Follow along with the transcript below for episode: The Transformative Power of Rocking Out with David Fishof
[00:00:04] PF: What’s up, everybody? This is Paula Felps, and you are listening to On a Positive Note, where I sit down with a songwriter, recording artist, or music insider to learn how music can lift our spirits and heal our hearts.
Growing up, most of us dreamed of being able to meet our favorite musicians. But this week’s guest has taken it one step farther. David Fishof is a legendary music producer and Founder of the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, which invites everyday people to play alongside world renowned rock stars. David has seen firsthand the incredible power of music and how it transforms people, just like you and me, both in their personal lives and their professional aspirations. His amazing story is told in the new documentary, Rock Camp, available now on Amazon, as well as in the book by the same name.
Today, he’s here to tell us more about how Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp began and how he has seen music changed the lives of hundreds of people along the way. Let’s take a listen.
[00:01:04] PF: David, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
[00:01:07] DF: Really looking forward to it.
[00:01:08] PF: I am so honored that you are taking the time to sit down with me. You’ve created something that has become legendary. So can you talk about, first of all, how the whole idea to do a Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp began?
[00:01:21] DF: Well, it began when I was doing Ringo’s tour. I created Ringo’s All-Starr Band in ‘89. After four shows, people told me it was never going to work, and I’d get all these superstars in one band touring for 30 shows. It’s great. You can do a One Night Live Aid. You can do a benefit concert. But to get all these bands to become one band, leaders of all these bands, it’s never going to work. I love when people tell me something can’t happen, and I just love to do it, and I put it together. After the fourth show, all the musicians knew all the fear. They all hear that it was never going to work.
So I was having dinner with the president of Radio City Music Hall because Ringo said to me, “I want to play Radio City.” So I said great. So I invited the guy to come see to the show, and we’re having dinner. All of a sudden backstage, the late Clarence Clemons walks by my table, and he says, “Fishof, I’m out of here.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “This thing’s not going to work. Too much fighting.”
Second later, I turned to the other side, and there’s Nils Lofgren. He says, “I’m out of here too, Fishof. This thing’s not going to work.” Now, you have to understand, as a promoter, I mortgaged my townhouse in Manhattan to make this tour happen.
[00:02:34] PF: So you’re feeling a little pressure at this point.
[00:02:36] DF: I’m feeling a little pressure, yeah. The first visual that came to me was I saw my townhouse going down the Hudson River. So I said, “What’s the problem?” They said, “Well, you know, this Joe Walsh and Levon Helm are fighting, and they’re fighting over songs. You’ve got to go in there and break it up.”
So the first thing I do is I’m going to go look for Ringo because these guys are 10 years older than me. He could talk their language, and he can probably knock some sense into him. I can’t find him. He’s nowhere to be found. To this day, I forgot to ever ask him where he went. But I go down to the dressing room, and the security guard says, “You better go in there.” I see – I walk in. They open the door. There’s Joe Walsh with a knife and blood on his hands, and there’s Levon Helm with a glass bottle, screaming at each other, “You F-ing this, and you –” They were crazy. “You ruined my song.”
I walk in like, “Are you guys a bunch of babies?” You could see in the documentary, I’m scared. I’m literally scared. Then they push me, and they throw blood at me. Then they both turned around, and they stuck their tongues out at me. Jim Keltner, the great drummer, he filmed the whole thing. It’s so funny because when you see the video in the movie, it’s amazing. Dr. John is there, Rick Danko, Billy Preston, all those superstars in that first Ringo tour.
While my heart was beating heavy, I realized later that night. I said, “These people are having a lot of fun,” and I kept seeing how much fun we had on tour. I said, “Boy, if I could give this to the fan, if I could give this to the fan that they can hang with these rockers, and they were writing music. They were getting creative.” There was so much peace and love, as Ringo says, because they just wanted to be like Joe Walsh. We have a democratic band. Whatever Ringo tells us we do.
[00:04:17] PF: Democratic dictatorship, right?
[00:04:19] DF: Yeah, exactly. It was just seeing that vibe. I kept saying – I even told Ringo. I said, “Boy, if we can find a guy with a private plane that can just fly us around, let him hang with us.” I tried to find every reason to give people this experience because everyone kept thinking there’s fighting, and it’ll never work.
