During football season, every team gets a bye week to rest up and reorganize in preparation for the rest of the season. This is one of those weeks here at MY ROOTS. So as not to leave you in the stands with no one to cheer for, I have prepared for you a little bratwurst to tide you over. Since the beginning of MY ROOTS, I have attempted to give you small peeks inside your favorite musicians’ early lives, their creativity, their present and future projects. For this amalgamation, I have collected together some of those insights into their youth – what they were like as kids growing up, how they discovered music, their first concerts. They all started out as ordinary as you and me but they followed their dreams down a rock & roll path and succeeded in becoming a part of our worlds via their musical talent. How lucky we are to have them provide the soundtracks of our lives.
All the excerpts have links to the full interviews so that you may delve even further into their inner sanctum. MY ROOTS will return next week with an all-new interview.
The Rambunctious Kids
Dj Ashba (Guns N Roses/Sixx:AM): I was always in trouble. I was the kid that was always kind of the neighborhood terror, just always in trouble. Cops were always over at the house. I was just ornery, I guess. I was probably more bored of being in a little tiny town than anything so to keep my mind busy I was always just a menace, I guess (laughs)
Tyler Connolly (Theory Of A Deadman): I was a trouble-maker. Oh yeah, big time. I was always getting into trouble and I’m one of those guys that I almost want to go back and apologize to all the people (laughs) but I was the guy changing the sign in the front of our school because I was just such a jackass. I was just so mean to teachers. I wasn’t a bully, definitely not a bully. I was a small kid but I guess that’s why I couldn’t be a bully so I had a huge mouth.
Franky Perez: I was as bad as it gets. I was a bad kid. I had a manager one time that coined it, “the bad boy with the good heart.” That was the way he would describe me, but oh man, I was a troublemaker. I was kicked out of school all the time. I never hurt anybody on purpose but I’ve always questioned authority. To this day, that’s been a detriment, actually in my professional career, I question everything and I’ve done that all my life – teachers, the law. I’ve done it with label presidents, I’ve done it with managers. So was I a troublemaker? One hundred percent (laughs)
The Rocker Kids
Lita Ford: I would ditch school and I would go and hang out with all the musicians and we would find somebody’s house to jam at (laughs). It was a lot of fun. I had one white drummer friend of mine – the rest of my buddies were black guitar players – and they all used to come over to my house and my mom would cook everybody food and we would just sit around and jam (laughs). I was the furthest thing from a foufy poufy girl. I couldn’t even play guitar if you dressed me in pink (laughs)
Frank Bello (Anthrax): I grew up in the Bronx, New York, and really it was all about music and sports for me when I was growing up. That was it, that was my religion, my everyday thing. My thing was to get the new Iron Maiden record, Judas Priest record, and then go watch the Yankees game later on or maybe go to a game or go play ball outside. And that was truly my upbringing. I was very fortunate to have that kind of upbringing. I grew up without a dad. I grew up living in my Grandmother’s house with my Aunt. So it was just a perfect thing to have with my heroes being musicians and they turned out to be bass players.
Mike Portnoy (Winery Dogs/Dream Theater): I grew up on Long Island, New York, and came from a kind of middle-class family and I was always a music fan, literally from the day I was born. When I was like five or six years old, I already had this enormous record collection and was listening to The Who and The Beatles and the Stones and Zeppelin. I went and saw George Harrison live when I was six years old and I saw Paul McCartney when I was eight. I went and saw KISS when I was ten. So, you know, I was a true rock & roll kid from the very beginning.
Jack Russell (Great White): I drove my parents crazy, poor people. I was always in trouble with the law, this that and everything; but I was always a good singer and music was always in my blood. I always knew I was going to be a rock star. Ever since I was six years old when my parents got me the Beatles album I just knew – I didn’t think, I didn’t wish, I just knew. I was just waiting around for it to happen. I never worried about it happening because I always knew it would. I just figured God didn’t give me this voice to sell hamburgers, you know. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, all work is honorable, but I knew I had this voice for some reason and the ability to write songs.
The Not-So-Great Childhood
Jeff Angell (Walking Papers): Me and my brother kind of ran wild, did whatever we wanted after that cause no one was really looking after us. Thank God for music cause it kind of got me through everything. Music looked after me when my mom wasn’t able to.
Shaun Morgan (Seether): I grew up on a pig farm. My dad bought a farm when I was about five or six years old. My brother and I moved from my mother’s house and in with him. I actually lived on a pig farm till I was eighteen and it was like a twenty mile drive every day to get to school. He would drive one way to drop us off and drive another hour and a half yet to go to work every day and then turn around and come back and pick us up. But it was basically running around doing kid stuff on a farm, like climbing trees and riding bicycles and stuff, a really standard farm upbringing. As time went by things got more dangerous so we moved into the city cause farmers were getting chopped up and stuff on their farms. So we had to move into a safer environment.
