Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018
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Jeff Kollman: A homegrown guitar wizard

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Guitar lovers, start your amplifiers - Jeff Kollman's coming to town.

The guitar guru and Toledo native will be performing his first concert here since moving west in 1995 when he takes the stage at the Hard Hat Caf tonight with his band Cosmosquad.

Kollman has carved a comfortable niche in the ultra-competitive Los Angeles music scene, having toured and recorded with such notables as UFO (replacing the legendary Michael Schenker), Lyle Lovett, Linda McCartney, Bruce Hornsby, and the Yellowjackets.

The versatile musician and Bowsher High graduate said he is juggling about six bands at the moment, playing everything from heavy metal to modern jazz. One of his favorite and continuing projects is Edwin Dare, the progressive-rock group that used to shake the rafters at Toledo and Ohio nightclubs and still draws new fans via cyberspace.

“This year's been all about getting things done,” Kollman said from Los Angeles, where he moved in 1997 after spending two years in Phoenix.

He's been finishing up a large number of recording projects and shopping them to various record labels. His latest CD is a live recording taped in March at the famed Baked Potato nightclub in Los Angeles.

Kollman also travels extensively. He gives demonstrations and conducts clinics for Johnson Amplifiers and the guitar effects-pedal companies Digitech and DOD.

“I've been able to travel all over the world the last few years, to China, Thailand, Indonesia, all over Europe, and even Australia last fall with my girlfriend,” he said. “I do the clinics for an hour, then I'm off for a day or two. I get to do a lot of sightseeing.”

At some of the clinics, the guitarists in the audience get so enthusiastic that Kollman will bring them up onstage and let them join him for a jam session. It doesn't matter if they can't speak English - they share the same musical language.

“Sometimes the clinics end up being a celebration of the guitar,” Kollman said. “It's really a cool thing.”

Cosmosquad, which includes Barry Sparks on bass and Shane Gaalaas on drums, plays original songs that blend high-voltage rock and edgy jazz.

“It's a pretty smokin' band,” Kollman said. “It's pretty heavy and powerful and has rock power. Some of it will get like an African tribal vibe. Some of it will have sophisticated chord changes. There's a lot of different things thrown into the pot.”

Kollman, 33, has always thrown a lot of different ingredients into his musical stew.

“He's probably one of the most versatile guitarists I know,” said Dave Murnen, a singer and percussionist with Toledo rock group the Pillbugs. “Jeff can sit in with your best jazz, best rhythm and blues, best rock and roll, and best classical guys.”

Murnen recognized Kollman's talent when they were both students at Bowsher.

“We were all in garage bands and we always tried to get Jeff to sit in with us, but he wouldn't have anything to do with us because he was so far superior. He used to sit in his room and play classical music until 2 a.m. and then he'd do his homework and go to bed. He's just a phenomenal guitar player.”

Gene Parker, the venerable Toledo jazz musician and teacher, had Kollman as a student for about six months.

“When he came here he didn't really have any training except the kind you get in the back of a guitar store learning rock-and-roll licks off 45-rpm records, playing by ear and so forth,” Parker recalled. “I was probably the first formal training as far as theory that he had.”

It didn't take long for Kollman to catch on.

“He was amazing. He had these mega-rock-and-roll chops and he'd go right straight from my mouth to the amplifier. He's very, very quick.”

Parker had hoped that Kollman would stick to jazz but the guitarist's interests were too diverse and his roots in rock and roll seemed too dominant.

“I thought he was a very nice cat. He asked me to play on his first album. I think I played a sax solo or something. I knew he was bound for something good. He was good looking, with that long, blond hair. Plus he was really, really talented.”

Kollman first took up the guitar at age 12.

“That first year, I couldn't play anything,” Kollman said. “By the second year I was playing Van Halen's `Eruption.' I thought, `Oh my God! This is so exciting!'”

His early guitar influences included KISS, Randy Rhoads from Ozzy Osbourne's band, and Toledo ace Chuck Stoll, who played in the group Damien.

“Chuck blew me away. Nobody could play like him,” Kollman said. “He can play classical like Segovia and then burn on the electric guitar like nobody. He really inspired me.”

Kollman's first two bands were Battle Axe and VXN. He remembers his first big gig, playing at the 8th-grade prom at Byrnedale Junior High.

“I played with the Stain, with Jon Stainbrook. We were playing Ozzy Osbourne and Van Halen tunes. They were into it - I think. Nobody threw us out. We were metal heads but we must have played a Rick Springfield song to please the girls.

“I have pictures. I looked like Macaulay Culkin. The guitar was bigger than me.”

Mark Mikel, a major figure in the Toledo rock scene and leader of the Pillbugs, said he felt a kindred spirit with Kollman.

“We were best friends for a while,” Mikel said. “Jeff was obviously better than everybody from the get-go. At 16, he made us older guys look ridiculous. It was great to be around another person who had the same passion for music. He's like me, and like Scott Hunt - we just have to play. He'll sit in his basement and record instead of going out. He's got to do it. Got to play.”

Murnen occasionally traveled with Edwin Dare when the band toured by bus and said Kollman was never distracted by the craziness that sometimes hits musicians on the road.

“Jeff was probably the most subdued guy. He was very much more into his craft than being on the road and partying. He could hang with the best of them, but it wasn't about that for him.”

Six years ago, Kollman moved to Arizona and later Los Angeles to take advantage of the larger markets' career opportunities.

He said hooked up with Los Angeles musicians right away and never lacks for work. He's even been called to audition for several Hollywood movies.

“They called me for Rock Star, a George Clooney production with Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston. They were looking for musicians who could act. Things like that fall into your lap here without even looking for them.”

Traffic isn't a problem for him because he doesn't have to drive during rush hour. The biggest drawbacks of Los Angeles life, he said, are the possibility of an earthquake and the price of real estate.

He has never married but doesn't rule it out.

“I never went down that path although I've had plenty of opportunities,” Kollman said. “A lot of people get married in their 20s and don't know what they want. A lot of them are already divorced with kids. I play music and I've always had that kind of focus.”

Having his own home studio gives him the advantage of earning a living at his own home, giving him a bit of insulation from the local scene. He loves the studio, even though he called it “an endless money pit,” but doesn't want it to get in the way of live concerts.

“Too many guitar players are shy and only play in their bedroom. I try to jam with everybody.”

Although he is adept at virtually any style, Kollman prefers music that is “powerful and kind of dark, something that feels like movie music.”

Mikel said he is looking forward to seeing Kollman in concert Friday after being away for six years.

“I don't even know what he can do now, it's been so long since I've seen him play,” Mikel said. “I figure he can do anything. It's not a question of what can he do. It's what can't he do? Probably nothing.”

Jeff Kollman and Cosmosquad play tonight at the Hard Hat Cafe , 4500 North Detroit Ave. Opening at 9 p.m. is The Experiment. Cover charge is $10.

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