Every year I say, "I'm not going to the NAMM convention this year," and every year I end up going and having a great time. But still, four days of walking thousands of square feet on concrete floors is enough to drive any person into that anti-NAMM mindset.
So this year, I got to the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday, January 18, and tried to pick up my badge. But unfortunately the printers at the press booth were all jammed. So while I waited, I decided to run for coffee. Of course, when I got back to the press booth, the lady behind the counter informed me, "You just missed Carlos Santana!"
Thus began my NAMM experience. I had near-misses with Stevie Wonder and Nikki Sixx too, darn it. At NAMM there are always near-misses, as well as elusive "secret" parties and showcases. This year the big buzz was all about the "secret" John Mayer show--although I never spoke to anyone who actually saw it.
So after about 30 minutes of hanging out at the press counter, I finally got my badge and was able to enter the convention hall. It was seconds before I had my first "rockstar" sighting. See, the deal with NAMM is that all this big music gear companies want to show off their latest guitars, amps, drums, gadgets, etc., and in order to draw big crowds to their booths. they have musicians that use their products do autograph signings throughout the weekend. And before I go any further I must preface by saying that the NAMM convention draws mostly hard rock musicians. Why? Probably because pop stars and rap artists don't really play instruments--which is totally fine with me.
So the first "rockstar" I ran into was Alex Webster from Cannibal Corpse, and he was actually in line with his wife to get photos and autographs from Jeff Pilson and George Lynch of Dokken. Last year I ran into Alex waiting in line for Dio's autograph. I dunno, maybe it's just me, but I find it really hysterical that the dude responsible for albums like Butchered At Birth, Eaten Back To Life and Gallery Of Suicide would wait in line to get photos from an '80s hair band. (Maybe he was attempting to steal some of their female fans?)
My walk around the convention floor progressed. I passed a large table with members of Anthrax and Soil signing autographs, then I saw this huge-ass line wrapped around the Dean guitar booth. Now, I knew it wasn't the Beatles, so who had this kind of draw? Well, it was none other than onetime Metallica member, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, sporting his gray beard and brand-new "Megadeth Affliction" T-shirt. I moved past the mob and into the Dean booth, where I saw Megadeth drummer Shawn Drover and ex-Nitro guitarist Michael Angelo Batio chatting with folks. Dean is probably best-known for their Dimebag Darrel line of guitars and they even had a nice display with a life-size photo of the late Pantera guitarist.
I turned around and I saw another giant crowd, which is a dead giveaway a NAMM that a rockstar is near. I fought to get a glimpse, and there in a brown-and-yellow beanie in the center of the crowd was Mike Inez of Alice In Chains fame.
Wow, was this really who this mob was there to see? Axl Rose I could understand, but Mike Inez is always out and about and friendly, not the kind of guy you have to hunt for a photo or an autograph. But I guess not everyone at the NAMM convention lives in L.A., so I'll try to keep my jaded nature to myself.
At the NAMM show, there was literally nowhere you can escape the noise; there was music and random noodling going on everywhere, even on stages in the lobby and in the outdoor courtyard. It sort of reminded me of being at Guitar Center...times 100. So, speaking of noodling, it was time for me run over to the Schecter Guitars booth to see if my friend Jeff Loomis had started his demo yet. As I approached, another swarm of people surrounded the sound of Nevermore. I weaseled my way through the crowd to get a couple of photos and a li'l video clip. Jeff saw me, waved hi, and continued to shred his 7-string custom made guitar. The crowd went nuts. After his montage of Nevermore solos (watch video) and solos from his upcoming solo CD (watch video), Jeff was greeted by adorning fans, including Matt Bachand of Shadows Fall who stopped by to say hello.
The convention floor seemed endless. As I roamed around I passed Dragonforce, Joe Satriani, Anthrax, Soil, Heaven & Hell, Queensryche members, and Dave Navarro, all drawing large lines of fans eager to get their autographs. Then out of the corner of my eye I spotted another swarm of people over by a stack of Marshall amps...who could this be? Well, it's Yngwie Malmsteen, of course! The larger-than-life guitar god was just chatting up a storm while fans were held back by security as they waited for any encounter they could get with the original shredder.
What I love about the NAMM convention, year after year, is the camaraderie of it all--combined with the cheese factor of everyone's dark little secret. Yeah, I was a huge Ratt fan when I was 13, but would I really swallow my pride and ask Stephen Pearcy for a photo or an autograph when I saw him walking by? Naaaaaaaah. Which is sad for me, 'cause half of the fun of NAMM is reliving one's youth.