Jake Pitts (Black Veil Brides): I picked up the guitar when I was thirteen years old. Before that I wanted to join the Air Force but once I picked up the guitar it just changed everything for me and I really got into music. If it wasn’t for music and me picking up a guitar, I don’t know if I’d be here today, so I really do think music saved my life. I didn’t have the greatest childhood growing up. I went through a lot of rough times and then I moved to Minnesota to live with my mom in 2001. But I think overall I was a pretty decent kid. I didn’t really get into too much trouble. I was just kind of on my own playing my guitar.
Don Dokken: I used to write a lot of my thoughts down because I was raised in foster homes most of my life and in a foster home you got eight kids and one Tv set and there wasn’t much to do. So I would go in the garage. That’s where they would let me go with my little guitar and my little amp and I’d play my little records, my little 45’s, and just learn songs by playing to records. Then I would just start writing my own thoughts down and my own lyrics. It was an escape.
The “Normal” Childhood
Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam): When I was growing up there was probably about 900 people there. It was a wheat farm, really isolated, about forty miles from the Canadian border. I played all sports from when I was a little kid. It was basically about keeping yourself busy. We were either on our bikes or we were playing some sort of ball. We went to California when I was about twelve and my cousin skateboarded and he gave me a skateboard magazine and that kind of changed my path quite a bit because that’s how I found out about punk rock.
Dave Ellefson (Megadeth): I grew up on a farm, actually a pretty big family farm, in a little town called Jackson, Minnesota, down in the southwestern part of the state just across the border from Iowa. I was introduced to music on my mother’s Wurlitzer organ, taking lessons from the church organist (laughs). Then I took up tenor saxophone in fifth grade band and then I took up bass guitar at age eleven and that’s what changed my life forever. I started putting bands together by the time I was twelve and basically been doing the same thing ever since.
John 5 (Rob Zombie): I was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and it’s more of an upper scale neighborhood; very safe, very secluded – not really secluded but very safe and very sheltered. I think that’s a better word that I was looking for. Everything was perfect. Like when you see a movie and they show that perfect neighborhood, that’s where I grew up. Like when you go into the little shopping area, there was music playing all throughout the shopping area and everybody’s lawn had to be perfect. We didn’t even have to take our trash to the curve, they did that for us. So it was a very nice, almost dream neighborhood.
Todd Kerns (Slash): I grew up in a really small town in Canada, fifteen hundred people, and it’s called Lanigan, Saskatchewan, Canada. We didn’t have a 7-Eleven and we didn’t have a McDonald’s either. It was a real small little town. I always wanted to be a musician, rock & roll specifically. I liked comic books and I liked science-fiction and I liked rock & roll and that was pretty much it. It’s pretty much how I am today. I don’t know if that’s a state of arrested development or what but it’s sort of a peter pan syndrome. I think the never growing up scenario, as we were just speaking of watching an all day Star Wars marathon, probably isn’t one of the most quote-unquote mature thing to do but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun (laughs).
Rob Zombie: I was pretty withdrawn and sort of just kept to myself and liked the things that I liked and I think really the thing that shaped my perception of the world was television. As with a lot of people, I grew up someplace that was pretty boring and seemed like it had no opportunities to make your life exciting or interesting in any way at all. So I just watched TV all the time. Everything that was on TV seemed exciting and fun, you know. The people seemed special and interesting and that just warped my perspective on life and I just always knew that I wanted to be part of that because it just seemed like the place to be. I didn’t want to grow up and work in a shoe factory or do something like that. I wanted to grow up and be part of everything I saw on television.
Nils Lofgren (Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band): As a kid I was like most kids. I played football, basketball, baseball, liked sports, goofed around in the empty yards or we would play when they were building houses, we’d play war in the lots. I actually got hit by a car when I was five, just before I took my first accordion lesson. For some reason everyone played accordion on the block. I thought it might be fun so I asked my mom and dad if they’d finance accordion lessons but that was postponed a few weeks. I didn’t get too hurt but I did get hit by a car chasing somebody I was supposed to be guarding while we were playing war. Just silly little kids playing in the empty lot we’re not supposed to be in. One of my buddies had to run down the street and burst in on my parents and give them the bad news. But you know, it was a scary thing but I wasn’t that injured fortunately.
