In the high haired 1980’s, current Rock of Ages drummer Chris Moore chased his dream of becoming a professional musician, only to leave it behind for a more practical life and career. Decades later, he proved that dreams don’t have an expiration date. This is his story, in his words.
[as told to Robert Ferraro]
I grew up in Arcadia, California, in the San Gabriel Valley, about 10 minutes away from Pasadena. The thing about Arcadia that is fairly well-known among rock fans, is that we were famous for having bands play incredible backyard parties, the most legendary of which Van Halen was playing before a police helicopter showed up. [laughs]
I was always going to be a drummer. I just was. I started as an infant, banging on pots and pans, and then my parents got smart and bought me a paper drum set for my 4th birthday. I played it so much that I destroyed it. Then they bought me another one for my 5th birthday, and I destroyed that one, too. They finally caved and bought me a real snare drum and a real cymbal.
When I was in 4th grade a kid down the street was moving and he needed a place to store his drum kit. My parents agreed that he could leave it at our house and I could play it until the end of the summer when the kid would come back and get it. The first day that I had the kit he showed me how to play some really basic stuff, but it literally looked like magic watching him do this. I was standing there completely blown away, wondering how he made that incredible sound with just three limbs. Still, I surprised myself by quickly figuring out how to play the beat. I took the kit into my parents’ study, plugged their headphones into the stereo, and played along to a Carpenters’ record that night. Of course my parents ended up buying that drumset for me. [laughs] I wouldn’t leave it alone! It was just the greatest thing ever.
My first favorite band was Kiss, after my brother brought home the ‘Kiss Alive’ album. A couple of years later Van Halen emerged and that was it for me. Not only were they from Pasadena, but their musicianship blew me away. They became my all-time favorite band. The summer between 7th and 8th grade, ‘Van Halen II’ had come out, and I was completely lost in it. As it turned out, Van Halen’s Michael Anthony had a younger brother Dennis who also played bass and had a band. He called me when their drummer left, asking if I wanted to jam. I went over there and he said, “Let’s play ‘Jamie’s Cryin’” and almost as soon as we started, the guys in his band looked at each other as if to say, “This is the guy.” A nice break for me, because I had been playing that song every day for the last several years! [laughs]
The Anthony’s lived in Arcadia, so it was an amazing thing to have Van Halen be my favorite band and actually have the opportunity to be around them. Dennis would take me to their rehearsals and we’d go backstage at the shows. I stood next to Ed at the L.A. Sports Arena before a show and watched him play his famous red and white striped guitar in the tuning room. I looked at the guitar and it just looked like a piece of shit, you know? It was rusted and had wires hanging out of it. It looked like something you would find in a pawn shop but never touch because you’d think it would require too much work. But Eddie picked it up, plugged it in, and started playing it, and immediately there was that sound. It was actually an incredible drumming lesson from the world’s greatest guitarist, because it’s fun to chase tones and all of that, but the quality of your playing is in your hands, not your gear.
Through junior high and high school I played in that band with Dennis. Every town in America had a band called Rampage. We were Rampage. We played at the Ice House in Pasadena and in a place called Pookies, where Motley Crue actually opened for us. We played the famous Whisky in L.A. when I was 15 years old. I wasn’t even old enough to drive! My drum tech had to bring me. [laughs] We would often play The Whisky on a Monday night, when hardly anyone was there, but celebrities would come to see us because Michael Anthony’s little brother was in the band. Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx would come down, along with Ronnie James Dio and others.
During my senior year of high school there was a local band called VVSI who had lost their drummer, and they wanted me to fill in for him at their gig at the Troubadour. Rampage was not really doing much in the way of gigs, but what we were doing was practicing 5 days a week, 3 hours a night. It was some of the best drumming that I had ever done. I was so well-rehearsed and dialed-in, that when I played with VVSI that night we meshed together quickly and had a really good show. I decided to join their band.
