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Keeping it (very) loose

A who's who quintet, Camp Freddy just jams, without all the 'band' fuss.

June 24, 2004|Steve Baltin | Special to The Times

Camp FREDDY has its own radio show, has performed at Rock the Vote and Vanity Fair parties, and is in the midst of making a record. Just don't call the L.A. supergroup a band.

"It's a group of friends who get together and invite other friends to play music," guitarist Billy Morrison says. "We just happen to meet up on Saturday night and do a radio show, and we've already met up in the Valley a few times and put some tracks down. It's still a loose thing."

Born in June 2002 when Morrison (the Cult) and vocalist Donovan Leitch met at Moomba and put together a show for the opening of the downtown Standard Hotel, the cover band collective features a who's who of L.A. musicians. Joining Morrison and Leitch in the core quintet are guitarist Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction), bassist Chris Chaney (Jane's Addiction, Alanis Morissette) and drummer Matt Sorum (former Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver).

When Camp Freddy takes the stage, though, it's anybody's guess who will show up. The collective has become the stuff of lore on the party circuit for attracting some of the biggest names in rock to jam with them.

In February the group played a GM party. As a star-studded audience looked on, Camp Freddy and guests such as Macy Gray, Korn's Jonathan Davis and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong ripped through a series of classic rock anthems, from the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket" to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." To conclude the hourlong set, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler joined the quintet for Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love."

Actress-singer Juliette Lewis has been a regular guest at Camp Freddy gigs, delivering her own wicked version of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love."

"I was just so thrilled to be in the company I'm with and to be in Dave Navarro's face singing Van Halen, I can't tell you what that's like for me," Lewis said after one gig.

The regulars in Camp Freddy say other musicians have quickly adapted to the ensemble's approach.

"When people come and play, they're excited about it and they all want to come back," Sorum says. "It's just turned into this thing that everyone wants to be a part of."

For Sorum and his cronies, much of the appeal remains the ensemble's independence from the industry game. Having adopted the creed "music without motives," the quintet backed up those words: Each member donated his own money to fund an upcoming Camp Freddy album of cover songs.

"For me, it's something I like to do to take the edge off from my other band, which is more structured around a record company and management and the big agent," Sorum says. "It's my biggest release to play the music."

The quintet has taken that same loose philosophy to its weekly Saturday night gig on Indie 103.1 (KDLD-FM). The group hosts a live radio show from 6 to 8 p.m., and by its own definition, it's anything-goes radio.

"We go in there, and it's like a train wreck," Leitch says. "One week, we had Carmen Electra [Navarro's wife] do the weather. Dave called her up, and he was like, 'Hey, honey, how's the weather?' She goes, 'It's cold and it's overcast.' That was the weather."

Another week, Ozzy Osbourne was the guest traffic reporter.

In the Camp Freddy stratosphere, where a phone call on the night of a gig can induce Armstrong to show up and sing Iggy Pop's "Search and Destroy" in place of Pop, nothing seems quite out of reach.

With the album still months away from completion, the five are barred from releasing names of who will appear on the record, but among the names on the wish list are Tyler, Osbourne, Jimmy Page and Leitch's personal dream, David Bowie.

Though the laid-back vibe is part of the appeal for their fellow musicians, Lisa Marie Presley, who recently made her Camp Freddy debut at a celebration of the ensemble's radio show, says there is more to it than that. "They're a lot of fun," she says. "And they are sick musicians. It's a little intimidating, but they're so sweet that I felt comfortable right away."

Because the collective plays cover songs, it's easy to dismiss Camp Freddy as a novelty, but underneath that fun are established musicians.

"I looked over across the stage once, and I can remember seeing Ronnie Wood, Dave Navarro and Slash, and it's amazing," Morrison says.

The guys in Camp Freddy clearly have a great respect and affection for one another and the music. Navarro believes that same attitude will come through on the record.

"In the studio, to go do a Sex Pistols song or Led Zeppelin song, they're just songs we love and they're fun," he says, "and we get to step into that same feeling we had when we were kids playing in our garages."

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Wanna jam?

A partial list of guests who've joined Camp Freddy onstage during their shows:

Moby, Robbie Williams, Slash, Billy Duffy, Michael Wincott, Danny Saber, Sebastian Bach, Ronnie Wood, Macy Gray, Perry Farrell, Fabrizio Moretti, Twiggy Ramirez, Casey Chaos, Juliette Lewis, Chad Smith, Billy Jo Armstrong, Steve Jones, Billy Idol, Gina Gershon, Josh Todd, Izzy Stradlin, George Clinton, Linda Perry, Lisa Marie Presley, Steven Tyler, Duff McKagan, Jonathan Davis, Melissa Etheridge, Kid Rock, Gavin Rossdale, Ben Lee, Mark McGrath, Cypress Hill, Tre Cool, Shelby Lynne, Pauly Shore, Nikka Costa, Melissa Auf der Maur.

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