It’s a chilly Sunday in January, and the Eagles — along with the rest of the city — are preparing to whoop the Minnesota Vikings. At a large stone home in Germantown, however, a handful of teens brandishing guitars and basses don’t seem to give a damn about football. Instead, they’re jamming with Paul Green — the Philadelphian renowned for his mercurial, yet devout, brand of rock-and-roll musical education for kids.
“This is really fun,” Green says of an audition process that appeared more like a party.
Twenty years ago, it was the Paul Green School of Rock he was touting, a learning environment that grew into an international behemoth with thousands of students. Now — with a classroom size of no more than 50 teens for the sake of a hands-on experience with all of its students — it’s the Paul Green Rock Academy he’s holding auditions for, and, opening this week.
“I never stopped wanting to bring kids to rock-and-roll and vice versa,” he says from his home studio. “This time, it’s a passion project I’m scaling down to human size — something I alone can manage.”
Green laughs before making an analogy. “I was like a top chef who opened a chain of restaurants that had to make compromises upon expansion. Even though I had great teachers working for me — and I was blessed — they never got the spices quite right … not as I would. For a 45-year-old control freak to do all the teaching, as I am now … that’s a good thing.”
Green was always the guy behind his self-named School of Rock, the Philly-based classroom he opened in a dingy walk-up adjacent to the Convention Center in 1998. With the help of local musicians, big-name visiting instructors (like guys from Yes and the Butthole Surfers), and a performance-based instruction style that was heatedly volatile, Green won students galore and actively franchised his School of Rock throughout North America. By 2010, Green sold and left his classrooms (now known as the School of Rock), but not before local director Don Argott captured Green on-screen in the 2005 documentary Rock School, a Sundance Film Festival darling. “Heady times, yeah?” says Green. “I caught lightning in a bottle at the right time.”
Green said the idea of expanding his first, one-room School of Rock in Center City to over 60 locations in the United States and Mexico was a matter of necessity. “If I didn’t, someone else would have. I knew how to do it better than most.” Green would have stayed with his school, but once it franchised beyond the initial seven classrooms, he was overwhelmed.
Green and his family moved to Woodstock, N.Y., and he began working for the Woodstock Film Festival and with its cofounder Michael Lang (as well as guitarist Steve Vai) on a music college. They could not get funding for the college of musical knowledge (“Rich people would rather invest in websites”), so Green decided to shift gears. He and his family returned to the area so he could attend Temple University’s Beasley School of Law as well as reignite his passion with an eponymous rock academy. Green can’t resist ribbing about his return. “I came back for the Sixers,” he says with a laugh. “And to play bass for Gene Ween’s Billy Joel cover band, which is an honor on par with putting on a School of Rock festival with Devo as its headliner.”
Now a calmer, gentler teacher than the explosive one people remember from Rock School doc (“But no less driven or demanding,” he says), Green will take on no more than 50 teens in order to mold students to the customs and poses of rock, as well as teaching them its signature riffs and rhythms. “The gestalt of it all,” he says as to what he’ll teach the children and their parents. “We’re expecting this to be a real family affair — especially once we start academy concerts. From getting gear to booking, producing, and promoting the shows, everyone’s involved.”
With that, Green hopes to have his sole Roxborough-based academy — a three-year-long program — be as sophisticated and intensive as any music college in America with participation from student and parent alike.
Jessica Doyle and her daughter Camille, as well as Brian Bricklin and his son Ben Bricklin, know the drill.
Upper Darby-based Bricklin — a member of the humble local ensemble, Bricklin — says that he steered his son toward Green’s new program (“I’m a fan”) because he sees the passion in the teacher. “I love that he’s opinionated,” he says. Fifteen-year-old guitarist Ben says that his pop encouraged him to join the academy — “a lot” — and is cool with Green’s level of pushiness. “I think that I have the stagecraft stuff down pretty well, so I’m excited by the playing part, especially since I get to jam with adults like him,” says Ben.
The Phoenixville-based Camille — a multi-instrumentalist currently focusing on bass — was part of the post-Green School of Rock program from 2009 to 2016. “We loved how raw that school was when we first started — she did shows of material from the likes of Jethro Tull and the Band — but she just went through it,” says Jessica Doyle. “It didn’t have the same energy toward the end. Now that Paul’s starting his own place — that feels like the next best step.”
Camille, 16, agrees with her mom about the new training and hopes, too, to learn about communion and make connections with like-minded teens. “I want to get in that whole scene, expand my talents and experience, and get into a band.” She’s heard about the old Green — the guy “who used to throw things” she says with a laugh — but believes that his intentions are pure. “He just wants us to be the best that we can be.”