The power of music to connect

Story by Wyatt Tremblay

Fall 2018

“Collaboration is the key to everything in having a successful music career”

“Whatever you learn, you share; the whole idea behind a song is to connect with someone,” said Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, guitarist for Guns N’ Roses.

Thal’s comment, made during the third annual SLAM Guitar and Song Writing Clinic in June, summed up the purpose of the event, says organizer Steve Gilliss.

“This is all about the people who came here today. It’s about furthering their careers, and giving access to these guys who know a thing or two about the industry,” he said.

Hosted by SLAM in Airdrie (Supporting Local Area Musicians) with support from the Thumbs Up Foundation, the one-day clinic, with the formidable star power of Thal, Gilby Clarke, another Guns N’ Roses alumni, and Sean Kelly, guitarist for Nelly Furtado, saw more than 30 students of rock and music in general gather to learn, play and share their experiences.

“A big part of this,” Gilliss explained, “is to create that family environment where people feel like they can bounce ideas off each other, and learn from each other.”

This was Kelly’s second time at the guitar clinic, something he credits Gilliss with.

“Steve is about connecting people, and I believe in that. That’s why this is happening. I believe in collaboration. I’ve seen the professional results, I’ve seen the creative results, and I think that there’s so much value in finding people who can open up a door to you that you didn’t have access to before.”

“People have thought that music was an individual thing,” he added, “But I think that collaboration is the key to everything in having a successful music career.”

Clarke, who has collaborated with the likes of Mötley Crüe‘s Tommy Lee and former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, said that artists working together and sharing ideas only makes for better music.

“A good song is a good song; and a good song will change your life,” he said. “But my experience has been that most good songs come about when one person says, ‘Hey, what do you think about this cool riff?’ and the other person says, ‘Yeah, that’s awesome, but what if we added this?’”

Many of his own hits, Clarke elaborated, have multiple writing credits to them.

“Songwriting is always about the song,” he said.

The overall purpose of the clinic and the popular SLAM on Air songwriting contest (on hold for 2018), Gilliss explained, is to connect local talent to each other and to experienced mentors like Thal, Clarke, and Kelly.

“We’ve already seen that happen with the Fleischer brothers,” he said.

The Fleischer brothers, Brad and Ryan, members of the Airdrie rock trio Flaysher (formerly known as STORM), have experienced firsthand the impact of the SLAM clinic and the songwriting competition.

The brothers attended previous clinics, and also performed in the annual competition. As a result, they recently travelled to Toronto to work with Sean Kelly on a recording project.

“It’s given us opportunities we definitely wouldn’t have had,” said Brad.

His brother agreed: “It was a game changer for us.”

Thal, who has participated in all three clinics, said that stagnation is a musician’s enemy.

“You have to think like Socrates,” he explained. “You’re always a student, you’re always learning from each other, you’re never too old.”

Twelve-year-old Hunter Harper, the youngest musician at the clinic, was clear about why he attended.

“I wanna learn more stuff about music; I love playing music.”

Harper, who lives in Calgary and plays guitar, bass and drums, had a one-on-one practice session with Sean Kelly during the lunch break.

“That was pretty cool,” Harper said.

“I learned a lot from him.”


SLAM is planning another clinic later this year. For more information visit

Photos Credits: Katarina Benzova, Kevin RC Wilson and Lisa Macintosh