Roger Daltrey Was My Backup Singer
By Hank Gilman

(FORTUNE Magazine) – So I'm up on stage with my new band, Byrdman of Alcohol, at a legendary New York City rock & roll club. I nervously begin the opening riff to our arrangement of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues." My fingers miss a note or two. But I keep it together long enough for our singer, Roger Daltrey, to take over.

The lead singer of the Who, Daltrey's a big help. Then I remember who's in the audience. Levon Helm played with the Band. Leslie West founded Mountain ("Mississippi Queen /You know what I mean!"). Bobby Mayo played keyboards and guitar on Frampton Comes Alive! Marky Ramone is... Why is he laughing? And what am I, a bald, 51-year-old editor who ain't nearly as well preserved as Mick Jagger, doing up here teetering between rock stardom and rock martyrdom?

I'm in Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp, the brainchild of rock producers David Fishof and Harry Javer. For about $6,000 plus airfare and hotel (FORTUNE is a sponsor; thus my appearance) you can spend four days rehearsing with rock legends, listening to tales of rock & roll excess from the likes of Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad) and schmoozing with people who would not in a million years think of schmoozing with you.

On the first afternoon, my fellow campers and I waited in line to audition before a panel of musicians. "I have no idea what I'm doing," I announced. "Put me in a band where I'll do no harm." Ricky Byrd (you've air-guitarred to his blistering lead on Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll") told me not to worry: "I made a whole career out of not knowing what I was doing." I found myself sorted into a band of beginners like myself: a high school student on keyboards, a lawyer on drums, a CFO also on drums, a gastroenterologist on lead guitar, and a New Jersey Lotto winner on whatever she could get her hands on. Our mission: prepare for a battle of the bands at the Bottom Line in Manhattan. Mastering three entire songs in three days seemed beyond our abilities. But you'd be amazed at what you can accomplish in just six or seven hours of grueling, nonstop rehearsal a day.

Then, too, it helps if the songs use the same three chords. Besides "Summertime Blues," our set list included the classic-radio standard "All Right Now," plus a medley of "Louis, Louis" and "Wild Thing," which turn out to be the same song. Byrd was our musical director and the inspiration for our name. Under his tutelage I discovered--as Kiss must have long ago--that there's no musical mistake amplifier distortion can't hide. I learned that if you're working on the rhythm part to Free's "All Right Now," it's good to have Free's drummer on hand. (Simon Kirke dropped by during rehearsal.) I even got rock & roll "attitude" training--mostly how to preen on stage--from Deep Purple's Joe Lynn Turner, whose Goth-black T-shirt included a tasteful array of skulls and crossbones.

But as the final evening neared, it occurred to us that we were going to perform our songs in front of, well, people. Worse yet, our rival bands had some musicians with actual skill--think good cover bands at the local Ramada Inn. So how did we acquit ourselves onstage? Truth is, I don't really remember. I vaguely recall a familiar voice belting out "Summertime Blues" somewhere alongside me. But the members of Byrdman of Alcohol were so absorbed in the reality of making our songs work that we didn't have time for the fantasy. Roger Who? --Hank Gilman