My Rock “Career” Was Determined by Drawing Straws

My Rock “Career” Was Determined by Drawing Straws

It was early 1964 and I was a freshman in high school. The country was only a few months removed from the Kennedy assassination and people needed some good news. Needed a reason to feel good again.

The Beatles had just exploded on the scene with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” The two main fan bases in the U.S. were Beatles fans and Dave Clark Five fans. I had to be different. I was a Rolling Stones fan because I liked the Chuck Berry song (“Come On”) I’d heard on an EP…before “Satisfaction” changed the world in ‘65.

I was a teenager and my hormones were steering me in a new direction. I loved sports, baseball in particular, but there was no doubt that girls were more interested in rock musicians than baseball players.

One afternoon three of my closest friends—John, Chris and Paul—met in Chris’s basement. It was on that day we made a decision that changed our lives: We decided to form a rock band. We were all in the same grade in school, except Paul, who was four years older and in college. This turned out to be extremely important, especially to him, because unlike the rest of the band, he could grow his hair long. High school restrictions prevented the rest of us from doing so. Paul’s “cool quotient” rose from average guy to “that cool long-haired rock and roll dude.”

There was only one impediment in our plan’s path: None of us played an instrument, except Chris, who played piano. Actually, I played violin but that was not much use in a rock band. Not then anyway.

Somehow we must have sensed that this was a momentous decision, because we took the decision-making process seriously. We drew straws. The shortest straw got to learn to play guitar. The middle straw would learn bass, and the longest straw would learn to play drums. John pulled the longest straw, Paul the middle straw and, thank God, I got the “guitar straw.”

That fateful bit of luck quite literally changed my life, and it affects me in a positive way to this very day.

The first thing I did was buy a guitar. I’d never purchased a guitar and I had no idea what to look for. My only prerequisite was that I must be able to afford it. Sadly, even then there weren’t a lot of guitars for under $10. The fret board and strings on the guitar I bought looked a lot like a bow and arrow. Because the strings were so far from the fret board, my fingers actually bled occasionally. My learning curve was steep and painful, but I was undaunted. I taped a flat-faced microphone on the back of the guitar and plugged it into a $10 amplifier, which wasn’t really supposed to accommodate an electric guitar. It was more like a large tabletop radio adapted to be a guitar amplifier.

Our first practice was odd, but memorable and, in retrospect, quite hilarious. Paul appeared with an inexpensive newly purchased Danelectro bass. John showed up with a pair of drumsticks, which he proceeded to bang on an empty Peter Pan album cover. Thankfully, Chris played his piano so at least there was some actual music activity involved.

By the time we had our first gig, I had purchased an entry-level cherry Gibson solid body guitar, on a payment plan, from the local music store, and a Silvertone amplifier from the Sears catalog. You have to be an Old Guy Still Rockin to remember Silvertone amps. But man, at the time, they were really cool.

Within a couple of months we looked like a rock band. Even though we didn’t sound like one. We called ourselves The Caesars. We had publicity photos taken and we dressed alike. We even had a fan club.

Soon we started playing high school dances and other social functions, including a parking lot dance at the local Penny’s. We even got chased down hallways by female fans. Thinking back on it, this probably explains a lot about my personality.

We weren’t very good, but we were first. And we were loud. When other bands arrived on the scene—bands with guys who could play their instruments—our star faded. But it was great while it lasted.

Eventually The Caesars broke up and we all went on to play in other bands and on our own. Chris and I continued to play in bands off and on—though not again with each other—our entire lives.

During the Morning Glory Coffeehouse days.

From 1970-72 I ran The Morning Glory Coffeehouse in Toledo, Ohio. I played guitar with lots of people, including a bunch of famous people who would stop by the coffeehouse. This was because when bands played at the University of Toledo there was literally nothing open after midnight. We were open till 4 am. People like members of Chicago, Badfinger, and many others stopped by and jammed. For free. One night I was in the musicians’ room upstairs jamming with some people, getting ready to go downstairs to the main stage when some guy stuck his head in the room and said, “You got an extra guitar?” It was Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe and the Fish.