That’s how I created the idea of a Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. I wanted to give people this experience to hang with these rock stars and just see how remarkable they are. They’ve gotten – They even got bad names, and people think they’re wild, and they weren’t. I mean, five guys in that tour went to rehab but not in front of me. Not in front of me.
[00:04:55] PF: Not on your dime.
[00:04:56] DF: Yeah. They were so well-behaved and Ringo too. They were well-behaved. But what they did in the background. So it was amazing. That’s how I came up with the idea of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.
[00:05:09] PF: Well, what is it that made you think, “I need to give this to the regular fan.”? Because as musicians, they appreciate the fan. They need the fan. But you had that insight of, “Gosh, I should bring them into this.”
[00:05:23] DF: So as a producer my entire career, it’s always been about the fan. Whether I created a baseball camp for kids years ago with looping all of the Yankees, or I would produce the Happy Together Tour. I came up with this idea to put these four bands together. I always insisted that these bands play only hit songs because I hate to go to a show and see when the artist says, “Oh, I want to play this deep cut from my new album.” I go, “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.” I call it the bathroom cut. That’s where everybody wants [inaudible 00:05:55]. I want to hear the hits.
[00:05:58] PF: Exactly.
[00:05:59] DF: I’m a believer that if you go to a show, and it’s a two-hour show, and if you think of anything else but that show, and you’re thinking about my issues and my problems, my relationships, my work, then the artists has not done a great job. So I’m always thinking how the fan is thinking, and I wish more artists would think that. But I know they want to promote their new albums and their new – But I’m always thinking about the fan.
[00:06:21] PF: You created this experience. Did you have the expectation or the dream that it would ever become as big as it has?
[00:06:28] DF: No. I thought it was a one-off.
[00:06:31] PF: Yeah, totally a one-off. I did it for fun. I do a one-off. I’m never doing this thing again. I’ll tell you what changed. I did one, I lost money, and then I didn’t do it again. But every day, I would get an email. “When are you doing Rock and Roll Fantasy? What are you doing again? What are you doing again?” Then I was at this Pollstar convention, and Pollstar is our industry. They were playing a game with Sammy Hagar, Tommy Lee, and Tommy Shaw. They were playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
I’m sitting there. It was like a fun thing because it’s for promoters, and it’s for different promoters, and it’s for promoters and managers and agents to come together and talk about the music industry. So one night, they were having fun, and the host asked a question. Who created Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp; David Bowie, David Byrne, David Fishof? Sammy Hagar yelled out, “David Fishof.” I was walking out of the room, and I saw Bon Jovi, and he’s hanging out by the bar, and he walked – He turns to me, and he said, “Fishof, they’re just talking about you.” I said, “What?” Then they told me what happened. I said, “Wow. If these guys remember it, let me do it again.”
I decided to do it again four years later, and I called Bret Michaels. I called George Thorogood. I just called everybody that I met backstage at a Ringo show or I knew, and I said, “Hey, would you do this again?” They responded yes, so I did another one in Los Angeles to make some noise. Then I went over to England to see Roger Daltrey because we were friends. He did my British rock symphony, and we had developed a friendship. I said, “Roger, can I come over and see you?” So I went over to see him, and we’re sitting at dinner, and he says to me, “So what’s going on?” I said, “You know, Roger, I came over to see you because I wanted to turn you on to my Rock Camp, and I want to know if you would do my Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.” He said, “Oh, no. You should –” I try to do his impression. I’m not good at it. He said, “You should do the Thompson Twins, and you should do Boy George.”
The whole night he kept stalling me and stalling me and stalling me. Finally, after two hours, that’s what he said to me, and I said, “Roger, what do you mean?” He says, “Well, in England, the word camp is campy, and you should use your village people.”
[00:08:36] PF: Completely different interpretation.
[00:08:38] DF: Yeah, totally different. So I grew up, and my parents sent me to camp, and it’s really a place where you can go meet your idols. “Okay. Let me ask you this, Roger. If you had an opportunity to meet your idol, who would it be?” He turned to me and said, “You introduce me to Levon Helm, and I’ll come to your camp.” Wow. So I knew I had that in the back pocket because Levon had just toured with me with Ringo, and I was working together with him, and he was a great guy. I said, “Okay, let me find out.”
