years ago, he was just planning on having a couple of drinks with some
friends and catching some of the local talent at open mic night. He never
imagined that night would lead him to venturing into the music business.
Then again, he never expected to see or hear a guitar player by the name of
Schram, a Mancelona native, had waltzed into town a few years earlier and
started playing open mic nights. He caught the attention of another youthful
sensation, Amanda Waggener, and was quickly recruited to join her band. Then
Teddy Richards, guitar player and son of legendary pop diva Aretha Franklin,
came to town. Schram was at the show and at the audience‘s encouragement,
Richards brought Schram to the stage. After one song Richards announced to
the crowd, “Man this guy is good, keep it quiet and keep it to yourselves
because he is going to put me and a lot of other guitar players out of a
A few days later, Australian blues harmonica legend Peter Harper came to
town. Schram sat in with Harper for a few songs. After the show Harper said
to Schram, “Man I would love to hire you for my band, but you are too good --
you should have your own band, be your own boss and play your own music.“
Schram took Harper‘s words to heart and the next day started a band. Now two-and-a-half years later, Schram will perform Tuesday, December 23 at Union Street Station to launch the release of his new EP, “Skin Deep,“ featuring five originals and one hidden track.
It seems Schram is destined for success in an industry that makes the Mafia
look like amateurs. For Schram, talent has never been the question; he has
been turning heads since he first took the stage with his mesmerizing guitar
work. In the music business it takes more than talent, however; an artist needs
persistence, being in the right place at the right time and of course a
For Schram, the luck started when Randy Hotlcamp called his good friend Mario
Ciccone out in Los Angeles. While Hotlcamp didn‘t know anything about how
the music business worked, he sensed that Schram had something that others
didn‘t and felt that his friend Mario would be well suited to assess Schram‘s talent.
Ciccone is the national merchandising manager with Maverick Records, a
division of Warner Brothers. He is also the brother of Madonna.
THE REAL THING
“It took me a song and half and I knew I was in,“ said Ciccone. “When Brian
got up on stage he was doing 90 percent original songs, and rarely do you see a
person his age do all originals, especially in a bar in Traverse City. I
respected that immediately, whether I liked the songs or not really didn‘t
matter -- you could immediately see the level of talent this kid had. I always
look at the audience and see how they react and you could see they loved
this guy. My immediate thoughts were how can I get involved with this kid,
how can I shape his future. Randy had pumped Brian up to me and I see a lot
of artists and to be honest I didn‘t expect Brian to be that good.“
The night Ciccone was referring to was July 9, 2002, Cherry Festival week,
and Schram was having a CD release party at Union Street. Ten months after
he debuted as a solo artist, Schram released an independent CD featuring five
original songs. The full house, including Ciccone, was blown away by Schram‘s performance.
It must have been a done deal for Schram from that point on right?
Well not exactly, see this is rock and roll and not a fairy tale. This is a
business made up sharks, swindlers and where many will cut a deal with the
devil to make it. The music business is about opportunity; it is about
everyone and his or her brother wanting to help you help them; it is about
the moment. For that moment Brian Schram seemed destined to walk off the
stage at Union Street get on plane to L.A. and make the big time.
Then all of a sudden the next moment comes.
THE BIG TIME
Just a few days later, Schram was a guest at Kenny Olson‘s wedding reception
at Union Street Station. Olson, the lead guitar player for Kid Rock, has a lot
of rock and roll friends, so after several local artists had taken the stage
up walked Brian. Preoccupied with their conversations, the many musicians at
Kid Rock‘s table had taken little notice of anyone on stage until Schram
turned on his guitar. One song from Schram and Kid Rock spread the word that
he wanted to meet with Brian in the basement of Union Street.
As Schram continued to wow Olson‘s wedding guests, Kid Rock and Uncle
Kracker were in the basement of Union Street Station strategizing Schram‘s
future. After a meeting with Kracker and Rock, Schram emerged from the
basement as the new guitar player for Uncle Kracker. Two weeks later he was
on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, then performing at the Mohegan Sun Casino
in Connecticut for a NBC TV Special. Then it was off to perform on the Regis
& Kelly show and a few dates in the Hamptons, including one hosted by P.
Diddy Sean Combs.
Now Schram was definitely on his way?
Well not really. See this is rock and roll and you don‘t just walk in from
Mancelona and take over there are dues to pay.
A DECISION TO MAKE
“The Uncle Kracker experience was a good one and sure I was on these great
shows, but the spotlight was not on me,“ said Schram. “I had to make a
decision and I knew in my heart I wanted to lead a band not just play in one
so I left Kracker to focus again on my solo career.“
In between television appearances and live performances with Kracker, Schram
managed to fly out to L.A. with Holtcamp to go into the studio with Ciccone and some session players.
“When the Kracker/Kid Rock opportunity for Brian came along just a few days
after we had offered him a trip to L.A., we encouraged Brian to keep his
options open and to explore the opportunity with Kracker,“ said Holtcamp.
