Out to Sea and Off the Grid: The Ecstasy of Isolation


Here are some random thoughts, pics, and vids from a music cruise I just took through the Caribbean—and its direct connection to some very strange times in the world at the moment.


Just got back last Sunday from the 80s Cruise with Lita Ford and company. It’s kind of like a Monsters of Rock Cruise, but considerably less of a hard rock extravaganza, and more of an immersion into 80s mainstream pop culture. We were out to sea for an entire week, just as shit was starting to implode everywhere else in the world with this coronavirus situation.

Hotel room view of Miami, the night before…

The only shot of the boat I happened to grab…

In fact, the first thing that happened prior to pushing off to sea was we found out a couple of our fellow headliners would not be joining us. This altered the performance itinerary quite a bit: instead of playing on nights one and four, we would now be playing on nights six and seven, co-headlining with Kool and the Gang. This meant five days of out-at-sea downtime before showtime!  (By the way, it would be announced a day or two later that three more bands pulled out, as well. Pretty unprecedented.)

Once we set sail on Sunday, and even as I was catching wind of the “global unraveling” that was beginning to go down, I chose to remain almost completely off-the-grid for as much of the trip as possible, particularly for the first five days. (Yes, even more so than usual!)  Not as an act of reality denial because, after all, what could I do about anything from out there? But more in an effort to take a much-needed digital/communication sabbatical: no texts, calls, emails, internet, TV, or social media posts for virtually the entire trip.

A sunrise, in four parts:





Additionally, I tried to roam the ship anonymously whenever possible, like a ghost: zipping around mostly at odd hours, and/or through lesser-traveled thoroughfares, trying to minimize all forms of interaction. Not because I don’t enjoy talking to people, but because this seemed to pair well with the mental-exile theme of the week: Minimize external input, and maximize internal silence. That said, whenever I had a chance to talk to someone, it was welcomed. Folks were super cool out there. It’s just that I wouldn’t go out of my way to socialize, based on this directive.

The library: 3:35 AM

Couple this with some solitary pursuits—lotsa random reflection, more-than-usual journaling, lotsa reading and writing (especially in the library, my favorite spot on the ship), in-room practice pad work to keep the chops up, and several “medies” (meditation sessions) tossed in throughout the day—and… well, it was essentially the mental equivalent of a nutrition cleanse: a zeroing out, a cleaning house of the mind, a stripping down of the inessential… all so my brain could have some extra leeway to do its glorious thing: Fire on all eight cylinders, rather than trying to juggle and process so much shit all the time that it’s running on five or six!

It was magnificent… rejuvenating… exhilarating… just to feel the full crackle of my brain’s neurocircuitry, connecting and reconnecting in ways that inspire a grander brand of thinking. Moving forward, I no doubt need to double down on this “airplane mode” way of living.


Heading into St. Thomas

The boat made stops in Puerto Rico, Punta Cana, St. Thomas, and Haiti. And while the first couple days were extraordinarily rough with rain and wind—so much so that the upper deck/running track area was initially closed off (the horror!)—things smoothed out by Wednesday. The winds calmed a bit, the sun poked back out, and it was then that a more typical festive cruise vibe seemed to return to the ship.

As usual, the training continued throughout the week. Always. No matter what. Every day. Yes, I train every day—at least that’s my intention. Because life will do what it’s gonna do and you will have to miss a day here or there… which is why I never have any planned days off. They’re gonna happen anyway.  Feeling burnt-out or overtrained? Fine. Do some light calisthenics, with some basic martial arts movements and drills, slow and easy, almost Tai Chi-style. Then, finish up with some simple stretches. The whole thing could take 20 or 30 minutes, tops. That will do more for your recovery than being completely sedentary on a “rest day.”

As it turned out, I hit the gym every morning right around when it opened at 6:00 AM. And I also managed a few killer runs along the way, both around the boat and on land after docking.


Dropping into Haiti on show day…

Friday’s soundcheck shot at the Palace Theater

Once Friday rolled around, it was time to do some playing. The shows were fun and the crowds were lively. As mentioned, we shared the stage with Kool and the Gang. It was so refreshing to see and hear these guys, still out there, preserving the legacy of the large, funky, R&B horn band. I used to play a bunch of their old school 70s stuff back in the day when I was giggin’ a lot in Houston’s notorious fifth ward. (Not so notorious these days, with how much the city’s changed… but that’s probably a good thing!) I would even go on to cover “Jungle Boogie” on a record I did with Neil Zaza and Bill “The Buddha” Dickens called Snap, Crackle, and Pop… Live! The point being, I felt a special kinship to their music, and the band could not have been “kooler” to us. (Sorry… couldn’t resist.)

You never know what you might find backstage at some of these theater gigs…


Saturday’s soundcheck shot at the Palace Theater

All of this personal isolation stuff aside, I got the sense that me and my fellow passengers were in a floating bubble while we were at sea, aware of much of what was going on in the rest of the world, but oddly detached from it—at least for a time. Then, when we all got off the boat and headed for the airport, we could gradually step into the “new normal,” which was rapidly being redefined by the moment.

Another sunrise, in four parts:





Now, here we are nearly one week later, in a time of great uncertainty… particularly here in California, where this new “stay at home” mandate just kicked in.  So, in reflection of these unusual days ahead—and given my recent experience in relative isolation—I guess what I would say to anyone interested in an “isolationist’s” perspective is…

Take advantage of the potential solitude in “elective isolation” (if you’re going that route). Your mind—when unencumbered by all of the screens, hoopla, worry, and distraction—is your most powerful ally right now;

Try to minimize exposure to the 24-hour news cycle. Five minutes of that shit a couple times a day will keep you plenty informed. Beyond that, it’s all designed to soften your mind;

Don’t forget to breathe… deeply… throughout the day, as you take a few “deep-belly” breaths whenever you think about it. I’m guessing that, with our current situation here, we all have a subliminal tendency to breathe shallowly, so as not to potentially inhale anything harmful in our environment. And yet, breathing deeply is one of our best stress reducers and body/brain energizers—as any Buddhist monk would tell us;

And most of all, embrace this unparalleled opportunity at hand to see everything through an illuminating new filter in these days ahead.

These are extraordinary times, the likes of which we may never see again.



A few more pics/vids for your contemplation and reflection… 🙂

Another kick-ass sunrise run on the boat, this one from the North Atlantic

Pre-sunrise shot from the deck

“The Gang” from the Palace balcony

An above-ground cemetery I ran across in St. Thomas

Yet another senseless selfie from yet another gym…





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A Spontaneous Trip to Dubai: In Pictures


Just wanted to document my recent trip to Dubai here on the blog. Both the trip, and my post-excursion decision to ink a quick blog about it, were largely unplanned, so I’m sure I could’ve put together a much more compelling documentation of the experience with even a little bit of forethought. BUT, it’s been occurring to me more and more lately just how disposable social media posts tend to be… how our musings, pics, and vids just seem to evaporate into this big black hole of white noise, only to be seen (and forgotten) by so few. Not sure how much more of a shelf life things have in a blog post, but it seems like a more reliable way to present (and ultimately reference) one’s expressions and experiences, as we go deeper into a densely cluttered future of digital “content.”

As always, thanks for scoping, and enjoy…


The Writing

For me, the ulterior objective of any last-minute trip is to take it with a “have laptop, will travel“ credo. This is a writer’s retreat sort of mentality where I can immerse myself into a project or two that I’ve been working on and make some serious headway. I think it’s the combination of being away from the multitude of things back home that vie for my attention, and the stimulation of a new environment, that makes my writing especially productive on these trips. Sometimes I’ll even seek out different areas around the hotel to write, just to mix things up, as this pic shows:

On this trip, I mainly focused on a follow-up memoir to my latest, The Boy Is Gonna Rock. Coming along nicely…

The New

Dubai is often referred to as the “Vegas of the Middle East,” probably because of its relative over-the-topness where all things grand, huge and ostentatious are concerned. But, from what I could see, even with its garish nature, it’s much more elegant than Vegas… more Beverly Hills than Circus Circus. This is particularly true with the general hotel decor and modern architecture there:







Here are a couple shots taken from the heart of the skyline out the window of a 68th floor restaurant:




And yes, there are some familiar Western touches in modern Dubai!


The Old

But it was the Old Dubai area of town that really spoke to me:






Very maze-like in Old Dubai:


And a lot to take in…



Cool shops in the neighboring textiles/spices districts:





…with water taxis operating at a nearby canal:


The Training

Here’s a quick “behind-the-scenes” video of the gym I had 24-hour access to at the hotel. Obviously, these hotel facilities on the road are never quite as good as what you would find at a real gym. However, if you can focus on a few pieces of gear that are different from what you have available at your gym back home—and you can create a cool routine that integrates these movements in a way that your body isn’t used to—you can get a killer pump and still have an exceptional workout. For this reason, training on the road can be an effective way of making progress, even if the facilities aren’t quite up to par.

For the running portion of this short vid: It was a late-night/early morning trek that I wound up shooting in three quick excerpts, as I tried to capture the perfect skyline shot. (Better luck next time!) But mainly, I hope it conveys the absolute ecstasy I feel when I go out for a run in… well, virtually any city around the world. I LIVE FOR IT!!!

A Few Final Observations

1. For whatever implications or complications one might expect security-wise when traveling to the Middle East, this trip was a breeze. Getting through the security checkpoints and clearing customs on both the departing and returning flights was fast and effortless.

2. Public bathrooms in Dubai are incomparably spotless. I know this might seem like a random observation to make, but with all the traveling I’ve done around the world through the years, this is something I notice… especially in light of the inexcusably disgusting conditions you find in American toilets! These folks are serious about their bathroom cleanliness over there and, frankly, it’s impressive. (By comparison, they must think we are all a bunch of savages when they come over to the states for a visit!)


3. Along the lines of my recent experience in China, stealing does not appear to be part of the culture over there. Apparently, it just doesn’t happen, so you always feel like you can leave your laptop or other personal valuables out in the open in the hotel room… which is not something you can do in most other parts of the world. I find this kind of thing fascinating, although it’s probably sad that I do!

4. Also, like in China, I noticed some of the typical cultural biases and Western filters popping up in my general observations of things. And yet, I didn’t actually feel this dreadful sense of suppression among the peeps there, particularly the Muslim women. It seems to me that they simply choose to live tightly within the moral and behavioral parameters of their religion—with the same conviction that many Americans choose to, by the way—as opposed to being “forced” to. Obviously, I would never dream of making any overarching statements about this: I’m the last person qualified to do so.  But it’s just another reminder that the “American Dream” version of expressing one’s freedom and liberation is not exactly a universal aspiration. And this is important to note if you’re interested in really understanding what makes other cultures tick.

Just a thought…



Looking forward to heading back over there again soon… especially across the sea from Dubai to Iran at some point. Love the art, poetry, music, and history of that culture.




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Saying Goodbye to the Master: Ms. Thompson, the Great


I have been dreading this moment.

My beloved friend, mentor, and teacher has passed. I got the news via text about an hour before a show at the Akron Civic Center, week before last. I had to bury all of that emotion and go play, because that’s what professionals do. Ironically, I learned that from Ms. Thompson.

I went to her service at Oakwood Baptist in New Braunfels last week. The family did a great job putting together a memorial befitting such a legendary human. Ms. Thompson’s casket was in the sanctuary, front and center, and there was a visitation opportunity before the service got underway. It’s always brutal to see a deceased loved one in an open-casket situation. But it’s worth enduring the pain because, at least for me, observing first-hand that the spirit has left the body offers a visceral kick-start to the grieving process.

An orchestra took up the bulk of the stage, just behind the podium, and all of the musicians remained there for the duration of the service. They played a few well-chosen numbers throughout. There was also a sax/piano duet of “Amazing Grace.” But perhaps the most appropriate performance was at the very beginning, when a local drumline came parading through the sanctuary to kick things off with crackling snares, rifling toms, and booming bass drums. Ms. Thompson would’ve dug that.


A vintage Ms. Thompson in parade mode, circa mid-to-late 70s


The service was a poignant testament to a life well-lived, far beyond Ms. Thompson’s tremendous abilities as a teacher. And when the minister offered up an “open mic” mid-ceremony for anyone who wanted to share, the accolades kept coming in the form of personal stories: her paying out of pocket for student’s horn repairs and sheet music when they didn’t have the money; her charitable contributions and stalwart sense of social consciousness; and her motherly influence on so many kid’s lives… including a few who she stepped in and helped raise (nearly 50 years ago) that I didn’t even know about.

