For many people, weddings are the culmination of years of hope, planning, and circumstance. For Taft Stricklin, sales manager of Just Add Power, his was the result of a kind gesture from soon-to-be-wife Mina which combined fairy tales with rock-and-roll fantasies.
Stricklin dreamed of playing with Van Halen and the band’s iconic guitar mastermind Edward “Eddie” Van Halen; or, at least, sharing a stage with the rest of the Hall of Fame band members Edward and Alex Valen, Michael Anthony, and Sammy Hagar.
Once Mina found out that Hagar would be a part of the Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp shows in Las Vegas, she sprung into action, calling the Fantasy Camp’s organizers and secretly setting up a wedding in which one of her fiance’s heroes—Sammy Hagar himself—would take part.
Today, Stricklin is still jamming—though he isn’t playing with members of Cinderella or Teddy Andreadis, the former keyboard player for Guns n Roses. He plays high-performance Paul Reed Smith (PRS) Guitars to fulfill his Van Halen-inspired rock and roll dreams.
Stricklin recently discussed his wedding, his affinity for rock-and-roll, and how working for Just Add Power allows him to stay in touch with the music scene.
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How old were you when you first discovered music?
When I was born, my parents owned two guitar shops in Huntington Beach California. They ran them until they finished school and became psychiatrists. They also told me at a young age that there was no reason anyone needed to own more than one guitar—I now own almost 200—call it reverse psychology gone wrong.
When you were young what instrument did you start with and did you take lessons as a young player?
I had to pick an instrument in school during the third grade. The instrument I chose was trumpet and I sucked at it. I then picked up guitar because girls love guitar players, right?
What music was it that made an impression or impact on you when you were young and how did that music influence your musical preferences?
Early life was Beach Boys, Jackson Browne, and then one day I heard Van Halen and my life changed.
Who were your favorite artists from your youth?
Van Halen for sure. People always ask which version. My stock answer is Both Roth and Hagar, but Roth didn’t play at my wedding, so Hagar gets extra points, and his voice is still strong.
What made these artists appealing to you?
Eddie Van Halen inspired me to play guitar and at times made me want to quit; nobody could ever be that good. On the 1986 Van Halen tour the band seemed to be best friends and were always having fun and it clicked with me that this is something I want to do if I must grow up. I’ve not grown up yet so maybe I still have time!
When you got older did you get into a band, and if so how did that help you as a musician?
I got into several bands and played with some amazing people. It helped me grow so much and my playing got a ton better. It’s amazing that a good bass player or good drummer can help turn you into a good guitar player. It also inspired me to start to play piano. Now, I’m not a good piano player, but I enjoy it.
Did the electronics industry’s connection to music, especially at Just Add Power, provide a natural outlet for you to follow your passion?
The electronics industry has helped a ton. At times, it feels like I am not even working. It also helps that our product ends up tied to so many cool projects like live venues.
Are you in a band now? Do you still get to play out?
I play at my home and have not been in a band for a few years. Kids, business and family keep me from playing as much as I should. However, reminding me to play more often are all the guitars sprawled all over all our office locations around the country and my home pretty much has a guitar within reach no matter where you are.
Who are some of the newer artists that currently influence your playing style?
Oh, the ever so dangerous “New Music” question. It has inspired me to teach my kids about the music I grew up with. I have heard a few new artists that turn my head like Alabama Shakes, Bruno Mars—guy is super talented—the newest Sammy Hagar release ‘Lite Roast’ filled with acoustic versions of some of my favorite songs, and The Boxmasters, which is my friend Teddy Andreadis and Billy Bob Thornton’s band … yes, Sling Blade guy, and a young shredder named Tyler Morris who is just amazing and hits pretty much every guitar genre like a stick of dynamite.
You weren’t with Just Add Power when you made the news several years ago. Your then-fiance arranged for you to play in the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, where Sammy Hagar was one of the advisers. Mina also arranged for a rock and roll wedding during the camp. What was it like to have Sammy Hagar and members of Cinderella and Guns n Roses take part in your wedding?
Getting to play with some of the biggest names in rock and roll made me realize it is not all fun and games. They love what they do, but they take it seriously. When rehearsing there were times where I kind of felt like I was in boot camp. Don’t stop till you get it right. My line about camp and my wedding is, “I got two weeks’ worth of stories in four days.”
When a member of KISS grabs your guitar and says here is the correct way to play that solo, you don’t ever forget it.
My most memorable moment was playing ‘Rock Candy’ with Ronnie Montrose. My time with Ronnie was amazing. We had lots of hang out time and he was just a regular guy. He passed away a couple of years later and I’ll never forget playing with him. It was a highlight in my life. A “pinch me” moment.
Sammy Hagar, who I met and stalked for years, is just an amazing guy. Nothing short of the funniest, coolest, friendliest, guy you’ll ever meet.
What gear are you currently using, and is there a piece of gear that you would currently like to add to your rig?
Most played guitars since I own too many are the Paul Reed Smith Hollow Body, Peavey Wolfgang EVH models, Paul Reed Smith acoustic, and Jerry Tyler Line6 Variax. I also have a Peavey Van Halen 5150II stack modded by Eddie himself, when I need to change my hairstyle or fix my head.
If you could play in the ultimate band, who would it be comprised of, and what instruments would they play?
My ultimate band would have Raine Madia from Our Lady Peace on lead vocals, myself on guitar, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass, Michael Anthony of Sammy Hagar’s Circle band on background vocals, and Tommy Lee on drums.
We would close every show with the song ‘Innocent’ by Our Lady Peace and open every show with ‘Jump’ by Van Halen.
Just Add Power’s Taft Stricklin’s 2012 Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp Experience
I climbed into a white van at the Hilton hotel and rode with six strangers who I did not realize would all become my friends over the next few days. We arrived at Amp Studios in Hollywood, Calif., and I carried my guitar in and asked Beth Porter where to go and what to do. She replied, “Take your guitar and go find a studio to go jam in.” I walked down the stairs into a sea of live music coming from all the studios down the hall. I picked a room at random and walked in.
Five people were in the room playing a blues jam and I recognized Fred Coury from Cinderella pounding out the beat behind the drums (one guy was a photographer perched on top of a big guitar amp). I plugged my Violet PRS guitar into a Marshall amp and checked to make sure it was tuned about four times.
An older bald guy said hello, “you ready to rock with us.” I replied yes, I sure am. He said “you know the song ‘Rock Candy’ by Montrose? Sammy Hagar will be here shortly, so I hope you brushed up on at least that tune.”
Within five seconds the drummer Fred was counting it off and playing the opening drum beat. I had put my backstage pass name tag on backwards, so I did not scratch my guitar.
The older bald guy said you want to play lead? “Sure.” Can you sing? “Um, yeah, I guess.”
What’s your name? “Taft.” “Oh, I’m Ronnie Montrose, nice to meet you.” As we all tore into the classic opening guitar riff.
It took about two seconds for me to realize I was playing not only with a legend, but playing with the guy who co-wrote the song with Sammy Hagar. About four bars into the song I did not know if I was going to jump up and down, pass out, or tear up over this moment. Luckily, I realized life is too short for bad guitar riffs. After the song was over Ronnie gave me a high five and said good to meet you.
After hearing Ronnie Montrose passed away over the weekend my wife Mina suggested I write down this story so I can share it with the world. Ronnie left Rock Camp with two of our wedding guitar picks to put in his pick collection. He demanded he get two of them so people could see the front and back on display in his pick case.
Stricklin’s company Just Add Power is exhibiting in booth #4081 at InfoComm 2017.