30 Days in April: A Drummer’s Perspective on the Halestorm/Lita Ford/Dorothy Tour

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Gillioz Theater – Springfield, MO
(pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios)

In April of 2016, we were back in the bus and on arena and theater stages around the country with the Halestorm/Lita Ford/Dorothy tour. By all accounts, it was a hell of a show; three female-fronted bands, each with their own special vibe, and in their own unique place on their journey. Halestorm – currently on top of the hard rock heap – headlined, as they anchored a solid draw and delivered an enthralling, high-energy show nightly. We (Lita Ford) took the middle slot featuring L.F.F. as the iconic trailblazer, with her band of “veteran arena rockers,” I suppose. And ass-kicking newcomers, Dorothy, opened with a bang every night, featuring (as I heard someone say) an “Etta James fronting Black Sabbath” kind of flavor.

All in all, it was a great night of rock music, performed with a rare conviction by a cast of real-deal players. It was also an exceedingly harmonious endeavor, thanks mainly to the generous and professional tone set by the Halestorm camp. It didn’t take long for all three bands to merge as one nomadic pack of highway wanderers, with buses, trucks, and trailers rolling across the country like the Ringling Brothers on ritalin. We even got in a groove of doing a little “special guesting” during each others sets. (More on that shortly.)

Gotta love the road… especially when business is brisk, shit is selling out, and audiences are walking away happy. So let’s get behind the scenes, from this drummer’s perspective, and check out the highly-dense, uptempo slice of reality that is road life:

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My partners in crime, L to R: Patrick Kennison, Lita Fucking Ford, and Marty O’Brien
(pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios)
johnsoncitypic by Kevin R Hatfield
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pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios

 

The Cub-Man in the House!

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My long-time drum tech, Cubby Hubschmitt, has done virtually every major tour I’ve done over the past 28 years – including the majority of my 900-plus drum clinics. He tried a “semi-retirement” up in Oregon for the past few years, but decided he wanted a bit more punishment. It was a pleasure to have my “main motherfucker” back on board for this tour. He remains one of the best in the business… and a loyal, lifelong friend.

Home

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Our home away from home; The Bus
(pic from the Marty O’Brien Collection)

Buses are a strange thing to call home, but you get used to it. And you better get used to sleeping on them, as well. We would usually travel through the night to the next city, so getting some sleep was imperative… especially since my daily training regimen would usually kick in sometime in the late morning. (More on that in a sec…)

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Kickin’ it in the rear lounge… with black socks

Zenning

A time-honored tradition I’ve established with virtually every band I’ve played with over the past 25 years is a pre-show ritual we call “Zenning.” This is simply a matter of getting everyone together about 5 minutes before showtime and taking a few seconds to let go of all mental clutter and get centered into the present.  (Almost like a brief, group meditation.)  It also gives all the bandmembers a chance to energetically “align” with one another right before hitting the stage, since we don’t always see much of each other during the day, and everyone is usually engaged in their own independent pre-show ritual every night.

We almost always do this in the privacy of our dressing room.  However, we are sometimes forced to do a “quick zen” on the side of the stage, which the following photo captures. This is one of the only pics I’ve ever seen of “Zenning,” so I figured I would share it here:

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Inaction – in action.

I Love Arenas

There are certain attributes about every kind of venue – from various sized clubs, to old school theaters, to pristine casino showrooms, to performing arts centers, to outdoor festivals, to cavernous hockey or basketball arenas – that make each one a unique playing experience. I love ’em all, actually… but I really love playing arenas. These are the venues where I probably feel most in my “natural environment,” as our bassist, Marty O’Brien, often jokes. Whenever I walk across one of those spacious stages before soundcheck, Marty says (with the tone and cadence of a narrator on one of those National Geographic specials): “Here we see Bobby Rock in his natural environment – the arena – getting ready to play his ass off tonight.” Pretty funny shit… but true. The vibe, the energy, the space, the sonics… and my long history with these venues, both as a young concert goer and longtime performer, all make them a sentimental fave. Fortunately, we had occasion to hit some cool arenas on this run. Always a blast.

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Freedom Hall Civic Center – Johnson City, TN

No matter the venue, though, I’ve gotten in a habit of documenting many of the places we play with a “drummer’s perspective” pic, shot from behind the drums, usually during soundcheck, but sometimes during the show.  Here are a few “perspectives” for you:

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Santander Arena – Reading, PA
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Later that night during “Close My Eyes Forever,” with smartphones ablaze
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Taft Theater – Cincinnati, OH
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Exchange Park Fairgrounds – Ladson, SC
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Hard Rock Live – Biloxi, MS
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Club Brady – Tulsa, OK
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Mark C. Smith Concert Hall – Huntsville, AL
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Fargo Civic Center – Fargo, ND
(Soundcheck and show perspectives)

Sometimes, just to be “cute,” I would take a showtime perspective shot during the drum solo, while playing some sort of double-bass/double hi-hat pattern with my feet. This prompted some folks to ask if I’m actually taking a photo, or just raising my iPhone for dramatic effect.  Say what?  Of course I’m taking a photo!

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Snapping a shot during the drum solo
(The Egyptian Room – Indianapolis, IN)
Here’s a solo I played in Cincinnati that includes an example of such a photo opp, plus the special benefits of having a custom rack, held together by chains:
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Heavy chains = rough handling of rack!

 

Drum Solos R Us!

Speaking of drumming and drum solos, this was a great tour for drummers. Dorothy’s drummer, Zac Morris, would give his kit a sound thrashing every night to get things going, as he laid down a heavy pocket with their set. Then I would do my thing with Lita, which would always include a solo spot.  Then Arejay Hale would play his ass off during the Halestorm set, while keeping “the art of the drum solo” alive for a new generation of drummers with a show-stopping, super-entertaining solo every night.

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With Arejay Hale, my “little brother from another mother”

One gratifying, reoccurring theme of this tour was running into various drummers who had been affected by some of my earlier educational work (books, vids, drum clinics), namely my first book/vid, “Metalmorphosis.” I did that project untold years ago, but it’s really nice to see that the residual effects of the work have reverberated through a generation (or two!) of drummers since. To my surprise, it turns out that a young Arejay Hale was influenced by “Metalmorphosis” way back in the early days of his development, and he always made a big fuss about it to everyone – audiences included! – which I thought was extremely gracious of him.

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Arejay and me with Stuart Whitten, who showed up in Johnson City with an original edition of
“The Metalmorphosis Workbook,” which was released with the video way back in the day

Around show #3, Arejay asked if I wanted to join him for a “duet” during his solo. Well, of course I did! So we got together at soundcheck and Arejay suggested a basic solo structure that we would work from every night, starting with him on the marching tenors and me on his kit, then him joining me on the kit to “double-drum” it. So we just ran it down a couple times that afternoon, then never really discussed it again; I would just show up during his solo every night for the rest of the tour and we would let that shit unfold.  We had a blast playing together, and the audiences seemed to really dig it, as well.

Here’s a clip of our duet from the Fargo, ND show:

Honorable mention must go to Zac Morris, drummer for Dorothy.  This guy can really fucking play, and it was always cool to catch some of the Dorothy set. In fact, Arejay even invited Zac to join us in our drum solo segment for the last week-and-a-half of the tour. He slayed it.

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Dorothy’s Zac Morris had a tendency to bust open a knuckle or two
some nights, which turned his kit into a scene out of
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” That’s rock, people!

All in the Family

I spoke earlier about the indelible bond between all the bands that took place during this tour. So in addition to Zac and I joining Arejay during his solo, and Dorothy Martin joining Halestorm for a version of the classic “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” Lita brought both Dorothy Martin and Lzzy Hale to the stage with us during several shows to jam. We would usually do The Runaways’ classic, “Cherry Bomb,” with both of the girls. And then Lzzy would throw on her double-neck and do “Close My Eyes Forever” with us, handling Ozzy’s vocal part. Epic shit!

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Lzzy and Lita: The double, double-neck effect!
(pic courtesy of Livewire)
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Lzzy Hale, Lita Ford, and Dorothy Martin, throwin’ that shit down
(pic courtesy of Livewire)

Here’s a clip from Webster Hall in New York of all of us jamming on “Cherry Bomb.”

Halestorm always delivered the goods with their set. I also liked how they changed their setlist around nightly. This is one smokin’-ass band…

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Joe Hottinger (gtr), Lzzy, Arejay, and Josh Smith (bass)

Killer Crew

We had a world-class crew with us on this run, that’s for damn sure. In addition to the Cub – as mentioned at the top of this post – we had Tom Winch taking care of both tour manager and soundman duties, and the incomparable Takumi Suetsugu handling guitars and bass. A killer crew, indeed…

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Lita with our fearless ringleader, Tom Winch
(pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios)
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Takumi, with Lita’s babies, Churrito (left) and Rascal (right)
(pic from the Marty O’Brien Collection)
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Churrito, filling in for our regular driver, Big James Cooper…

A Bit More About the Drums

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Most of the touring I’ve done with Lita Ford over the past few years has been what we call “fly dates.” This means we fly into a given city for a show and rely on gear provided for us by the promoter, based on a meticulously detailed rider. It’s part of the new economics of touring these days and, generally, it works out okay.

However, when you’re back on a bus, that means you get to drag all of your own shit around the country and play on your own gear every night. This is preferred! And this also warranted a new kit from my longtime friends and colleagues at DW. Basic black and chrome badness, with a custom rack reinforced with cold, steel chains.

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My custom “chain-drive” rack system enabled me to knock over various sections of the kit at will…
without my precious drums actually having to face injury from high-velocity stage contact!

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This tour also warranted a new touring set of Sabian cymbals, as this year marks my 30th anniversary as an endorser for the world’s greatest cymbal manufacturer. We topped things off with fresh rounds of heads from the gang at Aquarian, and plenty of Bobby Rock model sticks from my friends at Pro Mark. I proudly have well over 25 years with both of those companies, as well. (More details about the drums and cymbals in a future “gear-head” post.)

Training on the Road

My workout regimen changes very little when I’m touring. I basically train every day, grabbing the occasional day off when unfavorable logistics win out, or if I feel like my body can use a rest day…

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Hittin’ the weights with Arejay by day, so we can pound some drums at night…

Contrary to the way it was back in the old days, many musicians actually try to stay in shape on the road these days. This was certainly the case for some of my Halestorm/Dorothy tour-mates. Candice Rukes (Dorothy’s tour manager) would scout out – and get us passes to – a good place to train near the venue, then she would text us the details. Then, depending on everyone’s schedule that day, we might train together, or separately.  Either way, a good workout was generally “right around the corner.”

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Post workout with the gang
L to R: Candice Rukes (Dorothy TM); DJ Black (Dorothy gtr.); Arejay; me;
Gregg Cash (Dorothy bassist); and club host, Big Jay Eaton

I also love to run, especially on tour. We so often get in a rut of airport-hotel-venue-hotel-airport, or in the case of a bus tour, this venue-to that venue. Going on a local run gives you a chance to experience other aspects of a city, and I almost always “run across” cool shit wherever we go.  Trails, public parks, riverfront paths, or even interesting residential or downtown areas… there’s a lot of beauty out there. And the double-whammy of cardio conditioning and fresh-air head-clearing that running offers is essential in keeping both your mind and body together while touring. (Each run is usually between five and seven miles… which is plenty long to scope out a bunch of cool shit.)

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Two sides of Tulsa, near the gig:
Riverfront trails and old school streets…

Eating on the Road

I’ve been vegan since the early-90s, so people are always wondering how I fare on the road with such a “limited” eating regimen.  As usual, I say, “no problemo.”  While avoiding all animal products (yes, this also means no fish, dairy or eggs) can be a bit of a challenge at times, with a little advanced planning, it’s never an issue.

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Stocking up before an extended tour

When you’re away from home for a solid month, you’ve gotta stock up on the killer vegan food and supplement rations. Of special note here are the four canisters of “custom blend” nutritional powder, which I tap into twice daily: 2 scoops in the AM with my morning fruit smoothie; then 1 scoop with various fruits and vegetables after the show…. all blended together with my trusty NutriBullet. (My Vita-Mix at home is still the preferred tool for this kind of thing, but these NutriBullets do the trick very well on the road.)

Supps include digestive enzymes, multi-antioxidant tabs, and a big bag of spirulina pills. (Can’t get too much of that super-green power.) The rice and soup are for throw-together meals, and the vegan jerky is for a little extra protein when there’s not much else around but vegetables and rice or pasta.

The variety of Cliff bars, whole-grain cereal, and trail mix round things out for snacks throughout the day. Fresh fruits and veggies, of course, are provided at the gig every day. And in most cases, a very generous and talented chef will prepare a special vegan meal for me at the gig. This is always appreciated! Otherwise, there is usually some kind of pasta, rice, or bean-based dish in catering that I can have for dinner.

And because people ask me all the time, let me say this: you cannot only maintain muscle mass and enjoy peak performance capability with this regimen, but you can make gains, as well. Been doing things this way since 1993. The only catch? Make sure you get enough calories to support the desired bodyweight. No need for protein from animal sources. Your body will absolutely thrive from a plant-based diet, if you do it right…

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A welcomed site on tour! Time to stock up…

In Closing

Wow… this has been one long-ass post! Just imagine what it was like out there – in it – every day. Life on the road offers an unparalleled density, as so much happens in such a compressed period of time. Can’t wait for the next bus tour. Until then, it’s time to fly…

For the record, here was our itinerary for the month:

Halestorm /Lita Ford/Dorothy Tour

Apr 1 – Reading, PA – Santander Arena

Apr 2 – Hampton Beach, NH – Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom

Apr 3 – Hampton Beach, NH – Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom (*2nd show added)

Apr 5 – Huntington, WV – Big Sandy Superstore Arena

Apr 6 – Lexington, KY – Singletary Center for the Arts

Apr 7 – Raleigh, NC – Ritz Raleigh

Apr 9 – Biloxi, MS – Hard Rock Live Biloxi

Apr 11 – Springfield, MO – Gillioz Theatre

Apr 12 – Tulsa, OK – Club Brady

Apr 13 – Wichita, KS – Cotillion Ballroom

Apr 15 – Fargo, ND – Fargo Civic Center

Apr 16 – Sioux City, IA – Hard Rock Live ‘Sioux City’

Apr 17 – Dubuque, IA – Diamond Jo Casino

Apr 19 – Huntsville, AL – Mark C. Smith Concert Hall

Apr 20 – Spartanburg, SC -Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium

Apr 21 – Johnson City, TN – Freedom Hall Civic Center Freedom Hall Civic Center

Apr 23 – St Petersburg, FL at State Theatre

Apr 24 – Ladson, SC at Exchange Park Fairgrounds (WYBB RockFest – Breaking Benjamin, Halestorm and many others…)

Apr 25 – Norfolk, VA at NorVa Theatre

Apr 27 – New York, NY at Webster Hall

Apr 29 – Cincinnati, OH at Taft Theatre

Apr 30 – Indianapolis, IN at The Egyptian Room

A Few More Shots…

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Hittin’
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Sunset in Tennessee, behind the arena
(pic from the Marty O’Brien Collection)
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Full house in Springfield
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pic by Gary Brown for Shovelhead Studios
13062050_10153658123982992_2829272212471686056_nSaying good night…
Posted in Beautiful Drum Music, Exercise, The Artist Realm, Veganism/Animal Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

In Pursuit of Virtuosity

I have nothing against DJs, turntables, programmed music, or hip-hop culture. I recognize these are legitimate modes of creative expression, and there are many men and women out there doing great things within each of these modalities. That said, I do hope that the sacred reverence for truly mastering traditional instruments in various genres remains a priority for our future generations, as well. True, there are many young musicians out there right now, carrying a torch for this very notion. The challenge – as I see it – is that there is an increasingly smaller “market” out there for audiences who will appreciate and support this kind of musicianship, and also that the music industry itself is in the middle of a crucial reinvention in terms of how musicians can actually earn any kind of a living.

