Diary of a NAMM Virgin

Dear Diary,

My trip to NAMM began at my regular corner bar on the Jersey Shore. The one I go to each Thursday. To see my favorite guitarist. I even have a standing reservation at Table 3. And a “usual.”

And on what was to be any other night, I’d run into some old friends. And I’d make a new one. And he’d teach me so much. And, it would set me down a path, where I’d meet new people, who would set me down another path, and more people. Until… well… here I stand.

Saturday, January 27, 2018 7:00pm (Anaheim)

In Fall of September 2016 I was at my regular bar when I ran into some old friends. Old, like, hadn’t seen… in 10 years-friends. Old, like, hadn’t shared a drink with… in 15 years-friends. They work for Bon Jovi and post-Y2K I was pretty active in that scene.

When you live where I live on the Jersey Shore it was not uncommon to run into—and in my case hang with—band members and crew. Things changed a bit as I got older, as they got older, as their kids got older, but friendships were formed and it’s hard to forget some of those nights that were wonderful, wild, or just plain weird.

I had not, however, met Phil X. I knew who he was, but I’d never seen him play and was unfamiliar with his resume. He was one among the friends in the bar that night. He jumped on stage, snatched Bobby Bandiera’s Les Paul, and performed “Whole Lotta Love.” Zeppelin is my favorite band so this obviously caught my attention. But Phil X… well, he held my attention.

I left with a mental note to look into the guy.

Six months later I had logged at least 400 of his Fretted Americana videos. I had no clue, the YouTube black hole for which he was responsible. Phil, who was tasked with demonstrating a stunning variety of rare vintage guitars by playing them to within an inch of their lives, wiseassed and riffed his way through. He can play just about anything. It was a bit mind blowing. He’d strap on one of an endless glorious inventory—one which he’d never played before, strike a chord… the tone would remind him of something and he’d just break into song. And the guy can sing, too!

At first some of the technical stuff was over my head. But I became intrigued by the things Phil was saying about pickups, the settings on his amps, wet sound, dry sound, wet dry wet… and pedals! Lots of talk of overdrive, delay, reverb, etc.

By the following Fall, I was able to keep up with the conversation. And I was hooked. Each 10-minute segment, a piece of rock’n’roll history, a lesson in gear, a performance, and at least three belly laughs with a possible belly laugh-snort combo.

I was a gearhead in the making.

In June of 2017 I interviewed Phil and got the answers to questions about what it’s like being a guitar-flipping, axe-tossing frontman relegated to the sidelines (albeit for one of the most successful rock outfits in pop-rock history). Essentially, the premise of the rock documentary film, Hired Gun, which was the purpose for the interview. I really wanted Phil to get some decent coverage on the Jersey Shore. I knew all the local outlets would write click-bait-y headlines. I see it all the time when there’s anything even a little newsworthy within six-degrees-of Jon Bon Jovi. That shit drives me mad.

Interestingly, my research for the interview led me to form new friendships. One in particular, with the publicist for the Hired Gun film. She mentioned in passing she could use an assist on social media. That’s my forte, and I already had the knowledge base, so I offered to help. It wasn’t long until I “virtually” wandered into a clique of legendary touring musicians and hot session players. LA-based guys for the most part. And some new friendships were formed. Rudy Sarzo in particular, I refer to him as my Spirit Animal.

And soon I’d make another contact. Someone who had made reference to the “Groomed Noodlers” on Pete Thorn’s Instagram feed. It immediately reminded me of the t-shirt Phil wore during our interview. Curiously amusing tee’s are kind of his thing. And I never knew what “Groomed Noodlers” meant. So I asked. Turns out it’s a Facebook community for serious musicians. They’re conscious of membership but being I was now in direct contact with the admin, I sent a request. And I became a Groomed Noodler (official t-shirt in the mail).

Meanwhile, if Fretted Americana is a High School education in gear, Pete Thorn’s demo videos are Ivy League University. By the time I logged 100+ Pete demo videos, I think my status of gearhead was officially upgraded to nerd.

I had been thinking about Winter NAMM. I’d never been but I know plenty of people who have. I thought this would be the perfect place to continue my education in gear and get to see, hear, and really feel the latest stuff.

Since I had been seriously considering relocation to Los Angeles, I decided to schedule a recon trip out there that coincided with NAMM. And I began my search for a way in. I knew a lot of people. Serious musicians. Signed musicians. Endorsed musicians. How hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, harder than I thought.

Until, holy shit! One day I got a call from Les Paul Gibson from the Groomed Noodlers forum. And that’s not the holy shit part (although I still can’t believe his name is Les Paul Gibson). He said he knows somebody who can probably get me into The NAMM Show.

