Rock and Roll Hall of Fame supporters have fond memories of Dr. Warren Zanes, the musician-turned-professor who served as the Rock Hall’s vice president of education from 2003-2007. He left Cleveland in 2007 to move to New Jersey not because he didn’t love us, but he says, “I had to choose between the Hall of Fame and keeping my family together.”
Zanes’ former friends and colleagues will have a chance to see him again — he says it’s been a few years since he’s been back — when the Del Fuegos’ mini-reunion tour stops at the Beachland Ballroom Friday. As a teenager, Zanes played guitar for the ’80s college-radio favorites fronted by his older brother Dan. Warren left in 1987 to go back to school to earn two master’s degrees and his doctorate; the band broke up after recording their final album, 1989’s Smoking in the Fields.
Last year, the Del Fuegos regrouped for two shows at the Paradise in their native Boston to benefit Right Turn, an organization founded by drummer Woody Giessmann, now an addiction counselor, to help creative people with drug and alcohol issues.
“Someone in my family was having some real problems,” says Zanes. “We called Woody and he got the family member into a program and really talked him through it. My mother was so happy to get this help. So when my mother called and said, will you do this for me, of course I said yes.”
Zanes continued to work for the Rock Hall for a short time after moving to Montclair, N.J. but he says, “We all knew it didn’t make sense for them to have a vice president who wasn’t living in Cleveland.” Then a new opportunity presented itself as a result of an interview he did while at the Rock Hall with Steven Van Zandt a.k.a. Little Steven.
“He said, ‘Hey, if you’re ever thinking of leaving the Hall of Fame, call me,” says Zanes. “I didn’t call him — he called me.”
He invited Zanes to sign onto a project he initiated in 2007 called Little Steven’s Rock and Roll High School. Since 2008, Zanes has been the executive director of the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, founded to develop and administer the project — a history of rock and roll curriculum designed for middle school and high school, using rock music as a tool to teach other subjects.
“It’s little Steven’s brainchild,” says Zanes. “Not that he’s the first person to think of it, but he’s doing it on a national level. His vision is that in this day and age you’re seeing music programs being cut, and one way to deal with that is to bring the study of music into other areas, into social studies, into language arts. Music is experienced as fashion, as political culture, it’s interdisciplinary. In this age of testing, there’s very little teacher time to do anything beyond what is going to be on the test. We’re making an effort to tie it in with teacher’s needs.”
While that project moved forward, Zanes’ plan to keep his family together didn’t work out so well. He and his wife, singer April March, split up shortly after he left Cleveland. Zanes spent some time focusing on his two young sons, licking his wounds — and pouring his feelings out into songs. That unhappy situation produced one happy result: an album called “I Want To Move Out in the Daylight,” released last fall, that Zanes calls “my divorce record.”
“I will never look at anyone going through a divorce the same way,” he says. “I don’t think I took it seriously. Then I went through it and it really took the ground out from under me. The creative part was my refuge. The best thing I can say about it is I came out of it with 35 songs. I think I made my best record because I really put myself into it and I didn’t know how to bullshit.”
He says he’s really looking forward to being back in Cleveland for Friday’s show and hopes to see some old friends there. He’s also planning to spend some time his old workplace on the lakefront. He says he’d love to see the new Rock Hall Archives and Library too but doesn’t think there’ll be time.
“I think I’m going to be under pressure from the guys to take them to the museum,” he says. “Dan’s definitely been there. I think the other guys haven’t. We’re dyed in the wool rock and roll fans. Particularly if you have not been that first visit is a lot to take in.” — Anastasia Pantsios
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