On the Road…Where Music Lives

An interview with photographer, author, music connoisseur Rob Fenn
by Aaron Manogue
September 2011

 - photo by Rob Fenn

photo by Rob Fenn

We can all remember the days when our favorite band was releasing their latest album, and we’d rush to the local record store as soon as it opened that day. The feeling when you finally saw the cover art of the album sitting on the store shelf, what the packaging was like, everything. The sad part about these great memories most of us have, is that with the emergence digital music distribution, most of the younger generation will never, ever experience this. iTunes makes it possible for people to have the music the very minute it’s released. No cover art (except usually for a downloadable one), no anticipation of opening the packaging, no experience. This is the idea that music photographer, ex-radio host, web designer (we might as well just call him a music connoisseur) Rob Fenn was acting on when he started “On the Road…Where the Music Lives”

“The project came about when my daughter’s idea of a record store was iTunes. I was like, NO! I explained to her how cool it was to hang out at the store and check out new music. As I was telling her this, I realized that I don’t do that anymore, either. So as part of her allowance she gets to by one album a week from a record store. Even though I am not a big fan of her musical taste, other than she is a huge In This Moment fan, we are on the same music page with that and it has been so cool to hang out with my kid and flip through music at the record stores all over. We hit them all from Best Buy and FYE to the Heavy Metal Shop in Salt Lake City, UT.”

Fenn did what most would have shied away from and acted upon his realization and wanted to bring awareness to everyone around the country. He hit the road photographing artists and festivals around the country, both big and small. He’s been taking advantage of his logistics and career to discover and embrace local indie record stores and talking with musicians, store owners, and fellow music lovers about these stores and will share them in his book to help promote the growth and survival of such national treasures.

“In 2012, around Record Store Day, we’ll release the 376 page hard cover photo book that will be for sale in record stores only. If you order it online you have to go pick it up at the closest record store. The idea is to get the foot traffic back in these places (record stores). The book is 12? x 12? that looks like a vinyl record jacket. Inside the back of the book is a 12? vinyl record with ten bands doing a cover of their favorite tunes. Once it’s released I am personally hitting the road again and going to all the record stores to do book signings with bands in the book, and radio station promotions. The idea is to get everyone in the industry working together on one cause, MUSIC!”

Maximum Ink’s Aaron Manogue sat down with Rob Fenn to talk about his start in the music business, his daughter who inspired this project and what the reaction has been so far around the country to “On the Road…Where the Music Lives.”

Maximum Ink: Tell me about your background in the music industry. Where you got your start, what you’ve done etc.?
Rob Fenn: I unofficially started in the music industry at a the age of eight when I heard Juice Newton’s ‘Queen of Hearts’. I could be found running around the basement of my mom’s house playing the tennis racket guitar and singing along at the top of my lungs to that song. To this day, every time I hear it, I’ll start singing along no matter where I am at. I started playing the real guitar in bar bands at age 17, which for a 17 year old was the greatest experience ever. Girls just assumed I was 21 and not a teenager.
Then in 95’ I started working at the rock radio station KBER 101 in Salt Lake City, UT as an on air talent named Discharge who produced the Uncle Nasty Show. That adventure in itself could be made into a movie. I branched out with my own show and was completely out of control. At one point I was banned from calling the whore houses in Nevada, because I was offensive to them. In my defense, it was research, and I wanted to know if a hooker got a yeast infection could she collect workers compensation? They pay taxes for hells sakes! About a half a dozen whore houses had their attorneys contact the station and threaten legal action if I didn’t stop. Lucky for them I have ADD and moved on to something else.

I ended my time at the KBER 101 station by super gluing the studio door shut and looping a 30 min tape of me playing unedited Pantera songs and me telling my boss to go FUCK himself. Basically my version of me saying, “I quit.” It took them 8 hours to break down the door, and I waited to do it until the owners of the station were in town. This way they could look at the problem at the station, my boss! I may have lost my job, but he was done two weeks later. I think they knocked him down to sales and he eventually quit. The new PD came in and kicked ass! I then went to KBPI in Denver CO as the Creative Service Dir, and did radio production for stations all across the country including KBER 101. It was just under my company name so no one freaked out that Discharge was still getting a check from them.

After 9-11 I was laid off and decided to focus on my production company. I then opened two night clubs, and after six years in the night club business I pulled my head out of my ass and got into photography. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I still do radio imaging for a few people, and have clients I do web and graphic design for, but for the most part it’s been photography full time.

MI: Tell me about how your daughter, little Pamalatera inspired this project?
RF: It dawned on me that she wasn’t getting the experience I had as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, Guitar Hero is fun as hell to play, but kids are missing out on the feeling of creating their own version of a blues solo from the E pentatonic while their friend butchers the 12 bar blues. My daughter plays the drums, and now this year has started the violin in school. We are trying to figure out the best organization to donate a percentage of the project sales that will benefit music programs in elementary schools so get kids involved in music early.
By the way, her name came from the band Pantera. Vinnie and Dime changed my life when I was in radio. Feb 1st, 1997 Pantera was playing in Salt Lake City, UT. The show was sold out and I couldn’t wait to see the madness. That day the record company didn’t come through with the tickets they promised our listeners, so my tickets went to a listener who had won them on my show. I wasn’t about to tell him “sorry, you don’t get to see them now”. The problem was I couldn’t buy anymore because the show was sold out. So I was a bit upset because the record company said it was the bands decision. I got on the air and proceeded to call the boys in Pantera names that would make Howard Stern blush. Needless to say the phone lines blew up and one of the calls was someone claiming to be Vinnie Paul, which I didn’t believe and was rude as rude could be. Then next someone called claiming to be Dimebag asking what my problem was. I proceeded to be even more rude to this person and eventually hung up. A little while later a call from a guy claiming to be big Val came through and he didn’t ask what my problem was he just let me know he was going to kick my ass, and I needed to be outside in 5 min.

