Trickykid B-Side #7 - Attack of the Cover Bands: The Classic Rockers 

What I am trying to accomplish in this series is to analyze, compartmentalize and paint a clear picture of the phenomenon of the Cover Band as career from an anthropological view point. I am not an anthropologist, or an apologist of any sort for that matter and I guess that's what qualifies me. That and my desire/knowledge of music and its extension of the human spirit - I'm fascinated as much as I'm confused by the idea of professional cover band - and in complete anarchy of the idea of a Tribute band - one who performs solely as another more established band - hence the term tribute. But some of these groups are doing more than just performing the music - their dressing up and putting a real show together and taking it on the road as a professional but questionably legit act. Some are doing it in tandem while the original act is also touring and doing it better, younger and doing big business.
Let's start with a couple of smaller, local acts from the Dallas/Fort Worth area:


Kill "Em All        - Metallica
Blizzard of Ozz - Ozzy Ozbourne
Nov 2012           - O-Riley's - Dallas, TX



It was my long-time friend Mike's birthday and a few people had tried to corral a bunch of people that also happened to be in town for the Holidays to make his birthday special and a bit a reunion of sorts. A plan was made to go a shitty dive bar and see two Tribute Bands, the ones mentioned above.
We are all big fans of loud heavy Rock and Roll so this was an easy choice.

Kill 'Em All
 


Blizzard of Ozz 
 


Ok, so both bands were decent but let's analyze this a little closer - Kill 'Em All fall into the category of tribute band were no effort is made to appear as the band, its just four guys that really like Metallica and enjoy playing their stuff. Now Blizzard of Ozz, gave it a little more as the singer sounds and somewhat resembles Ozzy, an their guitarist, my buddy Burke (who also plays in 80s Hair Metal Tribute Red Leather) went as far as to don a Zakk Wylde look-a-like wig and the bullseye Les Paul guitar, but nothing over the top and as far as their production value and or budget would allow.

...But what about the bands that are able to combine the sound, the look and even mimic the original band's arena-sized production values?
Their's a new market that's emerged and its not just your local fare dressing up as their heroes. 
Their are groups that are able to mimic the heights of production that the very bands they are covering once reached, they are going on tour and doing it for real, living the life of a touring musician as someone else as tribute.

For example - Anyone that knows me, knows that Van Halen is my main passion in life, not just in music so clearly while researching all of this and something called Fan Halen comes through you can bet I'll be there - 


Fan Halen 
Jan 10th 2013​ - House of Blues - Dallas, TX



 

If the picture doesn't already tell the story, the band is paying tribute to what is probably the most desirable era of Van Halen - the David Lee Roth era centered heavily on the 1984 LP & monster tour that was the height of the band's 1980s commercial success and bacchanalia. 
Doesn't that always spell it out? I'm sure their are several Van Halen tributes touring the States right now but how many are of the Sammy Hagar variety and only playing like the 90s stuff? - Answer = NO ONE
They were so good and so entertaining that I couldn't imagine missing them if I was in the same city as one of their performances. It didn't feel like karaoke, it feel like a real band which begs the question: If your this good at mimicking the best guitar player in history, why wouldn't you start your own band?
And the answer is - they did - THIS ONE - and it could be possible that its because its becoming more and more difficult for an original act to get a gig, especially in suburban Los Angeles where these guys are from.


Hysteria - Def Leppard
Wildflower Festival
May 2013 - Richardson, TX


Opening the above show was a Def Leppard tribute called Hysteria that I later caught at an outdoor festival. My buddy Paul is their drummer (also Red Leather alumni) so naturally I got there early to catch them at both shows.
 

They, like Kill 'Em All, would fall into the category of a band not really concerned with copying the look but seemingly what group do they personally like that would cast the largest net? It's these type of questions that fascinate me that I hope to answer in this series - Like how do you decide which band to cover as a whole? and what is the main motivation because clearly its not the same for every group. Hysteria were decent and Paul's a great drummer, but this seemed like dudes that have seen the Foolin' video so many times its in their DNA and onstage it feels like them just copying what they've done in their bedroom mirrors so many times before. Yet, thankfully for their sake, they've handled their business well and have been able to take the show on the road as well to packed houses in secondary and third tier markets.

Ok, so what about the people that choose to cover/tribute the bands that have like one-of-a-kind musical chops? What does this say about them? Does this make them naive, arrogant and delusional or inspired, brave and proficient? I'm happy to report for the the next set of bands its the latter rather than the former.