My guitar seemed like a passport to another life.

I came to Los Angeles to make it as a rock star. I didn’t, but I played for a couple of years in clubs around town and had brushes with a few “almost-there’s” and soon-to-be-famous rockers. In 1980 I bought an Ovation guitar with part of the advance on my first big novel. In 1989 Garth Hudson, keyboard player with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, The Band (famous for being Bob Dylan’s backup band), played on my album (“Trick of the Light”). In the 90s I put music I wrote in a film I wrote and directed, “Street Crimes” starring Dennis Farina. I recorded a couple of albums since then.

When we moved from LA a few years ago, I started playing guitar with the guy who sold us our house. He and I started a band. We play out regularly now—or at least we did before the Coronavirus—and last month we played a Valentine’s Day dance for 140 people.

I now have my own studio. Over the past couple of years I’ve recorded, mixed and mastered about 50 new songs, some of which you can listen to here. I enjoy getting together with other musicians and playing, as well as occasionally recording other musicians and bands.

The bottom line is that writing and playing music shaped my life in so many ways, and that has never been truer than it is today. In fact, my love of music, playing guitar, and the camaraderie that comes with playing music with others prompted me to start Old Guys Still Rockin.

I don’t think music would have played such a big part in my life had I not drawn the “guitar” straw.

And my life would have been much the poorer for it.

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Jennifer Batten

Jennifer Batten

The buzz on Jennifer Batten rose from the guitar underground, and the guitar magazines promptly began chronicling her savvy musicianship and highly original approach to the electric guitar.

A major turning point came when she was selected from over one hundred guitarists to play in Michael Jackson’s highly skilled band which toured the world for one and a half years playing for over four and a half million people. In 2012 Sony released an exciting live Wembley Stadium show DVD as part of their BAD 25th anniversary package.

Photo: Sam Emerson

Jennifer wasted no time after the” Bad” Tour’s grand finale, diving into work on her debut album with renown producer (and ex-Stevie Wonder guitarist) Michael Sembello. Shortly after the release of “Above, Below, and Beyond,” in the spring of ’92, she was asked again to join Michael Jackson for his upcoming “Dangerous Tour.”

In January ’93, she joined Jackson to perform in Superbowl XXVII’s halftime entertainment, which aired to one and half billion people in 80 nations. It was the largest audience in television history.

Her follow up CD “Momentum,” which was heavily influenced by world music, was released just before she left for Michael Jackson’s final global tour in support of the HIStory CD in 1997.

In the spring of ’98 Jeff Beck asked Jennifer to join his band. They joined forces for 3 years on the CD’s “Who Else” and “You Had It Coming,” which were both supported by world tours. A DVD is available of this collaboration entitled “Jeff Beck Live in Tokyo 1999.”

Jennifer is the author of two music books and has released three solo CD’s venturing from world beat and rock n roll, to electronica. The CD “Whatever” comes with a 90-minute DVD that includes some of the visuals from her one-woman multimedia show where she plays guitar in synch with her self-made projected films, as well as unreleased music videos, and a guitar lesson.

During 2011 she did a guitar residency for the Cirque Du Soleil show “Zumanity” in Las Vegas. In the last few years she joined forces with to record instructional DVD’s/ downloads. She currently has a rock soloing course, a rhythm course, and the latest release, “Ultra Intervallic Licks.” Upcoming projects include recording a Truefire DVD in a new artist lick series on Jeff Beck. In August of 2016, she joined Beck on stage at the Hollywood Bowl for a special “50 years of Jeff Beck” concert.

She continues to tour the globe in various formats, from bands, to solos shows, to clinics, and master classes. In Jan 2016 she received the She Rocks “Icon” award and was inducted into Guitar Player Magazine’s “Gallery of the Greats.”

Also in 2016 she toured with Uli Jon Roth and Andy Timmons on “The Ultimate Guitar” tour.


