The last time I told people I was going to 'Nam, I was actually heading off to backpack through Vietnam for a month with a stop off in Cambodia and Taiwan. And the general reply was, "Why the hell would you want to do that?"
However, last week when I was heading off to a NAMM of a different sort -- namely, the National Association of Music Merchants in Anaheim, California -- the reaction was one of excitement and a tad bit of jealousy. And since I had never been to the music industry convention, I had no idea what to really expect.
For the uninitiated, NAMM, which runs in late January each year, is a music industry trade show that runs in every January in Southern California. Spread across a large chunk of the 1.6 million-square-foot Anaheim Convention Center, manufactures and retailers get to communicate directly and build relationships with both fans and musicians.
Suffice it to say, it's the ultimate Disneyland for musicians or anyone who's a hardcore music enthusiast. And even though NAMM caters to any musical genre or gearhead, for heavy metal to and hard rock fans, things can get pretty interesting.
With more than 5,000 brands on display, the amount of equipment and products at NAMM is overwhelming, some of which are so amazing that even the most active imaginations would have trouble dreaming 'em up. And every day, there were nonstop lectures, panels, concerts, exhibits, artist signings, seminars, product demos, networking opportunities and classes
Even if you didn't have a ticket, however, you would've had a blast outside of the convention center between the food trucks, celebrity sightings, and live music.
The key is keeping your eyes peeled and a camera handy, because between wandering around booths or resting your aching feet while people-watching, you never know who you'll run into.
I didn't get to NAMM until Saturday, January 25 -- as I wanted to catch Phil Anselmo and The Illegals at Scottsdale's Pub Rock the night before. While I heard we missed a lot of action, I felt the "better late than never" mentality was worth it. However, the true charm of NAMM was in the surprises. Walking into a tucked away guitar showroom to see Testament's Alex Skolnick jamming out in a corner all alone on a guitar.
Turning around, I saw Steven Tyler admiring a wall of guitars at Korg and chatting about products with Anthrax's Charlie Benante after he crashed into me on his way to an artist signing. And then watching Munky from Korn, Matt Sorum (Matt Sorum's Fierce Joy), System of a Down's Shavo Odadjian, and Nuno Bettencourt (of Extreme, Steel Panther and Dweezil Zappa fame) just catching up on life together a few feet away.
I grabbed a few photos with Piggy D of Rob Zombie, ripped my eyes away from some incredible drum sets to see Travis Barker breezing by, as well as Rob Caggiano, and Zakk Wylde.
I also passed by Black Veil Brides singer Andy Biersack on the way to the food trucks. He was there just to hang out to take in the NAMM craziness on his own terms.
Other memories include clipping shoulders with Rudy Sarzo (bassist for Ozzy, Quiet Riot and more), and walking by Dave Mustaine signing autographs only to have some nut job grab my arm and proclaim that Mustaine is 10 years younger than him but looks 10 years older because of "the drugs." I was tempted to say, "Um, that's my dad. Can't you tell by my hair?!" Oh, and jamming out on a miniature Flying V ukulele at the Dean Guitar booth.
Just keep in mind that the highlights and most metal moments noted here don't include things like seeing the performance by The Aristocrats, Blue Oyster Cult, or rock goddess Orianthi, as well as Marco Mendoza's (Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders) Hartke demo, the Jeff Loomis clinic at Schecter Guitars, and artists signings that included dozens of rock/metal musicians, from Anthrax and Black Sabbath to The Winery Dogs and Shinedown.
So, onto some of the most metal moments of NAMM:
- Peter Keys (Lynyrd Skynyrd and George Clinton) keyboard demo at Korg in a room that held about 50 people
- Marty Friedman (known for his tenure as lead guitarist in Megadeth, Cacophony and his illustrious 12 album solo career) shredding at a Paul Reed Smith guitar demo.
- The Iron Maidens rocking the stage at Peavey Electronics
- G. Moe from Earth Wind & Fire, whose also worked with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Patti La Belle and Marvin Gaye, signing autographs.
- Lady Gaga violinist Judy Kang shredding a little Flying V neon green violin at Wood Violins (one of my new favorite products).
- Heavy Mellow at Cordoba Guitars, featuring Ben Woods, one of the most sought after flamenco guitarists in the United States. Woods is known for creating a new genre of flamenco and metal by developing new guitar techniques and arrangements for his groups Flametal and Heavy Mellow.
- Queen Nation, hailed as the world's greatest Queen tribute, at Grand Illusion Piano Shells.
- Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains announcing his new signature AMP the JJ at David Allen Pickups.
- A rare appearance by Beatles' artist Alan Aldridge at Flying Mo-Jo, alongside his Jimi Hendrix guitar that he painted.
- Victor Wooten doing a Hartke demo at Samson Technologies--Wooten has won five Grammys and was hailed as one of the Top 10 Bassists of All Time by Rolling Stone.
- Dave Ellefson from Megadeth at the Jackson booth, where some of his signature bases were on display.
- Saul Zonana, former sideman bassist for Ace Frehley of Kiss shredding at the Bitchstraps booth.
- Paul Reed Smith Guitars Show & Tell: Evolution of the PRS Custom 24 hosted by Paul Reed Smith himself.
And this blog wouldn't be complete with without mentioning the introduction of the new Dimebag Darrell model from Dean Guitars.
Created by Dean in collaboration with Dimebag Darrell's estate, the guitar is limited to only 200 individually numbered pieces--and with good reason. Each features an oak razor blade inlayed directly into its body, which was cut from a branch of an oak tree just outside the studio window in Darrell's back yard where Pantera recorded most of their albums.
The booth signings are with things can really get crazy, especially when Synyster Gates and Johnny Christ from Avenged Sevenfold stopped in at the Schecter Guitars booth. The lines for signings like this one stretched for hours.
NAMM is also known for some kick-ass live concerts after the convention center closes down, and I think one of the hardest decisions is what show to attend. There was Black Label Society, a tribute to Randy Rhoads, Queensryche, and a super secret show (which I would've gone to if I had tickets) that featured Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, Marilyn Manson and Steven Tyler all on stage singing such jams as "Come Together" by the Beatles. Yeah. And it took place on a high school campus.
We ended up at the House of Blues in Anaheim to watch Queensryche. The hot air was heavy with vibrating energy, and the crowd was a mix of LA hipsters, some famous musicians (I swear I spotted Joey Jordison in the crowd), and a lot of drunk people -- most of them in the 30s to 40s age0range. I've only seen Queensryche once before, but it was clear that everyone around me in the crowd, including the people I was with, had seen them each about 10 times.
Everywhere you turned you could hear arguments floating through the air about who was better or worse: original front man, Geoff Tate,with the band for three decades, or Todd La Torre, who came on board in 2012.
Either way, I thought La Torre did a fantastic job. The band was tight, on cue, and in love with the crowd -- and vice versa. The crowd was singing along, and the cheers were deafening. Awash in purple, red and tangerine lights, the band surged through such hits as "Speak," "The Whisper," "The Needle Lies," and "Eyes of a Stranger." Almost 20 songs later La Torre had soaked the front row with his constant sweat-drench hair flipping, and he shouted thank you before walking off stage.
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Short of the two chicks who got into a fist fight right before the band came on stage, and the puke-saturated bathroom, I'd say it was quite the successful show.