Thirty Years of NAMM:
One Man’s Perspective
Story by Shawn Perry
Photo by Ron Lyon
In 1981, my friend Lanny Cordola took me to my very first NAMM
show. I had no idea what NAMM was at the time, and it was an eye-opening experience,
to say the least. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a gearhead, so
the idea of scouring through gobs of musical equipment wasn’t necessarily
what stirred my interest in NAMM. But as a lover of music, I couldn’t
turn away from the sounds that come from the equipment in the hands of master
I don’t recall much from my first time at NAMM except that it was where
it has been for the most part — Anaheim Convention Center. I also remember
seeing guitarist Albert Lee and comedian/drummer Charlie Callas walking the
Over the next few years, I managed to get into NAMM either using other people’s
badges (this was before they scanned and ID’d you at the door) or occasionally
getting one of my own through various channels. There was the year I did some
A&R work for B.C. Rich Guitars. Another year, I bought a pass for $50 and
handed out drum accessories to people like Jason Bonham. Then there was the
year I went in as a buyer, ripe and ready to pluck down big bucks for music
accessories and various gadgets to put into my studio. After I sold the studio,
I worked the press angle — something I’ve done legitimately for
over 10 years.
Before I started reporting on the show, I’d walk the aisles, hit the
cymbals and attempt to get glimpses of my favorite musicians. In 1986, I had
a brief encounter with Jeff Beck and Eddie Van Halen in the lobby of the Hilton
hotel, where much of the night-time action took place after the show closed
(it still does). There I stood, in the middle of the madness with Lanny, who
was the guitarist with the band Giuffria at the time, and a photographer from
Guitar World, taking in the moment. You could tell Van Halen had had
a few, especially after he vehemently teased Beck about not wanting to participate
in that evening’s jam session at the Marriott ballroom. It was one of
those crazy NAMM memories I’ll never forget. And I don’t think Beck
has been back since.
Over the years, I’ve seen guys like Stevie Wonder, Gene Simmons, Bob
Weir, Keith Emerson, Chris Squire and Tony Iommi duck in and out of the show.
I’ve seen some incredible shows — from the Chick Corea Acoustic
Trio to Eddie Van Halen and John Entwistle swapping licks to the Elton John
tribute at the Pond (now the Honda Center) in 2003, featuring everyone from
Brian Wilson to Ray Charles.
After first writing about NAMM in the late 90s, it suddenly dawned on me that
Vintage Rock should cover the show. We typically don’t get into the technical
aspects of musical instruments (we might someday), but we have a strong interest
in the people that play musical instruments.
I wrote my first report in 2004, took a few photos and thought I had it covered.
I did the same for the next couple of years, getting assistance from guys like
Andrew Todd, Alex Jacard and Jordan “Junkman” Wolsch. Finally, in
2008, we added video to the mix. Since then, Vintage Rock has become far more
prolific in interviewing musicians and leading manufacturers at NAMM.
In 2010, we had two camera crews, two talking heads and six photographers.
I was so busy making sure everything went smoothly — from setting up interviews
to uploading content — I neglected to write my annual report. I’ve
been told that nobody reads the bloody things anyway, so be it.
For 2011, we scaled back because we figured we’d done it all and couldn’t
top it. That and the NAMM people limited our number of press passes. So we worked
within our means by using smaller video cameras (but we gotta work out the microphone
situation next time) and one main still photographer with a couple of back-ups.
With what we had, we pretty much winged the whole affair.
It was probably one of the better NAMM shows we’ve covered, despite the
fact that I spent much of my time in the press room, uploading video and sifting
through photos. We not only got some great interviews with people like Matt Sorum (with John Stamos), Phil Collen,
Carmine Appice, Steve Morse, Billy Sheehan, Craig Goldy, Bob Kulick,
Briian Tichy (with Vinny Appice), James LoMenzo, Jason Sutter
& Andy Johns — we also met some great musicians, witnessed some cool jams,
and stumbled across a few old friends.
On Sunday, the final day of a five-day NAMM run, I left my camera behind, and
for the first time in a long time, actually checked out the gear. I really need
to buy a synthesizer. Amongst all the hubbub, chaos, loud noises, beautiful
faces and fanfare, NAMM really is all about the stuff that spins the melodies
and drives the girls crazy.