VVSI were playing places on the strip and doing a few things, just kind of making our way, until we caught a lucky break. In 1984, Music Connection magazine, which was the magazine to find yourself in if you were a musician, ran a piece called ‘Pick Of The Players’ where they surveyed a bunch of L.A. musicians and asked them who their favorite bands were. We won! We were different than a lot of other bands that were happening at that point because it wasn’t just an image that we were selling. We had really good musicianship and strong songs. Lars Ulrich voted for us. Bret Michaels voted for us. And a few other well known people who were on their way to the top voted for us as well.
Immediately, our following grew by leaps and bounds. We played a show with Stryper and even though we were the opening act, there were a few thousand people there early to see us play. The next show we did at The Troubadour was sold out and the crowd noise was insane. More importantly, we met a guy backstage that night named Paul Rothchild. Paul was a music legend. He had produced The Doors and Janis Joplin and he was looking to take a band and make what he considered to be great American music again. Furthermore, he was very close friends with David Geffen who had just started Geffen Records and was looking for a powerhouse rock band. Paul thought that we were that band.
So here I am, having graduated high school just months before, working part-time, and living with my parents. I promised them I would go to college after a year if I didn’t make it, but it looks like I might make it, because we now have this great opportunity sitting out there for the taking.
Unfortunately, the rest of my band wasn’t as enthusiastic about Rothchild as I was. They were very sensitive to “selling out” or having somebody take over our band completely. We had all heard these horror stories about producers coming in and changing a bands sound. To my frustration, they really stonewalled Paul. He was trying to work through ideas with us and offer us suggestions, but they shot down pretty much everything he brought up, and he became frustrated with us. I pleaded, “Guys, this man worked alongside Jim Morrison!” But their attitude was, “Sure, but if we have this guy wanting to sign us, we’re surely going to have other good offers. Everybody’s looking at us now.”
To make matters worse, the band had pretty much stopped rehearsing because they adopted the attitude that we were going to make it anyway. I love rehearsal, so I was climbing the walls. I’m a rehearsal animal! During that period we played a show at the Roxy which Rothchild attended, and we sucked. We were sloppy and made a ton of mistakes and were completely off our game. In any endeavor, if you are prepared and you’ve done the work, you’ll probably succeed. If you aren’t and you don’t, you probably won’t. Being on stage is fun, but it’s no different. If you’re not prepared, it can be a nightmare for you and the audience. That gig was a nightmare.
How bad was it? Paul came up to us after the show that night, shook our hands, said, “I wish you well in your future endeavors” and walked off! We lost Paul Rothchild, and as of that moment, the band lost me. I’d seen bands that had been grinding it out far longer than we had, and they weren’t getting anywhere. I truly thought we had blown a golden opportunity, and wondered how much longer I would have to play before finding another break like that, if I ever would at all. I checked out. I said, “Guys, I’m going to go to college.” Everyone I knew was in college and on their way to something, and I just felt like I was missing out. I played another few shows, and I was gone.
Real gone. As in I sold my drums and cut off all of my hair and removed myself entirely from the scene. I was never into drugs or anything like that, and I was never into partying. It was always about the music for me and it still would have been my dream scenario, but I was trying to be realistic when looking at my life going forward. My music experience did help me choose a major in college though. I went for a degree in finance because I was always baffled by how the financial end of the music industry worked.
I was in college between 1986 and ‘91, the height of the hair metal days, but I was no longer listening to that kind of music. At that point in my life I was into punk and REM and the Smiths and even bands like Level 42 that were more sophisticated and musically advanced. My buddies and I would turn on MTV every now and then though, and I would see a lot of the bands and people I came up with on the strip.
I graduated, got married, and started my career as a specialist at Merrill Lynch. I was making money and living a fairly successful life by most standards, but that career path had its difficulties. In the corporate world you have constant power struggles between other groups and people that end up affecting your life. Because I was good at my job and relatively well-known in my field, I would receive offers from different companies to come and work for them, and some of them were offering to double my income upon arrival. With an expense account on top of it! So things like that started happening for me, but what would often occur is I would accept an offer and go to work for the new company, only to see the manager I came to work for leave shortly thereafter. They would then bring in an entirely different regime or a person you didn’t want to work for, or they’d transfer you.
