I have always been awed, mesmerized and fascinated by the people who make music. Their ability to touch fans and to bring joy and sadness, communicate emotions and thoughts and to even change the very course of human history makes them the most powerful creative force on the planet.
As profoundly important as painters, sculptors, builders, and architects have been, no creative entity has ever wielded more lasting impact than the musician; the guitar player; the songwriter.
And as much as I love writers—John Steinbeck was the greatest who ever lived and used words like nobody else ever did—I think songwriters are truly touched with magic because not only are they profoundly blessed wordsmiths but they have a mastery over music as well. Now, if Steinbeck had been rocking a guitar while writing “East of Eden,” that would have made him possibly the most inspired creative genius who ever lived.
But of course Steinbeck wasn’t a guitarist…though he did drink like one.
From the moment I heard the sound of electric guitars on record and radio, I was hooked.
Addicted. I can remember hearing the reverb-drenched guitars—though I had no clue at the time what reverb was—playing on all the surf instrumentals in the early 1960s. Walk Don’t Run by the Ventures, Pipeline by the Chantays, Out Of Limits by the Marketts and Penetration by the Pyramids were just a few of the surf guitar instrumentals released between 1960 and 1964 and every time one of them came on the radio, I was transported to a different place.
Surf music gave way to the British Invasion. I was 11-years old when The House of the Rising Sun came on local radio for the first time. It would have been 1964 and the first time I heard those arpeggiated guitars on the intro, I was rendered speechless. I thought that was the most extraordinary sound I’d ever heard. I knew the name of the band was the Animals but beyond that I didn’t know a thing.
I didn’t have a clue who the guitarist was or how many guitarists were even in the group. I didn’t care. All I knew was every time I subsequently heard the song during that young summer in the mid-‘60s, I was blown away anew. And not once did I ever wonder or try and find out who was strumming those magical chords. It just didn’t seem important to me at the time.
I felt the same way when I heard Time Won’t Let Me by the Outsiders a couple years later in 1966. That guitar riff was the most enthralling and all-consuming thing I had ever heard until I was blown away all over again later that year when the Music Machine’s Talk Talk single came out with that mind-bending fuzz guitar lick.
Strangely, many years later, I would actually buy an Acoustic 270 amplifier from Sean Bonniwell, guitarist and songwriter for the Music Machine. By that time, I knew who he was but only because I read a lot of rock magazines and looked at the names of musicians on album covers and the sleeves of 45 singles.
When I look back on that moment now—driving to Bonniwell’s house, buying the amp and seeing Music Machine stenciled on the trap cases he had in his garage—I think, “Of all the people who were fans of the band, bought their records and saw them perform live, how many knew the guitarist’s name?”
I would bet not many. It’s not like you were talking about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who or any other well-known band. You were dealing with a regional act who had a modest hit and never rose anywhere near the heights of the iconic bands we still talk about to this day. Still, this was an important band in the development of garage rock and Bonniwell himself possessed a unique approach to the guitar and the sounds it could make.
I never had the thought back then about how many musicians in bands were nameless individuals even to the fans who loved their music but I would years later – and it was for that reason I so wanted to be involved in the RockGodz Hall of Fame.
When Cindy Landeen approached me to become part the RockGodz project, I jumped at the opportunity. Cindy was a fan of rock and roll and had listened to music all her life. But she didn’t have a clue about who those people were in the bands she loved.
She had no idea that Doug Aldrich was the guitarist in Whitesnake or that Vinny Appice played drums for Dio, Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell and couldn’t have told you that Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal was a guitarist in Guns N’ Roses even if her life depended on it.
But she wanted to change all that. She wanted to honor and pay tribute to the musicians who created the soundtrack for not only her life but the lives of thousands of other rabid rock fans who asked themselves questions like, “What is that guitar player’s name? What band was he in? What’s he doing now?”
We thought the best way to honor those musicians and celebrate their contributions to rock and roll was to promote live shows where the honorees would be inducted into the RockGodz Hall of Fame project. As Cindy told me, “We wanted to have events where we could give awards to these great musicians, writers, producers and a whole list of those who have supported the industry. These events have become the foundation of what we do with RockGodz as we get the fans together with the artists in a cool venue and have them receive an award and grace us with the music that made them famous. It is amazing when they all get together from different bands and jam onstage and take us back to the best days of our lives.”
We held the inaugural induction ceremony in Las Vegas at the Vamp’d on July 30, 2014. Instead of writing about a bunch of musicians, I was actually involved in promoting and presenting them. It felt strange and different but very satisfying. Very cool. We ended up giving commemorative plaques to a whole bunch of deserving people including:
Yes, you might recognize that last name on the list—I was inducted that night. Every inductee received a beautiful glass-enclosed plaque etched with RockGodz Hall of Fame Inductee 2014, the artist’s name and the RockGodz’ web address: www.rockgodzhalloffame.com. When I was handed my award and saw my name on it, I did feel a little strange. It probably seems a little odd to you as well.
I was a co-founder of the RockGodz Hall of Fame and I was also being inducted into it. It just didn’t feel right. It was like owning a baseball team and putting yourself in the lineup for every game. My first instinct was to say, “No, that’s ridiculous” but then I thought about it and finally relented. Cindy wanted to give me a plaque and so I accepted and I must admit that I was really touched by her generosity. After hearing such great musicians as Doug Aldrich and Chris Slade give speeches about how much the award meant to them, I took the stage and made a few comments.
I was nervous as hell. There I was talking in front of a roomful of amazing players and producers and fans and I thought, “Who wants to hear what I have to say? I’m just a rock journalist. I’m a byline on a page.” But then I realized if it wasn’t for journalists and photographers writing about and taking pictures of our musical heroes, nobody would know about them at all.
