Financial Forecast: Clear & Sunny…So Far
by Shawn Perry
This year is already shaping up to be one of the more colorful in recent memory. Here in the States, we’re in the midst of a dramatic transformation — desperately treading water in a sea of debt and insolvency, caught up in senseless, unpopular conflicts, and pinning hope on a new president to save the day and restore the American way.
Yeah, business is tough all over. Inevitably, the state of the economy was driven home when I attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year. Despite rapid progress on the R&D front and a general sense of optimism, many manufacturers were quick to acknowledge a slowdown. The good news? They won’t be asking for a government-sponsored bailout.
Walking the NAMM Show floor the very next week, I don’t hear a word about the market’s fragility. Even in a recession, people want their music. Which isn’t to say NAMM and its members haven’t been affected by the downturn. The show reports 85,799 registrants, a three percent decrease from last year. With some 1,500 exhibitors on the floor, I still notice a couple of empty spots in the basement of the Anaheim Convention Center.
Nevertheless, NAMM President Joe Lamond senses the annual winter event will only grow in the coming years. He tells the Los Angeles Times he is prepared to go to the Los Angeles Convention Center when NAMM’s contract with Anaheim expires in 2010. The reason? “We need more space,” he says.
Proffering expansion in these trying times is a bold and ballsy move indeed. But then again, this is a segment of the music business that’s endured when others have fallen. How fortunate that most of the products from companies like Gibson, Fender, Peavey, Yamaha and Roland cannot be downloaded. During the same interview with the Times, Lamond says guitar sales are actually up (thanks in no small part to the popularity of music video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band). “Our surveys show that 82% of people who don't play an instrument wish they did,” he says.
So what does all this have to do with how we covered NAMM this year? Well, with a positive outlook, a crew of photographers, videographers and stringers, and a list of new and old prospects to locate, we set out to see NAMM 2009 from various points of view — starting with the major players, then over to the up-and-comers, all while keeping our eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary. Lucky for us, the stars are out and aligned, the toys are shiny and plentiful, the overall atmosphere is alive and electric, we have a rough plan — and I try to document as much of it as possible.
Old Is New
In an effort to see new and different things at NAMM (without ever seeing it all), I am still drawn to certain vendors by habit or reverence. In other words, I can’t go to the NAMM Show without paying a visit to Fender or Gibson. And I don’t even play the guitar. The same goes for Roland, Peavey, Ludwig, Yamaha and Marshall. I may not write a word about them or their products, but I’ll always see what sort of wares they’re serving up. The big fish set the tone for the show, even though I end up spending more time looking for smaller players. I’ll be talking more about tone later.
So it’s up to the third floor to see what Fender and Gibson are exhibiting. With a roomful of Baldwin, Bösendorfer and Steinway grand pianos between them, both companies are drinking from the same well when it comes to certain new product lines.
I got a good glimpse of Gibson’s Dark Fire, a self-tuning and self-toning ax any tech head could appreciate, the week before at CES. The Dark Fire and other technically enhanced guitars like it are built primarily for consumers and weekend warriors, not professional musicians.
Don’t get me wrong — the ease-of-use sustained by a bank of built-in electrodes is enough to keep any tinkerer up late at night. But when it’s time to step up and strap on an electric solid body guitar, most serious players either want a Les Paul or a Stratocaster, two American originals even their creators haven’t been able to improve upon.
Three years ago, Fender figured it might be fun to take a 1954 Esquire Telecaster and personalize it ala Jeff Beck. As Andrew Todd, who reported on the guitar in 2006 for Vintage Rock, wrote: “Fender techs faithfully reproduced the sad-looking axe…presumably by dragging it behind one of Beck’s hot rods before giving it the once-over with an acetylene torch.” Beaten and bruised, these guitars are fetching ten grand and up on E-bay. Which means the “old” look is the “new” look, prompting Fender to introduce an entire Road Worn Series this year.
