Put Alice Cooper, Judas Priest and other rockers in a room with a bunch of unknown aspiring musicians and what do you get? The real-life event known as Rock N’ Roll Fantasy Camp.
Although this might sound scripted, it is one man’s real-life entrepreneurial dream come true. Founder David Fishof was a lousy teen musician. But, at the encouragement of his father — a cantor whose survival features in S.B. Unsdorfer’s Holocaust memoir “The Yellow Star” — Fishof came of age promoting his brother’s band in the Catskills. He went on to rep sports stars and other heavy hitters. He created the first Monkees reunion tour in 1986, as well as multiple tours for Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band.
On the road with Ringo, some musicians played an elaborate practical joke on Fishof, prompting him to ponder how fun it might be for ordinary folks to interact closely with headliners. And thus, a star-filled experience was born.
About 20 years in the making, the camp is now the subject of a new documentary, “Rock Camp, The Movie” which dropped onto video on demand platforms this week and is currently streaming at virtual theaters.
When a film opens with the words, “Rock stars were harmed in the making of this film,” you know you’re in for a virtual Harley ride. Indeed, the film is as fun as its title suggests. But it is also surprisingly stirring, revealing how four days of living large at a real-life School of Rock gives people lasting hope.
Former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick, who joined the camp’s team of professional counselors in 2005, says the pros are often “blown away by the campers” — though that’s not to say they aren’t also occasionally starstruck by their fellow rock gods.
“The camp always has major rock stars as guests,” Kulick tells The Times of Israel. “The counselors sometimes have opportunities to jam with them for the campers. I was the guitarist for The Who’s singer Roger Daltrey, performing major Who classics. Another thrill was to jam with Jack Bruce of Cream in a London camp. That was a peak experience.”
Fishof launched the first Rock N’ Roll Fantasy Camp in the late ’90s, allowing participants to practice, perform and shmooze with rock living legends. As the film opens, Fishof takes off on his scooter through the streets of Los Angeles’s Hancock Park, the heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood where he resides. A rocking “Hava Nagila” accompanies a kippa-wearing Fishof phoning big names with camp details while exercising at home.
“Artists love to give back because they realize that their success is based on the fans,” he tells the camera.
A virtual Hall of Fame, the roster of camp counselors resonates like the classic hit from Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, “The Cover of Rolling Stone.” Think Alice Cooper, Roger Daltrey (The Who), Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (KISS), Mickey Hart (The Grateful Dead), Slash (Guns N’Roses), Vince Neil and Tommy Lee (Motley Crue), Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), Nancy Wilson (Heart), Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Sammy Hagar (Van Halen), Joe Walsh (Eagles), David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, and Nash), Steven Tyler (The Rolling Stones), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Ginger Baker (Cream), and on.
“I love the way they react and realize how cool it is, how great they feel giving back and wish they had a chance to play with their heroes growing up,” Fishof tells The Times of Israel. “Most have stayed longer than I asked for because they all get into it. Nick Mason stayed for four days because he loved it. Slash jammed for 12 hours straight.”
“Every day I get emails from past campers on how camp has made their lives better,” he says. “I enjoy their getting over their fears to be in a band and perform and write songs with these big stars.”
Besides the camp’s origin story, its appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons” and a score of news programs, the film also details several moving “camp transformations.”
Scott “Pistol” Crockett is a drummer who took up the sticks at age 11 and revives his calling. Blake Meinhardt is a college student whose disabilities melt away while he strums. And New Jersey grandmother Tammy Fisher works by day in corporate Manhattan, treasures a massive stash of KISS memorabilia, and dreams of debuting as a vocalist at camp.
Kulick, who played lead guitar for KISS from 1984 until 1996 after founding member Ace Frehley left the band in 1982, says his former bandmates also had a blast at the camp.
“Paul Stanley gave some very inspirational advice to campers, and Gene Simmons shared the secrets of songwriting, jumping into being a part of the camper band like it was his own,” Kulick said of the iconic rock group’s two Jewish founding members.
Kulick, who is Jewish, says that during his tenure as KISS lead guitarist, three out of the four musicians were members of the Tribe.
Gene Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Haifa to Hungarian Holocaust survivors, and moved to New York with his mother at age 8. Paul Stanley was born in New York, and was originally named Stanley Eisen before adopting his stage name. His mother’s family fled Nazi Germany and arrived in the Big Apple by way of Amsterdam; his father’s family were Jewish immigrants from Poland.
In 2014, Stanley accused Frehley and Peter Criss, the band’s other two founding members, of anti-Semitism in his memoir “Face the Music.” Criss and Frehley deny being anti-Semitic, but the fractured band hasn’t played together since the early 2000s.
Kulick says that Judaism played a significant role in his life growing up.
“My grandfather was the most religious of the family,” he tells The Times of Israel. “We had a sort-of-kosher home for him. I had my bar mitzvah and I did go to an Orthodox synagogue. But the family was much more Reform, without ever losing any feeling of being Jewish.”
Kulick also says this shared identity brought him closer to his bandmates. “Paul and I have similar ancestry and we relate very much like brothers,” he says. “Growing up in New York City was a part of [my Jewish experience], too, being the grandson of one of the many from Eastern Europe that came to America for a better life.”