By Jim Schutze
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First, a clarification: It appears that when Street Beat relayed--rather breathlessly--that popular Beatles cover band Hard Night's Day had moved into the big time by taking off on a brief national tour, it was having its perineum tickled by new handler-agent Traci Parsons. What seemed to be club dates are actually corporate gigs, playing something like one song an hour for day-long employee pep rallies, and with lyrics rewritten especially for the occasion.
The mind reels. "Baby You Can Drive the Company Car?" "Sales Report Writer?" Is this what happens when you really love a band? Or is this just another case of a band signing on for something before it found out what it was really getting into? He doesn't claim that his decision is based solely on this ridiculous "tour," but founding member and guitarist-keyboard player Jim Savage has decided to leave the popular cover group, which plays a heartfelt tribute to the Fab Four--complete with vintage equipment like Vox amplifiers and Epiphone and Hofner guitars--early every Friday evening to a loyal and adoring crowd of regulars at Club Dada.
Band members are obviously bummed. "All we wanted to do was let people know we'd be out of town," says bassist Mark Ehmann. The corporate gigs, he adds, "started out as five songs and ended up as 13. They first said there'd be a 'little' rewriting--like one verse--and then they end up rewriting every bit of every song. We were like, 'oh my God.' It's definitely left a bad taste in our mouths."
When contacted, Parsons set new standards in not "getting it," "it" in this case being the difference between playing in a bar crowded with dancers and serenading Amway's best salespeople in between motivational skits. Pointing to the fact that other groups like Cowboy Mouth and Maylee Thomas do the same kind of shows--and brandishing an entire pair of confirmed, non-corporate gigs like a holy blazing cross of redemption--Parsons set about babbling about "big ballplayers" and wielding the image of Vince Vance like some enemy's skull on a stick. "They'll play for general admission after the [day-long] affair!" She cries. "There's lots of money in tribute bands...I want them to be Vince Vance!"
That sound is the blood rushing from the faces of Hard Night's Day fans across the Metroplex. Parsons just doesn't catch that what makes the magic for a band like HND is the words, the familiarity, and--yes--the integrity of the fans' shared memories. One doesn't have to bear Vince Vance any ill will in order to hope that HND doesn't begin to resemble his act.
"The money was so good," Ehmann sighs. (In fact, Parsons will refer any questions about the expectation/reality gap to Ehmann, calling him the group's "business leader.") "We were told that there would be a few changes, and we didn't love the idea, but the saving grace was that these were private deals, so it wouldn't be like we were letting our fans down."
Still, the group is honest about their unease. "We were very uncomfortable with the fact that we were doing something that the Beatles themselves wouldn't like," Ehmann admits.
Although he didn't like it either, Savage denies that his leaving was triggered by the corporate "tour." "I had decided a long way back to leave," Savage explains. "This was just one more factor pushing me that way."
"I wish the guys well," Savage says, allowing that for the band his timing was less than opportune, but maintaining that "it was time for me to go."
"I asked him if there was anything we could do to fix things, and he said 'no,'" Ehmann says a bit ruefully, noting that Savage's heart hadn't really seemed in it as of late.
Savage--who said he started out "doing it for John [Lennon]"--was reluctant to say much for the record, but it appears that internal dynamics and the boundaries inherent in being not only a cover band, but a cover band doing just one band's songs, were beginning to chafe him, corporate gigs or no. "It's gonna have its limits," he admits of the band's format. "But despite the unpleasant things, I can't help but have fun, which is why I always seemed to come alive about halfway through the second set."
Savage--who will be replaced by guitarist John Cartwright, previously the group's occasional harmonica player--sees a certain karmic appropriateness to his departure. "Sometimes I think that history is dictating what happens to the band," he says. "Our first drummer was named Pete; our original bassist didn't work out and was replaced with a left-hander." Savage himself is leaving the group to pursue his own creative muse, although in his case there's no Japanese conceptual artist egging him on. "Unfortunately," he says with a chuckle.
"I'm sure not done playing music," Savage vows. He plans to focus more on his piano playing with his other band, Big Chief and the Boogie-Woogie Wig Wam, a band that he describes as playing Crescent City R&B in the spirit of artists like Dr. John, Professor Longhair, and Snooks Eaglin.
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