GREAT Rendition of Tom Petty’s “Refugee” by Z/K

GREAT Rendition of Tom Petty’s “Refugee” by Z/K

You’ve got check out this music video of Tom Petty’s “Refugee” by singer/songwriter Paul Zollo and Barry Keenan. 

Paul is the author of the newly-released book, Conversations With Tom Petty, Expanded Edition. It’s available on Amazon & Kindle. Click Here for more information. Over the course of a year, Paul spent his Saturdays with Tom talking about Tom’s career and music, and they became friends.

This is a must read for all Tom Petty fans. And if you’re not familiar with Tom Petty, this book will take you on a fantastic journey into the world and the mind of one of America’s great songwriters.

A few months ago, Paul and Barry were talking about music and songwriting. They both came to the realization that they had the same desire to release a new and different version of The Beatles song, “Help.” Barry suggested to Paul that they go into his studio and record their idea. They did, and their version of “Help” will be released in the near future. 

However, because Paul’s book was being released in February 2020, the two decided to do a tribute to Tom Petty by recording one of Tom’s songs and releasing it before they released “Help.” Paul and Barry went through several of Tom’s songs but were undecided on a song to record (because Tom Petty has so many great songs) until Paul sent Barry a slowed down, funky version he was doing of the song, “Refugee.”

“I was immediately taken by it,” says Barry. “I told Paul that this is the song we should do.”

Click Here to see the video of ZK’s (Zollo-Keenan’s) version of Tom Petty’s “Refugee.”

Bonus: Exclusive Old Guys Still Rockin Interview with Barry Keenan about the recording of this song: Click Here.

Put Music in eBooks

Put Music in eBooks

My career has been as a novelist and screenwriter. But when I came to LA decades ago, I really wanted to be a rock and roll star. Who didn’t?

Since then I’ve always tried to blend my music and writing. My first attempt was when I submitted a screenplay with a custom made leather cover. The cover included a pouch on the front big enough to hold a cassette tape that included songs I’d written for the screenplay.

A few years later I recorded an album in support of my novel Trick of the Light. I literally wanted to sell the album and the novel packaged together, but ultimately they had to be sold separately.

My first real opportunity to put my music in a book came in 2012. My plan was to embed the songs I’d written for my novel Cathedral of the Senses in the eBook version of the book. But it was very early days and Kindle did not support embedded media at the time.

Since the idea was so new, just putting media of any kind in ebook required workarounds, third-party programs, and hours of customer support.

In 2012 Apple’s .ePub files supported embedded media so I designed a version of Cathedral of the Senses for the iBookstore. The process was incredibly challenging and there were lots of trials and even more errors, but I was determined to see my music-in-a-book dream come true.

Each chapter in the novel contains a short sample of a song appropriate for that particular scene. When you watch a movie you hear songs that were not necessarily written for that movie. Yet they capture the emotional tone of the scene. (In the movie “Street Crimes,” which I wrote and directed, I also put parts of two songs in the film. I mention this only to establish that I’ve done both: Put music in film and in books.) Readers could choose to click the link and hear the song or not. They could also click another link redirecting them to iTunes to buy the song. (The book is still available in the Apple Bookstore, where you can download a sample. Cathedral of the Senses is also available in regular eBook and paperback formats on Amazon. 

Eight years can be the equivalent of several lifetimes in the digital age, and putting media in your eBooks is a lot easier to do now. Although I published two more “media enhanced” novels using the iBooks platform (Trick of the Light, and I, Walt Whitman), I haven’t published a new novel with embedded music in about eight years. That is about to change. I’m planning to finish my new novel, Shakespeare’s Cadillac, early this summer and the eBook format will include excerpts from a dozen new songs. The songs themselves will be available on a companion album (available on iTunes and Amazon Digital, as well as popular music subscription sites like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora).

While publishing a new novel is interesting to me, this article is the first in a series that will help you decide if a “media enhanced eBook” is right for you. Here are several points to consider.

