Tag: life

Birthday Reflections at 50

October 5th, 2019 – My 50th Birthday.

I’m sitting here in a daze, trying to comprehend what I’ve just written. It can’t be true, can it? A whole f#cking half century? WOW!

I liken it to the same feeling I had twenty years ago, when the calendar was getting ready to change over to the year 2000 and the eventual dawning of a new millenium. I vividly remember, when I was growing up, that year seemed like it was a lifetime away. I’m talking futuristic, meet George Jetson style distance. And yet, not only have we reached that year, but we’ve now gone almost twenty years beyond it.

The past 365 days have been some of the best and absolute worst days of my entire life. It started in January when my very first interview, with Dan Donegan from Disturbed, was posted in the pages of Guitar World magazine. I will NEVER forget the day I walked into the shopping center on a misty gray afternoon and saw the new issue sitting on the shelves. It was like when Indiana Jones first saw the golden idol in “Raiders of The Lost Ark.” Or the feeling I had when I opened it up and fumbled through its crisp white pages and saw that my name had been printed under “Contributing Writers.”  Knowing that this magazine would be in stores all over the world was surreal. Thinking about it now still gives me chills. I went on to do three more interviews this year – one with Jim Heath (Reverand Horton Heat), one with Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard, Dio) and another with Alan Parsons.

Another monumental event that took place this year was my daughter’s high school graduation this past June. One that, when I think about it now, really puts the big FIVE-OH into perspective. I still remember putting her on the school bus for her very first day back in 2006. Back then, I was on the cusp of turning 37 and thought to myself, “Wow! She will graduate the same year I turn 50. That’s so far away.”

And now here we are.

Still makes me think about my own tenure in the hallowed halls of education and the day I received my first student ID card. This was wayyyy back in 1980. I looked at the reverse side of that card and saw “Year Grad – 1987” printed and thought THAT was a lifetime away. Realizing that by this time next year the card will be 40 years old is simply unbelievable to me.

This past year was also the one where I had to say goodbye to the best dog I’ve ever had — just three days before this monumental birthday. To say that I was devastated is an understatement, but a wonderful tribe of family and friends have made the burden a little bit easier.

So, what’s in store for this next journey around the sun? Well, I’m hard at work on two new books. The first is a prequel to “Neapolitan Sky,” which takes place thirty years before the events of that story. The other is another thriller based on the whole ancestry concept. There is a lot of life left to live, art to create, books to write, interviews to be done and most importantly, love to give freely.

This song always makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it. Does it do the same for you?

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still, and that you’ll never be as old as your parents (my father died at the age of 51)… but then you take a nap and wake up to find yourself in that role.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few days of my 40’s is that it’s no longer about the years left in your life. It’s about the life left in your years.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Jimmy Go: 2018 Year in Review

As a musician and writer, 2018 has been the best of year of my life. Not only did I complete more than 124 interviews for this blog, GuitarWorld.com and AXS.com over the course of these last twelve months, but 2018 also marked a trifecta of amazing milestones for me.

I began this whole writing journey with a single, simple Facebook resolution I made to myself on New Year’s Day in 2011. If you’ve been a regular follower of this blog over the last seven years, you’ll know that its the same one I post every January 1st to remind me of how it all began and just how far I’ve come:

Keeping that promise to myself over these last seven years has been an amazing ride, but 2018 saw three of the biggest, pinch yourself moments ever. Things I only ever dreamed about doing. So, as this year comes to close, I’d like to revisit them one more time.

2018 started out with a trip to Los Angeles in February for a once in a lifetime experience at Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. Not only did I get to jam with two guys from my all-time favorite band, REO Speedwagon, but I also had the rare opportunity to perform on stage with Night Ranger at The Whisky A Go Go! Joining me that night were Craig Goldy (Dio) and three guys, Bobby, Rik and Tom, who I’d never met before but who quickly became friends and bandmates I’ll never forget.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: all the while I was in L.A preparing for Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp, I was also busily putting the finishing touches on something I think every writer dreams about doing, and in May of this year that dream finally came to fruition with the release of my first novella, “Neapolitan Sky.”