So I said a few words about how I’d been writing for about 40 years and how lucky I’d been to meet so many of my heroes. I talked about how important every single musician who was there that night was because of all the contributions they’d made to the great world of rock and roll and how they sometimes didn’t receive all the credit they were rightly due. I think those words resonated with all of them.
We held a second RockGodz Hall of Fame induction ceremony the following year on March 25, 2015. We went back to Vamp’d and this time around, there was an eye-popping list of incredible musicians being honored including:
Following the awards program, all the musicians hurried backstage to tune up guitars and pull out drumsticks because this is what musicians did: they jammed. Here is what they played:
Yes, again you read that right. Steve Rosen, mild-mannered rock journalist, was going to get up onstage, strap on a Les Paul and attempt to play after six-string kings such as Bumblefoot and Mitch Perry had ripped up the night with thunderous shredding. I must have been out of my mind.
I mean, “What was I thinking??” That some ancient guitar god from the heavens up above was going to gaze down upon me, feel sorry for me and utter a mystic prayer meant to give me magical guitar powers? Maybe this ancient guitar dude would say, “I give you the speed of Doug Aldrich, the blues fire of Mitch Perry, and the weirdness and beauty of Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal.’” Maybe he would reach through time and lay his golden fingers on mine and I would instantly be transformed into a real fire-breathing, fret-burning electric guitar monster.
But that didn’t happen. I was hoping it would but it didn’t. Instead, I strapped on a Les Paul [Doug Aldrich kindly loaned me his Gibson so I could at least hope a little bit of his guitar grease would rub off on me], stepped onstage and realized I couldn’t move my fingers. They were frozen. Not only was I not going to be anointed by the heavenly rock kings of yesterday but I was going to have to suffer through the ignominy of not even being able to make a chord. I couldn’t lay my left hand on the neck. I felt like I’d just developed the worst case of arthritis ever experienced by anyone in history. My hand was clenched in a claw as if it was trapped in ice.
I heard Jason Ebs, the musical director for the RockGodz Hall of Fame ceremony and a terrific guitar player who’d worked with Peter Criss and Chris Slade, announce the next song. “Tonight we have rock journalist Steve Rosen on guitar and his brother Mick on drums joining us for Born To Be Wild.” I turned around to see how my brother was doing on an unfamiliar drumkit and he was a cool as a frosty beer. He was making some final adjustments to the snare and the positioning of the cymbals and was ready to go. In the meantime, I kept staring at my fingers as if willing them to move.
I had practiced the song dozens of times at home. I had pulled the song up on YouTube and played it over and over and over. Hell, I’d done this song so many times back in the day when I was still playing in cover bands that I couldn’t even count how many times I jammed on it and that’s not to mention I’d heard it repeatedly when it first came out in 1969.
I remember hearing it back in ’69 when I was just 16-years old and though I knew the band was called Steppenwolf, I didn’t have clue one about the names of anybody in the group. I would only learn later that Michael Monarch had played those beautiful guitar licks and now here I was all these years later trying to play them as well without making a complete and utter fool of myself.
Thankfully, muscle memory kicked in just as guitarist and singer Jason Ebs counted off the song. I nervously looked around and saw that vocalist Janea Ebs [Joe Cocker], bassist Barry Barnes [Charlie Daniels] and keyboardist Gregg Fox [Heart, Queensryche] were poised and ready to go. I heard the countoff—one, two, three, four—and somehow my fingers made their way up to the seventh fret for that opening E figure.
I played the licks and even tried inserted the little guitar fills during the chorus section—the G A E chords—but I messed up every one. I had practiced them a thousand times at home but standing onstage in front of real people was a totally different story.
The song was over in what seemed just a matter of seconds. I knew I had played terribly though I tried as hard as I could and only hoped the fans in attendance didn’t hear the mistakes. As the ringing stopped in my ears, I heard the crowd applauding and if there was ever a greater feeling in this world I’d yet to experience it.
For a brief moment, I was part of that very elite and creative rock and roll fraternity. For one shining second, I was Steve Rosen, rock guitar player and not Steve Rosen, rock journalist. It felt amazing. Playing onstage with a kickass PA and professional gear—I was rocking a Marshall half-stack—and lights and everything else was a singular moment few people ever experience. It was not like jamming at a backyard barbeque or a high school dance. Nothing like it.
Standing up on that stage and playing with those wonderful musicians reinforced all over again how much blind devotion and how many hours of toiling anonymously each of them had sacrificed for their craft. Though they’d all experienced some levels of success, not many people outside of a circle of friends and the fans they’d cultivated locally really knew their names or who they were. And that’s precisely why I felt the RockGodz Hall of Fame was so important. These musicians needed to be celebrated and that’s what RockGodz has done now for a couple years.
I have interviewed the most famous musicians who ever lived, which includes everyone from Pete Townshend, Brian Wilson and Jimmy Page to Michael Jackson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Billy Gibbons. Everybody knows their names and the bands they’re in and the songs they’ve written. But for every Townshend and Page there are thousands of players whose names are unspoken because no one knows them or at least not very many people know them. They may be the rhythm guitarists and the bass players or the drummers in bands who don’t sing and don’t write and aren’t out in front in terms of visibility and press.
But their contributions to the music are vital and they deserve to be recognized. They have earned that right and the RockGodz Hall of Fame is attempting to shine that very special light on them.
Our next event is August 27, 2016 in Las Vegas at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay. If any of you are in Las Vegas at that time, please come check it out. Or if you have any interest in RockGodz, you can check it out at www.rockgodzhalloffame.com.