Queen Opener Looks Back on 'Bucket List Moment' of Jamming With Freddie Mercury
A lot of people are talking about the new Bohemian Rhapsody movie featuring the life of Freddie Mercury and Queen. I met Freddie Mercury and got to jam with him. Bucket list item -- check! It’s a strange feeling to evolve from being a fan, to meeting one of your idols, to then have them view you as a colleague by having your band open for them during their Magic Tour of 1986, and even climbing onstage to play some music with them.
When I first started in music in the mid-1970s I was like every young wannabe musician, dreaming of fame and fortune in the music world. I played in several bands that made albums and toured before becoming the professional songwriter and producer that I am today.
Long ago in a galaxy far away I played keyboards in a group named Zeno that was signed to EMI Records. In addition to myself the group was comprised of singer Michael Flexig, bassist Ule Ritgen, Dixie Dregs drummer Rod Morgenstein, and Zeno Roth, the younger brother of Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth. We first opened for Queen on July 9, 1986 in Newcastle, England at St. James Park. The show was somewhat of a disaster for us as our road crew stopped at every pub along the motorway from London to Newcastle (about a 10 hour drive) so they failed to appear with our equipment.
Thankfully, the Queen roadies were so professional and accommodating they allowed us to use much of their “headliner” backline equipment -- drums, amps, etc.
My first encounter with Brian May of Queen was later that day when he came up to me to apologize for not seeing Zeno's set. Brian is a towering figure compared to my five foot 10 height -- so looking up at him backstage shortly before Queen were ready to hit the stage after a full day of bands in between I thought to myself “what is he nuts? We went on at 12 noon, he goes on at 8pm. Why on Earth would the headliner care about the least important band?” But that showed me my first impression of the integrity and class surrounding the Queen family. It’s top down management and Brian wanted me to know that every band opening for them, every musician sharing the stage was family, was important.
Queen, of course, were brilliant. Freddie was a one of a kind. I watched him leap off speakers, doing a somersault whilst hitting a high note in mid air without losing his pitch. This is highly unusual for someone to keep a note on pitch without their feet being on the ground. But that was Freddie.
Then there was the legendary Queen after party in London after their second Wembley Stadium concert on July 12, 1986 at the Kensington Roof Gardens. For many normal citizens this might have been the party of their lives, but for Queen I imagine it was just another night out.
The elevator to the roof was one of those old-fashioned iron gate, hand operated types. A beautiful girl operated the elevator in one of those vintage elevator operator outfits you’d see in an old Hollywood movie. As we went up and got a closer look we suddenly realized the girl was naked. The outfit was body paint, perfectly done from head to toe. This was the first of many surprises over the course of a wild and crazy evening. As we entered the party we noticed several large glass terrarium like structures which appeared to have giant writhing snakes in them, that upon closer inspection were naked men and women wrapped in exotic and erotic performance art poses.
It was a who’s who of UK rock royalty from members of not only Queen, but also The Rolling Stones, The Who, Cliff Richard, many others.
My ‘bucket list’ moment with Freddie Mercury came when I was invited up to play keyboards with a rotating all star jam band. Freddie sang, Roger Taylor of Queen on drums, and I believe, the events are a little fuzzy, John Entwistle of The Who on bass, or was it Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones on bass…? You get the idea. We did the corniest of cover tunes -- “Knock on Wood” with Samantha Fox, a former topless model singing a duet with Freddie. The whole thing was uproarious.
Music and culture changes and to stay current we all must pivot. These days of course I still play, write, produce and am kept as busy as ever. I am also Chief Relationship Officer USA for a new music platform called Pindify. It’s where creative people upload their music online into a marketplace and make a living by sharing a percentage of the subscription fee with their fans and followers. Their goal is to help 300,000 musicians make $3,000 per month from their creativity. I was helped up the ladder to make a living from my passion so I am inspired to help others up too. It used to be easier for musicians to make a living than it is now, yet it is still possible to live your dreams. To imagine something so impossible and implausible and to make it a reality. I am the living example.
From driving around Dumont, New Jersey smoking pot and listening to Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack album to having the honor even for one special night to play music and share the stage with Freddie and Brian... as the lyrics to “Over The Rainbow” simply state, “the dreams that we dare to dream really do come true.”