He connected me with (perfect stranger) Scott Kahn, Editor-in-Chief for MusicPlayers.com. Within five minutes of our conversation there were NAMM Show credentials in my inbox. Within five days of our initial conversation we had a meeting, and those credentials were swiftly upgraded from “Guest” to “Media” as he offered me the position of Features Editor. Seems he had read a number of my Regional Arts pieces and felt I was the one he was looking for to tell the Artist’s Story. Below is a day-by-day account of my experience at one of the industry's hottest shows!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018, 10:00am (West Hollywood)

Dear Diary,

Leaving for The NAMM Show in a bit. Press Day starts at 4pm. Credential pickup starts at 4pm. Hotel Check-in is at 4pm. I also have the pup to get settled into the hotel. I better start getting used to the idea that I’m not going to be able to do it all.

I hope the first NAMM breakout session is on how to clone yourself.

I have Red Carpet access and tickets to Soundcheck Live tomorrow night at the Yost Theatre. Richie Sambora and Orianthi were added to the bill last week, but I’m excited about the entire line-up. Glen Sobel will be playing with them which will be cool. He seems to be part of that LA clique. And Jared James Nichols, he’s another whose Insta I stumbled upon as a result of the choose-your-own adventure that had become my life ever since that last Thursday in September ‘16. He's endorsed by Gibson and also in bed with Seymour Duncan and Epiphone. I’m a sucker for the blues but he’s unique. I wonder if it’s a mistake starting day one with a show. Maybe I’ll skip out early, maybe I can get the call times, plan ahead.

Larry Mitchell, who’s in the Groomed Noodlers Forum, is playing at the Marriott Saturday. Would love to go support him. Phil announced he’ll be playing at the Hilton at something called “Ultimate NAMM Night.” Of course I have to go to the Hilton, but maybe I can make it to the Marriott after?

Jesus, they are honoring Jackson Browne Saturday night too. I really want to see that. His influence on the Jersey music scene is so pronounced.

Did I not just get done listing all of the places I have to be at the same time and that I better get used to the idea that I’m not going to be able to do it all? Hell, I don’t even know what “it all” is as there’s so damn much.

That seems to be a recurring theme. The more I learn about gear, the MI industry, and NAMM, the more I learn there is so much I don’t know. Scott wrote a book called Modern Guitar Rigs that I started to read a month ago. But it’s not an easy read for me so it’s been a slow go. This is uncomfortable. I’m used to picking things up quickly. Straight A’s in school. I am starting to feel completely out of my element here. NAMMxiety!

I can’t believe I had ever considered wearing heels. Fuck that. I have a feeling my small handbag will start to feel like 100lbs after the first few hours. Wish I had one of Rudy Sarzo’s fanny packs.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018, 11:00pm (Anaheim)

Holy… Wow! I’ve been posting “stock” images of the front of the Anaheim Convention Center with NAMM signage and their beautiful fountain for over a month. But to see it in person. It’s huge. And it’s beautiful.

I think I arrived at the perfect time of day, too. Got the dog settled and headed over to Media Day. The sun was setting behind the convention center and as I approached, this behemoth of a building was just glowing in its silhouette. Who would be checking my credentials, fucking Saint Peter?

Walked into Media Day where I quickly met up with Scott. Two other members of our team were at the Fender event upstairs. I quickly learned that everybody knows Scott. And that I knew nobody. And that as dizzying as it seemed in the lobby of the Convention Center with only about 50 vendors in attendance, this was child’s play. If NAMM is Chicago O’Hare Airport filled to the brim with every type of musical… everything, then I was merely in a ladies room stall in the domestic terminal.

I opted out of Soundcheck Live at Yost. I should get some rest. Smart but disappointing because I know this was the NAMM version of a monthly LA jam series that features the area’s most notable players. And one of my personal goals for LA—and NAMM—was to start to get a feel for what my new life would be once I moved here. And I imagine attending Soundcheck Live would be part of that new life.

I did go to California Pizza Kitchen with the team for a quick bite. Literally walked into Henning Pauly of Framus & Warwick (and YouTube fame… or infamy depending on how you look at it). My hip checked his elbow sending the slice of Hawaiian Pizza he was munching on flying. I proceeded to mock him for putting fruit on pizza, despite us never meeting. But he’s Henning. We took a selfie.

I got back to my neighboring table and my team was looking (and perhaps giggling) at me. Was I the brunt of a joke? Was my unbridled enthusiasm—which seems often to be the source of my demise—on display? I was not sure what offense I had committed exactly, but this is a nice group of people who immediately made me feel welcomed.

“What?... WHAT?”

Perhaps they were just giggling at the NAMM Virgin. The only reply to “What?... WHAT?” I received was “You do you.” Which was said lovingly, and with amusement.

So sorry Richie Sambora. Maybe next time. Or maybe after you put out some music I’d actually like to see you perform. I love you darlin’, but please bring Mr. Bluesman back.

Thursday, January 25, 2018 8:00am

It’s finally here. Christmas morning. Only, I don’t get to keep anything.

I’m hearing this is the biggest NAMM ever. 100,000 people. A new hall (that past attendees are dreading, but what do I know).

