I Used to Disrespect Tribute Bands
Updated: Oct 17, 2018
There are two personality types when it comes to how musicians-in-bands relate to music and each other. Keep in mind that these 2 types are along a continuum; most guys are a combination of both - just more of one than the other to varying degrees. I'm speaking in extreme terms for the sake of clarity and to make the point:
What I'll call Type 1 considers 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. These are the guys who transcribe and memorize parts and solos note-for-note and play them perfectly every time. They are like classical musicians in that regard. Classical players play their parts perfectly every time. The parts are set in concrete and not to be messed with. That's the mind-set.
Type 1 musicians obsess over gear - what brand of amp was used, what make/model/year of guitar? What string brand/gauge? What pedals were used? What brands of pedals? What mics were used on the amp? Then they go out and buy those specific things so they can sound just like the recording.
I know guys like this who claim they can tell the difference in sound between brands of batteries in their effects pedals - or the difference a straight guitar cable or a curly guitar cable makes to the sound.
They spend hours on the research, learning the parts and other homework. Their bands rehearse incessantly.
This kind of musician is GREAT at being in a tribute band.
I used to look down on tribute bands, but then in 2013 I saw one that changed my mind about the whole tribute band genre.
I was in a band that was opening for the Little River Band. There was another band on the bill that was a Rolling Stones tribute band - I can't even remember the name of the band. I remember thinking, "The Stones are STILL touring! I can go see the REAL thing! How can a Stones tribute band possibly get any traction?" I thought the whole point of a tribute band was that it existed because the original no longer did. And you younger, less fortunate people who never saw the original could see the second-best thing, a tribute to the original.
I ran into the guys backstage - they were already in costume and in character - talking in Cockney accents - the whole nine yards, even though they were from the American mid-west. Pretending to be the Stones. I thought it was ridiculous; I couldn't accept the premise.
Then they hit the stage. I watched from backstage with my mouth hanging open. I couldn't help myself. Keep in mind that I saw the Rolling Stones live in '72. The REAL Rolling Stones. The front man in this band LOOKED like Jagger, he MOVED like Jagger, he SOUNDED like Jagger. The guy had obviously studied Mick Jagger like an actor - a real actor - would do (is "real actor" an oxymoron?). The guy playing Keith Richards looked like Richards, moved like him, played guitar like him. It was like a time machine - I was transported back to 1972. Tiny time-pills were going off in my brain; I actually smelled weed and patchouli!
I realized that because the Rolling Stones were in their 6th decade and still touring, these guys could have this job for the rest of their lives. They were the young Stones now, but they could age the act just like the Stones aged. This thing had legs. It could go on for decades, because the Stones have gone on for decades.
I was so impressed by the surreal-ness of it all I got a little bit of video:
See what I mean? You gotta respect that level of Type 1 musicianship and craft. It's not just the music, it's the whole package. The clothes, the acting, the haircuts, the attention to detail.
I have no idea if they're still together. I hope they are because it would be a real irony if a Rolling Stones tribute band broke up.
Watch for the next blog as this series continues with more on Type 1 musicians.
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