Me? I come from a different era. And for all I love about modern technology and the way things are now… I would not – under any circumstances – trade my experiences “back in the good ol’ days” for what we have now. Again, no offense to the present.  I love so much about how things are these days.  It’s just that… man! The 70s and 80s were such a primo time to be a music lover and a young musician.There was a profound simplicity to our process of experiencing music. Driving to the record store; filing through all those albums before finally selecting one or two; heading back home; tearing off the plastic; sliding that shiny vinyl out of the jacket before placing it on the turntable; easing the stylus onto the record and listening as the crackle of the needle to wax merges into the opening song; then reading every word and devouring every photo on the album cover and inner sleeve. Damn! It was always an experience.

And for that matter, so was closing the door to the inner-universe of the practice room and practicing all those hours. Headphones nearby, perhaps a drum book or two, the ever-present metronome, a gallon of water and a towel… and all of those uninterrupted hours of monotonous woodshedding.  No one calling or texting (no cell phones back then!). No 800 channels on the tele or world-wide web beckoning. Just endless hours of time to devote to your craft. Ahhh, the good ol’ days, indeed.

To this very day, I still love the idea that a great player of any instrument can spontaneously create a performance that actually raises the vibration of all who experience it. This is the essence of great art… that we are, in at least some small way, forever affected, inspired, and uplifted by something created by another… as a direct result of the crazy amount of hours, life experience, and due diligence they have invested in their craft. To me, it is a noble, altruistic, and worthwhile notion… this idea of dedicating a big part of your life to such a thing.

My latest book, Zentauria: My Season in the Warrior Utopia, explores this notion in many of the journal entries that comprise the book. Zentauria is essentially a detailed journey into the mind, body, and soul of an enlightened society, where music, art, and all forms of such creative expression hold as high a place in their world as anything else. Today’s excerpt features an extensive interaction with one of the world’s most gifted musicians… as many of my influences and inspirations are revealed in the process.

All hail the virtuoso!

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Virtuoso

Day 30 – 3:13 AM (Guest Quarters)

Entry Preface: It was the early eighties at a crowded nightclub in Houston, and I was slouched down in my chair in stunned silence. As my father paid the tab and the rest of the crowd slowly shuffled out of the smoky joint, I was attempting to digest what I had just witnessed. From an aerial view in the balcony, we had just been treated to the great Buddy Rich and his orchestra, and I had watched every move he made on that modest set of white pearl Ludwigs. The hummingbird left hand, fluttering about the snare; the liquid right hand, a blur on the ride cymbal; the jackhammer bass drum pedal, the dancing hi-hat foot, the exploding crashes… the thundering toms, the swinging grooves, the Zen-like effortlessness… all reverberating in my mind’s eye with crystal clarity. I had just been to the mountaintop.

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The main man… Buddy Rich

It was a quiet ride home because, after all, what can you say in the aftermath of an experience that would have such a profound, long-lasting effect? I was trying to process that unique combination of furious inspiration and hopeless discouragement. Depending on what side of the fence you’re on, you either want to practice eight hours a day or pick up another instrument. I chose the former.

There was no doubt that the Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple triumvirate got me into the practice room and behind the drums. But it would be an elite cast of virtuosos who would keep me there for hours at a time. This love affair with the practice room led me to this observation:

There is an old cliché that is centered around having something about your life that
makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. I say, there should be
something about your life that keeps you from getting to bed at night…

* * * * * * * *

This afternoon, I witnessed one of the single most impressive musicians I have ever seen. Her name is Bella Musashi, and she is just ridiculous. Here’s the quick rundown.

My first week here, I was walking by a small café off of 7th Avenue one evening, when some of the craziest contemporary solo classical piano imaginable came spilling out onto the street. I stepped in and asked the first person I saw, “Who in the hell is this?”

Some guy explained that it was Bella Musashi, one of Zentauria’s most celebrated artists, and that they were listening to her latest release. He then told me where and when her observation periods were and encouraged me to go and check her out. “To see her play this stuff live, my friend,” this guy said, “…it’s unreal.” I didn’t doubt it.

So finally, after running into her around the Drexel several times now, I navigated my way through a maze of hallways, practice rooms, and offices to eventually find Bella Musashi seated on a small stage behind a massive black grand piano, holding court in her studio with three dozen music students seated around her.

With classic Japanese features and a petite build, her shimmering black hair spilled down to her waist. She was dressed casually in jeans and a plain orange T-shirt, already in the middle of a piece when I grabbed a chair in the back of the room. Her spidery hands were pummeling the keys with such blunt force, blinding speed, and emotional fire that it was almost shocking to hear such a wall of fury coming out of such a fragile physical presence. The stuff she was playing was so advanced, both harmonically and rhythmically, it was difficult to discern at times what key or time signature she was in. Both hands seemed fully independent from the other, creating the illusion that, quite literally, two people were wailing away at that piano simultaneously, each playing a different song.

And yet, it was far from atonal or free-form. There was a searing musicality to all that she played, and several repeated motifs throughout the piece ensured it was a composition with a fairly standard form. But the trippy thing was, she looked mildly possessed as she played, with her eyes either crinkled shut or transfixed on something against the back wall the whole time, not even watching her hands.

Afterward, everyone politely applauded, but I stood up in the back, shaking my head, clapping loudly.

She looked over at me and said, “Oh, Bobby Rock! So nice of you to drop by.” The students all turned around with smiles and nods.

“Wow… what you just played was crazy!” I said, taking my seat.

“Thank you,” she said with a clasp of her hands in front of her chest and a subtle bow. “Make yourself comfortable here.”

She proceeded to answer questions from the audience and, when appropriate, demonstrated things at the big daddy Bösendorfer. Her voice was calm and clear as she spoke textbook English with perfect enunciation.

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photo by Rüdiger Wölk

Then, when a student asked about how her early jazz influences affected her approach today, she talked a bit about legendary jazz pianists Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson, and then launched into a blistering version of the Charlie Parker classic, “Scrapple From the Apple.” She played most of the head in octaves before kicking into a few choruses of left-handed walking bass and right-handed soloing. It was killer! I was immediately transported thirty years prior to my own time as a college student, watching a young virtuoso Japanese pianist burn down the house at the Berklee Performance Center a few times per semester. I just had to know something.

I raised my hand. “Bella, I’m sure this is a long shot, but did you ever know of a Japanese pianist named Makoto Ozone?”

Her eyes widened. “You know about Makoto?”

“Yes! We both went to the same conservatory for a time, but he was a few years older. You know him?”

“Oh, my God!” she said, spinning around on her stool to face me. “Makoto was a legend! One of my early teachers used to visit the east coast of America every year, and he would return with cassette tapes of Makoto playing at Berklee!”

“No way! I was probably at some of those shows!”

I then asked her about a particular concert he did in a duo format with an upright bassist, and made reference to their scorching version of the classic Dizzy Gillespie tune, “Salt Peanuts.”

Again, her eyes widened, “Wow, Bobby, I can’t believe you know that!” Then she spun back around on her stool, stormed through the head, then began playing the piano solo—as best as I could recall from my worn-out old cassette copy—note-for-fucking-note as Makoto played it, pausing intermittently if she needed a moment to remember some part of a passage. Astounding!

After she finished, we all clapped our heads off; then I asked her how she possibly still remembered it.

“Well, I have kind of a photographic memory when it comes to music.”

I guess the fuck so.

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Some of the most jaw-dropping performances I have ever seen
were complements of this guy right here; Makoto Ozone

For the next fifteen minutes, Bella talked at length about Makoto’s influence on her playing. She demonstrated key examples of his technique and improvisational style, then tied it all back to more Tatum and Peterson references. It was a hell of a segment. And again, it was time warp central around here as my common bonds with these people continued to surface… even in the most unlikely and unusual ways. Makoto and those old Performance Center tapes were a huge source of inspiration for me. What are the odds that both Bella and I, living on opposite ends of the globe, could’ve been so moved by such utterly obscure recordings?

After class was over, I joined her onstage to give her a hug and tell her how blown away I was with her playing. As we stood and talked for a moment, I couldn’t help but notice how large her hands were, relative to the rest of her body. I casually reached for one of her hands and placed it palm-to-palm against one of mine. Her fingers were actually longer. Incredible, given that I outweigh her by 100 pounds! She laughed it off and said that she’s tried to make the best of her “deformity” through the years.

She invited me back to her spacious private study for a cup of green tea. It was adjoined to the presentation room, much like mine was, and wall-to-wall with old vinyl records, tapes, CDs, scores, and method books. We’re talking thousands of titles here. There was another grand piano in this room, along with a small bank of keyboards, a couple desktop computers, and a small monitor system. I could tell she spent a lot of hours in here every day, so I asked questions about her process.

She said that she meditates from 4:00 to 5:00 AM every morning, eats a light breakfast, then practices piano from 5:15 to 11:45, taking a fifteen-minute break every two hours. After lunch, she spends the afternoon teaching, doing kung fu or yoga, going out for a jog, or taking care of other “normal life stuff.” Then she has 5:00 to 8:00 PM earmarked for composition, violin practice, or doing sessions, followed by her final two hours of piano practice, starting at 9:00 PM. That’s eight hours a day of piano, six days a week, plus all of her other musical activities. Her efforts bore the sweetest fruit. Saturdays, by the way, were completely “free form,” as she called it.

I asked her more specifically about what she’s been working on with those keyboards, and she sprang up to give me a demo. She hit a single power button and everything lit up, including the two separate computer monitors. She told me she’s been composing music for a documentary about Joseph Campbell and was having “a blast” blending a variety of musical styles with samples of authentic instruments from the respective mythological eras the film covered. Just then, an interview of Campbell popped up on the screen, and a richly textured orchestral piece with a decidedly Asian undertone kicked in. She then began improvising on a keyboard with a remarkable Chinese flute patch; it sounded both breathy and hollow, as if someone was actually blowing into it.

This led to a discussion about some of the advanced technologies they had created here in Zentauria to replicate key sounds. “For example,” she said, “we’ve actually had pretty good luck with guitar tones. Here’s a decent replication.” Then she dove right into the middle of Van Halen’s “Eruption,” manipulating a small bar on the side of the keyboard to mimic Eddie’s vibrato and wammy bar moves. She played about half of the original solo note-for-note perfect, then stepped off into the stratosphere with another thirty-two bars of Van Halen-style improvisation that, technically speaking, was a whole other level. But this wasn’t just some keyboardist’s skilled attempt at emulating a historic guitar tone and performer. This was spot-on, next-level re-creation! It was astonishing.

From there, she clicked buttons, accessed patches, and played perfect excerpts of Jimi Hendrix with his crackling Marshalls, Jeff Beck with his screaming solo sound from “Led Boots,” and a healthy slice of Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover,” majestic tone intact. She nailed each of their distinctive lead sounds to the wall and held true to their individual phrasing, vocabularies, and subtleties. I thought her flawless representation of these guitar icons was alarming, given her roots as a virtuoso classical and jazz pianist.

ericB&W
Watching this bad motherfucker (Eric Johnson)
with his trio back in the early days, would inspire me
to pursue my own trio-based solo direction later

Next up was a blazing Paganini caprice, played with a patch that was created from an early 18th century Stradivarius. You could hear the rosin of the bow, the timbre of the wood. And Bella would gently manipulate that bar to emulate the delicate vibrato of a master violinist.

“Bravo,” I said as I clapped. “Damn… sounds like the real deal.”

“Well, I’ve been playing a bunch of Paganini on my violin lately, so I guess I have a decent insight into what it’s really supposed to sound like.”

A pianist playing Paganini? On a violin? As their second instrument? This woman was killing me.

As a flagship example of both this technology and her freakish musicianship, she pulled up a John Coltrane tenor patch that was so uncanny it gave me chills. And again, most impressive was her performance… her deep knowledge of the nuances of Coltrane’s playing and her ability to manipulate the keyboard to make it sound like the main man himself was present in the room with us. She clicked a few switches on another keyboard and pulled up that smoky Jimmy Garrison upright bass sound, then launched into a brisk walking progression of “Impressions” with her left hand while playing the melody, followed by two choruses of Trane’s exact solo from the original Impulse recording, with her right hand. I swear my eyes got watery, it was so fucking good.

On the third chorus, she veered away from Coltrane’s original solo and continued with a more frenzied version of his signature improvisation. I presumed she had merely swapped out a few choruses from some later recording of “Impressions” when he really started taking things outside. But when I asked her afterward, she said she was just “doodling” for those last few choruses. (Shit!) Then, when I asked her what the transcription process was like in copping Trane’s original solo, she looked confused.

“Transcription? I just remember what he played.”

This woman was reproducing John Coltrane, in meticulous detail, on a plastic fucking keyboard, from memory! Unreal.

I told her that if I were forced to live out my days on a deserted island and could only listen to one artist for the rest of my life, I would choose Coltrane. She smiled and said, “Good choice.”

tranesoprano
Coltrane: mastery of one’s instrument
to the point of absolute transcension.
A worthy goal for any musician…

She clicked another button and started playing the piano intro to “My Favorite Things,” with that huge McCoy Tyner sound. Then, while somehow maintaining the vamp with her left hand, she clicked another button on the other board and simultaneously launched into some opening improv with that angelic Coltrane soprano tone before settling into the melody. It literally sounded like Tyner and Trane were standing before me, doing an impromptu duet. Now my eyes really began to water over. This was crazy. And not just because of the dexterity, the recall, the knowledge of the genre, the tones, and all the obvious mechanics required to pull this off. It was because of the absolute stone-accurate authenticity with which she executed their parts. It was like being at a séance.

This whole experience brought to mind how I am oftentimes envious of those who have the luxury of a single-minded focus. Sure, Bella is a true Renaissance person with multiple interests and talents, just like everyone else around here. But her primary mission every day is to set her ass on that piano stool and play. I miss the simplicity of those times in my life. Perhaps the full “harem of muses” I always talk about will leave me the fuck alone at some point so I can enjoy a monogamous run with just one… the one who would have me play drums all day, every day.

