Mitch Perry did not make my list of favorite race drivers this past week. However, he is at the top of my list as my own race driver coach and friend, and we share very parallel youth years.
Unlike me, he has gone on to become an accomplished racer and is one of LA’s most sought-after journeyman guitar players. What’s even better, is he, with his band, the Mitch Perry Group, has sent a message to the world in these dark times: Believe.
The Mitch Perry Group is releasing its first album, Music Box, expected in May — a delay brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. But that has not stopped Perry from releasing the first single with an accompanying video: Believe. The video shows the adversity that the virus has brought on – but looks to a future at the end of this tunnel, if we all just Believe.
Mitch has an illustrious career as a guitar player: His resume includes playing for Graham Nash, Edgar Winter, Cher, Aerosmith, Lita Ford, Michael Schenker, David Lee Roth, Quiet Riot, Steeler, Asia, Ratt, Talas, Heaven and many more. If you were of the MTV generation, you definitely saw him in videos.
How he and I met has much more to do with motorsport passion than just music.
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working closely with legendary veteran motorsports editor and All-American Racers historian John Zimmerman. We were both in the office working for Vintage Racecar/Vintage Roadcar magazine in Los Alamitos, California, and we frequently talked about music as well as racing history.
One day, he asked if I remembered the band Sweet.
“Of course!” I replied. “Desolation Boulevard was an awesome album, and Ballroom Blitz was the first single I ever bought – in kindergarten.”
We chuckled and he told me, “a friend of mine is playing guitar for them and they are playing a club nearby tonight. Want to go?”
That night, I met Mitch. We sat around a table before the show – which was electrifying – and talked racing history. “Cool,” I thought. This guy with hair down past his chest really knows a thing or two.”
What I would learn later is that we were both kids in the racing paddock so many years ago: My dad doing public relations for Carl Haas in the Can-Am series, Mitch traveling in the Formula Continental series with his dad, racer Steve Brownstein.
He knew all the big stars of the day, as did I. When his dad moved the family to the UK in the early 1970s to pursue Formula 3, Mitch was exposed to racing at a totally different level. That, however, marked the end of the road for Steve Brownstein’s career as a race driver, so they all returned to Florida and Mitch took up guitar. By the time he was 14, he was already playing the club circuit.
At age 18, he moved to Los Angeles at the urging of Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson, and has been there since, playing, recording and touring. That’s when the trouble began.
“After finishing Cher’s Heart of Stone tour in 1991 I bought myself a Mustang GT as a present, then promptly lost my driver’s license within a month!” he said. “I got two tickets for over 100 mph within a couple of weeks of each other. That prompted my Dad to actually encourage me to go to racing school, as in his words, ‘…would find out first hand that I wasn’t the ‘hot-sh*t’ I thought I was, and perhaps that would keep me from killing myself playing Walter Mitty on the street’.”
Perry took his dad’s advice. However, the plan didn’t turn out exactly as dad had expected. Perry wound up finishing second in the Jim Russell Grad Run Offs and with the prize of a half season of Formula Mazda racing funded by the school.
From there, beyond his music career, Perry was an instructor at Skip Barber’s stock car school, and then became an instructor at Dale Jarrett’s racing school.
Needless to say, as a friend and fellow racer, Mitch has been an awesome driver coach. He coached me to a victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in the first Sportscar Vintage Racing Association Mazda Heritage Cup race.
Mitch is still coaching, though now he and his fellow travelers in the Mitch Perry Group are encouraging everyone to look outside the darkness – and to Believe.