It became this two to three year cycle that I was caught up in and I started thinking to myself, “You know, I’m good at what I do and I have a somewhat unique skill, yet it doesn’t seem to matter because these companies are going to keep doing these things to me and I don’t have any power over it.” And in this talk I was having with myself, I noted that as a drummer if you’re really great at what you do you can be in charge of yourself. You don’t necessarily have to rely on some company hierarchy who isn’t on the same page as you.
Around the late 90’s I was still making a lot of money for other people, and myself as well, but it started occurring to me that deep down I wasn’t particularly happy. On 9/11, I was due to fly home to Los Angeles from Philadelphia, where I had been for a meeting. That afternoon I thought about all those unsuspecting people who suddenly died, and while thinking about the horror of it all, wondered, “What if the terrorists had decided to hijack my flight to Los Angeles, instead of the one out of Boston?” It was too close for comfort for me. I had plenty of time to think about things, as I was stuck in Philly for days while the country was basically closed for business. I asked myself, “When you’re age 70 or 80 you won’t be able to play the drums professionally, even if you wanted to. Are you going to look back on your life and regret that you didn’t?” After all, until I went to college, that was my life’s dream – to become a successful musician. Now, at the age of 36, stuck with my thoughts in Philadelphia on the heels of this tragedy, the role that music should be playing in my life became very clear to me.
One day, some time later, I just woke up, put my two sons in the car and impulsively said, “We’re going to buy a drum set today.” I went into the store and started pointing, saying, “I want this, this, and this”, and brought it all home and set it up in the corner of my living room, like a little kid would. I would play it for a bit every day until one day, oddly enough, I ran into the singer from VVSI at a party and we had an impromptu jam. He said, “Man, when are we going to bury the hatchet and start playing in a band together again?” I was like, “Now!” [laughs]
So, off we went. We formed a band called Str8Shot, and went on to record a CD and play shows, which was great because my wife and sons were super supportive of me doing this, and they were able to come see me play. I didn’t quit my job, but I had caught the bug and was in our studio all the time. Instead of going to the gym and working out, I would head over there and play drums. I was becoming a rehearsal animal again. [laughs]
I was also transforming in other ways. I started getting tattoos, which I had to cover up at work, and I had my ears pierced, despite having to take my earrings out at corporate meetings. Even people at my office who didn’t know me that well could probably tell that I was gravitating back towards music, because I started talking about it so often. They would ask me a question about playing on the Sunset Strip years ago and I’d just go off because I’d be so excited about it. All of this – the tats, the earrings, and the willingness to talk music – was a shift towards my becoming the person on the outside, that I knew I was on the inside.
Still, I was taking a long time getting to where I wanted to go. Even though I was practicing constantly and playing shows on weekends, I was still at my day job. Five years had passed since I first brought that drum kit home. But when the financial markets crashed in 2008, it caused my company to lay everyone off, myself included, and eventually fold. My boss and I started another firm, but it was a lot harder to make money while doing our own thing. Even though we made it work, the issue of not having control over my life had come to the forefront again. By this time, I absolutely knew that this was not who I am, or what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be a professional musician, and if I really wanted it, being a weekend warrior wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to commit myself to it completely, or it wouldn’t happen. I needed to go all in.
So, I did. That meant moving my studio to Orange County, an hour drive from our home, when my oldest son was accepted at a prestigious music school there. I would drop him off at 7:30 in the morning, head over to the studio and play all day long, and then pick him up almost 10 hours later when he was done. When my younger son was later accepted to the same school, we moved our home there altogether.
Over the years, I’ve scrambled to earn money as a musician any way I can. Sammy Hagar’s producer, Bob Daspit, hired me to record drum tracks for bands and projects that he was involved with. I would record tracks for different artists and producers all day, and then I would play gigs at night whenever I could. I also established a following on social media, which proved to be very important.
