Part 1: All about NAMM, Day One and the Bonzo Bash.
I am sure there are many of you, especially those not in the music business, that are not familiar with NAMM. NAMM is the National Association of Music Merchants and twice a year, they hold the NAMM Show, which is the world’s largest “trade-only” convention for the music industry. The main event takes place in late January in Anaheim, California. This year, January 22nd through the 24th. The smaller convention, known as Summer NAMM is held in Nashville, Tennessee in July. I have yet to make it to Summer NAMM, but I’m hoping to make it either this year or the next. I’ve been attending the NAMM Show in Anaheim now for many years, and proudly became a full fledged member a few years back.
This year’s convention was scheduled to be my busiest yet, between business done during the days, along with all the networking, I had four concerts within two nights that I was either working (promotions) or hosting, as well as the other shows I was planning to attend. Now don’t get me wrong, NAMM is quite a lot of fun, of course that’s one of the downsides to it. Being that everyone who likes to go to concerts, loves music, who’s trying to meet a rock star or… well you get the idea, are all trying to get into the convention, let alone into all the shows and parties at night. I could write several blogs alone on just what people go through trying to get NAMM badges, those that scalp them and so on. For the record, all members, depending on what type of company they are, how many employees they have and how much the membership dues are, get a certain amount of badges for the convention. For example, some instrument companies are given an amount for the artists they endorse.
That brings me to part of that draw of the convention that non-industry people are enamored with… meeting the rock stars. Most all the companies, from instrument manufacturers of guitars, drums, keyboards etc, to equipment companies of microphones, cables, amplifiers etc, all have some celebrity musician/band that they endorse either perform at their booth or do an autograph session. This is the main attraction for those trying to get into the convention. You name the rock star, they most likely have made an appearance at NAMM one year or another. It can be pretty cool at times for someone like myself, being in the music business, who has grown numb to it all. For example, Taylor Guitars for the past few years had some pretty great guests perform at their section. It started about 5 years ago when they had Tommy Shaw of Styx and Jack Blades of Night Ranger, who were both in Damn Yankees together, do a half hour acoustic show, performing the hits of those three bands. It was fantastic, but the following year they one upped it by having them back with Ted Nugent, also of Damn Yankees, joining them. He played some of his songs acoustically, all the while with the three of them telling stories, playing some other hits but then they surprised everyone, bringing on Michael Cartellone of Night Ranger and the other member of Damn Yankees. They then plugged in and did an impromptu Damn Yankees mini concert, which was awesome. Just when you don’t think they can do any better, well the next year Taylor had the entire band of Night Ranger play. Yes, believe it or not, a 30 minute live show, on a small stage in this tiny convention banquet room, just amazing. This is one guitar company of many there, add in all the other types of companies as I mentioned and you can see how much entertainment there is on top of the business side of things in 4 days of the convention.
That gets me back to the business side. Believe it or not, for me and many others, NAMM is about business. If not for a gigantic debacle concerning my new business cards not being ready for the convention, which would haunt me the next few days & nights, we would have arrived that Thursday morning, but it wasn’t until around 2pm that we finally did. This year, as every year I had a game plan and a list of things I wanted to accomplish. I’ve always dealt more with the networking side due to my promotions company but for 2015 it really was more about my blog and where I wanted to take this new venture. Since I also do guest appearances now and then as a DJ, I had a great working relationship with Gemini Pro Audio, using their disc jockey equipment for many years, and at last year’s NAMM with the emergence of their wireless microphone line, had struck up an endorsement deal with them for 2014. That was to be my first stop after my wife Nicole and I checked in to get our badges Thursday afternoon, January 22nd. Interesting side note, this year NAMM decided to go “green” and no longer had the plastic badge holders they always have had. Instead, two metal clips attached to holes punched out of the paper badge, with the string that went around your neck. Luckily we always kept out badge holders from previous years and brought them. There was a $100 replacement fee if you lost your paper badge, so I’m sure some money was made with that.
