By Adam Lovinus
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Classic rock station 106.9 FM, known to listeners around Palm Springs as the Eagle, is co-sponsoring a free outdoor concert by 1960s pop group the Turtles. One of the station's DJs, Brad Mercer, is opening the show with his cover band, and he has invited Wild Child keyboardist Kit Potamkin to kick back on a blanket in Palm Desert's Civic Center Park and enjoy a still-comfortable autumn evening in the desert. The men got to know each other when Wild Child played a smashingly received show at the Morongo Casino. Brock decides to go along for the ride.
"I need a little break, to hear somebody else playing some music," he confesses, having followed up his show at Sachi's with a next-night gig at the Coach House. "There's always a show I could be doing in some city or town—Wild Child has played all over the world—but people who do that don't last very long. I like to keep things comfortably under control."
If anybody thinks Brock looks like Jim Morrison this evening, it doesn't show. Nobody's asking him to pose for any photos, anyway. He looks a lot like any other guy in his mid-40s who has maintained a modicum of earthy cool. His hair has lost its wave in the desert dryness and lies on the collar of the blue denim jacket he wears over a deep-brown shirt with a subtle floral design. He's wearing blue jeans, too, and well-worn hush-puppy boots.
"Who I portray when I'm working doesn't really enter much into my everyday life," Brock says. "Those clothes, those mannerisms, they are part of the work, part of the stagecraft. They are what people pay to see. I don't live with those things at all. I never felt I had to do that. In fact, I make a conscious effort to separate my personal life from the show. I have a pretty normal life."
Brock is married and lives in Huntington Beach, where he helped coach his kids' Little League baseball and football teams. He won't say much more than that about his family.
"There are a lot of creepy people out there," he reasons. "But coaching was a blast, and I was into it. For a while I had to look at my coaching schedule when I was booking show dates to see if I was open. But I never told people what I did for a living. If anybody asked, I said I was in promotions. But once when I was onstage at the Coach House, I looked out in the crowd and there was one of the other coaches. His mouth was open, amazed, and he was shaking his head. We got a good laugh out of it later."
The Brad Mercer Band begins to play, and the set list hopscotches across a lot of classic rock songs. Brock is an enthusiastic fan, joining in sing-alongs, answering rhetorical is-everybody-all-right-tonight questions from the stage, applauding loudly as the band finishes its encore. Does he ever wish he had that kind of latitude onstage—the freedom to sing any song?
"You know," Brock responds, then stares in silence for a moment, "that never crossed my mind. I think we've got some pretty good ones to pick from."
And as if on cue, the public-address system fills the intermission with the timeless opening to "Light My Fire." But if Brock notices, he doesn't show it. Finally, you've got to ask—how does he feel when he hears that song?
"It feels good," he answers evenly. "But with this music, if you have a radio you hear it every day. It's not really obscure. It's probably more popular now than when the original members were playing it."
Such nostalgia is proving lucrative for a lot of musicians that have followed in Wild Child's footsteps. Brock gets a little tense when that subject comes up.
"I don't know why so many musicians have gotten into tribute bands, and I don't want to be critical," he says. "But you kind of know some are doing it because their original music didn't work out, or because 'Hey, we can make a few hundred bucks,' or because 'Hey, I'm learning to play guitar so let's start a band and do Led Zeppelin.' I know my story is almost too crazy to believe. Whether that is a valid reason, either, is debatable."
There's also the possibility that rock & roll has reached the end of the creative line, that it has been fused with just about everything, that there is nothing left to do.
"You might have something there," says Brock. "Wild Child has existed through three or four distinct changes in rock music—New Wave, heavy metal, glam, grunge, alternative—before tribute bands took over. But I think there is still good music to be made; the problem is getting exposure. Radio playlists are nationally programmed and nightclubs have found it cheaper to put on tribute bands. That's probably squeezing out some very talented original artists."
By now, Dave Brock and Wild Child have been doing Jim Morrison and the Doors a lot longer—and, an all-things-considered case could be made, more successfully—than the originals did. Brock doesn't even consider such comparisons. "I never even announce my name, whether I'm Dave or Jim, from the stage," he says. "I leave out banter between songs, too. People aren't there to hear what I think."