The Rock 'n Roll Fantasy Camp

Hollywood, February 15-19, 2007


Day One (02/15/2007)

Oh my God… OH MY GOD!!! I'm starting the writing of this blog at 1:15am on Day Two, having returned from the long first day that included after-hours drinks in the hotel bar. I am so full of adrenalin it's going to be a miracle if I can somehow manage to go to sleep tonight! But I know my readers want details, so here goes…

Shortly after my last blog concluded I went downstairs and boarded the shuttle van for the ~1 mile drive to SIR Studios on Sunset Blvd. Upon arrival I was surprised to see that about two dozen of the 85 total campers were already there – most in the Gibson room selecting/tuning their choice of guitar (not applicable for a keyboardist like me). As it is, I circulated from room-to-room listening to folks warm-up… and I was pleasantly surprised to find many very good players here.

At the stroke of 2pm we were summoned into Studio One – where we later found-out that the Police rehearsed in the week prior to last Sunday's Grammy Awards telecast – and auditions commenced. I ended-up playing near the end, which didn't help my nerves… but, due to an unexpected snafu didn't actually have time to get nervous. Here's what happened:

With only about four songs remaining, they called the camper numbers to perform "Sister Christian" by Night Ranger (mine was #29 - but it was NOT called). I walked-up on stage and asked Lynn Hoffman (of VH-1) if she'd goofed and whether or not my name was on the list. It was not… yet that was my piece. She asked what instrument I played; I responded "keys"; she was standing near a spare electric piano and said "have at it". Teddy Andreadis (of Guns 'n Roses and Alice Cooper) was on the opposite keyboard bank and asked if I was going to cover the piano part (I replied "yes) – I then asked if everyone was ready, and began the solo piano intro.

In a word, it was smashing! Kelly Keagy, the composer of the song, was playing drums along with me over my left shoulder – and we drew an excellent female vocalist to sing the lead. I blew a couple of inaudible timing cues, but otherwise was spot-on. And while a lot of the bands had their songs cut short for timing purposes, we were able to do the entire thing. My entire trip to Fantasy Camp was then made worthwhile, when upon finishing, Kelly said "I think we've just found the next member of Night Ranger"… and as I'm walking offstage Teddy points to me and shouts "I need to get with you – you plays it better than me, and I want pointers!". To say I was beaming was an understatement… and because of the scheduling snafu I didn't have time to get nervous just prior to playing. It just went. As though I was one of the pros.

Auditions finished right at about 5pm, at which time genius guitarist Steve Vai wandered-into the room to field 45-50min of questions, followed by a two-song jam (which was then followed by the most immensely-long autograph line you could imagine… while I didn't want an autograph, I did at the very end get a photo made with him – which I will post as soon as I return home to Florida). While aware of Steve's reputation, this was the first time I'd gotten to hear him perform live (and see him up close). Despite not being a guitarist, he blew me away! Steve's not human – he makes the guitar do things I didn't think possible. NOW I understand why he's held in such high regard!

Steve Vai giving the Camper's a post Q&A concert!
Steve Vai had a 45min Q&A session with all of the campers
Getting to meet and shake hands with Steve Vai was a real treat for me!
Select Photos © Rebecca King, 2007, All Rights Reserved

During Steve's session, the various counselors were sequestered so hey could pick their bands – with personnel announcements to be made following dinner.

Once Steve finished, we all adjourned to the bar-area on the opposite side of the studio complex (this gave the staff time to setup for dinner). It was a good chance to mix-n-mingle… I had a chance to say "hi" to Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go's (who gave me a big hug when she realized who I was from my MySpace page); same can be said for Lynn Hoffman (of VH-1); I also got to chat with Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan) and tell him that our mutual friend Ada Goldberg said "hi" (Ada – he says "hi" back, and is looking forward to seeing you Monday night). Spent a little time chatting with Spike Edney (keyboardist for Queen)Gary Burr (songwriter supreme) and also Simon Kirke (of Bad Company). As has been said by all previous alumni, these rock stars are infinitely approachable. It's really quite amazing. Whilst sipping our adult beverages lovely model-types were circulating with all kinds of fresh sushi appetizers. Ah, the life of a rock star!  ;-)

Lynn and I are pleasantly surprised by the sushi appetizers!

