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Thoughts on the Tribute Band Experience

   I've been in two "tribute acts".  One for Red Hot Chili Peppers and one for Tool.  In both cases, I thoroughly enjoyed delving in to the drumming because bother bands have absolutely fantastic drummers.  Now I know how Lassie felt.  <<LASSIE>> "Accept no substitutes".  But what a great way to delve in to music and drumming you really dig.  Provided the band carries their weigh.

   Oh yeah - that's why I'm writing this...

   I have been in two "tribute" bands - I prefer to just call them "cover bands" and that is because that is what they are.  "Tribute" is a little hokey and suggests the original artist/band is deceased or otherwise retired or permanently out of commission.  I don't want to seem like I'm rushing anyone in that regard.  The first band of this sort was a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band and the second one was for Tool.  I learned a lot of good drumming in both, but for me the latter was more challenging and geometrically more rewarding.  I got to work out drum parts that previously I only ever had time to play on my car dashboard while crying aloud, "I need time to figure this stuff out!!"

   I'm glad I had those experiences but they weren't full of sunshine and professionalism.  I've observed other such bands in-person and in watching videos and a consistent point is that the weakest link in each and every band is the role that people would assume is the most popular - the singers.  They typically are the ones who never studied their craft in any fashion it seems, yet they (typically male) have a conjured alpha-type demeanor.  Conversely, I remember in one of the variants of a Tool cover band I was in we were checking out different singers and the very best one - he practically hid in the corner he was so painfully shy.  That was not going to translate to a terribly convincing stage presence.  So I guess I've seen both ends.

   Perhaps I am going slightly off-topic here but generally those who sing but also play another instrument are far superior to those who "just sing".  And cover bands typically contain the latter.

   It seems a common pratfall of any tribute band is when any start to think that they are on the same level as those they are copying.  I'm not sure if audiences perceive this but I see it from behind the scenes as well as my experience playing in these cover bands.  I find it comical more than I find it off-putting.  The off-putting part is when they don't have the humility to practice to improve repeated issues or mistakes.  Particularly with counting!  Imagine these issues in a Tool cover band!  I was fortunate that the guitarist I worked with was also a drummer and it was no issue to count out difficult passages.  You would think in a Tool cover band that everybody would have great counting facility.  Nope!  However, this is also a general musicianship issue with any type of cover band. 

   (1) The musicianship generally was sub par.  Not because the musicians weren't good enough but they were generally lazy.  Foolish assumption it is that by mocking a cd you are on a par with the muscians that wrote the music.  Based on that misconception, those same musicians that have no problem expecting money for performance could never be bothered with giving people their money's worth.

   For me learning grooves by Chad Smith and then Danny Carey was pretty fun and above all, I learned a lot about drumming so it was a no-lose situation.  We'll mostly.

   So what is my beef with tribute acts? 

   (1) Those who conflate their rendered imitation as the being the real thing.  They are not the source.  Anybody can learn someone else's brilliance.  Well, most anyone.
   (2) Booking agents that demand you look just like the band.  I was in a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band and booking agent refused to book us because we didn't look like the band.  This came from a short, chubby pot-smoking ghoul with an unrestrained Marty Feldman lazy eye - which I guess is "the look" for a booking agent?
   (3) I'm probably considered old-fashioned but I would much rather see a tribute act insert their own personality into the music and performance.  I once saw a Tool tribute where the drummer played a 3-piece kit!  I thought that was absolutely brilliant particularly where most of the time tribute drummers go in to hock buying every gadget.  Great, so you have all the gear that the actual band's drummer doesn't even use anymore. 
   (4) Why do most of the singers for Tool tribute bands have singers that could barely pass for Joe Cocker's vocal doppleganger.  Tool has a few more song's than 'Sober'.

   For example, after Tom Petty died, everybody and their grandma dis-ingenuously rushed out to form a "tribute" - like a gaggle of vultures.  What is this knee-jerk instinct for musicians to anounce they "always loved" a musician only after they die?  Is there a lack of confidence to aver similarly while the artist breathes?    I believe it's the instinct to seem relevant by those who live for "likes" on the online social ghettos.

   When I joined my first "tribute act", a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band - it was funny that our "John Frusciante" acted like "Flea" and vice-versa.  Close enough...close enough...but the booking agent, a short, chubby pot-smoking ghoul with an unrestrained Marty Feldman lazy eye (aptly referred to by local musicians as "the Troll  of Rock and Roll") wound up refusing to book us for not looking like the band.  There is a great Genesis tribute band from Montreal called Over the Garden Wall.  If you closed your eyes you'd swear you were hearing THE actual band play Lamb Lies On Broadway.  But when you open your eyes you experience a visual heresy with couple guys wearing worse wigs than Quiet Riot's Kevin DuBrow which I suspect even that band was harangued by their management to "dress up".  

Kevin dubrow: "Why Abacab when you can Uber?"

   My second experience with such bands, one for Tool, satisfied a growing interest to figure out some challenging drumming that belonged to songs I enjoyed listening to.  I regard it as a definite positive to have scratched that itch but dealing with singing prima donnas was painful.  So I can honestly relate to those who do such a gig because they sincerely love a band's music.  Why not?  I don't dare judge that conviction.  I also wouldn't judge negatively someone who does it for the money after all, "money makes the mare go!"  But the external aspects can make it a joke:

    From my own experiences or what I see in other "tribute" acts is that some of the musicians conflate their renderied imitation as the real thing - they think they are on a par with the writers.   It's almost always the singer.  It's embarrassing.  With Tool it seems most of the tribute singers couldn't pass for Joe Cocker's vocal doppleganger.  Do you really need to witness a chubby lad donning a cowboy hat and sunglasses and singing from this throat as if in the final throes of a successful exorcism?   This works for people?

   But people are generally enthused by lights and a romantic notion that in case the people on stage ever become well-known they need to be relevant.


It's a dance between a severely misguided perspective listeners have and the illusion of a performer who thinks adulation equatres accomplishment.


   Thoughts? Comments? Criticisms? I'm open to read your thoughts!