David Fishof is the founder and CEO of Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp which reached its 25th anniversary in 2022. Fishof began his tenure in the entertainment industry as a sports agent, representing NBA, MLB and NFL players, before transitioning to a music/tour producer. As a newcomer in the industry, Fishof created “The Happy Together Tour”, which brought together The Association, The Turtles, The Grass Roots, Gary Puckett, The Buckinghams and Tommy James and the Shondells. Fishof is responsible for reuniting The Monkees and subsequently brought Ringo Starr back on tour with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band. It was during a fateful All-Starr tour that Fishof generated the idea of Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. This camp would provide everyday folk, those with a longing for exploring their musical fantasies, an opportunity to interact and learn from some real industry professionals…..rockstars.
I had the privilege of sitting down with David Fishof prior to the NYC Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp to hear his thoughts on the camp’s 25 year history. See how they overcome their fears and transform.
Interview by Rebecca Wolf.
David Fishof: I’ve been doing it for a long time, but with my ADD I can get bored easily. What’s exciting about camp is you’re creating a new camp all the time, so you don’t know what’s going to happen, and what you think is going to be big is not big and what you think is not going to be successful is more successful. So, you never know. The campers are just fabulous because you are literally changing their lives. Last month I did a jam band camp with Peter Shapiro and it was great. It was something I’ve never done and I’m doing a women’s only camp coming up. You’re changing lives of regular folks. Then you have the enthusiasm of the rockstars who come and just love it because they know they’re going to meet some amazing people and are going to be changing people’s lives, and they see musicians they normally don’t see because the musicians are usually on tour, so they rarely get to hang out and be with each other. There are so many great elements that make this camp really fun.
RW: How many campers do you have at each camp?
DF: I have about 70 and all different types. For the women’s camp I have ages 14-74. The mix is always different. When I had Tommy Lee I had 50% women and 50% men. You never know who’s going to come. The good thing is that 50% of the campers at each camp are returnees. You take them to such a high with the experience that they’ve had a taste of it. It’s no different than with these rockstars. McCartney and Jagger still get a thrill being on the road and touring.
RW: What the most number of times someone has returned to camp?
DF: I’ve had 20, 25….it’s incredible. And, I love it when they come differently. They come as a bass player or as a drummer or a vocalist and before they came as a guitarist, so they stretch themselves. At the last camp I had a guy who came and he had lost his wife. He was just an average drummer, rock and roll, and he said, “You know what, I want to explore and do the jam band.” He came and he was so prepared. Then there are a lot of people who come once a year who want to get their chops better and it’s a great boot camp for them. Everybody has their own reason; everyone has their own story; everyone’s story is incredible. In the film we just showed four or five stories but we could’ve shown a thousand stories because these people all have stories about their lives and how it affects them. They all grew up and plenty of them were musicians and plenty of them weren’t but they had a decision to make in life….try to go for music full-time, go to college or go get a real job. The book I really want to write, the title will be, ” That’s who my camper is. These people run major companies; some are school teachers; some are housewives; some are students but they all have a passion for music.
RW: Has anyone gone further in the music industry after being involved in camp?
DF: I never promote it but I remember when we did our first documentary about 18 years ago there was a young lady who was featured who went on to become a recording star. But, so many crazy things have happened. There’s a story in the book about a guy who stopped me on the street and said to me, “Mr. Fishof we just got back from opening for Aerosmith in Moscow. I was at the camp and I met Joe Perry’s manager and I contacted her after I met her. I said that our lead singer lives in Moscow and we recorded a CD and could we be considered to open for Aerosmith when they play Moscow. So, she said to send her the CD and she’d show it to Joe. She gave it to Joe and told Joe that he’d met this guy at rock camp and he was asking if his band to open. So, Joe said, ‘Let them open!’” I know one camper who got to play drums with Pete and Roger for Roger’s teenage cancer charity. That’s been the fun part. People have made friendships, relationships. A lot of the young ones have gone on to Berklee and have used camp to become full-time musicians.
RW: Over the past 25 years have you seen a lot of changes with the camp?
DF: It’s always changing to be better. I’m constantly hearing people’s advice and I think we’ve got it down to a science but I think every couple of years someone like a Vinny Appice will say something like, “We should have people bring their original songs and we’ll have a roundtable and can comment on the songs.” So, we’ve done that and I’ve had some songwriters have some success and have written songs and charted some songs. I had one lady write a book called,”Rocking in the Pink.” I have to say that many people have recorded CDs and have gone on to do gigs or join bands that work full-time. I don’t like to promote it because I don’t like to promise stardom or anything like that. But, smart people have used it and others have used it to just be better musicians and join bands. We’ve always added new Master Classes and new rockers come all the time, so it changes that way.
RW: Are there any musicians you’ve always wanted to come to camp but have been unable to get so far?