The series consists of “used” looking ’50s Teles, Strats, and Precision Basses, along with 60s Strats and Jazz Basses. Each guitar is designed with both “vintage” parts and several “modern upgrades,” including “Tex Mex” single-coil pickups, larger 6105 frets and five-way pickup switches on the Strats.
After a short press conference announcing the line, I ask Fender’s Director of Marketing Justin Norvell where the appeal of these new guitars lies. “It comes from where wanting to play the guitar starts. In our lives, we kind of strive to protect everything from harm. When you get a new car, you park it five spaces out. With any new tech invention, there’s a new industry of companies that make bags and cases to hold them. Guitars and basses are interesting is that there’s a story behind every dent, scratch and ding. It’s a desirable thing that’s intrinsic in the guitar industry.”
Gibson and Fender have been reissuing signature legacy models for a number of years without the road-worn look. Artist Series guitars from Fender this year include the Ritchie Blackmore Signature Stratocaster, the Dave Murray Stratocaster and the Eric Johnson Stratocaster RW.
Tony Franklin, former bassist with the Firm and Blue Murder and now an A&R manager with Fender, is on hand to watch over “all things bass,” including his own signature fretless P-Bass. “It’s pretty much the same bass I played with the Firm except we put an ebony fingerboard on it.” (Go to complete video interview)
Meanwhile, Gibson is working the show a little differently. At previous NAMMs, one had to get an invite to see Gibson’s new products, but this year they’re opening up the floodgates, allowing everyone in for a look. They’re even hosting artist appearances with guys like Brian Wilson and Kris Kristofferson. The Dark Fire gets its share of gawkers, especially when the Cult’s Billy Morrison steps up and gives it a try (see my CES article for more on the Dark Fire). Frankly, at this juncture, I’m more in tune with the signatures and reissues.
Epiphone Guitar, part of the Gibson family, forges ahead with own limited edition Custom Vintage models, including the new Zakk Wylde ZV Custom Electric, the Apparition by Marcus Henderson, and the Vintage Custom 1962 Wilshire Reissue.
I miss both Wilson and Kristofferson, who played and introduced “The Kristofferson,” a reproduction of his beloved Southern Jumbo developed by Gibson Acoustic. So I settle for Robby Krieger doodling around on his signature Standard SG. All it takes is a few licks of “Love Me Two Times” to convince me the Gibson Custom Division is going the extra mile in recreating their most celebrated instruments.
This includes a nod to the 1959 sunburst Les Paul model made famous by the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Celebrating 50 years, Gibson is releasing several limited runs of signature Bursts in the coming months. And they’re all over the Gibson booth.
Main Floor Getaway
Once I’m away from the skedaddle of the third floor, I realize Gibson and Fender aren’t the only ones working the whole legacy and signature angle. Walking past the Ludwig Drum Company, celebrating their 100th Anniversary, I take a look at the Legacy Exotic Series Drums, touting the tagline: “Tomorrow’s Vintage. Today,” along with the Liverpool 4, built in “spirit of the original ‘Ringo Kit.’” It’s hard to tell if Ringo Starr officially endorses this drum set.
Another Anniversary Tribute model on display is the Jason Bonham Signature kit, a yellow Vistalite Zep set with black hardware and a reproduction of the first Led Zeppelin cover on the bass drum head. Dad would have been proud.
Admittingly, I tend to graze over drums despite the fact that I occasionally tap out a beat or two on a little four-piece Gretsch of my own. Still, I can’t ignore the fervor over Simon Phillips’ 30th year with Tama. Not only does Phillips' signature get star billing on the showroom floor; Tama also sponsors a concert the first night of NAMM to honor the relationship.
The three-hour plus show at the nearby Marriot Hotel starts off with a 30-minute drum circle (four drummers and Phillips). This is followed by a retrospective of just about everything the drummer has ever involved himself with — from the slick grooves with own jazz band Protocol to spirited sets covering songs by Judas Priest, Michael Schenker Group, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck.
