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Rockin on the road

Jamie Iwata prepares to take the stage on West Coast tour that stops in Oregon Thursday night
by: VERN UYETAKE Jamie Iwata of West Linn will perform tonight at Backspace Cafe in Portland as one of the stops on the School of Rock’s summer “Rock the House” tour.

Taking his talents on the road, West Linn's Jamie Iwata is getting an early taste of life as a rock musician as one of the AllStars on the School of Rock's summer 'Rock the House' tour, representing the top-tier of talent coming out of its national music program.

The tour will stop in Portland Thursday night.

The School of Rock operates 69 music schools in 25 states and Mexico, teaching students how to perform as a rock musician with experiences on stage and off.

Iwata, 16, said he's been a fan of rock music most of his life, influenced mainly by Aerosmith.

Last year, Iwata got the chance to attend an Aerosmith concert in Las Vegas and meet Joe Perry and Steven Tyler after the show as the winner of a most-deserving fan contest.

He said he initially heard about Portland's School of Rock, located at 1440 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., about five years ago.

'I really wanted to be a singer, but I couldn't really find any opportunities to do something like this,' Iwata said.

He said he finally decided to enroll about a year later and has been studying at the school ever since.

'It's been really nice to grow as a musician here,' he said.

Jon Sharpy - Portland School of Rock's general manager whose been Iwata's vocal coach from the beginning - said Iwata's talent was instantly apparent.

'There's an awkward presence about him that completely disappeared when he started performing,' Sharpy said of Iwata who has Aspergers. 'It's like he found his home when he started singing and got on stage.

'As a performer, he's just a total rock star.'

Sharpy said Iwata is the most prepared student he's ever had.

'You give him a song, and the next time you see him the song is learned and ready to go,' he said. 'It's refreshing to actually have a student who just gets it, who understands music and who envelops it and instantly controls it.'

Iwata said that, with the basic theories he's learned at the school, he's been able to teach himself the music and come up with his own interpretations of the songs.

'The teachers, it's almost like they give me hints on how to improve,' he said.

And, aside from his vocal talent, Sharpy said Iwata's main strength as a performer is the unique approach he brings to the music.

'Probably 90 percent of students who walk through these doors who are vocalists - they imitate,' Sharpy said. 'It's the nature of being a vocalist. As you're learning, you want to be an imitator of what someone else is doing.

'It happens a lot with vocalists, but it never happened with Jamie.'

Sharpy said the School of Rock's AllStars tour is one of the school's only audition-based groups.

'There's a higher degree of accomplishment for these students,' he said.

Iwata said auditioning for the group was a two-step process, involving an in-person audition with Sharpy in which he sang a Led Zeppelin song and a song of his choice and was asked music theory questions.

Tour hopefuls then sent in a tape to the directors of the national School of Rock containing their performances and the reasons they wanted to participate on the tour.

Iwata is one of four students from the Portland School of Rock selected to perform on the week-long West Coast leg of the tour.

He and his fellow Portlanders joined students from the school's 12 West Coast locations, including Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. As a group, the AllStars combined talents, performing together in various groups on stage.

Iwata said they rehearse for two days before their show in San Diego, then make their way north through Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

They'll take the stage at the Backspace Cafe in downtown Portland Thursday night.

This year's AllStars tour showcases the history of rock, giving audiences a sample of classic hits from each decade from the 1960s through the 2000s.

Numbers include 'Gimme Shelter' by The Rolling Stones, 'Dazed and Confused' by Led Zeppelin and 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen, as well as songs by Steely Dan and the Black Crowes.

In Los Angeles, the group was joined by guests such as Keith Morris, former frontman for Black Flag, and the current guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iwata said.

'I just love playing music at shows in general,' he said before the tour. 'I'm look forward to going to different places I've never played before.'

Both Iwata and Sharpy said that the opportunity to play in different cities and venues will allow Iwata to build even more confidence as a performer.

'This will be an excellent experience for him overall,' Sharpy said. 'It's going to make sure he's the musician he wants to be.'

School of Rock's AllStars tour also features legs throughout the South, Midwest and East coast regions, and all proceeds from the tour benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.

For more information about the School of Rock and its programs or to purchase tickets for the tour's Portland performance, visit www.SchoolofRock.com.