Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A few minutes with Rock School's Eric Slick...

Eric Slick in East Germany for Zappanale 16

So you know I've been awful quiet lately, but yesterday, ta-da, I finished (finally!) my novel Another Bite of the Apple, which is the sequel to Three Days in New York so now I have that the meantime, I have so much news I'm bursting -- in fact, there's so much excitement going on in this house I'm going to have to report each item in a separate post so that nothing gets buried here because, well, here's just a taste: Julie and I are leaving for England on October 23 where we'll be until October 30 because she's going on tour playing bass with the punk band, McRad; both Julie and Eric are participating (as Rock School All-Star Hall of Famers) in the Les Paul Tribute at the Roseland Ballroom in New York on the night before, October 22...where, get this, Jack Bruce is also going to be be honored by Bass Player Magazine...(and wait until I list the other rock stars/musicians who are going to be there that night as well as additional incredible information connected with this event), but I'll get to all that later today or tomorrow.

Let's talk about Eric right now, who is drumming for Doctor Dark Sunday night at a gig in Connecticut where they will be opening for Project Object. They'll be playing at the legendary Toad's Place in New Haven, where the Rolling Stones kicked off their Steel Wheels Tour.

Eric was interviewed by Play New Haven Magazine, and the issue just came out in print today but it's also on line so without further ado, here ya go:

A few minutes with Rock School's Eric Slick

By: Nick R. Scalia , Staff writer 10/12/2005

You can catch Eric Slick - graduate of Philly's Paul Green School of Rock, as seen in the documentary Rock School - performing Sunday with Doctor Dark at Toad's Place, but before the show we thought we'd pick his brain to see what it's like to grow up schooled in the fine art of rock.

PLAY: How long have you been attending Paul Green's School of Rock?

E.S.: I've been there since I was 11 years old, which was back in 1998, and finally this year I graduated. It's been a hell of a ride, this year we started to play with pretty big people - Jon Anderson from Yes, Ann Wilson from Heart, Stewart Copeland from The Police, Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam... this was promotionally for the movie that came out. It's been crazy, I remember playing in a little café and now we've been playing on these huge stages. My final performance with the school will be Oct. 22 at Les Paul's birthday party in New York.

PLAY: Is Paul Green really as fanatical as the doc sometimes makes him look?

E.S.: Well, if you look at the movie, every time Paul gets really mad he's wearing the same shirt - he was in a very bad mood that day, and the bulk of the freakouts you saw in the movie were from that day - most of the time he's a really nice guy.

But overall I think the documentary's pretty close to what it's like - I think they kind of captured the spirit of Rock School in the movie very well.

PLAY: How did you first hook up with Paul?

E.S.: My friend Spencer was a guitar player, and at the time Paul had been giving lessons is his apartment, this really crappy apartment. He decided to have a showcase with all his students, and they were all really terrible but I loved it. So, my sister joined and then I joined, and that's how I got into the program.

PLAY: What's the most important thing you learned in all those years of being there?

E.S.: The main thing I learned from Rock School, besides improving my instrument-playing, was the performance aspect, how to play in front of a lot of people. I guess I used to be self-conscious onstage in my teens cause I was kinda fat [laughs], but after I lost the weight I really started to focus on my performance. Before I was doing difficult things but I didn't look like I was really into it - so I definitely learned some stage presence there.

PLAY: What did your parents think about you traveling the world, living the rock star lifestyle with the School?

E.S.: They were very supportive, I still see my parents all the time and they're so supportive. What's really great is that I kind of turned them onto Zappa - they had the preconceived notion that he was kind of a joke, but I played them all his really beautiful music and now they can't get enough of him. They've been turning me onto music since I was 2 years old, they were playing me Hendrix and Cream and Zeppelin and Beatles since I was really little, and a lot of jazz and classical... they were really surprised to find that Zappa mixed all three of those genres.

Rock School
Eat your heart out, Jack Black, because Paul Green is the real thing.
Turns out that one of the most contrived comedies in recent memory - the Black-starring School of Rock - wasn't actually all that contrived at all, because the documentary Rock School is a look at a dedicated, slightly-crazed teacher who really does teach kids how to unleash their inner rock gods.

The title institution is the School for Rock Music in Philadelphia, an afterschool facility started up by Green - a guy who's endlessly passionate about teaching music, though he's prone toward profanity and aggressiveness in his instruction, and you'd probably think twice about sending your own kids to his establishment (although the parents in the movie are awfully positive about it).

The documentary, directed by Don Argott, follows a crop of kids that Green is grooming to perform at Germany's Zappanale Festival, a concert honoring his rock idol Frank Zappa.

While the loudmouthed instructor (who regularly makes hilariously Black-like declarations such as, "I want to give you the gift of rock!") teaches the finer points of wanky guitar soloing and rock and roll stage presence, the film also introduces viewers to some of his pupils - like a girl from a Quaker community who puts piousness before punkishness, and a 12-year-old guitarist named C.J. whose playing puts grownup axemen to shame.

Whether Green (whose wife and baby get some illuminating screen time here, too) is a fantastically effective educator or simply a guy vicariously living out his rock and roll dreams Argott leaves to the viewer to decide, but one thing is for sure - Rock School is cooler than any extracurricular activities most folks were involved in.
And in that same magazine, right here, Bill Saunders, a/k/a front man for Doctor Dark, is also interviewed, and he has absolutely wonderful things to say about both Eric and Rock School. You can either click on the link or just read the cut and paste below:

One from the Beefheart
By: Nick R. Scalia , Staff Writer 10/12/2005
Some things you do purely out of love.