  • Novelists can add their own or other people’s music to their eBooks (if they have the rights to do so).
  • Non-fiction books about music are perfect “enhanced eBook” candidates, e.g., biographies about a musician or band, or even an eBook about your band or gigging experiences. That said, it is impractical to embed full versions of lots of songs in an eBook for reasons I’ll go into in more depth during this series. But even if you could, you would be better off, from a sales or business point of view, to sell the eBook inexpensively, or even give it away, and create links to music download stores. Consider how powerful a tool this can be: You provide an “impulse buy” link at the exact moment the reader is enjoying your work the most.
  • Businesses can use eBooks as high-end premium items. Your eBook can become a “store” by embedding short informative audio and video files. The videos can be short 30-second examples of how your product works, or they might promote your consultation services. Put contact information and links to your company’s website and social media next to the videos.
  • Another extremely practical use for media in eBooks is the MEMOIR BOOK. Short interviews (with links to full YouTube videos) with family members can become treasured, and readily accessible, keepsakes for future generations. Short digitized excerpts of old films and videos are perfect embedded media content. The great thing about an eBook is that you don’t have to print and ship thousands of copies when you’re only going to sell a few dozen or a few hundred to family and friends, as is the case with most Memoir books. And finally, you can add to the memoir book every few years by simply uploading an updated file!

In the next part of this series I will tell you How to Put Music in Your Novels and make it a fun project. For example, if you’re a novelist, what about setting up collaborations with your songwriter friends? How cool is that?

In subsequent installments of the series I will talk about, and provide examples of, Best Uses of Embedded Media in Your Business eBook, and How to Use Embedded Media in Your Memoir eBook.

If you have any questions about the series please feel free to contact me via the Contact Form on this site.

Trick of the Light in eBook and paperback formats are available on Amazon. 

The accompanying music soundtracks for Trick of the Light and Cathedral of the Senses are available on iTunes and Amazon Digital among other music download and subscription sites.

Trick of Light on iTunes, Click here. Trick of the Light on Amazon Music, Click Here.

Cathedral of the Senses on iTunes, Click Here. Cathedral of the Senses on Amazon Music, Click Here. (Note: Songs on the Cathedral of the Senses album are performed by various artists, mostly from Sedona, AZ.)

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Installing a Guitar Wall

Installing a Guitar Wall

My studio was starting to look like a music equipment junkyard. Strewn about everywhere were guitars, amps, microphones, all kinds of gig accessories, plus studio equipment as well as old and new monitors. And all the wires… Forget about it. Additionally, there were pieces of furniture I never used. When I walked in the room it was not warm and inviting. I felt like I was running an obstacle course just to get to my computer.

Because I spent so much time in there, and because I wanted to be more productive and creative, I needed to make some changes.

The first thing I did was remove unnecessary furniture. Next I cleaned enough space in the closet so I could store all my gig gear. Then there was one major thing to do: Install a guitar wall to get the guitars and accessories off the floor.

Let me state at the outset that I am less a “do-it-yourselfer” and more a “try-it-this-way-and-that-way-until-I-get-it-right” type of person. In fact, while installing the SlatWall MX Panel and the SlatWall MX Strip, my wife and I looked more like Laurel and Hardy than Do-It-Yourself TV hosts.

But no one knows how long it took us to complete the project, or how ridiculous we appeared while doing so. All people see is the final product and it looks great.

I learned several things while doing this project.

·      First, Stud Finders don’t always work.

·      Second, not all builders separate their studs exactly 16 inches apart.

·      And third, how useful Spackle can be.

While I can honestly say that the task can be accomplished without DIY skills, it would be quicker and more efficient to partner with someone who has those skills.

The on-site directions at Diamond Life Gear are informative, but I wish they would have had some specific DIY videos from the company. Even though there are some decent YouTube installation videos by customers, I think a couple of “official” company videos about the product addressing common installation issues as reported via their support people, would be helpful.

(Watch our video to see our installation process.)