Dinner was served – buffet style Italian, with pasta, eggplant parmesan, sort of a faux osso bucco, caesar salad, garlic bread, and flavored cheesecake desserts. It was really much better than I expected! Then, when finished, Camp Creator David Fishof came-out in full KISS (the band) makeup to do all of his personnel introductions; then Lynn and Kelly took-over hosting so each counselor could call-up their new bandmates. I've been assigned to Mark Slaughter's band – and, to my joyful surprise, am quite happy to have drawn VERY competent musicians. Honestly, I think we do stand a pretty good chance of winning Monday night's "Battle of the Bands."

Mark Slaughter's Band is announced by Kelly Keagy
Half of what will eventually become "Rogue Scholars"
Getting interviewed by the lovely Lynn Hoffman was SOO much fun!
The Counselors closed-out the first night's events with a jam!
David Fishof... the newest member of KISS! lol
The first night's Counselor Jam with Spike Edney, Mark Slaughter, and Kelly Keagy
Counselor Jam vocals provided by Jane Wiedlin, Sandy Gennaro, and Kelly Keagy
Select Photos © Rebecca King, 2007, All Rights Reserved

That said, my second biggest surprise of the day was how well auditions went. There were a few blown timing cues and a couple of guitars that were out of tune – but, overall, it was shockingly good across-the-board for a bunch of non-pro musicians to just take the stage and play cold with others. It definitely caught me off-guard – so much so that I cornered David late in the evening and asked if it was peculiar (to which he replied "yes" – and that all the counselors had commented that it may be the strongest group of amateur musicians they'd seen to date).

So, you're wondering, if that was the "second" biggest surprise, what's the first biggest? A very quick history before spilling the beans: I was explaining to David about my screen name "Tarkus" and my ELP "Brain Salad Surgery" tee shirt that I was wearing – and I described my love of the music of Keith Emerson and that I cover a pretty substantial part of the ELP library. He seemed surprised(eh, "Sister Christian" doesn't hint at that capability) – then proceeded to tell me that I might want to consider coming to the late-August Fantasy Camp when it returns to New York City. I told him, sadly, that this one would likely blow my financial wad, and that I really couldn't consider doing another so soon… to which he retorts that in the past couple of days CARL PALMER (yeah, THAT Palmer, ofEmerson Lake & Palmer) is now a confirmed counselor for NYC. With that, my eyes started welling-up… and I summoned over one of my band's drummers (who is also a Carl fanatic from when he first saw him live in '71) to give him the news. Suffice to say, neither of us have the time or the money to go – but we both will be there. I don't care if I have to max-out my credit cards, to have a chance to jam ELP classics with Carl Palmer over a five day period… well, all I can say is that I could die a happy man shortly after doing-so. It was the capper to a truly spectacular evening. I had very VERY high expectations about Fantasy Camp – it delivered, and then some!

So, as I look at my computer clock I note that it's now 4:40am back home, and 1:40am here in SoCal. I must have really large quantities of adrenalin coursing through me, because despite being tired I'm still not ready to go to sleep. I'm incredibly wired.

Tomorrow (actually, later this morning) will find us VERY busy. First order is for each counselor to randomly select one Beach Boyssong (to be performed with Brian Wilson on the second-to-the-last night) – and a KISS song (to be performed with Paul Stanley as one of two songs to be done by each band at the House of Blues on Monday). We'll then pick the other song to be done, and name our band. Oh, and once those are handled, we'll set-about composing an original tune. Yeah, we've got our hands-full… but I have the very highest confidence in my bandmates!

Bret Michaels (of Poison) and Scott Ian (of Anthrax) are due to visit the various rehearsal studios mid-afternoon. Also, Jeff Foskett(musical director for Brian Wilson) will visit each studio to rehearse each band on their selected Beach Boys tune. Master classes commence after dinner, with late night jams rounding-out the evening.

With that, lemme close, publish, and then try to catch some fitful sleep. Man, if the first day was this good, what am I going to be saying at the end of Day Two?

In a word, this thing is "incredible" – I wish all of you could have the chance to do this!

G'nite everybody – will check back with you either this time tomorrow night or (more likely) early Saturday morning. Until then…

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