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Check out the Bobby Rock Store here to grab your autographed copy of Zentauria.

Paperback and Kindle versions are also available direct from Amazon. Just click the link below:

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Welcome to More Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 2

VVIbackcover

In Part 1 of Welcome to Hell, we talked in great detail about the behind-the-scenes particulars of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion debut recording.  We also talked about the excruciating process of having my drum tracks endure a beat-by-beat analysis against a drum machine reference track, under the watchful eyes and ears of one very meticulous Mr. Vincent.  But, we managed to end on a high note, as we (seemingly) finished up drum tracks right before Christmas break ’85, and I headed back home to Texas for the holidays.

In Part 2, we pick up where we left off and return to the fire for more punishment…

***********

Tracking Madness – Round 2

After the holiday break, things were quiet out west.  I was to hang out in Houston until the record was in the can, then we would talk about me coming back out to LA for the album cover photos and all the pre-release promo stuff.  Things were cool and casual…  until that fateful phone call from Dana Strum just a couple weeks into the new year.

“Uh…. Bobby. Uh… there have been some new developments regarding the drum tracks.”

My heart jumped up into my throat.

“Shit. Like what?”

He then proceeded to tell me about the manic number of hours that he, Mikey and Vinnie had been putting into this “new” drum track direction since I split. He had not wanted to call me any sooner than he had to.

Apparently, after I went home and they began tracking guitar solos, Vinnie started hearing things again… namely kick drums and snares, “out of sync” with the drum machine. How this was possible, given the amount of effort we all had just put into making things “perfect,” I’ll never know. But there these guys were, spending untold more days and nights in the studio, massacring these perfectly good tracks with a new protocol. This involved sampling my kick and snare sounds, then selectively allowing the drum machine to “override” my drum tracks in those select places where Vinnie felt like the drums were off. From there, as I recall, they ended up deferring to the machine kick and snare for most of the groove sections, but they kept all of my original fills from round one! This became problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which was how my original hi-hat, ride and crash parts were lining up with the “new” kick and snare parts.

Bottom line? Dana said it was time for me to jump on a flight and head back out to LA so I could redo all of my hi-hat, ride and crash parts.  We would use mainly drum machine kick and snare in the groove sections, but keep all the original fills.  What the fuck?

When I asked about the airline ticket situation, Dana very diplomatically said something about, “Ya know.. it’s been difficult getting through this… everyone’s pretty fried… I think we all need to pull together and just do what we gotta do…” etc. Translation? Pay for your own motherfuckin’ plane ticket and get out here asap, and let’s make this thing right before Vinnie fires your ass! 

I would never know exactly how close Vinnie may or may not have been to this, but I wasn’t about to find out.  So I had to go back to Keith Karnaky at The Drum Shop to borrow all of those cymbals again, and make up some lame excuse about how we needed to “tweak some more parts” or something. Then I got my ass back to LA within a day or two.

I’ll never forget the dread I felt on that brisk LA morning when Dana and Mikey picked me up curbside near where I was staying to go back to the studio. “Didn’t we already go through this once?” they joked, as I got in the car. Then on the way back to Baby-O, they told me all about the lunacy they had been up to the past few weeks.  Sounded like an even bigger nightmare than before. But I still couldn’t get an accurate read on how Vinnie was feeling about me… especially since Dana was trying to downplay things, saying something about how Vinnie realized this drum machine approach was what we should’ve done all along.

But when we got settled in at the studio and Vinnie showed up shortly thereafter, it was a much more tense vibe than I could have anticipated.

“Do you have any idea how much money you’ve cost me,” was the first thing he said to me, eyes glaring through glittery blue eye shadow

Fuck.

I didn’t even know how to respond. I think I said something stupid like, “But the fills were okay, right?”

“Yeah, but you can’t make a record on fills alone!” he replied.

And so, we began again. This time, I was sitting in a standard tracking room with hi-hat and cymbals only, playing along with some whacked-out hybrid tracks comprised of both real and drum machine grooves, plus my original live fills. Super bizarre. And yes, my hi-hat and ride cymbal accompaniments would fall under the same laser scrutiny that we went through last time, except in a much more strained and toxic atmosphere.

At one point during this round two process, things got so overbearingly analytical, it was becoming hard to discern what we were even hearing anymore.  “Wait… is that fourth snare a bit off? Was that an original snare, or a drum machine replacement snare? Didn’t we already replace it?  Wait, play it back again. No, that snare’s okay… but the one before it is a little rushed, isn’t it? Shit… Mikey, play it one more time.” We were all starting to lose it.

I remember one time we were trying to replace a snare that Vinnie insisted was off. But when Dana went to punch, the machine didn’t go into record for some reason, so nothing had actually been “fixed.” Kevin, our second, noticed this and was just about to blurt out that the punch didn’t happen.  But Dana shot him a shut-the-fuck-up glare that would’ve had Mike Tyson cowering under the console, and he remained quiet. Then Dana calmly rolled the tape back for Vinnie, knowing nothing had changed, and hit play. Sure enough, Vinnie said, “That’s better. Let’s move on.”  Everyone quietly shook their heads, knowing that we had officially stepped off into a backwards-ass abyss of Twilight Zone insanity. Anything could happen at that point.

These were dark days in the studio… especially since I felt like my drumming “incompetence” had driven us to this unorthodox way of trying to piece together acceptable drum tracks. Once again, though, my studio allies (Dana and Mikey at this point), helped me keep a perspective as we just put our heads down and got it done.

After a week or so, we finally completed this second round of tracking to little fanfare. There wasn’t really any sort of celebratory tone in finishing; we were all burnt to a crisp. And while Vinnie seemed cool with things, the rest of us were quietly regretful that the original, bad-ass theater recordings were just a memory, and instead, we now had these fucking patchwork, mishmash tracks that were a shadow of what they should’ve been. But, we were all living in a sort of technological haze of denial, justifying the outcome as “contemporary” Def Leppard-esque tracks… which was quite a stretch. (A poor man’s Def Leppard, maybe, but not nearly as cool.)

VVIarticle
Early Faces mag article

So I flew back to Houston, returned my big ol’ heavy bag of cymbals to Keith Karnaky at The Drum Shop, then settled into a light depression, post this extremely disillusioning experience.  Again, I was supposed to just hang out and wait for them to finish lead vocals, guitar solos, backgrounds, and mixing, and then at some point in the spring, head on back for all of the promo activity. But it was a rough couple weeks for me mentally. Everyone tried to pass it off as “the modern approach to recording that we should have taken all along,” but I wasn’t buying it. The shit we did the first time around was fucking epic.  I was sure Dana and Mikey agreed, as well.

And as it turned out, so would our manager, George Sewitt.

Tracking Madness – Round 3

Some time in early February ’86, George came out west from NY to meet with the LA label folks and check up on our progress. Remember, this was pre-Internet and pre-digital files, so, short of coming down to the studio, the only way to let someone hear something was to mail them a cassette tape. At this point, George hadn’t heard any music beyond some of our initial tracks from round one… although he had heard plenty of crazy studio stories from Strum in the form of nightly updates via telephone, after Vinnie went home each evening.

Once George hit LA, they sat him down in the control room and started playing him some of our latest roughs.

“What the fuck happened to the drums?” he asked. “This sounds like dogshit!”

And after a spirited but brief debate, that was it: I was about to get the phone call I could’ve only dreamed of receiving.

“Uh…. Bobby. Uh… there have been some new developments regarding the drum tracks,” Dana said, but in a much more relaxed tone than last time.

“What the hell? What now?” I asked.

“Well, my man,” Dana continued, “it appears that everyone else hates this new drum track direction.  Sewitt flipped, and now Mr. Vincent has had a change of heart about things.  We’ll need for you to head back out and do these tracks the right way… all over again.”

“You’re shittin’ me!”

“Nope. And Chrysalis will be picking up your flight this time, that’s for damn sure!” Dana said.

“Holy Mother of Christ! Are you serious?”

“Yes! Go round up your cymbals, pack your shit, and get your ass back out here!” he said.

I got off the phone in a daze. I simply didn’t know how to process this double injection of vindication and dread. The upside? I get to redo drums!  The downside? I get to redo drums! Ultimately, I saw it as a way to right the wrong of what went down with this round two bullshit.  I was a man possessed.

I was also a man who had to, once again, go back to Keith Karnaky at The Drum Shop and ask to borrow all those cymbals yet again.  This time, I leveled with him and told him about the “back-alley abortion” we had been through up to this point in the recording process, and how I had the chance to make things right this time.  As usual, K.K. was the coolest, and he let me walk with all of those cymbals one last time.

Three days later, I’m back in LA, walking into Baby-O Studios. I saw Mikey and Dana in the control room and we all just laughed. It was one of those rare times in life where the overall absurdity level of a situation negated anything you could possibly express about it. Fortunately, though, there would be a noticeably lighter vibe in the air this time.

Vinnie-VincentDana-Strum
Vinnie and Dana from our first tour…

When Vinnie showed up a bit later, there was absolutely no attempt at any sort of explanation or apology for this whole thing. Nor did I expect any, really. I believe he said something philosophical about how we probably should’ve stayed with our “first instinct” or something to that effect, and that was it. Nothing more was ever said between us about the crazy twists and turns we encountered recording drums on the first VVI record.

Later that afternoon, I found myself behind the drums, back in that drafty old theater downstairs.  Mark Edwards was there.  The Yamaha drums were there.  Most of those mics were there. The PA feed up in Studio B, however, was not there, because that studio had since been locked out by George Clinton. Nonetheless, we were going to do our best to replicate the way things were the first time around.

And we did… our best, that is. I remember we were all happy just to get all live drums back on this thing. But, at this point, we were way over-budget on the drums, and also, we had a ticking clock with regard to how long we could be in the theater. Things were a bit more rushed.  Also, it seems like there was some weirdness regarding keeping some of the initial fills or something, I don’t exactly recall.  So, while we did go back to live grooves, it was never going to be quite as cool and spontaneous as it was the first time through.

And yes, Vinnie was still on board with plenty of drum machine obsessing, and this dragged shit out.  In fact, I remember running out of time in the theater before we could get to “Boyz Are Gonna Rock.” Or maybe, it was that Vinnie decided he was unhappy with our round three version of it. In any case, the final version of “Boyz” happened with the drums set up in the main studio tracking room upstairs, with a whacked combo of grooves from this final round three session and some of the original fills left intact (since they still sounded so monstrous). Tragic… but indeed, we had finally crossed the Rubicon.

Moving On (and Initial Impressions)

At this point, we were back in celebration mode. Drums truly were done!  Along the way, the guys had been making more headway with solos and lead vocals, both of which were turning out incredible. I’ll never forget hearing some of Robert Fleischman’s vocal tracks, soloed in that control room; just his pipes and a mic, blasting through the monitors. Good God, that motherfucker could sing! (Still can, by the way.)  It sounded like every syllable he sang was wrenched from the deepest part of his guts.  And yet, there was an effortlessness, an ease, and a bone-rattling soulfulness about it all.  The hair on my arms stood up as I listened, and his tracks on that record are still among my favorite from any title in that genre.

robert
Mr. Fleischman

Meanwhile, Vinnie and Dana were putting together these crazy, off-the-hook solos that would cut through your skull like a chainsaw. When I first heard them, it was almost shocking… this sonic barrage of notes. There was notably more urgency and adventurousness in this round of solos, as opposed to the way Vinnie played on the original demos. It took a little getting used to, but yet, it was so in-your-face, we would just laugh when the playbacks were going down. Thirty years later – love him or hate him – no one, and I mean no one, can play like Vinnie Vincent. So you can imagine how we were feeling about these solos back then.  It was unprecedented. There was no one around to even compare him to.

Still, if I’m being candid, I think even then I preferred the direction of his original demo solos. They seemed to breathe a bit more.  They still had a lot of his frantic, signature shred elements, but those passages were interwoven with more bluesy, soulful licks which, to my ears, made for more musical solos. But, as I alluded to earlier, the Dana Strum Punching Extravaganza capability gave Vinnie a wide-open canvas to string together these crazy clusters of notes to his heart’s desire, and he went apeshit with it.

Don’t get me wrong; I still love his playing on the album. The first VVI remains my go-to record if I want to strap on the headphones and annihilate some brain cells with unmercifully over-the-top guitars and first-rate arena rock anthems. It’s just that he was such a multi-dimensional player – so seasoned and accomplished in so many ways – that I think it would’ve been more true to his whole trip had he visited all of those dimensions in his soloing.  (This “less is more” commentary is brought to you by a guy who would go on to release a 20-minute drum solo on a double-live CD, so… what the hell do I know?)

Tragic Punchline

Once I settled back into the slower pace of life back home in Houston, it was hurry up and wait… times ten. Man, things took forever:  The rest of the tracking.  The mixes. The mastering. On and on it went. I would touch base with the guys by phone from time to time, and everyone’s spirits were up, but I simply could not get any of these motherfuckers to send me some mixes. It was killing me.  I would’ve severed my left testicle with a butter knife just to hear a rough mix of something complete. I would hound Strum about this, and he would assure me that something would be “in the mail” shortly. But after days of waiting for the mailman to turn up with a cassette, I would call Dana back only to get more excuses about how he hadn’t had time to drop me something… but he would soon. It was almost as if he didn’t want me to hear the final mixes.

Finally, our day of reckoning arrived late spring/early summer.  Dana was flying out to Houston to catch up with Sweet Savage, a band he had produced, who were playing a show at a local club.  I had arranged to pick his ass up at the airport and, naturally, he would have to play something for me now.  Hell, the record was already mixed and mastered; there was no way out of it. So… he gets in the van, cues up the tape to “Twisted” (which would turn out to have one of the heavier drum mixes on the record), and blasts the shit out of it until the speakers were distorting.  Truth is, he was, shall we say, reluctant to have me hear these mixes.  Why? Because the guitars had been mixed so unbearably hot, and the drums so comparatively low, that he figured I would flip out.  But actually, playing “Twisted” first was a wise move, even though I found it odd at the time. The featured tom parts sounded present and punchy, and that tune had some of the most intense drum work from all the sessions.  Everything else on the track was bangin’, as well, and this put me in a favorable mindset to hear the whole record. I was thrilled. (A clever guy, that Mr. Strum!)

At some point thereafter, though, I would play my cassette copy of the album on various systems, for various people, at various volumes, and it became evident in a hurry that there were issues with the final mix. Among other things, the guitars were crazy loud, and many key drum parts, particularly some of the more intricate fills, were way down in the mix. In fact, I could barely discern some of what I played, and I was the one who actually played the shit!

Plus, something was lost in translation with regard to the drum “performance” aspect of the tracks. I was beating the shit out of those drums in a huge room, delivering good performances, and even our initial playback in the control room revealed that. The grooves were thumpin’ and the takes were sounding massive – right on the two-inch tape, raw as hell. I just knew that once they did their post-production magic to everything, we would have some world-class sounding tracks on our hands.  But such was not the case.  Even to this day, the drum mix is actually my least favorite part of the debut record.