Zakk Wylde: I loved great white sharks so I remember I wanted to be a marine biologist to study great white sharks when I was a kid. Now I still like watching Shark Week and everything like that but I was into that for a while before I got bit by the music bug.
Steve Vai: When I was in kindergarten, I saw a kid playing a guitar, playing electric guitar. He was in like third grade or something, which when you’re in kindergarten, the third grader is like a god, you know (laughs). And if he’s playing the electric guitar, that’s even more better, so I immediately identified with the guitar.
Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge/Slash): By the time I was about twelve or thirteen, I really started to get bit by the rock bug. I think it was when I heard Eddie Van Halen play “Eruption.” I was like, “What is that?!” That is one of the coolest things I’d ever heard. I remember I started sitting in my bedroom in front of the mirror with a tennis racket just rocking out playing air guitar and I did that for a couple of years and finally my step-dad just looked at me and said, “Why don’t you just learn to play for real.” He thought it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever seen, a kid pretending to play guitar. I remember like a light bulb went off and I was like, “Well, that’s a brilliant idea” (laughs). So, yeah, that was it, from that point on for about nine months I cleaned horse stalls, cleaned horse manure, and my step-dad gave me a dollar for every stall I’d clean and saved up my money for nine months and bought my first electric guitar and that was the start.
Joel Hoekstra (Night Ranger): My parents are both classical musicians so out of the gate they had me learning a lot of classical music. They had me on cello at age three and had me on piano from age seven to ten or something. But like most young boys I was a total jock. I just loved playing baseball and basketball and football. Basically it took me hearing AC/DC to make me realize that I really did love music; cause I used to fight taking all those classical lessons. Everything changed when I heard AC/DC and then I wanted my first electric guitar and I haven’t looked back since.
Jake E Lee (Red Dragon Cartel/Ozzy Osbourne): I grew up as a child playing classical piano and I was also surrounded by Jazz. My dad was a big Jazz enthusiast. So these are complex forms of music. The little bits of rock that I heard was always from my younger sister’s room and she was into the Monkees (laughs) and stuff like that and I’d walk by her room and just think, “God, what is this?” I was not a big rock fan at all until I was twelve years old and I’m walking down the hall, passing my sister’s room, and I heard the beginning of “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix. And my jaw dropped, like, Oh my God, what is this? And I got so excited hearing that song and I turned to my sister and said, “Who is that?” And she goes, “It’s Jimi Hendrix. Why? You going to make fun of me again?” (laughs) I said, “No” and she had an acoustic guitar, because she was more of a folky kind of a chick, a hippie chick, and I said, “No, no, not at all. Can I borrow your guitar?” And that’s why I started wanting to play guitar, after hearing “Purple Haze” and that turned me into a rock fan.
Shooter Jennings: Growing up, Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral was a huge record for me. That was probably the record that pushed me to play music because I was really into the way Reznor did records and the fact that he was doing it all himself was really a cool thing to me and inspiring. I was an MTV kid so I was watching MTV nonstop, like I had it on all the time. Rock & Roll for sure was my first love. As a kid, I really liked my parents’ music cause I was around a lot of that stuff and I liked it but it wasn’t till I got older that the lyrics in country music hooked me and I got it.
Rob Carlyle (The Compulsions): I never thought about actually picking up the guitar until I was in my early teens and I saw that Stones concert film, Let’s Spend The Night Together, on HBO. I was a huge Stones fan and I was buying records and everything like that. But I never thought about actually playing until I saw Keith and Ronnie on stage. I was like, oh that’s what it looks like (laughs). That looks cool. I just had it in my head that I wanted to try and learn how to play the guitar like that. A couple of years later I convinced my mom to rent a guitar, then I eventually bought my own little acoustic and the rest is history. I’m still trying to learn to play the damn thing (laughs). Yeah, it was seeing the Stones live in action after hearing them a million times but never putting a visual to it. It was seeing them and it just looked like so much fun. I was like, I got to try that. I was about fourteen/fifteen/sixteen when I got my first guitar.
Rudy Sarzo (Queensryche/Ozzy Osbourne): I started playing in my high school years, rock music. Before that I was playing brass or whatever the high school band had open. I started on the trombone, then went to trumpet and then I went to the guitar. Then from the guitar I went to the bass cause they needed a bass player in the neighborhood. Back then in the mid-to-late 1960’s, after the British Invasion, each neighborhood, at least in my neighborhood, each block had a band. That’s what the kids did. We didn’t do anything destructive, no gang members, you know. We were kids and nobody was neither drinking nor doing drugs. And I’m talking about high school kids. So back then it was music. Music was our social network. That’s how we communicated with each other and if you wanted to impress a girl, that was the best way. Either that or being the quarterback on the football team (laughs). So learning to play three chords is a little bit easier than becoming the quarterback. So that was the path that we took.
