SLEEP IN LATE! Bring your clothes for tonight’s performance-you are going straight to THE WHISKY from camp!!
That’s what it said on the Day Four itinerary. Somehow I blew it on Day 3 as we did the same thing and I almost went to the gig wearing my shorts and polo shirt “out-for-a-day-of-golfing” costume. Fortunately, I had grabbed the black rock and roll T-shirt the camp handed out. I wrote my Saturday night look off as “suburban Angus Young.”
The shuttle was picking us up at 9:30 and since I am unable to sleep past 6 am these days, I did what any right-minded person would do who bought the breakfast ticket – tackled the buffet. (Shoutout here to Steven Green who was not in my band but was a guy for whom going to these things is now somewhat of a cottage industry and who I ran into all the time.)
The shuttle picked us up for our last day. You might think that was sad, but no, I’d been there since Wednesday and four days of camp feels just about right. We got there in time to see the great Steve Morse give a Q&A. Morse is one of three guitarists (the other ones being Steve Howe and Eric Johnson) who are in Guitar Player mag’s Hall of Fame. I’ve been following Steve off and on since the Dixie Dregs first appeared in the Seventies and in fact, saw and wrote about that band a while back.
Steve’s talk was open to all in attendance and was funny and insightful. He told us that if you’re a guitar player and you’re too loud in the mix, the sound guy’s gonna cut your volume down. He told us to, essentially, find a space that’s not being filled in the band and make some interesting noise there.
He also told us to let solos breath by playing two bars, then not playing. And lastly, he advised that we guitarists are something like 75% rhythm and 25% melody. (Not sure if those were the exact numbers but close enough for rock and roll.) In other words, we’re not soloing all the time so we’d better be good at rhythm.
I went back to our room for a little while to see if I could get “that sound” out of the amp. Satisfied that I had I went back and caught the last 15 or so minutes of Ian Paice and Steve’s joint Q&A.
After that, we had more band rehearsals but we eventually hit the usual “these-are-good-enough-but-we’re-running-out-of-steam” mode. If you’re in a band for any length, learning a song requires so much rehearsal that you can reach a point where you never wanna hear it again. I think we stopped just short of that.
We then went back to Studio A for our last pre-Whisky jam with Steve and Ian. This is the first time I’ve ever played with two drummers and it is a very powerful thing when you have two excellent drummers behind you. Ian hits the skins like he’s using sledgehammers and it really added a (literal) thump to the band.
Ian and Steve at the Whisky.
We were scheduled for a 5:30 ride to the Whisky and if memory serves, for that last hour or so we just hung out in the open area and shot the breeze. It was nice that the campers were all around a “certain” age. We talked about all kinds of music that we loved from Karen Carpenter’s “Superstar,” to Rita Coolidge, to Delaney and Bonnie. “God,” one guy said, “it’s nice to talk about music and have people know what you’re talking about.” Amen.
And so 5:30 arrives and what do they send for us? A bus! It says that on the itinerary but it didn’t really register with me. A freakin’ rock star bus. Nice touch.
We got to the Whiskey after someone – again – thoughtfully pointed out that we were passing the world-famous Hollywood Bowl. Check. I don’t recall exactly what time we got there but it was relatively early and we had some time to kill. The stage there is pretty big, way bigger than the Viper which, BTW, is about a one-minute walk across the street.
I decided to grab a pre-show bite and needing some alone time, walked up the hill “looking for soul food and a place to eat.” I ran into David Fishof who advised me that the (world-famous) Rainbow Room was just up the street.
So the Roxy, Rainbow Room, Whisky A Go Go, and Viper Room are all within shouting distance of each other. These are legendary places and, I dunno, somehow I was expecting more of a vibe or a scene around this area. It wasn’t by any means dead but it didn’t have that jacked-up “feel” I usually get from a scene in, say, New York. Has this changed over time? Is it me? I don’t know.
I sat at the bar at the Rainbow Room and had a steak and a salad. There was nobody else there so I talked to the woman behind the bar who was maybe my age – more or less – and who complained about the lack of good music these days. Tom Petty came on the radio. “Never much cared for his stuff,” she said. I did. When he last came to Boston a friend said, “Let’s go see him.” Next time I said. Life is short. If I smoked, this would have been a great time for a cigarette.
