Close Encounters of the Rock Star Variety

A list of rock stars who might take my call (and a few who might not hang up once they find out who’s calling)

 

This is Peter Himmelman. The author could probably get him on the phone, and not just because his last name is Zimmerman.

Before beginning this column, I’m offering fair warning. I’m gonna do a whole bunch of name dropping. It might even be perceived as bragging…or worse. Read on at your own risk.

I make no apologies. One of the real perks of this gig is the opportunity to talk to my rock ‘n’ roll heroes, and in some cases, to create an actual bond. And even become friends. Or at least make enough of a personal impression that will allow them to occasionally remember my name.

Some folks might find this to be silly stuff… and some might consider me a kind of unrepentant groupie. I can understand that perception. Being the total music obsessive that I am, I am indeed enamored of those who make music. (In a manly sort of way, of course.) But why not? The art created by the musicians in question has made an indelible impression on my life and my attitudes. It’s become my passion. So why would I not embrace those who make those sounds that bring such joy? Even if it comes in the form of a literal (and again, manly) embrace…

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of my heroes over the years – Paul McCartney, the Stones, Rod Stewart and several other visionaries of that ilk. Hell, I once spotted Guy Clark in a restaurant in Nashville and Janis Joplin in an outdoor cafe in the Virgin Islands. Pretty cool stuff, even when observed from afar. Yet in recent years, my rock star encounters have increased exponentially. I’ve been given opportunities to conduct dozens of interviews over the course of my writing career — Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Robert Plant, Robert Lamm of Chicago, Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. And while those conversations have served a professional purpose, they’ve also provided an opportunity to explore my rock ‘n’ roll fantasies.

Okay, by now you might think that all this gushing is a bit much, and I would probably agree. Still, staying at the home of John McEuen, the multi-instrumental mainstay of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a couple of years ago was an amazing bonding experience and we’ve since become pals. When I spent a week at Todd Rundgren’s rock ‘n’ roll summer camp few years ago, I never shook that awe I felt at being in the presence of a legend, and a personal hero to boot. When I interviewed Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Justin Hayward last year, I reminded him that we had spoken before and he seemed to remember me. (Well, he did address me by name anyway, which I do think kinda counts) It was the same scenario last time I chatted with Ian Anderson, with whom I’ve tallied a total of three conversations. Whether or not Ian actually remembered me is a matter of conjecture. But I did point out that I had hung out with his older brother (!) at the Todd Rundgren gathering, so that seemed to bring the connection closer.

Peter Frampton and his mum, presumably named Mrs. Frampton.

On the other hand, when I interviewed the lovely and talented Tift Merritt, I was anxious to remind her that we had actually met in person on a music cruise. Sadly, she didn’t seem to remember me. The same thing happened when I met Holly Williams, Hank Sr.’s great granddaughter. There again, we had spoken extensively over the phone but when we met in person all she could offer was a blank stare. As musicians gain fame, apparently too many hanger-ons tend to get in the way.

No worries though. I keep moving forward in attempting to make new friends. After interviewing Gene Cornish of the Rascals, there was a glimmer of recognition when we met prior to a show. The same thing happened when I interviewed Toto guitarist Steve Lukather and subsequently introduced backstage after one of their shows. I reconnected with Howard Kaylan, lead singer of the Turtles, after sending him an email congratulating him on his autobiography, Shell Shocked, and later coaxed him out of his tour bus a couple of years later. When Howard and I spent an afternoon at the hotel bar in Seattle several years ago, that become the first of two Turtle connections. I met his singing partner Mark Volman at the aforementioned Todd Rundgren retreat.

Steve Boone, bassist of the Lovin’ Spoonful, is more than a superficial friend. We met many years ago when I lived in the Virgin Islands and he had ventured there following the Spoonful’s break-up. We stay in touch and he does know my name…  or at least he should – he was at my wedding.

I would add Bob Dylan’s son-in-law, the gifted singer/songwriter Peter Himmelman, to my list of musical pals. He actually called me once to share news on his latest project and I consider that kind of cool.

“So when Bob comes over to the house, what do you call him?” I asked. “Sir? Dad? Oh, much revered legend?” “Bob,” he replied.

I have a friend who tells me that the only reason these musicians are friendly with me is because they know that I can bring them publicity. That seems a somewhat cynical view to me. He says I’m in denial. But even if that’s the case, I really don’t care. All I know is that if I pick up the phone, I can get a real rock star to answer my call.

Did I mention I have Peter Frampton’s cell number on my smart phone? Imagine what I could do with that. “Hello Mr. Frampton, it’s Lee Zimmerman. How are things with you?”

“Who? How did you get my number?” Click.

Having Peter Frampton hang up on you could count for something. Then again, knowing that I might butt dial him one day also adds to the possibilities.

Yup, maybe you’re thinking my obsession is getting kind of weird. I might have to agree. Or I might not. Wait — let me get back to you… I’m kinda giddy right now because I’m preparing for an upcoming interview with Brian Wilson. I’ll let you know after I get off the call…

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville, Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year. 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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