By Jeb Wright
David Fishoff has had two great passions in his life: sports and music. He has been successful in both endeavors, one as a high-profile sports agent and the other as a successful concert promoter, including the creation of Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band.
Today, Fishoff has changed his focus, and instead of representing athletes or hitting the concert circuit, he is changing people’s lives with his latest creation, The Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp.
Fishoff’s camp gives music lovers the opportunity to perform onstage with a famous musician as the opening act at a rock concert. Fishoff recounts how he was first struck with the idea.
“It came to me when I was on the road with Ringo and his All-Starr Band. I was hanging out with amazing people like Ringo, Joe Walsh and Dr. John. I was on the plane, playing cards, and I was hearing these amazing stories. It was such an experience that I thought how amazing it would be to be able to give other people the same experience.”
Success was not immediate, however. Fishoff recalls how the first camp, while fun, was not profitable.
“I called Nils Lofgren, Clarence Clemons and Mark Farner, and I asked them if they would help me put together my first camp. They all agreed. We went to Florida, and I lost a lot of money, but a lot of news people showed up including People, Newsweek, Time and VH1. On the second day, I was walking through the lobby, and they said, ‘Fishoff, come here.’ I thought they were going to kill me and tell me what a goofy idea this was. They said how much they loved it, and they gave me great reviews. I didn’t see how I could make a living doing it at that time, so I didn’t do another one for five years.”
A chance event at a corporate music gathering actually gave Fishoff the inspiration to try again.
“I was at the Pollstar convention, and they were doing one of those ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ type game shows with Tommy Shaw and Sammy Hagar. Bon Jovi was standing in the back of the room. We have a lot of mutual friends in the sports industry as I used to be a sports agent. I walked over to him, and we started chatting.
“One of the questions was, ‘Who created the Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp? David Bowie, David Burns or David Fishoff.’ Tommy Shaw said, ‘David Fishoff.’ Bon Jovi looks at me and goes, ‘Fishoff, that’s you.’ I couldn’t believe those guys remembered my camp, so I decided to do it again. I called Bret Michaels, George Thorogood and other guys I had met backstage. I asked them if they would appear at the camp. We decided to do it in L.A. and VH-1 Classic was there. I didn’t lose any money.”
Since that time, The Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp has grown every year. The stars keep getting bigger, and the overall feeling is one of respect, learning and excitement.
“The campers love it, but the rock stars also love it,” says Fishoff. “Roger Daltrey has done five camps, Bret Michaels has done four and Paul Stanley has done two. I think it reminds them of when they first started out in the business; it reminds them of their childhood. We call them ‘professors.’ They don’t have the worries of selling tickets or performing. They get to relax, and they get a lot of respect. It takes place in a rehearsal studio, so they feel at home. They get to jam on songs they may not have played before, and they get to have fun.”
As fulfilling as the camp is for the stars, it is most special for the people who attend. Fishoff recalls one of his most memorable and emotional camp experiences.
“I got a call from a guy at the L.A. Times who said he wanted to go through the camp. On the second day he sits down with me at breakfast, and I tell him, ‘This is going to change your life.’ He laughed and said, ‘Oh yeah, Fishoff, it’s life changing for you, because you are going to make a lot of money.’ I told him, ‘When you find the money let me know.’
“He goes through the camp, and he writes a great article. He calls me, and he says, ‘David, can I have your permission to write a screenplay? That camp changed my life. My mom had just died of cancer, and you put me with a camper in my band who was dying from cancer.’
“There was a guy who had a Make a Wish to come to camp. Everyone in the camp just fell in love with this guy. We invited him to Vegas, and we randomly stuck him in a band, and he died about three weeks later. The writer was so affected by randomly being selected to be in a band with this guy that he is now writing a screenplay. It is not me; it really is the power of music. The rock stars really make you strive for success, and they push you. You start to realize that if you can do this, then you can do anything. To be honest with you, I didn’t know the effects this would have on people’s lives when I created the camp.”
Realizing that only a select few could afford the cost of the in-depth, five-day camp, Fishoff has unveiled his latest idea this summer: The Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp Tour.
“I was running four camps a year at a very high price,” says Fishoff. “Now I am doing a Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp Tour where a person can come for one day. You sign up and pick your rock star counselor in advance; naturally, it is a first-come, first-serve basis. You can pick Kip Winger, Mark Slaughter, Gilby Clark or whoever you want. The counselor will tell you five songs they want you to learn in advance.”
Winger, Slaughter and Clark will all be counselors at this summer’s Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp. For more information on the camp and the tour, visit www.rockandrollfantasycamp.com.
As for the tour, it challenges both the rock star counselors and the students alike. It is an intense one-day event that culminates in a live performance.
