Five Very PG Tales From Rock and Roll’s Backstage

KISS guitarist Ace Frehley fixes his hair before a concert, February 1977. Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Hive Five: Our Daily Listicle of Musical Musings

In Power Chord: One Man’s Ear-Splitting Quest to Find His Guitar Heroes, author Thomas Scott McKenzie searches for those iconic axe-men who supplied some of the greatest moments of his pop-culture filled life. But his journey, surprisingly, wasn’t filled with debauchery. Hive asked McKenzie to lay out the five most PG observations from his explorations.

There were no bare breasts, no lines of blow, no sharks and body cavities, no incense and burritos to mask the smell of pot. The guitarist’s wife sat at a nearby table and organized materials for VIP package buyers. His young daughter swung back and forth on his arms. This was the backstage for Phil Collen, guitarist for Def Leppard, fitness fanatic, and devoted family man.

The little girl motioned for Dad to lean down and whispered in his ear. He listened, smiled at me, and said, “I’ll be right back.” He led his daughter off to the backstage restroom.

For hard rock and heavy metal fans of the eighties, the concept of “backstage” was a Sodom and Gomorrah, shaped in our fantasies by images from Mötley Crüe and Ratt videos. But as I spent the last couple of years writing a book about guitar heroes, all I encountered were families and baby wipes, discussions not on the best LSD but on of computers, football, and academics.

I spent years with these guys. I met most of my heroes and now, caught in the trap of time, they’re less rock Gods than rock Lords, presiding over a court of fans and doting on their kids. Here are five random images and discussions that stick out.

1. Grand Funk Babywipes

Grand Funk Railroad sat in a room with tile floors and fluorescent overhead lighting. I was there with Bruce Kulick, a cool and hard working pro who was the lead guitar player for KISS during the eighties and early nineties. On the counter wasn’t a fishbowl of pills but a box of baby wipes, forgotten by a venue staffer.

2. Ace’s Hard Drive Space

Ace Frehley, original guitarist for the masked rockers in KISS, has said he struggled to remember some aspects of life during his drug era. But the dedicated computer geek had no problem recalling disk space specifics. “My first was a Radio Shack computer, I think it had 4k in it,” he laughed. “Next one I got was an Apple II with 64k. And I’ll never forget the day I went to a computer store up in Connecticut and they had the extension card to bump it up to 128k.”

3. Brad Gills Scores … With ESPN 

Brad Gills of Night Ranger drew national attention in 1982 when he replaced the late Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. This was during the good bad Ozzy era, when the legend was forged, prior to reality TV doddering, so there should be plenty of stories. But backstage, the guitarist was eager to talk about the highlight music he wrote for ESPN. “On Monday Night Football when they play into a commercial, they play your shit loud for like five or eight seconds,” he said. “That’s a good thing. They’re not talking over you.”

4. Partying With Howard Zinn

In a tour bus behind the Alrosa Villa, the venue where Dimebag Darrell was murdered on stage in 2004, [Dokken's] George Lynch moved a guitar case and pulled a book out of a duffel bag. “My heroes are guys like Howard Zinn,” the guitar hero known to fans as Mr. Scary said as he handed me several hefty texts.

5. No Love for Groupies Donning Denim

Don’t think these musicians don’t still have libertine opportunities. A woman ran after the Grand Funk van, pounded on the door, and yelled, “Do you want to party?” A gang of denim-clad women stood and smiled expectantly behind her. The guys rolled up the windows with a muted buzz, blotting out the groupies.

Power Chord is out on on IT Books. You can buy it at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

RELATED POSTS