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Dave Solzberg has everyone convinced that I used to play with the Rolling Stones. "A lot of people really don't know this," he says, "but the Rolling Stones, all throughout the '70s, had a ukulele player."
It's a Saturday afternoon in early October. I'm at Dog House Music in Lafayette, sitting on the edge of the stage in a showcase studio, surrounded by a dozen or so teenagers who are taking part in Dog House's Intensive Rock & Roll Workshops for Teens, where Solzberg teaches bass and is about to make his startling revelation. "And we're lucky enough to have him here with us this morning," he says, smiling and motioning to me. "He's going to share some insights with us a little later."
Wait...what? I'm all about yanking folks' chains -- anybody who knows me can tell you that -- but the ukulele? The Stones? Seriously, why couldn't I be, like, I don't know, Hawthorne Heights' guitar tech or something? I mean, at least pick a band that the kids will recognize so that the ruse is somewhat plausible.
But as I discover during my day at Dog House, these kids are all about classic rock.
In a studio just down the hall, guitar instructor James Dumm -- an accomplished musician who's sat in with Lewis and Floorwax's Groove Hawgs, in addition to playing in Serious George -- lets me sit in with his crew as they run through the Who's "Pinball Wizard," one of the songs they've chosen to tackle for an upcoming showcase, a matinee performance for friends and family at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on Sunday, November 5.
While hardly a new concept -- see School of Rock, the Jack Black vehicle that was presumably inspired by Paul Green's class in Philadelphia -- Dog House takes a comprehensive approach. Led by some of the area's most talented musicians, the studio's summer Rock & Roll Camp is spread over eight weeks and open to all ability levels. The Saturday workshops are basically intensive, scaled-down versions of the camps. The kids divide into groups and learn how to write original music and play covers with each other, training that culminates in the showcase performances.
Gary Lennox, a New York native who came of age playing in Bowery-era punk bands, founded Dog House Music in 2004, nearly a decade after he moved to Colorado. Inspired by places like 38th Street Music in his home town, he opened Dog House as a place where bands could practice and the neighbors wouldn't complain or call the cops. He'd noticed that the area lacked high-end, back-lined rehearsal facilities that could be rented by the hour, so Lennox outfitted five of the studio's seventeen rooms with drum sets, amps and PA systems, and Dog House quickly became a destination of choice for such homegrown acts as Yonder Mountain String Band and Vaux as well as touring groups like the Waifs.
Then last year, Lennox stumbled on an unlikely way to expand his business. "I had a band in, and they had their kids with them," he recalls. "They had their guitars sitting in the hallway, and I said, 'If you want to play, I have one of these fully equipped rooms. Go ahead and play.' They were like, 'Really?' So when they went in there, they were like, 'Well, we don't know how to tune the guitars, and we don't have any songs, really.' So I showed them a quick riff, 'Sunshine of Your Love,' and they were like, 'Wow, this is so cool.' And then a little lightbulb went off. They wanted to learn, but they just didn't have the amplifiers or the means."
Lennox soon enlisted some of the area's best musicians to oversee Dog House's inaugural Rock & Roll Camp. The 2005 session ran four weeks and attracted seventy students; this past summer, 168 kids enrolled in an eight-week course -- at nearly $400 a session. Not only did Lennox find a way to reach out to the community, but in the process, he's created a new revenue stream. You don't need a beautiful mind to add up what the camp has meant for Dog House Music.
"It's a godsend," says Lennox. "Otherwise, I might not be where I am. You have a business plan that you sell to the bank, and this was not in the business plan."
Profits notwithstanding, Lennox and company agree that their true reward comes from watching these kids advance. "It's cool to see which kids are intuitive and to watch their skills develop," declares Dumm. "There are some kids who are really good with technique right away, and there's others who grasp all the other aspects of music in general. And it's nice to see them interact."
Back in the showcase studio, Capitol Punishment -- the moniker Dumm's outfit has chosen -- is interacting on a song of its own. Dumm does his best to keep the rockers-in-the-making focused. Between takes, Devon, a precocious youngster in a black wig, stares at himself in a mirror across from the stage and practices his poses while he solos indiscriminately. Anchoring the other side of the stage is Jonah, a twelve-year-old wunderkind who doles out pinch harmonics that would make his hero, Zakk Wylde, proud. And then there's the group's vocalist, a kid named Teddy who's still finding his way as a frontman but is already quite the character. Clad in a sportcoat, fedora and mirrored aviators, Teddy oozes charisma. Listening to the practice, I finally understand how my folks must have felt when I first took up the guitar and played the only riff I knew for hours at a time.