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School of Rock

By Paul Feinberg '85, Illustrations by P.J. Loughran

Published Jan 1, 2009 8:15 AM

Almost since the first backbeat boomed, Southern California has been a rock and roll mecca. And one of the places where the music played the loudest is UCLA, where Bruins — on campus and after graduation — made an indelible mark on rock history.

What would an all-star Bruin rock group look like? A bit mainstream rock, a bit punk, and very much like this illustration. On the bottom left, Linkin Park's Brad Delson; behind him, Greg Graffin of Bad Religion; on bass at far right, Black Flag's Kira Roessler; and fronting the band, of course, is rock god Jim Morrison of the Doors.

Can you hear it? The driving beats, the soaring voices, the explosive lyrics of life, love, loss and rebellion? It's irresistible. It's real. It's raw. It's rock 'n' roll, L.A. style.

Southern California has been an incubator for the genre since its very beginnings, and from the classic riffs of The Doors to punk rock rebels like Bad Religion, from modern metal masters like Linkin Park to the blue-eyed soul of Maroon 5, Bruins have made diverse and eclectic contributions to the rock oeuvre.

Hello, We Love You

Much has changed in rock music, but some things remain the same — like the ubiquitous presence of The Doors in American pop culture. The iconic rockers remain as relevant today as they were when they released their first album in 1967. The quartet — Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore — are enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Founding members Morrison and Manzarek met while they were students at the UCLA Film School, and so it's not surprising that movies, not music, set the stage for the legendary band's unmistakable sound.

"We both had a class with legendary film director Josef von Sternberg, the director who created Marlene Dietrich, working together on such classic films as Shanghai Express, The Blue Angel, Morocco and The Devil is a Woman," Manzarek recalls. "Von Sternberg's vision of sophistication and the darker side of the human condition was perhaps the single greatest influence on the music of The Doors."

In 1991, Densmore established an endowment fund to support UCLA undergraduate students specializing in Afro-American Studies, music, the arts or other related areas. And the School of Theater, Film and Television has annually presented the Jim Morrison Film Award, whose endowment funds two substantial annual awards for film directing.

Park Place

Grammy Award-winning alternative rock band Linkin Park was actually born at UCLA, where lead guitarist Brad Delson '99 and bassist Dave Farrell '99 were roommates for three years. It was also during Delson's Bruin days, in fact, that Linkin Park first signed with a label.

Delson told UCLA Magazine in a 2006 interview that "it was during my time at UCLA that a bunch of us were performing and figured out that people really liked the music we were playing." He took away much more than a record contract from his alma mater, however — and he's given back just as much.In 2004, Delson gave close to $400,000 to establish the Delson Scholarship Fund in the UCLA College of Letters and Science, which provides undergraduate scholarships for inner-city kids.

"I tell kids all the time that although my career may be more glamorous than others, college is essential," Delson said in the interview about his efforts on behalf of underserved youth. "UCLA prepared me for the business side of music and has contributed tremendously to my success."

Punk Power

It's tempting to include Indie 103.1 radio morning personality Joe Escalante '85 with the DJs, but Escalante's true claim-to-fame is as bass player for punk rock stalwarts The Vandals. As a UCLA student in the early '80s, Escalante was part of a small but lively band of Bruin punks who attended classes during the week and shows on the weekend. The group included Greg Graffin '87, M.S. '90, founder and lead singer of Bad Religion.

Both The Vandals and Bad Religion planned their recording and touring calendars around their UCLA class schedules. "In my freshman year, the band started up and I just kind of did weekends, and in the summer we would tour," Escalante recalls. "[Graffin] was there and some guys from Youth Brigade and a couple of other punks on campus."

Escalante, who studied Viking civilization at UCLA, commuted to campus first from his native Orange County and then from Long Beach, where he lived with his dad. "I didn't get to make a lot of friends at UCLA," he says. "That's one thing I always try to tell people now, that you have to live on campus your first year at least or miss out on a lot. I was lucky. I got into the Old Norse department, a really small department, and that made a huge difference."

Graffin is now a UCLA biology professor who records and tours with the band when he isn't in the classroom. "I was really a student when I was on campus," he says of his days as an undergrad. "The arts and entertainment and culture students were all on North Campus, [but] I chose science, so I was spending my time on South Campus."

The young punker/scholar did connect with the arts in a time-honored fashion — via an on-campus job. "I had a job doing sound engineering," he remembers. "Bands would come through weekly and play shows at The Cooperage and Kerckhoff Coffee House. So I would study by day and do my sound engineering duties at night. And if I wasn't on campus, I was just rehearsing with Bad Religion."

Making Music Business

Ironically, the member of the Bruin community making perhaps the most significant current contribution to rock isn't a musician. He's Jeff Jampol, president of Jampol Artist Management, whose responsibilities include managing the present-day Doors empire. Jampol is behind a wildly popular course on the music industry at UCLA Extension called "The Music Business NOW," co-sponsored by The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc.