With badges in hand, well now worn, ID’s ready, we entered the massive Anaheim Convention Center and headed straight to Gemini. As with every year, we always make a joke about how long it will take us to get from point A to point B due to running into people we know and haven’t seen for ages. This year holds the record, as literally steps into the main hall we ran into our great friends Dizzy Reed of Guns ‘N Roses and his wife Nadja. We caught up for about 20 minutes and it was off to Gemini, and after only a few stops to say hi to some more friends we made it. I asked for the owner only to find out he had recently sold the company, which explains why I hadn’t heard from them in ages. Unfortunately the people working the booth didn’t seem to care who I was and my past relationship with Gemini. I’ve got to throw in this year was the smallest booth they ever had. One of their reps actually handed me a brochure if I was interested in buying some of their products. Ummm, WTF?!? LOL. This threw me for a loop, and it was time to move on. Luckily within minutes we ran into another good friend, Kevin Rankin of Animotion, and he told us to check out a microphone company he knew well. Go figure when we get there, we stand around for 5-10 minutes looking at their products and not one person approached us. This was not the business start I wanted. Of course, across the way was Sennheiser, who make the best microphones in the world. Yes Shure might be the biggest, but in quality, Sennheiser is the industry leader. I felt out of my league but figured why not go check out their product. They had some convention space and not even in it, we had been approached by a really nice rep who had only been with them for several days. I told him my story briefly, explaining that I host & emcee many of the shows I promote and how important a great microphone is to me. Within minutes he had the main sales rep for the LA area, Aaron, introduced to me and him and I began to talk. In no time I was able to demo several of their mics, go over specs and especially chat about business. Before I knew it we got on the subject of getting endorsed by Sennheiser. As I write this, we have some follow up conversations and things to work out, but if all goes well, from this point on, you’ll only see a Sennheiser microphone in my hand at any show.
Goal number one could not of gone any better. Now I wanted to keep the ball rolling, so it was off to Schecter Guitars. This year I really wanted to talk business with them and not just get my passes to the Annual Schecter NAMM Jam, which is one of the top NAMM parties held each year at the Grove Of Anaheim. This year it was on Saturday night, January 24th and headlining their event was In This Moment. When it comes to Schecter, I’ve had such a great relationship with not only the company, but also being friends with many of their endorsed artists. I know so many reps and execs with an endless amount of musical equipment companies, wanting to do business with say just one, isn’t an easy choice. But Schecter was on top of my list and within minutes was lucky enough to run into a good friend, their executive vice president, Marc. We got to catch up a bit and I was able to let him know about my new project and where I’m wanting it to go. There is no doubt that between how great Schecter guitars are and what great artists they have on their roster, they would be a great fit, and most of all, Marc agrees. So once again at the time of this writing, fingers crossed and you will soon see the Schecter logo attached to my future endeavors.
Day one and the first couple of hours could not of gone better, so it was time to pay visits to some other friends’ companies and do a little networking. Our third stop had to be seeing Jonny Coffin of Coffin Case. Jonny is one of the great guys in the industry, and go figure has one of the best companies too, producing Coffin Cases, which are by far the coolest guitar cases out there. They make cases for so many other products, even ladies handbags. So leave it to Jonny every year during NAMM and the success of Coffin Case, to be a part of one of the other top shows, the NAMM Jam 2015, featuring his Coffin Case Fashion Show and headlining the night was Steel Panther. There was no way I was going to miss this, though I haven’t missed one of his shows in over 5 years. It’s always great to see Jonny at his booth, but crazed busy as he is there, we had only a short time to catch up, talk a little business and of course get some passes to his show which was on Friday, January 23rd at the Grove Of Anaheim. A nice chat, and it was off to the rest of the convention. Checking out many of the booths, looking at more products and running into many more friends, we were spent, and this was only day #1. It was time to grab some dinner, head back to the hotel and then change and head out to a show. Of course leave it to NAMM, just as we walked out of the convention center, on their main outdoor stage, one of my favorite musicians was just starting to perform. An artist I actually have never seen live, yet always wanted to for years now, especially during all our trips down to New Orleans, the Big Easy’s own jazz legend, “Trombone” Shorty. What an incredible way to wrap up the convention part of my day.
I couldn’t stand much longer, so thank goodness with the dogs barking, aka my feet killing me, we ran across a great little locals Mexican restaurant right next to our hotel. We got lucky grabbing a table as it filled up quickly. A little tip if you plan on eating at a nice place while visiting NAMM, make sure to land reservations ahead of time or you can find yourself waiting a good hour or two for a seat. It was nice to sit down for a while, casually eat, and get a little energy for part 2 of a day at NAMM, the concerts and parties at night. So back to the hotel, relax for a bit and then change for the nights festivities. Stubbing my toe on the bed frame in the hotel room however was not part of my NAMM weekend plans, which I‘ll add more about later. What was on the agenda for this Thursday night was the Bonzo Bash at the Observatory down the way in Santa Ana, then end up at the Anaheim Hilton. We picked up my friend Carrie and headed off to the “Bash”. The Bonzo Bash this year was part of a three night event put on by Brian Tichy & Joe Sutton called the California Music Fest. Night #1 being the Bonzo Bash, dedicated to the late drummer of Led Zeppelin, John Bonham. Night #2 was Randy Rhoads Remembered, dedicated to the late guitarist of Ozzy Osbourne, and the final night, #3 The Ox and the Loon, dedicated to the late bassist & drummer of The Who, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. All three nights feature some of the industry’s best musicians, gathering together to jam to the great songs those nights artist(s) were about.
