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About JJ Rocks



JJ's top recommendation:
"I've seen and heard a lot of great guitar players during my 46 years in the music world and I believe that guitarist JJ Rocks in St. Croix, Virgin Islands is certainly in the Top 10. I have known him for over 30 years and have heard him perform live in concert, both public and private, and he never ceases to amaze me. He makes the guitar talk."
- Joe Mansfield, the man behind the fame of Garth Brooks, Journey, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Heart, Billy Joel, Toto, and many, many more. He has over 100 gold and platinum alums on his walls!
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JJ reached #2 (# 1 male musician in all genres) on the Reverbnation global independent music charts in September 2015 out of 4.6 million musicians on the planet. His stats from that site are in his photo section. But after realizing how much of a scam that Reverbnation was and seeing them force people to pay for their "Fan reach" after reaching over 5,000 fans (he had over 78,000) he left the site to pursue his own site The Spotlight Zone that was
being monitored by some of the worlds biggest major label executives (Reverbnation is not) and dedicate years of his time helping other musicians and putting them before his own career. "Respect is worth more than money" is something I heard JJ say many times.

JJ Rocks is a former record producer and studio Guitarist/Bassist/ at the world famous Gold Star Recording Studios in Hollywood California and now scouts for some of the world's biggest major label executives including mega giant Joe Mansfield.  He was also one of the most in demand players and local producers in the Baltimore/DC area for years. That along with him playing 554 Broadway review shows in two seasons on drums and guitar and being a regular on five Carnival Cruise Ships, JJ became know as a true professional and not just a musical “weekend warrior” whose greatest achievement is getting a following at local bars.

 


He now lives a very simple life in the Virgin Islands where his main concerns are teaching local kids (and some adults) how to become real musicians, producing some of his students bands, writing a musical play, writing a novel, and hosting this free site for independent bands and solo artist worldwide.
He does play out on certain occasions with his student’s, or just playing some hot jazz with some of the more talented musicians on the island. “Simplicity without material surroundings and being loved everyday by the person that means the most to me is the key to me focusing on my real goals in life. And none of these goals have anything to do with money”. That is a quote from JJ that I will never forget. A statement like that from a man that could get someone’s music heard by a major label executive in one day (if they are good enough) and not ask for a penny in return is quite rare. I am proud to be his friend.
Musician/Producer - John Easter.

Next is a rough JJ bio and two interviews written by Texas studio musician Mark Overstreet.
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Former Hollywood producer and St. Croix guitarist James (JJ Rocks) Johnston was born in Baltimore and now lives in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Raised as an inner city kid, he had no idea what the suburbs were like, except on summer visits to the beach. But those were very rare. He spent most of his days in Federal Hill Park that overlooked the old Baltimore city. He and his friends would ride down the steep hills on cardboard in the summer, and sleds in the winter.

On Sundays JJ and his other 8 and 9 year old buddies would hang around many of the old factories along the Baltimore harbor. And because usually there was no one around on Sundays, they could sneak in without being noticed. Climbing to the top of grain elevators and sliding down the turned off grain belts were at the top of his fun list. But that all changed when his brother bought him his first guitar for Christmas when he was 9 years old.

JJ had no way of getting lessons, so he just tuned his guitar until it sounded good and strummed while pretending to be Elvis Presley. One day he heard that a man up the street where he lived (Grindall street next to the park) played guitar. So he knocked on the man’s door and asked about how to tune his guitar. The man said he could tune it, but it would cost 25 cents. So after collecting used and discarded soda bottles for a few weeks (2 cents each), JJ came up with the money, and the man tuned his guitar. But when JJ went home to play it, the guitar sounded terrible! So the 9 year old Elvis “want to be” started to turn the keys again to make it sound good.