I really liked the angled Guitar Hangers. With the guitars hung diagonally on the wall its like you’re in the middle of Guitar Center. The fact that the guitar hangers can be angled is great for two reasons. First, you can get more guitars on a strip when the hangers are angled. Second, the guitars look more impressive at that angle: like a Guitar Center showroom. I chose 12” hangers for my acoustic guitars because they’re bigger and stick out farther from the wall than my smaller electric guitars, for which I chose the 6” hangers. Picture: Acoustic blocking smaller guitars. I put the small guitars up front and the acoustics toward the back so I can see all the guitars. Picture: Small guitars up front. Putting the acoustic guitars up front hide the small guitars from view.

We played around with the placement of baskets, waterfalls attachments, and guitar hangers. Your choice of accessories will be determined by your individual needs.

I would recommend Diamond Life Gear SlatWall products. And since you’re going to need another person for at least part of the installation, I would also recommend partnering with someone who has decent “do it yourself” skills…and a good sense of humor.

Cover Bands: BE the Jukebox

Cover Bands: BE the Jukebox

A younger rockin version of myself

When I was about 20 years old, I had just come off a run of playing every week at my own coffee house (The Morning Glory in Toledo, Ohio). It was a perfect environment for a young songwriter: instant feedback; I knew what songs worked and why, as well as what songs didn’t work and why not. For example, one coffee house regular came up to me one night after a performance and said, “Hey man, you know I like your songs and I love the lyrics. But I think you write too much about ‘White Light’.” He was right. Of course, the main benefit of having my own coffee house was a seemingly endless supply of similar-aged hippie girls who, well, loved long-haired singer/songwriters.

But I wasn’t satisfied being a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to branch out and play other venues. One summer I took a gig in a bar I’d never been to. I knew that when I played outside the coffee house I needed to play songs people knew and then toss in a few of originals. I had the typical repertoire: James Taylor; Beatles, Stones, Cat Stevens, Crosby, Stills and Nash.

However, when I arrived at this particular gig I realized that patrons wanted ONLY country songs. The closest thing I had to country was James Taylor’s “Country Road.” I did one set and then the bar owner and I came to a mutual agreement – more mutual on his part than mine – that I should have a beer and call it a night.

On my drive home I had time to think about what had happened. Clearly, if I was going to play out, I needed to know what my audience wanted to hear. At the coffee house, or when I occasionally opened for name bands, I could play originals. But at bars and most other public venues people wanted, essentially, a live jukebox. And it was my job to know the popular selections. This revelation was a blow to my ego, but it was a boon to my pocketbook.

From then on, I realized that I was a “commercial artist” and the audience was my client. I give them what they want, they give me a job. Pretty simply.

But when I started playing out again recently, many years later, I forgot that lesson. At least for a while. Our band plays almost exclusively classic rock. And that usually goes over pretty well. Usually…

“50 Shades of 60”: Stephen Smoke (L), Jay Rockbank (C), Randy Winters (R)

One night we were playing at a club and a group of early-twentyish women came into the club. They were pub-crawling. At one point during a set I noticed two of the girls desperately pounding on the jukebox to get it to work…while we were playing! At the end of our set, one of the girls came up to me and rattled off a number of requests. I told her I knew those songs, but we did not know them as a band. After a moment she said, “What do you know?”

She said, “Okay then, what DO you know?”

I had to laugh. At my age, I don’t take this kind of thing that seriously. In fact, I think she wasn’t trying to be rude. I think she wanted to see our song list so she could choose a song for the girl whose birthday they were celebrating.

Even more recently we played at a Happy Hour at a new venue. Two days before the gig we spoke with the person who booked us. She said their clientele liked classic rock but they also really liked certain country songs, particularly songs they could line dance to. We knew none. However, two nights later we were armed with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” “Elvira,” and a waltz (“Take it to the Limit”). The gig started sluggishly. Then we did “Boot Scootin’…” and suddenly we were off to the races. The crowd loved the country songs, as well as our classic rock. In fact, we were asked for, and delivered, two encores. And we’re playing there 3 more times over the next few weeks.

The bottom line is that when you play out, take time to know what your audience wants to hear. Then learn a few new songs and deliver. A gig is always more fun when the crowd likes what it’s hearing.