Lampposts in the Moonglow: A Road Dawg Remembered

I wrote the following piece in ‘97. It’s a snapshot of tour life, featuring one of my dearest road warrior brethren: Ed “Munch” Miller… who we just lost last week. Munch and I started touring together way back in ’84, but our connection was rooted far beyond the “biz.” Munch was extended family… a fiercely loyal friend who I always remained in touch with and would often see during tour stops in his native Michigan through the years. He was also an insanely gifted sound engineer and quite the character, no doubt! We’ll miss you, brother…  


Lampposts in the Moonglow

The warhorse, Winnebago Warrior; my RV – a sling-shot rocket rolling down another black and icy highway. Truckstop neons are a blur to the right and left as speckles of snow, light but steady, pelt our windshield like stars on the Enterprise. We’re going where no men have gone before… at least not men like these.

In the driver’s seat for now, it’s Munch; a sumo-bellied bulldog with a thick, salt and pepper goatee. He’s forcing his droopy eyes to stay open behind dark-rimmed glasses as a Marlboro smolders between fingers that are as wide as they are long.

“You gonna make it, Mack Daddy?” I call out to him, crouching down between the driver and passenger seats. The movie Goodfellas funnels down the hallway from the TV in the rear lounge where I just left a couple of dozing bandmates. Two other crew guys are cocooned in army surplus blankets on couches near the front.

“What? Shit yes… whaddya mean?” Munch grunts back at me.

It’s the usual: me implying that he’s too tired to drive, he insisting he isn’t. Same ol’ shit.

“Well, looks like I might have to get some motherfuckin’ toothpicks up here to keep those eyelids from shuttin’,” I retort.

Munch lets loose one of his signature grizzly bear-with-pneumonia kind of laughs. “You’re dreamin’, Holmes. I ain’t never fell asleep at the wheel and I ain’t never gonna, either,” he says, cocking both eyes at me—and off of the road—for a few seconds longer than I can take.

Me: “Very good. Now, do you mind watching where the fuck you’re going here before we roll this bad boy again?”

Munch: “Man, get your ass back to your movie, will ya? Leave the driving to the professionals.”

Me: “I would, but our budget wouldn’t allow me to hire any.”

Munch: “You got that right!”

We both laugh, and I stand and steady myself through the soft white glow of floor lighting, and down the hall to my haven in the rear lounge.

Life is a series of leaps of faith and, considering only six months have passed since our horrific motor home accident—where a crew guy did, in fact, fall asleep at the wheel and roll the RV four times—I guess I’m taking a leap in letting my boy continue to drive tonight. But the Munch man is armed with a stout cup of coffee and a sacrosanct old bible that his father left him years back—a good luck piece of sorts—which he swears has protected him from harm in his twenty years of driving trucks. And for some reason, I believe it.

Let’s hope this streak continues.

For now, though, I fall into my bunk, power down the tube, then ease onto my side where I can look out the window. Instead of counting sheep, I count passing lampposts in the moonglow. …7, 8, 9… because if we must endure another wreck, I would rather be asleep… 22, 23, 24… that way, by the time I realize it isn’t a dream, it will already be over… 33, 34, 35…

Kind of like life itself.

Post-show, from an extensive tour in ’97 when this piece was written.
Munch is right there in the center. (Thanks for the pic, Kid…)  
 

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Are You Ready For This?: Finding Rare Vinyl for “Rich” People

It’s hard to believe that, on this day, 34 years ago, we lost Buddy Rich, one of the greatest drummers to ever roam the earth. I had the privilege of seeing him perform live on at least a dozen occasions, and I have amassed many of his recordings on vinyl, cassette, and CD, mostly as a solo artist, but also as a sideman. I can still remember the moment when I learned of Buddy’s passing… and the stinging emptiness I felt in the days after.

