At an impressively loud volume, the screeching riff that opens "Johnny B. Goode" kicked off what unfolded as a stringently tight run-through of the Chuck Berry classic.
"Here," offered Brook Mead with a smile, "we teach the standards. You've got to know your roots."
Although music has been a part of education since the colonial era, a new offering at The Arts Academy at Pueblo County High School is taking that instruction to a new, and much more thunderous, level.
It's called, most appropriately, Rock Band: an up-close and first-hand look at what it takes to get a musical group off the ground — often a notable challenge in itself — and then keep that trajectory moving onward and upward.
At the helm is Mead, not only a seasoned musical educator but a working musician with 25 years of experience as a drummer, bassist and vocalist. With The Martini Shot, Mead continues to anchor the bottom line with his fluid bass and versatile background vocals.
To the young men and women in the spacious rehearsal hall that serves as his classroom, Mead enthusiastically brings the treasure trove of know-how he's been accumulating since his own teen-age years.
"The whole thing for me was to get in the basement and be with my friends and play, getting our band together," Mead said. "We didn't have an outlet for that in school. So this gives them the opportunity to get together with like-minded kids, with like-minded abilities, and create something that they can take outside of the school.
"After this, they can create their own band. And I wish I had something like this when I was a kid."
With 15 or so enrolled in Rock Band, the students have been divided by musical experience and proficiency. In the main rehearsal space can be found those who know their way around the frets, keys or drum kit, with the younger and inexperienced — but no less enthusiastic — kids toiling away in a nearby smaller space on three-chord chestnuts like The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop."
"The students with specific skills, who are a little more advanced, are in one group," Mead said. "And the other group works at their own level."
While technique and musical chops are certainly the foundation for a successful musical unit, the first lesson Mead imparted to his charges is that without a sense of harmony and camaraderie, no band is destined for the stars.
"Like any band, I told the kids they have to come to common ground," Mead said. "You can't be in a band and have different influences and have it gel all that well. So one of the first things I had them do is come up with a song list that was agreeable to everyone."
That initial inventory was deliciously diverse, with the bouncy "Mr. Blue Sky," the immortal and complex "Stairway to Heaven" and the 1978 FM radio staple "Hold the Line" among the numbers suggested by the advanced players.
"My goal is to make rock and roll a bonafide art form in the school format," Mead continued. "Chorale format is probably set in the 1960s, and traditional band format can be as old as the 1940s. What we're doing here is a current thing, relevant to our culture today."
On this particular rehearsal day, the rollicking tale of that country boy who could play guitar like a ringing a bell was complemented by a tight-knit "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and a little less solid "Let It Be," which broke down mid-way after a hi-hat on the drum kit collapsed.
Throughout it all, Mead is the observant instructor, letting each song run its course before offering a sage's advice.
"That's OK," he told the students after "Let It Be" fizzled out. "That wasn't very good anyway. Let's move on to something else."
Enhanced by Mead's high harmonies on the chorus, the next offering, the soaring "Mary Jane's Last Dance," was replicated in near perfect fashion.
A senior, Joseph Berrios has never met an instrument he couldn't master. Adept at keyboard, bass, guitar and vocals, he, like Mead in The Martini Shot, serves as a powerful foundation for the Rock Band ensemble.
"This class is so much fun. I never thought that being in high school I would be doing something like this during my day. It's just so great to play with my peers, who are at an extraordinary level. With this kind of music, that's something I never would have imagined possible in school."
Fun, however, is but part of this euphonious equation.
"We've picked up the fact that a lot of hard work goes into making it as a band," Berrios added. "It's a lot more than just going and playing your stuff. There's a lot of responsibility as well."
With the inevitable ego and personality clashes yet another hard fact of the game.
"My younger kids already broke up once," Mead said. "I think it was over the drummer's tempos or something. Then they came to me and said, 'We're having problems.' And I told them, 'Good! This is great. You're now learning what it's really like to be in a band. There's dynamics and personalities involved.'
"So I put them in a room and had them hash it out. Now, they're tighter than they ever were."
One of the biggest champions of Rock Band is County Principal Brian Dilka, who could be seen bopping his head to the beat of each rehearsed number.
"This is where I hide out, where I get away from my office for a little bit," Dilka said. "There's no better way to chill out than to listen to Rock Band."