Paul Green Leads Stairway to New Rock Academy

Paul Green teaches classic rock in his new Paul Green Rock Academy in Roxborough. | Photo by Rachel Kurland

If there’s anything besides rock ’n’ roll that could influence Paul Green, it’s the 76ers.

It’s the one thing he missed most about his hometown (that, and hoagies), so when he and his wife, Lisa, went to a Sixers game last winter, they knew a subsequent move back to Philly from New York was beshert — in addition to opening the new Paul Green Rock Academy in Roxborough.

Paul spent five years in Woodstock, N.Y., as the music director of Woodstock Film Festival and host of “The Tool Shed” radio show, but he is most known for launching the School of Rock empire roughly 20 years ago in Center City, which expanded to nearly 200 franchises across the country.

But the academy takes performance-based music education to the next level, like that of a master’s class in rock ’n’ roll. The advanced addendum school will hone the craft of 10- to 18-year-olds, but instead of music lessons, Paul will lead weekly rehearsal sessions of extremely advanced rock.

The program is accepting auditions for students who are “exceptionally focused and ready to work hard,” Lisa said. “It’s not necessarily a program for students who are ‘good’ — it’s a program for kids who want to work really hard and get really good.”

This academy caps at 50 students, and school will be in session Feb. 1.

“It’s all about motivating kids,” Paul said. “Kids know if they don’t practice there’s another kid on the list — student 51 wants their spot.”

In the past, School of Rock has collaborated with Jon Anderson from Yes, Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, Gene Ween, and Kate Pierson from the B-52s, to name a few. Renowned rocker and M.O.T. Scott Ian from Anthrax is already scheduled to meet Paul’s students.

“It’s one thing for me to tell the kids something, but when Scott Ian from Anthrax tells them, they listen,” he said. “And that’s what it’s really about — putting these kids in as close to real professional experiences as possible so that by the time they get out there on their own, they know 85 of 100 things that could go wrong.”

With 20-plus years of experience, Paul knows the ins and outs of classic rock, which he passes on to kids who are willing to put in the time and work — as long as it’s not Nirvana, the couple laughed.

“If you challenge kids to learn some Nirvana songs, then they’ll usually hit it. If you challenge them to learn Queen, then they definitely won’t hit it because Queen can’t even play Queen live, but they’ll end up [in the middle],” he said. “It’s all about moving the goal line.”

Paul is a living example of his own advice — the 45-year-old is enrolled in Temple School of Law part time, with the long-term intent to provide better legal representation to businesses involving artists and entrepreneurs.

His students will also have the opportunity to travel to Germany for Zappanale, a Frank Zappa-themed music festival, as well as the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival in 2019.

“In the first 18 months you’ll be here, you’ll play metal, Radiohead, some kind of classic rock and then either go to Woodstock or Zappanale,” Paul laughed — a pretty sweet deal for high schoolers — “boy, you’re going to get good fast.”

Paul grew up with a love for the underground punk rock scene of the ’80s, where Philly band Ruin was a big influence, as well as Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, and even Joni Mitchell and Simon & Garfunkel.

“[Frank Zappa’s] third-worst album is still better than [anything] I or anyone else I’ve ever known have accomplished in their life,” he laughed, but only about half of his favorites overlap with what he teaches. He’s not a big fan of The Who, but he can’t deny their skill level. Once he gets to know his students, he’ll have a better idea of how to personalize setlists.

Paul received his rock gene from his father, who was Jewish; his mother converted. He grew up surrounded by music — his mother played acoustic guitar, finger-picking style, and his father, though he died when Paul was 2, passed on his collection of vintage vinyl.

“Every picture of him is him with headphones on and all his albums,” Paul remembered.

At 14, he reconnected with his Jewish roots on an intellectual and artistic side.

“His dad’s love of music just completely filtered down to him,” Lisa added. “His father being Jewish and his father loving music just became what Paul did.”

The brass rocker portrayed in the 2005 documentary or as alluded to as the deafening Jack Black character has since mellowed his demeanor, but his expectations of his students have not withered at all.

Rather than expanding the Rock Academy, Paul hopes to establish a real entertainment option for Philadelphians (who aren’t friends and families of the students).

“It’s better than seeing a cover band because … the kids have so much energy and enthusiasm. It just becomes something that can be incredible magic,” Lisa added.

His students will hopefully mold the future of the Philly rock scene when they go on to form their own bands and music. “But to be able to trace a little bit of that back to this second floor above H&R Block next to a weird Evangelical church,” Paul laughed — that’s the great gig in the sky.

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