Rikki Rockett (Poison): The first concert I ever went to was Herb Alpert at the Allentown Fair and the first rock concert I ever went to was Johnny Winter and Brownsville Station opened for him. It was the year “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” was a hit. So I’m totally dating myself (laughs). I don’t remember how old I was but I remember my sister took me and I had to beg her to take me cause she really didn’t like being stuck with her younger brother. But the guy that she went with really liked me and thought I was a neat kid. So he’s like, “Hey, he’s no bother. He likes rock & roll and all that stuff.” So he thought I was cool but to my sister I was just a pain in the ass little brother.
Phil Collen (Def Leppard): The first show I ever saw, I was fourteen and my cousin took me to see Deep Purple. We were front row, Ritchie Blackmore the guitar player was smashing his Fender Stratocaster, and it was the most crazy, exciting thing I had ever seen. It changed everything. All I ever wanted to do was play guitar. I wanted a guitar and I pestered them and two years later I got a guitar for my sixteenth birthday. Then that was it really. I was a pretty late starter but was very involved in it and dove straight into it.
Meeting Rock Stars
Richard Fortus (Guns N Roses/Dead Daisies): Leslie West used to hang out at my house and was friends with my dad. I remember meeting Alex Lifeson of Rush, which at the time was a big deal to me. I have a great picture of me that I just found recently. Check this out, he’s playing a double-neck acoustic guitar, one of my father’s guitars, and I’m playing the top neck and he’s playing the bottom. But the awesome thing about it is I’m like eleven years old or twelve years old in the picture and he has a huge canker sore on his lip (laughs). It’s so Spinal Tap, just perfect.
Vinny Appice (Dio): The first real rock star I met was Jeff Beck and that’s because my brother was playing with him. Jeff was a big rock star back then, he still is now, but back then I was a little kid and it was like, “Oh my God” (laughs). One day Carmine called up and said – we lived in Brooklyn and Carmine lived in Long Island – and my Mom makes great Italian food and always cooks for the bands and everything so he’s going to bring Jeff Beck over to the house in Brooklyn. I was like, “Oh my God, Jeff Beck is coming here. Holy shit.” (laughs). So my mom made great Italian food and he’s a vegetarian so she made vegetarian manicotti, not meatballs, but sauce and everything. She made a whole feast and then Jeff came in and it was like, oh my God. So I met Jeff when I was really, really young and he was a real rock star and it was cool. But I was like ashamed of the house cause the house was small, we didn’t have a big house or anything like that, but it was a rock & roll house (laughs). And Jeff loved it, you know. We had to put the table in the living room cause we had a small kitchen and that kind of thing. We didn’t have a dining room. So he came over and it was like amazing, like wow, this is Jeff Beck, holy crap. So that was cool. That was a big one and from there on in, I started meeting everybody.
Greg Bradley (Art Of Dying): When I went on a trip to Europe, backpacking through, we were both big Zeppelin fans and big Jimmy Page fans. And we were walking through the streets of Amsterdam one night and he just walked right by us and we just instantly knew it was him. Both of us were like, “Holy shit, that’s Jimmy Page.” We just instinctively turned around and followed him and tapped him on the shoulder and had a quick little five minute conversation with him. We were like so shocked that we bumped into him. Then we were talking to him and he actually just completely controlled the conversation. He asked us a whole bunch of questions. Asked us what our favorite Zeppelin songs are and he was really, really nice. Like very genuine and kind and after about five minutes he just politely excused himself and off he went.
Jeff Pilson (Foreigner/Dokken): When I was seventeen years old, I was a huge Yes fan and I mean a huge Yes fan. My best friend and I followed them from the arena after the show to their hotel and when Chris Squire got out of the limousine – Chris Squire was the bass player for Yes and he was my absolute idol – but when he got out I stopped and he was really, really kind to me and I will never forget that cause he was really wonderful.
Grace Potter: It would probably be Iggy Pop – and that’s a real rock star. I think I was twenty or twenty-one, and I met him and I freaked out and I ran up to him and I threw my arms around him and I caught him in a weird position. He was in a van and I like ran up through the van and he had the window rolled up and I jumped in the van and managed to somehow lick his chest (laughs). I actually wound up with my tongue on his chest. Don’t ask me how it happened but I was just an excitable young thing, just basically a screaming fan, you know. So that was my epic rock star first ever meet-up and it was one that I will never forget.
Live photograph by Leslie Michele Derrough