NAMM 2013: It’s Not JUST About the Party!

Photos by Diane Hill

NAMM 2013

NAMM 2013

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National Association of Music Merchants, (NAMM) is a trade show for musicians/businesses to see the latest musical instruments and products available. Thousands of manufactures of musical products, and retailers from around the world, showcase musical instruments, audio and visual equipment, computer products, and musical novelties at the convention. Artist signings, product demonstrations, band performances, and professional development classes are scheduled throughout the event as well.

Attendance at the Anaheim Convention Center was down just over 6000 from last year. However, this was due to a deliberate revision to attendance eligibility. I kept hearing about people (guests) not being able to get in this year, and now I know why. Based on member feedback, NAMM made an effort this year to increase buyers and limit guests in order to create a more business-friendly environment. Their strategy was a success, and buyers increased 4% since last year, and non-industry guests decreased by 16%.  This show also had 289 new exhibitors that represented about 700 unique brands. If all goes well, Metal Babe Mayhem will be one of the new exhibitors next year!

At this point I pretty much have the layout of the convention center figured out, and I know exactly what I want to do and when I want to do it. Also, this was the year of the NAMM 2013 iPhone App, which was awesome. You could find out where you were, and where you wanted to go within seconds. This was the 1111th year for the convention, and my 4th year covering the show for All Access Magazine. Everywhere I looked, I saw rock stars, friends, and fans. I spent three full days at the show (Friday, January 24th to Sunday, January 27th)

Sunday, February 27th) and fit in as much as I possibly could.

Timing was on my side Friday morning when I ran into Dave Ellefson from Megadeth at the Hartke booth. He was just finishing an interview, so I jumped next in line. When I asked Dave what his goal at NAMM was, he laughed, and said, ‘I’m here to sign autographs. That’s my goal.’ Dave has used Hartke bass amps for many years, (He uses the HyDrive HX810 Bass Cabinet.) and had signings planned with S.I.T. Strings and Beamz, an interactive laser company from Scottsdale, AZ. He also told me that Megadeth is working on a new record, and that it’s coming along really, really well. He was excited that they already had the bass and drum tracks done for about ten songs, and the tunes have really started to take shape. For the most part, the CD is kind of going back to the thrash sound of Megadeth that started back in the early 80’s. But, obviously performed differently since today’s technology makes it sound more modern.

Rock-N-Roll GangStar was in a different location this year, and a lot closer to the action. They were selling t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, wrist cuffs, and guitar straps, and had signings scheduled throughout the event. I stopped by here and there to see what was going on and to say hi to my friends working the booth, and made a point to stop by when Phil and Gonzo Sandoval from Armored Saint were there. I had just seen Armored Saint play their 30th Anniversary Show at the House of Blues in Hollywood and talked to them for a minute about that.

They also just played at the 3rd Annual Rock-N-Roll Gangstar Pre-NAMM Jam, and played the night before for Rob Sherriff Productions. Gonzo said that rock n’ roll is all about having fun. For him, it’s music and photography all the way. He also told me that there’s talk of writing new songs and a new Armored Saint album in the near future. Their last CD “La Raza” is one of my favorite CD’s ever, so I can’t wait to hear the follow-up. I told Phil I was looking forward to seeing him play the Krank Booth the next day with Jeff Duncan, and was on my way.

Carlos Bates Cruz from Stonebreed was in the area, and surprised me by wearing a Metal Babe shirt at the show. He told me how busy, busy, busy the band has been, and that he was looking forward to the big show that night at Malone’s Bar And Grill with Cry Wolf and Uli Jon Roth.

NAMM 2013From there I ran into Stacy Blades, who told me more about his recent departure from L.A. Guns. After ten years, they made a mutual decision to go their separate ways. Stacy is looking forward to the next chapter of his life, and has some surprises in the works. Keep posted for a press release coming soon.