Like, for instance, playing the music of Captain Beefheart, the notoriously eccentric experimental rock artist and Frank Zappa crony who, with his Magic Band, put out one of the past century's most mind-bending albums with 1970's Trout Mask Replica.

Bill Saunders — best known in these parts for co-masterminding the annual Ideat Village festival and making an in-drag run in the New Haven mayoral race on behalf of the so-called Guilty Party - has been doing it for years, as frontman for the Beefheart tribute band Doctor Dark.

"I've been known to have off-the-wall ideas that seem to turn into something," says Saunders, who conceived the covers act as his previous band, The Mess-Ups, was preparing to end its five-year career. "We put it together for just a spot at the first Ideat Village — I performed in the Mess-Ups the first day and performed in Doctor Dark the last day, so I retired one band and started another."

The Beefheart project eventually did turn into something, as Doctor Dark began to get some fairly high-profile gigs. In 2003, they played the annual Zappanale Festival, an international celebration of Frank Zappa's music held in Bad Doberan, Germany, and returned for another appearance earlier this year (The Zappa and Beefheart legacies are a part of each other - the two were friends and collaborators, and Zappa produced Trout Mask Replica). Back on our shores, Doctor Dark has played stages as prestigious as NYC's Knitting Factory, and this Sunday comes to Toad's Place with the Zappa tribute Project/Object, featuring original Zappa bandmembers Ike Willis and Napoleon Murphy Brock.

Doctor Dark's current lineup includes Saunders on vocals - in full Beefheart regalia - with Travis Moody and Kimono Draggin's Joseph Nolan on guitar, The Vultures/Goose Lane's Warren Brelsford on bass, and a new drummer with a unique Hollywood connection.

Nineteen-year-old Eric Slick comes from Paul Green's School of Rock, the bizarrely awesome Philadelphia educational institution that was profiled in Don Argott's recent documentary Rock School. Run by failed rock star-turned-music teacher Green, the PGSOR is an afterschool program that teaches Philly kids of many different ages and musical proficiencies things like stage presence, how to whip off an insane guitar solo, and appreciation for all things Zappa-related. Each year, Green brings his students to perform at Zappanale, and that's where Slick and Saunders first crossed paths.

"The first time I met Eric was in Germany two years ago, and then we had a show opening up for Paul Green's School of Rock at the Knitting Factory in New York," Saunders says. "We chatted up his parents, chatted him up, and it turns out he's a huge Beefheart fan. I told him at one point, 'You look out, you're gonna wind up being my drummer some day." And he's like, 'I've learned all of Trout Mask Replica!' He comes fully prepped with all the proper skills."

"I saw their performance at Zappanale and I thought they were really great," says Slick. "And after they opened up for us at the Knitting Factory I've been e-mailing them, leaving messages in their guestbook... so we met up again this year at Zappanale and we got to talking and they kind of called me when they needed me."

While he'd been into Zappa for years, it took Slick a long time to make the Beefheart connection. "I got into it fairly recently, about two years ago, I had been a huge fan of the Zappa album called Bongo Fury, where Captain Beefheart was the lead vocalist," he says. That led him to check out Trout Mask Replica, and he became an instant fan - "I thought it was one of the greatest albums I've ever heard."

Beefheart is certainly an acquired taste, however, as even Saunders is quick to point out. "My first experience with it, I was like, 'What is this? It sounds like kids playing instruments,'" he admits. "But once you listen to it, you hear that they're real songs and they're actually composed and orchestrated... Beefheart's music is this strange amalgamation of Mississippi Delta blues and free jazz, with everything in different time signatures, just going like gangbusters..."

Some people, Saunders says, just never really get it at all — "Everybody knows the name because it's on rock and roll lists, the stuff you 'need to listen to'... but the fact is, that doesn't usually translate into big audiences necessarily." That's not the case in Germany, however, where Slick says he got a whole new perspective on the importance of Zappa and Beefheart. "You go to Europe and they worship that kind of music," Slicks says. "Frank Zappa is like John Lennon over there. In Germany there are, like, religious posters of Zappa - in the center of the town there's a miniature statue of him! That would never happen in America."

So, again, digging into the wonderfully weird canon of Captain Beefheart is something one does not to get rich or famous in America, but strictly out of reverence. Saunders, Slick, and the rest of the band have the adoration for the music to do it, though, and they're all committed to putting on a show that pays homage to Beefheart in both song and style.

Eric Slick can't wait to get all dolled up to show his Beefheart love — "Hopefully I'll be dressed as bizarrely as possible — I'm thinking about putting my hair in pigtails," the young drummer says, laughing. "Be forewarned that Eric Slick will look very strange and probably a little feminine."

(Trust me on this: My son will not look feminine. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But his girlfriend Carolyn Pagnotta will be the first to tell you, he's all male.)

So how cool is that.

Watch this space for my details on all of the other stuff I've mentioned, and no, damn it, I do not have my biopsy results yet. They said ten days, tomorrow will be two weeks, so I guess I'll give them a call then if I don't hear today.