I love a good music reunion. Sure hope so; the reunion of a legendary rock band forms the basis of my forthcoming novel, Voice Lessons. The energy, anticipation, chance to see old friends and hear tunes that shaped a phase of life combine to create evenings like … well, like Saturday night’s memorial benefit to the late Jesse Valadez in Oceanside.
The 150 to 200 people packing Moose Lodge into the wee hours heard what they came for. This included a midnight set by brilliant guitarist Stevie Salas and his former “This Kids” bandmate and singer Patrick Pinamonti that shot right back to 30 years ago in Oceanside (and featured none other than Ron Blair of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on TP’s classic hit “I Need to Know”); a great performance by local cover band Projekt X, with a sterling display of song selection and musicianship by every member (when have you heard “Highway Star” covered at full length, with both solos?); another local phenom of yesteryear who now tours internationally, drummer Danny Campbell, holding down the back line for the Lacy Younger Band; and two teenagers from Temecula you will hear plenty about on the national stage soon, the Bleeker brothers (more on them in a minute).
What was it like to be at this gig? If you were a teenager or young adult in North San Diego County in the late 1970s and
early 1980s, it was like coming home to hear the tunes that painted our weekends. Since both my sweetheart, Martha Halda, and I grew up in Carlsbad, we were thrilled to be on hand and to dance, dance, dance in the sweltering hall. Take the final act. During the more than 25 years since This Kids last toured, Salas has become an international guitar hero, touring with Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger and Duran Duran (among others), becoming an idol in Japan, cutting 18 solo albums, directing bands for American Idol, getting compared favorably to virtuosos Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, and being named one of the Top 50 guitarists of all time in more than one poll. To hear Stevie and Pinamonti blaze through the Police, Queen, Foreigner, Tom Petty and others, smiling constantly at each other, was a journey right into a This Kids set. They loved it as much as we did.
Speaking of This Kids, a few of us got together during a break. While talking with the night’s unsung hero, Projekt X and Sung Mojo bass player Barry Sinclair (who played for most of the 6-hour run of music, with Salas-Pinamonti and the Bleeker brothers as well as Projekt X), we realized that every hot North County rock band of the late ‘70s-early ‘80s was somehow represented. Salas and Pinamonti were there from This Kids. So was Neptune’s occasional rhythm guitar player. I managed and handled publicity for Seraphim for 18 months in 1978-79 (and, to stretch this out a little, watched Seraphim’s dazzling lead guitarist, Bobby Blesser, perform the night before a hundred yards away after scoping out drummer Robert Munger’s classic rock interior design work at the Rock Your Loxx salon open house). Campbell was the second drummer for Incognito, a great punk-funk-rock band with edgy originals that should have gotten them to the top … but a couple of key members (not Campbell) self-destructed that dream to pieces.
The night of reunions and remembering Jesse Valadez had a wonderful twist. The night opened with a classic rock instrumental performance by WineBrew, which consists of the Bleeker brothers, 19-year-old guitarist Simon and 17-year-old drummer Stuart. These young guys rocked, big time. They are both virtuosos, right down to Simon’s stunning channeling of Hendrix, Carlos Santana and early Clapton with solo after remarkable solo, or Stuart’s performance of Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice,” in which he played both the bongo and drum kit pieces. The crowd of primarily 40- and 50-somethings was blown away — no other way to put it. The only drummer who could play “Soul Sacrifice” so purely at that age was the kid who actually played it first in 1969, Santana’s Michael Shrieve, whose famous Woodstock movie drum solo was that song. I told Stuart I was messaging Michael to tell him about this performance … what we saw last night was truly special.
The Bleeker brothers are on the rise — with a bullet. They’ve been signed by Atlantic Records, and their manager is none other than Guns ‘n Roses drummer Matt Sorum. They’re cutting six originals now, plus other tracks. (A hint: When you hear them next, it will be on their debut album as The Wanderers.)
A couple hours after their gig, Simon told me a story that took my breath away. While recording in the studio in LA, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith was working next door. Tyler came over and heard Simon riffing on “Sweet Emotion.” Tyler, recognizing Simon’s talent and his ability to get it right on classic rock tracks, asked, “Do you know any Yardbirds?”
Guess what Simon gave him? That’s right … “Train Kept A Rollin’,” which Aerosmith covered on their first album and still plays live occasionally.
So when talking with Simon and Stuart’s parents last night, I couldn’t resist pointing out that Stevie Salas and Danny Campbell were teen prodigies on guitar and drums in North County around 30 years ago … and both wound up being sought-after musicians who have toured worldwide. What a treat, to witness two prodigies watching their predecessors, and those predecessors marveling at the Bleekers’ talent — right down to Stevie calling out Simon for a jam at the end of the night.
A final word: Dennis “Chooch” Mata deserves major profs for putting this benefit night together. Between the Bleeker
brothers’ classic rock mastery, Lacy Younger’s powerful, soulful singing, Projekt X’s dance-til-you-drop rock out and the closing This Kids flashback set by Salas and Pinamonti, I can imagine Jesse Valadez — a friend to nearly all of these musicians — is still rocking in heaven, feeling the love of a roomful of people who were certainly feeling him. Chooch, thanks for a great night.