I gotta get an Uber. But first I’m going to put an extra pair of insoles in my sneakers. More later…

Thursday, January 25, 2018 11:00am

No, you do NOT need a Xanax. You were prepared to be overstimulated. Maybe you weren’t prepared for 50,000 people in the Drum Hall with free sticks, but you got out alive. Bonus points for running into Jerry Gaskill, a familiar face from home. I have not spent enough time with the King’s X catalog.

Remember, pace yourself… there’s only so much you can see… so much you can do. But you do want to see as much as possible, so as Phil Dunphy would say, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

Actually, spending the morning in Hall D (Guitars) with Kim [Dearborn, our marketing director] visiting manufacturers who have won the MusicPlayers.com WIHO Award was a great way to start NAMM. It was the opposite of throwing me into the deep end. We had a list, a map, and a plan. Impossible to kind of drift off and become overwhelmed by the enormity of this.

Passed Warwick & Framus as we snaked the aisles. Got some cool details on the new D Series, aka the “Framus Standard Series.” Phil will finally getting a Signature XG for his fans at an affordable price point. I’m happy for him, I know that was high on the priority list for him. Manufactured in China but final inspection in Germany and Nashville, so I’m willing to bet this is a lot of guitar for the money. There will be Diablos and Pantheras too.

Thursday, January 25, 2018 5:00pm

Well yeah… I was right about the benefit of a list, a map, and a plan.

While passing Framus & Warwick (this booth is huge and impossible to miss, or it has magnetic powers, or both) on the way to another WIHO award-winner, a flash went off in the corner of my eye. I turned and noticed I had completely photobombed Phil X and Stevie Salas showing off their new Custom Guitars. So, of course I announce at the top of my lungs that I have completely photobombed them, which gets Phil’s attention.

Big smile. Big hug. Big hello. I introduce my team and we quickly start bullshitting. The conversation is gaining momentum and I’m feeling my team wants to move on as there is a job to do. Is it my job? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Nevertheless… I tell them I’ll meet up with them in a bit.

Phil and I catch up for a while. All the niceties, how are the kids, congrats on the new Fuck Jazz pedal, congrats on the D Series, holy shit dude… you’re playing Rock Hall…

“Yeah, with Richie, it’s gonna be fucking awesome.”

This guy’s so humble. And holy shit! Dan Spree, bass players for THE DRILLS is coming in for Saturday’s show at Hilton. Matt Starr on drums. I’m FINALLY going to get to see this band!

I don’t recall how the conversation ended. But it was definitely not a good-bye, just a bye-for-now.

After that I couldn’t find my team and the WiFi and signal is kind of crappy deep in Hall D. So I just started wandering. I wandered over to Suhr... maybe Pete Thorn would be there. I wandered over to Ibanez. Holy crap, Nita Strauss got a signature guitar! First female Ibanez artist with a signature model. You go, girl! I wandered over to Knaggs, could Steve Stevens be around? I wandered over to Kiesel, it’d be super cool to see Joe Walsh. And whenever I wasn’t sure where to wander, I wandered over to AMP TOWN, as that’s where everybody plugged in.

And my back is fucking killing me. My kingdom for an Advil.

I can’t believe it but I am again foregoing my Red Carpet access and tickets to Bonzo Bash tonight. That’s super disappointing. I’m just so tired. All I want to do is stretch, walk the dog, and Netflix and chill. Tomorrow night is Randy Rhoads Remembered. That’s the big Brian Tichy event for me. I’ll finally be able to see Rudy Sarzo play!

It’s funny, all my friends can’t wait for me to meet Rudy. They’ve watched as he and I have had these humorous, friendly and genuine exchanges across all social media networks. I honestly think other than “What’s NAMM?” the number one question I’ve gotten from friends back home is “When will you meet Rudy?” It warms my heart he’s touched them too.

Tomorrow. The answer is tomorrow. At his SimS Guitar signing. And I can’t wait to hug that man.

I’m getting an Uber. Tomorrow is a super long day… full day at NAMM, then scored an invite to the Telefunken AfterFUNKtion Party where Phil is playing, so I’ll stop in on the way to Randy Rhodes Remembered.

Friday, January 26, 2018 12:00pm

Well lots of handshaking and hugs this morning. Last night before going to bed I looked at my NAMM app planner and organized my day. Didn’t want to make the same no list, no map, no plan mistake I made the previous afternoon.

“Behind every music-business success story is someone who hedged a bet.” That was the lesson behind this morning’s NAMM U Breakfast of Champions Session hosted by NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond. He cited personal stories, of when risk paid off, and when it did not. It left me with some thoughts for 2018, not only in my new role at MusicPlayers.com but in my personal life with all signs pointing to LA. It also encouraged me to risk putting my enthusiasm on display—again—and asking Pete Thorn for a face-to-face interview instead of the email interview we originally planned. We’ve communicated online a few times now versus when I first reached him. And maybe once he meets me he’ll feel more comfortable.

