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Thread: Tribute bands: how much liberty can you take?

  1. #1

    Tribute bands: how much liberty can you take?

    Something that's been on my mind for the last...I don't know how many years, more than a decade for sure, but I've often times wondered about how much liberty a tribute band can take with the arrangements they choose to play onstage. A few cases in point:

    Led Zeppelin: anyone who's ever heard or seen The Song Remains The Same knows they didn't play Stairway To Heaven and No Quarter even close to the way they sounded on the respective records. If you've heard the bootlegs, you know they didn't even play the same from night to night. There was lots of improv involved. So do you replicate the studio versions, the versions on the live album, or do you improvise as the original band did, taking care to stay true to the band's style of improv (e.g. your proxy Page shouldn't be dropping John McLaughlin or Steve Howe licks into his solos).

    Should a Zep tribute band reproduce the backwards slide guitar lick in the choruses of Whole Lotta Love, or make do without it, as Zep actually did. Do you do a 15 minute version of the song, with bits of other songs thrown, along with an extended theremin solo?

    Queen: I once saw a Queen tribute band play Killer Queen, Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy, and Bicycle Race in their respective entirety, pretty much the way they were on the record. Well, ok, obviously four musicians can't recreate all the overdubs on the record, but they otherwise did everything. On Killer Queen, the bass player even whipped out a triangle at the appropriate moments (fyi: so did John Deacon circa 74-77) and the song's coda, and on Bicycle Race, they even did the bicycle bell interlude.

    But Queen never played those songs like that onstage, as far as I know. They were always played as part of a medley. Killer Queen, they'd do just the first two verses and the guitar solo, after which they'd segue into something else.

    Yes: do you do the Yes Album version of Yours Is No Disgrace, or the Yessongs version? Do you include that little jam on the intro? Likewise, should Ritual sound like the way it did on Topographic Oceans, or the way it sounded on Yesshows (or even the way it sounded on the Roosevelt Stadium show)?

    I guess what I'm asking is, how far is "too far"?

  2. #2
    Outraged bystander markwoll's Avatar
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    I think most people expect slavish replication from their tribute bands.
    Or they want a parody act.
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    I would say the sky is the limit. At one time there was a Zeppelin tribute band that did reggae versions of Zep songs. They were pretty well known for a while, but I can’t remember the name off the top of my head. There is Blue Floyd who do Pink Floyd music in a blues style. Lounge Against The Machine did lounge lizard versions of rock songs. There is a bluegrass band out there (again I am forgetting the name) that does bluegrass versions of hard rock songs.

    I am not much into tribute bands myself, but the ones that I have seen I like to see them branch the songs out a bit and not just be complete copy cats. The exception might be something like The Musical Box.

  4. #4
    Outraged bystander markwoll's Avatar
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    Dred Zeppelin pretty good stuff.
    Lez Leppelin probably does a great Plant.
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  5. #5
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  6. #6
    I've seen many tribute bands and they for the most part replicate the studio versions. There's a current Genesis tribute that replicates Seconds Out. It's fine with me either way. It's also fine if they improvise and add and mix it up a bit within the context of the song or genre. I don't like when they play rock band songs in a different genre such as reggae or blues or whatever. It sounds gimmicky to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartellb View Post
    I don't like when they play rock band songs in a different genre such as reggae or blues or whatever. It sounds gimmicky to me.
    If it works, though.....

    Dread Zeppelin not only played LZ as reggae, but their singer was an Elvis impersonator (late, overweight Elvis, of course). Sounds like a mess and a bad joke, but they did it quite well and it actually worked musically.

  8. #8
    I have an Allman Brothers tribute band called Idlewild West. We stay true to the spirit of the original six, but don't try and sound exactly like them. Of course, with this music,
    there is a lot of improv involved. I've had numerous guitar players in the band, and they all bring something different to the mix. I just got a great blind guitarist to do the Dickey Betts parts, Felix Bannon. He learned all the songs in two weeks! It really depends on the band you're emulating, of course.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Baribrotzer View Post
    If it works, though.....

