BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp marries the time and talent of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Paul Stanley and Don Felder, as well as other professional camp counselors, with the desires and dreams of would-be rock stars hoping to one day follow in their famous footsteps. So what goes on at this four-day gathering of “top shelf” musicians and, well, “house” performers? Lots! And how can an amateur with the desire to feel the glow of a spotlight one-day step into those shoes and get on the road to forever changing the course of their life? Sign up for this year’s edition of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp. I recently spoke with former Eagles member Felder about how the camp works, what his role will be and why he decided to get involved.
Don, good morning. I believe this is the third time I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with you in the past couple of years. I know we’re pressed for time so I’ll jump right into my questions. Who do you believe is the prototypical person who signs up for and attends the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp?
Well the Rock ‘N’ Roll fantasy camp attracts a lot of different people. This is my first time being part of it. I’ve wanted to do this for, gosh, eight or 10 years now and it’s really the first year that my touring schedule has allowed me to have this weekend open to be able to be part of this. A lot of people that come to this come from all different walks of life. There’s everyone from CEOs of large successful companies down to younger starting musicians that want to know how to play, how to perform, how to sing, how to put together what they need to do to become successful. So it’s really a wide, broad array of people that actually come and attend this thing. At least that’s what I’m told. I’ve talked to several people that have done this thing before: Gene Simmons (Kiss) is a friend of mine and I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, and I ran into Paul Stanley at the Starbucks around the corner from my house (laughs) and he said, “I hear you’re doing the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp,” and I said “Yea” and he said “Well we’re doing it together!” He’s done it three times. He gave me the scoop on what to expect and how it works and have a great feel for it. You know you don’t go back over and over and over if it’s not something you enjoy doing and you have a good experience. I was a music teacher in high school as I was growing up, just for extra money to buy instruments and stuff, and I enjoyed helping people learn to do what they wanna do. Everybody that comes to this camp has different skill levels and they want to achieve different things out of this camp, and so it’s our job to listen and understand what it is each one of these people want and help them the best we can to do what they want to achieve. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.
It sounds like it will be. Now I understand it’s your first time but to the best of your knowledge do you have an understanding of what sorts of activities or exercises campers can expect to take part in during the four-day experience?
Yeah, you know it’s a lot more than just a meet-and-greet with a rock star. It’s really much more of like an interactive musical experience where everybody that shares that passion for music and that connection that they want to have on a personal level. You can’t really get that any other place that I know of, and have the attention and individual guiding hand from somebody who has all the years of experience like I have, or Paul, or all the other people that have been there, unless you go there. You really get great insights into what it takes to become successful. Some of it is luck, some of it is just developing your skills to a point where it’s undeniable. The people that I know – like (blues rock guitarist) Joe Bonamassa: he has just created his own career by himself. No manager, no booking agent. He couldn’t get arrested 10 years ago, but his skills and what he does onstage is so undeniable and so impactful that people see him and go, “Oh my God! I’ve gotta go back and see Joe.” So that to me, the people that are successful in this business are those people that have logged those 10,000 hours to develop whatever their skills are to the point where they go in and people see them and they’re just knocked over. It’s that level of talent and skills that you need to climb to in order to rise above and beyond and to the cream of the crop.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Bonamassa since he was 17-years-old.
(Laughs) He was probably unbelievably talented back then to, right?
He certainly was. I had him on Rockline, the show I was producing at that time. So what do you perhaps hope, or expect, to get out of this experience coming up at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp? What do you think you might take from the experience?
Well it’s gonna be a bit of a flashback for me because when I first came to L.A. I had spent several years preparing for my arrival here. I’d worked in a recording studio for three years doing sessions, engineering, learning mics, learning production techniques, everything I could, so that when I came to L.A. I knew how to make records. I could work as a session player, I could write charts, I could arrange charts, I could engineer records – I knew how to make records. And I had developed my playing skills before I walked into town to the point where if I got the door open to have an opportunity, I left there like Joe did, with people going, “Oh my goodness gracious, that was really good.” Whether it was a recording session or an audition or whatever it was. So I look forward to having that flashback, to having those same questions and “how do you do this” moments that I had in preparation of my arriving in L.A. And helping those people understand that that’s really what you have to do. If there’s any three words, I could tell them that would help them the most it’s play, play, play (laughs)! It’s kind of the 10,000-hour philosophy. That’s what you have to be able to do, and sacrifice a lot of other things in life to be able to do that.
(Laughs) That’s right! I used to play between eight and 10 hours a day on the road during the “Hell Freezes Over” tour. Your skills get unbelievably good when you put that much time into doing it all the time.
Let’s talk some nuts and bolts here, Don. Where will the camp take place and where can people go to sign up to attend?
It’s gonna be held in Los Angeles. Some of the final performances are gonna be at the Whisky A Go Go and the dates are from June 23rd to June 26th. The website is Rockcamp.com. And this is the 20th anniversary of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp. They’ve been doing it for a long time and they’ve got this thing ironed out to get people to come and get what they want when they leave here. They go home with unbelievable memories and friendships that will last them a lifetime and come out of this after having been here and experienced all this really just loving it. So Whisky A Go Go will host the performance at night on the infamous Sunset Strip which in and of itself has so much history to it. And there are a lot of other rock star counselors along the way that’ll help these people prepare for this big show. People from Quiet Riot and Black Sabbath and Bon Jovi that’ll be there helping them, as well as Paul and myself. It’s gonna be a great time and a really wonderful experience.
It sounds like it’s gonna be a lot of fun, and I’ve actually covered the event a couple of times. Let me sneak in two more questions for you Don, and again thank you for your time…
You mentioned Paul, you mentioned Gene and several others that have done this time and time again. Why do you think established stars like yourself and those mentioned are willing to give of their time to fulfill others’ rock and roll fantasies? Most of whom I would assume are fans of you guys.
I can only relate to my own experience. I was completely self-taught by ear. I grew up very impoverished and never had the money to pay for a guitar teacher, and so I kind of learned my own way and it’s a very individual, recognizable sound and style that I play. If I had taken proper guitar lessons, I probably wouldn’t play the way I play today. In order to learn music theory and composition and things like that I worked at this music school, where the guy had graduated from Berklee College of Music and came back and opened up this music school. I would teach beginner guitar players how to play basic chords and little songs and stuff like that. For every hour that I taught his students he would teach me an hour of music theory. So if I can give back to somebody who’s in that same search, it’s my pleasure to return the favor that Paul Hillis did for me at the Paul Hillis School of Music by giving me a hand up in the music world.
Wow! I do some benefits for the Canadian Music Therapy Trust, where they use music to reach people who otherwise can’t be reached, either cancer patients, people who are in hospices. I’ve played at brain damage centers for people who’ve either had shrapnel in their brain from a war, or a motorcycle accident, who can’t speak, but when I go in and play some of the songs like “Take It Easy” or “Best of My Love” or “Tequila Sunrise,” for those people, that part of their brain can be reached and they recognize that music and respond to that music, where they otherwise can’t be reached through any other means. So I think the power of music has the ability to touch people at an emotional, mental and spiritual level that other forms can’t get to. It’s an extremely powerful medium and I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to do things like that.
Amen! Are there any other individual things coming up for you?
I will be on the road pretty much until we go to China in November. You can go to donfelder.com and look at my tour dates.
Wonderful. Thanks you, Don. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
Alright, Jim. I appreciate you taking the time to do this, my friend. Thanks.