I went back, and I called Levon, and I said, “Levon, I need a favor.” “Anything you want, David,” he says. “What do you want,” he says. “I need you to come and meet Roger Daltrey at the bottom line, and he wants to meet you from The Who and da, da, da. And I’m doing this camp.” So Levon said yes, and he came, and Roger came. Roger came and did the camp, and he stayed for three days. I asked him to come for a few hours. He comes one day. He just enjoys it so much. He turns to me and said, “When are these bands playing their final show?” I said, “Tomorrow night at the bottom line.” He said, “I want to sing with each one of them.” I mean, that’s how generous he is.
[00:09:42] PF: That is amazing.
[00:09:44] DF: Yes. It’s his idea. He got up there and he sang with each band. Then I realized that so much publicity came out of it. That’s why I decided to do another one and do another one. Then I decided, you know what, I’m going to make this into a full-time gig because I don’t want to go on the road anymore. I had enough of the road. I’ve done it my whole life. Really, I got married again and two kids. I want to be there and do their homework. So that’s the start of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp now.
[00:10:12] PF: It seems like the musicians get as much out of it as the fans.
[00:10:17] DF: But that’s what I wanted to share with you when he said to me did I ever think it would be a success. The reason it’s kept so long is because exactly what you said. The rockers get as much out of it as the attendees. So for them, as you’ll see in the documentary, it reminds them what it was like when they first started.
Nancy Wilson, I’ll never forget what she said to me. She said, “David.” She said, “When we first started our career, it was about becoming a star, becoming a star. The once we reached stardom, we got our hit records, it turned out to be about lawyers, agents, managers, the whole business side. And your camp is pure music, and it’s just so –” The hardest thing for me is to get rock stars to do this, no question. But once I get them to do it, and they come, then they come back.
Here’s what the key is. These people are musicians, the campers. They’re just like them. So to me, I’m blown away when Jerry Cantrell walks to camp and sits down and has lunch on the table and so on. I love that. I love when they mingle and then the friendships. There’s no question that every rock star said to me, “My best friends are people that have gone to Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.” So the rockers never met these people.
[00:11:28] PF: Right. Always there was a stage between them.
[00:11:31] DF: There’s always a stage. Then every show I was at, we ran out. We ran out. By the last song, I had to be on the seat in the van. We were getting out there to get on the plane to go the next city. We never met fans.
[00:11:43] PF: As much as musicians get out of it, and that’s like a bonus for them, but the fans – This is truly life-changing. I won’t even call them fans. I’ll call it the musicians that go and participate in the camp.
[00:11:54] DF: Listen, they’re musicians. Joe Perry said a great line. He says to a guy at Foxwoods. He turned to a guy and he says, “What do you do?” The guy says, “I’m a lawyer,” and he says, “On weekends, I play guitar in my band.” He says to the guy, “You’re full of crap.” He says, “You’re a musician first.” He says, “You do that legal BS to pay for your guitars.” He says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s me.”
So musicians are musicians. If you’re a drummer, you’re tapping in your mind all day. If you’re a guitar player, you’re thinking about that guitar playing all day.
[00:12:23] PF: So what has this camp done for people in terms of – Gosh, I know that you’ve got so many different points to hit on. Talk to me about what it has done to transform people’s lives, both in their personal life, on the stage. How has it changed people to come and be part of this camp?
[00:12:41] DF: Well, first of all, when you play with musicians that are better than you, you’re going to get better, and that’s the first thing. So if you want to get better as a musician, and then you come to Rock Camp, you will get better. There’s no question about it. But more important, the friendships that have come out of camp is just remarkable that you can have your best friend every day going to school. Now, you come to camp, and you’re in a band for four days, and these people are like-minded. So you become – They become bands. They become friendships .They meet up all the time.
You know Mark Slaughter? He invited his band and said they’re invited. They said, “We’re coming, Mark. We’re coming to your show, the whole band.” They came, and then Mark stopped the show, and he says, “I have my band from Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp here, and they know my songs very well. Let’s bring them on stage here.” He told us his band, “You guys go,” and these guys are going to finish the show and —
[00:13:35] PF: That’s amazing.
