Saturday, April 22, 2006 

The BIG World Of Tribute Bands

"A tribute band (sometimes tribute group) is a musical group created in order to specifically play the music of a well-known band, often one which has disbanded or ceased touring. A tribute band rarely includes any members of the original band whose music is being honored." Wikipedia

I've recently become quite familiar with the tribute band industry. For the record, a tribute band isn’t the same as a “cover band” (i.e., a band playing any number of hits from assorted artists). A tribute band does its best to present an accurate re-creation of whatever famous band they’re emulating - and lots of 'em are making bank. In the past year or so, after talking with various folks I know in the music business (soundmen, musicians, agents), I came to learn that a well-produced tribute band can often make more than the original act (or whatever’s left of it). At the top tiers, we’re talking anywhere from $10 - $15,000 a night. That’s some damn good cake for a glorified cover band, and part of the reason I got involved with this one small – but robust - part of the music industry.

NAMING. Almost as important as the musicians, art direction, wardrobe, etc. is the chosen name of a tribute band. Probably the most common approach I’ve seen is picking a recognizable song title for the band name: Tequila Sunrise (Eagles); Elevation (U2); Think Floyd (Pink Floyd); Crash (Dave Matthews); Lez Zeppelin (all-girl Led Zeppelin tribute); Ghost In The Machine (Police); and on and on and on. For the tribute band I’m working with, most of the obvious song titles were already taken as dot coms, so I kept trying different variations until I finally found a free name that seems to be doing a good job with getting agent's attention. Here's some background on how my particular tribute band project began.

DAN MCGUINNESS. I first became aware of Dan McGuinness through one of my sites, and don’t remember why I decided to give him a listen (there's a million of 'em out there). NOTE: I’ll be sharing a related story regarding this tribute band at another time- and it’s not pretty.

One thing I noticed about Dan right away: He’s an excellent singer who can really “scrape the sky” with his voice. In my experience, there’s not that many male vocalists around who can really get up there (hitting a high A, B or even a C), who also have power, resonance, great pitch and timbre/body. Upon hearing him, I couldn’t help but think about a famous singer who could be described the same way: John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival. And that’s when the possibility of doing Creedence Again: THE CCR Tribute first happened.

BLESSING OR CURSE? As Dan and I got to know each other over the next several months, I came to discover he was a huge CCR/Fogerty fan, and knew a ton of their songs already. I also discovered Dan was struggling with a similar issue as some other “tribute” artists: Having their own original songs & career eclipsed by the easier-sell, instant recognition buzz and fast paycheck of performing famous songs by famous artists. What’s more, the tribute band industry is tied to the professional impersonator industry, which isn't particularly well-respected by musicians who invest untold hours and years to hone their craft. But Dan’s not quite the same as others in the industry, because I don't think he looks much like John Fogerty (he's actually closer to a blonde, he wears a brown wig for the CCR show); but imagine looking like Julian Stephon.

JULIAN STEPHON. Meet Julian Stephon from Chicago. I first
encountered him a year
or so ago playing some X-mas benefit in downtown Chicago with Chip Znuff. Julian was impressed with my tasty "popcorn" funky rhythm fills on guitar (I've played my share of funk, folks). I appreciated his onstage presence, and told him so. As far as "tribute vs. original" musicians go, I think Julian’s story falls under the “blessing or curse?” category. A few years back, he did the Las Vegas “tour of duty” in some “Legends”-type show, made bank, but walked away after a while. Why? You guessed it – to try establishing his own identity as an original artist. I was interested in helping him get his marketing together with the Prince thing, but that fell apart quickly, primarily due to his indecision on what to do about the “Tribute vs. Original” issue. To me (I was right), the quickest payoff is a good tribute; trying to push an original act is a much tougher sell. . Unless an original artist is strong in at least a few of the categories of killer tunes, heat/buzz, media, following, management, etc., trying to make decent money ain’t easy. For the record, I could care less about the “artistic or creative” payoff of being in and/or working on a tribute band. To me, a tribute is just a glorified cover band, no undiscovered mystery for me on that one; it’s all about the benjamins, baby (and maybe some fun in between). FYI, my name choice for a Prince tribute: “Purple Revolution.”