One of the more interesting, slightly contrasting elements to the service was how the minister portrayed Ms. Thompson, compared to how all of us students remembered her. He described her as sweet and loving (true), but then added that in his 15 or so years of knowing her, he never recalled her getting angry.

Say what?

Conversely, during the open mic segment, several old students offered up colorful band room anecdotes about flying erasers and drill sergeant antics. This seemed to confuse Ms. Thompson’s more recent peers. It was then I realized something: Ms. Thompson had “retired” to New Braunfels in the 90s to enjoy her golden years near family (even though she continued to teach on various levels until she was 82). Therefore, most of her New Braunfels tribe—particularly her church friends—would’ve never had occasion to experience the more fiery, 40-something version of Ms. Thompson who was, let’s not forget, dealing with a bunch of disrespectful punks who needed to be kept in line. This point of distinction compelled me to step up to the mic.


Enjoying her golden years


But first, of course, I had to reiterate her enormous influence on my life path and try to articulate just how gifted and world-class of a teacher she truly was. And then I explained that Ms. Thompson’s “outbursts”—as endlessly entertaining as they were to us youngsters—were ultimately an expression of her love and concern for us. Frustration? Sure. Anger? Hell yes. But ultimately, it was because she cared so much: about us, about the band, and about the music. I know many people refer to her gruff protocols as “tough love,” but really, isn’t any pure form of love tough when it has to be? I say yes, and I say that we—especially I—had it coming when that notorious Ms. Thompson ire would pop up.

Here’s a quick case in point that I’ve rarely shared before: Toward the end of 9th grade, I auditioned for the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in downtown Houston. This was a prestigious, nationally revered 10-12 high school—on par with the “Fame” high school in New York. The audition went well, and I was accepted on the spot. This was huge news: I was elated!

A few weeks later, however, several other young hoodlum percussionists and I got caught smoking cigarettes on the Scarborough auditorium stage, while rehearsing for an upcoming band concert. (Yes, on the stage—but out of view from the assistant band director—during rehearsal.) The young, upstart director went to Ms. Thompson to ask how we should be disciplined for such an infraction.

“Kick them out of the band,” was her immediate response. And that was it. I was kicked out of band and would have a bright, shiny “F” on my report card to show for it.

Now, remember, Ms. Thompson liked me and appreciated my talent and work ethic. But if ever there was a time for tough love, this was it. Any 14-year old punk who thinks he can operate outside the rules to that degree and get away with it is setting himself up for much more dire consequences a bit later in life… like prison, or worse. Ms. Thompson understood this, even though, at the time, I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t really care, because I was a big shot, heading to HSPVA the following year. Or was I?

That summer, as soon as HSPVA received my transcripts from Scarborough and saw that I had received an “F” in band, they immediately reversed their initial decision and sent me a rejection letter stating that I was not accepted there. My mom and I tried to call and reason with them, but they were not budging. (Apparently, that bright, shiny “F” in band violated their acceptance criteria for a music student!) I was devastated.


This is the “Bobby Rock” Ms. Thompson had to deal with!


The happy-ending coda to the story is that the next year, upon my return to Scarborough, I was given a fresh start by Ms. Thompson and worked with her in the jazz band. The band was killin’, and we brought the house down at several area jazz band contests, garnering extra accolades from the judges and winning special awards for outstanding musicianship. I had learned my lesson, and we were back on track.

Tough love works… and this seemed to be a reoccurring theme at Ms. Thompson’s service.

That said, her expressions of love weren’t always “tough.” They were often intuitive, selfless, and remarkably generous. And above all else, they were far-reaching. Think about it: Anyone I’ve influenced through the years, is also the beneficiary of her influence because so much of where I wound up is because of her. And I’m just one in an endless line of students who Ms. Thompson affected through the years. Truly, her positive imprint is incalculable.

After the memorial, I had a chance to visit with a few folks at the reception, including two of Ms. Thompson’s close friends. They told me they went to her house, late morning on Thursday, 10-24, to pick her up for lunch. When she didn’t answer the doorbell, they got concerned and called a family member who they knew had a key to her place. Once they all went inside, they found Ms. Thompson “sleeping” on a loveseat in her music room… except she wasn’t actually sleeping. She had peacefully drifted away from this life and into the next, in her favorite room in the house. What a way to go.


At her surprise 75th birthday party


And what an honorable life to have lived.

Mary Thompson was a force of nature… a truly gifted and unforgettable teacher who leaves behind a legacy of thousands of students… all of us forever altered, on one level or another, by her “southern fried wisdom” and insistence that we evolve into the best version of ourselves – both onstage and off.

I was fortunate to have always stayed in touch with Ms. Thompson through the decades. But when she told me a couple years ago that her ailing health was preventing her from being able to play her clarinet—or continue to teach—I knew she would be moving on sooner than later. So now, we can all try and take solace in the fact that she is joyfully free of such cruel impediments, as we envision her playing and teaching her ass off in that Great Band Hall in the Sky.

We love you, and we will never forget you, Ms. Thompson…

PS. See my original post, Ms. Thompson, the Great, here:


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China 2019: The Solo Drumming Tour

After at least a half-dozen almost-trips to China through the years, the stars finally aligned and a solo drumming tour was arranged this summer. It takes a village for these kinds of things to happen, and the two main proponents of this tour were my longtime bro, guitarist Neil Zaza—who has toured there countless times and has had numerous conversations with his promoter about bringing me over—and my old friend and colleague, Greg Irwin, who represents both Sabian and DW in China, two companies with whom I’ve been associated for years, and who would co-sponsor the tour.
Often, the Chinese will take American names when dealing with us westerners (no doubt because they’re tired of hearing us massacre their real names), so “Mel”—impresario of the Mogu network of music schools/stores and longtime China connection for Zaza—would be my promotor for the tour. And the name of my tour manager/drum tech who would travel with me? Rambo. (I couldn’t make this shit up, people!) Rambo was super pro and highly-competent. He was also an excellent videographer, as he would shoot and edit these cool “day in the life” vids of the tour each day, on the fly, with his iPhone. These turned out to be great little encapsulations of the experience over there. (Stay tuned for a few samples.)
The Quick Overview
For me, the China experience was like one very cool, but highly-elaborate Twilight Zone episode, in that it felt like I was in another dimension of time and space, doing familiar things but in unfamiliar ways. So before I jump into some city-by-city tour highlights, here are a few stand-out distinctions to set things up:

Solo Drums:
This was more of a solo drumming tour than a traditional clinic tour since the emphasis would be on sheer performing, rather than teaching. Yes, for the one master class I did, it was more traditional instruction, and yes, each performance would feature a Q&A (with translator) where I could delve into a bit of a teaching vibe. But mainly, the shows were centered around these short-but-intense headlining performances (typically only 30 to 40 minutes) where I would play along with a few tracks and, of course, stretch out with plenty of soloing. No problem!

Cool Format
: In addition to the support of DW drums and Sabian cymbals, each performance was co-sponsored by a “station,” which is basically some cross between a music school and a music store. My opening acts were essentially various performances by the students: mainly drummers, but also guitarists, depending on the particular school. I thought this was a great format… sort of a recital/concert hybrid.

The Drumming Scene:
Speaking of which, the drumming scene in China is exploding! Ironically, they seem to view the study and practice of drums like our youngsters in the states have largely viewed the practice of martial arts: like a fun, constructive, and worthwhile activity. In fact, most of the schools teach drum set in small group lessons (as opposed to private), and as I understand it, many schools have a grading system for a student’s drumming progress that’s not unlike the typical martial arts belt system. Kind of cool!

Unlike many places in the western world like Europe or South America, hardly anyone speaks or understands English in China. Not that we should expect them to, but again, it seems that there is at least a working understanding of a few basics most anywhere else one might tour. (Although there are lots of signs in English over there, which was perplexing.) It didn’t turn out to be a big deal, but it’s a reminder that I do need to pick up a little Mandarin before my next trip over!
* * * * * * *

Before we get into a brief, gig-by-gig summary of the tour, here’s one of Rambo’s videos I was talking about. This one will give you a pretty good overview of the vibe:

Feature Video: A Day in Luoyang


First stop, Beijing, where a strategic “recovery” day off had been arranged for me for the next day. This is not something I normally require when traveling internationally, but I definitely wasn’t going to argue: it would give me a chance to scope out the sights and sounds of the city.
But first… the China adventures began on evening one with a rickshaw ride!

Greg Irwin—who is a veteran of about 60 trips to China through the years—swears by them. And because they are not bound by any of the usual traffic laws or protocols, you can swerve and weave through the ever-shifting maze of cars, scooters, bikes, and pedestrians… so long as you have the stomach for it. I actually dig the adventure. It’s kind of like participating in a virtual video game, where the goal is to simply not hit anyone as you constantly press forward. These drivers are fearless masters of the old credo “An inch is as good as a mile.” And believe me, to miss a car or bike by only an inch would have been a luxury at times!
What better way to start my first full day in China than with an early-AM six-mile run around a local park that Greg knew about. This place was magical.

Here’s a quick vid from the run:

Also, it was inspiring to see so many senior citizens throughout the park getting some exercise, many of whom were participating in these group Tai Chi classes. There is no question that this kind of consistent lifestyle practice is a “secret” to the infamous Chinese longevity factor. I would love to see more of our elderly folks in the states participate in some kind of activity like this.
A bit later in the day, we made our way around Beijing to catch a few “must see’s”:
Just outside the Forbidden City
This crazy elaborate “instrument” of large bells, housed in its own temple!
In another part of town: a designated “Drum Temple”… my kind of place…

A quick visit with the owner of Beijing’s go-to drum shop


Hangin’ with Greg Irwin

And, of course… there was more rickshaw action. This one, shot during the afternoon, really illustrates the “extreme mobility” of these things:

 Getting the Party Started
My first stop was a master class for a smaller audience of 30 to 40 teachers and more advanced students. These folks were attending some kind of weekend “boot camp” type of program (courtesy of Drum Home), and I was a special guest. It was great to be able to delve off into more technical aspects of drumming in a casual but ultra-attentive setting like this.
Here’s a multi-foot pedal demonstration I did, where my feet are playing four different rhythms—on four different sound sources—simultaneously, while my hands do some basic improvisation. Again, this class was mainly for more advanced players, and yet, I got the impression that they hadn’t seen much of this kind of thing before. As you’ll see, I attempted to explain everything through an interpreter. Note: right foot plays two different rhythms on the bass drum and distortion hats; left foot plays two different rhythms on the main hi-hat and cowbell pedal (with the cowbell part doing a lightly randomized “&2&” / “&4&” rhythm; hands do some basic solo stuff around the kit.
The second half of this short vid demonstrates a shuffle double-hat pattern with a more intricate triplet-based ostinato with the double-pedal. The right foot doubles up on the kick pedal and distortion hat and the left takes care of the left kick pedal and main hat. But this time, I figured it might be easier just to ease into the demonstration—one sound-source at a time—rather than try to translate the action set-by-step. (Unfortunately, we only had a short clip of this solo, but you’ll get the vibe.).




Throwin’ Down in Music Town
My first official full show was at the Zhouwo Music Town. This place was a trip. It’s basically a small village built around a total music theme.  I went for a run my first morning there and scoped everything out… and then promptly found myself off the grid, in a farm-land wilderness!

But once I made it back to civilization, I did manage to double back through “music town” and take a few shots.

The hit that night was the DW & Sabian drumchina.com “Contest of China.” This was preceded by weeks of preliminaries, all culminating into the grand finale on this day, where they offered multiple prizes to winners in a variety of age categories. The contest finals ran all day and into the evening, but I wound up doing some meet-and-greet signings and a Q&A session for some of the younger students in the afternoon.


I closed out the night and, even after a day full of drummers and drumming, I was stunned that the theater remained packed until the very end.

With one of the winners. Damn… great prizes!

We even did another signing after the set. These folks are super appreciative!

The Beautiful Chinese Folks:
Man, you just couldn’t ask for more gracious and respectful people than the Chinese. They have a deep appreciation for the arts and for what we do as artists, and they go way out of their way to make sure you are taken care of. As just one example: when word got out that “Bobby Rock needs bananas, oranges, and water every day so he can make his custom smoothie concoction with the blender and special powder he travels with,” boom: I never once had to inquire about where I might be able to find that stuff. Bananas, oranges, and gallon jugs of water would typically be waiting in my hotel room upon check-in. They would also magically appear throughout the day and evening!