Then he went to the man and said “ I think you tuned my guitar wrong”. The man picked up his guitar and said “what did you do? This thing is really out of tune! I’ll tune it again but it will cost you another 25 cents”. So JJ went back out to find more used soda bottles and the man tuned it again. But this time the man said “now play me something”. So young mister Rocks started to just strum the strings open, and again, it sounded terrible. The man said “you don’t even know how to play guitar”. I think you should learn before the next time you ask me to tune it for you. I don’t give lessons” So with his head hanging low, JJ went home knowing what to do. No one in his family besides his brother seemed to care, and there was no money for guitar lessons anyway.

One day some lady came to his house that was a friend of his mothers. She saw his guitar, picked it up and started to played the coolest thing he ever heard. It was called “Honky Tonk”, and it was just played on 2 strings. She said “would you like me to show this to you?” Well JJ, being a 9 year old inner city boy with an attitude toward a “GIRL” that could outplay him, he just said “no thanks”.

But after she left his house, JJ went up to his room that over looked the Baltimore ship yard and tried for hours to remember that song. Finally, he got it. His brother was very proud. And from that moment on he decided to learn things for himself, even if only by ear. Obviously, that was not the wisest choice. But he was cool with it since there was no money for lesson anyway. And as his brother “Lucky” would stack a bunch of 45’s on the record player every night as they went to sleep, JJ just kept listening to people like the Ventures, Elvis, and anything else that was in his brothers collection.

One day JJ met a very old man with a club foot. Most of the kids stayed away from him and told JJ to stay away also. There were all kinds of scary stories about the man they called “Hop” who lived on the Cross Street hill section. His whole environment was behind and old wooden storefront window covered with newspapers for curtains. But one day while passing by the old man’s place and carrying his guitar with a clothes line rope as a strap, the crippled man called out to JJ and said “hey boy, can you pick that thing?”. JJ said “what’s a pick?” That day JJ’s life changed forever.

After giving JJ his first guitar pick (it had cork on it) the old man invited him to come and play along with him and his friends on Saturday night. Now JJ had passed that place many times and heard music coming from within, but he would only stop to look through the cracks in the newspaper curtains for a second or two out of the fear of being caught “peeping” in. But now he was actually invited to join the old man and his friends on trust alone. You see, up to that point, JJ still didn’t play for the old man, only talked to him.

Fortunately, between the time JJ figured out how to play Honky Tonk, (which made him a hit on Grindall street) he learned a few chords from part of a book that was found in the back of “Mike’s lot”. That’s at the bottom of the north side of Federal Hill Park. After days of rain, he noticed a book with dots on it sticking out of a junk pile. When he tried to pick up the book, most of it fell apart because of being so wet. He managed to save a few pages, dry them out on the radiator at home, and learn some basic chords. But he was still very nervous about going to the old man’s place hoping so much that someone would show him something on the guitar. He took a deep breath, and went there that Saturday night.

When JJ walked through the door of this very old store that was converted into a one room living space, there were guys (adults) sitting around with beautiful guitars that had names like “Gibson” and “Fender” on the top. His said “Stella” on top and was not electric like the other people had. But he found himself a seat on an old brass bed that was covered with aged sheet music and just waited for directions.

So the old man started to play “Good night Irene” and all he did was stare at JJ and yell out “C” and “G”. But because of those dried out pages that JJ saved, he knew those chords and he was a hit! After that JJ and Hop played together every weekend and each time there seemed to be a new player there that would let him play a different kind of guitar. And the sessions would go on until the late hours of the night. No one ever asked JJ if he had to be home at a certain time. That’s how cool it was.

That’s the important part of JJ’s story. But I must add that JJ‘s first experience on a real stage was a result of him being a member of the South Baltimore Police club. They entered him into a talent show to represent their district. JJ was beaten by a band as he tried to play “The house of the rising sun (without vocals) on his acoustic guitar. But that’s when he knew he was destine to be in a band. Soon his mom met a new guy and they moved to the suburbs and he joined his first real band. Then as the years went by he had his first 6 night a week gig at the Baltimore Playboy Club in 1971. He was only 18 years old and already had been married for a year. (Hey, those were the Hippie days).

