Monday, July 10, 2006

The Real School of Rock

Rock Solid: Dave Simon’s Rock School Shapes the Minds of Tomorrow
A Limelight Exclusive By Byron Lee
THE ICON: St. Louis-bred singer/songwriter Chuck Berry laid the blueprint for rock music with clever lyrics, driving rhythms, and impressive guitar playing.

Dave Simon has an outgoing nature, a youthful exuberance, and a wide smile that seems to appear every five seconds. He highly values expression of all kinds and offers calm and analytical defenses at a moment's notice.

It is this kind of attitude that Simon hopes to foster in his students at Dave Simon's Rock School. Located at 1305 Baur in Olivette, the school offers lessons in various styles of rock and mentorship in order to expedite the learning process. Furthermore, the school puts on showcases that allow his students to get the experience of playing before a live audience during their high school years (A few days after our interview was conducted, the school planned to have a performance at Blueberry Hill spotlighting music from the 70's.).

Simon first got the idea of forming a Rock School during the 80's, when he took a course in jazz at Webster University. "I was amazed that a style of music that came from late night jam sessions could be taught in a classroom. I thought that it would be good to do that for rock. If you look at the music of Elton John, Billy Joel, and The Beatles, you realize that there are some interesting things going on."
REACHING THE FUTURE: Dave Simon (right) helps a student with their vocal delivery. To Simon, his Rock School represents more than just an opportunity to learn rock music. Says Simon, "I want kids to participate in an activity outside of academics and athletics, to have something that is their own, something that is not being pushed on them."

After returning to St. Louis after living in New York and San Francisco in the 90's, Simon opened up the Rock School. He is happy with the school's success and the effect that it has had on its students. Simon believes that the school is important to students because of the stage of their life that they are in. "Teenagers have a need to feel independent, but in every aspect of their lives, someone is telling them what to do. I want kids to participate in an activity outside of academics and athletics, to have something that is their own, something that is not being pushed on them."

ROCK STAR IN TRAINING: Above is a guitar student honing his craft. Dave Simon's Rock School offers lessons in various styles of rock, mentorship in order to expedite the learning process, and the opportunity to perform in front of an audience of hundreds during the school's showcases.

A BALANCED DIET: Although he is thrilled that his
students take an interest in classic rock bands, such
as Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, Dave Simon makes sure
that his students are exposed to latter day material,
as well.

In addition to learning the music, Simon feels that students can acquire other tools that will help them in other facets of life. "Even if a kid has independence, they may not have the skills to be disciplined or to know how to assert themselves. The school gets them used to dealing with the personality clashes that come with working with different kinds of people. Some adults haven't figured that out."

Afro - HAVE WE MOVED ON?: Even though he reveres the expression found in rap music, Dave Simon is dismayed that more black students do not take an interest in Rock-n-Roll music. "Black people created Rock-n-Roll," notes Simon, "Everyone knows that."

If there is one area that he feels that the school can improve upon, it is in the enrollment of black students. Simon seems to know the source of this deficiency. "Rap culture has taken over, and black kids are all about the latest trends in the culture of music. I ask some black kids, 'What do you think about Prince?', and they tell me 'Prince is old.' Black kids don't seem to like the music that their parents or grandparents listened to. If anything, white students tend to focus on the past. They love the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. These are great bands, but there is other stuff out there."
THE TOTAL PACKAGE: Possessing good looks, a solid voice, sensual dance moves, and a mainstream look, Elvis Presley was able to put Rock-n-Roll on the map in a way that many of his black counterparts were not allowed to.

In acknowledging that rap has replaced rock in many ways, Simon expresses great reverence for the genre. "Rap is the evolution of rock music. Rap music is about the expression. Rap music is where you are finding a lot of the cutting edge music." He fondly remembers seeing Run-DMC in concert during their "Walk This Way" hey day, and deeply reveres the music of hip-hop's golden era. "I liked the fact that Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions put it all out there [regarding their political beliefs]." Far from condemning today's crop of rap stars, he is instead happy that the music has come so far. "I feel blessed to be alive to have seen it come from Grandmaster Flash and Whodini to where it is now. Today, we have rap entrepreneurs."
AN ANOMALY: Spiked by the success of the song "Cult of Personality", "Vivid," the 1988 debut album by black rock group Living Colour, became recognized as a landmark hard rock release. Unfortunately, the success of the group did not lead to increased black representation in rock music.

THE FOREFATHERS: Washington, D.C. punk rock group Bad Brains is thought by many to be one of the pioneers of hardcore rock. Many of the groups that became popular during the rap/rock craze of the late 90's/early 2000's cited the collective as a major influence.

Simon's feelings are the polar opposition of the vehement reaction many rock fans have to rap music, in which many fans of the golden age of rock seem to go out of their way to bash the rap genre. Simons believes that this hostility is rooted in ignorance and fear, in that many outsiders cannot relate to the image put forth by today's rap stars. "In the 60's and 70's, white people had a feeling that they knew the desires of black america. There was nothing threatening about The Commodores. White people don't know what drives [Georgia-bred rap superstar] T.I. White america does not know how to relate to the guy standing in front of the nice car, surrounded by women. Likewise, many black people do not know how to relate to the image of a white kid with long hair banging their head."

LITTLE BIG MAN: Though his influence has been forgotten by many, Little Richard's catchy songwriting, powerful voice, and flamboyant performance style influenced many of rock's most famous acts.

What makes the lack of black representation in rock music so sad is that the pioneers of Rock-n-Roll were black. In fact, some people think that one of those pioneers, St. Louis's Chuck Berry, is the rightful owner of the moniker "King of Rock-n-Roll." When asked if he agrees, Simon divides rock music into two components: the music and the imagery. "Chuck Berry revolutionized Rock-n-Roll. He had a country inflection in how he sang, and his lyrics really inspired Bob Dylan and John Lennon to be more poetic and clever with their lyrics. He influenced The Beatles, who were responsible for the new wave of sounds in rock music. You could also make a strong case for Little Richard. He paved the way for the flamboyant style of Mick Jagger with how he performed. He also brought in an androgynous side to the music."
NOT A BOYS CLUB: Girls are very active at Dave Simon's Rock School, at times putting on sets that outshine those of their male counterparts.

Simon feels, though, that another performer took the image part of rock and brought it to another plateau."Elvis Presley was good looking, he could dance, he could sing, and he was a movie star. A part of that was the fact that he was a white man in the 1950s. I can't think of any black person who could have had the opportunity to be a movie star in the 1950s. The musician in me wants to give the title to Chuck Berry, but, in looking at the big picture, I give Elvis the title."While there are not many black rock stars on the landscape, Simon remains optimistic. "Black people created Rock-n-Roll. Everyone knows that. Whenever a black band comes onto the scene, like [punk rock legends] Bad Brains or [late 80's landmark group] Living Colour, the results are always amazing."More information on Dave Simon's Rock School can be found at

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