One other thing: China is one of the safest places you will ever be, even in terms of your personal belongings. I would leave my “man purse”—complete with cash, passport, keys, credit cards, in-ears, etc.—unattended, virtually anywhere… even places in the venue that I knew were well-traveled by audience members or venue staff. Obviously, this is not something you can do in most other parts of the world.  And yet: No one will take your shit there. It struck me as incredibly odd, but immensely refreshing. (I guess it’s sad that a culture that doesn’t steal seems odd, but… that’s where we’re at right now.)



Ballroom Blitz!
The next morning, Rambo and I had an early flight to Xianyang.
…with Rambo!
This would turn out to be sort of a prototypical show as we would experience most of them for the rest of the tour: big room, high tech, LED wall on stage, and show hosts who introduce all the opening acts and then bring me up at the end. Just another unique aspect of the China experience!

Here’s a Rambo vid that summarizes our Xianyang experience pretty good. (Dropping by the sponsoring “station” is usually part of the protocol, and in Xianyang, you’ll notice we did a little meet and greet there the following day before we caught a high-speed train to the next city.)

Feature Video: A Day in Xianyang

I also managed to capture a bit of video from my run earlier that morning in Xianyang. I acclimated to running in the “controlled chaos” of the streets of China pretty quickly, once I realized how acclimated the Chinese are to navigating around in it!


Hot, Hot, Hotter Than Hell!: It was crazy hot over there, pushing 100 degrees on most days, and humid as a motherfucker. It felt like midsummer Texas or Florida, but with a fraction of the typical A/C power we’re used to. But the training continued, either in hot-ass hotel gyms or in the blazing daytime sun (although I did enjoy a couple late-night runs). And honestly, many of these beautiful venues would be uncharacteristically hot, as well. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of it all, but again… it’s worth mentioning if you really want to get the full effect. Simply put, it seemed as if I was in an almost constant state of heavy perspiring! In fact, I was changing clothes so often every day, that I felt compelled to shoot the following quick vid after one of my workouts:

True, as mentioned, I typically do change clothes at least three times a day on tour. But China was a whole other level of total sweat saturation, let me tell you!

Land of 10,000 Buddhas

The next stop would be the first of three that I did for the Wang family. These were first class all the way.  The Wangs were incredibly generous and accommodating, starting on day one in Luoyang.
Once again, things are often done very differently over there. For this show, I entered the stage from the back of the room, via a runway, as music from an iconic Jet Li movie blasted through the PA… which I would then jam along with. This kind of shit works over there, though, so this joining-in-with-the-orchestrated-soundtrack-theme became part of my nightly intro.
In Case You Missed It: Rambo’s video for this gig—A Day in Luoyang—is the first video of this blog.
The next morning, before heading out to Jiyuan, the Wangs had arranged to take Rambo and me to a staple tourist attraction in Luoyang known as Longmen Grottoes. This place is a must-see if you’re in the Luoyang area. It is essentially an ancient “cave complex,” more than 1500 years old, that features 2,300 grottoes and niches, 100,000 Buddhist statues, and over 2,800 inscriptions. The history and vibe of the place are off the charts.

With Rambo and the Wangs

While I typically try to remain present in the “analog” world when visiting cool places and not be too obsessed with taking non-stop pics and vids, I made an exception at one point along the way at Longmen Grottoes. The grandest single display of Buddha sculptures—known as the Fengxian cave—could only be seen from the sight once you traversed a fairly high and steep stone stairway. So I decided that I would video, from my vantage point, what it was like to first set eyes on this magnificent piece of history and art. Here’s that vid!


Eating Vegan In China: Having been vegan since 1993 (and vegetarian a few years prior to that), I was concerned about the food situation before I split, based on a variety of first-hand reports I received from friends and colleagues. But it turned out I didn’t really have to be. Once my peeps understood what “vegan” meant, there was food all over the place… and lots of it. To help with this on occasion, I carried around a screen shot from my rider that had Chinese translations of specifics:

They are really big on these “roundtable” meals, which usually go down in a private room of a restaurant. Seems like a cultural thing:

This is a “boil pot” roundtable, where everyone has their own boiling water in a
pot to create their own meal. Dig the stove burners on the table!

Typically, I would get some combo of a veggie dish (the broccoli is out of this world over there… something about how they prepare it universally with this clear, garlic-style sauce), a starch dish of either rice or noodles (but sometimes this potato dish which was kind of like spicy, shredded hash browns—killer!), and hopefully something tofu or bean-based for some extra protein:

But usually, they would have food delivered to my room, as I prefer to be alone and eat alone when possible. And in many of these cases, when the meal was a bit protein-light, I would reach for my reserves: one of a number of cans of beans that I traveled with.

Beyond the two of these types of meals per day, I would have at least one, but sometimes two, of my special superfood smoothies (hence all the oranges and bananas), prepared with a special blend of powders in this European equivalent to a Nutri-Bullet that I often travel with (Euro power is most readily available over there). Then I would round things off with lots of snacking on various Clif bars, trail mix, granola, peanut butter, etc. (One of the three bags I traveled with was virtually all food!)

And yes, for the record, the number one vegan-related question here is the number one question there: “Where do you get your protein?” (Sigh) And I would tell them: “The same place where the world’s biggest, strongest animals like elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and apes get theirs from: plants!”



On to Jiyuan

After a couple hours of getting our minds blown at the Grottoes, we had to drive to the next city, which was another one of the Wang’s stations in Jiyuan. The event was in a big-ass ballroom, with a huge LED behind the stage (as usual). There was also a TV crew shooting the show, although I wasn’t sure what program it was for. I will probably never know, but it’s all good. It was a killer set, and there were a bunch of drummers, performing in groups of five or six, all on identical drum kits, essentially playing the same parts. Kind of unusual! But man, these folks were way into the vibe!

From soundcheck

The Chinese Paradox of Tech and Gear: As you tour around the world, you notice how vastly different things are done in various parts of the globe. Doing shows in America has a different feel than Italy, which has a different feel than Brazil, which has a different feel than Japan. As for China, you might be tempted to think that it would fall under the “Asian way” category of Japan and share similar meticulous, punctual, and exacting protocols. But you would be mistaken! China is, in many ways, the opposite of Japan. And therein lies a fascinating paradox.

Most of the shows were at these kick-ass ballroom or theater-type venues, which usually included these huge LED backdrops on the stages. The sound systems were ample, and there were typically an array of high-end production elements like large stage plots and trusses of moving or special effects lighting. And yet, drum gear could be a challenge:

  • For this tour, we relied on each individual promoter to provide gear, since hauling my own kit around over there was logistically impossible (although I did carry around a few things, like extra pedals and cymbals). As they attempted to meet my most basic specs, there would often be mismatched drums in the kit… which is a reflection of how things are still a bit limited there in many ways. Virtually every single kit you see is a basic five-piece set-up, with standard sizes (8” or 18” toms are extremely rare.) It’s crazy. BUT – it’s all good: they are evolving.
  • High-end hardware is at a premium over there, so cymbal stands would routinely get jarred loose (see video below), shifted around, or on an occasion or two, simply fall over—kind of cool for dramatic effect!  (But this is typically what happens when you give me anything less than top-of-the-line DW hardware.)
  • The biggest irony? China cymbals were hard to come by in China! No kidding. Sabian makes the best in the biz as far as I’m concerned, but many places didn’t have them, so they would scare up whatever they could find for me to use… which often met with disastrous results. (Again, see video below!)
  • One other strange thing as it relates to sound: As mentioned, the systems seemed more than adequate in these places, even at the larger ballrooms. There was plenty of power, ample speaker cabs (including subs), decent boards, etc. However, I noticed that the consoles were not typically set up in the traditional place for optimal mixing: out in the audience. Instead, they would usually run the mix from either side-stage where the monitor rig traditionally is, or just off the stage but to the extreme left or right side. Was never sure why…

To be clear, none of these things were really of any consequence to me or anyone else, and they certainly didn’t seem to affect anyone’s enjoyment of the shows—me included. And yet, to really comprehend the “China Way”—at least as things stand at the moment—it’s important to understand all the variables one might be faced with on any given day, so you can be better prepared to “improvise, adapt, and overcome!”

Check out Rambo’s highlight vid from Jiyuan. This one really illustrates this unusual juxtaposition of elements that were typical of the tour.

Feature Video: A Day in Jiyuan


The Zhengzhou Vibe

Show number three with the Wang family was in Zhengzhou. This one was somewhat of an anomaly. It was in a smaller hall, tucked away on the second floor of this bizarre sort of amusement center/1950’s China recreation place (?). Actually, I was never sure exactly what it was, but it turned out to be an intimate, action-packed little venue.

En Route to Soundcheck: Here’s a backseat vantage point of my man, Rambo, slowly driving me through about five football fields worth of twisting, narrow “roads” and heavy foot traffic… just so I could step right onto an elevator up to the hall for soundcheck. (God forbid I should have to walk!) I had no idea that’s what he was doing, but I was so fascinated with his navigation skills, that I shot nearly four minutes worth of video of him doing it.  Here’s a screen shot:

I guess the reason this struck me so odd is twofold: One, he was driving through the equivalent of an outdoor mall/amusement park kind of place where there were obviously no other cars; and Two, no one seemed to care, at all, including the parents of the many dozens of kids we slowly drove past. Granted, Rambo was extremely cautious. But if you tried some shit like that in the states, your ass would likely get thrown in jail. (Only in China, people!)

Once we got a quick soundcheck behind us, the show turned out to be a sentimental favorite in a way, just based on the energy in the room, and the unwavering presence of the audience. And there were no opening acts for this one. Just me and a packed room come showtime. What a vibe.

In fact, the energy levels were so palpable, I actually had to pause during one of my solos and capture the moment with this selfie. This caused some of the younger kids to jump up on the stage, which was cool with me! I will never forget this gig… it was as if I had stepped off a spaceship to play for them. Raaaaad!!!

Once again, Rambo captured the essence of this show with another one of his killer compilation vids:

Feature Video: A Day In Zhengzhou

This day also turned out to be a pretty landmark training day. There was a surprisingly decent gym at the hotel, so I grabbed a workout in the afternoon before we went to the gig. Then, I decided to grab a second one when we got back to the hotel at 11:00 PM. After that, I was gonna crash, but it was such a nice evening I decided to go ahead and grab a run… and in an inspired moment, recorded the following video clip:


The Last Show

We ended up taking another high-speed train to Changsha for the final hit. These are kind of a cool way to buzz around. You can get a good sense of the gorgeous landscape over there, particularly in the rural, in-between areas.

This was another packed ballroom with a super high-energy crowd. And the LED wall doubled as both a “digital backdrop” and, unbeknownst to me, a large screen for a live video feed. I didn’t even know about that until I saw some pics from the show afterward.

The folks in China seemed to really enjoy the performances, especially the younger drummers, who were unabashed and unrestrained at times with their reactions and way of expressing themselves. The short clip in the middle of this Rambo vid where all the kids are jumping around —which I shot during a drum solo as my feet held the fort down with kick drums and hi-hats—illustrates the beautiful vibe I got to experience at pretty much every show. Can’t wait to go back!

Feature Video: A Day in Changsha

After the hit, I did a few shots with the crowd. A memorable final show, for sure!

Unexpected Cultural Observations

I’m sure a lot can be discussed and debated regarding the social/political scene in China. I won’t attempt to unpack any of that here. In fact, before I split, I didn’t even attempt to form any real opinion about how things are done over there, or how my own experience might be affected by their way of doing things. Instead, I went over with a neutral worldview, just looking to be a detached observer to the scene, mindful not to cast any predisposed expectations or judgments on anything.

With that in mind, my primary observation was this: I felt like there was a notable disconnect between the expectation one might have of China when considering the common perception of how things are over there, versus how one feels around the people and in the trenches when you are actually there. Frankly put, I didn’t get a weighty, oppressive vibe—at all. Folks seem easygoing, relaxed, and content, especially the youngsters, who appear to be as joyous and playful as our American youngsters.

Another unexpected thing was the absolute lack of any kind of military or police presence… anywhere, ever! Seriously, I think I only saw one police officer the entire time I was there. And any security personnel I saw on occasion—at the airports or around some of the tourist sites—were always cordial, and surprisingly young! I don’t know what I was expecting… perhaps a more heavy-handed, “big brother” presence somehow… I’m not sure. But I didn’t feel any of that. And yet, folks mind their business, everything seems to be perpetually orderly, and there is a tangible undertone of absolute non-violence wherever you go.