Just around the corner from the Tama booth, I’m confronted with a whole new batch of signatures from various players, designers and companies. First up is Adrian Belew, best known as the lead singer and guitarist for King Crimson (and leader of his onw power trio), who’s teamed up with Parker Guitars (part of U.S Music Corp.) to produce the Adrian Belew Signature Fly Guitar.
Belew tells me it’s the “Ferrari of electric guitars. It’s a Parker Fly and nothing much has been changed about the design, because it doesn’t need to be — it’s the most perfect guitar in the world. What we have done is electronically. We put in the Sustainiac (Stealth PRO neck pickup), which turns off and on very easily with one pull of the knob. We also have the Variax (modeling components) system that Line 6 makes. And an RMC MIDI pickups, so that you have virtually everything I think that’s cool, new, modern and futuristic — all built into the guitar.”
He says he’s using the guitar with both Crimson and the Adrian Belew Power Trio. Considering the range of sounds he taps into, I can see why the Parker Fly is Belew’s choice of on-stage, in-studio weaponry.
Down the aisle, I wander into the Peavey booth and bump into Rudy Sarzo. The famed Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot and Whitesnake bassist currently holding down the bottom for Dio and Blue Oyster Cult is not only talking about Off The Rails, his new book (I’m hoping to review it) — he's also hyping Peavey’s Cirrus Rudy Sarzo Signature Model Basses.
Recalling 25 years with Peavey, Sarzo says his signature line is constantly being reconfigured and modified. When he first played a Cirrus bass with its solid neck-through design at the 2004 NAMM Show, he was so impressed, he combined the best features of his Peavey signature with the Cirrus to create the first of many Cirrus Rudy Sarzo Signature models. “This is a 25th anniversary bass,” he muses, motioning to a wall of basses. “It’s in the original color that was issued back in the late 80s and 90s — licorice, blueberry and cherry.”
Sounds yummy. Speaking of which, I’ve always been impressed with Dean Guitars' unique line of signatures. Whenever I go to NAMM, I routinely stop by Dean to pop a picture or two of the girls that adorn the booth’s outskirts. I’m also mildly fascinated with the intimidating V-shaped headstock and sharp, contoured angles that define the style and look of a Dean Guitar. This includes the late Dimebag Darrell’s original Dean From Hell, honorably displayed each year at NAMM like a museum piece.
I sit down with a close friend of Dimebag’s, guitar designer Buddy Blaze, along with Dean Guitars CEO Elliot Rubinson. They proceed to tell me all about the new Dean Buddy Blaze ML Signature Guitar.
“Darrell and I both had dreams years ago about having our own Dean models some day,” Buddy says. “Elliott and I met — unfortunately the event wasn’t so great, but it was a great day that we met at Darrell’s funeral. We struck up an immediate friendship and shared a lot of stories. There’s a lot of history. But one thing that’s never wavered…one thing Darrell and I had in common was our absolute love of the Dean ML. To me, it’s one of the greatest guitar designs I’ve ever seen. Visually, it’s just unbelievable. You can’t help but feel cool playing a guitar like that.”
Blaze, who custom builds guitars in Hawaii (how sweet is that?), goes on to detail various features on his signature ML, including middle and bridge pickup placement the designer is known for, as well as a three-degree neck angle, 24 frets and a top-mount Floyd Rose Tremolo you can pull up on forever. Blaze reminds me that this guitar is “meant to kick ass.”
Rubinson offers a more monumental take. “I think the ML has become an iconic guitar, kind of like the Fender Stratocaster and the Les Paul.” Now there's a bold statement. But when you consider Dean’s popularity, maybe he's onto something. The CEO explains that, “the ML shape, thanks to Darrell, held over all the years the company was out of business, and was kept alive.” Naturally, with Dimebag’s tragic murder in 2004, the popularity of the ML has reached mythic proportions.