Vesuvius – name of our band BTW – was scheduled to come on about halfway through the night, so 8 o’clock or so. Our set list (Viper, then Whisky) looked like this: (“Smoke on the Water,” and “Space Truckin’” if you can’t see it.) My post on the story behind “Smoke” is here BTW.
We were going to do two songs but then at the last minute they said, “Hey you can do three.” So we added in “Gimme Shelter.” So, good news and bad news. The good news is we now had another song to play. The bad news is that our guitarist Seth had been playing the song using a second guitar tuned to an open E chord. Which then had to be dropped down another half-step as we had been asked to tune all instruments down for all songs. (Easier to play and/or sing I suppose.)
Alas, the guys who tuned our guitars for us had to work on this for a bit and so we had a good 5-minute+ delay while they sorted that out. Fortunately our counselor Gregg has the gift of Chicago gab and was able to keep the crowd entertained while we all hung around. (For the record, all the campers were introduced by Britt Lightning. She told me we were “amazing.” I hope she wasn’t just being polite. Such a sweet gal.)
Finally, we got Seth his correctly tuned guitar and launched into “Gimme Shelter.” I guess the other good news is that I got to solo on this one. The sound guy didn’t have me turned all the way up and in the commotion, I did not have the foresight to point at the sound guy to jack me up. So when you hear it, you’ll have to strain to hear my stuff. But that’s ok because I think the band was pretty damn hot and as Steve Morse reminded us, it’s all about the band not any one of us.
By now you wanna hear this shit, right? Ok, so quick explainer – the camp sent all the Whisky videos out to all the bands a day or two ago. One of our guys, Alan, works at a studio. So he took the original “Gimme Shelter” and sweetened it so, frankly, we all sound better. I am the other bespectacled, white-haired dude wearing the Duane Allman t-shirt, soloing in the back throughout the tune. (Right behind Cathy.)
Be kind when you hear these. We are a band who had been together for two days.
As one of my fellow campers said on Facebook, “Whether you were turned down in the mix or not, it’s partially about whether you thought you played well. A lot of people would freeze in that position. You rocked, give yourself a hand.” Point taken.
Next up – “Smoke On the Water.” Originally didn’t wanna do it but what the heck. Fun to play:
The Deep Purple guys join us on the last number, drums, and guitar for “Space Truckin’. The reason those sound guys come running on stage at about 18:00 is that the thunderous drums knocked over the bass cabinet. Or something like that. Shit happens. Seth nails the Blackmore solos.
So how, you might ask, was it do this? Are you fucking kidding me? What do YOU think? It was the bucket list event of a lifetime. It was all I could ask for and more. I jam with guys from Yes, Stones, Allmans, Deep Purple, Buddy Rich’s band, Buddy Rich’s daughter! I meet a lot of great people who really love music and enjoy playing? Fuck me, it was incredible.
The bus was heading back to the hotel at 11:30 but I had a 6am flight back to Boston, leaving about 4 hours of sleep so I grabbed an Uber. We managed to get a group picture but I’m not sure where that is. Everybody hugged everybody, I walked out into the night, jumped in the Uber and sailed off into the night down Sunset Boulevard. (I think. I’ve been to California, like, four times.)
And then, sadly, it was over. Not all things come to an end, says Elvis Costello, now it is only a chosen few.
So, the question you’re asking is, Would I do it again? If you’d asked me the very next day I would have said ‘no,’ simply because, well, been there, done that. Plus this was a $5k trip. The next time I’m able to come up with that kind of cash, I think it would somewhat behoove me to take Mrs. Music Enthusiast someplace nice. Plus that amount of money buys a lot of equipment and/or guitar lessons. Maybe in five years. And maybe Carlos Santana and Peter Green are there. Or I get in a time machine and jam with Becker and Fagen.
I haven’t picked up the guitar once in the week I’ve been back. Why? Two reasons – one is that I was playing night and day for months prior to this camp. I felt a little carpal tunnel coming on so I’m giving it a rest.
Also, frankly, I’m not quite sure what to do next. I’m not going to form a band. I don’t know too many guys my age willing and able to rehearse and jam out regularly. Plus, who would book us? The Elks Club? So I see my band future as maybe an occasional pick-up jam and not much more than that. I know a guy who wants to play some jazz with me. Ok, but let’s lean towards the blues side of it and not so much the bebop side.
But as far as a return visit someday, well, as the song says, Never. Say. Never.
And. Dare to Dream
Oh, and be sure to check out Homer at rock fantasy camp. Now that’s the shit.