“The excitement starts the minute you sign up, because you get to practicing so you don’t screw up; you want to get the music and lyrics down,” says Fishoff. “When you come to camp, you are put into a band with people you don’t know but who have all been practicing the songs. The first morning you rehearse, and then, after lunch, you take a master class with another rock star. You have to name your band that afternoon as well. At five o’clock you meet Extreme and King’s X, who are the two bands who are closing the show that you will be opening. You will be on the exact same stage that they play on. You go from rehearsing in the morning with people you have never met to being on stage for 10 minutes being the opening act for a major band. It is mind-blowing to get on that stage before thousands of screaming fans. Your rock star counselor also plays with you.”
There is no typical type of person who signs up for the camps. “The five-day camps get a lot of 35- to 55-years-olds,” says Fishoff. “At the tour camp you get anyone from 17-65. You will get the CEO of a company… with a surgeon, with a housewife, with a college student. Everybody helps everybody. The power of music is amazing. When they are in a band, then everyone is equal, and they just want to make music together.”
One does not even have to be an accomplished musician to experience the thrill of all the camp has to offer.
“You can have played 30 years, or you can have played three months, or you can just sing,” Fishoff explains. “The rock stars have learned so much from doing these camps that they have perfected it. We try to group you with people who have been playing as long as you have. We have people who have never sung before singing background or even lead if they have the chops. You can learn to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ if you have never played guitar before. On the drums, we may have a drummer who can be fancy and one who can just keep a beat. The rock stars are so professional that they find a way to make you feel comfortable with what you can do. They are basically like record producers. I tell them that they have 10 hours to produce this new band and get them on stage.”
One word of warning though: Just because you sign up and pay the price of admission doesn’t mean that you are just going to get to go through the motions and take a cake walk. The professors and Fishoff are serious about the music and about giving the participants the opportunity to make the most out of this unique experience.
David tells of one time he thought he may have gone too far.
“A woman from England came to the camp and on the second day she is there — she is going to be singing with Roger Daltrey — she is rehearsing and still reading the lyrics off of her sheet. I go to her, and I say, ‘You’re going to be singing with Roger Daltrey tomorrow night. Don’t you think you should go and learn the words to this song? This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you are still reading words off a page.’ She ran off and she cried. I thought I had lost this lady as a customer. As it turned out, she signed up to go on tour for five days this summer.”
In addition to making many famous friends, Fishoff’s unique career has also allowed him to amass an amazing collection of music memorabilia.
A change in lifestyle and priorities now sees the music mogul willing to part with many of his treasures. Fishoff has teamed up with the Houston, Texas,-based company Backstage Auctions to allow music lovers the chance to own a piece of rock and roll history.
“I had a five-story home in Manhattan that I sold,” says Fishoff. “I had my office in my house. I used to put all of my collectibles on my walls. I put everything in storage, and I knew I was never going to go into a big house again, so I decided to put it up for auction. When I started 30 years ago, I had no idea what the memorabilia business was going to become. I have to say that I never did it for that reason anyway. I collected things because I enjoyed it. It reminded me of all the fun things that I did, and the great people I got to meet. There are a few pieces that I am going to save, but I realize that you go on. As much as I enjoy the past, I can always read about it and look at the scrapbook. The material things in life just don’t mean that much to me anymore.”
Among the items is a piece that will have Beatles collectors opening up their purse strings. “I have one of only 100 of The Beatles Yellow Submarine jukeboxes. I have some framed drumheads with Ringo and George Harrison on them. I have another one with Ringo and Ginger Baker.
“The public should know that all of these things are authentic, because these people signed them for me for the All-Starr tours and the camps that I have done. I have some great stuff from Roger Daltrey, as well as others. I have a nice painting from David Letterman that he signed when we did a Late Night appearance. Another great piece I have is number one of a limited-edition print LeRoy Neiman did of The Beatles. I basically have [signed items from] 75 to 100 major stars that appeared at The Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. I also did the ‘British Rock Symphony’ tour, and I have things signed from that.
“I went to Backstage Auctions because they deal with people who have things that normal people would not have. Jacques van Gool, the owner, came to my house and went through all my paperwork. He went through pieces of art like a Peter Max proof of an album cover he did for the British Rock Symphony and told me that collectors would want that sort of thing. I plan on giving a portion of it to charity. I will give a piece of it to various charities actually. Roger Daltrey has a charity, and I will give a lot to that. My son-in-law is a Rabbi, so I will give some money to some of his charities.”
At the end of the day, The Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp is David’s way of giving back for the blessed life he has lived. He admits that his desire to continue with the camp goes far beyond simple financial rewards.
“I never did anything for money. I did it because I had the passion to do it and be the best at it. The only way you will be successful is if you have a passion. A lot of people start something and then they go away from it. You just have to learn not to spend more than you make.