[00:13:37] DF: So the fantasy just keeps going and going. I mean, yesterday, we have a camper who’s got cancer, and the producer of the film, Jeff Roe, calls me and says, “I went to visit this gentleman in the hospital, and he said camp has kept him alive. He said all his friends at camp just encourage him.” “You’ll get to the next camp. We’re coming to visit you.” The friendship –Now, those guys are friends for life. But musicians, they find such passion with each other, and the stories are endless.
Women, they love their husbands. Their husbands tell me, “My wife’s the greatest ever, and she gave me the greatest gift.” Because we guys, we have a pair of brown shoes, black shoes, and a pair of sneakers. That’s it.
[00:14:18] PF: Right.
[00:14:19] DF: We cheap on ourselves. So it’s mainly women who buy this, and the women say to me, “My husband comes back. He doesn’t road rage anymore. He’s happy.” Because what camp does, it reminds you from childhood with that first song or something that really made you happy. Then all of a sudden, you go through life, and you had no choice. You were a musician in high school or college. Then you have to go find a real job. You go find this real job, and you deal with your daily problems. But the music is really what’s pure, and it really brings the happiness.
At camp, we cover so many bases. Number one, we’d get you on that stage. So how many musicians haven’t ever been on stage before that picked up a guitar? We get you collaborating with your bands and writing songs. So you can’t get enough. The biggest issue I have – I don’t have but these people have it, when they leave camp.
[00:15:10] PF: Yeah. That’d be hard to walk away from because you’ve been learning, to your point, the fantasy camp. I think you have been living your dream for these four days.
[00:15:19] DF: Four days. Now, it’s not four days. It starts from the day you sign up. You get a list of songs, and you get Zoom calls, and the bands come together on Zoom in advance. So they come in prepared. With Zoom, we come in. We’re all prepared. But the day you leave, you go home.
So inevitably, they call – Stories from like a guy who says, “I’ve been going to therapy for three years.” Finally, the therapist says, “You want your happiness? Go sign up to Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.” The guy says, “That’s why I came back.” But one story I do want to share with you that was really – It didn’t make the film but – Again, each one of these campers has a story. There’s no question. There’s a story.
There’s one lady who came to camp, and I invited her because she – Susan Komen Foundation, I reached out and I said, “Send me somebody.” The lady is – A woman had breast cancer, and she’s a songwriter and a musician. She came to camp. I remember she came to the meatloaf camp, and I asked her to come back for the interview because she wrote a book after she left camp about how she got better physically and emotionally. She wrote a book called Rocking the Pink, and she credits her experience of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp.
I said to her, “So when you left camp, did you get depressed? What happened?” She says no. She says, “I swore when I left camp, I’m never going to write another brief again.” She was a lawyer. “And I’m going to live like these rock stars. I’m going to be authentic, and I’m going to write books because that’s really what I want to do. I want to write.” Her name is Lauren Rowe now. She changed her name because of the cancer. She’s written 14 bestsellers on –
[00:16:53] PF: That’s amazing.
[00:16:54] DF: Yeah. So I love those kinds of stories.
[00:16:57] PF: What are some of the other things that you have seen how it has helped people change their lives?
[00:17:03] DF: I’ve seen it help in business. I heard – I had one of the three owners of Oracle come to my camp. He walks into camp, and he comes with five friends because he can afford it. His wife said surprise them. He goes over to the rock star Bruce Kulick from Kiss, and that was his counselor. Each band is mentored by a touring rock star. He says, “Okay, we want to do this song by the band.” He counselor turns to him and he says, “Okay. Excuse me, sir. But I need to teach it to five other people first, and we can’t just start playing the song. I got to make sure they do it right.”
All of a sudden, after four days, he turns to me and he says, “You know.” He says, “I learned team building here and –”
[00:17:43] PF: Oh, my gosh. Yeah.