BLESSING. Julian told me some stories about being mistaken for Prince (including one where he caused such a buzz at an airport, security believed him to be Prince, escorted him to some secured VIP section, and even sent a limo to pick up him from his destination city). He says he's been onstage with the real Prince a few times, has met him, etc. If Julian isn't one the premier Prince lookalikes, I'd like to see who is. I’ve also seen video of his live Prince show, with girls rushing the stage, and some genuine excitement from the audience. All this points to a nice, relatively easy paycheck.

CURSE. No matter what he does, how good his songs or musicianship or vocals or showmanship, he'll NEVER be able to get away from the fact that he looks SO much like Prince - right down to his diminutive stature.

INSTANT SUCCESS. Even though I did a lot of research before going down this road (first-hand and online), there was no way I could have anticipated the kind of immediate results a CCR band would produce. In fact, I've never experienced an easier sell with any musical project I've ever been involved with.

OUR VERY FIRST GIG FOR CREEDENCE AGAIN is at the gorgeous Liberty Theatre in Ft. Scott, Kansas on May 26. It has to be said that this is a unique scenario, quite rare (but some people say the same of the projects I’m involved in, so I’ll take it). Check this out: The venue is flying us in from Chicago, providing transportation to/from the airport, providing lodging, backline (i.e., renting amps & drums), and paying us well. Did I mention this is our first show EVER? What’s more, the agent (Dave “Elmo” Bailey) and I hit it off so well, we’re in talks about some of the other projects I’m involved with playing at their venue (including The Rock & Roll Kitchen, HankFest, Art Of Halloween Festival, Twang & Thunder, etc.). This is NOT a common occurrence, folks.

AGENTS CALLING ME?!?!? The most bizarre sensation I’ve experienced in quite some time – agents calling and emailing me from around the country, unsolicited, inquiring about Creedence Again. As most bands will tell you, trying to get through to booking agents – much less gettin a return call – is a real bitch. Especially for an unknown, first-time act with no history of any gigs. But that’s what happened, and has been happening, with this band. Refreshing as hell.

THE POWER OF BRANDING/POSITIONING/MARKETING. As part of my research, I looked at a LOT of websites for various tribute bands; Most of them really suck. I’ve gotten lots of compliments on the site for the CCR project, and the reaction from talent buyers is proof positive that if you know what you’re doing with your whole presentation, the right people will see and react to it. In my experience, the reason good design & branding is so important and valuable is this: You can look like a million bucks, instantaneously. So, in a way, Creedence Again is MY tribute to good marketing.

TRIBUTE CITY. For a good site with tons of bands, visit TRIBUTE CITY.

Saturday, April 15, 2006 

Hank Williams Writes Again?!?

For the last few years, I’ve been involved with what I feel is one of the better songwriting contests around – The annual “Ghost Writers In The Sky” International Song Contest. The contest invites new songs, written in the style of Hank Williams, Sr. Only one voice & one guitar are allowed, plus a 3-minute running time. Songs that sound the most like Hank (plus overall quality) are chosen for final online voting.

I’ll get into details about this unique contest later (last year's grand prize was a custom-inlay Washburn dreadnought); but for now, enjoy this short video promo clip, featuring 2005 Grand Prize Winner John Lilly’s “Blue Highway.”

Friday, April 14, 2006 

Mexican Chefs Who DON'T Cook Mexican

Immigrants and illegal immigrants in the U.S. are real hot topics right now. Demonstrations in the streets; politicians weighing in; the related issues of border “security,” terrorism, international job outsourcing, racism and ethnic profiling right behind. But I haven’t seen too many headlines about one simple fact: If no one hired illegals, there'd be a lot less motivation to come to the states to begin with. Certainly bears discussion for who's REALLY to blame for the current situation...

As the topics here are dedicated to food & music, I'll do my best to keep on track, but this is one I’ve been been wanting to address for quite some time: Mexican chefs I know - with literally thousands of "American" fans - who cook anything BUT Mexican cuisine.

A JOB THAT NOBODY ELSE WANTS TO DO? We've heard our head "Fearless Unbending Cocky King" (you can figure out the abbreviation) George W. say that immigrants do jobs "nobody else wants," but one thing's for sure - he's not talking about being a chef. The chef is THE king (or queen) at a restaurant. Chef is a French word, derived from “chief”; the boss. There are other definitions of a what a chef is (School or no school? Big resume or no resume?), but whenever somebody says to me “Hey - aren’t you that singing cook?” or “How do you like being a cook?”, here's what they hear from me: “A cook takes orders – a chef gives 'em.”

More to come...