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Joe Perry And Nancy Wilson Talk Musical Roots, Meeting Their Heroes Ahead Of Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camps

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at November 15, 2021

Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp founder David Fishof believes he’s in the business of changing lives.

For 25 years, Fishof’s camps have put aspiring rock stars through the paces of the music industry and given them the chance to play with some of their heroes. After launching a series of online masterclasses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Fishof will bring back in-person camps in 2022, hosting excursions in Florida, Los Angeles and Las Vegas from January through April. (Details on each camp can be found here.)

The 2022 camps will appeal to fans of various rock subgenres, with Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil and Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell headlining the “Sounds of Seattle” camp, and Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine and Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain leading a metal-oriented camp. Next year will also mark the inaugural women-only camp, featuring Heart’s Nancy Wilson and Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine. 

Fishof has produced numerous high-profile rock bonanzas over the past 40 years, such as the Monkees’ 20th-anniversary reunion trek in 1986. He got the idea for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp while on the road with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, which he created and launched in 1989.

“I put Ringo’s All-Starr Band together, and I just saw how much fun we were having on the road,” Fishof tells Forbes. “And I said, ‘If we could just give this to the fan to experience.’ All these musicians, without any of their wives, their manager, their agent, just seeing them and just playing. No frills.”

Over the course of four days, Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp attendees form bands, rehearse a set list full of rock classics and take classes on songwriting, recording and overall musicianship. Along the way, they work with counselors who have decades of music industry experience. (Counselors for 2022 include Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon, Vixen guitarist Britt Lightning former Black Sabbath and Dio drummer Vinny Appice.) It all culminates in a supersized headliner jam at a local club.

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Fishof aims to make the camps just as valuable for the headliners as the campers. “They become so enmeshed in it, because it’s not a lot of people. They’re fellow musicians,” he says. “I told Slash, ‘Just come for a few hours.’ He ended up staying for 12 hours. He told me it was the hardest thing he ever had to do.”

Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason went one step further when he led a camp. “I asked Nick Mason to come for a few hours and said, ‘You’ll enjoy it.’ Four days later, he was still there,” Fishof recalls. “He decided to join a band. He said, ‘You know, I never get to play a Monkees song with Micky Dolenz!’”

Fishof says he’s witnessed his camps inspire attendees to pursue the dreams they put on hold. “One lady came in and said, ‘Yes, I got a little depressed [after I left the camp], but I’ve made a decision: I’m not going to be a lawyer anymore. I’m going to do my passion, and I’m going to become a writer,’” he says. “She said, ‘I took what I learned from these musicians, who decided not to be the norm. They decided they weren’t going to take a regular job. They went with their passion, and they became successful.’ So I love to see when people learn that.”

He continues: “Joe Perry said it best once at a camp. He got up there and he said to a guy, ‘What do you do for a living?’ And the guy said, ‘I’m a doctor, and on the weekends I play guitar in my band.’ And [Joe] turned to the guy and he said, ‘Listen, you’re a musician first. You’re a guitarist first. You do that medical crap to pay for your guitar.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s me, that’s me!’”

Perry will return to headline another camp from March 10-13, 2022, in Deerfield Beach, Florida. “I don’t really do much to get ready,” the Aerosmith guitarist tells Forbes. “I just bring along a couple of guitars to make sure I can show somebody something on a riff that I might have written in an open tuning or something like that. But that’s it. All I can do is show up, and I’m dragging 50 years of experience with me.”

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Perry’s street-level musical education began when he was a kid, scraping together pocket change to buy 7-inch singles at the record store so he could play along to them on his guitar. “I think a Roy Orbison song… that’s the one I can remember playing along to. I was able to get through the chords on that from front to back,” he says. “And then the Beatles came along, and that injected a whole new aspect to it. I never, never in million years thought that there would be any chance of getting to play in front of people like that, but there was nothing that could stop me from playing.”

The days of spinning records ad nauseam to learn songs are gone; now, musicians can find free, in-depth tutorials on nearly any type of music they want via YouTube. Perry says this development is “one of the most amazing things to happen,” and he can see its effects among the campers. “I have to say, some of the guys that come to the camps, sometimes I learn as much from them as they think they’re gonna learn from me,” he admits. “I hear some guys, and they’re just ripping. But I guess they’ve heard something in my playing that would be used, just tweaked it and they’re there.”

Wilson, another returning headliner, likens the Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp to a more intimate fan meet-and-greet. “They tell you what it means to them that your music got them through so much stuff in their life,” she tells Forbes. “That’s the whole reason you do this to begin with. And it’s meaningful. And then, to have no barriers in a situation like the Fantasy Camp, it’s just like you’re hanging out, and it means even more.”

Despite selling millions of albums and conquering stages around the world for 45 years with Heart, Wilson still knows what it’s like to be starstruck in front of one’s musical heroes. “When I met Paul McCartney, I was so awestruck, and such a super fan,” she says. “I was trying my damnedest to look cool, not to be like a deer in the headlights. But, you know, these are the molecules of Paul McCartney amassed in front of my very eyes, in the same room. So I know how it feels.”

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That experience helps Wilson empathize with the campers who may be eager — and terrified — to jam and chat with their favorite musicians. “I’ve always approached it from a fan’s perspective, which is something that any rock person really needs to keep in mind,” she says. “There’s no division. There’s just you and them, and all humanity is just human. So if you’re a huge fan, you’ll have to kind of get over that a little bit before you can just shoot the breeze.”

Perry, who plays in the bestselling American hard rock band of all time, also remains a fan first and foremost. He recalls attending the Classic Rock Awards in Tokyo in 2016, sitting with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and watching guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck blaze through a sound check. “Somebody took a picture of us from behind, and we look like two f***ing kids watching the sound check,” he enthuses. “Every time that Jeff touched his guitar, I would elbow Jimmy and [say], ‘Did you hear that?’ And then he’d play something else, and he’d elbow me and go, ‘Did you hear that? He works on it. He still works on it.’”

Perry hopes he can help campers feel that same thrill. “I’ve been fortunate enough to meet most of [my idols]. Some of them are my friends,” he says. “It’s been a long journey, but that’s kind of what I’m bringing to this.”

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