The following is a short memoir about finding what appeared to be the Holy Grail of rare Rich recordings at a Boston record shop, way back in ’81 when I was a student at the Berklee College of Music. I wrote this for a recent edition of my Newsletter (#6: 3-10-21) which I’ll share here in its entirety at the request of my longtime friend and colleague, Dom Famularo. Enjoy:

Hello Everyone –

Welcome back! Let’s get into this week’s Newsletter:

In This Issue:

  • Musings: Are You Ready For This?
  • BR Health Beat: Plan on a Daily Workout… Even if it Doesn’t Always Work Out!
  • Down & Dirty: Could this be the world’s healthiest fruit?

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Are You Ready For This?

When I was a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, I was hardcore into jazz drumming and had developed an active obsession with collecting classic old jazz albums. One afternoon, I stepped into my favorite used record shop near the school to have a quick scroll through the bins. As I was taking a pass through the Buddy Rich section (one of my all-time favorite drummers), my heart skipped a beat: I had stumbled across a strange title I had never heard of before. And what’s this, I wondered? Louie Bellson is on this record, as well? Some kind of a drum duel performance of the two of them? Holy shit!

But then when I glanced up at the sticker price, I nearly threw up in my mouth. $50! This was an obscene amount of money for a record back then—most were in the $2 to $6 range—and it clearly should have been a dealbreaker for a broke-ass college student. However, I simply could not tear myself away. A rare “archaeological” find such as this might only come once in a lifetime, right? Why else would it have been so expensive, I reasoned?  I pulled the record from the bin, slipped it out of its hand-sealed plastic covering, then caught a whiff of that vintage aroma. It smelled like the inside of a ’65 Chevelle. Oh man… this might be the only copy left in America right now. Must grab.

I slowly brought it up to the register and asked the attendant to please hang on to it for a hot second while I went to the bank to empty my account. (Like I said: $50 was a lot back then!) Fifteen minutes and a couple of painful transactions later, I was back in my dorm room, savoring every scratchy second of my conquest, and poring over the liner notes like a history professor. The record contained one 28-minute track called “Slides and Hides.” It was recorded in Japan with a renowned Japanese big band that only played a combined seven or eight minutes on the whole thing. All the rest was Buddy and Louie, slugging it out like Ali and Frazier. A drummer’s wet dream.

But the story gets even better for this young drum nerd. Over the course of the next two years, I was able to get both Buddy and Louie to sign it when each rolled through town for shows. Buddy was cordial yet methodical in his signing, while Louie was overtly friendly and inquisitive. In other words, both were “business as usual” in their reaction to the record, which was fine with me. And most importantly, I had a sort of “seal of approval” on a valuable drumming artifact that would often inspire focus and clarity in the four decades that followed.

And this, to me, is the real value of collectibles. Not the market value cash price, but the emotional value we assign to a thing as it lives on to represent something important in our life—or to remind us of something pivotal in our journey. In this way, things like classic vinyl and old dog-eared books are holy relics, holding a space for our higher pursuits… and serving as a critical reminder that the best version of ourselves is still out there somewhere: waiting to hopefully show up in someone else’s “collection” one day… if we’re willing to pay the proverbial piper and do the work.

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BR Health Beat: Quick Tip

Plan on a Daily Workout… Even if it Doesn’t Always Work Out!

Some days, life happens and we don’t get around to our workout. This is a reality. So consider this: if you plan on training 7 days a week, life will happen and you will likely get 5 or 6—which is great. However, if you plan on training 5 days a week, you will often end up with 3 or 4. Not bad, but I say, let’s shoot higher. And remember, a workout doesn’t have to be an epic 90-minute affair. 20 to 25 minutes (or less) all adds up over the long haul. (Remember the Micro-workout concept from Newsletter #1?)

I believe people’s biggest resistance to this shorter workout idea is that it doesn’t seem worth it. “Hell, if I can’t get a full workout in, it will be a waste of time.” Not true, I say! You might not get a lot of quantifiable benefit from the short, easy workout if you evaluate it from a total increase in conditioning standpoint. But there is value in reinforcing the practice, the ritual, the lifestyle attribute, of moving your body, elevating the heart rate, and getting some increased range of motion happening—daily. If nothing else, it breaks that unfortunate multi-day streak of minimal movement that so many have defaulted to these days. And perhaps even more importantly, it preserves a sense of momentum in your regimen… as opposed to having yet another day off from training, which can often lead to another day off… which, well… we all know where missing multiple days in a row can lead us.