[00:17:44] DF: To run by company different. I think the success that you can learn from rock and roll is incredible. 10 years ago, I wrote a book called Rock Your Business because I really wanted to share how amazing what you can learn from these rock stars. I mean, how many businesses are 50 years old today and are successful? A lot of them went out of business, whether it’s Kodak, whether – People –
The only thing that’s really maintained over 50 years has been rock and roll, and there’s Rolling Stones. I mean, they’re grossing $10 million a night, Kiss a million dollars a night, The Who a million dollars a night. These bands get bigger and bigger, and younger kids want to listen to their music, and it’s on commercials. So from rock and roll, you can learn a lot. Number one is being in a band, the collaboration of being in a band, of having patience and dealing with people and writing.
The power of music is just so much bigger than you could ever imagine. I know for myself, if I’m feeling low, I’ll put my Spotify on and start my playlist. I’m a different person. I know Tony Robbins said, “Oh, make a move. You can change.” But one lyric can change my mood.
[00:18:50] PF: Absolutely. Yeah. I have playlists that are designed for certain – For different moods, for different times in my life. That’s how I get through my days.
[00:18:59] DF: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So that music is so powerful, and it brings so much happiness.
[00:19:06] PF: So the fantasy camps continue to go on. You survived the pandemic, and it’s going on. How are they evolving? What’s coming up next?
[00:19:17] DF: The pandemic was scary. Every –
[00:19:18] PF: Because face to face was gone.
[00:19:21] DF: Face to face. Every musician was scared. I have to say that I came up with this concept of master classes online, with all these superstars, along with my associate, Britt Lightning from Vixen. Every night, we did 163 master classes, whether it was Alice Cooper, Roger Daltrey, the band Styx, the Scorpions. We asked campers to come on, donate money, buy a ticket. Most of the artists use the money to pay their crew and for their charities. Roger Daltrey did it for Teenage Cancer America. Everyone did it for a different charity.
It was amazing that every night, 30, 40 people would come on. These musicians, they were scared. They thought they would never perform ever again. They thought it was over. So that was one way that we moved during the pandemic. Now, doing camps, I just did a great camp in New York, and I’m theming it, so I got a Led Zeppelin style camp coming up.
Then we opened the woman’s camp last year, which was a huge success. We did with Melissa Etheridge and Nancy Wilson, women only. What we did was Britt’s idea and to give women an opportunity to come and not worry about some guy, John Doe, and feel comfortable. It was the most successful camp. Why? Because women were just more caring for each other.
Well, final night after four days, people bring their families to the show. Once that band performs, they’re all running out to dinner and with their family. “Hey, you saw me on stage, and I performed this and that.” At the women’s camp, no one left to see –
[00:20:54] PF: Really?
[00:20:55] DF: Right. Oh, yeah. It was just so amazing. The camaraderie was just so much. It was my favorite experience, and I got to watch them at a distance, just to see the love and the passion. I’m excited about the upcoming camp, to see Lizzy Hale, who right away, when I reached out, “Yes, I’m in. What can I do?” Winona, she said, “I’m in. I’m going to create herstory.” So it’s going to be an incredible camp.
[00:21:20] PF: David, you are doing so much good for the world by bringing this music out of people, letting them really feel what all it can do for them. What is your hope going forward?
[00:21:30] DF: I’m hoping with the documentary that while your listeners might not be musicians, I’m hoping that they’ll get something out of it. What will they get out of it? That I can do – I want to write an app. I want to write a screenplay. I want to open up a new business. I want to do something new at any age. These people do it through music, but you can do it. I’m hoping that people will get motivated not to be scared, not to be fearful to change their lives in the midst of their – And find the happiness. That’s really what it’s about, finding your happiness.
[00:22:01] PF: I cannot think of a better way to wrap this up, David. You are a delight. I love what you’ve done. I am – As I said, I look forward to seeing what happens next. Thank you again for taking so much time with me today.
[00:22:13] DF: I appreciate it. No, thank you for having me. I love this. I can’t stop talking about – As you see, I talk so much. But it’s such a passion of mine to talk about music and happiness. So thanks for having me.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:22:31] PF: That was David Fishof, talking about Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. If you’d like to learn more about David and his fantasy camp, check out the Rock Camp book and documentary or follow him on social media. Just visit livehappy.com and click on the On a Positive Note podcast link.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of On a Positive Note and look forward to joining you again next time. So until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.