the S-series. The Deep Space Blonde color is also unique as well.

AXS: What about the guitar’s pickups?

NS: Choosing a pickup was a trial and error process. I wanted something with a lot of body and sustain. Something that could hit top harmonics and hold them out but also not be too noisy on stage. We have a happy medium with my DiMarzio Pandemonium pickups. They’re really bright with harmonic resonance but are also really quiet.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Nita Strauss by Clicking Here!

Robert Knight Discusses ‘Rock Gods’ and His 50-Year Career As a Music Photographer

Legendary rock photographer Robert Knight is widely renowned for his lengthy tenure of capturing a wide cross section of highly influential artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Slash. His ability to closely connect with and generate trust among the subjects he’s photographed has led to a deep, intimate documentation of significant pop cultural moments over the past half century.

Knight is celebrating his 50th Anniversary with the release of his amazing new book, Rock Gods: Fifty Years of Rock Photography, which is available now on Insight Editions. ​

Even if you aren’t a voracious reader, Knight’s incredibly beautiful photographs and personal stories from his time spent with some of rock’s most legendary artists at the beginning and peak of their careers is worth the price of admission.

We recently spoke with Knight about Rock Gods and some of the artists he’s worked with in this new interview.

What made you decide to write a book about your life and career?

The stars all aligned and the time was right. It was the 50th anniversary of the Jeff Beck tour and my time with Led Zeppelin. We preferred to do a smaller sized book that’s very affordable and aimed at younger people. I’ve even got younger artists I’ve worked with in the book towards the end.

What was it about the music of that generation that appealed to you and made you want to become a photographer?

Growing up as the son of a minister, I was forbidden from any of that music. Then one night at a very young age, I snuck out and saw The [Rolling] Stones when they had Brian Jones in the band, and it electrified me. Later, I found magazines with long-haired guys with weird clothes and guitars. I couldn’t figure out what it was all about, but I knew that it was music. I sent away to an English music company and got records by Hendrix, Cream, The Yardbirds and Pretty Things before they even came out in America. But once I saw the movie, Blowup and the lineup of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, that was it for me. I saw what Beck was doing and thought, this is someone I really want to work with.

I want to ask you about a few of the guitarists you’ve worked with and get your thoughts on them. Let’s start with Jimi Hendrix.

I first saw Hendrix back in 1968 at the Avalon Ballroom. I had heard his music before, but hearing it on your hi-fi was a lot different than when you were being pummeled by three Marshall stacks [laughs]. I remember my mouth dropped open and I was just mesmerized by what was going on. It was bigger than life. Then when I met him, he was this sweet, shy guy who was very humble. That’s what you came away with. He was this bombastic thing on stage and then the total opposite off of it.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Robert Knight by Clicking Here!

Interview: Brooke Josephson premieres new video for ‘Crazy Called Normal’

Brooke Josephson – Photo by Wes and Alex

Today, AXS premieres the video for Brooke Josephson’s “Crazy Called Normal”. It’s the new single from the singer/songwriter’s upcoming EP, Sexy N’ Domesticated. An album that’s a snapshot of the songstress’ personal journey and features an eclectic mix of musical influences and genres.

With an array of visual metaphors, the video for “Crazy Called Normal” is a tongue-in-cheek look at how silly and mundane the world has become, and how things that were once considered patently absurd have suddenly become acceptable.

AXS recently spoke with Brooke Josephson about“Crazy Called Normal” and more in this new interview.

AXS: What inspired the song, “Crazy Called Normal”?

Brooke Josephson: The song came about after I had just experienced “one of those days.” I remember I had just picked up my daughter from school and she was telling me about some drama that happened at recess. Halfway through the conversation, she just stopped talking and said, “How was your day, Mommy?” Just hearing her little voice; it took everything in me not to start crying. I was able to hold it together and told her that everything was fine. I didn’t want to get emotional, and on the drive home I found myself chanting this mantra: “laugh don’t crack” over and over under my breath. That night, after the kids were in bed, I went into the studio and started writing out the events of the day, keeping that mantra in mind. There’s so much we have to do to be productive, and the things we consider crazy have suddenly become normal. That’s how the song came about.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Brooke Josephson By Clicking Here!