From Lebec to Haiti to Hollywood

  • Image 1 of 5

  • Image 2 of 5

  • Image 3 of 5

  • Image 4 of 5

  • Image 5 of 5

Rocky’s Excellent Adventure

By Patric Hedlund
[Based on a story published in The New Mountain Pioneer]

Rocky Gunderson was surprised to learn that he had been chosen last month as one of the top 10 finalists- out of 17,000 eager competitors- in a singer-songwriter contest he didn’t even enter. But check out the beats and crooning at Guitar Center’s contest page and you’ll find a familiar local face among the 10 finalists.

Mom Heidi Krause of Lebec said Gunderson grew up playing Little League in the Mountain Communities.

Rocky attended El Tejon and Gorman Schools, and was one of the first students at Frazier Mountain High School in 1995.

But while visiting relatives on the coast that year, he was in a terrible motorcycle crash that broke both his legs and crushed his pelvis. He had multiple surgeries in his freshman year, so couldn’t attend school. As a sophomore he bounced back to play baseball for FMHS, stealing the most bases of anyone on the team.

Today, Gunderson lives in Ventura. His family still lives in Lebec. His last surgery to correct lingering problems from his injuries was just last year.

Rocky plays the guitar and keyboards. "I love music," he says as if talking about a deep passion. "It has always been my closest friend." His band is named the June Echo and he alternates touring with his musicand working as a construction site electrician.

Over the last year he has traveled to Haiti seven times to help rebuild orphanages on the hurricane-ravaged island.

"I can’t build everything to code the way we do here," Gunderson said, "but I try to get it so it will be safe for them." He works "from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then we play music with the kids." Gunderson smiles when he talks about Davidson, a boy who had just lost both his mother and his father when Rocky met him. "He calls me ‘Dad’ when I see him."

But back to fame and fortune. The tale was told in an amused and friendly voice in an interview last month:

"I didn’t even enter the contest. In fact, I didn’t even know I was in it until a few weeks after it started," Rocky said. "My friend from Oregon who works with a small record label there called me to say that he’d entered my name.

"I’m really bad at selfpromotion, so I told him I didn’t see how I’d be able to compete if it was going to just be a popularity contest. I mean, I have 700 friends on my Facebook page that I actually know myself, but probably not more than 200 of them have me on their band page…."

Gunderson said he got a call from Guitar Center three weeks ago. "I don’t think I owe you any money," he said hesitantly when they introduced themselves.

"No, we’re calling about the contest," they replied.

"Oh, well, thank you, it was nice to be included…," Rocky recalls he told them, expecting they were calling to tell him that he had been dropped from the competition.

"No," they said," You don’t understand. We need you to fly down to Hollywood from Oregon. You were hand-picked by John Shanks as one of the 10 finalists."

Gunderson, 30 said he was silent for a moment, taking it in. Then he said, "Wow. Thank you. But I’m not in Oregon. My friend in Oregon entered me. I’m in Ventura."

From there, arrangements were made for Gunderson to come to Hollywood from February 16-18. Guitar Center said "the career-altering prize package includes recording three songs with producer John Shanks-whose resume boasts 60 million records sold, 43 number 1 singles and 67 number 1 albums with artists including Sheryl Crow, Kelly Clarkson, Keith Urban, Melissa Etheridge, Bon Jovi and Alanis Morissette; and $10,000 cash."

Talking with him, you get the feeling that Gunderson could take that all in stride…and do some good turns for others along the way.

On Saturday, Feb. 18 the contestants played for producer Shanks. On Monday, Feb. 20 Gunderson filed a gracious report about how things went.

"Everyone met at the Standard Hotel in Hollywood, where the contestants stayed. We all went to Fender, where "we did a drawing to see the order of the contest. I ended up taking the number 1 slot. Probably the worst slot…but I loved the idea of setting the pace for the night…. Back at the hotel half the contestants just hung out and got to know each other. Everyone was super friendly. The next day everyone was kinda on edge. We had photo shoots, interviews, signed each other’s posters. I was far too nervous to eat anything that day. Around 8 p.m. they said it was time for me to go on. I exited the prep room with my guitar. John Shanks tapped me on the arm and said ‘good luck.’ He may have said ‘go get em,’ I was too nervous to even remember.

"Nic Harcourt was announcing the show. He shook my hand and said ‘good luck.’ It was very nice of him and eased my nerves a little. I got up on stage, cracked a little joke about picking the short straw and having to go first, and then I just went for it. I don’t feel I played the best I ever have. I had a little mess up, but overall it was strong and I got compliments all night on how I set the bar so high for the night. One of those compliments came from John Shanks’ wife who really encouraged me after the show.

"My friend Josh Doyle won. He played flawlessly and very passionately and I couldn’t be more happy for him. I feel I gained friends in this competition that will be friends for life.

"I’m so thankful to Guitar Center and all the sponsors for making this possible, but mostly to my friend Nick Diaz who has always believed in me and entered me in the contest. Without him I would have never done this.

"I hope good things come from it, and I have no idea what is next. Actually I do. I have to get back to work. I plan to get back to recording the album I had started before I entered this to see what happens and what else I can do from there." Look for Rocky Gunderson’s music on youtube; facebook (click on bandpage, music will come up); and at soundcloud.

This is part of the February 24, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.