As time went on he became one of the most desired guitar players in the Baltimore/DC area. But that was all cover music. Once his fellow musicians started to learn that he was not only a good guitar player and songwriter, they discovered that he was also a really good producer. He would play 5 sets a night in a club for 6 nights and still wind up in a studio in the early morning hours playing and producing his own songs (or someone else‘s). Soon he was asked to be a producer at the famous “Gold Star Recording Studio” in Hollywood.

He started producing international bands and solo artist that were famous in their countries, but unknown in the states. But not long after that he was being asked to join the “Hollywood scene” by his friend Pat Morita” (Karate kid). But he had to leave Hollywood because someone he loved had severe medical problems and JJ wanted to see her to the end. And since Hollywood just doesn’t open and close their doors to anyone, he found himself back playing cover music in Baltimore, and then later on cruise ships. But he will always say until the day he dies, “it was worth it”.

But JJ Rocks (as he is known from being the head of his elementary school geology team) never lost his interest in bands from other countries. He said “It opened a whole new world of music for me”. And years later after moving to the Virgin Islands and finding his life long love and soul mate Dorothy, they both went on a quest to communicate and promote independent bands from around the world. Their first journey was “St. Croix Music Magazine” which was only called that because it was from St. Croix. The locals did not show much interest in their monthly “free” on line publication, but independent bands from around the world (74 countries at that time) loved it! And even though there are some good musicians on this island, it’s not exactly “Music City USA”. So they both dedicated their time to helping international independent bands.

But even though their first attempt was a monthly on line magazine that got a lot of response, JJ and Dorothy knew that it wasn’t enough. They both wanted a site where musicians as well as listeners could build their own pages with song uploads, video uploads, blogs, and more. So now their new on line musical child is “The Spotlight Zone. And after studying many independent band sites over the last 5 years, they knew what they wanted.

This is a site that not only offers the usual uploads like other sites, but also offers the opportunity for a band/musician to have an article written about them, along with the chance of being heard by the some of the record company executives and producers that JJ has known over the years. And with Dorothy contacting all the musicians via her fantastic networking abilities, and JJ Rocks writing articles about the really good bands and getting them noticed, they both have a dream of making this site the one of the best private independent band/musician sites on the planet.

Special thanks go out to Sveta and Oleg who not only designed and programmed St. Croix Music Magazine, but also helped JJ and Dorothy with their ideas for a dream of the ultimate non profit on line independent band/musician site. And with the help and advice of JJ's friends in high places in the music industry (some are in his photo section), their goal could be within reach.

By the way, JJ Rocks has still never had an official guitar lesson in his life. But through his experience he has gained a knowledge of music that was learned by performing with some of the greatest musicians, and opening for some of the most historic bands in music history. He now passes his experience on to the children and adults of a tiny island in the Caribbean, and also came up with a mathematical approach to learning music that drew positive E mail from all over the world. He is currently working on a musical play that he say’s will be his greatest musical accomplishment! To say the least, JJ and Dorothy’s dreams of a simple but giving life are coming true.

- Mark Overstreet, Texas studio musician.
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Here are the only two interviews that JJ Rocks ever gave. They were conducted by his great friend and fine musician Mark Overstreet.

Interview #1: October, 2010

Mark O: Who were your favorite musicians you have ever been in a band with?

JJ: Many years ago back in Baltimore, I was very fortunate to play along side of some outstanding players. Some of their names are Bobby Peters, Eddie Demarino, Bobby Grosser, Tim Lloyd, Paul Soroka, Leo Huppert, and Michael Sciuto. I have opened up for famous people, but none of them left the impressions that these guy’s had. They changed my life.

Mark O: Can any of your former band mates / or students be heard on any recordings your readers might have heard?

JJ: I don’t keep track of their recordings, but some of them went to play with people like Blood Sweat and Tears, Wayne Newton, Edgar Winter, Roy Buchanan, and other’s that I can’t remember right now.

Mark O: Which recording studio was your favorite place to record?

JJ: It was called “Flight Three” studios in Baltimore. I can remember staying awake for days and my eyes looking like two pee holes in the snow just trying to get a good take. It was meant to be remembered.

Mark O: Where do you get your inspiration or ideas for songwriting?