And this leads us to the most tragic punchline of all: Given all we went through to record those drum tracks, the fact that they wound up being such an inconsequential aspect of the mix is truly a devastating irony.

This is still, to this day, a tough pill for me to choke down.

VVIdebut
Still have a great deal of sentiment around this record…

The Big Why?

It’s no secret that Vinnie has been regarded through the years as somewhat of a “problem child” in the industry, both in his dealings with Kiss, and also with the Invasion. I can’t speak to the Kiss situation, for obvious reasons. I’ve heard a lot about those dealings from Vinnie, and a little from Gene and, well, who knows what the real truth is there.

As for this debut album studio nightmare, the story has been recounted numerous times through the years, and for those who already have an impression that Vinnie is some kind of incorrigible asshole, this story provides excellent kindling. Accordingly, I’ve had countless fans and friends through the years ask me, in all earnestness, “Is Vinnie Vincent really a dick?”

And my answer remains:  No. I would not characterize him that way at all.

So then how does one explain the certifiable studio insanity we all endured?  Surely, that was the work of a narcissistic madman, looking to impose his evil will on a young musician, perhaps as some sort of subconscious response to the “evil will” that was undoubtedly imposed upon him by Gene and Paul, right?

Truthfully… I never saw it that way, although I’m sure one could attempt to make some kind of case around this. I mean, he did seem pretty adamant that I change my name, in the same way that the Kiss guys were supposedly adamant that he change his. And apparently, the Kiss guys wielded a lot of control over him in the studio in terms of what and how he played, and this was what he appeared to be doing with me.

Still… I never felt like that was the case; even to this day.

How about some kind of OCD type vibe as an explanation? Nowadays, we think nothing of diagnosing folks with some form of this. But back then, it wasn’t largely talked about, and we were all far less familiar with it.  One could make a case that his behavior had all the classic symptoms.  It’s like the guy who can’t leave his house until he knows that all the soup cans are facing label-out in the pantry… and then he has trouble leaving the house without going back and checking on the soup cans multiple times before he actually leaves. Here, Vinnie appeared to have an obsession with the tracks being perfect against the machine, and I know there are maybe a few “behind the scenes” things that a few of us there were privy to that might support this case.

Still… while it might be a behavioral match, I’m less inclined to write it off as a “clinical” syndrome.

To me, it was an issue of greater complexity than any of us will ever know – including Vinnie himself, in my opinion – but here’s my best explanation:

The man was simply a perfectionist who was trying to create an oil painting with watercolors. He was wanting to hear these triggered, programmed-sounding Mutt Lange-style drums du jour, when we were set up to deliver more of a classic, raw, acoustic-drums-in-a-big-room-with-a-live-drummer-bashing kind of thing.  But… none of us really knew this at the time.

Consider the context.  Up until the early 80s, virtually everything had live drums on it.  Pop, rock, soul, even disco. But Vinnie was someone who liked all kinds of music, and I knew he listened to a lot of the standard pop stuff from the mid-80s, as well. (Forever a student of good songwriting, no matter the genre.) At the same time, Vinnie was a serious player, and he appreciated serious musicianship.  So I think Vinnie was having trouble finding a balance between these two opposing concepts: he loved the modern, rock-solid, big drum approach of either programmed or programmed-sounding drums; but he also loved a drummer who could play a bunch of crazy shit, as well.  So these sessions were largely about Vinnie trying to reconcile these two concepts… without really knowing he was trying to reconcile them.

To what extent we were all equipped to fully be able to reconcile these counter concepts – technology-wise or otherwise – will forever be unknown.  We certainly did the best we could with what we had.

As for me, if I’ve come across at any point in these writings as a whiny little bitch who felt victimized by a mean Mr. Vincent… hey, “don’t cry for me, Argentina.” I’m the better musician for having endured the rigors of those sessions, especially for my maiden voyage into major label recording.  I’ve had plenty of tough days of studio recording since, but nothing – and I mean nothing – compared to the first VVI record. And I regret nothing… well, except maybe that there was never any documentation of that original, untouched version of “I Wanna Be Your Victim.” But seriously, it’s all good.

BRandPatrick
A full-circle moment with Lita Ford band-mate, Patrick Kennison,

on Kiss Kruise V, Halloween night, 2015

A final question I get from time to time: Would I ever work with Vinnie Vincent again?  My answer? A few prerequisite inquiries aside… hell yes. Vinnie Vincent is a bad motherfucker, and truly bad motherfuckers are almost as extinct these days as the main man himself.

***********

Beyond this agonizing first album recording odyssey, the only other time I felt like things were really coming off the rails was when Vinnie thought Dana Strum, Mark Slaughter and I were pulling a band mutiny on him, and he had a shyster of a manager standing nearby, whispering in his ear, looking to run off with a big pot of money. This was all going down during our final tour; an apocalyptic summer of the most dysfunctional shenanigans I have ever heard of in the biz.

But that, my friends, is, of course… another story.

 

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 In case you missed part one, here it is:

Welcome To Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 1

*   *   *   *   *

And here’s the first memoir of this VVI series about my audition experience:

“Go West, Young Man!” – Reflections on the Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, 30 Years Later

 

Thanks for reading…

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Stranger in a Strange Land

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Zentauria: My Season in the Warrior Utopia.  The book is essentially an 11-week documentation of life with a secretive utopian community, on a small island off the east coast of Africa.  I wrote it journal-style, with a conversational narrative, but I believe the themes, experiences and insights covered throughout might be useful – even inspiring – to others.

ZentauriaKindleThis entry is from the end of the first week, just as I’m getting settled into life “in the land of the enlightened.”

Alien

Day 7 – 3:33 AM (Guest Quarters)

I am seated at a massive mahogany desk in front of my laptop, surrounded by candles, African art, and the chatter of nearby monkeys. I’ve been staying here in these guest quarters for seven days now, and it already feels like home. It is situated at the end of a row of four other similar structures just outside the Mecca, amongst four acres of exquisite jungle terrain. Mine is called the Giza Hut for its Egyptian décor and various pyramid references, the most blatant of which is the Chamber: a windowless, airtight bedroom, located down a long flight of stairs near the kitchen, twenty-five feet underground. And when I turn off the lights down there and sink into that big, beautiful bed, I am back in the womb, suspended in complete darkness and silence. This is rapidly becoming the second place on the planet where I feel 100% comfortable… the other place that is truly me.

The rest of the Giza Hut is like a spacious and elegant Manhattan loft, with dark, hand-carved furnishings, plum carpet, and lush, textured walls, canvassed in deeply hued fabrics and paint. Windows are ample around here, with each one offering a unique “portrait” of the neighboring Zentauria terrain.

eastafricasunsetSometimes I’ll crack a few open either during the day or evening and enjoy the refreshing jasmine breezes. (For full immersion into fresh air and a meditative outdoor ambience, there’s a black spiral staircase in the media room that leads to a Zen garden-themed rooftop terrace.) At the same time, gorgeous Egyptian and Asian draperies are also plentiful, so if you’re in more of a reclusive mood, this place can “go dark” in a hurry.

There is an artful and unusual coexistence of technology and aesthetics here. Flat screen monitors share wall space with oil paintings; various electronics reside comfortably next to antiques and sculptures; kitchen appliances dissolve into colorful hand-woven baskets of fruit. It is the yin and the yang, the old and the new. You feel connected to the ancient, museum-like ambience here without being disconnected from all that is leading-edge and modern.

Speaking of ambience, I’ve heard rumblings about the rich history of this structure, which dates back to the early 18th century. I take them all to heart. There is a deeply-rooted energy in this place. The walls feel as if they’ve retained the vibrations of a million prayers by a thousand monks, soaked up over 300 years. It feels good just to be in here. And I have enjoyed my daily ritual of coming back “home,” lighting up the candles and incense, fixing some peppermint tea, putting on some Coltrane, and opening up a vein here at this desk. I remain easily amused… even 10,000 miles from home.

header_COLTRANE-CHURCHTrane!!!

As for how the other aspects of life in Zentauria are shaping up so far… damn! This place is quite literally like dying and going to heaven. I got all set up in my work space at the conservatory yesterday. It’s a striking two-room studio in a back hall near the percussion department. The drum room is spacious, comfortable, and decked out with everything I need to practice or demonstrate things, including a multimedia projection rig. They have several rows of chairs on hand near the back wall for master classes and what they call “public observation.”

Then my office/private quarters is set up in a space behind this room, and it is over the top: killer art, nice lamps and furniture, lots of interesting books and music, and rugs and draperies I could only describe as old-world royal. This place is like walking into the study of a medieval European castle. (They told me the desk in there was hand-carved ash from 16th century Italy.) There’s even a private “servant quarters” in the very back that’s set up like a studio apartment with basic furnishings, a full bathroom, and a kitchenette. I could feasibly stay there for days at a time, which I might be inclined to do if I didn’t love the Giza Hut so much. We’ll see.

These people are so generous, it’s mind-blowing. I have two main apprentices and one personal assistant. They are basically around to help out with anything I need, anytime, large or small. Incredibly, the two main guys, Logus and Tong (both percussion students), gathered a bunch of drums, cymbals, hardware, and Latin percussion instruments from a holding area at the conservatory and reconstructed my exact drum set-up, based on pictures and video from my website. I could not believe how accurate it was, right down to my intricate 10-foot pedal setup. At the same time, my assistant, Jarna Tszyu (last name pronounced “Zoo”), has been all over it. She’s a university student who takes this gig very seriously and has been invaluable in getting me all set up with day-to-day logistics like food, supplies, how commerce works (which is a whole other trippy story), and anything else I’ve needed to know.

Everything here in Zentauria seems to be some combination of practice and service. My service schedule, as discussed, will consist of a couple presentations during the week (in the form of an observation period, class, or lecture—my choice), and at least one solo concert appearance, where I can choose whatever kind of ensemble or format I want. Otherwise, I’m like a researcher, or an investigative reporter… free to cruise about the island, check things out, talk to whoever I want, then document all of my findings and observations.

Needless to say, things move very fast around here once conclusions are reached. Jin took me on Zentauria’s own PTV (public television) yesterday and introduced me to the community via an informal interview setting. He asked me a lot of questions about my background, my past lives and my meeting with Q, and what I found so compelling about Zentauria. He would often interject things to the camera in different languages (Chinese? Zentaurian?), but then quickly return back to English with a childlike smile, realizing that the dumb-ass American before him spoke only one language. They also rolled a few video clips of me playing drums and had me read a few excerpts of my writing from various manuscripts. It was basically an on-camera welcoming to the island. At times, I felt compelled to subtly bolster my résumé, so as to appear more worthy of being there. But they didn’t seem to give a shit about my social status or (minuscule) level of fame in the rest of the world. That’s clearly not why I’m here.

Jin also told everyone I had carte blanche to observe the community and document my experiences here. If I didn’t know any better, I would think the Council and the citizens of Zentauria were looking for me to document the particulars of this place through the filter of a westerner.

So… looks like it’s official: I am now an honorary Zentaurian.

_______________________

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Welcome To Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 1

VVIdebut

As I described in the memoir, “Go West, Young Man!” – Reflections on the Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, 30 Years Later, landing the VVI gig out of a once-in-a-lifetime audition opportunity was one of the most unforgettable memories I’ve had in my professional career. Unfortunately, recording the first Invasion album two months later would also be one of my most “unforgettable memories”… but for reasons I would rather forget!

So pull up a chair and settle in for the complete story, as I attempt to recount it for you here – in all of if its excruciating detail – 30 years later. But first, let’s start with this whole “Bobby Rock” name-change thing, as it could prove relevant in understanding the bigger picture of our journey into hell….

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A “Bobby Rock” is Born

Once I got the Vinnie Vincent Invasion gig after that fateful audition experience, we all went to the Chrysalis offices to meet up with the record company suits. It was then that I first realized my new bandmates thought my last name was Rock, not Brock. It turns out that Dana misunderstood me when I left that first answering machine message about the audition. So here I was, getting introduced to everyone as “our new drummer, Bobby Rock.” Of course, I couldn’t say anything on the spot, as it would’ve been awkward to correct Vinnie in front of the record company people about my last name, so I went along with it.

While I hung in Houston before returning to LA to start work on the first record, Vinnie did a shitload of interviews talking about his new drummer, Bobby Rock, who drove down from Texas and blew them all away. I remember thinking: Oh shit… we never talked about this hokey-ass Bobby Rock thing. I’ll have to talk to them about it when I go back to LA.

Two months later, I had my chance. At the studio during one of the initial recording sessions, Vinnie, Dana and I were hanging out in the lounge and I said, “By the way guys, I’ve been meaning to mention, Rock isn’t really my last name.”

“It is now,” Vinnie said, with a big smile.

We all laughed… but then I started to make my case to use my real name.

“Well, I’m just not sure if it’s the right…” I started to say.

“No, it’s perfect!” Vinnie interjected. “Your poster is going to be all over the bedroom walls of kids around the world. This band is going to be bigger than life, and you will be bigger than life. Bobby Rock is a much better name for this.”

Granted, the mid-80s were the time for these kind of caricature-like names (Nikki Sixx, Rikki Rockett, Blackie Lawless, Tracii Guns, etc.), so no one really flinched at the prospect of such a name-change. Still, I pressed him a bit.

“Well… yeah, I hear what you’re saying, but it just sounds so ‘Hollywood’ – so cliché – and not like the name of a truly serious player, ya know? Almost like if someone called himself ‘Johnny Star’ or something.”

Vinnie got serious. “Well, that worked out okay for Ringo.”

Uhhh, true. And at that point, there wasn’t much more I could say.

I would go on to consult a few more trusted advisor types, including our manager, George Sewitt. And since no one had any real problem with it – especially since it was just one letter off from my birth name – I went with Rock and got used to it pretty fast.

Actually, there was one person who, like me, thought the Bobby Rock thing was a little silly, and he implored me not to change my name: our singer, Robert Fleischman. And while his points were well taken, I decided to take the leap into “Bigger-Than-Life-ville” anyway (although I would occasionally struggle with the decision at key junctures in the future).

One other little tid-bit: I actually went by “Bob” more often than “Bobby” back then. So when I brought this up to Dana Strum and asked if I should go with “Bob Rock” or “Bobby Rock” (this was before anyone knew about the producer, Bob Rock, by the way), here’s how Dana advised me to decide:

“Imagine we’re out on tour somewhere, and you’re banging some slut in your hotel room. Would you picture her calling out your name like “Ooohhhh, Bob!” or “Ooohhhh, Bobby!”?

“Well, I guess she would probably say ‘Bobby.'” I replied.

“Then go with Bobby Rock,” he said.

And that, my friends, was the profound and spiritually fortuitous way that I arrived at Bobby Rock. Gotta love the 80s!

