Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll was their mantra, and it could have been their death sentence.
Now, decades into recovery from hard-core drug and alcohol addictions, a handful of members from some of the hottest rock bands of the 1970s and ’80s are joining forces to prove to musicians and music lovers alike a greater truth: Life after sobriety can still be a rocking good time.
The Pompano Beach-based Rockers in Recovery are doing it the only way they know how — by example. In benefit concerts across South Florida, through an online radio station and social media, the novel effort aims to convene and support a community of music lovers dedicated to the sober lifestyle.
“My job is to show people you can be sober and still have fun,” said Ricky Byrd, a Recovery Rocker who shot to fame, and heavy drug addiction, in the 1980s as a guitarist with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. “I tell them, ‘Look, I did it, brother.'”
After a year of concerts and promotion, the group is attracting a fan base.
Last year, Rockers in Recovery staged three concerts for more than 10,000 fans in South Florida, including one at the 12-Step Music Fest on Sugarloaf Key in November. This month, the band entertained 3,000 at the Addiction Community Awareness Concert during the International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach. And on Memorial Day, the group will reconvene at the 1st Step Sober House in Pompano Beach for a concert and picnic.
“Now we have people at these shows who have gone into treatment,” said Byrd, a New Yorker who has been sober for 25 years. “And just think, one of these kids could have gotten into a car and killed a 5-year-old. When you’re dealing with drugs and alcohol, the next party could be your death or someone else’s.”
The group consists of Byrd; Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel’s former drummer; former Aerosmith guitarist and songwriter Richie Supa; and Todd Rundgren collaborator Kasim Sulton.
Each band member pulls in like-minded musicians to support the cause. Among those who have lent their names and talents are Christine Ohlman (Saturday Night Live band); Mark Stein (Vanilla Fudge); Jeff Kazee (Southside Johnny, Bon Jovi); and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ Chris Anderson, Neal Pawley and Muddy Shews.
The brainchild of South Florida radio veteran John Hollis, the cause is supported by an online radio station (RIRconcerts.com/radio-station) that broadcasts music, interviews, reviews and news on addiction recovery and other topics to 20,000 to 25,000 listeners a month via a 24-hour, live-streamed Internet signal.
The concept began five years ago when, as part of his Holistic Lifestyles Radio Network, Hollis interviewed Byrd and landed on a topic important to both of them: recovery. With the help of Byrd and Byrd’s longtime buddy, Supa, Hollis decided to create Rockers in Recovery.
“It seemed like a really great idea because I know when I speak in recovery centers and kids know who I am, I can get their attention,” said Supa, who lives in Plantation. “And half the battle is getting them to listen.”
After investing about $350,000 of his own money into getting Rockers in Recovery off the ground, Hollis is happy to have the financial backing of groups like the Treatment Solutions Network, Sound Pillow sleep system, Cannatelli Builders, All Florida Bail Bonds, 1st Step Sober House, G&G Holistic Addiction Treatment Program and Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Centre in Antigua.
“The whole lie about being a rock star and having to do drugs, we’re dispelling some of the myths,” said Supa, sober since 1988. “Now people are asking us to play. Now the phone’s ringing.”
Still a sought-after writer and musician, Supa’s other passion is a little gig he calls “Recovery Unplugged,” where he visits South Florida jails with his guitar and talks about the importance of sobriety. It’s now become part of Rockers in Recovery’s repertoire.
Last week, Supa and others from Rockers in Recovery visited the Fort Lauderdale Police Department to speak the sobriety gospel to 100 youthful offenders and their parents.
It helps that the Recovery Rockers speak from some high-profile experience. Supa has had the lead role in “Hair” on Broadway, played with Aerosmith from 1978-81, and written music for the likes of Gladys Knight, Air Supply, Tom Jones and Glen Campbell.
He nearly lost it all after what he called a young penchant for “innocent using” escalated to hard-core cocaine use. In the early 1980s, he was caught with cocaine, arrested and sent to a New York prison for three years. With the support of close friends like Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Supa got clean and was able to reclaim his musical career.
Said Supa: “I tell kids now, ‘I used to be part of the problem, now I’m part of the solution.'”
Rockers in Recovery
24-hour hotline: 877-799-8773
Next concert: Memorial Day Concert and Picnic, noon-5 p.m. May 26 at 1st Step Sober House, 450 SW Second St., Pompano Beach. Featuring Ricky Byrd, Richie Supa, Muddy Shews, Liberty DeVitto, Mark Stein, Christine Ohlman. For more information, call 954-826-4920.