[Dixielandjazz] Tribute Bands - A Parallel Universe?

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Sep 30 17:37:16 PDT 2003

It seems as if what goes around comes around. Here is a thought
provoking article about "Tribute Bands". Not specifically OKOM however,
the philospohy works equally well with the current state of OKOM. Can't
find your own voice? Become a tribute voice. Hmmmmmmm.

Is it art imitating art? I don't know, how about you?

Steve Barbone

September 30, 2003 - New York Times

Not Quite the Real Thing but Stars Just the Same


If there weren't enough Elvis impersonators out there, now there are
plenty of Bonos, Bruces and Blondies, not to mention Madonnas, Meatloafs
and Marilyns (as in Manson).

They're all part of a growing tribute-band scene, which provides some
consolation (or not) for musicians who dream of being rock stars but
can't and for fans who can see carbon copies of their favorite artists —
especially some defunct older acts — usually at a fraction of the cost
of the real thing.

Overlooked for years in rock-music circles and most often dismissed by
critics as schlocky Las Vegas lounge acts, tribute bands are
increasingly becoming headliners at nightclubs, concert halls and state
fairs, all of which see them as lucrative draws. They span the musical
alphabet, from Abba to ZZ Top. There are dozens of Beatles tribute bands

Of course like their first cousins, cover bands — which perform the
songs of many artists without trying to impersonate them — most tribute
bands languish in bar-band anonymity. But a handful, like Super Diamond,
a Neil Diamond tribute band that tours nationally, have become
enormously successful and have achieved pseudo-stardom in their own

Super Diamond, a San Francisco-based sextet, was formed 10 years ago as
a novelty act fronted by Randy Cordero, better known as Surreal Neil, a
38-year-old singer-songwriter whose uncanny impersonation of Mr.
Diamond's throaty, baritone voice is, well, surreal. The band regularly
fills midsize concert halls around the country, including Irving Plaza
in Manhattan and the House of Blues in Hollywood, and commands fees of
up to $20,000 a performance and ticket prices as high as $30 apiece,
said Daniel Swan, the band's agent.

For such bands there is no radio time or royalties from album sales
(although some bands sell CD's of their live performances at concerts),
so they rely solely on touring. Super Diamond plays about 120 shows a
year around the country — from nightclub concerts to corporate parties
and weddings. The band is scheduled to play two nights at Irving Plaza
on Oct. 17 and 18.

The tribute phenomenon has even had an offshoot on television. The Fox
network just concluded a short run of the reality talent show
"Performing As," an amateur karaoke competition where celebrity
impersonators mimicked stars like Britney Spears and Elton John and
competed for a $200,000 grand prize.

Tribute bands are also featured at state fairs and summer festivals. No
less than a dozen Beatles look-alike tribute and cover bands performed
in Cleveland last month during "Abbey Road on the River," an annual
festival held along the banks of the Cuyahoga River in the city's Flats

On any given night in most cities, fans are likely to find tribute bands
headlining nightclub shows. Randy Fibiger, a talent buyer for the House
of Blues clubs in Hollywood and Las Vegas, said that "Super Diamond is
definitely topping the list of tribute bands right now."

The onus is not on the tribute bands' to worry about the use of other
people's music. Establishments like the House of Blues or any business
that uses licensed music must pay yearly fees to music performing-rights
organizations like the American Society of Composers, Authors and
Publishers (Ascap) and BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) for the right to
perform copyrighted music. These groups represent songwriters, composers
and lyricists.

Lenny Mann, a computer programmer and musician from Ventura, Calif., who
created a popular tribute band resource Web site, Tribute City
(www.tributecity.com), said nearly 1,100 bands had registered on his
site since he started it two years ago.

"I don't see a week that goes by that a new band isn't registering,"
said the 44-year-old guitarist, who doubles for Jimmy Page, the famed
guitarist from Led Zeppelin, in his tribute band, Led Zepagain.

Despite his success with Super Diamond, Mr. Cordero, whose true passion
is his original music band, Tijuana Strip Club, admitted he had mixed
feelings about the genre he helped popularize.

"Even though I'm in a cover band, it hurts me to see so many cover bands
popping up all the time," he said. "People just go and support cover
bands and not original bands. It's sad. I guess I just have myself to

Rod Leissle, a founding member of Bjorn Again, an Abba-inspired group
that tours internationally, says there are about 150 Abba tribute bands
in England alone.

"There are so many tribute bands," Mr. Leissle said by phone from
London, where he lives. "I think everybody is tripping each other up."
What's worse, he added, "we've been blighted by people going:  "This is
easy money. Who are we going to imitate? Oh, the Rolling Stones? O.K.'

Bjorn Again is among the most successful groups on the tribute circuit
today. Founded in Melbourne, Australia, in 1988, the act is now a widely
popular franchise with five touring companies in England, Europe,
Australia and North America. All of the bands combined have played more
than 3,000 shows in about 50 countries, Mr. Leissle said.

Mr. Cordero and the members of Super Diamond say they stand out above
the clutter of tribute bands because they do not merely try to be a
facsimile of their muse; instead, they say, they use Mr. Diamond's songs
to create their "own" music.

Calling its act "Neil Diamond on steroids," Super Diamond interprets Mr.
Diamond's pop tunes with heavier guitars, mixing in contemporary riffs
by Guns N' Roses, Kiss and AC/DC, and with an alterative-rock tone.

"We've taken the rock aspect of Neil Diamond and pushed that to the
extreme," said Rama Kolesnikow, Super Diamond's keyboardist. "I think
we're even more original than some original bands."

Among the Neil Diamond — and indirectly, Super Diamond — devotees at the
House of Blues in Chicago one night last month was Erich Muller, the
Chicago-based, nationally syndicated disc jockey. For Mr. Muller, 37,
the show was a nostalgic trip; his first live concert, he said, was Mr.
Diamond's "Headed for the Future" tour during the mid-1980's.

One Super Diamond fan is Mr. Diamond himself. The 62-year-old Grammy
Award-winning pop singer has twice appeared onstage with his
impersonators, the first time a few years ago when he surprised them
before their show one night at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.

"It was amazing," Mr. Cordero said. "I remember he said to us, `Thank
you for doing what you're doing,' and I said, `Thank you for not suing
us.' " Then onstage Mr. Diamond and the band of pretenders played "I Am
. . . I Said."

"I felt a little more validated, somehow," Mr. Cordero said of the
experience. Despite their success, the members of Super Diamond and
other tribute musicians interviewed said they were still regarded by
many in the music world as a maligned underclass, although in recent
years the lines between original musicians and tribute players has
become more blurred.

Tim Owens, a part-time office supplies salesman near Akron, Ohio, and
lead singer of a Judas Priest tribute band, broke the music genre's
barrier in 1997 when he replaced the real heavy metal band's original
lead singer, Rob Halford, after he had quit to pursue a solo career.

Mr. Owens's rags-to-rock-star story inspired the 2001 film "Rock Star,"
with Mark Wahlberg. But in July Mr. Owens was replaced by Mr. Halford,
who rejoined the heavy metal band for its upcoming 30-year anniversary
concert tour and a new album planned for next year.

Eric Michaels, a Paul McCartney impersonator in American English, a
Chicago-based Beatles look-alike band, said critics of the genre were
missing the point. "It's all about entertaining people," Mr. Michaels
said. "People need to have the Beatles in their lives; they have a
longing to see them. We help them get that thrill."

As for anyone who mocks tribute bands, Mr. Michaels said, imitating Paul
McCartney's thick Liverpudlian accent, "Fooey on them, you know?"

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