The moment we arrived, having to park in a lot a block away, and passing several bootleg t-shirt vendors, we knew this year’s Bonzo Bash was bigger than ever. We were a bit anxious to get in due to some police stand-off that had the main street to the show blocked off and we had a fun little adventure getting to the venue. Luckily Joe set us up with backstage and we entered into the VIP back lot area. They had a red carpet set up for all the star performers and the media alike, I garnered a few pics there of course. It’s an amazing show, though be it long (4-5 hours), for fans of Led Zeppelin. The night is anchored by the house band known as The Moby Dicks, consisting of Brian Tichy (Whitesnake/Foreigner/Billy Idol) on drums, Brent Woods (Vince Neil/Sebastian Bach) on guitar, Michael Devin (Whitesnake/Lynch Mob) on bass, Chas West (Bonham) on vocals and Stephen LeBlanc (Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience) on keyboards. With them holding down the night, they were joined on stage to jam Zeppelin’s greatest hits with the likes of Steven Adler (Guns ‘N Roses), Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp/Smashing Pumpkins), Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake), Dizzy Reed (Guns ‘N Roses), Phil X (Bon Jovi), Sean McNabb (Dokken), Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper), Matt Starr (Mr. Big/Ace Frehley), Jimmy D’Anda (Bullet Boys), Phil Soussan (Ozzy Osbourne), Robert Mason (Warrant/Lynch Mob), Keith St. John (Montrose), Mitch Perry (MSG), Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and the list goes on. You can see if you’re a fan of rock, what a great show this is, all these musicians, all in one night, all on one stage. That same type of show happened the next two nights but those same next nights I would have 4 shows as I mentioned earlier, so there was no way for me to get back down to The Observatory.
For me however with the Bonzo Bash, I prefer to hang out back in the VIP area or venture backstage, which literally is behind the stage. One of my favorite things during the NAMM weekend is catching up with friends it seems I only see now once a year, and here, many of which always make it to the Bonzo Bash. A couple of Jagermeister’s, some hugs, great conversation and goofy pictures together, and it’s the perfect way for me to start this 4 day/3 night extravaganza. I’m blessed to be in this business, more blessed to have the friendships I do with so many people that are in it or fans of it, and this was the kind of night to remind me of that.
The show was still going and it was already getting close to 1:00am, later we heard that the show went on until 2:30am, so we wanted to end the night as we do every year… last call at the Anaheim Hilton lobby. I could easily write a long blog just on the Hilton lobby, but my brain might explode from doing so, lol. The Hilton is THEE spot every night, and often through out the day during NAMM. Since it’s right next to the convention center, it provides the home base for most people attending. That has it’s pros and cons. The combination being that it is always packed, and from 10pm on, I mean packed. Even with the surrounding satellite bars around the lobby, you can stand in line for 20 minutes to a half hour easily just to grab a drink. You’re also bound to run into everyone there, those you want to, and of course if there has been someone you want to avoid this long weekend, trust me, you will run into them there too. All and all, through all it’s madness, it’s a great place to catch up with friends, even if almost all of them you can find every single weekend at the Rainbow in Hollywood, lol. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist that one.
The irony of filling you in about the Hilton was just our luck, or lack of luck, that police situation I earlier described was still going on. We ended up stuck in traffic, literally not being able to move for quite a while until when we finally were able to drive again, taking back roads, hitting every red light, it was already 1:30am and we knew this would be the first year in many, we didn’t end up at the Hilton on a Thursday. Maybe it was divine intervention, one never knows. So we dropped off Carrie and went back to our hotel room to get an unusual decent night’s rest. Day and night #1 of NAMM was in the books. A very productive day of business and networking, mixed with a fabulous night out, so for me, I couldn’t of been more happy, even if I still had 3 more days of convention and 2 more nights of shows.