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An early VVI article in Hit Parader mag

Setting the Stage

The sessions officially got underway at Baby-O Studios in Hollywood in late fall of ’85, with Vinnie and Dana co-producing. It was an interesting time in the recording industry. Almost everything you heard in the commercial pop, R&B, and dance music sphere was programmed drums. Same with TV themes and movie soundtracks. Those big, fake drum tracks had infested virtually every realm of popular music… hard rock excluded.

But even in our idiom, this influence was starting to seep in, perhaps most notably with Def Leppard’s Pyromania, which had come out a year or two prior. There was a machine-like accuracy and spit-shine polish to those drum tracks – and, indeed, the overall production approach – that gave it a very “modern” sound; one that would go on to influence the landscape of rock recording in the years ahead. Even the latest Van Halen record, 1984, had a fairly synthetic drum sound, although it still managed to retain Alex’s signature live feel.

With all of this in mind, Dana had lobbied for doing the record in a very “modern” way. There would be a simple drum machine part used as a metronomic reference for each song, and we would record the album in reverse order: Vinnie would record all rhythm guitar tracks first, then Dana would drop in bass guitar, and then I would “replace” the drum machine tracks with live drums.

Typically, you would either record all rhythm tracks simultaneously – guitar, bass and drums – or at least lay down keeper drum tracks first. So this was a rather unorthodox method of tracking that, presumably, would be a best-of-both-worlds approach: guitar and bass would have that mechanical precision since they would be cut to a machine, but then you would drop the drums in last to preserve some of that live performance fire, all while maintaining the “perfection” of the drum machine foundation. Sounded promising… and probably would’ve been under different circumstances. But I digress.

Let the Tracking Commence

The first couple weeks of recording were a breezy, joyous time. Once guitar tones were all set and ready to go, Dana would sit at the helm of the console and work the tape machine, while Vinnie sat next to him and played his ass off. I was basically free to come and go as I liked, but I pretty much just hung around the studio like a proverbial fly on the wall and grooved to the incredible tracks these guys were putting together every day.

And man, you talk about a scary fucking guitar tone. On the other side of the glass in the tracking room, I remember there being at least six different guitar heads, arranged on their sides in a semi circle, with an oscillating fan going back-and-forth to keep the tubes cool. Then, there were various guitar cabinets, strategically placed around the studio, with an array of different mics positioned around the room in key places; some close to the cabinets to capture Vinnie’s searing pick attack, others further away for that “arena” room ambience. All of this gear was somehow connected together with clusters of black cables, snaking their way along the floor or into various patch bay points. It was like the movie set of a sci-fi film in there.

I’m not sure how or why I ended up walking through that room a few times while Vinnie was tracking, but it was so unbearably loud, I remember thinking that if a small mammal were to somehow find himself scurrying across the studio floor at that moment, his little brains would surely come oozing out of his ears! It was literally painful to be in there. But… the way the guitars hit the tape was undeniable. (And if you take a close listen, for example, to the intro of “Shoot You Full Of Love,” or the open guitar solo stuff at the end of “Animal,” you can actually hear how hot those guitars were hitting the two-inch. Fucking awesome!)

I’m sure our engineer, Mikey Davis, had his fair share of input on helping to get guitar sounds. But again, it was almost always Dana working the machine, doing the actual recording. Dana had an inexhaustible work ethic, and was a master “puncher.” By that I mean, he could “punch” into record mode for virtually any part of a guitar passage for a repair, then “punch” out just after with razor-sharp accuracy, so there was seldom any evidence of the edit. Or, even more typically, he could pick up a take from virtually anywhere in a slew of chords, whammy-bar licks, or solo riffs, offering Vinnie unlimited creative freedom to piece things together.

These days, with digital editing being almost the exclusive way everyone records, these type of edits can be done much easier, and risk-free of accidentally erasing some piece you wanted to leave intact. But back then, it was extremely risky to punch in and out of any pass, because you were actually recording over shit on the master. So, if you fucked up the punch, the performer would have to redo the part all over again or, worse, you could inadvertently mow over some “magical” part of a performance. This could be disastrous.

But there Dana was, fearlessly punching together these incredible takes of Vinnie, hours a day. And while it was Vinnie’s monster riffs and true guitar genius that propelled the sessions, let’s just say that Dana was a “facilitator” of virtually anything that Vinnie heard in his head or spontaneously attempted to play. (Ultimately, Dana’s prolific punching skills would, in my opinion, alter the inevitable direction that Vinnie would take later in the process when it came time to lay down all of his solos.)

Once rhythm guitar tracks were done, Dana’s bass tracks were dropped in over a few days time with a minimal amount of fuss, as I recall. He pulled up a ballsy, growling bass tone that sounded monstrous with Vinnie’s guitar parts, and he and Mikey started mowing down takes. Vinnie would hang nearby with his cup of herbal tea for input and suggestions. Dana laid down lots of cool, hooky bass parts that served the tracks well without detracting from any of Vinnie’s classic riffs. There’s an art to that, and a skill to nailing the shit down to the click as easily as he did.

Two down, one to go, and rhythm section tracks would be in the can.

vinnievincentlive
The V-man, back in his Kiss days…

Drum Daze

With all of the rhythm guitar and bass tracks locked in, the big day had finally arrived; time to start tracking drums. And what a production it was to get everything dialed in before the red lights on the tape machine lit up.

Baby-O Studios was set up on the second floor of a historic old Hollywood building. Directly underneath it was a dilapidated old theater that had been vacant for quite some time. Word was, Van Halen filmed their “Jump” video on the theater stage, and that is precisely where we set up the drums. A local drummer named Mark Edwards was hired to bring in his kit for me to play, and also to serve in a sort of drum tech role, handling head changes, tuning, etc. To be clear, though, Mark was no mere drum tech. He was a world-class drummer in his own right, known for his work with the legendary band, Steeler, and currently playing with guitarist Doug Aldrich in a popular LA band called Lion. He was also an experienced studio drummer who knew how to get great tones out of his Yamaha Recording Series kit, hence Mikey and Dana’s decision to hire him.

We got the drums set up in the center of the stage. It was a big double bass kit, grand piano white, with two 26″ kicks, three rack toms, two floor toms, and my ever-present 6″, 8″ and 10″ roto-toms. There were a few different high-end snares, as well, but what we wound up using escapes me. We might have rented these from the infamous Paul “Jaimo” Jamieson, who was one of the top-call drum rental/cartage guys in LA for years. There was also a wide array of cymbals, mainly Paistes, and most of which I had borrowed from a very generous Keith Karnaky, owner of The Drum Shop in Houston.

Once the kit was dialed in and I started hitting the drums in that cavernous space, we all knew we were on to something pretty special. Simply put, they sounded like fucking cannons going off in there. This was basically a giant room, comprised of concrete and wood, with interesting and asymmetrical angles everywhere. With that in mind, Dana, Mikey, and our second engineer, Kevin, took a great deal of care with mic placement. In addition to the usual close miking and standard issue overhead positionings, they were very strategic about choosing multiple places around the theater for additional mics to capture that magical ambience… some as far as 50 feet away from the kit. They even set up some baffling at certain points to better contain the room sound at particularly favorable “sonic pockets.” But that was just the half of it.

Being that this was the overkill 80s, it wasn’t enough just to have a world-class “drum theater” to record in. Once all of the tracking room mics were in place, they arranged to split the signal from my close mics so that one feed went directly into the control room, and a second feed went to a separate PA system that was set up in studio B upstairs, where various mics had been strategically placed to capture that sound. As we all know, drums take on a special tone when blasted through a PA system. So now, in addition to all of the magic coming at them from our gutted theater downstairs, they also had the option of bringing in these drum sounds from the PA in studio B. Then, when you blended together all three of these sources – close mics on the kit, all of the various ambient mics around the theater, and the “stadium” drum sounds from the PA – it sounded like the end of the fucking world. There was even talk about getting an editor from Mix magazine to come down and do an article on this unprecedented drum recording process. We were flying high, and we hadn’t even started tracking yet!

Once everything was finally ready to go, all the street level entry points of the theater had to be locked and chained again… which meant that we had to establish a creative way for me to actually get down there to record, direct from the second floor control room area. This involved constructing a makeshift “catwalk” that I had to crawl through, before walking across a 10-foot plank, and then shimmying down to the theater stage. (No, I’m not joking.) It was some real Spider-Man kind of shit just to get in and out of there, but I didn’t care. We were going to nail down some revolutionary drum tracks, by God!

Another oddity was this; they had arranged for there to be a video camera on me at all times so they could see me from a TV monitor in the control room. But I could never see them. So throughout the sessions – which would prove to be famously arduous – this created a bizarre “big brother” kind of feeling as I sat there in the dungeon-like ambience of the theater. (But we’ll get to that soon enough.)

Tracking Madness – Round 1

I’ll never forget the moment before we started tracking the first song. I was shitting myself, to be honest. I had obviously recorded in various studios before, but nothing at this kind of high-stakes, major label level. And I remember Dana and the guys joking, saying “You better nail these drum parts, Bobby, or we’ll send your ass back to Texas!”

I turned to Mark, who was seated in a chair nearby about 20 feet away. “Say bro, they said they would send me home if I don’t get this right.”

“I’m pretty sure they were just joking with you,” Mark reassured me. But man, I was so fucking anxious about this, I probably thought they were serious.

First song up: “I Wanna Be Your Victim.” Tape starts rolling, and I start pounding. It seems like we got through a verse and a chorus before we stopped for some reason. I should point out that there had been zero pre-production done in terms of figuring out drum parts, so we would be constructing them on the fly. One of the first things I remember hearing through my headphones between takes, was Vinnie asking Dana how accurately I was playing up against the drum machine reference part. “He’s right on it!” Dana assured him.

We carried on, and Dana’s punching prowess continued to come in handy because, again, we were essentially composing things as we went along. So if Vinnie wanted me to play a more adventurous fill somewhere, no problem. Dana would just punch in at that point and I would continue the take from there. And I should also mention that Vinnie was all about elaborate, super-chopsy fills: fast up-and-down the toms stuff; bombastic double-bass riffing; intricate snare/cymbal combinations. He loved that shit. Meanwhile, I think Dana preferred simpler, “attitude” type fills, but would typically defer to Vinnie’s preference. Although at one point along the way, I remember Dana asking us, “Why do all of these fills have to be so fast and notey?” Too many notes? Believe me, he was asking the wrong two guys that question!

As we continued to build the track, I could see that Vinnie was an absolute fanatic about all of my grooves and fills being perfectly in sync with the machine. This meant that even if I laid down a chorus that sounded great with the guitar and bass, if he heard any discrepancy against the machine anywhere, I would have to do the whole section over again. It was a bitch, but we eventually made it through the first song.

Once Vinnie and Dana had listened down from top-to-bottom a time or two and were both satisfied that I had nailed it, they invited me up to the control room to have a final listen before moving on to the next tune. This would be the first time I heard everything together through proper monitors, and man, it was a moment in time. Mikey blasted it through the “big speakers,” and truly, the track was magnificent. It had this massive, arena-style wall-of-sound production quality – even in its raw state – combined with a super-vibey live performance feel. It sounded like three bad-ass mofos, on top of their game, ripping through the riffs of this tune, live in the studio, like the fucking place was on fire. There was a unique band chemistry already sizzling off the tape, anchored by this mile-wide groove. I’m telling you, the track was exploding out of the speakers like napalm.

In fact, I remember listening to “Victim” while standing in front of the console, as my rib cage was getting pummeled by kick drum and bass guitar. And I remember feeling like I was in the middle of a train track with the glaring light of a locomotive blazing straight toward me. That was the pure, sonic experience of the music; this shit was S-L-A-M-M-I-N’!

We were all thrilled, just beside ourselves with how huge it sounded. And again, this was just the rhythm tracks, minus solos, vocals or mixing. Daaaaamn!

VVIorig
One of the original VVI promo shots; our scaled-down “street look.”

Once we all settled back down, it was decided that we would listen to the track one more time with the drum machine back in the mix so we could do a final double-check for accuracy. But remember, we had already been very stringent about how every groove and fill matched up with the machine while we were tracking. Sure enough, as the song played down, the drums were so locked with the machine – which was notably lower in the mix at this point – you barely noticed it. The track was a done deal in my mind, so I was bobbing my head to the groove in the back of the control room, relieved that we had popped the cherry on our first song, and just out of my skin with how epic things were sounding.

Suddenly, midway through the track, Vinnie’s index finger shot up toward the studio monitors and he blurted out, “There! Right there! Did you hear that kick drum? It’s off.”

Huh?

Mikey rolls the tape back about 30 seconds and we all listen from that point.

“There!” Vinnie repeated. “That third kick after the second snare fill. It’s off with the machine.”

So again, Mikey rolls it back a few bars, then solos just the drum machine and my drum track. Indeed, on that kick drum in question, there was a slight “flamming” effect, meaning that the kick was a micro mili-second ahead of the machine kick. Mind you, we would never had heard this minor, inconsequential discrepancy had the machine not been playing, as well; in other words, as the listener would be hearing it, minus the machine. But, Vinnie did hear it, and just by principle, it had to be fixed. Naturally, the rest of us thought this was ridiculous, but it was way too soon in our relationship with Vinnie for anyone to question him too much. So… it was back down to the dungeon so Dana could punch into a perfectly good track, to fix one “pushed” kick drum, that no one would ever hear.

And so the nightmare began.

Chasing the Devil’s Tail

Dana found a way to punch me in and out as I “fixed” the kick drum in question. But then upon a playback that involved live drums and drum machine only, Vinnie heard a snare I had just played slightly off with the machine. So now we had to punch back into the new punched part and try to fix that. And so with this heightened new level of scrutiny, it became a game of odds to fix these single note discrepancies. What were the odds that I could play perfectly enough to fix the questionable note… but also play the rest of the new passage perfectly, as well? And I mean perfect as in “drum machine certified” perfect. Likewise, what were the odds that Dana could successfully punch in and out of a pass with an acceptable level of transparent precision? This became the theme of this “round one” attempt at nailing down drum tracks.

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This pretty much sums up our situation. (Image by John Schwegal)

The next 10 or so days were an impossibly aggravating blur of start-stop-check-start-punch-wait-check-start-stop-start-punch-stop-check-sigh-wait. The playback in my headphones was always the whole track – guitar, bass, live drums and machine – so it was difficult to evaluate how accurately I had just played something. But in the control room, it was a different scene. Within a couple days, we had arrived at a point where I was consistently playing so dead-on with the machine that Vinnie found it necessary to hard-pan each part to its own monitor so he could better discern how perfectly everything lined up: my drum tracks would be panned hard left, and the machine would be hard right. And as the playback went down – typically with the guitar and bass tracks muted so as not to “get in the way” of the analyzation process – everyone would be absolutely quiet and still as every single note was evaluated. And if Vinnie thought he heard something, the tape would be wound back for further examination.