After the Breakout Session I headed over to SimS for Rudy’s signing. He was already there noodling on his Signature Spector. I’m sorry, not noodling. Listening for different tones, as he will correct you on that one.

I was second in line. Chatting with reps who I later learned were Martin Sims and Nick Smith, a professional bass player who works as a consultant and marketing director for Martin. I was truly intrigued by the SimS Pickups. The Super Quad is like having 15 pickups in one bass. They use a “tri-logic” switching system that enables the player to switch between split coil, single coil and hum-canceling by just flipping a switch. Color coded LED lights indicate where you are. The demo Nick gave me was less than three minutes, and I totally got it. I see this being a highly useful tool for gigging bassists, no more lugging three or four basses to a show.

The conversation with Nick was a good distraction as I was starting to get a little… nervous. I actually didn’t recognize this feeling at first. I don’t get nervous when meeting celebrities. Not even a little.

I think I had just taken such a liking to Rudy. And I know that, with celebrity, there is already this false sense of familiarity that can be created. Add social media to the mix, and you really just do not know how much a relationship is real or imagined. And while I’m extremely aware these dynamics exist, I often forget when tweeting or ‘gramming Rudy from my couch on the Jersey Shore as he sits (on what I picture to be a mountaintop) at Topanga Lookout. So suddenly the moment was here where it would really be; how much of that was real? How much of it was fantasy? How much of it was just the inherent hazards of “social” media?

And then he looked up. He saw me. And we’ve never met. Ever. And he smiled. And he said softly, “Hello Jennifer.” And went back to noodling.

I’ve heard Rudy speak on several occasions. In Hired Gun of course, (he’s done many podcasts,) he did an AMAZING 90-minute radio interview with Phil and Kenny Aronoff on Jonesy’s Jukebox on KLOS, and several YouTube videos… so I know, this is a soft spoken man. With a calming energy. I imagine a bit of this is how evolved, spirituality, he is. I find this laudable.

His social media personality is a bit more boisterous, however, as his sense of humor really shines. I don’t think I’d ever audibly heard him crack a joke, but on Twitter there are some days he keeps me in stitches. Brevity really is the soul of wit (Note to Twitter: reduce character count, oh, and add an edit button).

So, after meeting Rudy Sarzo… I wasn’t sure what to make of it. He spent a lot of time with me but it went very fast. He was so laid back. So gentle. This is one of the most badass hard rock/metal bass players on the planet. The same guy who, while I was in elementary school, licked his bass as Tawny Kitain performed cartwheels over hot rods on MTV. And he’s just so mild mannered.

I walked away from SimS feeling a bit dazed. Not disappointed. I guess I just had all those questions about fantasy vs. reality that couldn’t be answered in the time allotted, or in that context, or both. But I know I’ll see him again. Seems of all the people in my NAMM app planner, he availed himself the most. I’ll catch up with him at Spector or Mark Kendrick or I’ll see him tonight at Randy Rhoads Remembered. I’ll even see him after NAMM. He’s doing a SimS Clinic in North Hollywood. I’ve wanted to drive Coldwater Creek Canyon anyway. Plenty more time for Rudy.

Oh, and the selfie we took was well received by everyone back home. Because I know you were worried (insert eye roll emoji). Though when they asked what it was like, fuck if I knew what to say. Other than “He’s just so lovely.”

After the Rudy meet I meandered over to Suhr. Maybe I’d catch the slippery Pete Thorn. I don’t actually know if he’s slippery, but yesterday our Instagram feeds mirrored each other. I missed him by minutes nearly everywhere I went.

I’m immediately attracted to the Aura. Screams sublime and high-end. And John Suhr is such a highly influential and respected builder, having made a huge range of guitars over the years. But the Aura is a stand-out. I conjure up all my Fretted Americana and Pete Thorn demo knowledge until I’m able to define it as Suhr’s first major entry into the single-cut LP-style template. And I suppose there’s a hole in that market at the present moment. I ask a Suhr Rep and learn the current plan is to only offer this model as part of a limited run, but there's always the possibility that it becomes a more regular fixture in the future.

Still thinking about Gibson’s notable absence from The NAMM Show this year. Ultimately, if Gibson does go under, it’s not just bad for guitars. It’s bad for the industry. I don’t know what the answer is, but maybe they’ve lost their focus. You are a guitar company. Get back to that. Make less. And make it great.

Suhr Aura

As I turn the corner of the exterior of the booth I notice Pete speaking with some guys next to his displayed signature guitars. My mind quickly flashes back to the Rudy meet. Will he recognize me? I don’t know. But there’s something about this guy I really like, outside of his phenomenal guitar playing, so it sure would be flattering…

“Jennifer, hi…”

We spoke for a while. We took a selfie in front of his new signature guitar. That sure is a pretty color. And we spoke a bit about the interview. He hadn’t yet attended to the Word doc of questions I emailed him as he had touring commitments in Japan. And when he returned he was working diligently on the first single for his next record. And on demo videos. And... well… as far as I can gather, the guy is always working diligently. I think that’s what I like about him. So if you’re keeping count, I’m a sucker for the blues and work ethic.

