So, you wanna be a rock ‘n’ roll star? Then David Fishof is the man you want to meet. At 56 years old, the slightly overweight man with the salt-and-pepper beard and cherubic smile looks more like a kindly rabbi than a man who easily rubs shoulders with some of the biggest stars in rock music. Make no mistake, however. Beneath the cheerful exterior burns a quiet intensity, hinted at by the stack of poker chips that Fishof constantly shuffles from hand to hand throughout the entire interview.
To recite Fishof’s entire resume would require a feature article in itself. Some of the highlights of his career include a stint as a sports agent, in which he represented NFL players including Phil Simms and Vince Ferragamo, and MLB players Lou Piniella and Randy Myers. In the music world, he reunited the Monkees and toured around the world in 1989. He teamed up with Ringo Starr to create the All Starr Band concept, and has produced eight All Starr Band tours. In mixed and special-interest events, he produced Dirty Dancing: The Concert Tour, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Tour, The Happy Together Tours, Classic Superfest, American Gladiators Live Tour, Mortal Kombat Live Tour and the British Rock Symphony with feature vocalists Peter Frampton, Roger Daltrey, Alice Cooper and Jon Anderson.
Of course, what he’s most famous for is creating what could be described as the ultimate dream of the common man (or woman, for that matter): To be a rock star. Started in 1997, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp has been attended by over 6,000 people, who for a fee (more about that later) have received the opportunity to write songs, rehearse, record and perform with professional musicians—the rock stars, if you will—the list of which reads like a who’s who of rock music.
When recited with a list of his past achievements and current projects and asked how he finds enough hours in the day to keep up, Fishof admits that, in the words of David Bowie, it ain’t easy. “At night you try to take a couple of hours and do homework with the kids; get in a little family time. I observe the Sabbath, and that means from sundown Friday to Saturday night, that’s really the rest time, the time I can really spend with the family. But, other than that, I’m working, my mind’s going 24/7, no question. Thinking of ideas, coming up with dreams for people, ways I can improve. On the other hand, on the inside I’m laughing. I’m 56 years old, and I’m still in rock and roll. I don’t think a lot of people can say that.”
While the concept of the rock fantasy camp is well-known today, and there’s no shortage of rock stars want to take part, in the beginning, the idea seemed…a little unique, to be charitable, and maybe a little crazy, to be blunt. “No question—very difficult,” Fishof readily admits. “There were certain rockers that I called immediately, and said ‘I have this wild idea.’ Roger Daltrey, that’s who really broke it open after five years of doing the camp. I owe it to him. I asked him if he would come by and make an appearance at camp. The way I convinced him was I turned to him and said ‘If you had the opportunity to come to camp and meet your fantasy musician, who would it be?’ And he replied ‘Levon Helm’ [drummer/vocalist with The Band]. ‘You introduce me to Levon Helm, and I’ll come to your rock camp.’ So, I had an in. I called Levon, who I had met on the Ringo tour–we were good friends–and I said to Levon ‘Would you come and meet Roger and jam a bit with him?’ And he said yes. I went back to Roger and told him that Levon would come down and do it, but I had to be honest with him, I told him that Helm was not doing well financially. And Roger said ‘Whatever you were going to give to me, give it to him. I just want to meet him.’ That was amazing. I asked Roger to stay for a day, and he ended up staying for four days and saying ‘I want to jam with these bands.’ So, I owe a lot to my friend Roger Daltrey. He has given me the motivation, and really helped my build it up.”
Now, the concept of the average Joe–who’s greatest musical claim to fame is probably along the lines of being up on stage in the local dive bar playing cover tunes–having the opportunity to jam with Roger Daltry is pretty fucking cool, to say the least. Our dreams can indeed come true, but they won’t come true cheaply.
But if you look at how much it costs, and what you get, you can’t get a life-changing experience for $6,000. Anywhere.
Fishof, naturally, has an answer for that concern. “People have said ‘Oh, it’s expensive.’ But if you look at how much it costs, and what you get, you can’t get a life-changing experience for $6,000. Anywhere. How many people spend $10,000 to go on vacation and sit on the beach and they come back and they’ve had all the drinks in the world, and how many people spend money and get on a cruise, and when it’s done, it’s done. So proportionally, we’re not talking something that’s costing $15,000-$25,000, which is really what the experience is worth. No question about it. Everybody comes to me after the first day and says ‘I got my money’s worth.”’