Bebe Le Strange: A Tribute to Heart
Anthem - Rush tribute
Jan 19th 2013 - 
House of Blues - Cambridge Room - Dallas, TX


Ok you'd almost have to be crazy to try to take on the powerhouse that is the Wilson Sisters of Heart, but one thing you definitely have to be good. Whenever I've seen American Idol and I see some of the contestants when asked what song their gonna audition with and when the answer is Queen or Mariah Carey or even Heart, I have to question their tactic but appreciate their tenacity.
The two women that front Bebe Le Strange did the Wilson Sisters total justice and that is no easy feat - 
 

Bebe Le Strange


 
To hits all of those notes and consistently was truly impressive and immediately set them apart from most of the other tribute bands I've been researching for this project.
Next, ok so if your crazy (on you) to cover Heart, you would have to be downright batshit crazy to even remotely attempt to do Rush, widely considered to be one of, if not THE most musically proficient group in Rock and Roll history - and that's what the next two bands Anthem & YYZ set out to do - 


Anthem 



Understand that for Rush fans, the proficiency is part of the legend - It's analyzed and dissected and obsessed over, if the girls doing Heart hit a sharp note, no harm no foul, but with Rush, anybody coming to see this, is going to be the strictest and uptight of critics. Considering the mass undertaking at hand, they pulled it off pretty well.  They played as a four-piece instead of Rush's integral three-piece chemistry and their singer looked more like Weird Al than Geddy Lee but could sing note perfect (Editor's Note: Sadly I started this piece over a year ago and just found out as of press time that their singer Jason Robert passed away just last week, my condolences to the band and Jason's family) -  and in spite that this was their first gig in three years they played very well and put on an extremely enjoyable show.
 

YYZ - Rush Tribute
Nov 17th 2012 
Lola's - Ft Worth, TX



Where as Anthem took a more subtle approach with a few deep cuts, the Fort Worth Rush tribute YYZ for their last show ever took Rush's notoriously indulgent catalog to new depths of indulgence.



 
Led by maestro Michael Richardson, the band played as a three-piece and had the chemistry DOWN - the drummer's kit even looked almost identical to the master Neil Peart's himself. Going out with a bang, they played two sets that tested even the most attentive Rush fan and I don't mean that as a criticism as it was astonishing how well they re-created the most challenging and lengthy tunes from the band's discography, and sadly for Anthem, when put side-by-side they would pale in comparison to this band.
I'm convinced that Richardson can play anything and he's actually the catalyst that started this whole research project. Here's how:
As far back as 2007 a friend invited me to a show that exposed me to my first tribute band - a group led by Richardson called Protect and Swerve, which was a tribute to the Police. Another incredibly hard three-piece to tackle. I am a monstrous Police fan and this was also during their unthinkable reunion that year so my Police fandom was at an all-time high. Never previously exposed to a tribute band and in 2007 such a thing was not nearly as common - So almost offended by their audacity, I went almost with the intent to heckle them and in the first 30 seconds it was clear that they would be giving me nothing to heckle at and everything to cheer for. It was remarkable how good they were (and sadly they haven't played since) and just like that my entire attitude changed about tribute bands and suddenly I was ready to give literally any of them of the bands I like a try - My thirst for it was suddenly unquenchable and was eager to see and band that was paying tribute to a band that I could no longer see live.
The fallout to that is that Richardson and crew had set the bar so high that to this day I've still not seen a band pay tribute as well as they did to the Police that night....except for maybe how well YYZ did to Rush.




ZOSO: The Ultimate Led Zeppelin Experience
August 2, 2013
House of Blues
Dallas, TX



Arguably, the best of the tribute bands that probably has the most acts dedicating to recreating their history is Led Zeppelin, so that makes the competition even tougher and drains any originality of even the idea of tribute. Zeppelin is also a band that most musicians have been dissecting for 40 years, so you really have to have your chops up in a sea of imitators - its cliché now that Stairway to Heaven is probably the first song that most guitarists learn first.
There's a ton out there but soon the cream rises to the top and one will be recognized as the most legit or even in some cases "official". The Led Zeppelin game is even tougher in this capacity as the son of drummer John Bonham, Jason Bonham, tours often with his own in a sense "tribute" act, The Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience. But still some persevere and in this case, the best of the ones I have seen from research and live is the band ZOSO from Los Angeles, CA.

