Recovered

With Drug Under, Chris Romero has found a cure for his Sickness.

It's an unseasonably warm Sunday, and the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs are embroiled in a bare-knuckle, winner-take-all slugfest. Clinton Portis has just scored his fifth touchdown of the day. Earlier, ex-Bronco-turned-Chief Eddie Kennison had accused his former team of being scared and promised to "put something on their ass." Now Portis is prancing around the sidelines with a gold-plated championship belt around his waist. There's a fine line between arrogance and confidence. The difference, as exhibited by Portis, is results.

"How 'bout that game?" Chris Romero asks as he opens the door of his suburban home a few hours later. Although he's stout enough to be mistaken for a middle linebacker, he's no football player. But he's a die-hard Broncos fan, and there's no doubt he's been pulling for Portis and the boys. As a musician, Romero has frequently found his zeal mistaken for arrogance. He knows what it's like to be backed into a corner, to have his integrity questioned, to be misunderstood, disliked, even hated.

In the '90s, at times it seemed like his old band, Sick, had everything handed to it, from gigs at the Vans Warped Tour and Lollapalooza to opening up for the Deftones and Megadeth at Red Rocks. Sick may have been the first unsigned act to be inducted into the Hard Rock Cafe andhave a song added to regular rotation on mainstream radio. And the usual suspects were just waiting for Romero to fumble. To fail.

We're all stars now in the dope show: Ron Chavez 
(from left), Chris Romero, Mike Crisler and Eric 
Greenwall are Drug Under.
Anthony Camera
We're all stars now in the dope show: Ron Chavez (from left), Chris Romero, Mike Crisler and Eric Greenwall are Drug Under.

But they didn't know Romero. They didn't know how hard he'd worked or how far he'd come. They didn't know that before he ever played any of his own material, he'd spent years playing other people's songs, honing his craft. They only know the guy they saw behind the mike. The guy with his game face on.

They didn't know the guy I knew. Romero and I have been friends for nearly a decade now, and for two of those years, when I managed Sick, we worked side by side.

Today we're on opposite sides of the field. But Romero's not playing any game. He's confident in who he is, a regular guy who divides his time between shuttling his youngest son back and forth to baseball and wrestling practices, spending time with his wife of thirteen years -- and making music. With his family, he's more Mr. Mom than Mr. Wonderful. In fact, if it weren't for his office decor -- autographed posters, laminates and pictures of Romero with the various rock icons he calls friends -- you'd never suspect he was a performer.

"Some of my friends will tease me," he says. "They'll be like, 'I think you dropped a name; let me get that for you.'"

Long before Romero had Tommy Lee's phone number programmed into his cell phone, he was a starry-eyed teenager in Brighton who worshiped at the feet of Eddie Van Halen. For his sixteenth birthday, his parents gave him an electric guitar that he taught himself to play. Soon after, he formed his first band with a few friends from the neighborhood. From the minute he and his buddies plugged in and started playing "You Really Got Me" at a high school homecoming dance, Romero knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

"That was the first time I was ever on stage," he remembers. "Man, I was hooked!"

For the next five years, Romero toiled in a slew of cover bands, paying homage to his idols and getting paid for it. The grueling demands of playing four to five nights a week took their toll on his body but not his spirit, and when he developed carpal tunnel at age 21 and could no longer play the guitar, no problem: He became a frontman. Nothing was going to keep him from the stage.

But then he started to lose his voice, and common sense prevailed. He bid adieu to Typper Gore, his band at the time. "I needed to figure out what my next move was," Romero says.

When an opportunity presented itself a few months later, he was ready to rock. All of those years serving as the equivalent of a live jukebox, everything he'd been through had led him to this moment.

Former bandmate Aaron Greenwall and his brother, Eric, had put together a new act: Sick. The name perfectly fit the music, an explosive hybrid of funk, metal and soul. But it was also an apt description of the Greenwalls themselves. Aaron, a master of the four-string -- like Flea on a Duran Duran kick -- had just quit Valor, one of the hottest bands in town at the time. Eric, an untouchable badass, had just graduated from the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood. Together with Chris Ortega, a drummer friend of Eric's, they'd put together four or five songs. But Sick still needed a singer. So Aaron called Romero and asked if he wanted to get together and "goof around" with some new songs Aaron had written.

"We got together and jammed, and it was awesome. We hit it off right away," Romero remembers. "I was like, 'Dude, we should play out.' And Aaron was like, 'Nah, I just want to play for fun.' He had no intention of making this thing a band. He said he was through with the music business. He was pretty burned out on it."

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