Hey, Mom, Im a Rock Star

On tour with a wildly famous Orange County band

For anyone dying to know about all the drugs, booze, women, parties and general mayhem involved in being on the road with a major-label rock band, this saga is for you. Sure, there were a few perks in my brief tenure with Sugar Ray, such as playing the Shrine Auditorium, meeting a few celebrities, getting a free guitar and doing The Tonight Show.But mostly, it was just grueling roadwork—waiting around in airports, hotels, lobbies and buses; filching from deli trays; and dealing with sleazy industry people, all for a peasant's wages.

Aug. 30, 1998. The band has a 10-year anniversary party at the guitarist's new house. The singer takes me out in their video director's car to listen to one of their new songs and casually suggests that they may need me to play keyboards on their next tour. He says they'll pay me $500 per week to start, and we'll have lots of fun—what do I think? I tell him all he has to do is ask. Nov. 11. The guitarist calls and says they had a band meeting, and it was agreed they could afford to have me along. I will be filling out their sound, a role not unlike the one Ian Stewart played for the Rolling Stones. But why am I starting to feel more like Viv Savage of Spinal Tap? I let my temp job know (with some smugness) that I won't be in Monday morning. Nov. 13. The band's manager calls and says "the boys" were all real keen on having me in the band, but that money was tight and they could only afford $400 per week, which is exactly what I'm getting as a temp. I gulp—sensing the screws already being applied—and say, sure, why not? Nov. 18. The guitarist comes over to my house in Costa Mesa. We drive to LA and practice three songs for two hours. KROQ has requested a rough version of the first single from their new album so they can scoop the competition. Apparently, they liked it enough from the last monthly meeting they had with the band's major label, so they can now have something to trumpet over the holidays.

During practice, we hear the new song played on KROQ by Jed the Fish, a notorious enemy of this band, who goes on to talk about the album title, which implies that their 15 minutes of fame are almost up. "Well, maybe not just yet," Jed says. The band eats this alive, saying, "He's finally coming around!" To these ears, though, it sounds like Jed is just obeying a station directive to say positive things about the new single.

Nov. 27. We practice the same three songs. I find out that some of my keyboard parts have been cut in favor of playing with a DAT tape. I warn them of the dangers of playing to a tape, but I am ignored. Nov. 30. Add one song to the famous three. The band and the famous video director start discussing the new video (on which production must start immediately because MTV has requested that they have it by Dec. 21 and, according to the band, "you don't fuck with MTV"). It's set to be shot in a roller rink, 1970s style, but apparently this is a problem for the band, since a rap artist has already done this concept. The director says their video will be completely different, and the discussion turns into a heated argument. The whining and carrying on goes on for 20 minutes. When one of the band members says, "We're gonna look like a bunch of assholes," I don't have the heart to tell them they already do.

The band's attorney shows up in his brand-new Range Rover. I am asked to leave the rehearsal room while they discuss band business, which shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. An hour and a half later, they come out, visibly dejected, bitching about the news. If you've ever heard a song on the radio that sounds a lot like an old song and thought, "The writer of the old song should get money for that," well, guess what, kids—they usually do. You just never find out about it. It turns out that the publishing company of the 1970s song "Suavecito" (from which the band allegedly stole the opening riff for their new single) is now asking for 50 percent of their publishing. The lawyer assures them he can get the figure down to 40 percent, but he's not promising anything. The settlement could mean a loss of up to $100,000 per million CDs sold in the USA.

Dec. 2. More practice. In a conversation with the guitar player, the DJ and myself, the famous video director asks us what we plan to do about the singer's "problem." He emphasizes that everybody knows about it but nothing is being done, at which point, the guitarist asks why the director doesn't do anything, since they're best friends. The director replies that he brings it up, but the singer just goes into his defense mode and insults him, and the discussion ends badly. He wonders if the end is coming sooner than we all think and whether the singer will end up like Bradley Nowell of Sublime. Dec. 3. Tucson, the first gig. A Lincoln Town Car collects me, the guitarist and the bass player and takes us to LAX, where we discover that our direct flight has been canceled, so we must get a connecting flight through Phoenix. Unfortunately, that flight has been delayed three hours, so the band (minus the singer, who is mysteriously absent) is stuck until then.
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