“Well Pete, if it’s easier to just meet up at a place convenient for you and bang it out…”

I imagine this would be a time-saver for him actually. And I always prefer a face-to-face. I want to read and react to my subjects. It’s more dynamic. And it allows me to dig deeper. I want to find that source of vulnerability. We all have one. But with artists, that’s where the art tends to live.

“Sure, we’ll get together for coffee or something.”

“Or I can buy you a rice ball at the Farmer’s Market.”

How could I resist communicating to my subject that I knew my subject matter? (Read: He likes the rice balls at the Farmer’s Market. Thank you Insta’ Stories.)

He was so friendly. And just kind. And what is it with these faaakkkking Canadians? I attempted to excuse myself a few times because there were men forming a line before us. I recognize he is in demand, and I try and bow out before I overextend my welcome. I wouldn’t want to take from other fans. Particularly ones that may buy one of his signature guitars after speaking with him.

Mostly, I think, because I understand. It’s the same thing with my artist friends at home… Pete has me. If I had to exit the conversation there, I’d still be following him across social, buying his next album, watching his next broadcast. But I don’t know what “conversion opportunities” were waiting for him. And that’s important stuff. I can’t turn that part of me off. Long story endless, he seemed happy to talk all day, no matter who was waiting. That left a distinct impression.

I decide to hit up AMP TOWN before exiting Hall D. Because I have GOT to see more than Hall D!

I wander through. I see Dave Friedman. I introduce myself. I’ve heard Friedman endorsed artists call him a genius. That he can read the inside of an amp like a book. That his BE-100 is one of the most responsive amps around. I’m sure this is all opinion, but when I have a high opinion of the reviewer, the review gains instant credibility.

I continue along my path and pass Phil who’s speaking to a player who’s seated and plugged in. I don’t want to interrupt the conversation. I give him a gentle and brief rub on the back and do not break pace. Damn that’s soft leather. He turns around. My intention was just to wave and keep walking…

“Jen, come here, this is Tom Quayle, he’s the greatest guitar player in the world.”

“Wait (playful face)… I thought you were the greatest guitar player in the world?” (snarky)

As if he’d ever be so bold.

He laughs. Repeats my statement to Tom and clarifies, “No, I’m just the greatest faker in the world.”

Yeah. Ok.

“Nice to meet you Tom.”

I stick out my hand and make a mental note; Check out Tom Quayle.

They go back to talking, specifically pedals that are on display in front of Tom. So, I linger. Because if you ever want to listen in on two people talking gear, these are definitely two people you want to listen in on.

After an appropriate amount of time I excuse myself with a polite good-bye to Tom. A bye-for-now to Phil. And I head outside to the fountains to catch some California sunshine. Not for nothing, but it’s a beautiful day.

Friday, January 26, 2018 4:30pm

It seems this spot by the fountains is our “spot,” dear diary.

Fun and interesting afternoon. Met up with the MusicPlayers team for a while.

Next to the Aura, I saw one of the cooler things I’ve seen so far at NAMM, the Zylia microphone. It's literally 19 separate microphones in one, and is by far one of the coolest and forward thinking, yet completely commonsense things I've seen. I can really see my musician friends making great use of this: they’re recording a demo, all in a room together. The mic is in the center, recording through the companion app, and a 19-track demo can be separated into each performer's part and tracked. Not only that, but you can actually zoom in on whoever you want by moving your "digital mic" to that position in the room.

The team split into smaller groups as some of us hit Hall D again to continue distributing WIHO’s. Good, a list, a map and a plan. Shortly into our venture, I’m staring down at my phone, I look up, and practically walk into Hugh McDonald. Now he’s someone I wasn’t expecting to see, hadn’t even thought about it. Hugh and I used to hang all the time back when he first met his (now) wife and was still living on the Shore. I have so many fond and fun memories of evenings we shared. He’s always been good to me.

“Hugh McDonald!”

“Jennifer Pricci, what are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

As soon as we both establish we’re not quite sure what either of us are doing here exactly, I congratulate him on the recent news that he, along with the original members of Bon Jovi, would be inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, yeah, I’ve been out of the scene for a while, but not too long to feel it would be a gross injustice if Hugh were not inducted because “technically” he wasn’t an original member. “Technically” he was fucking there BEFORE Alec John Such. “Technically” he fucking played on Runaway. “Technically” he played on every track since. He was a Ghost Player.