I have a couple Black Stone Cherry CD’s and thought it would be cool to check out their set at Peavey Electronics. Chris Robertson and Ben Wells played several acoustic tracks (On OX Acoustic Peavey guitars) including ‘White Trash Millionaire’ and ‘Waiting for the Boom Boom’ from their recent release “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and one of my favorite songs by them, ‘In My Blood.’ During the set, they told us a story about when they first went to the Peavey factory, how they went right into Mr. Peavey’s office, and he sat down and talked to them just as if they were his next-door neighbors. That really meant a lot to them. Peavey has always been respectful and generous to them and has a special place in their hearts.

I left Peavey just in time to catch Archer’s singer Dylan Rose, who had just finished up a signing at the Rock N Roll Industries booth. Archer is back in the studio working on killer new record and getting ready to head out on tour with Black Label Society. They had a big show at the Viper Room the next night with Gilby Clarke, which was actually the first show with their new drummer Tyler Logan. And, they were taking a Gibson tour bus to and from the show! If only I could be in two places at once…

I recently interviewed Richie Onori, (Sweet/Heaven and Earth) regarding his solo release “The Days of Innocence” and his line of Onori Guitar Straps, and have been a fan of Stuart Smith (Heaven and Earth) since his 1994 album. I met up with Richie and Stuart Smith at the show to check out Onori’s guitar straps, and to talk to them about their upcoming Heaven and Earth CD “Dig.”

Richie Onori had a booth at the show for the 8th year in a row. He showed me a few of his new guitar straps for 2013, including crocodile, embroidered, quick lock, and woven cotton straps. Richie is super busy right now, with his company, solo project, Sweet, and Heaven and Earth.

Stuart told me about the theme of the album, scheduled for release April 23rd, and how when he started writing the CD he was in a dark place; angry, and dealing with a break-up. But ‘music heals you,’ and halfway through the CD, the direction changed with an anthem titled ‘Rock and Roll Does.’ The rest of the CD is more lighthearted, ending with a song titled ‘Live As One,’ which even has a full gospel choir. Stuart is so excited about this CD and said, ‘This is the best album I’ve ever done in my life.’ The idea behind “Dig” is to bring rock n’ roll back; dig it out of the ground. Personally, I can’t wait to hear it. The first single and video for ‘No Money No Love’ will be out any day now, followed by ‘I Don’t Know What Love Is.’ Ninety percent of the CD was recorded at Onori’s home studio. Richie Sambora has some guitar parts and vocals on the CD as well.

I attended a seminar first thing Saturday morning (Yes, I went to a seminar. NAMM isn’t JUST about the party!) by Barry Moltz called ‘Boost Your Productivity.’ He gave an informative and interactive presentation that discussed ten ways to be more productive in less time. I definitely learned a few things, and look forward to working more with Barry in the future.

It was awesome seeing Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval from Armored Saint play the Krank booth. I saw them play there last year and was looking forward to seeing them again. They ‘Kranked’ out three of my favorite Saint songs: ‘March of the Saints,’ ‘Symbol of Salvation,’ and ‘Reign of Fire.’ When they were done, they let fans jump onstage for pictures. Also, while I was at the Krank booth, I was ecstatic to see that Frank Hannon and Dave Rude from Tesla were listed on the schedule for 3:00pm that day.

NAMM 2013I went back to the booth for Tesla a couple hours later and had a chance to snap a quick picture with Frank Hannon before they started playing. Frank introduced himself and Dave Rude, and said that they use the Nineteen80 model Krank Amp because they are a little more classic orientated, and geared more for the blues-rock player like Dave Rude. Frank named some of the 80’s metal bands that influenced them, including Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Dokken, and the Scorpions. Dave added Eddie Van Halen and Rick Derringer to the list, and broke into ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ saying they inspired the hammer-on intro and it was really much easier to play than it sounds. They also played ‘I Wanna Live,’ from their phenomenal CD “Forever More,” in addition to a 12 bar blues jam. Like Armored Saint, (Jeff and Phil) they invited fans onstage for autographs and pictures after their demo. One thing I ALWAYS say about Tesla is that they get better and better over time. It was amazing to get to have such an up-close-and-personal experience with them.