So like a dumbass I head outside to see what psycho is coming to beat my ass. All the sudden a white toyota four runner comes skidding around the corner up on the sidewalk and almost hits me. Out of the 4runner comes Big Val, Thongs, Dime and Vinnie and they all are pissed! Now I couldn’t believe it was really them, but I was pissed myself! So a little screaming between all of us, then after realizing everything was a big misunderstanding, we went in the studio and played 6 hours of Pantera while we drank and gave away 60 backstage passes to the show. That was the most insane night of radio I have ever had! After that I did an hour show called the Pantera Power Hour which Vinnie or Dime would always call in on all the time.

MI: As you’ve been visiting the indie record stores, what has been the overall atmosphere or landscape of the industry?
RF: True music fans at heart! All of them! However, it’s a bit depressing at some stores, and others it’s the greatest vibe ever. I think some owners are just looking at the future like there is none, and others are doing what they love, and have came up with ways to make additional income (such as they’re own merch). I have been collecting shirts all over. My latest was from Sound Check Records in Hollywood .Very cool store on the Sunset Strip.

MI: I personally believe there is a dying breed of music lovers out there that remember the days of the entire experience of going to the record store, buying the actual record or vinyl, seeing the packaging, hearing the music the way the artist intended. With iTunes and everything else today, other generations won’t ever experience that amazing feeling. What do you think can be done about it to enlighten our future generations of how music should be experienced instead of making a single click and downloading everything?
RF:The record store owners need to make it to where it’s the cool place to hang out again. I know that is easier said than done, but I really feel it is that simple. My nephew hangs out at the skate park everyday for hours. Why not incorporate that into the record store? Can you imagine a record store with a skate park? Kids would hang for the skate park and check out the music every day.

I plan on opening my own record store in a couple of years and I am looking to couple it with a coffee house, skate park, or something that gives the kids a place to hang and experience music both new and old. I also want to open guitar and drum clinics with local and guest musicians, and a recording studio for bands to cut their own tracks and press it to vinyl. Basically the ultimate hangout for every musician and music lover. The business plan I have right now lets me do all of this with little overhead and I don’t rely solely on record sales, so it has room to grow while I build it up to be the place you want to hang at. My goal is an artist community hang out.

MI: What do you think is the one thing that you will take away from this experience of documenting every aspect of your trip and recording what some day may be a part of history (indie record stores)?
RF: Three things:
The playlist! A good friend of mine, Chad Vogelsong from JVC Mobile, once told me life is made of playlists. That really stuck with me because it’s so true. This project started with the song ‘Back from Cali’ by Slash ft. Myles Kennedy and is currently playing Black Stone Cherry “Like I Roll”. Who knows what it’ll end with!
The true passion of the music fan.
I was just with friends in Hollywood listening to the new ZZ Top tribute album that comes out on Oct 11th (my kid’s birthday! The new Parlor Mob also drops that day and I will be buying both of them for her) and listening to this person I just met tell me about the project, and the excitement they had by being a part of it, is what makes the industry great. The Artist, the Record store owner, the Record company, the radio station, everyone in the industry are all fans of music. And they all have that passion! By the way, The tribute album is badass, and the new ZZ Top that drops next spring is going to blow people’s minds no matter what the age! Also, do yourself a favor and go out and grab Middle Class Ruts album! Amazing band!
The third is Tom Motherf@#king Zutaut!
For those who don’t know who Tom is, there is a whole chapter on him in Motley Crue’s book ‘Dirt’, and he is the guy that signed Crue, Metallica, and Guns and Roses (to name a few). The guy knows rock and roll! I met Tom in January when I was shooting Slash and Myles Kennedy in concert at a place called the Depot in Salt Lake City, UT. (Great venue). Me and Tom hit it off and I am glad to call him a friend. He called me up to shoot his new band Sabrosa Purr at the Roxy during their performance for the Sunset Strip Music Festival. Let me just say this, anything that Tom says is good, is good, so hell yes I am shooting it!
I get there, meet up with Tom, then start shooting an amazing performance. Sabrosa Purr is this cross between Janes addiction and the Doors on steroids! I am pretty sure it is the sexiest band out there! Plus every time I see the bass player I start hearing voices in my head singing ” I wanna do bad things with you” (the True Blood Theme Song: Bad Things by Jace Everett). Check out the band and you’ll see what I mean.

Anyways, I am shooting the band at the world famous Roxy Theatre in Hollywood and I realize that someone is using me as a stripper pole. I look over and it is a hot, drunk, tattooed topless barbie just a grinding, groping, and swinging on me. So for the last song of the shoot I am clicking away in pure rock and roll fashion! It’s an experience I will never forget. So a big thanks to the one and only Tom Motherf@#king Zutaut!

MI: Are there any memorable stories that anyone shared with you about the indie record stores that you can share with us?
RF: There are so many, we do this thing called ‘on RECORED with ___________ powered by JVC Mobile’. The videos are of artists talking about their favorite record store experience. The one thing everyone has in common is the the look on their face when they talk about it. It’s like the high school memories come rushing in and they remember hanging with friends and great music.

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