Walter Payton. Gary Fencik. Wilbur Marshall. Although most of you may recognize one of those listed, its a fair bet that unless you are a rabid Chicago Bears fan, two of the names are unfamiliar to you. Walter Payton, a Hall of Fame Running Back for the Chicago Bears (the greatest EVER) is the most recognizable name of the three. Fencik and Marshall were phenomenal at the positions (Fencik - Safety, Marshall - Linebacker) so when I tell you that as a youth I wanted to be them, it should be of no surprise. It seemed like every time my cousins and I got together and play a "pick-up" game of football I pretended to be one of them. As the saying goes, "Imitation is the purest form of flattery" but what does that have to do with a music blog? Well...
It has quite a bit to do with it actually. Although hundreds upon hundreds of kids tried to emulate their favorite NFL player, a vast majority of them never was able to know if they would have been honestly flattered by our imitation of them. Musicians are no different and through the inordinate amount of really bad "cover bands" there are some that really stand out. Generally I give as little effort into seeing some of these bands because most of them are just "Trash". In an odd twist of reality some of these bands have a huge local following and so they tread forth but usually they are a "Johnny come lately", sadly never becoming anything more.
It becomes necessary when looking at bands that play "covers", that one recognize there is more than one type. As I mentioned earlier, there is the standard, prototypical type of band which plays "covers" and becomes self-inflated with delusions of grandeur, (stick with me here for a minute) and subsequently stays static as a cover band. While there are some really good cover bands (I have written about some great ones), there is another form of band that can be called a cover band, but is entirely different: tribute bands.
The world of "tribute bands" is similar in its intent as a simple "cover band" but it distances itself in certain ways that do set it apart. Such a band has to first of all master the music of the band (and lyrics), but it then has to appear on stage as the band they are emulating. Not to be forgotten is the importance of stage presence, and at least attempt to have similar looking props. Their stage presence is as important to their success as it is to the band whose name they are portraying. Although a tribute band isn't the actual band, they must act as if they are.
On November 30th, 2012 I made another trek to the Mississippi Moon Bar to see the band ZZ-3 (a ZZ Top tribute band). I knew nothing about the band and to be honest I almost didn't attend. My desire to not see the band had nothing to do with them being a tribute band, or the fact that I had no idea what I was going to see. During the summer I saw a tribute band, a ZZ Top tribute band, and although they weren't terrible they just weren't my cup of tea. My greatest fear would be that they might be cheesy and just a "cover band" (yes I said cover band).
When ZZ-3 took the stage any snobbishness I had, quickly went out the window. The three men that took the stage looked the part, and they had a fairly simple stage presence and from what I can see, so does the real ZZ Top. The music of ZZ Top is bluesy rock so the complex sounds of the amalgam of the two can present problems for any musician. The realm of blues and its very nature dictates that one must have not just written the music, they must live it. We have all had the "blues", but its not the same as playing the blues is a different story.
As ZZ-3 began to fire up with "Got Me Under Pressure" it was as blunt as a frying pan to the head, this band was great! Of all of the songs the band could have started with, that selection was genius! I say that because first of all its my favorite ZZ Top song but also because it has a hard edge to it. With that "edge", ZZ-3 was able to get the crowd into the experience while highlighting their musical talent.
What I found refreshing was the fact that although they were emulating ZZ Top, at no time did they try to replicate their vocal styles. The vocals were out of this world but more importantly they did replicate the original music perfectly. Certainly those in the crowd could have given two shakes what the vocals were regardless of the music, the reason being they were that good.
As I look through my notes (yes I do keep notes), I am taken aback by the fact that the band actually played some music I had absolutely no knowledge of. I think that made the experience better because I it forced me to look deeper into the music of ZZ Top. The band had two sets with an intermission so during the intermission I did a little research. I would be remiss if I didn't say that I would kiss the inventor of the "smart phone", as I used mine frequently during the intermission. Using pieces of lyrics and the occasional song title the band mentioned, I pieced together my notes.
Following the intermission the band came back out, this time in different attire and with the signature white, furry guitar and bass whilst performing some of my all time favorite ZZ Top songs. Songs like "Rough Boy", "La Grange", "Viva Las Vegas" and "Gimme All Your Lovin' " blew forth from the stage with the power of a tornado hitting a trailer park.
An interesting phenomena occurred during the aforementioned "tornado" and it made me fairly nervous. At one point in my recent past I was an EMT and one of the things I had to do was patient assessment so when I saw a grown woman flailing about I became concerned. Watching her for a little while I realized she wasn't having a seizure nor was she possessed but the music was influencing her actions.
ZZ Top is a band that should be included in any discussion about rock music, as well as in the realm of "blues". I would contend that nearly every person in my age group would know of ZZ Top as well as their music and that is a testament to the success of the band. Add to the assessment of the band the fact that within the last five months, FIVE, I have seen two ZZ Top tribute bands. The importance of that fact is that ZZ Top has other musicians paying tribute to them by creating a tribute band in the first place. I suppose that imitation really is purest form of flattery. Great job guys, and come back soon!