Again, this is just my take from a purely observational standpoint.

* * * * * * *

Musically speaking, the culture in China is vibrant and exciting, and everything feels new and fresh. Looking forward to round two!




Posted in The Artist Realm | 1 Comment

New Solo Record Announcement: “The Boy Is Gonna Rock: Original Soundtrack”


Special Announcement!
Friends, I’m thrilled to make this official: I have been deep into pre-production for a new solo record, which we are looking to release this Summer. It is the original “soundtrack” for my latest book, The Boy Is Gonna Rock, and man, let me tell you: this shit is bangin’! As mentioned on the cover art, the soundtrack is “An Adventurous Instrumental Tribute to Songs that Inspired the Story.” So it’s a collection of special remakes; key cover tunes that were pivotal in my initial journey as a drummer (Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, etc.), or that represent the magical era of mid-80s hard rock that the book focuses on. In other words, if the book were a movie, these are some of the songs you might expect to hear along the way.

The twist? The music is done with that drum-heavy, instrumental focus that all my solo albums feature… with the original band that I recorded and toured with back in the early days of my solo pursuits. Yes, that’s right: I have managed to recruit guitar virtuoso Brett Garsed and bass phenom Carl “The Fox” Carter back into the fold for this one! For any of you who used to see us play back in the day—and/or have heard my solo records—you know these are two of the baddest mofo’s in the biz. And I’m happy to report that ALL of that crazy magic and chemistry is still fully intact today. Can’t wait for you guys to hear it. (And… I hope to announce a couple other very special guests on the record soon.)

Also, over the last number of years, I’ve occasionally mentioned a very special and unique drumming concept—and the unusual monstrosity of a drum kit that the idea inspired—that I’ve basically been hoarding (and developing) in the isolation of the woodshed: Alphabet Drumming and the “Alpha Kit.” So now, it’s time to unveil it. I’ve decided to record the new record with all 40 drums of this mammoth set-up.

pic by Mariana Tosca

But beyond the 360 degree “freak show” aspect of the kit and, I suppose, the creatively twisted novelty of playing words or phrases in rhythm, this whole Alphabet Drumming thing, as well as the kit itself, sounds extremely musical and unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Can’t wait for you guys to scope it. So stay tuned and—at long last—I will post a few informal progress clips leading up to the record release so you can get a vibe on what it’s all about.

Summer 2019. The Boy Is Gonna Rock: Original Soundtrack. Stoked, everyone!

PS. Thanks again for all the support on the book. For an autographed copy and/or special bundles, you can check out “The Boy Is Gonna Rock” at http://www.bobbyrockstore.com. For regular and digital copies, it’s on Amazon and pretty much everywhere else online.



Posted in Beautiful Drum Music, The Artist Realm | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Last of My Feral Family

Head-butts and kisses from a feral? I’ll take ‘em… especially when they’re from this little lady: Juju, my only remaining “direct descendent.”

Juju was part of a feral colony I looked after for nearly ten years, which was based in a parking lot near my drum studio in LA. The colony—with a core group of five or six—was TNR’d in 2008 (trapped, neutered, returned), and lived large through the years, enjoying a lifespan far longer than most feral cats. But one by one, they all eventually graduated to that “great kitty paradise in the sky”… except for Juju, who was the last one standing in the spring of 2017.

Juju in her new digs, with Pishi looking on in the background.

It was tough to see her living by herself through the summer months, so we made a decision to relocate her that fall to what is perhaps the ultimate home for cats: that of my BFF and brother-in-law‘s house. (I live alone, travel all the time, and would probably make for a substandard full-time guardian, so my place just wasn’t an option.)

I am happy to report that Juju has adjusted well to the indoor/outdoor environs of her new home, with “outdoor“ being 24-hour access to the gigantic catio they have there. This relocation has given her a previously unknown sense of security, stability, comfort, safety, and, of course, an even greater variety and consistency of her favorite food and treats. (And I thought WE spoiled her when she lived in the lot… sheesh!)

I have always been the only human Juju would allow to get close enough to touch her, and such is still basically the case today. So whenever I go and visit her, it’s a lovefest, and we enjoy our father/daughter time together. She loves to grind her head against mine, and occasionally groom my face with her precious little sandpaper tongue. I am a lucky man.

A little father/daughter time at Juju’s house…

True to her nature, she has remained somewhat of a loner in the house, preferring to keep to herself… even though all of the other cats have warmly accepted her. But that’s fine: like father, like daughter. That said, she has been seen lounging around the master bedroom with several other cats nearby more often these days. And she’s even let my bro-in-law, Jackson, brush her. (He is the Cat Daddy for a reason.) This is all progress!

Juju pimpin’ it on the bed with her new siblings, Caroline (left), Lily (center),
and a bit of Mowgli there at the bottom.

(Special acknowledgment to Jeorge Tripps who, along with Doug Polin and various studio staff members, helped to take care of Juju and the rest of the colony through the years. It takes a village, folks!)

A Community Issue

Taking care of our community cats is a responsibility I believe we all must step up to the plate for at least once in our lives. If you notice a group of ferals in your hood or near your work, establish a consistent feeding pattern for them, then see if there’s a local cat rescue group who can direct you to the necessary traps and local veterinary facility for spay and neuter. TNR is an essential part of the process! HOWEVER, only enlist the cat rescue group for advice; expect to do all the heavy lifting on your own (or with other help): rescues tend to be under-funded, under-staffed, and overwhelmed year-round, hence the “step up to the plate” thing I mentioned.

Ferals deserve the same right to live and thrive, just like all of the “tame” homeless cats who get adopted from rescues and shelters. Please help if you can, even if it just means throwing a few bucks at an organization who champions the cause. Believe me, these groups can always use more moolah.

Caring for a colony through TNR and consistent feeding not only improves the quality of life for the colony cats, but ensures that literally hundreds of other “future cats” won’t have to endure the oftentimes dire conditions that ferals typically have to deal with.

Juju and her former colony mates—Momma, Kathy, PJ, Lulu, and Natasha—all thank you in advance.

Old school parking lot pic of Juju, waiting for a chance to
jump in there and eat with Momma (right) and Kathy (left)

Posted in Veganism/Animal Issues | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

“The Boy Is Gonna Rock” – Chapter Six Excerpt


Although Black Sabbath was probably my overall favorite band growing up, Alice Cooper was my first true rock god hero. So when news hit that we were confirmed to open up for Alice on his “comeback” tour in fall of ’86, I freaked. This was top-of-Mount-Everest, life-destiny-type shit, and I would be going full circle in a big way.

At the beginning of Chapter Six: The VVI Circus Hits America, I talk extensively about the “unique, but complex, hierarchy of power within the VVI organization,” in a section I call All the King’s Men: Understanding the VVI Power Matrix. From there, I discuss how my first drum/cymbal endorsement was negotiated over a phone conference by Dana Strum who, unbeknownst to me, used a British accent and a different name as he pretended to be a member of our management team! (Don’t ask me why…)

Let’s pick things up from a section in Chapter Six that truly encapsulates the times:

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Cranking Up the Hype Machine

By now, the record had been out for a couple months and was slowly climbing up the charts. The “Boyz” video was enjoying modest, but steady, rotation on MTV, and there was a solid, ever-escalating buzz about the band on the street and in the world of rock media. KNAC, the local Los Angeles metal station, was playing the shit out of the record. In fact, they had some kind of top ten most requested tunes show, and we soon found that “Twisted,” one of the heavier tracks on the record, was either near or at the top of the list each evening, right alongside Metallica and Megadeth. I made it a point to try and listen in every night. Exciting stuff back then.

Of course, the VVI hype machine was fully in gear by this point. I remember that a promotional tagline started popping up everywhere about how our record was “the fastest-selling debut album in the history of Chrysalis Records.” Not exactly sure how they arrived at that metric, but it sure sounded good on paper.

Another idea that sounded good on paper was this notion that VVI would have the world’s first all-female road crew. It seems like Vinnie and Dana were doing an interview somewhere, perhaps at KNAC, and jokingly made this suggestion. When the interviewer pressed them—like, “Really? An all-female road crew?”—it was game fucking on. They ran with it like it was a real thing and talked about where and how girls could apply for the job on this upcoming tour. And, naturally, a bunch actually did.

A couple weeks later, we even had a large group of applicants show up at Baby-O Studios for an “interview,” so we could make this huge PR moment out of it. There were photos galore and interviews with the prospective new crew members—all of them encouraged to dress up for a night on the Strip as opposed to a day schlepping gear. Genius PR move? Perhaps. But I just remember thinking that day, These girls all think this is real. And Strum, ever the ringleader, was speaking intelligently and professionally with them, in methodical detail, about gear logistics and tour scheduling. He did everything but hand out W-2 forms. It was fucking nuts.

But the craziest part is this: I don’t recall any discussion about this all-female road crew thing being some sort of publicity stunt. We just proceeded with things as if it was really going down. In fact, for a minute there, I thought that maybe it was for real.

Eventually, though, after we got our little fifteen-minute media buzz out of it—and yes, it was covered in a lot of places—the whole thing just sort of rode off into the LA sunset, without any further explanation. This was the VVI way.

Road Prep

With the Alice Cooper tour set to kick off in a couple weeks, VVI jumped into rehearsals at SIR, the very place where I had originally auditioned. One of my finest “Christmas morning” memories from this initial rehearsal period was the day that mammoth Sonor Phonic Plus drum kit showed up in all of those boxes. Good Lord, what an event that was. You have to realize, Sonor drums were recognized as the Rolls-Royce of the drum world back then, with their unparalleled craftsmanship and war-tank hardware. There was nothing like these things. The drums were thick and heavy, with nine-ply beechwood shells and this lush, glossy-black grand piano finish. The cymbal and tom stands were these massive, steel architectural masterpieces unto themselves. And, of course, the price tag for a set like this would’ve been way, way out of range for my broke ass so… thank God for endorsements!

Version 2
My “first love”

The Sabian offices were just over the hill in the San Fernando Valley, so me and my tech at the time, Chris LaMarca, took a ride over, connected with Pat Rogers, the West Coast artist relations guy, and selected a full set of Sabian cymbals, complete with a gong. Fucking awesome! Sabian Cymbals was kind of the new kid on the block back then, as Zildjian and Paiste pretty much had a monopoly going on. So, while I had played a few here and there, I wasn’t intimately familiar with them. But I tested out a wide variety and selected a full set of the most explosive and epic-sounding cymbals I had ever heard—and never looked back. I’m still a proud Sabian endorser to this very day, all these years later.

Once we got all the gear together, it was time for the mighty VVI to start rehearsing. But this quickly proved to be yet another hurry-up-and-wait situation. I just remember there always being so much chaos, activity, and drama beating beneath the surface of the VVI machine. Always. As such, practice time featured Dana’s continual zigzagging between our rehearsal studio and the phone behind the counter at SIR. Simply put, this motherfucker was always on the phone.

Mark and I doing our best Dana Strum impersonation at rehearsal

And I know it wasn’t for nothing. Dana was constantly dealing with all manner of business: Talking to management, the label, the agent, the bus company, each of our individual endorsement companies, prospective road crew guys, and on and on it went. So we would play a song or two, then a call would come in for Strum and he would have to excuse himself. Thirty minutes later, he would reappear, we would play another song or two, then it was back to the phones.

Once Strum left the room, we knew it was going to be a hot minute, so Mark would usually jump out to the snack machine or the pay phone. That’s when Vinnie would turn to me and say those magic words: “Wanna play?”

And man, that was all I needed to hear. I would usually launch into some kind of up-tempo double-bass groove and we would fucking go off. He would crank his shit up, then his fingers would disappear into the fretboard as a continuous onslaught of notes exploded around the room like a busted fire hydrant. It was rad.

Version 2
At rehearsal with the V-Man

In my mind, I always envisioned our “duets” as a sort of metal version of what jazz greats John Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones used to do. Just freedom to burn, in these endless phrases of notes that adhered to no form, no structure, and no time frame. We would just fucking wail, although still careful to play off of one another. It was a blast, and despite the overall lack of actual band practice, I would sweat so much at these rehearsals, I usually went through a couple changes of clothes.

