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Metal band led by Hillsborough Sheriff's deputy raises money for first responders

Scream Machine vocalist Jay Hajj.

Scream Machine vocalist Jay Hajj.

A deputy, an airline pilot, a poker dealer and a retired Air Force civil servant walk into a bar, take the stage and melt your face off playing your favorite hard rock hits of the '80s and '90s.

If this has happened to you, you have most likely encountered Scream Machine.

This menagerie of musicians is Jay Hajj, vocals; Brad Keith, bass; Craig Johnston, guitar and vocals, and Del Westcott, drums. Not only do they specialize in music by AC/DC, Guns 'N' Roses, Metallica, Rush and Van Halen (just to name a few); they also have a passion for performing benefit shows for an array of noteworthy causes. Their latest campaign is "Rock On for First Responders," a tribute concert with Pitbull Toddler on Friday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The event is being put on by Cox Media in conjunction with The Cowhead Show on 102.5 The Bone.

Scream Machine's lead singer Jay Hajj filled us in on the details.

Tell us about yourself and your job.

I'm a deputy for Hillsborough County. I have been employed there for 17 years, coming up on 18. I'm currently a community resource officer for the Northdale/Northwest communities.

What does being a community resource officer entail?

You handle specialized complaints; you do quite a bit of PR work in the community. You really wear a bunch of different hats; you organize community events ... You're kind of a liaison between the Sheriff's Office and the community.

Tell us about the first responders tribute concert.

There are two charities that they're raising money for. I don't know what actually launched the first responders benefit. They came to the Sheriff's Office looking for a law enforcement charity to split the money with a firefighters' charity. We have an in-house charity called the Lynn Sowers Memorial Foundation. The foundation was named in honor of Dep. Lynn Sowers, who died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. The funds raised go to help Sherriff's Office employees in time of catastrophic financial need. Lynn Sowers will be receiving 50 percent of the money and the Firefighters Benevolent Relief Fund for Hillsborough County is getting the other half.

I got asked to do it about a month and a half ago from Josh Maloney, the singer of Pitbull Toddler. Josh works at Dean Guitars. … We (Scream Machine) did a benefit at O'Brien's in Brandon for a friend of mine who had cancer. He passed away a few months ago: Dan Witt, he was a deputy of the Sheriff's Office. Josh and the team over at Dean donated a guitar to be one of the raffle items. That benefit raised just under $30,000. That was a real successful thing.

Scream Machine has a strong following on Facebook. With cover bands playing at almost every bar every night of the week, what is it about Scream Machine that sets you apart and has created such a strong fan base?

There aren't many bands around playing that type of music anymore. It's that — the equipment that we have, all top-of-the-line stuff; the light show that we bring.

I come from the '80s and '90s. Back then, every night you went out it was boomin' with bands: lines around the corner of the building waiting to get in the door. I'd go out and about here, looking for bands that I was interested in seeing. I just always had this thought that if I could get everything in line, as far as covering all the bases with trying to get the name out there to create a solid following, to build that kind of excitement in the club ... (that's the) type of music that I know a lot of people wanna hear.

What is the impetus behind Scream Machine?

We do it because we love to do it. It's not about the money. Yeah, it'd be nice to be paid more. To be honest with you, it gives me, my friends, and family something to do. It's something to look forward to. It's nice to be able to get out and give all my friends a reason to get together.

Rock On for First Responders

Scream Machine will perform with Pitbull Toddler at 7 p.m. Friday at the Hard Rock Cafe inside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 5223 Orient Road, Tampa. $10 suggested donation (all first responders get in free). (813) 627-7757. For more on Scream Machine, see

Metal band led by Hillsborough Sheriff's deputy raises money for first responders 08/08/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 9:53am]
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