So let’s plan on doing something—even a little something—every day.

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Down & Dirty!

I recently launched my very own custom-blend superfood powder called Dragon Dirt. In this section, we offer tips and insights for our kick-ass new DD community. Our Ingredient Spotlight provides info into the why, what, and how much of our ingredients in the Dirt.

The World’s Healthiest Fruit?

Indian gooseberry, also known as amla, is one of the most antioxidant-rich food sources on the planet—particularly when in its concentrated powder form. Native to India and a versatile component in Ayurvedic medicine, amla is an unparalleled immunity-booster, among many other things. It mitigates the build-up of LDL cholesterol (for greater heart health), regulates blood sugar levels, brings relief to a number of digestive issues, promotes healthy skin by protecting collagen, and can even improve the mitochondrial health of eye cells. Amla also appears to have anti-cancer properties, as in vitro studies have shown it to not only stunt cancer cell growth, but also block the invasion of these cells. There is a full 1500 mgs of Indian Gooseberry in a single serving of Dragon Dirt! 

Grab a bag HERE. Find out about our other 17 ingredients at www.drinkthedirt.com

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Thanks, everyone! If you haven’t already, be sure and take a moment to sign up for the BR Newsletter at: https://www.bobbyrock.com/pages/newsletter. This will give you a much more customized experience, and also grant you access to various members-only areas, events, etc.

Until next time,
BR

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An Evening of Nunsense

Here’s a short preview from my upcoming book (working title) – Will Drum For Food
Surviving the Nineties with Clubs, Campgrounds, Clinics, and Credit Cards

My last memoir, The Boy Is Gonna Rock, takes a deep dive into the wild ride of my first major gig with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion during the infamous 80s hair metal era. The follow up—which has a good chance for a 2021 release—picks up where “The Boy” left off: on a high note. The first part of the book details my time in the studio and on the road with Nelson, a band that would enjoy a brief but fiery run atop the charts and throughout the world media. But then, several chapters in, the culture changes, and I phase into my full-time pursuits of being a drumming solo artist and clinician… and we dip down into a decade’s worth of the most grueling touring and financial logistics imaginable. It’s shaping up to be a hell of a read.

There is actually a lot of heavy shit in this book. I go deep into some personal tragedies and other issues that I’ve never fully discussed publicly. But for this initial excerpt—which I shared for the first time in my Newsletter a month ago—I’ve chosen a fun and breezy recollection from the “After the Rain” tour. (Disclaimer: This is an original, unedited first draft excerpt!)

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An Evening of Nunsense

One of the more infamous promotional stunts that Geffen coordinated during that first tour went down in Buffalo, New York. It was a promotion sponsored by a local radio station that was directed to all of the area high schools: Nelson would play a private concert at whichever school managed to mail in the most postcards requesting the show. 

The hands-down winner, perhaps not surprisingly, was an all-female Catholic high school. I don’t recall the exact number of cards these girls managed to send in, but it was an alarming amount, and certainly difficult to wrap your head around how they pulled it off. Nonetheless, the date was booked, and the show was treated like any other on our tour schedule. We would roll trucks and buses onto their campus and set up for the show in their auditorium. Basically, it was just another day at the office.

Funny thing was, even though this was an all-girl high school—and the students were able to invite siblings, boyfriends, and parents—the audience ratio of female-to-male was similar to all of our other shows: estrogen heavy! But we did our normal show to a tee, with two notable exceptions:

Throughout the tour, during Brett Garsed’s open guitar solo, I had gotten in the habit of going backstage and taking a mid-show piss, before returning to the drums and waiting for his cue to bring us back up. This cue was always the same: At the end of his solo, he would launch into that classic, opening riff of Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” and we would all jump in and play a minute or two of the tune as a segue out of his solo spot. Every night, it was wash/rinse/repeat, and I had become so familiar with the general arc of his solo, that I always had a solid idea of how much time I had before I needed to get my ass back to the stage.

