Sunday, November 21, 2010

Old Rockers and the Rockaholix

Muddy Stardust doesn’t look like a traditional music teacher. With his wild hair and enormous sunglasses, he towers over his tiny charges, who listen rapt as he regales them with stories of wild times and roadies.

These are the Rockaholix, the youngest rock band in Los Angeles. Max is only 9, and can barely see over the top of his full size drum kit; the others, two girls and a boy, are just 11. They all want to be rock and roll stars and their parents have hired Muddy, who has played with bands like Burning Tree and Lost Angels, to help mold them into real musicians.

The tiny rockers have already played in famous L.A. music venues like House of Blues and The Roxy, have been interviewed on national radio and are now being courted by television companies. That’s why I’m in Hollywood, shooting a taster tape for a reality series with the band. The Rockaholix are auditioning for a new lead singer, and I’m filming a succession of nervous wannabes, who’ve been dragged along by ambitious, camera-clutching parents.

“She’s borderline tone-deaf,” says lead guitarist Edan, describing one 8-year-old candidate. Tiny Max screams with laughter and holds up a picture he’s drawn of someone barfing into a toilet. Simon Cowell couldn’t be more cutting. They rush over to their instruments and launch into an improvised song called “You Stink”: after listening to more than 60 candidates the kids are getting stir crazy.

Then Muddy brings in a friend, Slim Jim Phantom, drummer of the legendary Stray Cats. He’s a real celebrity: the Stray Cats started the rockabilly revival in the 1980s. Slim survived 8 years of marriage to Britt Ekland, with whom he has a son who’s also a drummer, and he owns the Cat Club on Sunset Boulevard.

Slim Jim watches little Max, who's exactly half his height, hammering out “Don’t Stop Believing”: he can’t work out how the left-handed child is managing to play so well on a right-handed drum kit. “It takes professional drummers years to learn how to be ambidextrous like that,” he marvels. Slim is left-handed too.

At the age of nearly 50, he looks just as trim and youthful as when we first met some 25 years ago. That was a night neither of us will forget: it was on a television show I directed called Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session, which is revered by rock aficionados to this day.

Carl Perkins, the godfather of rockabilly, had attracted a lineup that included George Harrison, Ringo Starr (playing with George for the first time since the Beatles’ split), Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds, Roseanne Cash and Slim Jim with his fellow Stray Cat Lee Rocker. It ended with an extended jam session in which Slim and Ringo played tambourines on each other’s heads – the DVD of the show still gets 5 stars on Amazon. That was the first programme I made with my newly formed company Mentorn: it was 1985, and I'd been hired by an American producer called Stephanie Bennett. Now here I am with another new production company, filming baby rockers at the very start of their careers.

Muddy introduces another friend: Tracii Guns, who founded Guns N’ Roses with Axl Rose, and now has the band L.A. Guns. With a skinful of tattoos and far more than a lifetime’s experience on the road, Tracii gently and patiently gives The Rockaholix an hour-long masterclass that any professional musician would envy. With his quiet temperament and amazing depth of knowledge, the band visibly improves as he teaches them.

Afterwards, over a chinese takeaway, the wild goateed glam guitarist tells me he has finally been tamed by fatherhood. Like me, he has a two-year old child who’s now the epicentre of his life. “That’s why I keep touring,” he said, “I need the money.” I can relate to that.

As a result, Tracii is shredding his way to Europe and comes to Newcastle at the beginning of December, performing with his L.A. Guns in the tiniest of bars.

I promised Tracii I’d be there. But first I have to find some ripped jeans and a biker jacket. Offers anyone?

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