DF: The good thing is, since the movie came out and people have seen the film, we’ve gotten more rockers and it’s been a lot easier for me to get rockstars to come. Having Mick and Keith do The Simpsons episode 20 years ago was really very helpful for us. My dream has always been McCartney because I think he’s great but he’s still touring and that’s a personal one but I know I’ll never get him. But, I’m always getting new people. Getting Kim Thayil from Soundgarden, we finally got him. When he came and it was such a great it experience. I told him to stay for two, three hours to jam with the campers and he stayed for three days and now he’s going to come back in March and he’s going to jam with each band at Whiskey a Go Go. So, once they come and they see the experience and realize what we are about then they keep coming back. Nancy Wilson came to camp and it took me a lot of years to get her and Jerry Cantrell but once they understood what we are about…. Jerry Cantrell finally came to camp and then he announced that he lost his guitar, it was stolen, and two of my campers hired a private investigator and they found it for him. That’s the stories you get. Nancy Wilson said to me, “When we started in the industry it was about trying to make it. Finally when we made it it became about lawyers and agents and all business but your camp is about pure music.” The rock stars see what we’re about and they realize it. Have you had a chance to see the film?
RW: Yes, I’ve seen the film and I read an advanced copy of the book as well.
DF: So, what did you think about the film? In the film it’s amazing how you see guys like Sammy Hagar and Gene Simmons….no one ever sees them like that!
RW: It was definitely very cool to see the musicians being open like that.
DF: It’s really cool! The biggest issue we have at camp is people being scared to come. Otherwise, we would be running a camp every week. People are scared and I get it. I was scared to go to Michael Jordan Fantasy Camp and I love basketball. And, there’s no reason for them to be scared because the rockers know what they are and they’re there just to help them. I think the line I love best in the film is from that Hollywood producer who said, “When you play with people who are better than you it really brings up your ability to play.” So, most people who come really get advanced.
RW: Do musicians reach out to ask to ask about being a counselor at camp?
DF: Oh yeah, I get that a lot. I don’t even go to the NAM show anymore because everyone besieged me asking to be a counselor. I have my favorites who have done great over the years so why not keep what’s going right. They know the brand and they know how to put these people together in a band; they are music producers. I tell them all it’s like being an NFL coach. It’s about putting a team together. You can have a weaker drummer and a great lead guitarist and you can really put them together and have a great band. These people really know how to organize a band and then these bands stay together and these people keep friendships for years and then they reunite and go visit these rockers on the road. It’s an open door policy. They’re all friendly with these rockers. One rocker said to me, “I always see all your people in the front row,” and I said, “Once they’ve jammed with you on stage they can’t sit anywhere else.” It’s really fun. It’s a lot of work but for these people to see their lives change, and smile, and for a wife to call me and say her husband doesn’t have road rage anymore, he’s found his happiness, that’s really what I love. I’m really proud of the foundation. It came out of campers who approached me one day and said, “We want to be able to give this away to young people who can’t afford going to camp and would you allow us to form a foundation?” I said, “yes” and they are really working hard in getting people to come to camp and offering scholarships. The book is dedicated to a young woman named Pam Morris whose husband came to camp all the time. He’s now tours in a Styx tribute band. He used to come to camp and support everybody. It’s really a wonderful experience for people.
RW: Is there anything that would make you say to a rocker that you are not right for a band camp counselor?
DF: Yes. I had an experience with my friend, the late Peter Tork of the Monkees. He called me up and said, “David, I want to be a counselor at your camp. You know I’m very much into giving back.” I told him, “You know, it’s a lot of spending time with a fan and a musician.” I remember a reporter from the London Times asked me the same question. You know how those British papers love to find the gossip and this reporter said, “Who’s been your worst counselor?” I said, “Peter Tork.” Two weeks later, he said to me, “Why did you say that?” I told him, “Because you really were the worst counselor.” I love the Monkees, they were a part of my life. But, when you come to a camp like this you have to be able to talk to people every day, every minute, answer their questions. They aren’t fans looking for your autograph they are musicians who want to know what kind of gear you use and how you practice and they want to get better. That’s why it takes a certain personality. The personalities you have at camp are people who want to give back and enjoy people. Not every rockstar loves people. I think what makes rock and roll successful for the camp is that most rockstars ran away after a gig was over. I toured fifteen years with Ringo and we got right in the van after the last song was over and we ran to get on a plane. We never really saw the fans. So, here’s an opportunity where you get to hang with someone for four days and sit and have lunch with them. Jerry Cantrell eats lunch with campers and people realize that these rockers put their pants on just like they do. Everything starts at the door….no egos. They are fellow musicians and it’s a safe haven for people.
RW: Many of these rockstars who’ve been coming to the camps are getting older, in their 70s, do you have thoughts about a next generation of rockers?
DF: Yes, I’m using musicians from Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Wynonna, Lzzy Hale is young. I find the audience who can afford to come to camp is basically the ones who love Classic Rock. They have more leisurely money. But, I’m definitely looking for younger bands, expanding, or looking for other programs. I think the more people who see the film and read the book the more who’ll understand what we’re about and that’ll help get more musicians.
RW: Do you think you’ll expand beyond the realm of Classic Rock? I know there aren’t a lot of new rock bands now, so do you think you’ll expand beyond that?
DF: There’s a lot of jam bands. That’s why the last camp was terrific. We’re going to start doing more of those jam bands and they have a big following. I think the music business has just gotten bigger and bigger. You don’t hear many companies making as much money as Warner Brothers and Universal. LiveNation is getting bigger. The pandemic was a good lesson for us but I think music is really opening up. Music has so much medication in it…to get better, to feel better, to associate. I get up in the morning and the first thing I do is put music on to set my mood. People like to play it and guitar companies like Gibson and Fender are thriving because people want to play instruments because music has that way of making people feel good. Once you start it you just want to get better and better.
RW: Music is universal.
DF: Yes, it’s universal…it’s the best medication for anything.