On this night, however, I think Brett, ever the modest virtuoso, looked out at that packed auditorium of high school uniforms during his solo, and presumed that those young girls had little interest in his world-class pyrotechnics. So, he made an impromptu decision to cut his solo short and start the Living Colour riff early… precisely as I was standing over a toilet in the girl’s locker room, fully midstream!

Talk about feeling helpless.

Man, I powered through and forced those remaining drops out of there, then sprinted back to the stage and behind my kit to find five bemused faces looking back at me, waiting in limbo and stalling! All we could do at that point was laugh and carry on with the set. Fortunately, I doubt anyone in the crowd even noticed.


With Brett, circa 2013, when I played in Australia with Lita Ford

The other unusual thing that night was that I bonded with a nun. For real. Her name was Sister Sharon. Don’t know how or why, but it was a visceral and immediate connection… as if we had known each other in another life and had just reconnected in this one. Everyone in her camp and mine noticed the unusual bonding moment between us. Later, of course, there would be a few lewd comments on the bus about what I should aspire to engage in with my new friend. But it wasn’t about that for me (or for Sister Sharon, I’m sure). This was a transcendent experience. I was drawn to her child-like purity and refreshing sense of innocence… something radically different than the kind of thing one might typically encounter on the road back then.

We would exchange addresses and write to each other in the months ahead. And then later that summer, Sister Sharon and several other students and teachers from the high school would all come see us play at the local amphitheater at Darien Lakes… and I would have to endure perhaps the most regrettable and embarrassing moment of my life that night. Stay tuned for that one, kids.

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Be among the first to read new stuff in the Bobby Rock Newsletter. Just go to the upper right-hand corner of any page at www.bobbyrock.com and sign up with your name/email/password. Only takes a minute. We are trying to make this Newsletter a high-value endeavor featuring different things each week, from project announcements and updates, drumming/writing previews, and health and fitness tips, to Dragon Dirt recipes, book/vid/podcast recommendations, and tour date info (when that kicks in again).

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

Hitting

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.

cruiseposter

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.

miami
Hotel room view of Miami, the night before…

boat
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:

sunrise1B

sunrise1C

sunrise1D

sunrise1E

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.

library
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.

StThomas2

StThomas1
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.

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LabadeeHaiti
Dropping into Haiti on show day…

FriHit
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…

Lita&Feathers

SatHit
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:

sunrise2A

sunrise2B

sunrise2C

sunrise2D

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.

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


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

nightdeck
Pre-sunrise shot from the deck

Kool
“The Gang” from the Palace balcony

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

atgym
Yet another senseless selfie from yet another gym…

 

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A Spontaneous Trip to Dubai: In Pictures

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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…

camel

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:

laptop
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:

lobby

dinner

skyline

arch

 

colortubs

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

aerial1

 

aerial2

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

pizzahut

The Old
 

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

stairs

 

whitetemple

 

wideshot

Very maze-like in Old Dubai:

maze

And a lot to take in…

oldangle

mosque

Cool shops in the neighboring textiles/spices districts:

street

textiles

spices

lights

…with water taxis operating at a nearby canal:

water


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!)

bathroom

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…

 

tourist

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.

meydan


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

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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.

withband

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

https://bobbyrock.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/ms-thompson-the-great/

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

China 2019: The Solo Drumming Tour

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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.)
 
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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!

Communication: 
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!
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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
 

 
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Arrival
 
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.).
 

 

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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.)

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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!
 
 
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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!”

 
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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

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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:


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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.

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

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Posted in The Artist Realm | 1 Comment

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

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Posted in The Artist Realm, The Boy is Gonna Rock (VVI memoir) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments