Interview: Nancy Sayle discusses upcoming Rock Against MS Benefit Concert
Photo Courtesy: Miles High Productions and used with permission

The 5th Annual Rock Against MS benefit is an all-star-studded event and awards show that will take place at the beautiful Los Angeles Theatre on Saturday, March 25.

Hosted by comedians Bill Burr ("Breaking Bad"/"Date Night") and Craig Gass ("Sex in the City"/"Howard Stern Show"), this amazing evening of music, comedy, art and awards will raise awareness and educate the public about multiple sclerosis. The event will also raise money to build the first of many MS resource centers across the nation and outreach program services.

With nearly 60 of music’s biggest artists, this year’s event promises to be extra special as it will feature the live debut of Heart guitarist and vocalist Nancy Wilson’s new side project, Roadcase Royale. The evening will also honor the memory of legendary comedian Richard Pryor who suffered from the disease.

AXS recently spoke with Rock Against MS founder, Nancy Sayle, about this year’s event and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How did the Rock Against MS Benefit Begin?

Nancy Sayle (NS): I’ve worked in the industry as a publicist and a lot of clients are also my friends. I knew something was wrong with me back in 2007 and then spent the next two years trying to get the diagnosis of MS. Around the same time, I was also diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was unrelated. One night, I was over at [Billy Idol guitarist] Steve Stevens’ house and felt compelled to let him and his wife know. It was something I needed to say out loud. Steve’s concern for me was that I’d be going through this alone and would have no source of income. He said, “We need to do something for you." So, he called Billy Morrison [who had started Camp Freddy] and he was immediately on board. Then Billy started calling friends and it ballooned from there.

AXS: What made that original event transition into what it has now become?

NS: Two weeks before the original show, Clive Burr (one of the drummers from Iron Maiden) passed away from complications of MS, and on the night of the show, Mikael Maglieri (who owns The Rainbow Bar and Grill and The Whisky) came down. I remember as Glenn Hughes was performing, Mike whispered in my ear, “You know, my sister died from MS three years ago.” That moment stuck with me emotionally. It was one of those times where I took stock of some things. I started thinking about how many people live with this debilitating disease. What is someone like Sally in the mid-west doing? I had met so many people who can’t work and it makes me very emotional to think that they can’t do anything and they’re losing everything. So, I came up with a plan. That’s how we changed the progression into a non-profit.

AXS: What is your goal with the funds raised for Rock Against MS?

NS: Our goal is to create a three-program grant system for outreach across the nation. The first thing we’re starting with is The Rock House. It’s a resource center for people with MS and for their caregivers and family members to come and receive additional emotional and physical therapy. There’s a perception that people with MS are lazy but you have no idea what it’s like to wake up trapped in a body that doesn’t function. So, even if it’s just a place to go to get your hair washed or take a creative writing class, I want people to know that it’s OK. I want it to be a place where they don’t have to worry about the money.

AXS: Nancy Wilson from Heart will debut her new project, Roadcase Royale, at this year’s event. How did it all come about?

NS: I have been around Heart for quite a while, and when I realized we were going to be stepping it up and going into a bigger place this year, I emailed their manager and asked if the girls might be available. She told me that they were each doing something separate and different but then posed the question, “Do you want one of them?” I saw that Ann was going to be doing her own solo tour, so I knew it had to be Nancy. Then she told me it’s actually going to be her new project with Liz Warfield and Ryan Waters from Prince’s New Power Generation. She’s going to literally debut this killer band in this magnificent theater; it’s very exciting.

AXS: In addition to the musical guests, you’ll also be honoring Richard Pryor that night. What can you tell me about it?

NS: Originally, we put together a list of all the people who have helped us and work for free. They don’t say a word and bust their butts as if they were on tour. The Platinum People Award is to honor the humanitarian spirit of extraordinary individuals with unselfish character. Then, I decided to add an additional award for public figures who have created awareness and outreach to educate people about MS. Richard’s story resonated with me; he’s the unsung hero of MS. There was a time when a lot of people didn’t want to have anything to do with him because he did drugs, but he cleaned up, and in many interviews actually said having MS was a “gift.” At first, I thought he was crazy. But as I dug deeper, I realized that it helped him clean up his life and created a longer one; it was quite amazing. So, I decided to contact his wife and told her I wanted to honor Richard. We’re going to present a special award for Richard and have video rolling and do a little bit on his life. 

AXS: What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Rock Against MS?

NS: Even though we have 60 artists playing this year, it’s not just about the show. I want it to be hugely successful with big donations and am looking forward to another magical evening of amazing relationships and meeting new people.

The 5th Annual Rock Against MS Benefit will take place on Saturday, March 25 at The Los Angeles Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.

Headliner: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member and Grammy nominee, Nancy Wilson of Heart, to debut side project: Roadcase Royale featuring Liv Warfield, formerly of Prince’s New Power Generation.

Featured artists: Steven Adler and Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses), Jerry Cantrell and Mike Inez (Alice in Chains), Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy/Whitesnake), Jeff Pilson (Foreigner), James Lomenzo (John Fogerty), Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), Dug Pinnick (Kings-X) and many more!

Click Here for Tickets and VIP information.