Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp founder David Fishof has worked with more rock stars than the average person could fathom, but he doesn’t hesitate to cite one of his favorite camp mentors: Jeff Beck.
The recently departed guitar hero led a Rock Camp in 2013 alongside Beach Boys visionary Brian Wilson. The collective genius on display was too much for some campers to bear.
“The year when he came to camp, I had so many cancellations,” Fishof tells UCR, “because people signed up for the dream – and then they got nervous. ‘How can I play with Jeff Beck?’ And I had to talk people off the ledge. And the ones who did it told me, ‘Wow, it was the greatest experience of [my] life,’ because he was so nice. He was so genuine.”
Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp has paired living legends with aspiring rockers since 1997 for a weekend of woodshedding, band-building and a climactic final concert where attendees share the stage with their musical heroes. (The 2021 documentary Rock Camp, which details the history of the program, is available to stream for free on Amazon Prime now.) One of Fishof’s first major victories was securing the Who‘s Roger Daltrey as a “headliner,” which led to participation from other stars like Steven Tyler, Slash, Rob Halford, Nancy Wilson, Joe Perry and Jerry Cantrell.
The trick, Fishof says, is to make the experience as comfortable and enticing for the rock stars as the campers — because even icons like Daltrey have bucket lists. “He said, ‘I get it. You introduce me to Levon Helm of the Band. He’s the guy I always wanted to meet,'” says Fishof, whose vast resume also includes producing the Monkees’ 20th-anniversary reunion tour and creating Ringo Starr‘s All-Starr Band.
“Levon and I were friends from the Ringo tour, and Levon came down and said, ‘Of course,'” Fishof says, “and he’s not an easy guy, Levon. He didn’t even show up to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But I asked him to come, and then he later did a camp. So we had a very special bond, him and I.”
Each Rock Camp has a different theme and set of headliners. In May, the organization will launch its inaugural ’80s Anthems Camp, featuring Poison drummer Rikki Rockett, new Motley Crue guitarist John 5 and Guns N’ Roses axman Richard Fortus as headliners. Former Michael Jackson guitarist Jennifer Batten, ex-Black Sabbath and Dio drummer Vinny Appice and former Firm bassist Tony Franklin are among the counselors who will shepherd campers through the weekend and prepare them for a pair of performances at Los Angeles’ famed Viper Room and Whisky a Go Go.
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“I don’t know what to expect any more than some of the people that are going to be there,” Rockett tells UCR. “So it’s gonna be a learning experience.”
He hopes not only to share some technical knowledge about his instrument but hard-earned wisdom about collaborating with others and practicing humility. “You go down the same steps you came up … meaning, everybody along the way is important,” Rockett says. “And I want to impart that as one of the morality-type pieces of the puzzle – because there’s many pieces to the musical puzzle. People think it’s just about playing, like, ‘Hey, I’m a really good guitar player, therefore I deserve success.’ They’ve got another thing coming. That’s not the key to it all. There’s so much more to it.”
Rockett sees a big difference between being a good musician and being a musician who can play well with others. “You can sit and just force yourself into a certain kind of muscle memory over and over again. That doesn’t mean you’re gonna be musical,” he explains. “And a musical drummer is worth their weight in gold, for sure. There’s plenty of guys that can read a chart and just do the song, but to write the parts and be part of the musical team — I think that’s what I’m gonna be able to bring to the whole fray.”
Nervous campers should be put at ease by Rockett’s laidback, team-player approach, which he and his bandmates developed while slogging it out in clubs in their early days.
“I think it stems from coming from Central Pennsylvania,” he muses. “Nine out of 10 of those gigs, there was nowhere to go to hang out, like a ‘backstage,’ quote-unquote. There was just a bathroom [at] most of these bars we played. And so we would just mix and mingle and hang out with people and just go, ‘Oops, it’s 10 o’clock. I gotta go back up and play another set.'”
Back in those days, Poison was practically a human jukebox, taking cover gigs at bars to subsidize their efforts to record original music and shop it to labels. Rockett says learning and taking notes from the classics — which is exactly what he’ll help Rock Camp attendees do — matters more than technical virtuosity in the long run. “Most pop music or things that are gonna be memorable and work for a song are not things that are that hard to pull off. You just have to know how to do them,” he says.
“When I think chops, I think somebody trying to figure out Dave Weckl’s most complicated piece from a clinic or something,” he adds, “and that’s fantastic stuff, and if that’s where you want to put your focus, I think that’s great. But in order to integrate into a band, that’s less important. And finding the things that worked and could work, or a combination of something that makes it new and fresh but feels a little familiar, too — that’s really the secret sauce.”