The course takes students through the entire process of developing and breaking in new artists, including touring, publishing, merchandising and digital marketing. It's famous for its too-many-to-list-them-all "who's who" guest speakers, as well as a diverse audience that includes UCLA Anderson School of Management students, record label employees, managers, musicians, folks who are just interested in how the music business works and even hedge-fund managers and venture capitalists.

Bands rise and bands decline, fads come and go, but the university's contribution to the music that changed a nation continues. Even now, perhaps, a young dreamer in faded jeans sits on the steps of a red-brick building before an emerald lawn on campus, plucking a guitar and daydreaming about being on stage and laying down hot licks before an audience of thousands.

It's happened before. It will surely happen again.

Because at UCLA, we rock.

Come and See the Show

Bad Religion founder and Bruin scholar Greg Graffin didn't just play music when he was a student; he was a fan as well.

"Lucinda Williams would play the coffee house back then, but she didn't know me as a fellow songwriter," he remembers. "I was just doing the sound. I also remember artists like Alex Chilton and Rank and File playing at The Cooperage, back when they had a stage."

In fact, one of the highlights of life on the UCLA campus for decades has been a star-studded parade of memorable rock concerts and rock moments.

Royce Hall rocked out to Bob Dylan (1964), Arlo Guthrie (1969), Elton John (1970), Crosby and Nash (1971), Frank Zappa (1975), The Ramones (1979), Jefferson Starship (1980) and Elvis Costello (2004).

The Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis.

When the men's basketball team wasn't winning titles in Pauley Pavilion, the venue frequently played host to big-name rockers. The most recent concert was in July, when VH1 broadcast a rousing, two-hour tribute to The Who that starred Pearl Jam, Flaming Lips, Incubus, Foo Fighters, Tenacious D (who offered a deliciously warped take on "Squeeze Box," which ended with former Bruin Jack Black's pants down around his ankles) and even a performance by the iconic English band themselves.

R.E.M. and The Minutemen played on the long-gone Ackerman Union patio. The Romantics and X and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts raised the roof in the Ackerman Ballroom. Bruin Walk has also reverberated to the sounds of artists like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sublime. Janss Steps was the venue for Oingo Boingo. Fleetwood Mac played a free concert in 1983 after the 10K Rock and Run charity event.

The beat goes on and on and on. Some moments, though, were too good not to call out:

Michael Thomas' breathless 1968 review of a Jimi Hendrix gig on campus for Eye magazine included this whopper: "Grown men cried; the audience crawled onto the stage and tried to kiss his boots." Kathy McMahon '70 was there and told UCLA Magazine in 2003 that she went with her friend Randy, who had a broken leg — and Hendrix "reached over, grabbed Randy's crutch and began playing the guitar with it."

Early rock legend Bobby Darin, who died in 1973, asked that his body be donated to the UCLA Medical Center for research.

In 1975, during a summer tour for his third solo album, Stephen Stills played UCLA, and the crowd was wowed by a surprise reunion onstage with Neil Young.

The Alarm made rock history in 1986, when it played the first-ever global satellite concert before more than 20,000 fans at the base of Janss Steps. The event was broadcast worldwide by MTV.

Not really a moment, but certainly worth mentioning, is the fact that a Ray Charles 1969 UCLA Concert Poster is available for the low, low price of only $342.60 on the collectibles site

And the Beat Goes On ...

The duo Jan and Dean had several hits in the 1960's.

The original "California sound" was surf music, and riding the wave along with the Beach Boys and other bands were Jan and Dean — Jan Berry '66 and Dean Torrence. Their hits included "Surf City" and "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena."

Satirist/songwriter Randy Newman '65 wrote and performed "I Love L.A." for a Nike commercial. The song became the city's unofficial anthem (and Los Angeles Lakers theme song).

Funk-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose lead singer Anthony Kiedis attended UCLA, produced one of rock's most unforgettable recent tunes, "Under the Bridge," which recalls their reality from the underside of the city.

Barret Hansen M.A. '67 has a master's degree in folklore and ethnomusicology from UCLA. But rock history buffs know him better as Dr. Demento, the off-the-wall disc jockey who's been bringing listeners "mad music and crazy comedy" for almost 40 years, including launching the career, for better or worse, of "Weird" Al Yankovic.

Randy Newman penned the theme song for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Another Bruin — DJ, singer, songwriter and teacher Barry Smolin '87 — hosts the syndicated radio show "The Music Never Stops," which focuses on the Grateful Dead and other jam bands. Like any good Bruin, Smolin also has an academic side — he is a highly-regarded educator and English teacher at Hamilton High School in L.A.

Maroon 5 members Mickey Madden (bass) and Ryan Dusick '01 (drums) could both be seen on Bruin Walk during their college years.

Other punk rockers who spent time in Westwood include lead singer and songwriter Gregg Ginn '75 and bass player Kira Roessler '85 of Black Flag.