Meanwhile, I would be sitting behind the drums in that darkened, cold-ass theater, with a chilly film of sweat blanketing my skin, hearing some arbitrary five-second excerpt of the take being looped over and over again, with no idea what they were listening for, let alone talking about. I would usually just hear Dana or Mikey click into the talkback with a “One moment, Bobby,” and that was it. It could be anywhere from 30 seconds to ten minutes before the next update… and always with the robotic red glow of that video camera light on me. The electric eye. Always there. Big brother in the fucking house.

It would usually be Dana’s voice next. “Bobby, we’re gonna jump back in at the top of the second verse and grab something real quick. Just play along…” And then; start-stop-check-start-punch-wait-check-start-stop-start-punch-stop-check-sigh-wait. Other times, it would be Vinnie on the talkback, usually with a considerably less diplomatic tone.

“Bobby, it’s sounding very amateur right now…” or “It sounds really local,” meaning that he thought I was playing like some half-assed local band drummer. In other words, I needed to play even more machine-like.

I recognize that Vinnie had no obligation whatsoever to speak to me diplomatically. This was his gig, his record deal, and I was just a lucky young punk from Texas. And in retrospect, I don’t think Vinnie was trying to be a prick, or had some kind of sadistic intention of making my life hell in the studio. In fact, I seldom remember there even being much malice in his tone as he said these things. He was generally calm and matter-of-fact in his delivery.

Instead, I just think he was oblivious to how his wording of things could actually be hindering the result he was looking for. I mean, man… the entire situation was challenging enough as it was, so all of the condescending commentary only added to the relentless mind-fucking that was going on in my head. Honestly, I reached a point somewhere in the middle of all this where I doubted my abilities as a drummer: What the hell is wrong with me? Am I that shitty of a player that we can barely punch together takes? Maybe I need to go back to playing bars because I’m just not good enough to perform at this level yet…

Dana, on the other hand, was notably more empathetic. Throughout this entire process, he was extremely mindful of how I was likely interpreting things, and how it was in everyone’s best interest for him to mitigate the potential head-tripping by keeping all communications light, constructive, and respectful.

I should also point out that all of my studio allies – Mark Edwards, Dana, and Mikey – were constantly assuring me that the lunacy we were all experiencing here was by no means “industry standard” in a session… that I was playing well, and we should not have to be wasting time pandering to this kind of senselessness.

Unfortunately, the net result of this crazy-high level of scrutiny and obsessive micro-punching was, of course, that we were stripping these drum tracks of their very soul. It is in the ultra-subtle “push-pull” against the machine – even as a bit of flamming may occasionally occur – that a true live feel is captured. It’s what separates all the greatest classic rock tracks that we love, from much of the quantized and homogenized productions we hear these days.

Granted, that original pass of “I Wanna Be Your Victim” had plenty of punches in it. But it was based around big chunks of really solid live performance… which is why it retained its live feel. These new tracks were basically a punched-together patchwork quilt of percussive puzzle pieces. Trying to make the shit drum machine-perfect sterilized the hardcore groove factor right out of it. So tragic.

Getting through “round one” was an around-the-clock proposition of nerve-shattering patience, dogged perseverance, and a sort of mental warfare. And it seemed to have no end. Mercifully, though, we “officially” finished drum tracks late one evening, to the euphoric relief of all parties involved. We made it! There were hugs and back-slaps. And although I felt like we had sacrificed a lot of the spontaneous, live-drummer-in-a-big-room magic we initially captured before this insanity began, I was still elated. And starting early the next morning, I had just enough time to drive the old Ford van all the way back to Houston for the Christmas holidays. Life was good, and all was well.

Or so I thought….

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Friends, I hate to have to bookmark it here, but this shit is getting long! Stay tuned for more torture… including not one but two more complete rounds of tracking; behind the scenes impressions on guitar solos and vocals; the cruel and tragic irony of this entire process; and my personal response to the most enduring question I get about these hellish sessions: “Why?”

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Click here for Part Two:

Welcome to More Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 2

*   *   *   *   *

And here’s the first memoir of this VVI series about my audition experience:

“Go West, Young Man!” – Reflections on the Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, 30 Years Later

Thanks for reading…

 

 

 

In case you missed the first entry of this series, here it is:

“Go West, Young Man!” – Reflections on the Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, 30 Years Later

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Chasing the Muse into Spain and North Africa: Writer’s Retreat – 2015

For the past number of years now, I’ve been taking an annual writer’s retreat with my childhood friend and fellow writer/musician brother, Watson Davis. He and his wife, Audrey, had been living in Dallas for awhile, so I would travel there during the Christmas break each year (before connecting with family), and we would hunker down in their crib for several days and step off into a parallel universe of all things writing: talk of our various projects; plot points, story arcs, and other crucial challenges; brainstorming and refinement of ideas; writing techniques and software aids; editing, revision, and more dreaded editing; general commiseration about process and, of course, a whole lot of writing. (And with an extensive home gym and a fridge full of vegan viddles, I would generally only leave their place for a run – that’s it.)

Of course, we would welcome the distraction of lots of football and plenty of movies to rock the story muse. Always great times, and now an unshakeable tradition.

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With my main man, “Dr.” Watson Davis at the Prodo in Spain. 
Of all the pics we both snapped on this trip, 
this lame-ass selfie was the only one of the doctor and I!

This past year, however, my friends uprooted their world and moved to Spain.  So, it was decided that the writer’s retreat would have to continue across the pond, and that it would have to go down a bit earlier in the year so we could enjoy some optimal weather.  Also, it would have to include some additional travel, seeing as how crazy picturesque Spain is, and how intriguing Morocco is. Who was I to argue?

Madrid – Part 1

Let me first say that, as far as I can recollect, this might have been the first time I traveled overseas when I was NOT actually playing shows. It was a weird feeling, to be honest. I would find myself having “soundcheck flashbacks” mid-afternoon… like I would suddenly snap my head upright and think, “Holy shit… what time is soundcheck today?  Am I late?” … only to realize I was basically there as a common tourist, for a change.

By the time we hit Madrid after more than 13 total hours in the air, it was late morning, so we hit the ground running. But first, there was the drive through Madrid en route to the hotel… and one of my favorite things about Europe; all of that timeless architecture.  Snapped a few random pics and was reminded, once again, of how comparatively new America is in the grand scheme. Most of the buildings we all see over here everyday are what?  Less than a century old, for the most part? Over there, it’s another story…

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Our hotel was right near the Royal Palace so, naturally, we had to take a peek.

6palacewindowView from the hotel room; the Royal Palace

Man… these motherfuckers know how to live large, let me tell you – even though it remains only a “temporary” residence for the royal fam these days.  If it were me, I would never leave… nor would I have hundreds of tourists traipsing through my crib every day.  Actually, I’m glad they do allow for that, because there is an unspeakable amount of great art and beauty in there.  You really need a few days to cruise through the place and fully drink it all in.

7palaceceilingIn the foyer area…

A bit later, we scoped out the Temple Debod; a real-deal Egyptian temple which was dismantled, transplanted, then rebuilt in Madrid. A bizarre but stunning cultural juxtaposition.

8egyptianexportThe Temple

Day two, still in Madrid, found us cruising over to the Prado before catching our flight to Morocco. This is one bad-ass museum, and the fact that it plays home to the infamous Goya “black” paintings was a special bonus. These are a real treat to see in person; somehow even darker and more disturbing than in photos. Plus, we virtually had the exhibit to ourselves for a few minutes, which created an even more contemplative atmosphere with which to take in these killer paintings.

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Goya statue outside the Prado…

Tangier, Morocco

My friends had arranged for a private guide named Said (pronounced “Sa-eed”) to take us around for the two days we would be in North Africa. So after a quick flight to Tangier, he met us at the airport, got us settled into our hotel, then led us by foot through the town square casbah nearby. This place just oozed of an old world feel indicative of a setting where densely stacked buildings can be 1000 years old. It’s a vibe, for sure, and we loved it there.

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At the spice market…

As we strolled the narrow streets in a labrynth of cold, cracked stone and vibrant colors, spice markets, fruit stands, gift shops and general stores were plentiful.  Of course, we had to drop into a few, most notably, perhaps, a huge, three story art and furnishings shop that was packed so tightly with shit, it was almost impossible to decide on anything.

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Take your pick!

But we all managed to grab a little something to memorialize our time there. I nabbed a small sandstone camel sculpture, and a cool African desert landscape painting that I would drag around in a cardboard tube for the next five days.

Danger Zone?

Day two in Tangier had us taking an early road trip. But first, a nice early morning run was in order. I was looking forward to doing what I often do on the road; taking in the sites of a town on foot with a 5 to 8 mile run. However, this idea was squelched by both the late night and early morning front counter hotel attendants, both of whom implored me NOT to go running through the streets of Tangier before 7:00 AM… and if I did, not to take my iPhone or any other valuables with me. What? Why? After more than 30 years of road travel, I’ve gotten pretty good at assessing the “danger quotient” of a city.  And so far, I was not picking up any kind of violent, confrontational kind of vibe from these folks, especially when compared to certain American cities… including my own beloved home neighborhood in LA, and I have no qualms about running through those streets in the middle of the night.

I didn’t get it. This is a region of the world known for pick-pockets and hustlers, not the gangbangers and pistol-wielding robbers we have in Big City, USA. (Guns are illegal as hell over there, in fact.) What could happen?  Would I have four of five of these skinny little Arab guys chasing me down the street, trying to take my iPhone from me? I couldn’t see it.

But – after thinking about it – I had to admit that I simply didn’t know the culture over there well enough NOT to take their advice. So I reluctantly stayed put and created a 45-minute workout with the various paths and stairways of the hilly, gated grounds of the hotel. This included some heart-pumping cardio intervals, intermingled with push-ups near the pool and pull-ups from the upper edge of a stairwell.

Sure enough, as I was finishing up at around 7:00 AM, the nearby town square – which had been eerily quiet through the night and early morning hours – started buzzing with life. When I asked Said and the day shift manager about this safety issue just before we left for the day, they both laughed at me. “What? A big strong American guy like you afraid to go for a run through town? Hahahahaha!” Then, of course, I felt foolish.

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Me and Said

I was like, “Motherfuckers, it was your night-shift colleagues who told me not to go. What the hell?” We all had a good laugh, and Said enjoyed busting my balls about it throughout the day.  Man, I would’ve loved to have taken that early morning run.  Maybe next time.

Lixus and Asilah

The “tour” continued that morning with a scenic spin through Tangier, and all of its multi-cultural density.

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Murals, instead of the usual ugly-ass graffiti we get…

Then, it was a trek an hour or so south to scope the ancient Roman ruins of Lixus.  Wanna talk old structures? How about seven centuries BC?  Man, if these stone walls could talk.

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Lixus ruins…

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Standing on top of a lot of history…
about 700 years BC worth, to be exact

From there we cruised on foot through the isolated confines of the “beach town” Asilah. I remember thinking how rad it would be to keep a little pad there and spend a couple months out of the year just hanging, writing, and digging the breeze of the Mediterranean. Another life, perhaps.

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Saw some camels by the beach on the way back to the hotel. It is, of course, against my “religion” to ride them, but I did have a brief bonding moment with one of the youngsters. Very sweet animals… kind of like a cross between a horse and a cow, vibe-wise.

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The Food Sitch

As mentioned, there were no shows to do on this trip… which meant that there was no tour manager, or promoter ready to oblige my “pain in the ass” vegan diet, or interpreter standing nearby for any special restaurant accommodations, or any of the other special perks that make following a vegan diet easier overseas. No, I would basically be on my own this time. And I must say, between the communication gap and the slim pickings of vegan food offered at most of the places we went, it was not easy.

In Spain, vegetable paella was usually the safest bet when dining out.  This is a special rice and veggie dish you could find at most places. Tapas are also big over there (basically a wide variety of appetizers served at restaurants and bars), but most of those were animal products-based, although we did get lucky a few times.  So basically, I relied on my own supplies, fruit from the market for my daily smoothie (which I would make in my hotel room), and… veggie paella.

tablesettingCouscous and veggies… all day long in Tangier

In Morocco, it was all about couscous and veggies. I could usually find some kind of vegan bread to enjoy with these meals, but just like in Spain, I definitely had to supplement with supplies I brought with me: smoothies with The Ultimate Meal smoothie mix (which I have every day at home, anyway); Clif bars and trail mix for snacks; and black bean soup and instant rice on standby, ready to roll.

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Fresh fruit; always a welcome sight over there…
and a non-negotiable for snacks and smoothies

Also, not to sound like a prima donna, but I am still blown away by the fact that American does not offer a vegan meal in either their first or business-class accommodations. There are at least four different categories of special meals available there. including Muslim, kosher, and even vegetarian (which typically includes some form of dairy). But no vegan option? C’mon, motherfuckers!  Are there really so few of us out there?  (Don’t answer that!)

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Salad, cooked veggies, and warm nuts; “it’s what’s for dinner”…
on an American flight!

Back to Spain; Destination – Retreat House!

The next day we connected through Casablanca and wound up touching down in Valencia, about an hour’s ride north of my friend’s place on the east coast. We enjoyed a scenic drive there, then settled into our “writer’s retreat” mode… sort of. It’s just so crazy beautiful around there, it would have been insane to not leave their house. And with them being situated right near the breathtaking Cumbre del Sol, I enjoyed a couple of the most scenic runs I have possibly ever had – anywhere. We’re talking rolling hills (whose steep inclines make for quite a workout), 360 degree postcard views, a California climate with clear skies at about 80 degrees, and the ever-present Mediterranean in the distance – the richest blues and greens you’ve ever seen – sparkling in the sun. (It made me forget how badly my lungs were burning!)

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Part of the route…

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View from the top…

As for the actual work this time, my friend’s open air villa could not have provided a more writer-friendly environment.  At one point I joked with Watson, saying “if you ever get writer’s block around here, you have much deeper issues going on!”

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View from the “writer’s den”…

My main objective for this retreat was to lock down a publishing schedule for the following year. I’ve been sitting on so much near-completed material for so long, it’s time to start cranking the shit out there. Modern publishing methods make it easier than ever, in many ways.  Otherwise, I dabbled with different sections from about three different manuscripts, and managed to crank out a complete memoir about my Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, the 30th anniversary of which went down during this trip. People seemed to dig the behind-the-scenes perspective of things, so I might wind up publishing a collection of this kind of non-fiction, memoir-type shit.  We’ll see.

Until the next one…

BR

Scope the VVI audition memoir HERE:

Scope out my latest book HERE:

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“Go West, Young Man!” – Reflections on the Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition, 30 Years Later

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Last week marked the 30th anniversary of my Vinnie Vincent Invasion audition. And since I’m on my annual “writer’s retreat” at the moment, firmly in the headspace of writing, I figured I would do a little stream-of-consciousness riffing about that whole crazy, magical, and dare I say, “destined,” audition experience.

