Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The vacuum tubes on my Albion amp are glowing nicely and the volume’s set to peel paint off the walls. I’m on lead guitar; behind the drum kit is Rick Taiano from Queens, New York. The second guitarist, Jim LaTorre, is from Boston.
Fearlessly we launch into The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” with our front man, Roger Daltrey.
This wasn’t even the only highlight of my time at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, where aspiring rock stars get to jam with their real-life idols.
Packages start at $5,499 for the 4-day “Rock Star,” $7,499 for the 6-day “Headliner.” Pony up $9,999 for the “Recording Star” package and you also get 20 hours of studio time. (I was embedded with the campers as a member of the press.)
Actual, in-the-flesh rockers lead the camper bands here on their wannabe magical mystery tours. Johnny Winter drummer Sandy Gennaro, Quiet Riot bassist Rudy Sarzo, Poison guitarist Richie Kotzen, Queen keyboardist Spike Edney and Alice Cooper bassist-vocalist Kip Winger were among the 10 “counselors” guiding campers of varying degrees of ability. (Although my “camp” took place in New York, the gatherings are held in different cities; there’s one coming up in the Bahamas.)
On the first day of my “Rock Star” retreat, we were sent to the Gibson showroom on West 54th Street, former home of the legendary Hit Factory recording studios. It’s a labyrinth of soundproof rooms, each outfitted with everything a band could need.
We were offered a chance to sign out a Gibson guitar (the most famous models are the Hummingbird acoustic and the Les Paul electric) for the duration of the camp, issued a swag bag with strings and drum sticks, and turned loose to jam with other campers.
Later, we auditioned for the counselors, so that they could evaluate our playing skills. After that the lineups for each band were announced. Edney, who has also worked with Duran Duran and the Rolling Stones, was my counselor.
Spike decided it would be cool if we composed an original song to perform at our gig at B.B. King’s in Times Square. After a day spent brainstorming lyrics and melodies, we had a pounding shuffle with lyrics about our doomed society -- rock bliss, in other words.
Then it was off to a master class with Kotzen, who talked about his career, experiences and guitar-playing style. Afterward, a few of us who still had energy jammed in the band rooms.
On day three our band, now named 250 Brazilian Girls, was off to Avatar Studios on West 53rd Street to record our song. Spike directed the recording session expertly and, much like an episode of “Glee,” it was wrapped up in about an hour.
After lunch it was another afternoon of rehearsals to prepare for the big show.
While we were rehearsing, Daltrey showed up to listen to our song and then performed “Behind Blue Eyes” with us -- an experience I’ll never forget.
Our final day was given over to rehearsing for the performance at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill along with the nine other camper bands.
Nervous excitement was in the air at the venue, punctuated by a chaotic scene backstage and a full house in front. Donning our rock attire, we took the stage and played our 10-minute set, which felt more like 10 seconds. Well, 10 awesome seconds.
It was a far richer experience than video games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band that are hugely popular and strictly banned from my PS3.
“It was really great to see the transformation that took place,” my bandmate and new friend Ken Freirich said. “Eight strangers with totally different backgrounds joined together by the love and passion for rock ‘n’ roll. What we accomplished as a unified and cohesive band was amazing.”
(The next camp is Feb. 17-20 at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas with Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, Ace Frehley of Kiss, Lita Ford of the Runaways and George Lynch of Dokken.)
(Paul Goguen is a photographer and reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)
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