I had really been looking forward to seeing Alex Scholnick from Testament perform with his jazz trio at the Peavey booth. It was so cool to see him perform in such an intimate setting. His set consisted of jazz infused rock and blues, including original songs ‘The River Lethe’ from “Veritas” and ‘Western Sabbath Stomp.’ I was able to talk to Alex for a bit after he played and he told me that he was having a great time with Peavey, and that his first ever signature high gain amplifier was coming out the next day. He had just played it onstage, and used it the night before. Alex was psyched to say, ‘It has things that no other amp has!’ He also told me about how he demoed the Viper Amp, which ‘has more sounds than any small amp I’ve heard.’ Scholnick was getting ready to head out on the Testament tour with Overkill, has some dates scheduled in spring with the Trio, and is going to be recording soon with an acoustic-based world music project called Planetary Coalition. He even just put a book out called Acoustic Guitar Hero. (You can find it at www.geekguitarhero.com.)

NAMM 2013I had received a media email from Etymotic Research, Inc and was looking forward to learning about their earplugs. Last October Etymotic partnered with Vic Firth, who has been known primarily for their drumsticks for the past 50 years. Both companies believe strongly in education, and Vic Firth wants to protect their drummer’s hearing as well. These earplugs are affordable, reusable, and reduce sound evenly by 20 decibels across all frequencies. This way you can still hear everything that is going on; just softer. I’ve probably been to 500 concerts, but rarely wear earplugs because I never knew there were better options than those yellow industrial ‘things.’ After learning about ETY high-fidelity ready fit earplugs, and understanding the quality and benefits, I am going to start using them at my next show.

Nikki Sixx had two signings scheduled, one with Schecter Guitars and one with Dean Markley Strings. Dean Markley made the most sense with my schedule, so I made it a point to be in the front of the line for that one. It was great to see one of my favorite musicians, songwriters, bass players, and businessmen of all time. We even talked about my clothing line for a minute. Nikki Sixx’ Helix HD SS Custom Bass strings are made of a special Stainless Steel that gives each bass string an unforgettable ‘stainless’ tone. And, what is really cool, for all you Nikki Sixx and Motley Crue fans, is that these bass strings are the exact strings and exact gauges that Nikki Sixx uses himself!

Last year Marshall Amplification replaced their classic amplifier line-up (An entire wall of stacked amps) with a cardboard display. It just didn’t have the same feel to it, so I was glad to see they had their classic display back again this year. What really stood out to me, in addition to the ‘great wall,’ was Marshall’s new signature refrigerator. It looks just like a Marshall Amp, with genuine logos, and woven black fret cloth, and it even has control knobs that go up to 11. (ala Spinal Tap.) This would be ideal for any band’s rehearsal space.

NAMM 2013Speaking of rehearsal space, Lamvin Acoustical Products, an acoustic product manufacturer that has been in business since 1961, was showcasing a way to soundproof your space in style. These panels are up to 4” thick, 48” wide, and 120” high, and they look like pictures or paintings. They had various design/patterns available, in addition to photos of Motley Crue, Slayer, and Aerosmith.

At one point during the show I found myself in a food line behind Mikkey Dee from Motorhead. We had a fun chat, and talked about when we first met back in 1998, the song Michael Monroe wrote for Motorhead, and how Motorhead is a MACHINE that tours, records, tours, records, and repeats. I also ran into Judas Priest’s drummer Scott Travis. He’s been spotted out and about in the L.A. area recently, but this is the first time I had actually met him. And I have to say, that guy is TALL!