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Tuesday, October 1st, 1985, SIR Studios on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. There are so many things I remember – with great detail and clarity – about that day, and even about the months leading up to it. Frankly, it’s hard to believe three full decades have since trickled through the hourglass.

Motels, Vans and Cover Bands

As a matter of context, consider where I was at the time, what I was up to, and how unlikely it was for me to even get a shot at the gig. I had spent most of that year on the road with a band called “Diamond Romeo,” zig-zagging all over the South and Midwest, playing club shows almost every night for $150 a week. Band and crew toured around in an oversized van and a huge truck packed with gear. We played nearly four hours a night on hot, smoky stages, and I slept on the floor of a motel room I shared with three other band guys, living off of peanut butter sandwiches and soup that I heated up on a hot plate. It was a pretty strenuous gig. I was playing full-out through sets of all hard rock covers, and my nightly drum solo was always well over 10 minutes (as it provided our singer with a well-needed mid-set break). But, my chops were up, up, up, and I felt like I was playing better than ever.

Although the band was perpetually on the road, I would soon realize that there wasn’t much room for advancement beyond the cover circuit we were on. And I noticed that a few of our fellow club circuit bands had been routing themselves all the way west to LA, where the real shit was going down. I knew the west coast was my destiny, but I had no clue how to get there or what to do once I did, since I figured I would be going out there as a drummer for hire.

So… I decided to reach out to a few of my colleagues who had actually been there and see if I could get a clue. First call – Joey C. Jones, front man for a band called Sweet Savage; one of the top-drawing bands on the circuit. I had heard that Sweet Savage had just been in LA recording an EP with this bassist, producer guy named Dana Strum, who was also connected to guitarist Vinnie Vincent. I was also aware that Vinnie – who had left Kiss a year or two prior – was putting a new band together and had everyone dialed in but the drummer.  Man… that was it! That would be the perfect gig for me. But how in the fuck does this 22-year old kid from Houston get a shot at that? Certainly Vinnie would have a line of LA guys ready to pounce, wouldn’t he?

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Catching up with Joey C. Jones in Dallas recently

Nonetheless, Joey was super cool. He told me the ins-and-outs of the LA scene and gave me a few phone numbers… including Dana Strum’s. So a bit later that afternoon, with my heart beating in my throat, I called Dana’s number and got his answering machine. I wound up leaving a bold and rambling message, which, in retrospect, must’ve sounded pretty ridiculous. But it was just ridiculous enough to get his attention,

I found out later that Vinnie and Dana were actually grabbing lunch together at the Hamburger Hamlet next to the Chrysalis Records building off of Sunset at the exact time Dana went to the restaurant payphone to check his messages.  Clearly amused by my rather confident pleadings, he went back to the table and had this now infamous exchange with Vinnie:

“Hey, I just found our new drummer,” Dana said jokingly. ” He just left me a message. Some kid named Bobby Rock from Texas. Says he’s ready to drive out here and audition.”

“Fuck ’em,” said Vinnie.

“No, no… I think we should give him a shot. I mean, how fucking funny would it be to have this kid drive all the way here just to bomb out at an audition, and then have to drive all the way back home?”

“True,” said Vinnie. And they both had a good chuckle.

A day or two later, Dana did return the call, and I further made my case for an audition. By the end of the conversation, he basically said, “Okay, we’ll give you a shot. I’ll be back in touch when we lock down an audition time.”  I thanked him profusely and told him to let me know when to drive out to LA. I had already decided that I wanted to use my own drums for the audition, so flying there wasn’t going to be an option.

Hurry Up and Wait

I wish I could say the audition was immediately forthcoming… but it wasn’t. It was at least six agonizing weeks later, after various delays, and it felt like six months. I was basically in limbo, off the road and living back with my parents at the house I grew up in, with no money, and no other choice but to wait around for the phone to ring.

When the call finally came – at around 1:00 AM central time, with my mom answering the call out of a deep sleep! – I was handed the phone and Dana told me that the first round of the process would involve 10-minute screening auditions, where each guy comes in and plays by himself, for the band guys, but minus any jamming with the band. If you passed that step, then you go to step two and actually get to play with the band.  So basically, I would be driving 1500 miles on fumes, with no guarantee of anything beyond those initial 10 minutes.  Plus, to even get to LA, I had to borrow money from my parents and sister for food and gas.

Going West

I hugged my parents and left early on a Sunday morning. It was just me and my chocolate brown ’79 Ford Econoline van, packed with a road-worn set of chrome Pearls. I would take the good ol’ I-10 all the way across the country.

I remember pulling into a rest area somewhere near the Texas/New Mexico border late that night, walking back from the pisser – fall chill in the air, and that desert black sky with its explosion of stars – then climbing into the back of the van, pulling a pillow out of one my bass drums, grabbing a blanket, then clearing just enough room to stretch out on the floor between the various road cases.

That whole scene is still vivid in my mind: I was trying to fall asleep, anxious about the audition, and a little paranoid about my current surroundings. I remember the constant surging of headlights though the rear window of the van, casting moving shapes of shadow and light all around me; cars, trucks, and earth-rumbling 18-wheelers coming and going all night; crunchy gravel footsteps outside the van’s sliding side door, fading into concrete shuffles; and the recurring chorus of muffled voices, near and far. It was hard to sleep, even though I was deep-fried and delirious from a long day of driving.

But then, there was this other feeling that would elbow out all that anxiety… a deep sense of knowing, in the pit of my gut.  Even though I may have been sleeping with my drums, in the back of a beat-up van in a glorified parking lot, and living on borrowed money, I just had a feeling. And at the risk of overdramatizing the moment here, I distinctly remember finally dozing off that night, wrapped in a weathered green blanket, feeling a sense of blissful isolation from my immediate surroundings… immersed in a sense of deep connectedness to some inevitable destiny on the west coast that I was on an absolute collision course to hit.  I can’t fully explain it, and I didn’t know it at the time, but as it would turn out, that audition would be one of the truly most destined moments I had ever experienced.

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The original VVI promo shot

Approaching the Moment 

As I got back on the road in the AM and the miles were clicking by, this feeling of exhilaration grew.  I mean, I was still super nervous about the audition… let me be clear about that. But this other empowered feeling kept drifting in and taking over. In fact, I remember filling up my van with gas along the way and some guy – assuming I was a musician by my appearance – asked who I played for.

“Vinnie Vincent,” I said.

“The guy from Kiss?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Cool!” he said.

I smiled to myself as I climbed back in the van a few moments later.  Damn!  Already telling motherfuckers you’ve got the gig? Man… you better deliver some serious shit tomorrow, fool!

One other fortuitous thing happened en route that’s worth mentioning: Somewhere in Arizona later that morning, I saw two Mexican guys in their twenties, stranded on the side of the road, in the middle of nowheresville. I pulled over to help. They spoke very broken English, but somehow conveyed that they were trying to get to the next exit, some 30 miles away. I said I would take them. They both jumped in the back of the van, even though the passenger seat would’ve been available for one of them, and I had a split second of thinking this might not have been a good idea. But then… that feeling was there.  Destiny.  I was supposed to bail these guys out. And in helping them reach their destined location that day, I somehow would karmically ensure that I would reach my (more metaphorical) destined location in LA the next day.  Granted, I’m sure I was caught up in all kinds of mental and spiritual grandiosity-of-the-moment kind of shit… but it all seemed to feed the fire.

I had arranged to crash at my boy Tim Young’s apartment in LA.  He was my old college roommate and a great friend, and he also offered to go to the audition as my drum tech and help me get the kit set up.  The evening of my arrival, we drove the short distance from his place – near the corner of La Brea and Melrose – to the audition site at SIR.  We just wanted to stake it out and know where we were going to be headed the next afternoon. It was quite a feat to get any sleep on his couch that night. I was amped up from fear and excitement.

Destiny: VVI – The Audition

We pulled up to SIR the next afternoon and saw all the makings of a typical cattle call audition. There was a herd of long-haired rock drummers, all standing in a line next to their stacked drum kits, waiting to go in, set up, and do their best for this token “screening” audition. When it was my turn, Tim Young walked in first holding a stack of toms, and they all looked a little perplexed. “This fucking waiter-looking guy is Bobby Rock from Texas?” But there was immediate relief when I walked in behind him, and they saw he was just my “lowly” tech!

So I met the guys and we had a little small talk. There he was: Vinnie Vincent. Rock star at large, long black hair, eyeliner kickin’, and tight pants tucked inside leather boots. I also met singer Robert Fleischman and, of course, Dana Strum, my “point person.”  Everyone was cordial, but reserved. I got the impression that they had been there awhile and had probably already had enough drumming madness for one day.

Once I get seated behind the kit and ready to go, the three of them took a seat on a couch that was set up about 15 or 20 feet in front of the drums, directly in my line of fire.  Vinnie said something like, “Just play a basic rock groove like you would if we were jamming in an arena some place.”

So I kicked into a simple AC/DC-type beat, making sure I was hitting hard and it was groovin’.  I remember the drums sounded full and ambient in the room, and although I had been fairly nervous just before go-time, I immediately felt at home there, so the shit was flowing pretty good.

They all seemed receptive to what I was playing… heads lightly bobbing, looks of interest and perhaps even pleasant surprise. So I started mixing it up a bit, throwing in a little funky syncopation, and letting a few more adventurous multi-tom and double-bass riffs fly. This definitely caught their attention as smiles broke across their faces, and I noticed a few head-nodding glances toward each other.

At this point, ten minutes had come and gone, and we were now stepping into a bizarre, almost drum clinic-like atmosphere, where I started throwing all kinds of crazy shit at them. Now they were really lit up… well, mainly Vinnie and Robert. I think Dana appreciated the musicianship but, ever the pragmatic one, was probably questioning the relevance of a lot of this kind of playing beyond a nightly drum solo.

But it was too late.  We were now 20-plus minutes into it, and I was breaking out the serious Latin-influenced 4-way independence stuff… which was even less common three decades ago.  They seemed to go nuts over this.

30 minutes and counting.

I was on a proverbial roll. I felt like I could play anything. They even started playing a little “stump the drummer,” requesting that I play certain tricky things… mainly for their amusement, it seemed.

“I noticed you can play those fast 32nd-note rolls going down the toms from high to low,” Robert said.  “But can you go in the opposite direction, from low to high?”

Ever the Billy Cobham fanatic, of course I could. So I did… fast and hard. (This type of up-and-down the toms riffing would actually wind up on the record at the end of a crazy tune called “Twisted.”)  They all just shook their heads and laughed.

Then Vinnie requested a variation of something that required a fair bit of ambidexterity.  Fortunately, it was the kind of thing I practiced for hours and hours in a Berklee College of Music practice room several years prior, so I could do it, and I did… exaggerating the shit, making it even more polyrhythmic. Again… smiles, raised eyebrows, head-shaking.  It was like I was a machine. (But really, I suppose I was just lucky that I could oblige every request!)

40 minutes and counting.

Finally, Vinnie asked me to finish up with a drum solo. I remember thinking (but obviously not saying), Holmes, what the fuck do you think I’ve been doing the past 40 minutes?  But I realized he was just curious to hear what my trip might look like in the context of a more traditional solo spot. So I launched into a final four or five-minute solo with the most bombastic ending I could manage, and they all stood up and applauded. It was quite a moment.

Afterward, the vibe was all positive, and we chatted for a few. I remember Vinnie being surprised about my age, and very complimentary about my playing. Dana was basically, “Great job. We’ll be calling you tomorrow.”  Robert was a bit more forthright about my status, as he saw it. I’ll never forget what he said:

“Unless someone walks in here with three arms, you’ve got the gig!”

Another thing I recall is when they opened the studio door to continue with the auditions, all but one of the other guys had split. (My friend Tim said that as the audition dragged on and the playing got crazier, guys started packing up their gear and bailing.)  And as I was talking to Robert and the final guy walked in – looking like he was on his way to a top 40 gig at the Holiday Inn – I couldn’t help but think he wasn’t going to be a good fit here.  Nor did Robert.

“Stick around,” Robert said in a slightly hushed tone. “This shouldn’t take long.”

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Hanging with Robert Fleischman at a recent Lita Ford show

Ironically, for as much pinpoint detail as I remember about so much of this entire experience, I don’t actually recall the moment I was told I officially got the gig. I’m pretty sure it was either later that night or possibly the next day. But I do remember that there was no question about it. I was buzzing with elation and adrenaline all the way back to the apartment. It felt like I had just been hired on the spot, but they needed to go through the formality of discussing it among themselves, telling their manager, etc. But man…even all these years later, it’s hard to fully express the absolute exhilaration I felt from landing this gig. It was a sweet vindication from all the struggle, disillusionment, and uncertainty I had experienced in the biz up to that point.

Meet the Brass

Once I was locked in, it was decided that we would start recording the debut album in December, and that I would head back to Houston in the interim. But first, they wanted me to tag along to a meeting with the Chrysalis Records brass.  No big agenda, as I recall, just an “appearance” at the label with the official line-up intact, now that I had been brought into the fold.  Vinnie had been signed for awhile, but it was time to show the suits that the Vinnie Vincent Invasion was a real life entity, ready to shake up the scene.

A day or so later, I met Vinnie, Dana, and Robert over at Victoria Station in Universal City, then we all drove over to Chrysalis Records together.  Back then, you dressed up for virtually every occasion, so we were looking like a rock band as we all peacocked our way through the reception area and into the office of Ron Fair, an up-and-coming Chrysalis exec.  (Yes, that Ron Fair; the A&R man, producer, and songwriter who would go on to a huge career with Christina Aguilera, the Black Eyed Peas, and a host of others. Strange that he would be the first real industry player I would meet.)

Ten minutes into the meeting, Ron said, “Chris Wright is in today.  Maybe you guys should say hello.”  He then picked up the phone, talked to a secretary, then said, “Yes, he’ll see you now.”  And just like that, we were stepping into the office of the man who discovered Jethro Tull and co-founded Chrysalis Records nearly 20 years prior.

Holy shit!

He stood from behind his desk as we each stepped up for a handshake.  ‘…and this is our drummer, Bobby Rock.”

“Hello, Bobby… nice to meet you,” he said in his distinguished English accent as we shook hands.

Holy shit!

Then we all took our seats in front of his desk and had a casual powwow about the upcoming record and the year ahead, partnering up with Chrysalis for “global domination.”  Vinnie did most of the talking.  I just sat there quietly, trying to look as cool and unaffected as possible… like this was no big thing. But what I was really thinking was, What the fuck? Just a few days ago, I was sleeping with my drums in the back of my van, trying to stay warm at some ghetto fucking rest area, hoping my funds would hold out until I got to LA. Today, I’m hanging out with teased hair and eyeliner in a real record company meeting, at an office address off of Sunset Blvd. that I used to see on the back of my Jethro Tull and UFO albums, sitting across from one of the most powerful execs in the biz. This is fucking insane!

And these are the extremes we live with in this crazy biz.  It truly can go one way or the other, overnight.