The story about Nica Mitchell’s journey actually began in the Summer of 2017 and took nearly six months to complete. It was a labor of love, pain and constant rewrites and second guesses. When I finally put the pen (or in this case, the lid of the laptop) down, I had the good fortune of having more than a dozen of my friends help me by being test/proof readers and editors. Their input and experience was invaluable in getting the story ready for publication. Following the release of “Neapolitan Sky,” I also had two amazingly successful book signings in Bethlehem and New Hope, PA.

Equally as surreal as the physical book was the release of an Audible version, which was read by one of my favorite artists and actresses, Ashley Watkins. Where I had brought the words of Nica Mitchell and her friends to the page, Ashley literally brought them to life!

But perhaps the biggest, and most exciting, event of the year came just a few weeks ago with the release of my first two interviews in the pages of Guitar World magazine. As a guitarist, I’ve been absorbing this magazine like religion every month since 1985. It’s a bible for any aspiring guitarist. Having already been blessed (religion – bible – blessed, get it?) to write for the website for nearly six years, getting the opportunity to contribute content to the physical magazine was another dream come true. When you open the magazine and see your name printed on the page right next to some of your guitar heroes its not only poweful, it’s humbling. Moreover, it’s proof that hard work, networking and kindness pays off.

Next year will mark another major milestone as I’ll be turning fifty years old. But as I look to that day with both fear and wonder I’m reminded that each and every day is part of the journey. Collectively, I look back on these last seven years and can’t believe some of the things I’ve accomplished. I’ve met so many amazingly talented people along the way. Not just actors, musicians, artists and filmmakers. In many cases, these are people who’ve become dear friends to me. Friends I’m proud to have in my life and ones who inspire me to do better.

Here it is in a nutshell: Since 2011, I’ve done nearly 2,000 interviews and articles, released three children’s books with one of my dearest friends, wrote my first novel, and have rounded out 2018 with two interviews published in the pages of Guitar World magazine. Even with all of that it still feels like I’m just getting started. There’s so much more to do, and I can’t wait to get started. As a preview, I already have an interview on deck with Def Leppard, who will be inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. I’m also halfway through my new book, a prequel to “Neapolitan Sky” that’s set in the year 1986!

Please don’t read that last paragraph and think I’m tooting my own horn. I’m nobody special. What I’m trying to say by writing it down is that if I can do it — so can you. Dreams don’t just fall into your lap. You have to go out and make them happen. And sometimes, all that can start with just a simple resolution:

“I’ve resolved to do some writing. So here goes:”

I hope reading this blog will inspire you to do the same thing I did on January 1st, 2011, and that is to make a promise to yourself for 2019. A resolution to do something you’ve always dreamed about. Take the first sentence of my resolution and change the word “writing” to something you’re passionate about. Then go out and make it happen.

Here’s wishing you peace, love, music, art, writing….and all the best for the New Year.

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 – The Final Chapter

“Put out the spotlights one and all. And let the feeling get down to your soul.
The music’s so loud you can hear the sound. Reaching for the sky, churning up the ground. It’s all part of my rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. It’s all part of my rock ‘n’ roll dream.”

~ Paul Rodgers (Bad Company)

I don’t think there’s a better set of words to describe my experience these last four days. A surreality from day one that culminated in a euphoric explosion of emotion when our band performed on stage at the legendary Whisky A Go Go.

My last day at Rock Camp was similar to the three previous days. Upon our arrival, Bobby, Craig, Tom, Rik and I immediately dove in and polished up our Night Ranger song, “When You Close Your Eyes”.  After three or four passes, including a few without vocals, I was confident we were ready. That is, until we entered the jam room with Jack Blades, Brad Gillis and Kelly Keagy.

As the sound tech is hooking up my guitar, I see Brad walk over and point me out.

“Who’s doing the guitar solo — you?”

A tidal wave of fear swept over me, and at that moment I was extremely grateful to have used the bathroom before we walked into the rehearsal room. Our plan was always to let Brad do the solo. None of us had even bothered to learn it. Thankfully, Brad obliged.

As a guitarist, it’s one thing to hear Brad perform on the records, but when he’s standing right next to you — on stage — and you can fully immerse yourself in his savage virtuosity, it’s mind blowing.

Shortly after our final rehearsal, the buses arrived and took us all over to The Whisky.

