I LIKE TO TAKE SHORT breaks from the studio so that I can perform live as musical director on benefit shows. Being a producer, I’m used to providing whatever an artist needs to feel comfortable and do their best. The job is no different when it comes to the stage. And, believe me, assembling groups of musical legends to do “one off” shows for meaningful causes is just about as good as it gets.
Recently, some old (and new) friends and I joined together at the Fillmore in San Francisco to raise funds and awareness for UCSF’s pediatric cancer work. Sammy Hagar conceived the event and started the ball rolling. Soon, James Hetfield joined, as well as Billie Joe Armstrong, Joe Satriani, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, and Pat Monahan of Train.
The concept was to keep the show special for the crowd and the performers by doing intimate acoustic-based sets. As the concert unfolded, most of the performers played along with each other and had a ton of fun. One of the highlights of this camaraderie was when James Hetfield and Billie Joe Armstrong not only played along with each other, but also merged their songs.
For the majority of his set, James wanted to play solo— except that he had ideas for accompaniment on Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page.” Metallica had done the tune acoustically for one of Neil Young’s Bridge School benefits, and he sent that live version to some of us in advance.
Everyone assembled at Sammy’s the day before the gig. It was informal and loose as James began playing his songs and Billie Joe, Satriani (perhaps the worlds most over-qualified backup guitarist), and I (on drums/percussion/vocals) joined him on “Turn the Page.” After the tune ended, Billie Joe played his “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and the light bulb went on. The two songs fit together as one—same tempo, same key, most of the same chords, and, as James and I discovered, even some lyrical similarities. We tried a couple of different ideas until we hit on something that perfectly combined the songs in a musical sense that passed the baton from James’ set over to Billie Joe’s.
But the real “wow” moment came as Billie Joe sang, “I walk the lonely streets,” and, over the top, James sang, “There I go, turn the page.” Sammy came running over showing his goose bumps, Nancy smiled brightly, and we all felt the performance gel like magic. Moments like this can happen only if people let their egos disappear and allow the music to appear. The generosity and kindness between the iconic performers was palpable in every sense. Rare stuff.
Now, you may think you are more or less talented than these—or other—famous musicians today. But, either way, let me suggest one thing: When you pick up that guitar, drop your ego, and, in turn, maybe jaws will drop as a direct result of your simply letting the music happen.
Scott Mathews is a record producer, composer, vocalist, and multi–instrumentalist whose music has sold in excess of 40 million units and has generated more than 30 RIAA Gold and Platinum Awards in the pop, alternative rock, R&B, country, blues, and dance genres.