"Most addicts and alcoholics need that stuff to believe in themselves. That's why they call it 'liquid courage,' right? But what we are giving them is musical courage."
Longtime Huntington Beach resident Wesley Geer knows what he's talking about on both fronts. The innovative guitarist, songwriter and producer is 6 1/2 years sober, and in the past couple of years has developed a program to help those who struggle with the same demons that nearly cost Geer his career and perhaps much more.
In the 1990s, Geer helped form Hed PE. Blending punk and hip-hop, the group would go on to influence many other bands of the day while also carving out its own niche. But by 2003, Geer had had enough. His alcohol and drug abuse had reached the point where he knew he would die if he kept at it. Thanks in part to an intervention by his brother, Geer was able to save himself.
And then he got the biggest break of his career: an invitation to sign on as the lead guitarist for nu metal legend Korn.
"I tell kids all the time today, if you put your sobriety first, life will be amazing," he said. "Korn wanted somebody clean and sober. I would not have gotten that gig years earlier."
Then for years he toured the world, playing some of the biggest stages and living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle in an entirely different way. Last year, Korn's original lead guitarist opted back into the band, which meant it was time for Geer to start writing his next chapter. A friend of his, also a recovering addict, told him about a program that encouraged patients in recovery to write a song together.
Embracing that concept on a bigger level, Geer created Rock to Recovery, whose stated mission is: "Harnessing the healing power of music through playing as a group, songwriting and recording."
The program launched officially last July. Geer's organization acts as an adjunct service to treatment centers, enhancing their curriculum by allowing early-stage recovering addicts to be involved in the creative musical process.
"When I talk to people who are new to recovery, and we talk about music, pretty much everybody will say how important it is to them and how it helps guide their life," Geer said. "And then we get into it. Even if they have no musical experience, I set up the gear and instruments and give them some basic direction on how it all works.
"Then I look for the person who is fearless enough to sing or rap. And then we really get going. That's when the emotion starts to flow."
When Geer started out, he was doing two to four writing-recording sessions a week with patients. Today he finds himself conducting 16 sessions a week and working on expanding Rock to Recovery into Los Angeles.
"When I thought about what I wanted my legacy to be, I looked at what my skills were," Geer said. "I'm a musician and a recovering addict. Those are my attributes. And so I thought it's time to give back and help these people, many of whom are very young.
"A lot of them have been imprisoned, they have young children; it's a very hard time for them. But by getting them together, writing a song and then recording that song, it gives them a sense of purpose."
That music is such an amazing therapeutic tool comes as little surprise to Geer, who said he appreciates how much better and inspired his playing is now that he is clean. He also realizes that in many ways he is like the people he counsels — and that he has to be careful.
"I'm still working on [sobriety] obviously..... Doing what I do now does not grant me immunity. But it does help me stay focused. And hearing these people write about their lives and share such intense details is a learning experience for me too."
Once the songs are recorded, Geer provides a link so patients can listen to their finished product online.
"It's just about helping people believe in themselves and discover talents they may not even know about yet," Geer says. "It may not seem like a big challenge. But to an addict, it's everything."
It is hard not to get excited about the mentoring that Geer is doing. This is a rocker who walks it like he talks it.
For more information about the program, visit RocktoRecovery.org.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.