Blaze and Rubinson rave about the hand-wound DMT pickups — “they scream”— and the general playability of the new ML. Rubinson says there’s only a limited run of 300 and they go for under a thousand bucks. He also says he and Blaze plan on building more guitars in the future. “Darrell would be proud,” Rubinson says. Blaze laughs before adding: “He’d bust a couple of headstocks.” (Go to complete video interview)
Finishing up, I ask Blaze if the Dean From Hell inspired him to build his ML signature. “Honestly no.” He pauses in mid-sentence, then begins to tell me the back story of the infamous guitar. It was originally owned by Dimebag, but it ended up with Blaze, who modified it with a top-mounted Floyd (sound familiar?) and painted it blue. Blaze eventually gave the guitar back to Dimebag, and the rest, as they say, is history. Rubinson tells Blaze he probably built “the most famous metal guitar of all time,” and we all nod in agreement. (Go to complete video interview)
New Is New
By this time, I’ve pretty much covered the signatures. B.C. Rich, ESP, Schecter, Carvin G&L, Washburn, and 50 others I’m forgetting could bury me in signatures and legacies, and I'd never have time to see another thing. That ain't part of the plan. It’s time for something completely new, completely different, completely off the map.
No place says “don’t forget us” like the basement of the Anaheim Convention Center during the NAMM Show. There’s plenty of action and a surplus of legitimate players here. But it’s where the off-brands and smaller custom shops tend to migrate as well.
As scheduled, Earl Slick, who played some mean guitar on David Bowie’s Station To Station and John Lennon’s Double Fantasy, is getting ready to jam at the XOX Audio Tools booth. Along with Italian guitarist Enrico Santacatterina, Slick plays a new signature version of The Handle, a lightweight, ultra-thin guitar made from carbon fiber, the same material used in Formula 1 race cars. (Go to complete video performance)
I ask Slick about his involvement with the company and he willingly complies. “We’re doing a Slick model and launching the guitar in the states. They play great, they look cool. We’re working on some aesthetics on the Slick one, which we’re just about done with.” He shows me his ring. “Obviously, skulls all over the place. It feels great and doesn’t weigh as much as my Les Paul.” (Go to complete video interview)
It suddenly dawns on me that this is the second guy I’ve talked to today with a four-pound signature guitar and a track record that includes backing David Bowie. What's next? The Thin White Ax?
This time I really am done with signatures (I think). A press conference at Roland announcing a partnership with The Martin Guitar Company stirs my interest, so I head over to Roland world, which, to my eye, has to have more space than anyone else, and take my place. The two companies unveil the Roland AP-1 preamp, available on Martin 00C-16DBGTE, DC-16OGTE and OMC-16OGTE models.
All the top brass are there, including Chris Martin IV (Martin's CEO, not the lead singer for Coldplay). A short demo ensues, and I can hear that the difference between a typical acoustic guitar pickup and Roland’s preamp is significant .It features the company’s own Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM) technology, which produces three body-specific tone variations. It also has a programmable seven-band EQ, an anti-feedback control, a digital chromatic tuner, a digital reverb and an LCD display.
I’ll visit Martin’s booth later, but first it’s back upstairs to see what’s going on with another big name in acoustic instruments: Taylor Guitars . What started out as a two-man operation specializing in hand-crafted acoustics has evolved into an innovative, tech-savvy manufacturer of both acoustic and electric guitars.
Martin may be harnessing the technological know-how of Roland to electrify itself, but Taylor has made considerable progress in closing the gap. Two recent milestones put Taylor in the lead in the acoustic/electric integration sweepstakes — the 2003 announcement of the Expression System (ES) pickup, and the 2005 launch of the T5, an electric/acoustic hybrid that plays a range of hard and smooth tones with the flick of a five-way switch.