“I don’t really believe it’s the cost that holds people back. Let me tell you what the biggest problem is with Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, and the biggest hurdle. It’s the fear factor. People are scared. They get intimidated. ‘I’m gonna play behind Steven Tyler? I’m gonna sing with Roger Daltrey? I’m gonna play guitar with Jeff Beck?’ That is very scary. Now, if someone said to me ‘David, you’re going to be my guest to attend Michael Jordan’s basketball camp,’ I’d be scared, because here I am, a successful businessman, and all of a sudden I’m being put in a position where I’m out of my element. I’m not the best anymore. Most people with type-A personalities, such as the head of a company, fear coming here and getting ripped apart. The rockers are here to ease your life, and to make things easier for you. I think Steve Vai was incredible when he spoke of how much fear he has before going onstage, and what he goes through to relax, because you can play better when you’re relaxed.
You can go to music teachers, but you want to learn from someone like Sammy Hagar, who’s performed in front of 20,000 people, who has recorded hit records. They can teach you what it’s actually like to be a rock star.”
So what’s in it for the rock stars? Obviously, they are well-compensated for imparting their wisdom on mere mortals such as ourselves, but Fishof insists there’s more to it. “It really reminds the rock star about what it was like when he first started. Being in that rehearsal studio, trying to knock out a song. He’s not in front of 20,000 fans that are screaming and trying to get his autograph and touch him. I think that’s the attraction to the rock star. They do have so much knowledge. I toured with Ringo and the All Starr Band, and I think it was one of the greatest shows I created. I was able to be around these musicians from different bands, and I saw what their personalities were like when they weren’t around their band mates, weren’t around managers, agents and wives. I saw all this, and thought that if I could recreate that environment they would be blown away. Joe Walsh said ‘We’re a democratic band. Whatever Ringo says, we do.’ To see them in awe of Ringo, and just to see the way they talked about music, how they talked about what their interests were, I was able to see another side of the musicians. I was able to see what they’re really like, before they went through what we called ‘The VH1 Behind The Music episodes.’ That’s really what the camp has become.”
Fishof’s latest venture is a book entitled Rock Your Business: What You and Your Company Can Learn from the Business of Rock and Roll. “The book was in making for many years. I woke up at 6:00 every morning to work on it. People would always come to me and say ‘Oh, this rock star, he wasn’t as valuable in the band. John Entwhistle was just the bass player in The Who—Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend really were the band. The Beatles were just John and Paul.’ And I’d say ‘No, The Beatles were George and Ringo, too.’ I decided to liken the rock bands to corporate America. What makes these bands so successful is not the individual player; it’s the entire band. It’s the synergy, the energy, and in rock camp it taught me to listen to what everyone is playing, and that’s what makes it successful. It’s the same with a company. If my assistant isn’t nice to you, no matter how good of a product Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy camp is, than it’s not gonna work, and you’re going to have a bad taste in your mouth. That’s why I decided to compare rock ‘n’ roll to corporate America. One of my goals is to ‘hip up’ these companies, and to infuse rock & roll into their organization and use it. These rock stars like Bon Jovi and KISS and U2 are very successful operations, and you can learn a lot from their creativity, you can learn a lot from their team building, their management and how they became successful. So that was the idea of the book—to share what I’ve learned from my many years in rock and roll to corporate America.”
Being the type of entrepreneur Fishof is, you wouldn’t expect him to rest on his laurels. And, naturally, he’s already planning his next projects. “I’m working on a new TV series. I’m working on a deal with a new production company. The concept of the TV show is basically what the camp is about. My camp is a life-changing experience. I want to emphasize that a little more. I’m working on a blues fantasy camp, and a country music camp. Also, I want to go to new markets, to England and Australia. I get calls all the time for Germany. My biggest concern is I don’t want to franchise it, because I want to be able to give people the experience that they’re used to getting. I want to perfect Las Vegas [the new permanent home for the camp] before that. I don’t want anyone to ever be disappointed by their experience.”