    Dread Zeppelin not only played LZ as reggae, but their singer was an Elvis impersonator (late, overweight Elvis, of course). Sounds like a mess and a bad joke, but they did it quite well and it actually worked musically.
    The best part was they actually got sued by Elvis' estate because their original publicity had it that Tortelvis (I think that's what the lead singer called himself) was Presley's illegitimate son. I remember reading about this in Rolling Stone at the time, the official position of the Presley people (ooh, that's alliterative) was that this guy calling himself Elvis' son would damage Elvis' reputation, or something like that. And I remember the band responded by saying something to the effect that there's hundreds of feet of video footage of Elvis from the last years of his life that did more damage to his reputation than their schtick ever could.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by rapidfirerob View Post
    It really depends on the band you're emulating, of course.
    Well, yeah, I imagine with an Allmans tribute or a Grateful Dead tribute, no one would seriously expect you to play the songs the way they are on the records. Well, maybe somebody would complain that you're not playing Ramblin' Man or Truckin "correctly" (or complain that you didn't play Ramblin' Man or Truckin', at all, because you know, the real bands didn't always play those songs either). But obviously in those instances, emulating the records wouldn't be true to the spirit of those bands, anyway.

  11. #11
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    As far as they need to.



    IMO - if a live version sounds just like the album, I would prefer to stay home and listen to the original album.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveSly View Post
    At one time there was a Zeppelin tribute band that did reggae versions of Zep songs
    You forgot the Elvis-impersonating lead singer

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  13. #13
    Geriatric Anomaly progeezer's Avatar
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    A cover band is just a band paying tribute to more than one artist/band.

    Unless, as previously mentioned, you are a band like Musical Box, who are a different kettle of cloned fish.
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    Man of repute progmatist's Avatar
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    Concert violinist extraordinaire Itzhak Perlman once stated, to say there's only one way to play a song is a great insult to music. It's saying music is extremely limited. Besides, how many bands/artists worth listening to play(ed) every song they same way with each live performance? Never mind adhering strictly to the album version.
    Last edited by progmatist; 02-13-2019 at 12:04 PM.
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  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by progmatist View Post
    Besides, how many bands/artists worth listening to play(ed) every song they same way with each live performance? Never mind adhering strictly to the album version.
    Dire Straits: I've listened to several different live versions of Sultans Of Swing, from multiple tours, where Mark Knopfler plays almost exactly the same 5 minute guitar solo in each one. The only live version of Skateaway I've heard appears to have the same ride out solo as the studio version. If I'm not mistaken, he does the same trick on Telegraph Road on the live album too.

    Lynyrd Skynyrd: I've not really spent much time listening to multiple live recordings from Skynyrd, but from what I can tell, they played a lot of their stuff pretty much the same night after night, including that ride out solo on Free Bird. IN the recent documentary about the band, Al Kooper says that once the band left the cabin that they rehearsed in, there was "absolutely no improvisation" (or words to that effect). If he needed Allen Collins or Gary Rossington to do a second take of a solo, do a double track or whatever, he knew he could get exactly the same solo on the second pass.

    Pink Floyd: A lot (but not all) of stuff on the live albums and concert videos they did off their last couple tours sound virtually identical to the studio versions. And something like Comfortably Numb, which has a longer ride out solo than the studio version, Gilmour still seems to play the same solo on pretty much every version I've heard.

  16. #16
    My attitude towards covers is: if you’re not going to put your own stamp on it, what’s the point? That said, I don’t like those high-concept “one-joke” bands, either (e.g.: Dread Zeppelin or Hayseed Dixie, both of which were alluded to earlier), which are—at best—mildly amusing for a song or two, and really annoying after that.
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  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Progbear View Post
    My attitude towards covers is: if you’re not going to put your own stamp on it, what’s the point? .
    Well, yeah, but I'm talking about just doing a cover tune here or there, but "tribute bands". I guess my thought has always been, it'd be cool to play the songs the way they were played onstage, and when the band was prone to improv (be it Zep, Allmans, or the Dead), you incorporate that too. I guess I just always imagine people saying, "I don't like these guys, they don't play the songs the way I know them from the best of" or whatever.

  18. #18
    There's no hard and fast answer to this question. As others have pointed out, the sky is really the limit in terms of what a tribute band wants to do. If they advertise themselves as "honoring the music of {fill in the blank}" band, they'll naturally attract fans of that band. If they stray too far from the versions those fans know and love, they'll probably lose a portion of that audience, though they may gain or retain fans who have an interest in hearing something new, but still in the spirit of the band being showcased.