Craig Goldy, Dio’s former guitarist, found me on Facebook and asked me to join his band, Endangered Species. I did, and that same year there was a guitar contest type of event in San Jose that Craig was going to judge. They invited me to be a judge as well, and a guest drummer. One of the other judges was George Lynch, the guitarist of Dokken. George and I were running through our gear together in soundcheck – he started out playing chords and I was keeping time on the high hat – and we fell into a really cool jam that went on for like 20 minutes. It sounded great, to the extent that the staff at Rock Bar had come out to watch us. When we stopped, George looked at me incredulously and said, “Who are you man?” [laughs]
At the end of the night I was in the audience as George and Craig and a few others were about to do an all-star finale type thing. They had a house drummer, but George came over and said. “Hey, where’s Chris? I’m not doing this without Chris”, and brought me up on stage to play.
Around that time, I co-wrote, recorded, and released a song with the singer Angelo Moore, of Fishbone. George had heard about it and reached out and asked me to join his new project, along with Angelo as well. We became Project Nfidelikah, and it was a really fun, super creative time. We were writing and playing music that was way outside of the box, but we were really happy with it. We recorded an album and my son, Jaron, engineered all the vocals, which was a major source of pride for me.
I also wrote a book called, “Speed Mechanics For Drums – Mastering Drumset Technique” that I’m happy to say is highly regarded. Do you remember when I was telling you about my physical transformation with the tattoos and earrings? Well, I recorded accompanying videos for the book, and it was a lot of work, so they were recorded over a long period of time. I was growing out my long beard while I filmed these, and if you pay close attention you can see my beard growing from exercise to exercise. [laughs]
Most recently, George Lynch and I formed a band called Ultraphonix with Corey Glover of Living Colour as the singer, and we put out a great record this past August that we worked really hard on. Corey and I collaborated on all the lyrics, and Jaron engineered Corey’s vocals and designed the album art. We also filmed a video for a song called ‘Walk, Run, Crawl’ but just as it was set to debut it became clear to me that with the way things were headed, there wasn’t going to be any money to be made. I couldn’t afford not to make any. I told George and Corey, “I’m sorry guys, but I have to go out and make a living.”
When the ‘Rock of Ages’ offer came my way, I just said, “I have to do this. This is me.” It gave me a chance to go out on tour for almost a year, play great venues every night, and be paid well and treated well. They were asking me to serve in the role of drummer, in a metal band, on the Sunset Strip, in the 80’s. I thought I could pull that off. [laughs]
I had financial concerns when I left my ‘day’ job, and I still do to some extent. I’ve taken a huge financial hit to become a professional musician, and there have been some really tough times. But you know what? It’s all been worth it. Whether I’m creating it or playing it, music makes me happy.
If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I’ll still know that I had done it. I am a professional musician. And I know that I’ve left some quality things behind; My studio work. The Project Nfidelikah record. My book. The Ultraphonix record. The songs and lyrics I contributed to the projects I’ve been involved in. I’ve had people tell me how songs that I’ve written really mean something to them. That’s an incredible feeling, and it’s proven to be much more satisfying than simply making money for a bunch of people who already have tons of money.
Now my job is to play my drums in front of large crowds who stand up and sing their lungs out every night. I’ve seen people literally crying out there, probably because they’re overcome by the memories that this music brings back. I get it. I think I can speak for everyone in the band and cast and say that it’s special for all of us. But when I’m out there, at age 53, playing drums on a stage that is designed to look like the Sunset Strip bars I played when I was 15, I can’t help but to think that it might be a little more special for me.
I lived ‘Rock of Ages’ man. And now I get to relive it, every single night.
Visit Chris’s website here: ChrisMooreOfficial
Purchase Chris’s book on Amazon here: Speed Mechanics for Drums
Follow Chris on Facebook here : @cwmooreus
Purchase tickets for the Rock of Ages 2019 Tour here: Rock of Ages
A former radio talk show producer and producer of Major League Baseball broadcasts, Robert Ferraro engages in interviews with pop culture figures ranging from musicians and comedians, to models and actors. Recent guests include musicians Melissa Etheridge and Paul Stanley, comedians Gary Gulman and Alonzo Bodden, model/musician Bebe Buell and music video starlet Bobbie Brown.