Updated: Oct 17, 2018
In the first blog of this series, I Used to Disrespect Tribute Bands, I said that there are two personality types when it comes to how musicians-in-bands relate to music and each other. I qualified the statement by pointing out that these 2 types occur along a continuum; it's not all one or the other.
I defined Type 1: They consider the iconic recording of the song to be the goal. They are concerned with recreating the sound of the original recording as close as possible. The original recording is to them what the written score is to the classical musician. These are the guys who transcribe and memorize parts and solos note-for-note and play them perfectly every time. The parts are set in concrete and not to be messed with. That's the mind-set.
Before I talk about Type 2 I have a little more to say about Type 1.
I'm not a Type 1 but I have a lot of respect for guys who do the Type 1 thing well. Like I said in the previous blog, these guys are great at tribute bands. They're also great at doing cover bands as long as everyone else in the band is of the same mind-set. If you have both types in a cover band it never ends well.
Another thing I've realized about this type is that these are a lot of the guys who are the journeymen musicians that you see onstage with the really big acts. The general public doesn't know them but they are known in the industry. I have friends and also former students who do this - they play with some of the biggest acts in the world.
When you are in a situation like that, after the rush of playing in front of 10 - 20,000 or more people a night wears off, at the end of the day, you play the parts, you dress the part, you look the part and you act the part. If you're the hired gun for James Taylor, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, Pink, Toby Keith, Kelly Clarkson, Bruno Mars - whoever - you're on salary and you're playing, dressing and acting the part, just like being in a tribute band. This is true even though you're part of the "band" and may have even been the guy on the original hit recording. I see these guys backing up the big names on Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel etc. all the time. I see the same guys working with different acts in different touring seasons. The same guitar player that was on last year's Steely Dan tour might come through town with James Taylor this year. Hired guns.
Caveat: There are many Type 2 musicians who are hired guns - I'll talk more about that in the next installment of this blog series.
I was once a hired gun for The Impressions. Two out of 3 of the singers were the original guys. They had a musical director/bass player who traveled with them and led the band. He tried to get me to move to Atlanta where R&B shows form up to tour Europe.
Anyway, the Impressions would hire local guys wherever they went, do a rehearsal and then the show. I did 2 shows as an Impression in Kansas City and one in Omaha and then they moved on. If you're interested you can see who else I've played with or opened for on my bio at MasterGuitarSchool.com.
The closest thing to a tribute band I've played in was a band called Woodstock Flashback. We weren't a tribute band in the sense of copping a specific band. The concept was we dressed like hippies and only played songs from Woodstock - the original Woodstock in 1969. For those of you who know me personally this is not a big stretch - not a lot of "acting" involved for me! We were after a vibe, an atmosphere, not note-for-note parts. We were extremely loose - no rehearsals, do whatever homework you needed to do, just show up and any rehearsing was done backstage before the show or during the soundcheck and then go out there and wing it - that's a classic Type 2 approach (more on Type 2 later).
BTW - the original bass player for Woodstock Flashback was Stanley Sheldon; he's played with Peter Frampton (yes, Stan is the bass player on "Frampton Comes Alive!") Warren Zevon, Delbert McClinton and, as of this writing, he is presently touring with Grand Funk. He's one of those journeymen I was talking about. Basically a Type 1, but he seemed comfortable with the Woodstock Flashback approach so he's got a lot of Type 2 stuff in there as well. A well-integrated individual.
One of the Woodstock Flashback gigs was opening for Liverpool. Liverpool is one of the best Beatles tribute bands around. Talk about attention to detail! Anyway, I thought, "This could be cool! You've got Woodstock and the Beatles all together in one show!" Plus, a friend that I hadn't seen or talked to in decades, Steve Davis, just happens to be "George" in Liverpool. He is a pioneer of tribute bands. Steve is one of these guys that's meticulous about parts, gear and whatnot. He's perfect for a gig like that. He's so good at it he actually gives lessons to other Georges in other Beatles tribute bands on how to be George. He's THE George among Georges! He also plays in Liverpool Legends - the Beatles tribute show produced by Louise Harrison, George's sister.
I have to say here that Steve is a much broader musician than just playing Beatles tunes note-for-note. He's been a signed artist and recorded original music on Polydor Records among other things. One time back in the day I saw him playing somewhere and he was soloing using tapped harmonics. That's where you tap with your right hand exactly 12 frets above the note you're fretting with your left hand to get the octave harmonic. I've not seen anyone before or since that could do it with the speed, accuracy and fluidity that I saw Steve employing. At the time, I hadn't seen anyone doing it! George couldn't even come close, because as far as I know, George never did it. Steve and I went to the same high school but went separate ways - I was excited to reconnect with him.
"So," I said, "How's the Liverpool thing working out for you?"
"Oh man! I would have never believed it would last this long!" he said. "It's great! The money's good, we fly everywhere and all I have to do is put on a suit and a wig! I can go out to eat and nobody knows who I am. It's the best of everything! When we started this thing 20-some years ago we had no idea it would take off like it did - it was just a hobby, a risk and a labor of love."
"20 Years?" I said, "Dude! You've been George longer than George was George!"
Watch for the next blog as this series continues with an explanation of Type 2 musicians.
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