One thing I observed is that Vinnie’s style of play for our numerous solo jams was almost exclusively this blazing fast, mega-shred torrent of notes approach. It was impressive, fun to listen to, and exhilarating to jam along with… but also notably one-dimensional, given the depth of his talent. Remember, Vinnie Vincent could play anything: rock, blues, classical, jazz, Chet Atkins-style country, even funk. Hell, Vinnie could be so funky, Stevie Wonder would get a woody. In fact, I distinctly remember him just doodling around one time in the studio, doing some kind of double-handed muting thing (or something?) where his guitar sounded just like a clavinet (think Stevie’s “Superstition”). So I remember thinking that, perhaps, this was just how he was starting to hear things—as this sort of “continuous sonic landscape” vibe, where a fluid barrage of notes would endlessly bend and weave into infinity.

Turns out I might have been right, given how Vinnie’s approach to any and every solo opportunity would soon unfold on the road—much to the frustration of many. (But for the record, I never perceived Vinnie’s constant guitar pyrotechnics, live or in the studio, as some kind of insecurity thing—as has occasionally been suggested—where he felt he had to prove something by playing super fast all the time. I think it just became how the guy played.)

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, for all the different kinds of shit I could play, my drumming at these VV jam-alongs was a bit one-dimensional, as well. Which brings me to an important point: in this particular context, with this particular band, how much of his other dimensions were really relevant? We were about to step into an arena circuit, on the Alice Cooper tour, playing for a bunch of rivet-heads every night. Was this really the time for Chet Atkins and Stevie Wonder riffs? In other words, just because the V-Man could play anything, didn’t mean he should play anything.

Still, Vinnie’s choice to take the fast road to shredsville with every solo opportunity—with the band or in an open solo situation—would be a source of contention in the months ahead. And it wouldn’t be until the All Systems Go album and tour that, in my opinion, he would find more of his sweet spot with the use of a bit more space, and his dabbling with other styles.

+ + + + + + + 

The sad lack of actual band practice became VVI rehearsal culture. And a week or two later, as the gear was finally loaded into the truck and we all piled into our tour bus out there on Santa Monica Boulevard before driving that bitch all the way to our first gig in Lansing, Michigan, something incredible occurred to me: we had never managed to make it through the entire thirty-five to forty-minute set, start to finish, without stopping—not once! We even dropped into an empty Royal Oak theater near Detroit the night before the tour opening to set up all of our gear and take a dry run through the show. And still we weren’t able to make it all the way through the set without having to stop for some reason or another. Unbelievable.

Original ad from the “The Nightmare Returns” tour

Showtime on the Alice Cooper Tour

Our first two shows on Alice’s The Nightmare Returns tour were a bit on the loose side, which was to be expected. But shows three and four had to be spot-on bangin’. We would be playing in Alice’s hometown, on October 30 and 31, at the infamous Joe Louis Arena. Yes, Halloween. In Detroit. With Alice! This was epic shit I will never forget. And it was especially kismet for me, given the fact that at twelve years old, on Halloween night, I took off my shirt, put on a black wig and face makeup, draped a six-foot rubber snake around my neck, then paraded around my neighborhood as Alice Cooper. That’s for real.

On the night of the show, as we were making that long walk down the chilly concrete corridor from the dressing room to the stage, the vibe in the arena was overwhelmingly electric. You could feel it—something wild, violent, and supernaturally thick in the air. And I remember actually being concerned for how Alice’s hardcore tribe of 20,000 hellraisers was going to take all of the pretty-boy shit we were about to hit the stage with: our dual pyramid walls of pink amps and cabinets; Vinnie’s pink guitar and girly accessories; and all of our sparkly glam clothing, drag queen makeup, and Aqua-Netted manes of hair. God help us.

But as we arrived at our holding place a few feet from the stage stairs and the house lights went out—boom!—the place erupted, and I could feel my pulse pounding out of my neck. And in the frozen moment or two that we had to take it all in before heading up the stairs to do our set, I distinctly remember a single image flashing through my mind: me, thirteen years prior, studying those rad photos on Alice’s Killer album, knowing on an absolute bone-marrow level that I was somehow destined to be a part of this madness called hard rock. Knowing it. And now, as we followed the glow of the flashlight beam up the stairs toward that massive, steel-framed stage, I would savor the stinging elation of the “impossible dream” actualized… if only for a moment.

Now it was time to deliver.

We walked onto that darkened stage and could hear the swell of yells and whistles ripple through the audience as they spotted our shadows getting into position. I took a seat behind my drums and surveyed the colossal, blue-black expanse of the venue, with pin-light specs of cigarette lighters, sprinkled about the floor and balconies, like stars. I drew in a final deep breath through my nose—filling my lungs with the classic arena stench of weed, stale beer, and hot dogs—and then, I four-counted Mr. Vincent into the opening guitar intro of “Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” which sliced through the air like a fighter jet engine. The stage exploded with light to an even more frantic eruption from the masses.

As I launched into my opening groove, I could feel the heat of those lights hit my skin, and I pounded my drums with violent intention: head banging on the downbeats, torso rocking back and forth, and arms in constant motion, like a boxer. I could feel my kick and snare locked in with Dana’s bass line, as Mark’s high-pitched wails cut into my eardrums from a stack of monitor cabinets that had more collective power than entire PA systems I used to play through. A quick glance of the first twenty rows revealed an almost choreographed assemblage of pumping fists and “devil horn” fingers, rising and falling in metronomic unison with the groove. All was well.

And the Boyz rocked it pretty good in Detroit.


+ + + + + + + 

Pre-order madness for The Boy Is Gonna Rock continues until 5-15-18. We still have a bunch of killer bundles available and, as of today, there is still ONE of the infamous pink cymbals left (from the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video). Check it all out at: www.bobbyrockstore.com.






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“The Boy Is Gonna Rock” – Chapter Five Excerpt


Excerpt from Chapter Five: Boyz Are Gonna Rock

Early in Chapter Five, everyone is gearing up for the Vinnie Vincent Invasion debut release. We talk about my dual life in Houston and La-La land, explore the cultivation of our “Wham Bam Mega Glam” look, and get into details of our tension-filled first photo shoot with famed fashion photographer, Moshe Brakha.

Now, let’s pick things up from the release of the album:


On August 2nd, 1986, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion self-titled debut record would see its official release. Man, there was a palpable vibe surrounding this record, especially in my hometown of Houston. Friends, family, and newfound fans converged upon the local record stores and snapped up copies of this thing like gallon jugs of water before a hurricane. To help matters along, at least on a local level, I had scheduled a record-release party at a Cactus Records, and a drum clinic at an H&H Music, right next door, on the same day. Both were well attended, and the drum clinic in particular would foreshadow a whole other career path I would pursue in short order.

Beyond my little bubble in Houston, sales around the country were nice and steady, and magazine reviews on the record were consistently favorable. It seemed like every week I was jumping out to the newsstand and buying every single magazine that had any mention of the record. These were memorable times, for sure.

The infamous pink vinyl promo 45

A Changing of the Guard

Several weeks later, the momentum was continuing to build. I was still in Houston, doing my usual hurry-up-and-wait routine, when Dana called one afternoon. That was never a good sign, since we would usually catch up late at night at the end of his workday on the West Coast. Afternoon calls from Strum almost always meant bad news.

“Aw, shit,” I began. “What happened?”

“Are you sitting down?” he asked.

“Aw, shit. What now?”

“Robert Fleischman is history.”


This was bad. Robert was the band’s front man… literally the “voice” of a record we had just released, and now he bailed. How did this happen? Why did this happen? How will we survive this?

Obviously, I knew there were some issues, and I was regularly hearing overtures about Robert being “difficult” with this or that. But I never would’ve expected that it might come to this.

Our initial photo session would ultimately provide a bit of a red-flag moment for me, concerning Robert’s long-term standing in the band. Throughout the making of the first record, I only saw Robert at the studio on an occasion or two. Beyond that, I could sense that there was always this undercurrent of uncertainty with regard to Robert’s long-term commitment to, or even interest in, being in the band. It was understated at first. In fact, I remember after my audition when I was supposed to meet Vinnie, Dana, and Robert at a restaurant before going over to Chrysalis for the first time, Dana instructed me not to show up early, since he and Vinnie would be “in a meeting” with Robert. I had no idea at the time what that meeting might have been about, although I got the feeling they had some issues to iron out.

And then, throughout the sessions for the record, I would occasionally overhear Vinnie on the phone with Robert, sounding as if he was trying to persuade him to be in the band, or go on tour with us, or something. This was in addition to conversations Vinnie and Dana would have about other “Robert issues.” Since I was the new guy, I was never fully brought into the fold about any of this and, of course, I never felt like it was my place to ask. But I got the sense that there was some kind of trepidation on Robert’s behalf with regard to fully jumping on board.

In retrospect, I suppose that made sense. Musically speaking, I always saw Robert as more of a Peter Gabriel or David Bowie kind of guy as opposed to, say, a Vince Neil or Bon Scott kind of guy. He was very creative and artistic, and liked to compose and sing a variety of different things. It seemed that his affinity for singing Vinnie’s songs—and his freakish ability to belt out these super intense vocal tracks—was more of a fluke than a specific career calling. And business-wise, remember, Robert was an industry veteran at this point: a known guy (having had a short stay in Journey just prior to Steve Perry), fairly established in the scene, earning his living from performing and writing music, and with a wife and kid. He wasn’t exactly prepared to jump out on the road with some newbie band, being away from home, and busting balls for newbie band chump change. At least that was my impression.

From our one and only photo shoot with Robert

Yet another factor in Robert’s reluctance that I would find out much later was this: when he and Vinnie collaborated on that initial demo that got Vinnie his Chrysalis deal (“Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” “Shoot U Full of Love,” and “No Substitute”), Robert was under the impression that Vinnie would be shopping the trip as something of a partnership. Apparently, Vinnie didn’t get that memo, and a solo deal was signed where Vinnie was the sole artist on the contract. When Robert found out about the particulars of the deal and how he hadn’t been included as an equity partner, he pretty much lost interest in the project and pulled away. Eventually, of course, he would be persuaded to sing on the record, but I don’t think he ever fully warmed back up to the idea of VVI being his mainstay gig.

In the end, I would never really know exactly what went down. At the time, I surmised that the final straw had something to do with business and money, and perhaps a contract Robert wasn’t willing to sign. I heard different versions of the chain of events from Dana, Vinnie, and George Sewitt, but I would have a more firsthand experience a few months down the road of how and why Robert might have chosen not to sign a particular agreement. But I don’t recall speaking to Robert directly about it at the time, so I never really had an opinion about the fallout one way or the other… except that it was a regrettable situation for us to have to try and salvage.

So now, as the record was out there really starting to make some noise, we had to find a new singer and somehow not lose momentum or create confusion in the marketplace. It was a bitch. Plus, Robert’s chair was not exactly the easiest to fill. We couldn’t just jump out to the Strip and find some pretty boy to step in and save the day. This motherfucker would have to have an iron throat to be able to sing those vocal parts… and hopefully be a great front man, to boot. The search was on.

Once again, being in Houston kept me out of the loop. I would only hear bits and pieces of how their efforts were coming along. Don’t quote me on this, but it seemed like Lenny Wolf was one of the first names to pop up. I believe he might have been with Stone Fury at the time, but he was still relatively unknown then; he struck me as a strong candidate. Not sure where things may have stalled with him. Ironically, we would all indirectly cross paths in a fortuitous way a year-and-a-half later during the All Systems Go era.

My lone recommendation was a singer I had briefly worked with named J. Jaye Steele. J. Jaye was a bad motherfucker, and had recently graduated from the cover circuit I had been on, to touring with ’70s rockers Head East. He was the quintessential veteran hard rock front man, had strong pipes, and was super interested in checking out the gig when I called and asked him about it. I happened to have a decent demo of J. Jaye doing some originals, so I sent it out west, and both Dana and Vinnie seemed impressed with him. Unfortunately, though, J. Jaye would fall prey to a rather unfair audition protocol that Mr. Vincent seemed to favor. Vinnie would call prospective singers on the phone and, after a few moments of introductory chitchat, have them sing a few lines from one of the Invasion tunes, right there on the spot, a cappella! I had no idea Vinnie was doing this until J. Jaye called me after his “audition.”

Naturally, he was blindsided by the request, but he said he did the best he could with a verse and a chorus of, I believe, “Boyz Are Gonna Rock.” He said the call came to a quick conclusion afterward, and that would be the last he heard from anybody. I was bewildered that Vinnie would think this was even a remotely reasonable practice for selecting a vocalist, but what could I say? I really felt bad for J. Jaye, and I wondered how many other bad-ass singers might have been shortchanged from getting a real shot at the gig. But Vinnie would insist “he could just tell” how good a singer was from this over-the-phone methodology.