JJ: Every day topics. But the funny thing is that I don’t write songs everyday. Go figure.

Mark O: Is music to the point where plagiarism is unavoidable to some extent?

JJ: Do you mean lyrically, or melodically?

Mark O: Both

JJ: Let’s see, if you are talking about direct lines that are either lyrical or melodically sucked from someone else’s songs, than there could be some legal issues. All you can do is try your best to be yourself. On the way to a gig in New England I once wrote a song that sounded like a burger jingle. We had just gut done eating in the back of the van and I came up with an idea and wrote it on the back of a burger bag. Things happen. It’s funny that years later I started to write real jingles.


Mark O: Do you feel the quality of musicianship has declined since the Video era started?

JJ: Which side of it? Technical or artistic.

Mark: Both

JJ: To me, music comes in waves, like down at the beach. At first there were big ones like Beethoven and Bach. And as the waves moved farther away from the center, they become more like ripples. That’s kind of why record company people refer to many modern genres as being “fast food” or "just a drop in the bucket". But on the technical side, it’s like trying to stay on top as a boxer. Even though you might be the champ right now, in the back of your mind you know that there is always somebody out there that is trying harder than you ever have and is about to kick your “shredding” ass! The day that I woke up and realized that music was not a sport I stopped keeping score.


Mark O: Do you believe the marketing aspect of bands plays a more significant role in the bands success than the ability of the performers?

JJ: If I gave that secret away many up and coming musicians might loose their drive to stop practicing.

Mark O: Do you think technology is overused by some artists to disguise the fact that they cannot play their instrument well?

JJ: Definitely. The whole vocoder thing on vocals really turns my stomach. As far as other instruments, overdrive on a guitar has a useful purpose for a certain emotional feel that you can’t get totally clean. But the same effect on a piano or horn is not music to my ears. But no matter what you use, you can’t disguise bad playing. You are what you are, plain or candy coated.

Mark O: I noticed that even though you feature local St. Croix musicians in your magazine, I never see them in your Spotlight Zone columns. Why not?

JJ: The Spotlight Zone column is reserved for totally original bands. There are a few local “born here” bands that I want to feature that have some cool original reggae and Calypso, but I just haven’t talked to them yet. As far as local bands whose members were actually born in the states, I haven’t heard any original music that I would feature in a magazine that is read by record company executives. I have featured local players based on their chops. But I have nothing original from them yet either. I’m sure that it will happen one day. We are an international publication that get’s it’s name because of where it is from. We are not a magazine that specializes in local St. Croix Music, it just happens to be where we are from. There is not enough local original music to keep us going. If we were only local, we wouldn’t last more than a few issues. But it’s a big world of independent music out there and we are discovering it a piece at a time.

Mark O: What do you think of the musicianship on St. Croix?

JJ: All that matters to me is if they are all having a good time. I have my own musicianship to think about, especially when I’m playing with, or around some of the great improvisers like Jack Petersen, Elvis Pedro, Bobby Richards, Mario Thomas, and Chris Simmons.


Mark O: How many bands do you list on your site?

JJ: I’m not sure, that’s Dorothy’s department. I think over a thousand are in the bands section and that’s where I find who to right about.

Mark O: I noticed that you have tons of compliments and music review request in your guestbook. Are they always that nice?

JJ: Of course not. Even though we are a private “by invitation only” club for independent musicians that are also interested in St. Croix, the guestbook is still open to the public. So there is always going to be a few cowards out their that think that they are upsetting us and don’t have the courage to leave their name or tell it to us face to face. Anyone like that is a true looser and has no real life of their own. But Dorothy and I always get a kick out of the sick people. They’re home thinking that they just put a wrinkle in our day, and we are home laughing our asses off.

Mark O: You never seemed like someone that wanted to be a star. Is there a reason for that?

JJ: Yeah. Actually, there’s several. The first thing is that I don’t like to travel. I hate airports and dragging bags in and out of hotels and cruise ships. The second thing is my privacy. I don’t want to be a household name and not even be able to go anywhere without being pointed out. And as far as the money goes, I only use it to pay for every day basic needs. If I had an excess it would just sit in the bank and never be spent. I’m not a material person. I guess you noticed that this magazine is non profit.

