Whole Lotta Rock

Camp teaches amateur musicians the ropes

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil admits he was a little skeptical the first time he heard of Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp.

But after participating as a special guest last year, he jumped at the chance to do it again this year.  

The camp’s latest offering, A Whole Lotta Rock: From Led Zeppelin to Soundgarden to Stone Temple Pilots, features Thayil, Robert and Dean DeLeo of the Grammy-winning band Stone Temple Pilots, and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge. It’s set for Thursday, March 16, to Sunday, March 19, in Los Angeles.

Other guests include Monte Pittman (Madonna), Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), Michael Kroeger (Nickelback), Brian Tichy (Ozzy), Black (Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts), Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio), Tony Franklin (The Firm), Britt Lightning (Vixen), Teddy Zigzag (Guns N’ Roses), Jason Ebs (Peter Criss) and Adam Kury (Candlebox).

Included at Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp are performances at the Viper Room and the Whisky a Go Go, the latter of which features Thayil. 

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp has become part of American popular culture — from a Mick Jagger cameo in “The Simpsons” to “Rock Camp: The Movie.” It extracts ordinary people from their daily lives and allows them to perform with their musical heroes. 

“The people who worked around the organization were fantastic. The fans were great. The campers were polite and eager, and many were very talented,” Thayil says.

“We all had friends like this: They hang out in their basements or their bedrooms learning all the Zeppelin songs or Hendrix songs. In the ’80s, it would have been Van Halen. They were the best guitarists you knew in school. We met a few of those dudes. They were really talented.”

Some of the players were nervous because it was the first time hitting the stage or performing with a band. Thayil says it’s a “bit of a challenge but rewarding.”

“Growing up, you hear about rock school, which is still goofy to me,” he says.

“There’s an aspect of attitude and independence and freedom that can’t necessarily be taught. You can teach people to cooperate in a collaborative manner. That’s perhaps the most important part. That was a good thing. The idea of rock schools or baseball fantasy camps or rock fan camp, something about that seemed awkward growing up. The idea of trying to teach something that might be counterculture or rebellious is counterintuitive of how rock is.”

The COVID-19 pandemic convinced him otherewise. It was a time when peers and friends were suddenly unemployed.

“The crews who worked for us or Pearl Jam, say, had to find other work to do,” he recalled. “Clubs and venues closed. Promoters, security, bartenders, they were out of gigs. When the offer came in (for camp), I had no good reason to reject an opportunity to work in the pandemic.

“I didn’t think it was good form when your friends are hoping to go on tour.”

Thayil says he really enjoyed the volunteers and camp counselors, as well as the spirit of camaraderie among them. 

Speaking of camaraderie, Thayil is playing recreationally again in the band 3rd Secret with bassist/accordionist Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), drummer Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam/Soundgarden), guitarist Jon “Bubba” Dupree (Void), and vocalists Jillian Raye and Jennifer Johnson. 

“Krist called me up and says, ‘Hey, there are some old songs you and I did 20 years ago. Want to revisit some of those songs?’” he recalls. 

“Matt brought in some demos. There’s no hard push professionally, no management, no accountants, no lawyers. It’s all just for fun. We record songs and post them for streaming.”

It mirrors the attitude Thayil had the first time Soundgarden broke up, he says. 

“I didn’t want to call up managers, lawyers, record company people. I didn’t want to have to start again with soliciting,” Thayil adds.

“I just played when I could and drank beer and turned the amps up. We were just three guys in an attic with three stringed instruments — well, two and a couple amps — and neighbors who told us to turn it down after 10.”

That relates to Thayil’s best advice he can give to prospective camp participants.

“Don’t stress, and don’t overwork yourself,” he explains. “If you overstress and overwork yourself, that’ll affect performance. Don’t worry about the performance. You’re with other people. In reality, you probably have the same kind of jitters on stage as everybody else, unless you’re a complete hot dog.”

Thayil called himself a bit of a hot dog and a little nervous.

“It depends,” he says with a laugh. “If you get a couple beers in me, I’m a little bit more exhibitionistic and hot doggy. Most of the time, I’m a little bit nervous until a few songs go by. It’s pretty cool to share those experiences with the DeLeos and Carmine Appice, one of those great drummers we talked about since I was a kid.”

Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp: A Whole Lotta Rock: From Led Zeppelin to Soundgarden to Stone Temple Pilots

WHEN: Various times Thursday, March 16, to Sunday, March 19

WHERE: Los Angeles

COST: $599 holds a spot

INFO: 1-888-762-2263, rockcamp.com

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