Better than the real thing … sometimes

Posted On:01.26.2016

There is no getting away from it. We are all getting older. And that includes our musical heroes.

With the recent loss of theatrical punk-rock popper David Bowie, I really started to think about how many of our rock ‘n’ roll legends we are losing, either by them passing away, or even just retiring.

So many of the acts we have at the Arcada Theatre are those legends. If you are like me — an advocate for entertainers from the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll in the Fifties, to the “British Invasion/Surfin’ USA/Garage Rock/Woodstock” years of the Sixties and the “classic rock/disco Era/Motown Sound” of the Seventies — then you know the artists who recorded then are all in the latter stages of their careers, if not done altogether.

And as many of the ones who are left are supergroups that rarely tour, or are retired, how does the average fan get to experience the music of their youth on a regular, affordable basis? Well, if you are able to close your eyes and bring yourself back to those wonder years of seeing Led Zeppelin, Kiss, the Eagles, Pink Floyd … even Elvis, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra AND The Beatles … then there are tribute acts out there for you that will help you relive the experience.

I’ll be honest. Years ago, I was one of those “purists” who did not really give tribute artists the props they deserved. I thought: “How could they dress up like somebody and attempt to convince fans they are the real thing, even if for only an hour?” Of course, the “cheesy Elvis” factor didn’t help the situation. Some of these guys really are over the top with their attempts to capture the magic of The King. I recently even had an Italian try to convince me to hire him. I just couldn’t get past the “Hunka-hunka-a-burnin–a-love-a.”

But as the years went on, and experiencing the “real thing” became increasingly rare, more expensive and more impossible because of passing on, I began to take notice of these artists who emulated the greats. I began to understand what these entertainers invested into their acts. It brought my respect level up and I was astounded by just how good many really are.

I mean if you have your own sound, with your own original music, then you are what you are, and your fans are YOUR fans. That is a fabulous feat and the foundation of music. To expose your soul to the world, sharing your emotions and beliefs musically, is truly a gift.

But for these tribute artists, in order to be widely accepted, and to possibly make performing a career, the amount of dedication to their craft is an all-or-nothing thing. Not all actually look like the originals; some try, and some don’t. But the music MUST be spot on because the fans are pretty unforgiving.

You can’t mess with the music of our lives; if the act is covering The Beatles, then they better be note-perfect on “Hey Jude!” If you’re a Pink Floyd tribute and your “Money” is not “on the money,” you better stick to karaoke at the local bar.

Even many of the “real” acts themselves must somewhat reinvent themselves as the years go on, by replacing key members of the original group. Even though Chuck Negron left Three Dog Night for his own successful career, the remaining members still put on a great show until the recent loss of Corey Wells.

Danny Seraphine, Terry Kath and Peter Cetera have been gone over 25 years from the band Chicago, but the group still puts on a great show, and Danny and Peter do many fantastic shows with their own respective bands. Lou Gramm has been gone from Foreigner and is back to performing fabulously with his own band, but Kelly Hansen is incredible as the lead singer of today’s Foreigner — but he is still emulating what Gramm did years earlier.

One of my best performing legend/friends is Burton Cummings of the Guess Who. His own show is one of the best musical experiences you will ever have as the original voice of “American Woman” and so many other hits. But the Guess Who is still out there, with two original band members and lead singer Derek Sharp, who, along with Kelly Hansen of Foreigner, is an incredible performer just born to do what he is doing.

How about Styx original frontman Dennis DeYoung? He has been selling out shows with his band for years, and Styx continues to thrive. Are they both the “real thing?” It’s a topic of discussion at every rock club around.

Aerosmith, the Eagles and the Rolling Stones are examples of groups that have pretty much miraculously stayed together for decades. There are few and far between. God bless their ability to still knock it out of the park! Here’s to another 40 or 50 years together!

But when I watch Frank Livingston, “Jimmy Page” in the local Led Zeppelin salute band Kashmir, I marvel at his attention to detail, music ability and complete passion for his craft. The Kiss tribute Mr. Speed IS a true KISS show from their performance power, to the three hours spent putting on makeup, as they mirror the real guys. Song after song, it’s like having the real Gene Simmons spitting up blood right in front of you. Cool … I think!

There are the Andrews twins, brothers from Indiana who, along with twelve other fabulous musicians and vocalists, re-create a Pink Floyd sound that is incredibly like the real thing.

Heartache Tonight, the local Eagles tribute; Bad Medicine’s Bon Jovi show and Deacon Blues’ salute to Steely Dan are all absolutely incredible acts that perform an evening of fan favorites extremely close to being in front of the original bands.

I could spend pages on Elvis, but when Shawn Klush and Cody Slaughter come together to do our “Faces of the King” tribute to Elvis every year, it is a mind-blowing experience! From the look, the sound and the feel of Elvis, these guys bring you back, even if you are the biggest stickler of a fan.

The Liverpool Legends and American English are two fabulous Beatles’ tributes who capture the look but also nail the music with every note they perform. When Ty Stone shimmies across the stage as James Brown, it is actually scary. And when Shining Star does its Earth, Wind and Fire tribute show, absolutely nobody stays seated!

I have put together literally hundreds of Rat Pack salutes over the years. Local favorite Tony Ocean helps fans remember what it was like to be in the audience of a Dean Martin show like no other. I have met countless guys across the country who sing the songs of Sinatra, all doing their best out of respect to Ol’ Blue Eyes, and some really nail the “Do-be-do-be-do” Sinatra sound.

I have had the privilege of working with some of the finest tribute artists in the world, only some of which I have mentioned previously. There are many others who deserve to be mentioned here, but space will not allow me to do so. I have come to completely respect their efforts in attempting to keep their favorite music alive, and share the experience with fellow fans.

I now truly respect the countless hours of practice and the thousands of dollars spent on authentic costumes, instruments and equipment they have committed to their acts. I know the nonstop tough job of getting themselves booked enough to make it their regular job is an exhausting existence. But they keep forging ahead with their heartfelt salute to their musical heroes.

And they allow us to come along for the ride … This is my tribute to the tributes. Thank you for keeping our music alive and for the opportunity to shut my eyes and bring me back to being front row at the International Amphitheatre and the Chicago Stadium where I first saw many of my musical heroes.

You are a tribute to music and to those you emulate, and I salute YOU!


    • Great article. I couldn’t agree more. Oftentimes, eve with the best of intentions, many tribute bands can miss the mark and come across as an almost comic version of the band they’re trying to emulate. While I’m personally not a stickler on how the band looks, (unless of course, you’re a tribute to KISS, The Beatles or some other band where the individual members are so iconic), the sound is what always has to be there for me. Being based in Vegas, there seems to be a Sinatra impersonator on every corner. While many of them try to re-create the “ring a din-ding” swagger and attitude, it’s almost as if many of these guys have forgotten that Sinatra was, at one time, the greatest singer of his generation. Too many times, you find guys who have the look and the attitude but just can’t cut it on the musical and vocal front. The same can be said for the plethora of Elvis impersonators out there. Even some the “real” bands are mere shadows of their former selves. The Beach Boys are a perfect example of this. The Beach Boys come to mind. There’s really only one out of the original five members still touring with that band but because the music itself is so iconic, it’s long overshadowed the actual members of the band to the point where anyone can be up on the stage as long as the sound is there. At any rate, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It’s nice to see someone in the industry who seems to really get it with regards to the tribute band phenomenon. Many times, the good ones are REALLY good whether they look like the actual original band or not. Well done!

      • 2016-04-25 16:07:51

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