Mark O: I have known you for 30 years ever since the days of the “Grandstand” in Christiansted. Back then it looked like you were very happy up on the stage. Do you still feel that happiness when you play now?

JJ: Not really. But I have very high hopes for my new bands “Rocksta” and “St. Croix School of Rocks”. Everyone in both bands show a very high respect for getting all the parts right. And there is definitely a common vibe when it comes to being serious about getting things right.


Mark O: Rumor is that someone at the Grandstand back in 1981 introduced you to the legendary record company giant Joe Mansfield.

JJ: Yes folks it’s true! Mark O is the one who made the introduction! That’s why he’s getting this interview! But really, thanks Mark. Joe is an incredible person and great friend. Dorothy and I feel privileged to know him.


Mark O: Not many people know that you were a record producer in Hollywood for a while. What was that like?

JJ: Short. There’s a lot to that story, but I guess I can give you a few highlights.

I was playing guitar in Baltimore with a very, very good band (similar to Mother’s Finest) called “Harbor City Review”. We would record during the day, and play 6 nights a week in the finest clubs in town. So one day when we were in the studio a guy from the Philippines named Tony Villa walked in and wanted to make a record. I never paid him any mind. Then a few months later he calls me from Hollywood and say’s “JJ, I need a song to dedicate to Elvis!” And he wanted to record it at Gold Star Studios (A+M Records) in Hollywood.

Wait, let me back up. That was only a short time after Elvis Presley died (1977) and everyone was doing tributes. Anyway, he said if I wrote and produced the song that he would fly me out to Hollywood and pay me as a producer. This was when I was younger and actually like to travel, so I went to California. There were already musicians waiting for me and the greatest studio that I even seen. I think my engineer’s was named Ed Epstein and the place was on Sunset and Vine. It’s been a long time. Anyway, it seemed like a dream come true. Man, even the local hamburgers were the greatest!

Mark O: Did anything ever come out of that?

JJ: Oh yeah, but not with Tony’s record. It just happened that he introduced me to other international artist like Victor Wood and movie stars like Pat Morita (The Karate Kid) that hung out at a place called “Imperial Gardens” on Sunset Blvd with other stars like Barbara Streisand and many more. Pat was my favorite and his advice helped me out the most. Don't be fooled by the movies, he was a very, very, funny guy. He also used to be on the TV show "Happy Days" as Arnold.

So before I knew it, I was being pulled up on the stage to play guitar in front of Hollywood celebrities. And even when I was just sitting at a table I was being invited to produce music in studios that weren’t even built yet. That’s when I started to realize that the way I thought of music, as far as hearing it on American radio, was not all that existed. Other countries also had their own huge stars. And I was now directly connected to them. It’s was very cool! I even met local studio musicians and famous band members (like Earth Wind and Fire) that said that I should stay in Hollywood as a player and they could help me out in the studio scene. Then I started to meet record company people like Evan Reynolds and a few others whose names have escaped me that were interested in me as a producer, and my songs. But something personal came up that was more important, so I went back to Baltimore and wound up doing the local scene once again. But I never forgot my appreciation of international music and I made a hell of a lot of connections!


Mark O: Well, it’s obvious that you eventually got away from all that because you are living here and teaching music in paradise. How did that come about?

JJ: That’s a subject that’s hard to cut short, but here goes. I was playing in a miserable high paying, dress coded, and obnoxious Annapolis, Maryland meat market. There I met a guy named Tom Hadley. He owned a club in St. Croix. It sounded European to me. I had no idea it was in the Caribbean. So that eventually lead to the best years of my life playing music on a far away dream island five nights a week. And getting paid for it! So, to cut to the chase, I was on and off of the island for many years until I finally realized what’s best for me and became a resident. I started to teach with my own music system, I’m writing a musical play that has the interest of a theater company in London which I’m probably going to give away to public domain, created an online non profit music magazine that‘s read all over the world, and I found the love of my life and the rest is our personal history.