Luckily, like a proud parent I had a few friends through whom I could live vicariously. My friend Neil had a whole backpack filled with CD covers from artists he thought he might see...so when Bruce Kulick (ex-Kiss) walked by, Neil armed with an arsenal for Bruce to sign. Bruce was such a sport, he even held up a sign to say "hi" to a friend of Neil's. See what I mean about embracing the cheesy fun of it all?
I kept walking and passed Jerry Cantrell signing at a booth, looking like someone just stepped on his foot--actually, that was the look on many of the faces of many artists who were stuck signing their name for hours on end. I also saw Slash in one corner, but the crowd was too large and growing too fast to fight. Then I stumbled upon Mick from Slipknot--who looked like he had just gotten to the Ibanez booth, because his normal two-hour-long line was only four people deep so far. I thought, "What the hell?" and embrace my fan side to get a photo with the masked man, who was more than cool.
And speaking of cool, I ran into my friend Van Williams from Nevermore with baby in hand, and I was a little shocked when he tossed the kid to Sharlee D'Angelo from Arch Enemy. That poor kid had a look on his face like, "Please don't eat me Mr. Giant!"
As the convention doors closed for the day, the Hilton bar doors opened. People everywhere were swarming to get a drink. Living Colour was playing in the bar and Extreme was playing in the upstairs ballroom, but the real scene tok place where everyone was just hanging out in the bar/lobby. I talked my friend Jaime into meeting up with me at the bar, 'cause I knew he'd get a kick out of all the "rockstars" and it was a way for me to get photos of a bunch of folks without having to ask for my picture to be taken with them. I'm sure some "rockstars" thought we were annoying, but most of the musicians really seemed to like the extra attention. I guess that's why they're there in the first place, right?
My second day at the NAMM show was a much more leisurely event. First off, I headed to the downstairs area, where all of the cool amps were, to check out the Engl booth. As I approached I spotted Vinnie Moore from UFO taking photos in front of a poster of Chris Broderick from Megadeth. Chris just happens to be my all-time favorite guitarist, and Vinnie Moore was actually the first musician I ever shot photos of...like, 20 years ago. Me and Vinnie hammed it up for the camera, and standing right next to us was ex-Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman--who was surprised to hear there was another Megadeth guitarist, even though he moved on from the band years ago.
My feet soon started to blister and my patience with the crowds was wearing thin, but then I saw my friend Dino Cazares (formerly of Fear Factory, currently of of Divine Heresy) doing a little impromptu guitar shred for the crowd. And even when people manning nearby booths got angered by the volume, that still didn't stop the show:
At the Peavey booth I saw another masked Slipknot man (Paul) and couldn't resist another photo opp. Meanwhile, behind me in line were a bunch of little girls who were so excited that they got King Diamond's autograph, and I didn't have the heart to tell them their signed photos were actually of King from Gorgoroth, not of King Diamond. Anyway, after my photo opp with Paul I noticed another ex-Megadeth member, Dave Ellefson...and I normally wouldn't have asked for a photo, but since Megadeth seemed to be a theme for the weekend, once again I shrugged and thought, "What the hell?"
On this second day I finally start noticing spectacles other than "rockstars," like the Playboy bunny signings, the funky hairdos, the torture demo at the coffin cases booth (watch video), the cool Pantera/Kiss/Ozzy model guitars for Guitar Hero or Rock Band-type games, and the dude dressed up like Gene Simmons of '70s-era Kiss waiting in line at the snack bar. What a people-watching event!
I decided to start making my way towards the exit when I noticed kiddie metal act Light Of Doom from The Next Great American Band signing at the Carvin booth. My friend was dying to show off her new Iron Maiden Vans, and even though one of the kids was wearing a Maiden shirt, they seemed unimpressed. My friends and I fianlly made it back o the lobby where, like magic, all the rockstars looked like fish out of water: For instance, Mick from Slipknot and Wayne from Static X looked very odd roaming the empty lobby of the convention center.
Did the music end there? Heck no! There was even a band in the parking lot. Well, the band was all cramped in the back of a van, but it sounded really cool nonetheless. Check out video here.
As my NAMM 2008 experience finally to an end, I said I'd never go again. But let's face it, everyone knows by now I was lying.