A personal highlight of the show is always stopping by to see Rikki Rockett and Rockett Drum Works. Rikki was in and out of his booth throughout the show, so after a couple attempts I actually walked up when he was doing a signing with Athena Lee. (Krunk/Tommy Lee’s sister)

Rockett Drum Works project manager Brandon Leeigh took the time to go over the details of their two new drum sets, the Betty Paige and the Dead Dolls kits. Both looked amazing, and were hand painted by Greg Fraser from House of Kolor. The Betty Paige kit is made of 8-ply birch wood, hand-pinstriped, and hand-painted with the Betty Paige graphic. Rikki and Brandon actually came up with the idea for the Dead Dolls kit over lasagna. They decided to make a ‘kid’s nightmare kit’ that has cool hidden things on every drum, like the number 13 and the Latin word for poison. The kit is made of 8-ply maple, except for the snare, which is 10-ply.

Brandon also told me that Rockett Drum Works have been working on a reality television show for almost five years and that it was finally going to happen. The press release just came out for ‘American Drums.’ The show is based on building custom-made drum sets and all the ups, downs, and hard work that goes into it. Brandon said to think of it like American Choppers, but with drums and rock stars. I am so happy for them, and can’t wait until the show comes out.

Marten Andersson (Lizzy Borden) and Bjorn Englen (Yngwie Malmsteen/ Soul Sign) were doing a signing at Carvin. Same place I saw them last year. We all chatted for a few minutes before they officially started the signing. Lizzy Borden and AC Alexander were close by too. It was great to see all of them at the show. Lizzy Borden is gearing up for their 30 Years of American Metal tour, and was actually heading straight to Miami from the show to play the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise. I’ve already seen pictures from ‘the world’s biggest heavy metal cruise’ and it looks amazing. Forty heavy metal bands and 2,000 fans all cruising through the Caribbean. April dates are currently scheduled for Lizzy Borden, starting with 4/13/13 at The Whisky in Hollywood.

NAMM 2013I knew that AC Alexander had recently departed from Lizzy Borden, but I didn’t know any details. He basically said I need to talk to Lizzy about that, but they were all on good terms for sure. We even all ended up partying together that night at the Hilton! AC is a busy guy. He said that Warrior, a metal band that was originally formed in 1982, has sprung up again and is working on a new album. In addition to Warrior, AC has also been playing with a band from San Diego called The Exposed, and just recorded a CD with the All Star Players.

Sunday’s are always a bit slower, which is a great time to check out the gear, and make sure that I didn’t miss anything at the show. Laney Amplification was showcasing a brand new signature series from Toni Iommi. These cabinets were really cool! Instead of a traditional grill cloth, it had a sheet of metal with hundreds of classic Iommi crosses cut out of it. They have a full-size stack and practice amp available.

I saw Lonn Friend (RIP Magazine/Headbangers Ball) at Rock-N-Roll Gangstar and we chatted for a few minutes. He was really enjoying the show, and looking forward to working on an event called The Rock ‘n’ Roll Autograph show at the LAX Hilton March 15th to 17th. Jamie St. James (Black N’ Blue/Warrant) was also in the area, and it just happened to be his birthday that day. I had never met him before, and he was super nice!

I stopped by Rock N Roll Industries to see Kimberly Freeman and Jason Rufuss Sewell from power rock duo One-Eyed Doll. Kimberly is so sweet; it was great to see her again. And we actually EXCHANGED autographs. Yes, she asked me for mine first! (I had a full-page ad for Metal Babe Mayhem in the magazine.) From there a few more people asked me for my autograph as well. Hopefully by next year I’ll be able to do a booth and have signings of my own!

Coffin Case, which is right next to Rock N Roll Industries, had something I had never seen before… A microphone that actually LOOKED like a skull! The microphone was inside a metal skull casing, and it was awesome. This may be a new thing of the future. Maybe I’ll even end up with a Metal Babe mic!

NAMM 2013One thing I noticed this year at NAMM is that there were several companies focusing on kids. Kid’s guitars, kid’s guitar straps, kid’s percussion instruments, etc… Kids are the future of music, and the future of rock n’ roll, so it’s great to see all of these resources available for them. A couple of the booths that stood out were Nino Percussion and Rhythm Band Instruments, who have been known for their Boomwhacker tuned percussion tubes for 50 years. Even Daisy Rock Girl Guitars has guitars shaped like flowers and stars to appeal to kids.