He told me the story of how Jon told him he’d be inducted with the rest of the group. And I took two things away from that; first, while it’s been years and years since we’ve had such great nights at Bobby Bandiera’s gigs, sharing stories and building a foundation for trust, he is still happy to share. And second, wow, the lengths Jon went to to make sure the right thing was done by his loyal bass player (which was not in accordance with Rock Hall policy) were quite impressive. Particularly when Jon’s relationship with the Hall is already tumultuous. (He makes no secret of this.)

And I was happy for Hugh.

“I haven’t seen Phil, is he here?”

I laugh.

“Yeah, he’s here, Framus is right there, there’s a chance...” And I lead the way like I’m some sort of authority. I go to their “Music Box,” a private room where they’d been recording video segments, because if Phil’s not on the floor there’s a shot he’s inside. I open the door. I open the door because it expressly says “DO NOT KNOCK.”

Phil is in the back with Salas and some other guys. It is immediately apparent they are not recording so I yell: “Hey, Phil, I think you know this guy.”

I pat Hugh on the back and say good-bye. But I’m there as they greet. I was already holding my phone. Which was fortunate. Because the greeting was sweet. An extended hug. Phil’s definitely a hugger. I always hug Hugh hello. I used to hug David hello, back during the Crush-era. I do not hug Jon hello, but the last time I saw him he nearly tackled me. I don’t know. I’m digging this brotherhood. I couldn’t help myself. I’m feeling sentimental. I snap a pic.

Oh, right, and I lost my team again. After the Hugh meet-up.

So… um… AMP TOWN? Sounds like a good idea to me. Besides, if I spend any more time at Framus people may start mistaking me for a Rep.

Fortunate timing. Jared James Nichols!

I introduce myself. I certainly didn’t expect him to know me. I mentioned that I was the one who left the few wise-ass comments on his Insta’ feed during the previous week, that it was really him that blue the power at CES the week earlier (which as a fan of irony, I secretly enjoyed). He recalled that comment and a few others and it led to talking. I told him about my role at MusicPlayers.com as he had just dropped an album. Several times he said, “Let’s do something, let’s do something.” Super nice, super friendly guy. Better follow-up with him. He should to be heard.

It’s after 5pm. I better get to the hotel and change. I have the Telefunken party at The Fifth, which I here is going to start on time—which is fortunate because then I have to get to Yost Theatre ASAP.

Friday, January 26, 2018 11:30pm

What a night. And who the fuck was I kidding in 4” heels?

I got to the Telefunken party about 6:30pm. Showtime was 7:00pm. Matter was on first—Phil was a Special Guest—and Randy Rhoads Remembered started at 8:00pm. I would miss the Red Carpet. I CANNOT DO IT ALL. But I’d get there. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

I order my signature go-to when I can’t think of anything else. Grey Goose and Grapefruit. Double in a pint glass to save me the trip back. This super swanky rooftop bar/restaurant, The Fifth, is kind enough to set me up with a stool just off the audio board after spotting the long lens on my DSLR and my NAMM “Media” badge hanging from my belt loop. The place wasn’t packed, and that was convenient. After all, despite my drink order, I need to pace myself. It would be a long night and my feet would surely tire. I’ve probably walked about 20 miles combined over the past four days (some of that logged back in Runyon Canyon… what was I thinking?).

After Phil arrives he hurriedly makes his way to the stage. Two of his Signature Framus models laid out on the floor. In true Phil style he pulled the neck pickup out of the Sparkly Green one and replaced it with a batman action figure and an affixed grate to keep the little guy in place. He doesn’t use the neck pickup in this guitar and he feels, even when it’s not active, the magnets pull on the strings and impact his tone.

I chat him up as he plugged in. Then I realized how familiar this was. It may have been after I asked him what he needed to drink. This is what I do. Socially. At home. When I go out. I stand at the foot of stages during set-up and I talk to artists. And I get their Jameson, or Craft Beer, or Club Soda, whatever. It feels comfortably familiar and surreal at the same time, because this isn’t the Jersey Shore.

Their first song lasted nearly 20 minutes. No lie. Yeah, my feet hurt. Yeah, squatting down out of courtesy was hard. Yeah, I felt that double Grey Goose and Grapefruit. But the longer I stayed in that position, the more locked in I became. I shot the event, and as I will always stay true to the “Do not experience life through your viewfinder” attitude, I just pointed and hoped for the best.

After the first super-jam I’m thinking, “How can they follow that?” As my knees have pretty much given out, I began to crab walk to a more reasonable distance. Then I heard the first few bars of Hendrix’s “Fire.” I’ve seen enough YouTube videos to know that this is Phil’s finale. DO. NOT. LEAVE.

You’d think after over a year and such momentous anticipation I’d have more to tell you about this performance. I’m at a loss. It’s a disservice to say it’s like all the best YouTube performance videos come to life. If you are a guitar player, or a fan of a guitar, this is just a man you need to see live and unchained, to fully experience. I think I always knew that.

The set was over after “Fire.” And like that I was off to Randy Rhoads Remembered.