This year, Taylor has combined elements of the T5 and last year’s SolidBody to create the T3 Semi-Hollowbody. The company’s VP of Marketing Brian Swerdfeger proudly hoists up the T3 and announces: “Like any proud parent, we’re all just beaming and gushing talking about our new T3. What we’ve done is taken the world’s best-selling hollowbody, which is our T5 guitar, and we’ve added a center block, full-size humbuckers and a Bigsby (vibrato tailpiece), and we’ve turned it into a T3. A three-way switch, a straight-ahead rock and roll guitar — it’s just expanding our ever growing electric guitar line.” (Go to complete video interview)
Swerdfeger assures me Taylor is still very much in the acoustic guitar business by telling me about the Build To Order (BTO) program. “The Build To Order guitars are the ultimate expression of what we can do and what a player can dream.” In this case, an acoustic guitar enthusiast can custom order the woods, shapes, the binding, the inlays, just about everything, to complete a dream guitar in as little as eight weeks. The next day, I watch Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw play an incredible hour-long set with a couple of Taylors in hand. They truly are magnificent instruments.
Martin, resisting the temptation of the electric guitar, has instead focused on refining their commitment to quality and craftsmanship. I enjoy looking over the Martin acoustics. They inspire so much comfort, that I take a load off and chat with Jann Klose, a multicultural singer-songwriter with a sensational new album out called Reveries. Klose has been playing dates with Elliott Murphy and is scheduled to play at the Martin booth later in the day, and at the Hilton that evening.
I ask him about how he hooked up with Martin. “I got involved with Martin Guitars a few years ago when I made my last album, Black Box. They had heard it somehow, and that's when we started working together. I’m at the NAMM Show because Martin asked me back from last year.” Klose plays a special edition Martin cutaway SPDC-16R that was made in 1998.
In the last year, the German-born, African-bred Klose has forged ahead with more shows, including a performance at the Martin Guitar 175th Anniversary Concert where he sat in with Rosanne Cash, Roger McGuinn and Marty Stuart. Of course, as a young and enterprising musician, Klose has also harvested other endorsements at NAMM. I decide not to ask him if he has a Jann Klose signature in development with Martin after he tells me he’ll be hanging out with Elliott Murphy at Taylor the next day. You gotta keep your options open.
Odds, Sods & Tone
I’ve been coming to the NAMM Show for over 20 years, and it amazes me how many booths I walk by without much notice. It’s not like I don’t know they’re there. On the contrary, I’m acutely aware these people put their hearts and souls into musical products they truly believe in. Some of them have stumbled onto goldmines, and will only do or say so much when you approach. Yeah, the red carpet isn’t rolled out to Vintage Rock by everyone.
I decide that after being deluged by guitars, it’s time to learn more about the stuff every musician needs, but may give little thought to. In the glitz and flash of hot rod guitars, booming brass saxophones and trumpets, drum sets that look like airplane cockpits, and a dizzying number of keyboard configurations, it’s easy to pass by the working pieces and parts that make it all happen.
A short visit to Pickworld is all it takes to make me realize that many of the mega companies exhibiting at NAMM are giving guitar picks away by the barrelful. Yet, here’s a small Internet-based business that will personalize guitar picks with any name or slogan floating in your head, along with your choice of colors, sizes, shapes, thickness, really whatever you want within the realm of pick worthiness. I never get the chance to speak with the leader of Pickworld, but I’m betting he distrusts people like Jeff Beck, Lindsey Buckingham, Derek Trucks and all those calloused-fingered bass players who don’t use picks. Curses them all!
It only gets better when I come across TheClamp-It. Now here’s a device I can actually use. Actually, I think it’s something guys like Phil Collins, Don Henley and Micky Dolenz desperately need. Essentially, TheClamp-It is for singing drummers, a hexagon bar that attaches to a drum throne and a boom mic stand with a gooseneck connection, creating a modified microphone stand system that’s accessible, secure and out of the way.
Gregg Bissonette, a drummers’ drummer whose pounded for everyone from Maynard Ferguson to David Lee Roth, gives me a thumbs up on TheClamp-It . “It’s really a great invention,” he says. “I wish I would have had it a little earlier when I did a tour with Ringo and the All-Starr band all summer. I could have used it for then.”
