By: Russell Ray

   I remember when I first got into music. I remember how it felt, and how I knew that playing an instrument and being in a band is what I wanted to do with my life. After getting my first drum set at the age of 10 I began to spend all of my time listening to my favorite bands and dissecting their parts so that I could learn to play their songs. I also began to take lessons learning rudiments, reading, and technique. Now this was before the internet where so much more information is available quicker today other than my once a week lessons at the time. As a kid I got bored with my teachers and focused more time playing along to cd’s as it was fun and I felt like I was in the band. It wasn’t until years later where I learned how to make friends with other musicians and eventually start to collaborate, write, eventually perform live (growing in the process), and how to make learning on every level fun. I didn’t have a school to go to and learn all of this and what comes with playing an instrument in a band… The emotions, dedication, fear, triumph, teamwork, vision, and so, so much more.

Recently I was introduced to The Rock Box Music School and Stage. This is the dream school for anyone at any age that wants to learn an instrument(s), how to learn their favorite songs, how to work with other students/musicians in creating music together, how to prepare for the stage, perform in a true connected live experience, as well as record their own music, get radio air play, and work with their communities. Most importantly all while having fun and being mentored by seasoned music professionals who’ve experienced everything from starting out in the beginning, learning an instrument(s), writing music, growing through time to the stage, the studio, and to the world. With all of this being said, we had a conversation with Rock Box’s creator and visionary Angel Bartolotta, and his wife Sally Bartolotta. Both professional music veterans who share a passion for teaching these experiences.

RR:  Angel give us your background as a musician and professional experience: Angel:  I started playing drums when I was 11 or 12 years old and joined my first band at 13. At 19, I did my first world tour as the drummer for Genitorturers, one of my favorite bands. I’m most known for my time with the band Dope, having toured with them for 7 consecutive years and recording the drum tracks on their album No Regrets (which debuted at #88 on the Billboard 200). I’ve also played drums for PIG, Crossbreed, Switched, The Undead, and a bunch of other bands. Sally and I are also in a band together called Team Cybergeist. This is a

collaborative music project I started back in 2006 and features members of Shinedown, Stone Sour, Static-X, Coal Chamber, Morbid Angel, Kittie, KMFDM and a ton of others. Over 100 musicians are involved with this project.


RR:  Sally, you are also a professional musician. Can you give us your background as well?

Sally:  I took up guitar at age 13, and later evolved to bass at 17 when good friend and mentor at the time, Shavo Odadjian of System of a Down gifted me my first bass. I was in an all-girl band in Washington, DC called Cherry Debauchery, and in 2008 joined PsyKill (Tampa, FL). When Team Cybergeist decided to transition to the stage in 2009, I was the live bassist until 2014 when I switched to vocalist and front-woman.


RR:  What inspired you both to start The Rock Box?

Angel:  I’ve been teaching drums to students of all ages for almost 20 years now. It’s something I did between tours and studio sessions. I always worked for other people at local area music stores. My students were getting really good at the drums, but they never played with other people. They never had the opportunity to experience being on stage. They never had the chance to create. That’s why I opened The Rock Box Music School & Stage. We give our students the tools to not only learn how to play an instrument, but to take those skills and apply them in the real world of music. We build bands, have them perform live on stage and track original music in our recording studio.

Sally:  This was definitely Angel’s brainchild. And he’s been talking about wanting to do this for as long as I’ve known him. Reflecting upon my own struggles and obstacles as a young musician, I felt it was imperative that we give our students the full experience. Most music schools or lesson shops offer traditional music lessons, and then leave you to figure out the rest. This is something that hindered my own experience in my early days and cost me a lot of valuable time (not to mention all the stress). I had no idea how to perform on stage or write and record my own music. I was scared, self-conscious, and it wasn’t until I met the right people who took the time to help me learn and get through it, that the rest fell into place. So that’s what I love about The Rock Box. Not only do we provide students with a top-notch quality music education, but we offer the full multi-dimensional experience to help all students achieve exactly what they want to, in a comfortable, encouraging environment. It’s the place I wish I’d had growing up.


RR:  It’s a very cool concept. Give us a walkthrough of what services you offer? Angel:  We offer private lessons for voice, piano, guitar, bass, drums, ukulele, mandolin, violin, viola, cello, banjo, percussion, trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba, flute, clarinet, saxophone, and other instruments in 10 lesson studios. We have a full venue and stage for our students to perform. We also have a recording studio where they can write and record their own music. We also broadcast Rock Box Radio from here.

RR:  Nice! You have a radio show there as well that students can air their songs on?

Angel:  Rock Box Radio! It’s a weekly show on WKDW 97.5 FM where we interview students, play original music, and have live on-air acoustic performances. It’s also streamed on our website as a podcast.

