Underground Diaries, Part 20
Whatever happened to cover bands, you ask? Tribute bands, that’s what. I don’t know if they’re exactly a subculture. Maybe their followers are. But what a kick in the butt to cover. And how easy? Throw a rock pretty much anywhere in America and you’re going to hit one Led Zepplica or other.
Nature abhors a vacuum, which is why nature is so into tribute bands. Say a classic band dies in a mysterious plane crash. Kablam!!! Fifteen tribute bands spring up before the NTSB has a clue what went down. Artists don’t even have to be victims of gnarly circumstances anymore to spawn tribute bands. They can be pouting in Malibu… while a red-hot tribute band named for their last hit is playing packed bars in the Valley and sucking face with their old groupies—a red-hot all-girl tribute band. I’m not sure if that’s hot or completely hot. But I am sure this is Tribute Band Land.
There are hundreds of millions of tribute bands in Tribute Band Land. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But music clubs all across the country have tribute band nights. Weekly newspapers nationwide are supported by their ads (and escort service ads and gay masseuse ads). And online? Duuuude… There are tribute band websites with lists of tributed artists more extensive than my Napstered playlist! Yngwie Malmsteen tributes? Got ’em. PJ Harvey tributes? Hell, yes. Garth Brooks tributes? Natch. (Which begs the question: are there Chris Gaines tributes?)
I can’t say exactly when or how America became Tribute Band Land. I just woke up one day and it was. But tribute band websites like tributecity.com do provide a clue. They list tons of ’50s tribute artists, then ’60s tribute artists, then ’70s tribute artists, then ’80s…then ’90s…then… I mean, every ‘rockade’ there are more and more awesome bands and artists demanding tribute. It’s like a friggin’ pyramid scheme. We were bound to hit critical mass at some point.
Which is not to say tribute bands are bad. On the contrary, some are actually better than the originals (for example, any Sex Pistols tribute). Though I gotta admit, I used to figure tribute bands for sad losers playing dress up. Until I had my jock rocked off by Led Zepplica at a Laserium Live show!
I should have known: there are way more awesome musicians out there than could ever sleep their way to the top of the music industry. Everyone can’t be in tributed bands. There’d be no one left to pay them tribute. Plus, even for virtuosos, the music biz is a crap shoot…and a grind…if you’re lucky. Not so for tribute bands. As long as there’s a music biz there will always be bar mitzvahs to play. Which is probably why the lifespans of tribute bands are longer than the lifespans of bands they’re paying tribute to. Ever hear of The Fab Four?
Which brings me to the subject of name brands: audiences want them. My guess is a lot of former cover bands become tribute bands for that reason. Name brand tribute bands have a built-in following. Half their job is done for them. (Actually, so is the other half: writing the music.) Booking agents, too, want to know what they’re getting. A band of British unknowns doing originals isn’t going to book a U.S. club tour. But The Sex Pistols Experience did (allowing me to catch a surly, if under attended, show they did at the Malibu Inn). Name recognition is essential to getting decent gigs, what with all the distractions we face nowadays. Look what name recognition did for the Bush brothers!
Or the Beach Boys, who, like many classic bands left bandstanding, are essentially a tribute band to themselves. I mean, with the exception of Brian Wilson, the Boys have done nothing original in 40 years—meaning no disrespect, Beach Boys, I know just how it feels. Actually, I take that back. I don’t have a clue how it feels. I was never in an awesome classic band like the Beach Boys and I never will be. That is, unless I join a tribute band, and then I just might… See, tribute bands long ago became the farm teams for original bands. When, some years back, Judas Priest needed a new lead singer, they snatched Ripper Owens from where? Where else? Tribute Band Land!
Questions I have regarding Tribute Bands:
1) Have members of defunct classic bands joined tributes to their band?
2) Is there such a thing as a rap tribute band?
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