Currently playing drums on a complete new recording of the first Spinal Tap album, Bissonette sums it up perfectly. “This is right over your head and right on your seat. It’s just perfect for me.” (Go to complete video interview)
Dan Marks, inventor of TheClamp-It and a damn good drummer in his own right, explains how he came up with the idea. “I’ve been drumming for 30 years, singing in clubs and bars. The main problem I was having in really small clubs was that the stages are really small for the drum kit. You’re basically up against the wall. There was really no place to put a microphone stand behind you. So I came up with TheClamp-It. It eliminates the tripod that holds the stand because it mounts to the back of the seat. Yet you can still boom the microphone over your head. That’s the optimum place to have a microphone for a drummer.”
Marks says he’s already signed on Bissonette, Poison drummer Rikki Rockett, Carmine Appice and many others as endorsees. This is the kind of enterprising ideas NAMM nurtures. Musicians are either playing or adding on to their arsenal. Some of the more inventive individuals come up with cool accessories like TheClamp-It. Others modify their instruments to the point of making sounds they never made before. Tom Scholz and Eddie Van Halen did it with the guitar. Mark Wood has done it with violins.
An acclaimed violinist who’s shared the stage with Billy Joel and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Wood is no stranger to the potential of his chosen instrument when it comes to own line of electric violins. “What we have here is the new revolution,” he informs me as we stand by before a wall of instruments in the Wood Violins booth. “Out of all the industries at NAMM, the last remaining frontier is bowed strings. After 400 years of us working on acoustic instruments, it’s time for somebody to blow up and drop the bomb on the acoustic string world and make them electric. These are solid body electric instruments.”
Indeed, these fretted and fretless four, six and seven string hand-painted electric violins look like miniature Dean Guitars. Wood offers up a demo, tiptoeing through a little Bach before pile driving into an earth shattering version of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” It sounds exactly like a guitar and Wood concurs, telling me you can also make it sound like “a keyboard, a violin, anything you want. Versatility is critical here.” (Go to complete video interview)
I start to ponder the concept of sound — tone, actually — and how it’s such an integral part of a musical instrument. You can rely on a pile of outboard gadgets to refine your tone, but the point of origin — the instrument and the output source (like an amplifier) — is really where the barebones of a tone are shaped and molded.
IK Multimedia's AmpliTube
Taking it a step further, it is now possible for a good, well-loved tone to be processed and coded to near perfection. IK Multimedia has successfully taken the much sought-after tone of a Fender tube amp and bundled it into a software suite called AmpliTube.
According to the company’s CEO Enrico Iori, this cross-platform, standalone package offers the user a wide selection of 12 guitar amps, 12 matching cabinets, nine microphones, six “stomp” effects, six rack effects and “45 pieces of gear in the entire history of Fender amplifiers.”
The computer interface even looks like the amp you select. “We were able to retain a realism set no by us, but by Fender,” Iori says. “It’s just like having the real thing on your desktop.” And to think, I’d almost forgotten what a genuine Fender Twin Reverb looked like.
While we’re on the topic of tube amplifiers and tone, John Kasha of Kasha Amplifiers quickly fills me in on his comapny's new QUIKMOD Minis, which, when inserted into the tube socket of a tube amp, perform a number of amazing tonal feats. “The QUIKMOD is designed for the musician that is struggling to get tone. They don’t have a whole lot of money, but they want to change up their tone or they may get one specific tone, but they need others, so they go out and by more amplifiers, which cost money. The QUIKMOD allows the struggling or famous musician to add features to an amplifier.”
The Line-In QUIKMOD Mini replaces the preamp tube in the V3 position so you can add modeling pedals, preamps and other devices that need to be plugged directly to a power amp. Kasha also has a Master Volume QUIKMOD Mini, which enables master volume or second master volume control via the V1 socket, and a Gain/Boost QUIKMOD Mini for gain/boost control.
