Welcome to Camp Freddy: a hard rock super-group cover band turned cherished getaway from the daily rock star grind.
By Steve Houk
Their main lineup reads like a who’s who of hard rock.
Mix a guitarist from Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails together with a drummer from Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver, plus a bassist who’s played with Slash and Alanis Morrisette, another guitarist who’s toured worldwide with The Cult and Billy Idol and even a former lead singer from Stone Temple Pilots. And sprinkle in legends like Steven Tyler, Mick Fleetwood, Sammy Hagar and many others to regularly jump on stage and jam.
All to play, get this, mainly classic rock cover songs. Wait a minute…
…cover songs? Why are these hard rock gods who’ve all collaborated on some of hard rock’s best tunes playing old tunes like Led Zeppelin‘s “Whole Lotta Love”, AC/DC‘s “Dirty Deeds” and David Bowie‘s “Ziggy Stardust”? Guitar ace Billy Morrison knows why; because it’s FUN.
“We are motivated by the feeling that got us into the music business in the first place, which is how it feels to simply enjoy playing your instrument, and playing the songs that turned you on when you were a kid. We all have great careers, we do this because we love each other, and because we found a way to tap back into that feeling that we originally felt when we started playing music.”
Now in their tenth year playing together, Camp Freddy, whose members are Morrison, Dave Navarro, Matt Sorum, Chris Cheney and Donovan Leitch, recently finished their fourth annual Christmastime residency at the famed Roxy on the Sunset Strip in L.A., they just played the world famous Whisky A Go Go, and are next headed towards DC to play a charity benefit for March 3rd at the 9:30 Club that benefits Rivers of Recovery, a disabled veterans rehabilitation organization. Then, in typical rock star fashion, they jet out to Vegas for the next gig.
The affable, fully tatted Morrison, who called me from his car to talk about the band after getting a much needed cup a’ joe, elaborates on why this gig is such a good thing for him and his mates, why it’s a welcome alternative to the grind of being in a typical rock band.
“Our primary motivation is to have fun. It’s a completely different thing. We are all involved in real entities, real bands that have real stresses and problems. Anyone in a full on band will know that it’s not all sunshine and roses and it can become more business and less creativity. Camp Freddy is kind of the antithesis of that.”
So how did this group of successsful hard rockers decide to band together and do this Camp Freddy thing? It wasn’t anything more than jamming at an L.A. party that started the whole thing off.
“We all knew each other, we were all friends”, Morrison continues, “but basically Donovan…we call him an MC, he sings but he also, you know, hosts the whole evening…he just was having a party downtown in L.A. and he called us and said, ‘Do you fancy gettin’ together and learning a few cover songs for this party?’ We thought it was gonna be one gig, we had no ten year career plans in mind, trust me. We all knew each other, we were like, ‘Yeah sure, this could be fun.’ But we realized how much fun it was.”
Sounds like a dream gig for this veteran hard rocker who went from a homeless heroin junkie fifteen years ago to a successful and busy rock star today, he even acts in his spare time, and has his own Gibson Les Paul Signature model guitar coming out this week, an accomplishment which clearly blows his mind. “When you’re 10 or 11 years old and dancing around the front room holding a tennis racket trying to pretend you’re in your favorite band, you don’t think something like that’s ever gonna happen. It’s a complete and utter honor as far as I’m concerned.”
Morrison’s primary job in addition to cranking out great guitar riffs is to hone the set lists for each show, a task largely based on who is an expected guest.
“As far as songs, we have a tremendous arsenal to choose from. And I look at who the guests are, and I look at what their vocal and guitar palates are best-suited to, and I try and make it an interesting pairing. We had Robbie Williams sing a Who song, it was perfect for Robbie, and he was great. And we’ve had Steven Tyler sing Led Zeppelin. That was fantastic. My job is to try is to try and create the most interesting set list, based on who’s playing and you know, the vibe of the gig. We take a lot of pride in that, that’s why we’ve been around for this long.”
“I think at that first gig we invited Twiggy Ramirez from Marilyn Manson’s band to come and play a couple of songs, it just seemed like a fun thing to do. And we realized when we came off stage that hold on, that was really a lot more fun than we should be allowed to have, let’s do another one, and let’s invite a couple more people. Now we’re obviously in a place where we’ve developed that into huge amounts of fun, and huge amounts of talent at any one time on the stage.”
Morrison knows how lucky he and his hard rock bandmates are to have been going this long as a supergroup cover band, a phenomenon that commonly doesn’t last but a couple years at best, if that. And Camp Freddy doesn’t show any signs of stopping their have-a-blast all-star rock shows any time soon.
“Camp Freddy’s something that’s been going for nearly 10 years, it coexists alongside anything else I might do. And the same for all the other guys in the band. We’re lucky it doesn’t take up 365 days of the year, we now are at a stage where we can make a phone call, jump on a plane and go play together and be the professionals that we are. Camp Freddy just continues truckin’ on, it’s the only band out there that does what we do at the level that we do it at. So we’re kinda lucky that way.”
The Camp Freddy tour is presented by NBAGT Productions, LLC, a special events promotion and production company headed by Doug Davenport in Washington, DC, and Rob Stricker in New York City/Los Angeles, and Freddie Wyatt’s production company – Jamestown Entertainment. Check out Camp Freddy’s website here.