“Happy” has never been happier.
Going on 20 years as guitarist for Hairball, the arena rock tribute band, he is now in remission from esophageal cancer, a place that has left him feeling all the more blessed to breathe life into the music he has loved since childhood.
Hairball is set to slay its audience with its unique and extremely loud style of play on Saturday, July 20, at Adams County Fairfest on the fairgrounds’ main stage, following opening act Judd Hoos, who takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. For Happy, the show means getting to do what has long been his calling in life: Shread on guitar to some of the most classic tunes of the modern music era.
“It’s awesome,” he said in a telephone interview July 10 from the road in the midst of a coast-to-coast tour. “It never gets old. It really doesn’t. This is the dream I’ve always wanted.
“Hairball is a huge rock ‘n’ roll circus that unfolds in front of your eyes. It comes out and looks like Kiss, then turns into Queen, Motley Crue ... something different every five minutes. If you don’t like one thing, it turns into another thing very fast.”
The ever-evolving show will feature the addition of a new drum riser and a few more band tributes in the lineup, though Happy is hesitant to reveal much more than that for fear of giving too much away. To him, a concert should be full of surprises, much like it was when he took in his first Kiss concert as a youngster all those years ago.
“Hairball brings people together in a way that doesn’t happen enough in this social media type environment that we bring in,” he said. “It kind of brings back an element of mystery, of mystique, the days of magazines and radio stations and reading printed word and using your imagination to fill in the blanks as opposed to now, where everyone has every detail immediately.
“They often say the book was so much better than the movie, and I think there’s something to that. It’s good to walk into a show and be surprised. When I held my first Kiss ticket in my hand in the sixth or seventh grade, when the lights went down it was the magic of that unknown revealing itself. I like to have people come to the show and let it happen to them.”
Covering a lineup featuring the world’s most recognizable artists, Hairball weaves together snippets of several live performances within the context of a single show. A lineup of singers assuming the identities of famous lead singers parade on and off the stage in costume, each mimicking their respective artist in meticulous detail. The results have kept them in demand around the world as they continue to build a following while heaping as many special effects and visual enhancements into the show as humanly possible.
“The plan has always been to keep growing it,” Happy said of the show. “We continue to make the show the kind of bigger production I would like to see. I’m always shopping for new lighting and video, things to throw into the show. We didn’t write the book, we just read it louder than anybody else does. And it’s a good book.”
His recent bout with cancer has left him grateful for the chance to keep on keeping on in terms of living a dream that seems to grow and expand with each passing year, he said.
“When you’re faced with something like that, you break things down to the simple things, just being able to play a guitar and do my somersaults and scissor kicks,” he said. “You learn not to take what you have for granted.
“I had surgery, chemo, radiation, and a hip replaced last year and am proud to say most people coming to shows would never know I’ve been though so much. That’s what rock ‘n’ roll does for me.”
It’s an energy he’s all too happy to share with fans from the stage. And it’s an escape he hopes will deliver a day off from whatever troubles they may be dealing with for an evening. It was the same attitude he employed to conquer his cancer and live to play another day.
“I had a couple of ways of looking at it,” Happy said. “I could either dwell and be upset about ‘Why me?’ or I could rise to the challenge and do the best I could and stay relentless.
“When I first announced I had cancer, the messages (from fans) were coming in faster than I could read them. They let me know that Hairball has done some good and brightened up people’s lives. And that’s kind of what life is all about.”