Mark O: Thank you for this interview, and I hope that nothing that I asked was too personal.

JJ: To me personal is what happens behind closed doors and all the rest is just something that I would tell someone over a cold beer on a warm Caribbean day – JJ Rocks

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Interview # 2: November, 2010

Mark O: Who would you say is the most overrated band that made millions with minimal talent, and great marketers?

JJ Rocks: First of all, I can’t just pick one. And If you mean success stories that are over rated for their musical (or lack of) abilities, I guess I can break that up in two categories. First of all in the solo category, I would have to say that it’s a toss up between Tiny Tim, Cher, and most of (not all) of the rap artists that ever existed. And in the band category, well, there are so many. But the first ones that come to mind are Metallica, Kid Rock, and Santana (as a guitarist not as a style innovator). I think I’m’ going to stop there in order to keep up my positive attitude towards the world of music. The reason for that is that my cup of tea may not be yours, or anyone else that has their personal favorites, so I don‘t want to insult anyone.

As far as great marketers, I feel that some of them (like my hero and great friend Joe Mansfield) achieved greatness because of there choices when it comes to choosing who to market. Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Heart, Journey, Bob Dylan, and over a hundred more famous artists are proof of that. But I guess his way of marketing is kind of like finding the right targets for real talent to be heard. But there are still people out there who are trying to turn a soul’s ear into a silk purse just to make a buck. This is one of the things in the music world that really pisses me off. They know that there is always someone out there who doesn’t know the difference between an art form and just a product, even when they are both the same thing. You know, those people who just want to shake their asses to a song that has lyrics that require minimal brain activity. But as long as the people selling it get their 99 cents per song, they are having a good day. So let’s please get to another question before I throw up.

Mark O: Do you feel the band Rush should be left out of the Rock n. Roll hall of fame ?

JJ Rocks: First of all the Rock ‘n Roll hall of fame is based on record sales and someone’s influences on their genre. And even though Rush has sold a lot of records, maybe there are some people on the deciding end that think that Rush is too outside of their “Rolling Stones” mentality. I personally think that Rush was totally groundbreaking in the world of not only Rock music, but also in the education of many, many real musicians.

Mark O: If you could jam with any musician (dead or alive) who would it be and why?

JJ Rocks: Well, as far as talent goes, I guess I would say Brent mason, Pat Martino, George Benson, Alan Holdsworth, Chet Atkins, and of course my favorite band Gentle Giant. But when it comes to jamming with someone who is at the very top of musical improvisation and cool attitude, I would have to say Wes Montgomery. I can honestly say that if I were asked to give up any musical abilities that I have acquired in the past years in exchange for learning from only one person, it would be Wes Montgomery. And by the way, the first question that I would ask him is “How do you manage to think ahead so well when you are soloing?”

Mark O: Where do you see technology taking music in the next ten years?

JJ Rocks: To the garbage dump. Technology is just a means to acquire certain tonal desires by twisting and turning, and even making corrections to mistakes on the original tracks. Modern Technology used to mean capturing the music with the finest clarity through the best equipment available at the time. Effects used to be considered enhancements. But now they are put on as thick as a clowns makeup and have the same meaning. And that would be to disguise the true character of the performers and make you think that they are something they are not.

Mark O: Which of your former bands had the most potential to score a record deal?

JJ Rocks: Since most of my life I had played with top notch players, I would have to say, most of them. But great players, don’t get record deals on chops alone. You also have to be very original, have great songs, know the right people, and be very lucky. After that comes the marketing. Like Joe Mansfield told me “It‘s all in the marketing and most people don‘t realize that”. But since I haven’t even thought about getting a record deal since I was in my twenties, and only want to express myself as a true artist, it doesn’t matter anymore. But it was a cool question.

Mark O: What was the most innovative guitar effects in your opinion?

