When he returned from his first week at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, Rick Harrison, the avuncular host of the Pawn Stars TV show, had this to say: “I sang with Roger Daltrey. I can now die.”
Harrison not only lived on, but like many who sign up to take lessons in cool and chops from the likes of Jeff Beck, Joe Perry, Gene Simmons, Slash, Bret Michaels, Cheap Trick, Ginger Baker and Brian Wilson, he returned for another round. “Most of the folks who come here at some point in their lives they had aspirations to become professional musicians,” says star rock bassist Rudy Sarzo. “And then they went to college, graduated, became professionals in different vocations – lawyers, doctors, what have you – and they just put their guitar in the closet, and 20 years later they rediscover it.”
Sarzo got to live the life, playing with Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Ronnie James Dio, Queensryche and Blue Öyster Cult. Today he’s a R ‘n’ R Fantasy Camp counselor at its facility in North Hollywood, where campers will bond and rehearse for a show in front of a live audience. The camp’s 20th anniversary season in 2016 year was held at the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood last June with Paul Stanley, Don Felder and Mark Farner, and in August with members of Judas Priest and special guests.
David Fishof, the founder and creator of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp and author of Rock Your Business: What You and Your Company Can Learn from the Business of Rock and Roll, was a sports agent before he got involved in the concert industry. He was inspired by baseball fantasy camps to put together the R&RFC. The first one was with members of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, with Joe Walsh and Levon Helm and other players doing the mentoring.
“Standard camp is four days,” Sarzo explains “The first day is orientation, forming the band and figuring out what your band is gonna play. Then there is the interface with the special guests, who give the bands a list of songs they want to perform.”
“I’ve met a lot of campers where the wife or significant other has signed them up as a gift,” he observes. A big part of the appeal is the opportunity for campers to interact, learn from and even perform with their rock heroes. “At the last camp we had Zakk Wylde perform with every single camper.”
But when I ask Sarzo about his favorite part of the process, he points out other more intrinsic benefits for campers. “Basically, having four strangers walk into a room and four days later they become a band, and seeing their progression musically, having everybody listen to each other and play together, and even challenge each other musically,” he says.
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“For me, the most important factor in any band is trust. So on the first day I want to achieve that level of trust, to have the band members trust each other musically,” Sarzo notes. “The process is basically: you fill out a profile of your musical skills so you are matched up with people on the same level. It’s not a high-stress situation, it’s very relaxed, and my job as a counselor is to guide them.
“So what I do is really to be a life coach,” he observes.” It’s not just about a bunch of musicians playing together in a room. It’s about learning about yourself, re-identifying your musician’s identity. You are going to find out about your identity through this process.
“When they walk into the camp, I often sense that somehow they have lost their musician identity. They could answer, father, teacher, lawyer, whatever. My main goal is to have everybody re-identify as a musician.” he says.
Rock Camp isn’t cheap; base price for standard packages is upwards of $5,000. Yet as Sarzo notes, “There are repeat campers at every camp.” The company also does programs for corporate and organizational retreats and confernces as trust and team building exercises. (Have you noticed how the business community seeks “rockstars” when they hire?)
And it’s a fun and productive hang with some peers for Sarzo as well. “This season, I know a lot of the musicians from being on the scene for 30 years: Vinnie Appice, Tony Franklin from the Firm, Bruce Kulick from Kiss, Frankie Banali, who I used to play with in Quiet Riot – it changes from camp to camp according to the availability.
“Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp is an experience of a lifetime,” Sarzo says, “not only to attend the camp, not only to stand side by side with some of the greatest musicians in the business, but also to really know and understand what it takes to be successful in the music industry. I think that this is the best reference that anybody can have to the real experience of being a rock and roll star.”
2017 camps include members of Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots on February 16-19 and Ian Paice, Steve Morse and Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple on March 2-5.