As a Boys Club kid growing up in the South Dakota city of Sioux Falls, Chuck Brennan never had the opportunity to learn an electric guitar lick or pound out a lengthy drum solo.
The founder of the Dollar Loan Center payday loan company now wants to give the city's youth a better chance to master guitar, bass, drums, keyboards or vocals with the opening of the $3.6 million Brennan Rock & Roll Academy just blocks from where he grew up.
"We're going to be focused," Brennan said. "Even though it's going to be for the kids of the Boys & Girls Clubs, we're going to run this like a professional music academy and really have these kids learn something, so they come out of here with a skill."
Brennan is pulling out all the stops for this week's grand opening, hosting intimate fundraiser concerts featuring Alice Cooper, Robby Krieger of The Doors, Night Ranger, and '80s rockers Sebastian Bach, Vince Neil, Joey Allen and Stephen Pearcy. Comedians Louie Anderson and George Lopez also are slated to perform.
Jack Blades, Night Ranger's vocalist and bassist, said the band is humbled to be the first to take the academy's stage, which he said could produce the next AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton or U2.
Blades said the state-of-the-art environment is nicer than most of the places where he's rehearsed, and its vibe recalls the Whiskey a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in the '70s. He said the academy will provide an amazing opportunity for kids to learn and grow.
"I think to have something like this it's going to really elevate the kids' spirits to the way they should be, that dreams can come true," Blades said.
Once the dust settles on the grand opening, kids will get to begin their lessons and work up to performing for their families and classmates in the same 300-person venue.
Kids who enter the academy's lobby will be able to grab a juice box or snack or plug in headphones and practice as they wait for their instructors. Lessons will be given in nine soundproof rehearsal rooms, five of which are wired to a professional mixing and recording studio.
The four upstairs rehearsal rooms honor the band Kiss, with each decorated as an homage to the Demon, the Starchild, the Catman and the Spaceman. Young guitarists will get to play 20 Paul Stanley signature Washburn guitars donated by the Kiss founder.
Brennan, who got the idea for such a facility from Alice Cooper's Solid Rock Foundation, said kids will be able to take their musical creations with them.
"We're going to be able to mix all that stuff live," he said. "So when they go home, they'll have a CD or MP3, or their parents will be able to log on to the website, put in their kids name and their password and see where they're at in their lessons and see any live performances."
Karen Fogas, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire, said the organization's more than 400 members are excited about the upcoming opportunity. She received a call recently from a mother of middle school boy with Asperger's syndrome who's small for his age and often gets bullied, but he has a brilliant ear for music.
"That could be life-changing for that boy," Fogas said.
Brennan operated Minnesota's Blitz Ballroom rock club in the late '80s, and he said he's made a lot of great contacts in the entertainment business. He "called in every favor I've ever had" for the academy's opening, with Thursday night featuring an all-star lineup of Cooper, Krieger, Bach and Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer of Kiss.
"They're doing Kiss songs, they're doing Doors songs with Alice signing the parts of Jim Morrison, they're doing a full Alice Copper set, and they're topping it off with a little Skid Row," Brennan said. "What a show."
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