RR:  I think it’s real cool that you get your students to work together as well as learning individually. That is so important for musicians to learn how to collaborate and inspire each other. Give us some examples of how this works?

Angel:  One question I get asked all the time is “How did you get so good at playing the drums?” Hahaha! The answer is simple; Playing with other people. Sure, you can learn all the rudiments and exercises and practice perfect technique, but none of that is going to get you anywhere until you apply those skills by using them with other people, usually in a band setting. When students are at the level where they feel comfortable coming to our Jam Night or performing in our student concerts, their playability skyrockets! They relax, they feel the music, they live in the moment, and they just go for it! Every time! It’s amazing to witness. Also, watching (and helping) them write their own original songs is like seeing magic happen before our eyes. Some of the songs these students come up with are really good! A few I wish I wrote myself! Haha! Every holiday season, we release a compilation CD of all original music written and performed by our students. It’s available at The Rock Box and on our website at


RR: How do you help your students prepare to perform live?

Angel: The best way for them to prepare to perform live is to just get up there and do it! This is why we have a stage right here at The Rock Box. It gives them a chance to get on-stage experience in the same place they take their lessons at every week. It’s not at some random venue they’ve never been to. It’s at The Rock Box, a place they’re familiar with. It’s home. On the last Friday of every month, we host a Jam Night. It’s the perfect time for students to get on stage, show off what they’ve been learning, and for most of them, this is their first experience playing with other musicians.

RR: You also hold concerts and recitals?

Angel: Every few months or so, we host concerts right here at The Rock Box.

We’ve done a 90’s tribute show, a “Legends Never Die” show where students payed tribute to our fallen icons, and most recently we did a tribute to The Beatles. In 2020, we will be doing student concerts honoring David Bowie, Queen, and Nirvana to name a few.

Sally:  We also encourage our students during private lessons as well, if they are learning a particular song for an upcoming recital or show, by either bringing them onto the stage during their lesson, or helping to mentor or coach them with tips and tricks for over-coming stage fright, or just bringing their live performance to the next level.


RR:  Explain to us what you do in your workshops?

Sally:  We are very fortunate to be able to bring in some wonderful guest musicians from around the world who have led workshops or clinics at The Rock Box. Whether it’s David Ellefson from Megadeth, or one of our many resident teachers, each person brings so much knowledge, experience, and wisdom to our students, it’s insane! Workshops could be about a particular subject, like writing and recording your own music, or honing and improving your skills on a particular instrument. Or they might be a little more relaxed, as is the case with most of our guest teachers. It’s a great way to help our students reach the next level, get answers to any questions they might have, and to meet new people.


RR:  I saw that you also do field trips. Where do you take your students?

Angel:  We do a few field trips every year. We’ve taken our students to the Armadillo Enterprises (home of Dean Guitars, Luna Guitars, and DDrum) factory in Tampa where they can see firsthand how the instruments are made. We’ve also taken students to the Cavanaugh Company in Sarasota where they see how Black Diamond, Super Sensitive, and Red Label strings are made. When they see how things are actually made, they gain a little more respect for the instrument(s).


RR:  How has the community accepted your concept?

Angel:  At first, I wasn’t really sure how our little town of North Port would react to my idea of The Rock Box. Heavily tattooed/pierced guy. Played in a bunch of not-so-family-friendly bands. Blah blah blah. But really, the community has been SUPER supportive! We’ve enrolled over 600 students, we’ve been voted among the Best of North Port every year since we opened, and we won the Business of the Year Award twice! Our students have been invited to perform at multiple city events, and we work closely with the Parks & Recreation Department, the Chamber of Commerce, and the North Port Police Department (we do a Rock With A Cop event every November). North Port loves The Rock Box, and The Rock Box loves North Port!


RR:  What are some of the goals that you have to expand and grow over the next few years?

Sally:  When we started out, we had 3 lesson studios, and only a handful of students. Then a little over a year later, we expanded into the unit next door and now have 10 fully functioning lesson studios, and hundreds of students. As we begin to fill up slots, we hope to continue to grow organically, and have the means to offer more, even cooler experiences.

Angel:  Exactly what Sally said. With over 600 students, we hope to continue to grow and give our students the experiences that everyone dreams about. From learning an instrument, to playing in a band, rocking on stage, recording in a studio, and one day touring and doing it all on their own. We’ll continue to be North Port’s original music destination and mentor anyone and everyone looking to take that next step. Experience the music at The Rock Box!