Playing with tone is one thing. Capturing tone and everything that goes with it is another. With nowhere else to turn, I land at TASCAM where Marketing Manager Jeff Laity shows me the latest digital recording products. I’m reminded of the days when a couple of my musician friends and I attempted to record our own music with a TASCAM four-track cassette recorder.
Times have changed and now it’s all digital, streamlined with on-the-fly recording capabilities and ultra-portability. You can record directly to a CD or SD Card using the BB-1000CD Recorder. The GT-R1 is designed for guitarists and bassists who can doodle and experiment with a range of built-in effects as they put it all down on an SD Card for digital playback.
Cited as pioneers of the Portastudio for 30 years and counting, TASCAM continues to own the market with handheld portables like the DP-004, DR-100 and DR-07. The DP-004 is a modern upgrade to the four-track recorder I bought back in the 80s. This compact four-track is about the size of a pocketbook, and allows you to record two tracks at once to an SD Card through a pair of integrated microphones. There are also mic/line/instruments inputs on the back panel and a USB port for transferring tracks to your computer.
Loaded onto the DR-100 are two XLR inputs, four built-in condenser mics, a built-in speaker for playback, an easy-to-use control panel, and an orange-glow LCD display. The DR-07 is even more compact; it runs on a couple of AA batteries, is priced under $200, and includes a pair of stereo condenser mics that record in either WAV or MP3 format at 24-bit. Wow! (Go to complete video interview)
Now, it all makes sense. All the tools you would ever need to make and record music are here at NAMM. I’ve seen more guitars than ever. I’ve talked to lots of intelligent people and incredible musicians who still believe in the power of artistic expression to transform lives and sustain economies. I get the insight on some necessary and soon-to-be necessary widgets and whatnots I’m betting will succeed. Next year, I’m thinking all drums. This year, it’s a wrap.
Prologue: The Nighttime Is The Quiet Time
On my way out, I see guitarist Vivian Campbell and ask him if he’s seen anything he likes at NAMM. “A Lot of cute girls,” he replies, and I know exactly what he’s talking about. There are more women than ever at the NAMM show. Many are players and many are legitimate business executives or owners. And a few could be described as ornaments that either work for someone or came with someone. A lot more ornaments come out to play when the NAMM Show ends and the surrounding hotels and nightclubs open up their ballrooms and bars.
Aside from the Simon Phillips gig on Thursday, I pretty much stay clear of the nighttime temptations. From what I hear, short performances by Alice Cooper Alicia Keyes and Papa Roach are all well received, but I either miss out on the comps or get refused at the door.
Paul Gilbert and Racer X play an open gig at the Sheraton on Saturday. I miss that one too, heading over to the Hilton instead. I exchange pleasantries with Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain and Nick Simmons in the lobby bar before ending the evening with Puddle of Mudd in the Pulse Lounge, hidden deep in the recesses of the Hilton.
Last year, I saw Heart in the same place and it was phenomenal. This year, the crowd is a little more restrained. I walk to the back of the lounge, which is virtually empty save for a lone figure sitting idly by on a couch, the brim of his hat shrouding his face. I’m told it’s Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. It’s a Polaroid moment, and I approach him, asking if I can snap a quick photo. He nods and smiles as I click away without mentioning how great it would have been if he’d had TheClamp-It back in the day. Then I step away and watch as he slips back into anonymity, half-asleep and scrolling through his BlackBerry. If only he knew how much the Monkees meant to me when I was growing up. Best TV show band ever.
Hey, hey it's Micky Dolenz
I guess it's fair to say NAMM is an event where everyone’s a somebody. From night clubs and music halls to stadiums, the Lincoln Memorial and every pocket of existence in between — music is everywhere. Even with the economy in the dumpster, the life-affirming properties of music and its by-products are what make NAMM a shining example of art and commerce co-existing on a level playing field. In the end, everyone’s a winner.