The band members assembled for their rock 'n' roll debut, all confidence, nerves and floppy teen hair. They had five minutes left to practice.
Dean Tidey slung an electric guitar with a sparkling strap over his chest. He had to help a band called Dirty Mike & the Boys get through Jessie's Girl. He shouted the chords to the Rick Springfield number over the clanging. G! A! D!
The kids had spent their Saturdays learning to play, tune, work together and create. Tidey, one of their teachers, was a bonafide British rocker. He had played in successful bands, toured with U2, the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, REM. Some students had Googled him, asked to see his backstage passes. Others didn't have a clue. Tidey didn't really advertise his credentials, or the fact that in a few weeks he'd be jetting to Japan to play with his new band, Muddy Apes, flanked by lights and screaming crowds. First, he had Rock School to teach.
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For years, the Patel Conservatory at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has offered Rock School to all people, mostly kids, who are curious about music. Hundreds have learned instruments, picked wild band names and played under the guidance of beloved teachers like Lee Ahlin and Paul Stoddart. Each semester leads to a Rock School Blowout, a real concert at the theater for parents and friends.
Tidey is the new guy, on staff since 2011. He came in an expert musician who'd spent years producing, getting bands to gel, teaching friends. But Rock School was different. Some students were good. Others could barely keep a beat. Some missed lessons and others were so ambitious they begged to play sweeping 1980s Rush songs, musical spaghetti topped with lasers, things their dads liked.
On a lot of levels, Tidey understood. His father worked for an oil company but loved Woodstock. Tidey learned young to make noise with his dad's guitar, creating a cocktail of Black Sabbath and amplifier feedback. At boarding school, Tidey's guitar teacher taught him classical technique mixed with KISS, the Sex Pistols, even Abba.
Tidey fantasized about rock 'n' roll heroics, but told guidance counselors he might be a journalist.
"You couldn't go to those career meetings and say, 'I'm going to be a rock star,' " he said.
He played in band after band from the time he was 12. After college he found success in Sandstone Veterans and Velvet Jones. He played live guitar for a decade with acclaimed British band Feeder. He got a publishing deal with Beatles guru Sir George Martin and had access to the best music studios in the world. He once played in a Beatles super group to honor Martin, wielding his guitar in front of Jon Bon Jovi, Jimmy Page and Prince.
Still, he never loved being center of attention. He got antsy during long strings of phone interviews. The hotels and partying wore on him. He saw musician friends mess up their family lives. He didn't want to quit entirely, but he wanted balance
One night in London, Tidey met a vacationer named April from Plant City. Tidey thought she was beautiful.
"I never, ever think anyone would like me," he said. "I'm terrible. I've never been one of those guys that goes chasing after women because I'm so bad at it."
She liked him back, though. Soon they were talking online, and Tidey was visiting Tampa, and they were eloping at the Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, and settling in Seminole Heights, and having a son. He worked as a producer and performed locally. After playing with Kim Richey at the Straz Center, he got an invitation from management to teach Rock School.
He pondered it. He thought how much better the bands of his youth would have been with someone at the helm pulling it together. He agreed, but he would do it his way. He'd nix some of the overdone songs, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Green Day. He'd introduce the kids to the Black Keys and Radiohead. He'd get them to think beyond covers.
Tidey got back into a band of his own, too. In 2012, he joined Taka Hirose from Feeder and some Japanese rockers to form Muddy Apes. They recorded an album, Crush It. Some lyrics are in English, some are in Japanese. It all somehow works, Tidey said, because they're doing it their way.
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At the Rock School Blowout in December, Dirty Mike and the Boys made it through Jessie's Girl. A band called User Friendly bopped to Everybody Talks by Neon Trees. Lincoln's Mistress hollered through London Calling by the Clash. Sometimes Tidey played with the kids, standing in the dimly lit corner to help fill out the sound.
He was pleased, but he had bigger ideas for next season, after he slipped away to quickly tour Japan with Muddy Apes. He wanted the kids to start writing their own songs. To become good, and if they were already good, to become excellent.
The Hanging Chads took the stage. They were already good. They screeched through War Pigs by Black Sabbath. They closed with an original song called Blinded, thrashing, lurching, sweating, making noise.
Tidey stood back, watching this act from the wings.