To try to put into words the feeling of walking into that venue with a guitar in your hand is nearly impossible. I found myself thinking about all the other bands who did the exact same thing — Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Van-Halen, AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses. Then to stand on those hallowed steps as the time came to have your name introduced over the PA — MAGIC.

Our performance was incredible and I credit it all to our amazing counselor, Craig Goldy, and his confidence in us. We had an opportunity to get a keyboard player perform with us at the last minute and Craig nixed it. He wanted Tom and I to be able to transpose those keyboard parts on guitar, and we did.

One of the things Craig kept saying to us during our short time together, and something I’ll take with me always, was this:

“You’re better than you think you are.” 

To get to share the stage with Craig during our final performance was just as good as standing there with the guys from Night Ranger.

Finally, the time had come for our performance with Jack, Brad and Kelly. As a fan of this band since their days as Rubicon, and getting to double the guitar intro to “When You Close Your Eyes” with Brad was life changing.

After our performance, I stood upstairs just soaking in the vibe. It was a roller coaster ride of musical emotion. Of course there were flubs, and for a moment, I thought about what it might have been like if we had an entire week to rehearse. But in the end, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We were five strangers who had to learn three songs in four days and bring them to performance level– and we DID it!

As the time came to say goodbye, I embraced Bobby and Rik. As an East Coast dude, I already knew our chances of performing together again was nil. But this band and experience will stay with me long after the music ends.

Sadly, in the confusion of the evening, I didn’t have the chance to properly say goodbye to Tom and Craig, who had slipped out of sight and into the cool Hollywood night.

“Maybe that’s the way it was always meant to be,” I thought to myself as I stood on the corner of Sunset Blvd outside of The Whisky.

That’s a true rock and roll ending.

Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp – Part 3

It’s all about the music

“Someday, I hope to feel as happy as I did as a kid when the teacher wheeled in the big TV during class,” was something I always used to say.

What’s been happening this weekend has surpassed that feeling a hundredfold.

Yesterday, our band, “Foreo-Speed Ranger” (Get it? Foreigner–Reo Speedwagon–Nigh… ah, never mind). The name’s not really important. What is important is the music. It always has and it always will.

Let’s try this again.

Yesterday, our band spent much of the morning going over songs for our performance with Foreigner’s Jeff Pilson and Bruce Watson, and in preparation for our first live show at The Lucky Strike in Hollywood, CA.

“No pressure,” a voice inside of me says. “You may have taken a break, but you’ve been performing in bands for years. Including a 30-minute set in front of 6,500 people at one of America’s biggest music festivals.”

As the five of us were polishing each one of our Foreigner and Night Ranger songs, we suddenly realized we needed to have a third song in our back pocket. That was when the familiar question all new bandmates ask each other when they first get together:

“What song do you want to do?”

There were watery suggestions to do something from AC/DC, The Black Eyed Peas, The Doors and Bob Seger, but none of them seemed to fit.

Then our guitarist, Tom, started noodling around on something that parted the sea. It was this amazing riff I knew I’d heard before. But there was something else about it that seemed oddly familiar. It was the way that he was playing it.

“What is THAT?” someone asked.

“It’s a Bob Seger song. One that Thin Lizzy covered.”

Be still my heart.

The song fit the band like a glove.

Next up, was our performance of “Dirty White Boy” with Foreigner. Another surreal moment for me as a musician, because Jeff Pilson (who’s also been with Dokken and Dio) is one of the all-time greats. Not only is he a killer bassist, but the guy can play guitar, keyboards and a bunch of other instruments. He’s also an incredible vocalist.

I thought if I could just stand next to him, maybe some of that mojo would rub off on me.

As if all that wasn’t surreal enough, this day was still not over. Before we knew it, we were loading up the van to take us back to the hotel. Only a short time to get something to eat before our ride over to Lucky Strike.

As I entered the venue and strolled down the ramp toward the stage, the childhood memory reappeared. And in my mind, a teacher is rolling into class the most beautiful, state of the art television you’ve ever seen. This would be the first chance to stand on a stage in front of strangers and perform with four guys I met only a few days ago.

Butterflies began to build when I considered what was going to happen, but I brushed them all away. I’ve been down this road before.

But then I thought about something else.

Still on deck – Night Ranger and The Whisky.

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!