A Video Primer for Would-Be Rock Stars

So you want to be a rock 'n' roll star? OK, kid--but where to start? What instrument? What book? What teacher?

How about a videocassette? Before now, that wouldn't have been a very good idea. Home-video tapes for aspiring musicians tend to be specialized (most, as we'll find out in a future column, merely teach very basic guitar) and not very enlightening.

That's why "Rockschool," a new six-volume series from Lorimar Home Video, seems almost a godsend for would-be rockers--at least the ones who own VCRs.

"Rockschool" was originally a BBC-TV series featuring three young musicians (guitarist, bassist, drummer) who covered most of the essential early steps in choosing instruments and getting to know them. In later episodes they were joined by a keyboardist. Their comments were supplemented by tips from stars such as the Police's Andy Summers, the Who's John Entwistle, Duran Duran's John Taylor, Gang of Four's Andy Gill and Sarah Lee and Ultravox's Midge Ure, as well as performances by artists ranging from Chet Atkins to Siouxsie and the Banshees.

The series was picked up by PBS-TV and--with somewhat superfluous introductions by Herbie Hancock--shown on stations such as Los Angeles' KCET Channel 28 in 1986. Unfortunately, KCET shuffled "Rockschool" off to TV limboland, showing it at odd times, preempting it and not even airing the latest chapters.

That makes Lorimar's video release even more valuable. Each volume contains two or three of the PBS versions, which each lasted less than 30 minutes. Volumes 2 and 5 hold two shows and run 55 minutes each. Though volumes 1, 3, 4 and 6 each gather three shows and offer 80 minutes of instruction, they cost the same as 2 and 5 (a very reasonable $19.95).

That's one reason why Vol. 1 is the best tape to get first; another, of course, is that its subject--"Elementary Equipment and Basic Technique"--will be the natural place to start for most musical novices. The tape has brief appearances by Entwistle, Taylor, Bootsy Collins, Bernard Edwards, the reggae team of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, Carl Palmer and others--giving advice and/or performing.

But the best thing about Vol. 1 and every one of the "Rockschool" tapes is the guidance given by the non-star English musicians: Deirdre Cartwright (guitar), Henry Thomas (bass) and Geoff Nicholls (drums), who are joined on the final three volumes by Alastair Gavin (keyboards). They're terrific--clear, relaxed, straightforward, but not overly serious.

The emphasis is on general information and tips--from how funk bass riffs are played to what a fuzz box is for--rather than detailed instruction. You'll still need one or, probably, several good books on music theory and your instrument, but "Rockschool" will make many of the things in those books much easier to understand. The series has its weaknesses: too much time spent on performances, a bit too much on funk and reggae and not enough on other forms such as heavy metal and post-punk, some glossing over points that could have used closer attention. But overall, "Rockschool" is outstanding.

Besides Vol. 1, the six volumes break down as follows: Vol. 2 covers "Blues to Heavy Metal," Vol. 3--"Funk, Reggae and New Music," Vol. 4--"Digital-Age Hardware," Vol. 5--"Melody and Soloing," and Vol. 6--"Arrangements: Putting It All Together."

Information: (714) 474-0355.

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