“Mario felt Brian was still a diamond in the rough and saw him as an
artist that he wanted to work with and develop the way artists were once
developed, with patience and a commitment to bring them along when they are
Ciccone echoes that perspective:
“What we are doing with Brian is developing him as an artist. This isn‘t a
new concept but maybe one that has been forgotten because of the economics
of the industry. When I started 10 years ago in this business I was taught
to develop an artist. We didn‘t shoot for a million records on the first
release, instead we would shoot for 50,000 over a couple of years.
“Developing an artist on a street level takes time, patience and
money. You have to be able to execute at the street level. You have to have
a street team, you have to have people willing to hand out stickers and to
collect e-mail addresses at shows. You have to burn an imprint of the artist
at the street level first and build a fan base. That is what we are going to
do with Brian.“
INVESTING IN BRIAN
The “we“ is Mario and Randy. Both have invested personally into Brian and are managing his direction as an artist. While Ciccone has the ears of many at Maverick and in the industry, he is quick to add that this is not a Maverick project at the moment.
“It would really be a disservice to Brian to sign him right now with
Maverick or any other major label,“ said Ciccone. “We all have seen when an
artists signs a deal and everything is frontloaded, a ton of money is
dropped, the music is hyped and overproduced and then their music doesn‘t
take off right away, they are forgotten and left behind. Also there is the
psychology of the industry and the other components like concerts and
airplay. If you have a major label deal and no songs on the radio and the
only gigs you have are at small clubs that can have a negative affect. Also
Brian is a rock guy, and rock music takes time to develop so we are
developing Brian in a grassroots fashion.“
What exactly does Ciccone feel that Schram has?
“His songwriting capabilities,“ said Ciccone. “What we have done for the
past year is team Brian up with several producer/songwriters to help him
gain songwriting knowledge, and he agreed that this was an area he needed to
work on. From day one Brian has been a player and he has evolved now into a
songwriter. I believe that in order to succeed you need to learn to be a
songwriter and Brian is making that transition from a player to a
BORN ON 9/11
For Schram it has been a rock and roll roller coaster ride. He debut as a
solo artist on September 11, 2001, a night when many clubs and concert halls
shut down. Schram walked out on to the Union Street Station stage and
for three hours he rocked a full house. His guitar wizardry offered a
release from the days events. He wowed the crowd with his flashy play that
created quick comparisons to some of his early guitar influences,
players like Stevie Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen.
Has Schram expanded his list of guitar influences?
“Not really, I am taking a broader approach to my music, early on I would
look at a song for its guitar solo opportunities,“ said Schram. “My interest
now is in songwriting, I am studying great songwriters, both old school guys
like Lennon-McCartney, as well as keeping tabs on modern rock song writers.“
What about doubts or the frustrations of being on the rock and roll roller
“Sure I had them at first, especially when the first producer I was working
with was trying to develop me with a boy band sound,“ said Schram. “I was
delivering this Justin Timberlake sound but it just wasn‘t me.“
“I sensed that too, added Holtcamp. “My first duty in the music business
was to fire this producer. I guess you are not really in this business until
you fire someone.“
Both Ciccone and Holtcamp didn‘t see the “boy band“ experiment as a bad one,
but rather as an explorative endeavor.
“Songwriting, performing and musicianship is an experiment of one‘s inner
voice,“ said Ciccone. “We have taken Brian through a process during the past
15 months to help him find that voice, to improve himself as a songwriter
and a musician. I think the end result is we have musically speaking a more
complete Brian Schram. Now the work comes of letting the rest of the world
know and hear what we already know and hear in Brian.“
After the EP release party, Schram and his band will focus on touring.
Holtcamp and Ciccone are currently negotiating with a concert-booking agent
to represent Brian. The trio sees the next six months focused on Schram
building a fan base and shopping for a label deal.
“It is really simple: in the coming months Brian is going to play his butt off
and when he is not doing that he is going to be in the studio, and the rest
of the time he is going to be writing songs,“ said Ciccone. “To put it
simply, he is going to very busy for a long time to come.“
How is Schram handling the fact that at any moment he may reach the pinnacle
of the music business?
“I am taking it all in stride,“ said Schram. “I have learned so much from
Mario. Heck I am only 24 and I want to be doing this when I am 74, so I have
learned to be patient. I am learning the art and craft of songwriting versus
the art of making it big for the moment. I am also learning the value of the
song as a whole. My flash guitar playing got me here but I know it isn‘t
going to carry me forever. We are a band made of musicians that make a
whole, so gone are the five-minute flashy guitar solos we are building this
band to have depth with the quality of our songs.“
The Mancelona Bad Axe is really going to tone down all those flashy guitar
Schram chuckles and with that boyish grin responds, “Well maybe just a
Schram has compiled an all-Michigan band for his Dec. 23 show, featuring Jason Price on bass, Mike Dunbar on drums, Dave Gravelle on keyboards and former Bodega lead guitarist Joe Jermano as the newest member. In keeping with the songwriting theme for the evening, Schram has invited
Ryan White to open with an acoustic set to be followed by Don Swan and the
Radio Flyers. Both White and Swan have been getting attention for their
strong songwriting talents. After Schram and his band finish, Schram plans to
orchestrate a closing jam session. For additional information on the show
call Union Street Station at (231) 941-1930.
So is this the last we will see of Brian Schram?
“I will be back, this is my home,“ he says. “When my first album is
released I will be back with a huge CD release party sometime next year!“