NEWS- Justin time: Western grad rocks the Pink tour

Ages ago, when Western Albemarle High School graduate Justin Derrico used to play innumerable gigs at the Outback Lodge with his rock band Majahkamo, they took the stage with a medley that spliced Led Zep's "Immigrant Song" along the Star Wars Imperial March. It was a striking– if arguably grandiose– calling card, but Derrico's recent gigs– including playing with R&B superstar Pink– suggest that he deserved it all along.

How did he get there? In 2002, the members of Majahkamo, which formed at Shenandoah University in Winchester, left Charlottesville for L.A. to try to make it in the music industry. "We were out there for a while, and then creative differences split the band up," he recalls. "We were going in different directions, tougher harder rock stuff, and it didn't really work." He ended up selling sandwiches instead.

Derrico bounced back with a six-month stint at the Musicians Institute, a sort of boot camp that typically advertises in the penultimate pages of seedy guitar rags. A week before graduation, he was recruited by The Calling, the pop radio prodigies behind the 2002 smash "Wherever You Will Go."

When the Calling– like Majahkamo– also bit the dust due to creative differences, Derrico came bounding back with another high profile gig. This time, he was working with Robin Thicke, up-and-coming singer and son of Growing Pains star Alan Thicke. Derrico played all over Thicke's record, which was released on February 13 and has since peaked at #6 on the Billboard charts, and also co-wrote one of the songs.

"It's doing awesome, thank God," he laughs. "I can make some money off it!"

Derrico eventually left the Thicke gig, but only because he found greener pastures. Through a long and convoluted sequence of coincidences and auditions, he managed to worm his way into a coveted slot as pop diva Pink's touring guitarist. The pressure was on.

"I had literally five days to learn 24 or 25 songs before we flew to Budapest and played for 200,000 people," he recalls.

He says he owes a great debt to Aaron Evans, his guitar teacher from the Charlottesville days, as well as staff members at Charlottesville Music such as Brian Craddock, Billy Brockman, and Wally Worsley. "I don't really come from a musical family," explains Derrico. "Those guys raised me musically."

And they're proud to see their champ all grown up– even if he is still just 24 years old.

"That guy is, in my opinion, the best rock guitar player in America. I'm not kidding," says Craddock, who was asked to join the platinum rock band Daughtry in late January. "He can not only do each style, he can dominate them."

Derrico shrugs it off. "I've done a lot of things stylistically, but my heart really lies with rock," he says,."I just want to shred, as tasteless as that is." 

And that's exactly what we can expect from Derrico's forthcoming solo album, which he is working on during his occasional trips to Charlottesville.  Craddock is serving as producer, and some of his old Majahkamo bandmates are on the roster.

"I'm calling it a shameless guitar record.  It's all the sh** that people won't let me play," says Derrico, "Over the past couple years, working as a hired gun, it can be very restricting.  On these gigs, you sometimes gotta hold back."

But Pink, who made a pronounced transition away from pop and into rock territory between Can't Take Me Home in 2000 and Mizundastood in 2001, isn't among the guilty parties. "She just lets us go," laughs Derrico.

Justin Derrico

Justin Derrico