Saturday, January 27, 2018 10:00am

I’m exhausted. Is this that NAMMthrax people talk about?

Sorry I never wrote more last night. It was just such a blur. Uber to the hotel. Change. Hair. Make-up. Uber to The Fifth. Drink. Watch set. Shoot vids. Take pics. Drink. Console drunken sobbing stranger (long story). Uber to Yost Theatre. Get inside. Drink. People have rushed the stage. I’m not getting to my reserved front row seat. I don’t think I have the physical strength to try and “Excuse me, excuse me” through this crowd. I watched the show from the balcony. It was phenomenal. Uber back to hotel. Walk dog. Pass out.

I may be too young to remember Randy Rhoads, but I’ve educated myself regarding what made him such an influential and pioneering figure; his transcendent use of the pentatonic scale, his phrasing, his tapping which often drove comparisons to EVH—which he didn’t necessarily welcome. So it was amazing to see Tichy’s unbelievable line-up of guitarists pay homage to such a trailblazer.

And of course, it was great to see Rudy, in particular, since he’s tied so closely to Randy. It was his telling of their relationship that made me take pause, notice Rudy, and uncover what a special, unique, spiritual and gentle soul he is.

And he’s on fucking fire on that stage. Man, he is so animated.

Hit up Spector Bass this morning. Met PJ who (among other things) runs the Spector Instagram account. At some point—I don’t know when—Spector started following me on Instagram. I’m certain as a result of the frequent exchanges with Rudy. But they weren’t just following me. They were liking pics of the pup. I knew then, there’s a real human being behind this account. They’re not looking for a “social influencer.” So I simply asked who it was.

When I arrived at the Spector booth, PJ greeted me.

We spoke for a while, another affable guy. Doug Wimbish was there about to do a demo. I introduced myself as he was part of the Matter line-up the night before. Then Rudy came by. He demo’ed his Signature Spector for the cameras. A crowd gathered. When he was done he asked aloud, “Does anybody wanna’ try it?” It wasn’t long before somebody took him up on that.

Spoke to Rudy for a bit. Told tell him how wonderful it was to finally see him play. We also spoke a bit about his Monday clinic in NoHo, which suddenly I’m wondering how I will possibly survive long enough to make it. I’ll still be in Anaheim Monday morning after all, though for most people, The NAMM Show ends tonight.

I’m not sure what it was that was said, but at some point I got a bit emotional. No real surprise there—that’s my makeup, but try as I might I could not hold back tears.

As soon as I choked up… “How’s little Mandie, Jennifer?”

Of course I smile wide at the thought of my precious pup. But it wasn’t the thought of my pup that stayed with me after this exchange. I sent him a nice message later that day that what he did, didn’t go over my head. And I thanked him.

Shit, I gotta run to the Skid Row signing. I’d like to meet up with Scotti Hill.

Saturday, January 27, 2018 1:00pm

Skid Row was fun. Scotti was cool. The line was so long and I had to get back out here to meet the team so I just cut in quick to shake his hand and be on my way. He encouraged me to stay. “The line isn’t that long, it’s going quick.” So I stayed, but I also time-lapse videoed that bitch for him.

Scotti Hill, Skid Row

It was fun chatting with the other guys about Jersey. It was actually Scotti who told them all I’m from the Shore. They’re out of Sayreville originally. They came up in Asbury, at the same time as Bon Jovi and others. So we have friends in common. They even asked how Bandiera was doing. Though the last photo on record of Bobby with any of those guys is a baby picture. Scotti and I actually had a good laugh over it on Twitter a few month’s earlier.

Photo: Mark Weiss | www.weissguygallery.com

Currently waiting for my team. We’re going to hit up the food trucks then I’m off to locate Ballroom C where Chris Lord Alge is hosting the Everybody Wins panel. His brother Tom is on the panel along with Phil, Kenny Aronoff, and Doug Wimbish. Interesting, I was not very familiar with Doug prior to NAMM but he seems to keep reappearing. The panel promises to position yourself for a long-term career in the music industry offering motivation and a “path to shape one’s destiny.” That kind of sounds too good to be true… I mean, resist.

Shit, here comes Pete Thorn. Gotta go.

Saturday, January 27, 2018 2:45pm

Another nice chat with Pete. That guy’s just fucking cool. He’s such a regular dude.

The panel starts in 15 minutes. I’m sitting on the floor outside the Ballroom, leaning up against the wall, with a few other weary NAMMsters. I admire the strength of those still standing.

Holy fuck, John Shanks is here. Ha, he just walked in. Past security. I guess when you have a Grammy you get to do that? Wait. Lots of people here have Grammys. That’s the thing about NAMM, it really levels the playing field.

They’re letting us in.

Saturday, January 27, 2018 6:30pm

Lord and Baby Jesus, this must be what rock’n’roll purgatory looks like!