Aftermath

After the meeting, we all went next door and had dinner at the very same Hamburger Hamlet where Dana had first picked up my voice message some six or eight weeks before.  We had gone full circle, you might say. But at this point, I still had not heard any music… not even the demo that got Vinnie signed.  So before heading out of town the next day, I connected with Dana and he gave me a cassette of some of the stuff I was to learn for the record.  Wow.  Those early demos were spectacular.  I heard “Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” “Shoot You Full Of Love,” and “No Substitute,” back to back, just as Chrysalis first heard ’em, and just like they would eventually appear on the album. The shit was slammin’, and now I was even more fired up.  This thing is going to be huge, I thought, as I cranked up the tape in my van and cruised back onto the ol’ I-10, headed east to Houston.

***********

Indeed, we did have a pretty good run. The record would come out roughly nine months after we started it, and the band would hit the road with Alice Cooper, and then Iron Maiden, on two separate tours.  The record would eventually be marketed as “the fastest-selling debut in the history of Chrysalis Records” and we would shoot a video, do a bunch of press, make a lot of noise, and enjoy a healthy buzz in the industry.  However, Robert Fleischman would not remain in the band.  Once the recording was done and we did the initial album cover photo shoot, things didn’t work out with Robert (business stuff between him, Vinnie, Vinnie’s manager, perhaps the label… I never knew exactly what). So Mark Slaughter was hired in late summer of ’86 to step in and take over front man duties.

VVImark
Early promo shot with Mark Slaughter

As for the making of the first VVI record starting in December of ’85, that would turn out to be one of the most agonizing experiences of my entire career.  But that, my friends, is a whole other story…

 ______________________

 Here’s part one of the VVI debut LP recording experience:

Welcome To Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 1

*   *   *   *   *

And here’s part two of the VVI debut LP recording experience:

Welcome to More Hell: Recording Drums for the First Vinnie Vincent Invasion Album – Part 2

 

Thanks for reading…

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Prologue (book excerpt from Zentauria)

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Zentauria: My Season in the Warrior Utopia.  The book is essentially an 11-week documentation of life with a secretive utopian community, on a small island off the east coast of Africa.  I wrote it journal-style, with a conversational narrative, but I believe the themes, experiences and insights covered throughout might be useful – even inspiring – to others.

ZentauriaKindleHere’s the Prologue, which articulates both the deep history of the island, and my personal connection to it:

Prologue

THE KING of all the land lived in the house of rock; a massive granite structure that took untold amounts of struggle and strife to build. Thousands of citizens basked in the radiance of the king and his empire, as resources were abundant and all was good for a seeming eternity. But then, there was a climate change, of sorts, and the once plentiful resources dried up or fell out of favor, depending on who you ask. This led to the inevitable exodus of the townsfolk, followed by the reluctant exile of the king. It was a spectacular free-fall into irrelevance.

Sounds like the music business, doesn’t it?

Actually, I’m talking about Africa’s Great Zimbabwe era of the 15th century. Must’ve been a brutal time for the king, I tell ya… fucking brutal! But the king was a pretty resilient guy, and he responded to this obliteration of fortune like any dignified ruler would; he disappeared. That’s right. He and his sizable inner-circle relocated to some primo real estate acquired by the royal family during better times—a pristine, undeveloped island just thirty kilometers east of the African coastline—to contemplate life and, eventually, start things anew.

zimbabwe-ruinsThe stone ruins of Great Zimbabwe, circa 15th century

From this inauspicious beginning, a much greater and grander empire would be born. But not without a few epic shifts and twists. It would be one thing to survive on the island, but yet another to truly thrive. And what the king rediscovered about himself was that he was here to thrive, and thrive large. But how? What could be cultivated with the resources at hand to create a compelling, inspiring, and sustainable empire?

This question became the lofty theme of a daily sunset ritual; an active group meditation that took place among the swaying acacias near the shoreline, as the sun melted fire-orange into the horizon. A perfect row of nearly fifty shirtless warriors would all stand quietly with heads bowed and eyes closed, waiting, while the king slowly strolled back and forth behind them, whispering expectantly to the God Force. Every day they did this.

GreatZwarriorsAnd then one day, he got his answer.

THE MONK washed ashore in a splintered caravel during the exact time of said ritual. He hailed from the Shaolin traditions of Ming dynasty China, but had traveled extensively throughout Europe as both a mercenary and confidante to the region’s most influential. Fascinated by the synchronicity of the monk’s arrival, the king urged him and his colorful European shipmates to stick around. Soon, the monk would develop an enormous vision for the island, and then infect the king with this vision. The king, in turn, would become obsessed with its manifestation.

This was the birth of Zentauria.

* * * * * * * *

ZENTAURIA was officially established back in 1463 as an experimental, multi-cultural community designed to foster the highest levels of human potential in the arts, sciences, and esoteric spiritual practices. Part university, part think-tank, part mind/body retreat, Zentauria was intended to be the ultimate live/work environment for some of the world’s most progressive thinkers, artists, and spiritual practitioners. To this end, it would also serve as an inspirational polestar for those wishing to study art, science, or religion, join an apprenticeship, or simply experience the ambience of a high-vibrational community. And, of course, it would become a coveted destination for the world’s richest and most powerful; a magical adventure worth many future moons of tall tales and bragging rights.

Zentauria’s “super-hub” coastal location would serve as a neutral ground between the creative epicenter of Renaissance-era Europe and the spiritual nucleus of Asia’s deeply rooted Zen culture. And within two short decades of serving its initial purpose and hosting many of the world’s most highly regarded artists, monks, and warriors, Zentauria evolved into its own self-sufficient community, with quite an eclectic range of permanent citizens known as Zentaurians.

Through the first two centuries, the fifty square miles of island real estate that comprise Zentauria would change ownership several times and survive a series of international political upheavals. But it would ultimately emerge as its own autonomously governed country in 1763, the year of its 300th anniversary. It would also go on to represent human potential and self-actualization in a way no other culture ever has.

* * * * * * * *

Zentauria’s extreme isolation from the rest of the world has stemmed primarily from the rigid passport/visitation policies the country has consistently upheld in an effort to preserve its utopian qualities. It has been nearly impossible to penetrate this community on any level, and this has given the island a hallowed mystique in certain circles. (By the way, “Zentauria” is the native name for the island and not how it would appear in certain world atlas listings.)

More recently, however, policies have loosened, as some of the new leaders have become more receptive to sharing their rich culture with the rest of the world, albeit on a limited basis. Accordingly, they have invited a few of the world’s brightest leaders, speakers, and thinkers over to Zentauria with the intention of establishing a more global dialogue and a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas. And here is where the shifts and twists of my own journey would create an epic opportunity in the form of an extended invite…

Enter: My Season in the Warrior Utopia.

IMAGINE a secretive community of self-actualized super-beings, whose citizens live without conflict, disease, or prejudice, and who are among the most highly-functioning on the planet, physically, mentally, and creatively. Imagine a people whose enlightened spiritual sense flows through every aspect of their daily lives; from their work, physical training, intellectual pursuits and relationships, to their meditation practices, sexuality, and extreme reverence for planet and animals.

Now imagine living among these joyous, evolved beings for eleven weeks as an active part of their community… free to observe, explore, and document all facets of their rich history and futuristic present. What might you see? What would you learn? How might you be changed from this extraordinary opportunity, and what would you want the world to know about your observations and experiences there?

These are the questions that turned me into a madman over there, as I feverishly attempted to soak it all in and write it all down. It’s the kind of place where you don’t want to go to sleep, for fear that you might miss out on something life-altering. And yet, sleep is your only reprieve from a higher-vibrational ambience that could grind your senses into fairy-dust if you aren’t careful. But I did my best to capture as much as I could, and now I have my own magical adventure to tell you about in the pages ahead.

So climb aboard my flying carpet and let’s soar into the land of the enlightened, the “warrior utopia.” Let’s live among the evolutionarily elite—in the most magnificent culture of metaphor and archetype on earth—and allow our vibration, our creativity, our skills, our intellect, our physicality, our sensuality, our passion, and our compassion to be elevated to heights unimagined. Let’s find out, once and for all, who we are, why we’re here, what really matters, and how we can make the best of things this time through. Let’s learn to walk the talk of the masters before us, so that we can more fully Project the Magnificence and, when the time is right, bring our story to a graceful conclusion, without hesitation or regret.

Here’s to the journey…

Bobby Rock
Los Angeles

_______________________

Check out our official Zentauria page here for ordering info and more excerpts.

Paperback and Kindle versions available direct from Amazon. Just click the link below:

 amazon-white-logo

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Drumbell Training for Drummers

Here’s an article I recently did for Drum magazine.  These exercises really work!  And for all you non-drummers, this concept of training is excellent to adapt to whatever your athletic endeavor might be.  Just create custom movements with light dumbbells that emulate the various motions you perform.

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Runners, fighters, and football players all have key weightlifting exercises designed to strengthen movements specific to their activities.  Drummers should have the same, so I’ve developed a few drumming-specific exercises through the years that will improve power, speed, endurance and mobility around the kit.

I call this “Drumbell” training because it involves using dumbbells to enhance drumming motions.  Try adding these to your regimen two or three times a week, and be prepared for some great results.

Here are a few parameters:

A) Start off with really light “housewife weight” dumbbells; one or two-pounders should be fine.  You can increase the weight later, once you get acclimated to the movements.

B) Exercises are always performed in a rhythmic, RLRL motion, similar to drumming.

C) Sets are based around duration of time, as opposed to traditional reps.

D) Perform these exercises at the end of your upper-body workout routine.

Here are two of my favorites:

snarecrushers1
Snare Crushers

This exercise will bring super power and endurance to your snare drum strokes.

1. From a seated position with your elbows relaxed by your sides, pretend like you’re balancing the bottom of each dumbbell on top of an imaginary snare in front of you.  (Your knuckles should be facing forward.)

2. Raise your right dumbbell up to the right side of your head, approximately four inches from your temple.

3. With a controlled motion, return the right dumbbell to your starting position, while simultaneously raising your left dumbbell up to the left side of your head the same way.

4. As you return your left dumbbell to the starting position, raise your right dumbbell back up again, and so forth.  Continue this RLRL motion for 30 seconds to two minutes.  Do three sets.

tombashers1
Tom Bashers

This exercise will increase mobility, speed and power between your toms and snare.

1. From a seated position, hold both dumbbells in front of your chest, with the sides of your fists facing down.

2. Extend your right dumbbell forward in a controlled, circular motion.

tombashers23. Once it’s all the way forward, complete the circle with your right dumbbell as your left dumbbell extends forward to begin its circular motion.  (You are basically emulating the front-wheel motion of a locomotive.)

4. Continue this motion smooth and steady for 30 seconds to two minutes.  Do three sets.

Both of these movements should produce a gradually intensifying burn in your arms and shoulders, so embrace the pain!

BR

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Embracing the Paparazzi and the Art of Non-Judgment

meandmaury

As some of you may know, my latest book, Zentauria, is based on the interaction with a highly-evolved, utopian society and a lot of Zen-like philosophical tenets. One of the key tenets highlighted throughout the adventure is mindfulness, which is essentially the deeper-consciousness awareness of the present moment and everything you are able to perceive about it.

Mindfulness is an invaluable tenet, probably most associated with Buddhist monks, and its faithful practice will lead anyone to a more evolved, peaceful life. And it is something we have to diligently and deliberately practice, since there is very little in our daily lives that organically encourages it.

Accordingly, it turns out that one of the key barriers to this high-level of awareness is judgment. This is because when we judge negatively, we have – in almost every single case – arrived at a narrow, one-dimensional conclusion about someone or something that is not the whole Truth; only an embarrassingly small, biased fragment of it. This cripples our thinking, because once this conclusion is reached, it’s game over… we’ve made up our minds and, in our temporary ignorance and short-sightedness, we are unable to perceive the deeper Truth about someone or something. And if we are attempting to walk any kind of higher path, this is not such a great idea!

For me, this has meant that I constantly try to practice non-judgment – all the time, everyday. I attempt to observe first, without any kind of judgment, and look more deeply into things, with the understanding that there is always more to the “story” than what meets the eye. I tend to do pretty well with it, but then I notice that there are occasionally a few “hot topics” that pop up… things that I immediately jump to judgment about.

One such thing for me is the paparazzi. My basic, knee-jerk position has been: I don’t get it, I don’t understand how someone can make a living doing such a thing, and I don’t understand how there’s even a “market” in the world for this asinine shit. (Ya see…more judgment!) Furthermore, it’s challenging for me to physically stomach more than five seconds of shows like TMZ, which, believe me, I would only ever encounter on accident. That has more or less been my position, although, I have found it to be an interesting ritual to practice non-judgment in the rare case that I’m stuck in front of a TV playing one of these shows. Breathe in – breathe out… seek to understand the deeper layers here… seek to know the bigger story at play…. etc.

Most recently, a deeper perspective on the matter was delivered to me rather poignantly. While on the way to LAX (LA airport) for a run of shows, I had overheard by way of a phone call to our soundman that one of my bandmates – already waiting for us curbside – was annoyed that the paparazzi was trying to take her photo. Our soundman told her to excuse herself from them and to hang tight… we were almost there. And then when we arrived about 10 minutes later, I discovered that the camera-wielding paparazzi guy in question was someone I actually knew; an old gym buddy from way back in the day who I always liked. I was stunned. What the hell? I thought. “Maury” (we’ll call him) was now a motherfuckin’ paparazzi guy? No!!!!

This was my initial judgment.

But when he saw me, he busted out into that mile-wide smile of his and we hugged. And I smiled, too. It was great to see my friend. He told me he was doing this part-time, in addition to some other non-related ventures. I asked him a bit about the gig… like do people get mad at him, etc. He said that sometimes they do and, if that’s the case, he immediately puts his camera away and refuses to shoot someone against their will.

Sure enough, when I introduced him to my bandmate and we all had a laugh, she ended up really liking him. (And yes, she later confirmed that as soon as she asked him not to take her picture, he immediately withdrew his camera.) We visited a bit more and he laughed and joked with us about stuff for a few minutes before returning to his “post” to wait for Joan Rivers… who, apparently appreciates the platform and has no problem obliging pics and vids.

This whole experience became an interesting “hypothetical” for me: what if you found out that a dear old friend was participating in a profession that you disagreed with? Would you feel differently about it? Would you reconsider your opinion in any way? Would you have a bit more empathy towards the subject?

Obviously, there are still intrusive elements of the profession – and many unethical participants – so I’m not trying to make this a black-and-white issue where suddenly I’m a fan. And I’m clearly not suggesting that mindfulness is always about “loving” (or feigning affection) toward people or things that don’t line up with your moral compass. I’m only suggesting that there is always another side to the story; a part of the narrative or subtext that we might not agree with, but will at least gift us with deeper insight, and perhaps a little more empathy. And this is our way into a more mindful observation about something. But we will never be able to experience that in-point unless we set aside judgment for a moment and truly seek out that deeper peek.

The “practice” continues…

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