Day three. Our first proper gig at the House Of Blues is tomorrow, and things are getting really tense in our band. As we’re crashing through another abortive attempt at practice, who other than Joe Vitale casually wanders into the room. Joe has drummed with The Eagles and Crosby Stills and Nash, he’s the real deal and a lovely man – an avuncular character with a shock of curly grey hair and an infectious perma-grin.
Coyly, Paul suggests Joe jump on the drums for a minute, just to give the song a run through. Joe shrugs and sets himself up behind the drums while Jack stands huffily aside, arms folded. Elliot kicks off with that huge, momentous, iconic guitar riff, I join in on bass, and we commence what will become my own personal Rock ’n’ Roll moment of the week. Because, all at once, we are finally a band.
Paul gives it everything, ooh-ing and wailing and gyrating, morphing seamlessly into his onstage persona. The bass drum is a thumping, rock-solid heartbeat and we’re instantly nodding our heads, beaming at each other. Other bands are actually wandering in from their own rehearsal rooms now, their guitars slung behind their backs, sensing something special is happening.
Saturday looms, the day of our first gig. But first, our final guest performer – and for my bandmates, this is the big one – Joe Perry, lead guitarist in Aerosmith. ‘Aerosmith are the sole reason I pursued a career in music,’ whispers an awed Paul in the corridor as we wait to meet his idol. Joe greets us warmly. Wirily handsome with cheekbones you could abseil from, kitted out in full rock-god regalia. The song is ‘Walkin’ The Dog’, which we’ve played so many times now I want to take the dog out back and shoot it. Thankfully though, we sound good. Joe seems to really enjoy himself, throwing shapes and wringing ear-spitting, bluesy squeals from his low-slung guitar. We leave the stage truly elated, it’s a minor triumph, and sets us up for tonight.
But alas, the first night is a complete disaster. The House Of Blues, a rock-themed bar and restaurant, set in the middle of the vast and infamous Mandalay Bay casino, is packed with punters. Clearly nervous, we set off too fast into ‘Immigrant Song’ yet again, Paul sounding like he’s on helium in an effort to match the inconsiderate pace Jack has set. When we come off stage to slaps on the back and kindhearted comments from our Rock Camp friends, we can’t help but feel deflated.
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Tensions are starting to fray a little and there’s a sense that Jack is, as my bandmate John puts it, is ‘Here to rub shoulders with celebrities rather than play music.’
I get spectacularly drunk that night with some of the Rock Camp staff, wake up with a truly apocalyptic hangover and arrive late for our last day of practice. When I finally arrive I find out about the miracle of miracles.
Joe Perry’s flight out of Vegas had been cancelled. And, like a night in shining armour, our drummer Jack just so happened to have his private jet at McClaren Airport (oh yeah, I completely forgot to mention that Jack is a billionaire). So just then, our now-former drummer was kicking back on a one-to-one with Joe, sipping champagne on his way to Vermont.
We get a replacement drummer, one of the Rock Camp staff, and he’s just awesome. Suddenly, we can have fun, no cringing, no over-compensating, just pure, unadulterated, Rock ’n’ Roll fun. We quickly throw together a bluesy Aerosmith number called ‘Reefer Headed Woman’ to open with on the night. But, of course, we finish with what we started, ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
And for five minutes up there on stage, lights glaring, we are finally, truly, rock stars. Everything gels – Chris and John are banging their heads and grinning like madmen, Elliot’s guitar wails like a banshee on the solo, to cheers from the audience, the drums are chest-burstingly huge and Paul channels the spirits of Rock for a pitch-perfect vocal performance. The crowd go ballistic and, all at once, my dream comes true.
The after-party is a complete blur, lots of scenes missing, like watching a scratched DVD – every Rock ’n’ Roll story has to end like this. We’re crowded around a piano singing ‘Tiny Dancer’ with members of Queen, Guns N Roses and The Eagles. I’m sharing wine and gushing like a fanboy to Spike Edney about an obscure Manic Street Preachers track he played keyboard on in 1989. I can no longer tell who’s a rock star and who’s a camper, because for one night only, there was no difference.
Zack is now a member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy CampHall of Fame. The experience, and other regular programmes of its kind, offer punters a chance to jam with big-name rock-stars.