Let's see - I like books, great guitar shops, good audiences, I really like Dick Wagner, and I love my new son Ian - this must be why we had such a great time at his book signing last night at Guitar Showcase in San Jose.
I've been trying to catch one of Dick's signing/performances all summer, but it was only last night that our stars aligned to make it so. I'm glad I finally made it, because everything about the whole affair was steeped in great fun and elegance. And, my five week old son got his first guitar lesson from the maestro himself!
Dick Wagner ~ "Tony Conley, noted journalist and friend of the maestro presents his five week old son, Ian Conley, 'A future guitar player.' Ian is receiving his first guitar lesson at my book signing. Maestro says, 'He did very well for his first lesson. I think the theory part escaped him, but those little fingers managed to astound.'"
Dick Wagner has just turned 71, and as he so wonderfully sang in the evening's last song, "I've Seen It All." His 2012 autobiography, Not Only Women Bleed, is one of the best true looks in the mirror as I've ever had the pleasure to see. He's unsparing in his truths, takes credit when it's right, takes the blame when he was wrong, and gives credit where credit is due - something that is a most difficult balancing act for those who are brave enough to write of themselves. The book is also one of the most fun rock 'n' roll reads that you can imagine, and I'm almost a bit jealous of those who picked up a copy yesterday and are enjoying it today. Here's a link to my full review from last year:
Wagner has been touring the book for most of the last year, and has picked up a number of book awards along the way. He was joined on this night by his manager and editor, Susan Michelson, and while I know Dick knows it, I must say - every artist should be so blessed as to have someone so passionate and skilled looking after their careers. Every detail had been tended to, and no need was unfulfilled. She even gave us some great and most welcome advice on child rearing!
After a brief and most entertaining synopsis of his book, Dick got down to what he does best - he sang and played. Accompanied by Carmel By The Sea blues guitarist/instructor Stu Heydon and pianist Mike Martinez, Wagner played a nice selection of his greatest hits as a songwriter and even threw in a brand new original at the end which will undoubtably be his next success, a look back on life and love entitled, I've Seen It All. One song that may have raised some eyebrows amongst the crowd was Air Supply's Just As I Am - a #3 chart topper in 1985. Wagner told a great story about the song - evidently he had passed the song to Clive Davis, but hadn't heard a word back from the mogul in almost three years, when he got a call from super producer Bob Ezrin. The producer said that he was in a pinch - he had a song that the band didn't want to do, since they hadn't written it, and that frankly he wasn't too enthused about, but that label head Davis had insisted they record. He asked Wagner if he could lend a hand with the arrangement and some guitar tracks. He said, "The song is called, Just As I Am." Wagner said, "Bob, that's my song!" Wagner replied, "oh no, the song - it's great!" Welcome to show business, ladies and germs....
His tale of writing Welcome To My Nightmare with Alice Cooper was a little more light hearted, and a much sexier tale! He played a great version of this and two more big Cooper hits, You and Me, and the smash hit Only Women Bleed.
Many of Wagner's tales are as dark as the night, but he's lived to see light at the end of the tunnel, and what was once a hard charging, some might call arrogant music maker has appropriately smoothed off some the old edges and now sees life with a much more relaxed and compassionate view, including towards the guy in the mirror. I won't lie - the guy is a born songwriter and storyteller, and the final tune of the night, given it's look at life, combined with my five week old son being just steps away, may have made me a bit misty. But, that's what a great songwriter does, right? They deliver the goods.
I'd be remiss if I failed to mention this evening's crowd. They knew the legend, and they were in the legend's palm from beginning to the end. Also, the staff at Guitar Showcase could not have been cooler, or more helpful. They even allowed for the possibility of taking small children in on trade. Not tonight, guys, but thanks!
There's more Dick Wagner news on the way, as he's just written a song for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, entitled, If I Had The Time (I Could Change The World), which he recently recorded with a who's who of rock veterans, but I'll save the details for my next update.
It was great to see Dick and Susan and to experience one of the coolest book signings I've ever attended. Thank you guys, you are most wonderful. Ian and Monica would like to thank you as well.