Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy
how playing in a rock band became a rock n’ roll reality
by kevin rak
It was a Spring afternoon in 1975, I was 10-years old, standing on my bed, tennis racquet in hand, but in the reverse position, if, actually playing tennis. Whole Lotta Love was blasting on my stereo and in my mind, I was on stage producing the wild sounds that were happening in the middle of Led Zep’s song. My racquet was my guitar and I was playing it masterfully, until I noticed that through the small crack in my bedroom door, my grandfather was spying on me. He had an amused look on his face and subsequently uttered three words that I remember to this day, “you are crazy!” I'm pretty sure he had no idea what the hell I was doing, but that his words accurately reflected his thoughts. I know the sight of me bouncing on my bed with a tennis racquet along with the “racket” oozing out of my stereo thoroughly dazed and confused him. We subsequently never spoke of that day, but from that point forward, I knew he thought I was a little nuts.
As a young kid, I knew quite clearly that I wanted to play guitar in a rock band. I was living in a perpetual Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy. I had already begun collecting LP’s and was regularly reading rock music magazines like Creem and Rolling Stone.
A few years later, the Kinks released their album Misfits with what would turn out to be my favourite Kinks’ song; A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy, as the lyrics deeply resonated with me. It’s also from where this story accurately borrows its title. In my early teens I began playing drums, primarily because my best friend got a kit and I had access to it. Drums came easy and before long, I was pretty good. Deep down though, I really wanted to be a guitarist. Throughout the years I loosely played and jammed with an array of different bands. Sitting behind the kit though, I always admired the guitarists, thinking I’d much rather be in their shoes, with an electric guitar strapped to me. Whatever the reasons, the guitar opportunity never presented itself, and playing eluded me, until about twelve years ago. I was working on a large marketing promotion for a client, which included the purchase of one hundred electric guitars, directly from Fender. One late night in the office I noticed a new very cool Fender guitar case. It belonged to the owner of my company. Alone in the office, I opened the case and gazed at a brand new 60th Anniversary Stratocaster.
It was absolutely beautiful. I pulled it from the case and awkwardly tried to play the two chords I knew. I went home that night thinking that I needed to have one too. The next day I asked the owner if a deal could be had to get my own guitar. Later that day he popped into my office and told me to go online and pick exactly what I wanted and Fender would send it. I was over the moon with delight, despite not really knowing how to play. After some research, I picked out an American Standard Stratocaster in three-color sunburst with rosewood fretboard. The day that UPS was scheduled to deliver the guitar, I couldn’t focus on anything, except for when it would finally show up . After lunch, the Strat arrived and I was actually surprised at my intense level of excitement. I couldn’t believe that after so many years, I finally owned my own Strat.
Several months later, a friend came by my house with his guitar and amp, and taught me the basic minor pentatonic scale. I practiced, and a short time later I was able to jam with him while he played rhythm. It was amazing and I was hooked, and determined to finally learn to play. My friend, noticing my level of excitement, went out and purchased five lessons for me at Snider School of Music. I was finally on my way!
After some lessons, I came to the realization, like most people actively taking music lessons, that mastering an instrument is arduous, takes a lot of time, persistence and perpetual practice. I realized then, that if it wasn’t going to happen then, it would never happen, and I was not prepared to let that be the case.
About a year into weekly lessons, Snider’s developed the Rock Band Program. Warren Snider phoned me to ask if I was interested in participating. I excitedly, albeit hesitantly, said yes. There it was, my first chance to stand on stage, with a band, with an electric guitar, and play music for an actual audience. Awesome, yet a little scary!
We began practicing in the basement studio at Snider Music every Thursday night. Jake Chisholm worked with us on the song arrangements and how to go about playing together as a band. Then, I’d take my guitar lesson from 9PM to 10PM to work out my guitar parts with Brian McIntyre. Truth be told, I was in way over my head, but Brian continually encouraged me. Playing in real time with a band was a totally different animal, and as the weeks shot by, my anxiety grew. The songs we were to play were Foxy Lady by Hendrix, and Are you Gonna Go My Way, by Lennie Kravitz. Certainly not the easiest of tunes! The day of the performance, I was pretty nervous, I didn’t have the songs mastered to the degree I had hoped, and my dexterity and speed was not up to snuff. Regardless, the show was going to proceed, regardless of how I felt physically or mentally.
On the night of December 14, 2012, I made my way to Rocky Raccoons on Yonge Street to play in the first ever Rock Band performances. I sat nervously and watched the other bands perform, thinking shortly, my band would have its turn, and hoped I wouldn’t drag down our collective performance with my dreadful playing. It was finally our turn and we began to set up our gear and instruments. I plugged in my new pedal board, tuned my guitar and got ready to play. I tried to soak in the whole ambience and attempted to focus in on the fact that after so many years, I was finally getting my chance to play “real guitar” in a “real band”.
My plan at that moment was to get the experience under my belt, play the tunes the best I could, and call it a day, having had the experience. Once we started playing, I quickly fell behind the rest of the band and spent the rest of the first song trying, in vain, to catch up. In what seemed like mere seconds, I found myself strumming the last chord of the last song, and as that chord rang out, I realized that oddly, that one experience would not be enough. I simply had to do it again. As I packed up my gear, two things dawned on me. One, I was so hyper-focused on my guitar playing, I never even used my pedal board, and two, that was certainly not the last show I would play!
Seven years later and twenty-plus shows under my Rock ‘n’ Roll belt, playing and practicing with the band has become a very enjoyable and consistent part of my life. Each week, I look forward to my Thursday night in the studio, practicing with the band. My 13-year old son, who has been to almost every one of my shows, has followed in my footsteps. He plays lead guitar in a myriad of different bands in and out of school. He’s also had the good fortune of weekly lessons for the past seven years. I always tell him that at his age, I was doing what he is doing, but only as a fantasy. I now play a lot better, due in part to Brian and Jake, and the Rock Band program and enjoy playing more than ever. If I were to halt playing now, I’d have a major void in my life.
As far as serendipity is concerned, that free Stratocaster set off a number of events and directions for both my son and I. He recently picked out his new Fender Telecaster Elite Series, (unfortunately at full retail cost this time) and is playing better and more often than me. My life-long Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy ultimately kicked off a great musical future for both my son and myself. I often think about how that Strat, along with Snider Music, set the aforementioned into motion. Hard to say what would have happened if the Strat opportunity never presented itself. But for a multitude of reasons, I’m grateful it did, and that I took the opportunities to finally make my fantasy a reality. As a result, my son never had to live the Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy I did, precisely because he was able to live a Rock ‘n’ Roll reality, providing him the gift of music, to last a lifetime.
Keep playing! Keep listening!