    Where the "break even" point occurs is almost impossible to determine. It depends on the band in question (Allmans and the Dead may get more leeway, Rush probably very little, and all points in between), and what exactly the tribute act is attempting. The only way to know for sure would be to try it and see if what you're doing resonates with the audience.

    "Tribute" does imply a certain degree of sticking with the basic formula, but I think any bands that had improv sections in their shows (including Yes, ELP, and others) could probably find ways to be creative in a way that is acceptable and maybe even enjoyable to the traditional audience. But then it comes down to the execution. So it still depends.

    Bill

  19. #19
    Member Staun's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by progeezer View Post
    A cover band is just a band paying tribute to more than one artist/band.

    Unless, as previously mentioned, you are a band like Musical Box, who are a different kettle of cloned fish.
    "Cloned Fish"? A great name for a band. Can I use it?
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  20. #20
    Outraged bystander markwoll's Avatar
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    Tribute bands seem to be able to charge the same ticket prices as the bands they emulate.
    I don't mean the hyper-inflated prices of the legacy bands, but certainly not 'cover band' prices.
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  21. #21
    Geriatric Anomaly progeezer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Staun View Post
    "Cloned Fish"? A great name for a band. Can I use it?
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    I saw a doors tribute band several years ago and while I didn’t expect the guy playing Morrison to creat a riot I did expect him to be more animated in his approach. He looked and sounded a lot like Morrison but him and the band pretty much just played the songs very close to the original records. It was kind of disappointing.


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  23. #23
    Studmuffin Scott Bails's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sputnik View Post
    There's no hard and fast answer to this question. As others have pointed out, the sky is really the limit in terms of what a tribute band wants to do. If they advertise themselves as "honoring the music of {fill in the blank}" band, they'll naturally attract fans of that band. If they stray too far from the versions those fans know and love, they'll probably lose a portion of that audience, though they may gain or retain fans who have an interest in hearing something new, but still in the spirit of the band being showcased.

    Where the "break even" point occurs is almost impossible to determine. It depends on the band in question (Allmans and the Dead may get more leeway, Rush probably very little, and all points in between), and what exactly the tribute act is attempting. The only way to know for sure would be to try it and see if what you're doing resonates with the audience.

    "Tribute" does imply a certain degree of sticking with the basic formula, but I think any bands that had improv sections in their shows (including Yes, ELP, and others) could probably find ways to be creative in a way that is acceptable and maybe even enjoyable to the traditional audience. But then it comes down to the execution. So it still depends.

    Bill
    Very well said, Bill.

    I would add that, as an audience member, I'm often thinking that if a band strays too far from who they're emulating, it's just comes across as they're not capable of carrying that load. You don't really get to make artistic choices when you're doing a tribute thing, IMO. Again, unless you're doing a band that is known for improvisation, you're expected to be pretty close to recordings, whether they're live or studio.
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  24. #24
    Man of repute progmatist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    Dire Straits: I've listened to several different live versions of Sultans Of Swing, from multiple tours, where Mark Knopfler plays almost exactly the same 5 minute guitar solo in each one. The only live version of Skateaway I've heard appears to have the same ride out solo as the studio version. If I'm not mistaken, he does the same trick on Telegraph Road on the live album too.

    Lynyrd Skynyrd: I've not really spent much time listening to multiple live recordings from Skynyrd, but from what I can tell, they played a lot of their stuff pretty much the same night after night, including that ride out solo on Free Bird. IN the recent documentary about the band, Al Kooper says that once the band left the cabin that they rehearsed in, there was "absolutely no improvisation" (or words to that effect). If he needed Allen Collins or Gary Rossington to do a second take of a solo, do a double track or whatever, he knew he could get exactly the same solo on the second pass.

    Pink Floyd: A lot (but not all) of stuff on the live albums and concert videos they did off their last couple tours sound virtually identical to the studio versions. And something like Comfortably Numb, which has a longer ride out solo than the studio version, Gilmour still seems to play the same solo on pretty much every version I've heard.
    OK, so that's 3 out of how many other bands?
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  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by markwoll View Post
    Tribute bands seem to be able to charge the same ticket prices as the bands they emulate.
    I don't mean the hyper-inflated prices of the legacy bands, but certainly not 'cover band' prices.
    I wish. Of course top price for The Allman Brothers with Duane was about $5 or so.


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