Road Rash Tour Story: Keith Wampler

Earlier this year, only two weeks into our album release tour for “Monument Of Misery”, we had been doing well financially. The turn outs from the shows had been great and we had just finished up a killer show at Rockhouse Bar & Grill in El Paso, TX. We were heading to Austin, TX for the next show the following day. Early in the morning most of the band woke up to the bus pulling over to the side of the road and our driver yelling “Fuck” over and over again. We get out of the bus to see about 200 yards worth of oil all over the road that had come from our bus and oil and water were just dumping from the engine. We were just outside of Ozona, TX also known as the middle of nowhere still 4 hours from Austin with a blown engine. I called Skylar of Reign who we were on tour with since he was the promoter for that night’s show to let him know what had happened and that we were more than likely not gonna make it. He told me they weren’t far behind us and they showed up about 20 minutes later to help. We ended up all cramming into Reign’s van and leaving our drummer Charles with the bus, we dropped Ron and Katie off at a Uhaul Store to rent a box truck and the rest of us rode with Reign all the way to Austin and waited at the venue. Charles, Ron, and Katie loaded everything from the bus (personal items, gear, merch, etc.) into the back of the box truck and drove to Austin to meet us at the club where we had to unload right away to get set up before doors opened. The bus, our home for the past several years had to be abandoned on the side of the road since there was nowhere within 70 miles to even scrap it. After playing Come and Take It Live in Austin that night we all crammed into the back of the box truck and rode with the gear to a nearby hotel where we stayed for the night. Katie had spoken with a dealership the day before about selling us a van first thing the next morning because we had to make it for an early load in at Purge Fest in Houston, TX the following day. Skylar had agreed to rent us his spare trailer to use for the remainder of the tour. Katie and I took an uber to the dealership in the morning and the box truck dropped off a few more of the guys there with us and left to get to Houston on time for the festival load in. After waiting 5 hours at this dealership doing all the paperwork and even putting down a deposit the van breaks down in the parking lot and they tell us it’s unsafe for them to sell it in this condition and in addition they wouldn’t be able to refund our deposit for 5 business days. We flipped out screaming inside the dealership at the salesman, manager, and owner and after scaring everyone in the building we got our refund as well as a ride to the Austin airport to rent a car and drive 100mph all the way to Houston showing up just in time to paint up and go on stage. Another killer show and we drove both vehicles to Dallas for our next show. After the show in Dallas we got a hotel again and our show the following day in New Orleans was cancelled due to flooding which bought us a little time to figure this out. We end up finding and buying a van in Dallas which had to be driven to Austin to pick up the rental trailer. Had to return the box truck to Austin because if it was returned in Dallas, they were going to charge an extra $600 fee, and the rental car had to be returned to the Austin airport. Once all of that was done, everything was loaded in the van and trailer and we hit the road. It was too late to make it to our next show in Knoxville, TN so we basically ended up having to make a drive from Austin, TX straight to Youngstown, OH to meet back up with our own tour. We were able to finish the remaining 36 dates of the “Monument Of Misery” tour successfully and in the end it all worked out somehow. That was just proof of where there’s a will there’s a way and no matter how shitty things look there is a way to make them better and continue. – Keith Wampler (The Convalescence – Vocals)

Mike Dean COC Talk Toomey

Toomey: How has this latest touring cycle and album cycle gone for you guys?

Mike: Pretty well, thank you very much.  It took awhile to get started making that record, but once we did it’s been pretty smooth.  Just finding someone to put it out, that’s as good as Nuclear Blast as what they do, as far as what passes for a record label these days. They do a great job.  That whole thing was pretty painless and I like the result.  There’s been a lot of attention on the 25th anniversary of Deliverance, speaking to how much time has passed.  That’s kind of been where the promoters are coming from.  We go to Europe and they’re like, “Can you play Deliverance in its entireity?” It’s like “Nah, but we can sort of say that we’re celebrating 25 years and play a lot of it.”  That’s kind of at the expense of playing new stuff, we’re always playing a couple of songs after it. I think at this point the way things are, with the shorter attention span of the promoters and such it’s really past time to get to work on a new one, truthfully.

Toomey: When I got the e-mail about this interview and doing the show and stuff, she had said something about the latest album promo.  And I’m like, “They already have a new album out?” But what it was is she was just sending me updated promo from when “No Cross No Crown” came out, and it didn’t even phase me.  Like, “Yeah they’re definitely putting out a new album.” It just seemed normal even though it’s only been a year and a half that a new album would already be come out.

Mike: We don’t work like that, collectively, you know? [Laughs]  Hopefully we’re ready to get down to it, and do a little bit of writing collectively. We all do some writing on our own, but put it all together and see what we’ve got very soon.

Toomey: Now I did notice when we were at the show the other night, obviously, Reed Mullin not on drums.  What’s the update with Reed, how’s he doing?

Mike: I really, really couldn’t say first hand.  Basically he needs to take care of himself and get his shit together.  And if that happens the door is open for him, if he doesn’t, well, that’s how it is.  People need to want to help themselves, you can’t just push them to get help.

Toomey: Who’s currently playing drums with you guys?

