Let the feelin’ get down to your soul
As a journalist, I had just as many questions about the camp as I did a guitarist. I mean, put five total strangers in a room, tell them they have four-and-a-half days to get a few songs, including one original, ready and polished to play at a sold-out show at one of the most famous venues in the world—how is that going to happen? People who’ve played in bands will tell you it can take weeks to get a set good and tight, so this was a big worry for me. A major part of being in a band is learning how to feed off of the other bandmembers’ mannerisms and styles, and this usually doesn’t happen in the course of a week. It can take months, even years, for a band to really sound professional, and I personally wanted to sound like gold if I was going to be setting foot on the stage that Jim Morrison and John Bonham had graced with their presence.

From left to right: Jordan Wagner, Duff McKagan, Francesca Bonavita, Bruce Kulick, Ally Pacella, Greg Deal, Ujesh Desai, Anthony Hixon and Jamie Nichols.

Meeting my band was a very casual moment. I was fortunate to be in a talented group who all shared the same curiosities as me. I was introduced by Rudy Sarzo, the Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot bassist, to our rock star counselor and band leader, Bruce Kulick. Knowing Bruce’s background, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. He played on several KISS records, and is a member of Grand Funk Railroad. His third solo record is about to come out, and features players like Gene Simmons, Steve Lukather, and Eric Singer. The man played on the Bat Out of Hell tour, for Pete’s sake! Was he going to be personable, or standoffish? Would we all be able to work well together as a team with someone who was used to playing with some of the world’s most talented musicians?

The band members came from a very diverse pool. Offering a friendly handshake, a man in military fatigues introduced himself as Sergeant Anthony Hixon, our bass player, fresh from a tour of duty in Iraq. Our lead vocalist, Ally Pacella, with an operatic voice and fantastic presence, hailed from Russia. Backing up Ally was Francesca Bonavita, who contributed vocals and also provided percussion talents. Guitar duties would be handled by me and Jamie Nichols, a hardworking rocker from Canada who shared some of my own musical tastes. Jamie was a blast to work and hang out with, and his sense of humor certainly helped ease my nervousness. Rounding out the rhythm section was not one but two drummers: Greg Deal and Ujesh Desai. These guys were a great rhythmic powerhouse, and their enthusiasm was something I considered us very lucky to have. Some of my fondest memories of the camp are of me and Ujesh geeking out over the video taken of us playing “Crazy Train” with Rudy Sarzo, and sneaking back to the practice space and playing “Master of Puppets” really badly… but we didn’t care, it was just so much fun. He was the one who came up with our band name, W.T.F.

The twenty minutes or so that we all banded together in the hotel lobby to jam on “Wild Thing” with acoustics, the drummers slapping their knees in time, was one of the highlights of the camp. It was a great bonding experience, just getting to know one another through the simple three-chord riff. Bruce wielded a beautiful Gibson Elvis Presley Dove and led us through the classic tune. It was particularly humbling (and really funny) to be drowned out by Rudy’s group a few feet away from us. Their singer was belting out the lyrics to “Metal Health” with Rudy, and us, grinning from ear to ear. This moment of us ‘normal folk’ jamming around with these guys was just a taste of what was to come.