The lobby of The Hilton on NAMM Saturday evening. Multiple stages all over the lobby. Mobile bars strewn throughout, in addition to the main hotel bar. Wall-to-wall groups of mini-celebrations, many drunken celebrations… Buyers, Reps, Artists. I grabbed myself an “I’m not sure what the fuck I want Grey Goose and Grapefruit” on the way to the escalator to head to “Ultimate NAMM Night.”

And holy shit this line! It’s snaking around the second floor three times before coming to an end. Got you to keep me company, dear diary.

The Everybody Wins panel was interesting. Turns out Shanks was added to the group. So that explains that. When I walked in, Kenny—who I had wanted to meet—was also already inside. He was talking to Shanks. I don’t know Kenny. And I really don’t know Shanks. All I know is I’m not going to interrupt. I turn away to find a seat, a bit deflated, and literally walk into Phil. I wonder if that guy is always walking so fast.


“Kenny is talking to fucking Shanks and I really want to talk to Kenny but I can’t interrupt Kenny talking to fucking John Shanks.”

“Yes you can.”

“It’s fucking Kenny Aronoff talking to fucking John Shanks!”

“Not only can you interrupt, but you can tell them I said you can interrupt, and if they don’t like it, I also said they can go fuck themselves.”

“I’m doing exactly that dude, so if you’re kidding, stop me now…”

(Assertively) “Hey guys, sorry to interrupt, but Phil said I could. He also said if you don’t like it you can go fuck yourselves.”

Kenny nearly hit the floor laughing. This response does not surprise me. Kenny has played on DRILLS records. He and Phil are buddies and have done projects together. Of course Phil and Shanks are buddies too, but Shanks is considerably less amused. I am also not surprised by this response.

Kenny Aronoff

So Kenny and I have a lovely conversation. He loves to tell stories. We spoke about Hired Gun and the very famous “Jack & Diane” drum fill that saved his career—at least in that moment. We spoke about him being on tour with John Fogerty. We spoke about many of the benefits he was currently slated to do, including the Adopt The Arts Tribute to Sammy Hagar at the end of the month (that I also happen to be attending).

We take a selfie after which I look at the room and see it is full, and everybody is seated. And so nicely too. And it’s just me standing there with the talent. That familiar feeling hits again of being home in Jersey. The many times I’m standing among the artists as spectators are on the other side of that invisible 180-degree line. Phil comes over excited to show Kenny his new guitar. They bullshit for a bit, and now it’s really time to take my seat because I feel like this could potentially be obnoxious, yet nobody seems to mind.

This line is NOT fucking moving, and it’s showtime! The venue is three ballrooms combined and I’m wondering—worrying—about capacity. I shouldn’t be surprised considering the line-up. I mean, the luminaries on this bill are just insane! But would I be shut out? Would I miss THE DRILLS?

Should I be feeling shame in prioritizing three people, one band? It’s just been so long coming. My mind is racing a bit. Have I also spent too much time in Hall D? Have I placed too much emphasis on people over products? On experience over education?

I had done a quick run through the Pro Audio Halls. An area you’d think I’d spend more time considering my interest in production and the love I have for spending time in the studio with recording artists. I was in Keyboards and Synths only long enough to bang out a badly broken Moonlight Sonata. The time I spent at Yamaha was in no way in proportion to the size of their exhibit. I ran through Takamine like the place was on fire, meanwhile, one of my dearest friends is a Takamine artist and the acoustic black Takamine has a special place in the heart of the Jersey Shore. And I’d walked past way too many genre-transcending live performances taking place throughout the event than I care to admit.

The enormity of The NAMM Show is beyond description. So much so it’s impossible to list what I didn’t get to see. I got lost in guitars for days and I cannot make up for this. But maybe, considering this was part of a greater mission, just maybe my priorities were properly weighed. For Winter 2018 anyway.

I came to NAMM looking to continue my education. I came to LA looking for a picture of what relocation might look like. When I imagine it, I’m thinking it will look very much like Hall D indeed. And just as with Hall D, it will be a challenge. But I must learn to spend time outside of my comfort zone.

Thinking back to this afternoon’s panel… it was so interesting. Every panelist, no matter the story they told, Chris brought it back to the power of having a network, that the people you meet, that the connections you make, can lead you to your next big thing. I couldn’t help get a bit misty eyed as he made his concluding remarks. I felt at once, inside that room, as though my whole journey had come full circle.

My trip to NAMM began at my regular corner bar on the Jersey Shore. The one I go to each Thursday. To see my favorite guitarist. I even have a standing reservation at Table 3. And a “usual.”

And on what was to be any other night, I’d run into some old friends. And I’d make a new one. And he’d teach me so much. And, it would set me down a path, where I’d meet new people, who would set me down another path, and more people. Until… well… here I stand.

Where to now, I wonder?

Well? Right now? Inside to see THE FAAAKKKKING DRILLS. The line is finally moving.

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