 
 

This was my first time actually seeing the band live. They make the same effort to physically resemble the members of Led Zeppelin, as they have its proto-heavy metal sound down cold. The pinched shriek and lewd moans of Matt Jernigan were dead ringers for Robert Plant's original vocal work. Fans who closed their eyes could momentarily trick themselves into believing that they'd been transported back to a mid-'70s Led Zeppelin concert. If there's a criticism to be leveled at the band, it's that they sometimes sounded a bit too precise. Only during the raucous blues of The Lemon Song did the band sound slightly unhinged.

Even the theremin solo on their encore song, Whole Lotta Love was a nearly exact replica of the familiar live version from The Song Remains The Same. Recreating each inflection was precisely the point.

Rare Fact: - Singer Matt Jernigan was the ORGINAL singer for Dallas legends Pantera - That's right, most people would answer Terry Glaze in a trivia contest because Jernigan never recorded with them, but he is from Arlington and the first time Vinnie and Darrell ever performed as Pantera, Jernigan was the singer.


 
Think Lizzy - Thin Lizzy Tribute
Sept 14 2013
House of Blues -  Dallas,TX


This next act chose a peculiar band to cover in Thin Lizzy as the band that is currently touring as Thin Lizzy and own the right to the name to do so isn't much more than a cover band themselves. Leader and writer of ALL of their songs, Phil Lynott passed away almost 30 years ago and when a band has such a dominating presence in the band, and that person is no longer in the group, yet the group chooses to carry-on you can bet its not with the best of intentions. So a Lynott-less Thin Lizzy makes about as much sense as asshole on an elbow - and it would seem silly, blasphemous even if they were to dress someone up as Lynott to fill that role - It's something that they are just unable to do - But a tribute band can do whatever they want, and in that case, oddly, they have the advantage.

 

 
Though the band played well and put on a decent show, its tribute moniker of Think Lizzy isn't very inspired, nor was the execution of the performance. This would be an example of "Its takes more than to strap on a wig and a guitar to get it done" - But again the strange thing, is that the closest competitor that this band has, is the original band itself and this one at least features someone that looks and (at least) sounds somewhat like Lynott.
 
 

Infinite Journey - A Tribute to Journey
Dec 27th 2013
House of Blues - Dallas, TX



Of all the bands profiled in this post, sadly I've saved the worst for last - I asked the question earlier that when choosing which band to cover entirely, what governs that choice? Is it taste, ability or strategy? - In the case of Infinite Journey it seems that its a little of all three and that's not necessarily a good thing.
 

As far as casting the widest net goes, it doesn't get much wider than Journey, especially in the context of whom they will be performing to in this capacity, a mix of young and older people, looking to have a few drinks and shout along to choruses they are familiar with and in this case Journey is the de facto group de jour.
So that could go for strategy, but after seeing them play, it seems its also about taste as well. Though it may seem like a contradiction because everyone likes Journey, those that would go see Journey or a tribute act like this are generally people that are more interested in a party vibe or something easy. They are not concerned with production value or if the band actually looks like Journey and if they do than that is all the academic. A band like Journey or anyone paying tribute is performing to the selfie-generation and are playing to a wall of cell-phones. Whether on purpose or not, Infinite Journey took full advantage of this as the band did not look nor sound like Journey and was straight up karaoke of songs from a band that define karaoke and for that no one seemed to care.


Stay tuned for Part II - The Cool Kids

Photos - 

Roy Turner

1 Comment

  • LeeZurly

    LeeZurly Fort Worth

    Cover bands. i love it. They have been around for centuries. You can catch the Fort Worth Symphony or any other for that matter playing music from hundreds of years ago on any given performance. And, hundreds of years ago musicians played the music of their peers and idols from hundreds of years before that, keeping the compositions alive. thanks for the blog. looking forward to more! Leezurly plays in the cover band Keepin It Real 1/22/2014 at The Grotto.
    Cover bands. i love it. They have been around for centuries. You can catch the Fort Worth Symphony or any other for that matter playing music from hundreds of years ago on any given performance. And, hundreds of years ago musicians played the music of their peers and idols from hundreds of years before that, keeping the compositions alive. thanks for the blog. looking forward to more! Leezurly plays in the cover band Keepin It Real 1/22/2014 at The Grotto.