After a couple weeks of serious scouring, it would finally come down to two guys, both of whom were somehow afforded the luxury of dropping vocal tracks in the studio, to a few songs from the record, for their auditions: Goran Edman, a seasoned singer from Sweden, and a young kid from Las Vegas named Mark Slaughter. Goran sounded really polished and pro on the tracks, and I know he was Vinnie’s early fave. Mark sang the tracks effortlessly, nailing the shit out of all the high stuff, but with perhaps a bit more of a raw edge. Strum and Sewitt were pro-Slaughter from the onset.

It was a close call, but in the end, it was a twenty-one-year-old Mark Slaughter who won the gig. It seems logistics played at least a small role in things, considering what working with the Sweden-based Goran would’ve entailed: work visas, international red tape, expensive travel back and forth, etc. Plus, I think Mark’s youthfulness and malleability might have played a role in things, given all they just went through with Fleischman. This kid would happily show up, for virtually any amount of money, and endure virtually any kind of conditions, with nary a word said about it… just like me. We were set. Kind of.

The only drawback was Vinnie’s overriding reticence about Mark, which would resurface on occasion in the months ahead. I remember the exact analogy Vinnie gave me when we were initially discussing the prospects of hiring him. He said, “If you and I were to watch Mark sing an Invasion song in a cover band at some club, we would turn to each other and say, ‘Hey, the kid did a pretty good job pulling that off.’ ”

In other words, Vinnie thought Mark was a capable imitator of Fleischman, but didn’t initially see him as being seasoned enough to really hold his own. However, the train was barreling down the tracks by this point and a decision had to be made, so Vinnie jumped on board with Mark. And yes, there would be some tense moments in our future as a result.

+ + + + + + +

Once we both arrived in LA to get to work, Mark moved into the Amber digs with me. As the designated youngsters in the band (I was just one year older), Mark and I bonded like brothers—immediately. Mark always had that signature “light energy” of his: super easy to be around, perpetually up in spirits, and with a fun-loving, carefree kind of vibe. It was hard to be in a bad mood around the “Slaughterhouse kid,” as I somehow took to calling him. Plus, Mark had world-class voiceover skills. From Gene Simmons to Donald Duck to pretty much anything in between, Mark could reproduce a wide range of voices with jaw-dropping accuracy. He was always cracking me up with his various impressions.

Version 2
Hangin’ with the “Slaughterhouse Kid”

We hung out all the time and had tons of fun. Days later, we would find ourselves in the middle of the VVI vortex, with a video shoot, a Ken Marcus photo session, and rehearsals looming.

The Boyz Are Definitely Gonna Rock

As we were entering the golden age of MTV—back when they actually played music videos all the time—doing a video was paramount for any band with a new record. In fact, with little to no radio airplay, a band could make a lot of noise and sell a ton of records merely on the strength of a cool video that had any kind of rotation. Serious, widespread airplay was going to be tough for us, so we were putting a lot of stock in a kick-ass video.

To help us achieve that end, the label hired director Jeff Stein, who was probably best known at that point for doing Tom Petty’s Alice in Wonderland vid (“Don’t Come Around Here No More”). But he also had some deep connection to The Who’s The Kids Are Alright documentary, where they destroyed all of their gear on stage. Bingo! We were all about that, and all of the initial video concept meetings were focused on the idea of doing a modern version of The Who’s gear-smashing routine.

Here are some fun facts about the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video that I think are noteworthy:

1) That video shoot was not only the first time VVI ever performed together on stage, but it was the first time we had ever “played” together in the same room. We had never even rehearsed at that point.

2) Prior to the shoot, Mark Slaughter had always been a lead vocalist and guitarist, never just a front man. So that video was also the first time Mark had ever performed exclusively as a front man/lead vocalist.

3) The cymbals I used in the vid had been crudely painted with what was essentially pink house paint from someplace like Home Depot, and sounded like absolute dog shit in real life. I still have those very cymbals tucked away in a storage unit in Los Angeles.

Yes, it’s true: I will be letting a few of these very cymbals go,
in special bundles, during our pre-order launch of the book (4-15-18)

4) The pyrotechnics specialist for the vid was a Vietnam vet who did not appear to be of completely sound mind. This was a source of anxiety for those of us performing closest to the various points of fire and explosions!

5) Mark is briefly seen with a mic stand in his opening shot only. This is because, in an adrenalized moment of spontaneity during his first take, he hurled the mic stand off the stage and against a concrete wall, where it toppled to the ground in three pieces.

6) I have two crash cymbals set up directly behind me that I would strike with a sort of reverse backhand motion. It was Dana’s idea to place them in such an unorthodox location.

7) The shoot went on for an exhausting thirty consecutive hours: from 8:00 a.m. on day one, to around 2:00 p.m. on day two. Everyone was baked.

Video shoots are inherently tedious and tiresome as hell: tedious because you have to shoot many, many takes from a variety of angles, and tiresome because there is often a significant amount of lag time between each take. And in my case, there really was no extended break. As the drummer, I had to be in virtually every shot because even on someone else’s close-ups, the camera might catch the drums in the background, so I had to be back there hittin’. Let’s just say it was a long-ass day.

From the set

When it came time for the pyrotechnics to kick in and to set one of our “crew guys” on fire (part of the video concept), things got somber and serious. Some kind of fire marshal guy gathered everyone around the set and went over procedure and protocol. There was a special stuntman fire suit, with Los Angeles Fire Department personnel and plenty of fire extinguishers nearby. They were not even fucking around, and no one could afford to misstep, on any level. It was like, “Damn… shit’s about to get real around here.”

Fortunately, everyone stayed safe through all of those initial pyro scenes—even Vinnie and Dana as they did their gear-wrecking pick-up shots. Now it was time for more explosions to commence and then for me to trash the drum kit. Just before we began, a cheaper “replica” kit was brought in to replace the Pearl kit I had been shooting on, and then Jeff Stein, the director, stepped over to me.

“Okay, Bobby,” he began. “Once I say action, and as soon as you see the big explosion go off, I want you to go absolutely fucking ballistic and destroy this entire drum set.”

“Got it. But how should I do it?” I asked. “Should I start with the cymbal stands, and then…”

“Just destroy everything in sight,” he interrupted. “I don’t care how you do it, but just remember that we only get one shot at this, so make it a good one.”

And with that, he smiled, turned around, and walked away.

Then the Vietnam vet pyro guy walks up to me, looking all crazy-eyed. He directed an assistant to step over with a spray bottle to mist me down with water. I figured he was just trying to give me that “bodybuilder sheen” for the final take. But then she started spraying down my pants and hair. Sensing my utter confusion, he explained:

“So the initial explosion will be happening pretty close by. This moisture is just to protect you from any incidental debris that might happen to fly over… including any flames or sparks.”

Incidental fucking debris? I thought.

Before I could get a little clarification about that, he comes up around my right side, reaches down, and pulls the snare stand toward me so the snare is now painfully snug against my groin.

“Uh… I don’t usually play that drum so close,” I protested.

“That’s to protect the ol’ family jewels. Like I said, the explosion will be happening pretty close by,” he reiterated, stone serious. Then he walked away.

Aah, I got it: using my snare drum as protection from any of this incidental fucking debris. Good God Almighty!

And that was it. As I sat there waiting for a brief eternity, bathing in the hum of hot white stage lights, alone on an eerily quiet set, I could feel a strong surge of adrenalin building, and a pounding thump in my chest, like someone was kneeing me in my solar plexus from the inside out. I had no idea what I was about to do beyond:

Wait for explosion—Destroy fucking drum set

And, friends, that’s exactly what I did. In fact, I don’t even remember hearing the director call out “Action.” There was an excruciatingly loud bang, followed by a searing hot flash of fire… and then I just sprang forward and started assaulting drums and hurling hardware—just trashing everything in my path. All motorized instinct.

Seconds later, once all the gear was horizontal, I remember charging straight toward a camera, for dramatic effect, as if I was going to tackle it. But I side-stepped to the left at the last second, nearly giving the camera guy a heart attack. Jeff yelled, “Cut!” and everyone on the set applauded. It was early afternoon, the day after we started shooting, and now there wasn’t much left on that stage to shoot. They finished up with that closing shot of Vinnie, as he held his guitar over his head among the wreckage. Finally, it was a wrap!

Version 2
From our photo session with acclaimed Playboy photographer, Ken Marcus

The following week, we all met with Jeff and the production team to see a rough cut of the video. For Mark and I, it was fun to see ourselves in the middle of all that mayhem—especially since it was our first major video production—and exhilarating to watch the vid explode to life with all those breakneck cuts. And I think Vinnie and Dana were largely cool with it, a few misgivings aside.

Soon thereafter, either in spite of or because of its way-over-the-top nature, the video would air to largely favorable reviews.

It would also represent one of the biggest blunders in VVI history.

Most people would figure out that, while it was Mark Slaughter “singing” in the video, it was Robert Fleischman’s voice from the record that they were actually hearing. No big thing, right? What was a big thing, however, was the fact that no one within our organization, legal team or otherwise, thought to negotiate permission from Robert for Mark to lip-sync to Robert’s tracks. It was an almost laughable oversight… laughable, had it not been so costly. Robert would handily win a settlement in the near future, and that would set a precedent for our not being able to do any more vids from the first record with Mark.


Next time, let’s pick things up from Chapter Six, where the infamous VVI “Hype Machine” really kicks in… and we hit the road with my boyhood idol: Alice Cooper!

And don’t forget to bookmark the Bobby Rock Store URL:



Our 30-day pre-order festivities will kick-off on Sunday 4-15-18, around noon PST.  I have some crazy-rare collectibles (like those pink cymbals from the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video) available in special bundles with the book, and I don’t imagine they will be around too long.

Official release of The Boy Is Gonna Rock: 5-15-18

Oh yeah… one more thing:


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New Book Announcement: “The Boy is Gonna Rock!”

Friends, this is the one many of you have been waiting for me to write: a very detailed and personal 12-chapter memoir about the entire Vinnie Vincent Invasion saga.

Title page on my initial print-out copy for editing

I was originally going to release it in 2017, but then I heard about Vinnie’s impending appearance at the Atlanta Kiss Convention and decided to hold off. I didn’t want to muddy the waters in any way for Vinnie’s long-awaited return.

Here’s how I explain it in the last chapter of the book:


A couple years back, I had posted a few memoirs of my early days with VVI on my blog. People seemed to freak over them, so I figured I should probably do an entire memoir on the VVI saga (which is what you’re now reading). So in early 2017, I started cranking up the hours and mowing through the manuscript. And then, just as I was getting close to completing a first draft, the highly improbable happened: it was announced that the V-Man himself would be coming out of hiding for an exclusive appearance at a Kiss Convention in Atlanta. Holy shit!

Honestly, I was as pleasantly stunned to hear about this as anyone else. However, I decided to rethink my initial release date for this book and, instead, wait until after Vinnie’s recently announced appearance. I didn’t want there to be any form of distraction relating to Vinnie’s return to the public. I thought it would be best for Vinnie to talk about what he wanted to talk about, and answer questions the way he wanted to, as opposed to having to potentially address assertions from my side of the elephant.


So great to see Vinnie again! Here he is with Robert Fleischman
(from the debut VVI record)

We’re shooting for a May release of the new book, initially through PledgeMusic. We’ll have a lot of cool (and very rare!) VVI memorabilia, personal items, and additional BR merch available in special bundles throughout the campaign, which will kick off in March. Should be fun.

Editing and design are all under way right now. In the meantime, there will be regular sneak previews right here at the blog. I think you guys will dig it. My early beta-readers are reporting that, “Once you start reading it, you cannot stop!” This is what every writer loves to hear!

I’ll leave you with the book’s Preface as a preview this time:


* * * * * * * *

There are many behind-the-scenes details in the Vinnie Vincent Invasion saga that I wouldn’t normally discuss publicly.  I am of the mindset that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” or, more specifically here: “What happens on the road or in the studio, stays on the road or in the studio.”  I’ve never felt the need to break the seal of confidentiality that every band should hold sacrosanct.