Mike: Mr. John Green from Manchester, UK who was basically teching for us, and Reed had some sort of incident where basically just a few hours before getting on a plane to play Bloodstock a few years ago I heard that he wasn’t going to bea ble to make the trip.  I was calling the tour manager in the UK to say hey we’re not going to be able to make it, he said “You know, John could learn all those songs.” And I thought about the idea of just pulling the plug on this whole thing we worked hard to do, and I said, you know what let’s try that.  He stepped up with slightly less than 24 hours notice, learned a bunch stuff, studied up, and basically went up there in from of 60,000 people who were there to see Judas Priest, etc, etc, and just nailed it with energy and all that.  I was like well this seems to be the way to go, you know?

Toomey: There seems to be so many stories like that in music.  If you’re a bass tech, guitar tech, drum tech, know the set.  Because at some point you’re probably going to have to play it.

Mike: The people that do that job are professionals and they understand having a job to do, whereas some of these musicians they lack gratitutde and they don’t understand that they’re not necessarily God’s gift to everyone.  We try to approach things with “we’ve got something to do, we’ve got a job to do.”  It’s artistic, it’s fun, we try to make it transformative, but every day we’ve got to get out there and do it, do what we’re supposed to do, so we need someone who’s got that work ethic to be in it with us.  Not somebody that’s going to hold us back while they destroy themselves.

It’s not like I’m trying to police what somebody does, but you’ve got to be able to do what you’re there to do, and project something positive and something life affirming, hopefully.

The Fantastic Grammy Music Education Coalition

We are going to do things a little differently on this latest installment! Today, I am going to take some time to highlight the fantastic Grammy Music Education Coalition for merchlive magazine! As someone who personally benefitted from a strong education based in music, I am thrilled to dig deeper into the vision in which they offer!

For those unitiated, the Grammy Music Education Coalition is a “collaboration movement toward universal participation in music education in public elementary schools, and an increased participation in secondary schools across America”, as taken from their mission statement. The group boasts several high profile partners including The Berklee College of music, NAMM, the VH1 save the music foundation, and the Warner music Group, amongst many others. Their annual report from 2018 showed that their work created “more dynamic, diverse communities and provides learning opportunities and workforce readiness for youth on a national scale.”


The GMEC makes investments in school music education and partners with community foundations and government. Once of the many services they offer includes creating a unique music education for American schools and teachers. I cannot speak highly enough of their work as this has proven to be so beneficial to myself in my formative years.


Taken from their annual newsletter, the coalition is focusing on nationwide programming. “We launched the Coalition in November by announcing a partner program with Disney-Pixar, through which we shared music resources from the acclaimed animated film Coco with all interested American schools, music teachers, and students. Disney- Pixar provided the original recorded tracks, mixes and notated scores of select songs. Disney and Cordoba also donated a total of 600 guitars, 200 each going to the Nashville, New York City, and New York City schools.”


One of the coolest things I discovered is that the coalition works closely with established artists of all genres. In the Coalition’s inaugural year, they have confirmed the following Artist Ambassadors: Bebe Rexha, Lang, Mindi Abair, War On Drugs, Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses), Kristin Chenoweth, Rita Ora and Luis Fonsi. This is generating great excitement for students as an extra incentive to work closely with the stars of the music industry!


Their slogan is “Making music matters”. Ideally creating a world where all public schools can participate in a music education is an important task, and I am thankful that such a coalition exists! Based on their studies. “More than 75% of teachers say they can tell which students are taking music classes” as this has shown to increase attitude and performance in areas that are non-music related as well. A large majority of teachers consider music education as a great outlet for creativity as well. Based on these two points alone, there should be more of a push to teach music in or public schools, and the GREC does their best to insure that everyone gets a fair chance to participate.


“The GRAMMY Music Education Coalition invests in youth-connected programs and teacher training strategies to help attract more young people to their schools’ music offerings by helping teachers and educational programs stay exciting and relevant starting at the primary levels all the way through secondary school.” In order to achieve their directives, the coalition employs an investment model which starts by assessing the needs, creating a plan, investing strategically and finally transferring funds to the school districts. Each year the Coalition will engage in one or two leading music education programs that can be used by all American students and teachers in their schools and at home.


Another valuable resource that the coalition provides is implementing full time mentors for music teachers as they have recently in Nashville. Per their newsletter, “The Coalition will also support the district’s professional development for teachers in the use of technology and music production, to address the knowledge gaps identified in both basic technology tools and the understanding of how to maximize the use of technology in music education. Professional development will focus on helping students perform and create contemporary music with current technology and production tools.” As you can see, the support extends long term and provides resources for all aspects of music education.


This is only the beginning, and only a small example of what The GRAMMY Music Education Coalition offers. If you’d like to learn more, please go to to learn more about how the GMEC helps communities nationwide!