JJ Rocks: I’m not really an effects kind of guy, but I guess a sweet reverb and a creamy overdrive would be my choices. Chorus is cool, but it’s starting to sound too dated. What’s funny is that I don’t hear sax players or pianist talking very much about effects. I guess they can still appreciate the true sound of their instruments without any additives.

Mark O: How many years have you been playing guitar?

JJ Rocks: Next year will be my 50th anniversary of playing guitar. But how long I have been playing guitar means nothing. I know guys that have been playing that long but can only play good enough to fool people with a few chords and a lot of audience ass kissing as they play someone’s favorite Jimmy Buffet tune. There is no such thing as mastering the guitar. It’s just a piece of wood with wires on it. Becoming a master of yourself and expressing it on your instrument without mimicking anyone else is the highest achievement. Playing fast scales, sweeps, and someone else’s licks are just tools to keep your ass in tune and in time. But making your own music that truly connects with others is a result of building something, not just showing off how polished your tools are.

Mark O: Have you ever wished you had chosen a different path in life? if so, what would it be?

JJ Rocks: No! But if I hadn’t become a musician, I would have been a geologist. When I was a kid a had my own geology club. Where do you think the name “Rocks” came from? And if it wasn’t that, I would have become a police officer. I was learning the ways and habits of police officers even before I started to play guitar. I was a very proud member of the South Baltimore Police Boys Club back in the early 60‘s. They helped get inner city kids get off of the street corners and gave them something to belong to and respect. Every policeman’s name had to start with ‘officer”. It was a major lesson in respect. Man, I was firing hand guns and making high scores at our summer camp before most kids owned their first squirt gun! But as it turned out, those officers were also the first people that put me on stage at a talent show with kids from all the districts. That was my first appearance in front of a crowd and I almost wet my pants. So as far as still being on stage, I owe it all to the South Baltimore Police Department.

Mark O: What is your take on the so called American idol contests? Are they really just a revenue for a money generating time slot?

JJ Rocks: Sorry Mark, but if it’s not a cop show, Andy Griffith, or something on the history or science channel, I don’t go near the TV.

Mark O: What are your favorite guitars and why?

JJ Rocks: Fenders and Gibson guitars have always been good to me. But my favorite guitar is a rare hand made Kubicki Strat that is solid rosewood. It just seems to get heavier as I get older. But I do use it for recording like on my reggae version of “The Pink Panther”. Now as far as Fenders, they remind me of fast and slick sports cars that cut through the band like a six bladed knife. Although many do need constant tweaking and adjustments (especially the newer ones). Gibson guitars ( the good ones) are like fine pieces of hand crafted furniture. I hardly ever had to adjust anything on my 135, 335, SG’s, Les Pauls, or any other Gibson guitar that I owned over the years unless I changed the sting gauges. Right now I’m grooving on a ES - 135 that was a gift from one of my students. Thanks Devon!

Mark O: What about amps, strings and picks?

JJ Rocks: I prefer tube Fender tube amps for my clean sound, and Marshall Tube amps for the heavier rock stuff. I just want my notes to sing and not get “mashed” together. It’s hard enough to get your licks clean, so having a bad amp work against you can be a nightmare. My strings range from Elixir 10 to 46, Diadario 10 to 46, and sometimes fender or Ernie Ball. The gauges and brands are a mood thing. My picks are small and very stiff. No jokes please!

Mark O: Is there retirement for JJ Rocks in the near future?

JJ Rocks: You don’t retire from what you love. When your passion and profession are the same thing, there is no logical reason to give it up unless you just can’t physically cut it anymore. After that, just hope that you have enough recordings of your music for you and your friends to listen to.

Mark O: I know that you suffer from extreme pain because of a back condition. Does it get in the way of you teaching your students?

JJ Rocks: Most of the time. But I try to deal with it. It’s only the students that make repeat myself over and over that brings out the real pain. Those are the ones that never last in my class.

Mark O: During our last conversation on the phone you told me that you still love Kenpo Karate and you were thinking about getting back into it. How would that be possible with a degenerating back condition?

JJ Rocks: Well, I guess I would rather leave this life punching and kicking than bitching and moaning!