Paul Reed Smith (PRS Guitars) moved up to the 2nd floor this year, in addition to Peavey Electronics, Ampeg, ESP, and Schecter. PRS Guitars always have one of the best displays at the entire show. Even with less space, their guitars were beautifully showcased; each with a shining light of its own. I also noticed, for the first time, that many of their guitars included symbols of birds, either on the body of the guitar, or on the fretboard. I found this interesting, and learned that Paul Reed Smith’s mom was an avid bird lover, and he chose to use this concept in her honor. They displayed a series of one-of-a-kind 2013 guitars that included a wooden bird-carving inlay in the body, which corresponded with a matching pearl bird inlay on the fretboard. ESP had a bunch of new guitars for 2013, including a series of monster guitars that included some Vincent Price and other monster designs.

Several stages are set up throughout the convention center, both inside and out, where bands play continuously throughout the day and into the night. There is a Main Stage outside by the John Lennon educational tour bus, and there was a new stage called the Anaheim Grand Plaza in the courtyard area between the Marriot and the Hilton hotels.

I caught a bit of Kiss Me Deadly, which is an all-girl cover band, at the Anaheim Grand Plaza. I was drawn to the stage when I heard Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” and I was surprised to see they were all girls. I watched for a bit, before moving on, and would definitely recommend checking them out. Other bands that played this stage included Tower of Power, The Living Legends Jam (with band members from the Eagles, Black Sabbath, and Fleetwood Mac) and CTA (California Transit Authority).

I also saw a marching band called Get A Life play Buddy Mile’s song, ‘Them Changes,’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstitious’ on a courtyard stage inside the convention. Speaking of Stevie Wonder, I did see him walk by at one point during the show. Him and an entourage of at least twenty people! I found out later that he actually had played five songs that Saturday night at The Hilton.

I always enjoy looking through the Dean Guitar booth and seeing all their signature designs, especially since I recently toured the Dean Guitar factory in Tampa and saw the entire process of turning a piece of wood into a guitar. Dean Guitars also broadcast Live from NAMM throughout the entire convention, so people all over the world could experience a part of NAMM firsthand.

Ibanez was showcasing new 7 and 8 String Guitars for 2013. I never actually knew how the strings ‘worked’ once you got to 7 and 8, so I learned that the Low E (1st string) is the 2nd or 3rd string down, depending, so that helped it make sense for sure.

Cort had a display of Gene Simmons guitars including his axe designs. (The guitar is actually shaped like an axe.) Nothing new this year, but I really liked the black studded bass they had on display. It’s funny, the associate working the booth told me I could take a picture with one of the basses if I wanted to, so I asked if I could take a picture with that black one, and of course THAT was the one that was tied up, so I couldn’t do it!

I just happened to look up and see Randy Black from Primal Fear at the Los Cabos booth. Lots of great things are happening right now for Randy. He is really excited that Los Cabos are in the process of introducing the new Randy Black Signature Drumstick model. These sticks have a ‘black grip’ that helps you grip the stick, and the longer you play with it, the warmer it gets, the more sticky it gets, and the easier they are to play with.

He was also happy to tell me that Primal Fear just signed an extension to their record deal. They are going to release three studio CD’s, a live CD, and a live DVD over the next five to six years. In addition, his other band Dusk Machine, which consists of three guys from Anhilitor, signed with Massacre Records about a month ago and plan to release a new CD this spring.

Overall, it was a great show. I had a big promotional push for Metal Babe Mayhem, with all kinds of promo items and exposure throughout the show. I really enjoyed seeing all the new products, meeting up with friends, and making new ones. It was awesome to see all the live performances, and participate in the signings. I am already looking forward to NAMM 2014!