Category: Contests & Competitions

Alan Jackson: A 'Hard Hat' mentality in Hollywood


Alan jackson Alan Jackson’ new album, "Freight Train," opens with "Hard Hat and a Hammer," another ode to the everyday people who work for a living.

"A working-man song every now and then pops out," he told me during the  few minutes I had with him last week aboard his tour bus while he was in Los Angeles to unveil the star with his name on it on Hollywood Boulevard, and to play a thank-you concert for fans at the intimate Hotel Cafe. "That’s one I have no idea where it came from.

"One day, I was just sitting there and those words, hard hat and a hammer… I don’t remember if it just came into my head, or if I heard it. But as soon as I heard it I said, 'That sounds like a hook.' So, I just wrote it down and then one day I just wrote the song.

"I've had several working-man songs that I like. I had one really early on that I wrote. A lot of times I do base 'em on life: what I saw my daddy doing as a working man, or what I did --  worked for a long time before I ever got started [in music]. It was called 'Working Class Hero,' and that was one of my favorites. It never was a single, but it should have been. I always liked that one."

One distinguishing aspect of the "Hard Hat" song, whose chorus is a resounding singalong, "God bless the working man," is that at the very end of the song, he adds the punch line: "…and woman."

"I had to throw the 'woman' on there. I haven't done it that much live yet, but when I have, people like the tempo and they like the 'God bless the working man' part. The women are kind of digging it, but then when you hit that last line," he said as a broad grin erupted beneath his blond mustache, "they all really change their direction."

-- Randy Lewis

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Country superstar Alan Jackson gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Photo: Alan Jackson performs at the Hotel Cafe. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

'Off the beaten Slash path': Former Guns N' Roses guitarist talks of teaming with Fergie, Adam Levine for solo effort

SLASH_FERGIE_LAT_$There are few vocalists, said Slash, who can inspire him to trot out a signature Guns N' Roses song such as "Sweet Child o' Mine." At the top of that shortlist, perhaps to the surprise of many of the guitar-slinger's longtime fans, sits Fergie. While the singer behind "My Humps" would seem to be a long way removed from the hard-rock stud, Slash defined the Black Eyed Peas vocalist as a "closet rock 'n' roll singer."

Though it wasn't the first time he performed the song with Fergie, Slash and the Black Eyed Peas ran through "Sweet Child" when the pop band opened for U2 at the Rose Bowl in late 2009. It's Fergie's ability, said Slash, to sing in the higher notes associated with the enigmatic Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose that persuaded Slash to perform the song in front of a stadium audience that was estimated to top 95,000 people. 

"That was a first for me, to go out and pull out ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ in front of however many thousands of people at the Rose Bowl with a different group," Slash said. "I had never really played that song with anyone besides Guns N' Roses. Fergie asked me if I would do it with her, and she’s honestly one of the only singers I would trust that song to." 

She's one of more than a dozen vocalists who will appear on the guitarist's upcoming self-titled solo effort, set for release this April. It's the artist's first work since Velvet Revolver fizzled out in 2008, and first to bear his name since his two albums with Slash's Snakepit, who last released an album in 2000. The upcoming effort follows a pattern defined by another guitar hero, Santana. Slash is paired with a lineup of multi-genre artists, including Ozzy Osbourne, Kid Rock and Marooon 5's Adam Levine

"I wasn’t trying to consciously bridge any generation gaps or to try to be eclectic," Slash said. "I wrote the music first, and I took the different styles of music that I was writing and farmed it out to singers who I thought might like it or be appropriate for. So for instance, I’d say, ‘Adam Levine would sound amazing on this.‘ So while that may be way off the beaten Slash path, I knew that’s what I would sound great."

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Jerome Flood II wins Guitar Center Drum-Off finals

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From his opening drum roll of the "20th Century Fox Fanfare" to the end of his re-creation of the entire composition -- including ALL the orchestra parts -- on only his drum kit, Jerome Flood II was the man to beat in the Guitar Center Drum-Off finals. All six finalists at Saturday night's competition were impressive, but Flood wasn't just another drummer with amazing chops who knew how to string together a funky groove. Here's a drummer who's willing to go so far off-book, he's out of the library.(See for yourself by checking out this video of his set.)

Wearing a bright orange shirt* that spelled out Jesus in the Reese's peanut butter cup logo, Flood looked like he was having the time of his life during his five-minute set. The man had flair and originality, and the pros on the judging panel appreciated it.

Now in its 20th year, the Guitar Center Drum-Offs is the final showdown after months of regional contests held at Guitar Center stores around the country. Flood, a 22-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native who now lives in Atlanta, has been playing drums since he was 2 years old. But even after all those years of practice, Flood didn't win until his fifth year in the Drum-Offs. That should give hope to all the drummers picked off in the earlier rounds of this year's contest.

Aside from the contest itself, the evening's show-stopper was a 20-minute percussion set by Austrian drummer Thomas Lang and Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen, who in 1993 at age 9 was the youngest person to ever win the Drum-Offs. He was the ultimate bad-ass on Saturday night -- playing shirtless, sucking a lollipop and flailing like Animal from the Muppets. And that's exactly what you want in a drummer.

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Guitar Center Drum-off grand finals this Saturday

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It was like Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July rolled into one drum kit. As soon as Thomas Pridgen saw those glorious, gleaming drums, he knew they were meant for him.

Preternaturally self-confident at only 9 years old, Pridgen entered the Guitar Center Drum-Off, and round after round he blew away drummers who were two and three times his age. "I told everybody I knew that I was going to win," Pridgen says. "They asked me, 'What if you don't win?' But it was like seeing a bright, shiny red bike. I knew I had to have that drum set."

Without a trace of nerves, he tore through his five-minute solo, easily winning the Drum-Off finals and making it clear that a new drumming phenomenon had just bounded into the spotlight.

Sixteen years later, Pridgen, now the drummer for the prog-metal band Mars Volta, will be judging the contenders at the 20th annual Drum-Off grand finals Saturday at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. The festivities also feature performances, including one from the band Papa Roach.

But it's the competition that counts, and the stakes are high. Along with Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters, Danny Carey of Tool, Alan White of Yes and seven to 10 other drummers (possibly including Tommy Lee), the judges will pick a winner from among six finalists who have collectively beaten nearly 5,000 competitors.

Winning can be a steppingstone to a pro career. Previous winner Eric Moore (2003) is the drummer for Suicidal Tendencies, and Cora "C.C." Dunham (2002) drums for Prince. Last year's winner, Donnie Marple of Keyser, W. Va., has moved to Nashville and is pursuing a career under the wing of his idol, Thomas Lang.

The judges rate the contestants on five criteria: originality, technique, style, stage presence and overall performance. Winning isn't all about triple ratamacues, single-stroke rolls and precise paradiddles.

"All of the finalists are beyond good as far as being able to display an array of chops," says No Doubt drummer Adrian Young, another judge. "But some guys forget to lay down a really good groove because they're trying to jam in as many fancy things and fast notes as possible. On top of that, are they playing with style? Are they fun to watch? Both are necessary."

--Elina Shatkin

Drum-Off grand finals at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10. $15. www.guitarcenter.com

Photo: Guitar Center Drum-Off Championship finalist Ivan Garcia delights the crowd at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, Calif. on Jan. 5, 2008. (Stefano Paltera / For The Times) 

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