On my 19th birthday in 1998, as I was preparing for finals in my first year of college, my house burnt down. My brother and our friend lived there while we worked and went to school. Everything we had was gone, except for some instruments I was able to save, since I was home with the fire began.
For the next 2 weeks, I was homeless. I spent most of my time sleeping in the University of Houston library basement and spent the nights sitting in the social work computer lab at UH. It was here I began working on a small fan site for the band The Suicide Machines. The previous site had shut down and I had a lot of the pages printed out since I was learning some of the songs on guitar and bass. So I had a good starting point.
I spent the 2 weeks studying and when I got tired working on the site. It was over on Tripod and looked like a 10 year old made it, but I was new to html, so it was the best I could to. It wasn’t long before I got the site up and running. A few kids began checking the site out since the band linked it off their main site and I did have all the guitar tabs from the first album and two prior demos. When Battle Hymns hit, some friends and I tabbed out the album and got them up on the site. Hits moved up and a young man who had a punk/ska fanzine called Rockzone.com e-mailed me and offered to host the site. This was my first contact with Steve Bozzone.
At this time, I was just a Print Journalism student at UH. I had never used instant messenger, FTP, hand-written HTML or anything, but this was an awesome offer, so I said “Sure, what the hell.”
I worked to figure out the programs Steve told me I would need and with his coaching, figured it all out. The site ran on his server for about a year and then I notice Rockzone began having less and less content put up. I was always going to punk and ska shows in Houston, so I asked if he would be willing to let me put up some reviews of the shows I went to. I was a journalism major after all, I could do it. Steve loved the idea and allowed me free run of the website to do as I wished.
The first show I reviewed for the site was Mr. Bungle and from there I was happy to be a part of it. I could chronicle my concert experiences so I’d always be able to remember them and someone would provide the webspace to do so. It was great.
Steve and I had become good friends by this point, we’d talk over the computer all the time and come up with ways to make the site look better. We even toyed with the idea of getting real press passes for shows and maybe even advertising. We e-mailed a bunch of record labels and a few gave us a chance. Fat Wreck and Victory were the first two labels to start sending us promo materials. Once they saw the site, they were on.
The first concert I covered where I had passes was the Fat Wreck Tour on March 1, 1999. It featured The Ataris, Good Riddance, The Mad Caddies and No Use For A Name. NUFAN was the first band I ever interviewed and they were key in my style. I was honest about my virginity with the interviewing scene and they led me through it perfectly. Good guys. Also, don’t look for this review, it was so horribly written that I’m pretty sure I deleted it during one of my reformattings of the site.
A week later we got approved to cover The Donnas by Lookout! We were kicking ass at this point. I was using a stupid point and shoot…so it was time to get a real camera. With my tax return, I got a Canon Rebel SLR from the store and was in business. By that summer, we got our first big gig, Vans Warped Tour. Through a real publicity company and everything. We were hitting the big time!
Eventually I got married to an ex-Radio DJ, which gave Steve and I something we needed…someone with some inside experience to talk to the majors. We weren’t trying to sell out and cash in, we just wanted to free tickets to see whoever we wanted and some photos to remember the shows by. Somehow it worked. The number one secret to this whole thing was just acting like we belonged at the party. We were the dorky kid from the Chemistry Department who snuck into the Frat Party and never got noticed…instead we became the life of the party. We would cover anything. If you gave us tickets and passes, we’d be there. If we had a deadline for a review given to us by someone, I would pawn a guitar for a week or so to pay for film and developing. The site was everything.
We rode it out for 2 good years. The Houston concert scene was cornered by Rockzone, while Steve and his friends kept New York as covered as we could get it. Being a bigger market, New York was hard to break into, but we kept it alive. While I was covering the mainstream, New York stuck mostly to the underground…and it all came together beautifully.
The grandest moment of the entire ride for me was Warped Tour 2002 in Houston. We got a booth for the date and brought a load of merchandise to give away. We also bought 20 cases of water to give away to lure people to our booth. We gathered over 1000 e-mail addresses, handed out all the water and gave away plenty of Rockzone merchandise and promo materials from record labels. We had a wonderful day.
It was a mere two months later that I decided to leave Rockzone to do my own thing. It was stressful trying to keep up 2 branches of a website from Houston. I just started a new job, had 2 kids and decided to give it a rest. My retirement did not last long as I began running The Houston Music Review shortly after that. Check it out at http://www.houstonmusicreview.com
Steve Bozzone and I ran a website, pulled in some advertising cash and saw the most popular bands of the era without ever being in the same state at the same time. We’ve never met in person and only talked on the phone once, but we shared a dream and made it happen, if only for 2 years we were together. The site kept moving strong after I left, but has now found the end of the road. Rockzone will always be special to me, for it was where I started. Steve gave me the chance, the experience and the wisdom, I gave him reviews, photos and 3 years of loyalty.
I want to thank the people who have come to the site for the millions of hits we’ve received over the years. It means the world to me and I know it does Steve. We wanted this site to be a place to find information on any band you wanted to know about. We wanted to make a difference. We did that. We also wanted an office, to hang together on weekends and make Rockzone a real business…it didn’t happen, but at least we shared the dream, and a killer ride.
- Samuel F. Barker – Former Senior Editor – http://www.rockzone.com