However, in the case of the infamous VVI, most of our broad-scale issues of strife and dysfunction have already been widely discussed through the years by a legion of fans, insiders, outsiders, and, perhaps to a lesser degree, all band members. Many of these accounts are not only factually inaccurate but, in my opinion, unfairly biased toward one side of the fence or the other. Therefore, my justification for going deep with the detail in places that I otherwise wouldn’t, is to hopefully bring more clarity and a broader perspective to what was truly a situation of unimaginable complexity.

Obviously, these are my own reflections and observations and I don’t proclaim any monopoly on the truth here.  I do, however, seem to have an unusual ability to recall events from my past, with crisp detail, and link them to times and places with an almost photographic accuracy.  And while this might give credence to the “just the facts” aspect of much of what’s accounted for here, the deeper meaning and motives behind it all remains subjective.  This is why I’ve occasionally sited an old parable as a way of describing how each of us in the VVI camp could potentially have such different recollections.  It goes like this:

Five blind men are standing around various sides of an elephant. They are each asked to reach out and touch the elephant, then describe what they think the elephant “looks” like, based on what they feel. The guy near the trunk says, “An elephant is long and curvy, like a big snake.” The guy near a leg says, “No, an elephant is tall and thick like a tree.” The guy near the tusk says, “No, you’re both wrong: an elephant is smooth and sharp, like a spear,” and so forth.  Of course, they are all correct to some degree, based on their limited perceptions.

Likewise, I say, each of us involved with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion odyssey probably has a perception of the experience that is equally one-dimensional, based on where we were standing, so to speak. The whole truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the summation of all of our perspectives.  Nonetheless, I feel like the VVI story is such a compelling one, that if it is to be told, it should be told in its relative entirety, and in as fair-minded a way as possible.  And that is my intention here.

Enjoy the ride –



More Previews:

These original posts from this blog are all in the book… with slight revision and enhancement, as needed.

Chapter Two is based on this one:

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

Chapter Three is based on these:

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


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

Thanks for reading…

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Barry Buddha, Bigger Than Life


Christmas Eve – 2016

We buried one of my best buds today.

We returned his body to the earth… old school, but with a more biodegradable casket, just as he would’ve preferred. I know it’s much more common these days to cremate, but there was nothing common about Barry. He preferred fruit over fish, enjoyed large, noisy gatherings, and would simply meow at insects in wonderment, with no intention of harming them (unlike most of the other feline assassins he lived with). And when we meditated together, he would transform himself from an “adorable” ginger house cat, to a statuesque Shaolin Zen master. We often joked about how he must’ve been a monk in a previous life.

Barry was love – pure love – personified in a physical vessel many in our culture would find atypical of an enlightened being. Smiles broke out in his name, every day. Laughter followed him around the house. And to be in his presence was to be injected with the sweet crackle of life: the simple joy of being alive.

Barry loved the little things: Kibble and treats, drinking from his fountains and faucets, napping in the sunlight, hanging out wherever humans were conversing, stealing slices of banana or nectarine from his human mom’s breakfast plate, greeting guests at the door, and making biscuits on his favorite toy—a large turtle doll that was almost as big as he was. And when he spoke – which was often – it was with a distinctively warm baritone quack that poured over you like maple syrup. (His unique, low-pitched meow would earn him the name Barry in honor of soul singer, Barry White.) He was an unforgettable charactera colossal spirit, barely contained in a 10-pound shell. The fact that he is no longer with us in physical form is something I don’t believe I will ever fully get over.

Version 2


Tails From the Hood

Barry and his three siblings were born in the gutter of a gang-ridden neighborhood, in an exceedingly dangerous part of LA. My BFF, Minoo – who would become Barry’s human mom – and her friend Gio, were looking after a colony of feral cats there, and had been desperately trying to trap Barry’s pregnant mother, Gabby, before she gave birth. But she would always elude them. Meanwhile, folks in this neighborhood did not take warmly to the ferals, and bad things were starting to happen to some of them. So the big clock was ticking loudly from the day Barry was born.

Mama Gabby took her kittens from the gutter to a storage area in an apartment complex carport. But after repeated warnings to Gio about removing the “nuisance cat” (Gabby) who had been leaving paw prints on tenants’ cars, the apartment manager began the process of nailing the unit shut, in an effort to basically entomb Gabby and her kittens to their death.

A recent shot of Barry with Mama Gabby

But their demise was not to be, at least if my BFF and Gio had anything to say about it. With a little help from a neighborhood teen, Gio grabbed the four kittens – who were just five days old now – and my BFF drove the “getaway car” and took them all back to her place. And so began that exhausting cycle of every-two-hours bottle-feeding, sleeping (for them), and plenty of poo, pee, and playtime. It would take a full year for them to finally catch Barry’s street-smart and trap-savvy momma.

I first met Barry and the gang right around this time and became one of the part-time bottle-feeders. Within a few short weeks, Barry would emerge as the “all-star” of the litter: first, with his unmistakably loud and bassy meow; second, with his prominent Buddha belly (despite having been dewormed); and then soon after that, with his astonishing level of awareness and empathy. (It would be the combination of his big belly and astute mindfulness that would earn him his middle name of “Buddha.”)

That infamous Buddha belly

Living in the Animal Nirvana

My BFF kept Barry and his sister Lily, and found a great home for his brothers Bobby (hey, not my idea) and Timmy. For the rest of Barry’s life, that Northridge, CA house would always be the forever home for at least 10 other rescued animals, and a temporary refuge for many, many dozens more: some there only for a few days, others for more than a year. And we were consistently awestruck with how welcoming and intuitively supportive Barry was with all of the various cats and dogs who came through that door. He was somehow destined to play the MC role at the house, and he certainly had the personality, predisposition, and skill-set for it.

I’ll never forget the first time we noticed Barry’s heightened level of empathy:

My BFF had taken in a sick old chow named Bernie, probably 15-plus. Barry and his siblings loved Bernie and would constantly climb all over him, snag food from his “jaws of death” while he tried to eat, and cuddle up in his thick, black coat of fur. Likewise, Bernie loved them, which we always felt was a reason he continued to stick around.

A familiar sight back in the day:
Barry hanging out ON his Uncle Bernie

One day, Bernie’s health took a bad turn, and by that night, he was beginning to struggle. We got him situated in the middle of the floor, then put the kittens back in their cat condo for the night.  They all continued with their kitty antics, tumbling about and wrestling with each other… except for one.  It was Barry, anxiously awatch at the cage door, eyes fixed on Bernie, and “yelling” his meows at us with as much force as his little kitten lungs could generate.

“Hey, look at Barry,” I said to my BFF. “Do you think he knows something’s wrong with Bernie?”

“Of course he does!” she said. Then my BFF stepped over to the cage and opened the door. Barry ambled right over to Bernie and started grooming his face, then burrowed into his right cheek and would not leave his side all night. We were blown away. We also noticed Barry kept licking him around his right eye… the very same eye that would produce some blood the next day right before we had to put Bernie down. Clearly, Barry knew something was going on in that exact spot. This was our Barry Buddha… at only eight weeks old!

As recently as this past July, just prior to Barry’s cancer diagnosis, he demonstrated his acute empathy and welcoming skills with Pasha, a dog who had just been rescued from Iran. Pasha had suffered some unspeakable cruelty and abuse over there and, understandably, had this manic, PTSD kind of energy he was carrying around.  Sometimes he would just freeze with fear in the middle of the room, with no provocation. Of course, Barry picked up on this immediately.

On his first day there, Pasha – frazzled and exhausted – laid down on the family room floor to take a snooze. Barry laid down right next to him, even mirroring his exact body posture, as if to attempt to develop some level of rapport with Pasha. (Fortunately, my BFF snapped a pic of this.) Once again, Barry eased the acclimation process for another… just as he’s been doing since he was a kitten.

Barry working his magic

It’s important to point out that Barry played Chief Welcoming Officer to all of the animals who came into the house, even as some weren’t exactly so friendly to Barry.  In fact, Barry would often exhibit what we called “death wish” behavior to all new dog fosters, even if a dog had shown signs of irritation toward a persistently friendly Barry. It was like he was incapable of retaining any unpleasant information about anyone.

However, to really know Barry is to know this: Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it. And this unusual naiveté – or perhaps unlimited capacity for forgiveness – would remain one of Barry’s most endearing qualities. We were always glad that he became a house cat early on, because this trait would not have served him well on the street!

barryandmooshkaBarry was always relentlessly affectionate
toward his “little” sister, Mooshka


Barry’s most recent animal family members,
minus his outdoor feral family
(From Barry’s FB page)

Sensitive Soul

Barry was also very emotional. My BFF and I often recount the time that Toby and Olivia – two foster kittens who Barry absolutely adored – finally went to their forever home. Barry was visibly depressed for at least three days after that, moping around the house with this strange, mournful elasticity to his meows, and refusing to eat. He was inconsolable. But the first time I saw him distraught was just before his first birthday.

My BFF went to Guatemala to rescue some street dogs, so she had me housesit and look after the gang for a few days. Of course, she loved all of her babies, but even by this point, Barry was her “golden boy,” and I felt extra pressure to ensure his health and safety while she was gone. This was the first time Barry would be apart from his human mom.

Within 24 hours, he became so despondent over her being away that he basically lost his voice. His powerhouse meows became these faint, airy squeaks, like the soft turn of a hinge on an old wooden door. He also lost all interest in food (forever a tell-tale sign that there is trouble in Barry-World). I freaked out at the prospect that something might happen to Barry on my watch, so we took an immediate trip to the emergency room. Absolutely no chances would be taken! They, of course, couldn’t find anything at all wrong with him, so we just had to chalk it up to a simple case of depression; Barry missed his momma. A sensitive soul, indeed.

That old saying about how “the eyes are the window to the soul” is especially relevant where Barry is concerned. Just by looking at his face, directly into his eyes, you could sense that he had a heightened level of empathy, lucidity, and awareness going on that you would typically only find in our most evolved beings. Oddly, though, Barry possessed a very uncatlike clumsiness (he would sometimes struggle to make simple floor-to-dresser leaps, or even randomly topple off the arm of a couch), and we would often speculate that it must be this holy man’s first time in a cat body.



Barry loved his fruit:
yet another one of his many unique traits

Barry’s Journal

For all we might find to complain about social media, I am very thankful for Facebook right now… and, of course, my BFF.  A few years back, on a whim, she started a Facebook fan page for Barry (I Am Barry the Cat), and he quickly began to accumulate thousands of adoring fans and followers from all over the globe. The page would essentially cover various day-to-day trials and tribulations that Barry experienced at home, from his personal perspective, in his unique voice. I always marveled at how well my BFF was able to “channel” Barry for the numerous posts that have been logged there. Add to that the countless pictures and videos, and you have a very detailed encapsulation – a personal journal, really – of Barry’s life. What a gift it was while he was around, and what a blessing it is now that he’s no longer with us in physical form. I know I will be visiting his page often in the months ahead, just to try to ease the pain a bit.

Just one of many treasures from Barry’s FB fan page


Barry has also been “immortalized” on a
number of occasions with his human dad


A Beautiful Life

Barry has been a huge part of my life for the past 10 1/2 years.  My BFF, her entire family, and the endless parade of cats and dogs who have fallen under her and her husband Jackson’s care through the years, have become my “LA family.” And through holidays, birthdays, or even just a little hang time, their place has been the true family hang (in contrast to the more solitary, cave-like ambience of my own place, where I’ve always lived alone).

I mention this to underscore the fact that Barry and I have shared a lot of heavy-duty ups and downs together over this past decade… exactly as you might with any close friend or family member. There is no difference in my mind.


A while back, when Barry was only three or four, it seemed that the ebb and flow of life for me had favored an infinite ebb. I wound up in what felt like an indefinite limbo state of frustration and regret. Things were arduous, directionless, and I slipped into an unusually heavy depression, which felt like a rhino sitting on my chest.  Then late one night, it all seemed to catch up with me.

I was lying on the couch of my practice room with the lights off, feeling like the last shreds of hope had escaped me. I saw no way out in that moment. And while I would never be one to take the ending of life into my own hands – it’s just not in my nature – I must admit I was curious about it… perhaps a bit more so than ever before.  I remember thinking, What would be the easiest way to just drift away?

So – purely out of grim curiosity – I removed my belt, tightened it around my neck, then slowly began to apply pressure. I knew for a fact as I was doing this that I wasn’t serious about it, and that it was probably just an act of pitiful self-loathing that I needed to exorcise in the moment. Still, I was genuinely interested to know if this was a viable way to do the deed. If I applied enough pressure, would I slowly just pass out, then fade away for good? Would I start gagging or choking first?

