Rock musicians tend to remember their moments of revelation and encouragement. For drummer Matt Sorum, formerly of Guns N' Roses and the Cult, the initial spark came from a teacher in school who recognized his natural gifts for pounding a beat. "Once I realized music was there for me," Sorum says, "it changed my life."
On Wednesday in Los Angeles, Sorum was behind the drum kit for a full day of rehearsals with an all-star cast of players in preparation for a concert benefiting Adopt the Arts, the charity he started four years ago to support music education in Los Angeles County public schools. The lineup included two veteran singers just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Robin Zander of Cheap Trick and former Deep Purple frontman Glenn Hughes.
"I grew up in those programs," Slipknot singer Corey Taylor told Rolling Stone during the rehearsals. "When I was going to school, that was what showed me that I had a natural knack for music, which was very encouraging. ... It is extracurricular, but at the same time it's absolutely vital."
Sorum is actively involved in supporting the programs, having traveled to Washington, D.C., to promote the need for music and arts in schools. "Who am I to go speak in our nation's capitol?" he said, but noted many facts and figures on the positive impact of such programs.
"Where you spend more money on education, there is less incarceration," said Sorum, noting that $7,200 is the average amount spent a year to educate an elementary school student, while it costs $45,000 per inmate in prison. "It's been studied; it's scientifically proven."
The benefit's lineup also included Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, the DeLeo brothers from Stone Temple Pilots, the Cult's Billy Duffy and others – in many cases playing the music they worshiped growing up.
"I played 'Hello There' many times on my tennis racket," STP guitarist Dean DeLeo said with a smile of performing the Cheap Trick song with Zander. "With that magnitude of talent with Zander and Glenn, it's inspiring to be next to." Bassist Robert DeLeo added of the music: "It's what nurtured us. It's what raised us. That's my ongoing joke that I say to people like that: 'Thank you for raising me.'"
"Where you spend more money on education, there is less incarceration." –Matt Sorum
Taylor also ripped through the Cult's "Love Removal Machine" – accompanied by Duffy and Sorum. "I'm kind of jazzed, man," Taylor said.
Between songs, Duffy said, "We've got Corey singing a Cult song. He does a manly job. Not everybody can sing the Cult. A lot of guys have tried."
On Thursday night, the benefit erupted onstage at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, with a surprise appearance by Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Midway through the night was a live auction of rock & roll memorabilia. A custom Gibson guitar donated and signed by Dave Grohl got $6,250. A pair of GN'R bass-drum heads signed by Sorum netted $4,750 each.
In the lobby were autographed silent-auction items donated by Gene Simmons and Heart, with Sammy Hagar rum and vivid Shepard Fairey prints of Sabbath, Woody Guthrie, and Iggy and the Stooges. Figures are still being tallied, but so far, the night has raised well over $200,000, the highest sum for any Adopt the Arts show.
After it was over, Sorum sat in a dressing room, still excited about the night and the players, plus the experience of playing Sabbath's "War Pigs" with Geezer on bass. "That was, like, little-kid shit," he said with a grin. He hopes to spread that feeling to another generation of young music lovers.
"I'm not trying to make musicians and artists of the future," Sorum said. "But I am trying to make creative and innovative people. We're not trying to make the next rock star."