Moments later, I began to feel that restriction of blood to my face, as my lips, tongue, and cheeks began to tingle and go numb. And then there was a high-pitched tone inside my head… gradually increasing in volume… like a burglar alarm going off in the distance. Suddenly, I realized the absurdity of what I was doing and quickly loosened up on the belt, then forced myself out of the room and outside the building for some fresh air. It was ‪4:00 AM.

The first thing I saw was three or four of my feral cats gathered around something in the middle of the parking lot. I walked over to find them surrounding an injured possum, who they were no doubt conspiring to help into the hereafter. But I shooed them away to take a closer look, and found that this little guy needed immediate medical attention, as he appeared to have fallen out of a tree.  The wildlife rescue nearby wouldn’t be open for a few hours, so I didn’t know what to do with him in the interim.

Enter, my BFF: an expert in all things animal rescue-related. I called her at home and woke her up, then explained the situation. She told me to put the possum in a box and drive him over to her place immediately. We would have to place him in a cat carrier with a heating pad and keep him comfortable in a dark, quiet room until the wildlife center opened. So I found a box, scooped up our boy, then headed out. It seemed that the Universe had provided me with a necessary distraction at a moment I really needed it.

But on the 22-minute drive to her house, I could not get the images of what I had just gone through in the practice room out of my head. Could I have been serious? Would I be more serious next time? Do I really have it in me, but just never thought I did? I was extremely disturbed and distressed over the whole thing.

I pulled up to her house, left the little guy in the car for a minute, and went to her door and rang the bell to wake her. When she opened the door and I stepped in, I saw Barry immediately to my left, sitting on the arm of the couch. I swear he was waiting for me. So I reached down, picked him up, and gave him a big squeeze… then promptly started sobbing like a little schoolboy.

My BFF, taken aback, asked me what was wrong. I told her what had just happened in the practice room an hour earlier. And then, in that very moment, something clicked in my head as I was holding Barry. It was as if he was reminding me of the preciousness, beauty, and joy of life, and the privilege it is for each of us to be here right now, at this time. Barry was usually quick to get fidgety if you tried to hold him for longer than ten or fifteen seconds. But on this night, he was willing to tolerate a much longer embrace. I think he knew I was experiencing, quite literally, a healing moment. And sure enough, I would never, ever go that dark again.

This was how deep the bond was between Barry and I, and this is why it’s so strange for those of us closest to him to hear him regarded as simply a “pet.” He is Barry, a being of extraordinary light. He is family. He is our one-and-only.




On July 14, 2016 – the day after my birthday – they found a tumor in Barry’s belly during a routine check-up. We all came unglued. It turned out to be a very aggressive form of cancer that was uncommon in cats: usually only dogs got this kind. (Again, Barry can never do anything normal.) They were initially concerned that this tumor could have been attached to some major organs, and that would’ve been immediately disastrous. But as it turned out, they were able to do a pretty clean removal… except for the varying amounts that had already metastasized.

Barry, held in the highest regard,
as he sports his post-surgery cone

Obviously, no expense was spared along the way to implement the best possible forms of treatment for Barry, pre and post-surgery. The top specialists in Los Angeles were consulted, and multiple vet visits – which, true to his social nature, he actually seemed to very much enjoy – became part of Barry’s new lifestyle, as documented with humor and wit on his fan page.

Making friends wherever he goes

Holistically speaking, I figured a 30-day healing meditation cycle with Barry couldn’t hurt, so that’s exactly what we did together. Besides rehearsals, tour prep, and a couple local events, I would be in LA from early September to early October.  So I drove over to my BFF’s house every day for four weeks and spent 30 minutes each visit meditating with Barry. I will never forget those times with him.

And what an accomplished little meditator Barry was! Initially, I had no idea how this was going to work. I figured, at worst, I could meditate in the room with Barry and he could meander about, drink from his fountain, nap, be annoyed that the door was closed, and meow at me incessantly until I was done. But that was not at all how it played out.

From our first session together, once the Tibetan bell music kicked in on my portable speaker and I assumed a cross-legged position, it was like he “remembered” what meditation was all about. He usually sat in front of me, with his eyes closed and ears sharply attentive. His face was intense but relaxed, and whatever Siamese blood he had in him seemed to rush to his head and outline those subtle Asian feline features around his cheeks and eyes. I swear he would transform into monk mode; he actually looked a little different.

Going deep with Barry…

For the first couple weeks, he would typically maintain his initial position for roughly the first 15 minutes, then ease into a variation for the second 15. But then, he started staying put in his opening position for the entire 30 minutes. It was impressive. And at least once for most of our sessions, I would have to break concentration for a moment and snap a pic or record a short vid of him “riding the infinite wave.” It was something really special to share this time with Barry.

On days when he was extra tired from the chemo, he had no problem just laying down before me and taking a nap. Nor did I have a problem with it. I would continue on anyway.  But this only happened a handful of times in what wound up being about 45 total sessions together, once you factor in our more sporadic meditation schedule in November and December. This was a special little soul.

Just prior to one of our medi sessions, Barry appears to say
“Love you” to me in English! Check it out…

In my experience, the idea of healing meditation is not so much about “forcing” a result through sheer intention. It’s more about cultivating an optimal healing environment through such an intention, so that a recovery of health can more easily and harmoniously manifest. However, the focus should always remain on the practice, and never the outcome.

With Barry, I must admit that I was a bit preoccupied with the desired outcome right out of the gate.  I wanted those “pirate cells” to heal and the cancer out of his body.  That was my intention. So I would talk quietly to Barry, intermittently throughout the session, and describe how we – or at least I – was “directing” this healing white-light energy into him, often with my open hands hovering over his back, belly, or head. I would also describe what I visualized going down on a cellular level throughout his torso. I could generally feel a warm, vibrational life-force flow surging softly between my hands and his body, and he would remain continuously engaged with that beautiful, gravelly purr of his.

Sacred times with Barry

Strangely, though, I wasn’t getting this corroborating energy back from Barry. Instead, his energy would remain stoically neutral throughout the session. He was just present, in the moment, seemingly unattached to any potential outcome… just as any master Buddhist would be. So it was me – the human – who had to adjust the game plan after our first few sessions. Yes, I would still “till the soil” so that a healing could most easily happen. But I would also intend both joy and comfort for Barry: two tenets that I knew he would find useful, no matter the outcome.

As it played out, I guess two out of three is what was meant to be. Barry remained comfortable until his last 72 hours with us, and exhibited few symptoms in the months that followed diagnosis, with the exception of some lethargy here and there. (This alone belied doctor’s expectations, given the aggressiveness of Barry’s cancer.) And he continued to partake in all of the joyous “Barry” stuff he always loved—and then some. Believe me, his human mom and dad made damn sure that whatever Barry desired, Barry received… times ten.  As it should’ve been.

For as much as Barry was a blessing to all of us,
his human mom was quite a blessing to him… 
…as was his human dad!


Into the Light

It all went down so quickly, so unexpectedly. About a week or so out, Barry began to show less interest in food. Five days out, he began skipping meals. Three days out, there was a notable change in demeanor and Barry was taken back to the vet as a precautionary measure. We were all starting to worry. Meanwhile, I was on the road doing a few shows, keeping up with things via texts and phone calls with the BFF.  It was a stunningly rapid decline.

When my BFF first told me that she felt like Barry could go “at any time,” I thought she was overreacting to what was surely a temporary set-back. But she had a few of Barry’s close LA peeps stop by to say goodbye, and I even did a quick FaceTime meditation session with Barry from a hotel room in Kentucky, on what turned out to be the day before he passed. He seemed really out of it and appeared to have trouble getting comfortable.

I had always envisioned that, when he was ready to make his transition, I would be there with him. So as things started winding down so quickly, I began making some radical alterations in my holiday travel plans and booked a flight back home to LA. I had a show the night of the 17th, but could be back to Barry as early as late ‪morning on the 18th. And that was after moving heaven and earth.

Accordingly, my BFF booked an at-home euthanasia appointment for Barry ‪at 1:00 PM: plenty of time for me to be there. She also warned me repeatedly that he could very well go before I got there. But surely Barry would wait for me, wouldn’t he?

Uhhh… no. (Perhaps he felt like it would be too hard on me to be there when he died.) Nor would he wait for the vet to come by the house with her needle. At 4:41 AM, December 18, as I was sitting on a tarmac in Charlotte about to head home, I received the following text: “He’s gone.” Barry had passed in his sleep with his human mom lying on the floor right next to him.

Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it.

And the 350 minutes I had to endure on that long flight home would be among the most agonizing I can recall.


Once I hit LA, I Ubered over to my BFF and Jackson’s house, knowing that Barry’s body would still be around. I started to lose my composure as soon as we turned down their street.

As I was wheeling my big red suitcase up the driveway toward the front door, a flood of memories came over me involving the hundreds of times in the past that I approached this house, always looking forward to seeing Barry. I began to unravel a bit.

My BFF opened the door, then stepped forward to the front of the porch to greet me with a hug. I could not hold back the rush of tears.

We managed to drag my suitcase through the doorway, and there I saw Jackson and my BFF’s blood sister – my soul sister – Mitra, both visibly upset. I gave them each a hug, then turned to my left to see Barry’s body on the loveseat, mostly covered by a pillowcase, with flower petals and a few photos around him. I walked over, crouched down, then absolutely fell apart.

The harder you love, the harder you hurt.


Somewhere in the midst of the haze shortly after I got there, reality set in and logistics had to be dealt with. Before any of the standard options were considered, though, an idea hit my BFF in an inspired moment: Barry will have a traditional burial in a “pet” cemetery. Yes! It would be somewhere we eternally-grieving humans could engage the timeless ritual of going to a beautiful place, with trees, grass, and sunshine, and stand before a plot of California earth. And there, our beloved’s remains would be forever contained… even as his spirit could not be. It was decided in a moment, then we spent the remainder of the week finalizing all the particulars.




We buried one of my best buds today.

We all met at the pet cemetery on a sunny and cool So Cal day, and convened in and around a “viewing” room before the service: a room that a few of us had completely redecorated to better reflect the spirit and essence of Barry. There, for the final time, I glimpsed my friend’s little body in his pinewood casket, as candles burned all around us and the Tibetan bell music we meditated to played softly in the background. He was covered with flower petals and a small, fluffy white blanket, with just his feet and his face exposed. It looked like he was sleeping peacefully. I had no chance of containing myself and cried openly for my friend.

The “viewing room,”
at once peaceful and painful

And then me and Barry’s human dad, Jackson – my “bro-in-law” – carried the casket out to the gravesite, as Barry’s human mom, my BFF, walked with us. There was a small gathering of close friends and family awaiting us there. Mitra led us through a moving service, which turned out to be much more uplifting than sad.

Afterward, we watched that little wooden casket be lowered into the ground, then we each walked over, one by one, to toss orange and yellow rose petals – along with Barry’s favorite fruit – on top of it. And then three guys with shovels stepped forward and began filling up the grave with muddy dirt, as it had rained pretty hard the day before. That part, necessary as it may have been, was especially brutal to witness. But I’m sure Barry understood.

Here’s a slide-show video comprised of images from the service.
I wanted to share it here but, personally, I still find it difficult to watch
(Pics and slide-show by Lori Fusaro)

There have been a lot of tears this week, and no doubt many more to come. This is what the deepest grief looks like; this is how we humans do trauma, process sorrow. This is the price one pays for loving so recklessly. It’s just how things work around here, if you happen to outlive that which you loved so hard.

Most comforting for me, though, is the fact that I believe this is all in alignment with what Barry wanted. He is his own being, and for reasons we are not currently privy to, he was ready to bail from this realm. And for as much as he might have prolonged his transition for the benefit of us sure-to-be-heartbroken humans, once again, the fact remains: Barry’s gonna do, what Barry’s gonna do, the way Barry’s gonna do it. And now, as sure as I am about his spirit living on, I’m sure he will be occupying himself with other matters of concern to him… which, I’m pretty sure, will include keeping an eye on us heartbroken humans.

Infinite love, Barry.  See you on the other side…

Barry Buddha Rahbar-Galaxy
May 10, 2006 – December 18, 2016



Barry’s human parents, Minoo and Jackson, have started a fund in Barry’s honor to help folks who can’t afford life-saving veterinary treatment for their beloved companion animals. It’s called the Barry Fund (what else?), and if you’re able, a donation in any amount would be greatly appreciated:


Barry thanks you in advance…

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