By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
They've arrived like Cubans on the Miami Beach shoreline, those cover-cum-tribute bands that clog the local concert calendar each weekend and push "original" acts further to the sidelines. Not quite sure what it says about the local rock scene when the best new band is the best old band--Queen for a Day, fronted by the closest thing to Freddie Mercury since tight leather pants--but rest assured more will float into Dada Harbor every Sunday night, till the cows come home (make that "till The Cunning Stunts come home," as I refer, of course, to the new Cows cover band consisting of members of Lucy Loves Schroeder, the Light Crust Doughboys, Colin Boyd and Pantera's guitar tech).
The list grows exponentially with each flip of the calendar: Hard Night's Day (The Beatles, natch), The Dead Thing (Grateful Dead), Bluh (Blur), Weener (Weezer), Blow Aces (Oasis), Queen for a Day, Naked Lunch (Steely Dan), Sham Parsons (Gram Parsons, not the Alan Parsons Project as earlier reported in The Dallas Morning News) and on and on. But those are just the best-known among the coffin-raiders; for every Hard Night's Day playing Dada tonight and a wedding reception this weekend, there are a dozen more lurking in the shadows, awaiting their spin on the turntable of unrequited nostalgia.
"I'm nothing special; in fact I'm a bit of a bore," says 39-year-old investment banker and single mother of eight cats Samantha Watson, who "plays" Agnetha Faltskog in the Abba tribute band Arrival. "If I tell a joke, you've probably heard it before. But I have a talent, a wonderful thing, 'cause everyone listens when I start to sing. I'm so grateful and proud. All I want is to sing it out loud." The band has yet to have that opportunity, however, as Men's Club men's room attendant Larry "Benny Andersson" Markowitz has been unable to take time off his job to attend a single gig, which has already prompted rumors of a bitter breakup and possible divorce, though no one in the band is actually married. Watson says she's considering forming Snowbird, her one-woman tribute to Anne Murray, if Arrival can't work out its scheduling difficulties.
Understanding the appeal of such acts isn't at all unfathomable: Countless are the times you will hear fans of such groups say, "If you close your eyes, it's like you're really at Budokan in 1973," and admission to local clubs is far more affordable than purchasing a time-travel machine. And since most of the bands to which these newcomers pay homage have long since broken up or no longer tour or feature several dead members, it makes a certain sense; if you want to hear "Fat-Bottomed Girls" performed by the real Queen, you will have to wait till you die and go to hell.
For the members of the bands, however, it's more than just a chance to play their favorite songs. It's an escape from dreary day-job reality.
"You get up every morning from your alarm clock's warning," says Frank "Randy Bachman" Penny, singer for Bachman-Turner Overdrive tribute act Four Wheel Drive. "Take the 8:15 into the city, there's a whistle up above. And people pushin', people shovin', and the girls who try to look pretty. And if your train's on time, you can get to work by nine. And start your slaving job to get your pay. If you ever get annoyed, look at me, I'm self-employed. I love to work at nothing all day. And I'll be taking care of business every day. Taking care of business every way."
Ask the members of Yesterday's Heroes (Bay City Rollers), Domo Arrigato (Styx), Larry! Larri! Larre! (Tony! Toni! Tone!), P.O.S. (P.O.D.), Barada Niktu (Klaatu), E Pluribus Funk (Grand Funk Railroad) and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band) and they say much the same thing. But one thing they won't say: Playing in a cover band is embarrassing. "A little girl asked me what am I gonna do when I get old and blue and worn clear through?" says E Pluribus Funk bassist Todd "Mel Schacher" Tobolowsky. "And I say by that time I ought to be in my prime. I'm gonna strut like a cock until I'm 99. I'm gonna walk like a man."
It appears the trend is becoming a veritable lifestyle: Last month, local club owner Brandt Wood announced he would be opening a new venue dedicated to tribute bands. In a press release dated November 31, Wood heralded the April 31 opening of Cover Charge in the old Cats location in Deep Ellum, which would feature a first-weekend lineup of Not (a Can homage), Boston (a confusingly named Kansas tribute), Worlds Away (Pablo Cruise), Unborn Child (Seals & Croft) and And Your Little Dog Too (Toto).
"I've been living through this poetry, tangled words and worn-out prose," explains Stanley "David Paich" Rosen, a 53-year-old OB/GYN who previously played with the likes of Babaji, a Supertramp cover band, and Sargent, whose repertoire consisted of Argent and Sgt. Barry Sadler songs. "Love is needing, love is bleeding me. Now I see it all through different eyes. This emotion can't be wrong. Past the mountains under empty skies. And the road goes on." Rosen admits he was first drawn to Toto after hearing "Africa," but says the band will play only lesser-known Toto songs, as not to compete with Mushanga, which plays only"Africa," "99" and "Rosanna" yet still manages to fill two-hour sets every other weekend in the Gypsy Tea Room ballroom.
Rosen is like most who play in these kinds of acts--a rabid fan who does it out of deeply felt love and respect, not for the money, which is ideal as And Your Little Dog Too usually winds up losing money every time it hits the stage. (Rosen tells of the time he wound up filling the Barley House by promising to mow the lawn of everyone who showed up; another time he lured in customers by giving away free pelvic exams, though well before he was actually licensed to do so. The resulting lawsuits sidelined And Your Little Dog Too for several months, during which time Rosen learned how to play "English Eyes" on comb and wax paper.)
Jack Orion--the sole member of Jack Orion, a Pentangle homage--insists he listens to nothing but that band's 1969 release Basket of Light. "When I was in my prime I flourished like a vine," says Orion, who swears that's his real name. "There came along a false young man which stole the heart of mine, which stole the heart of mine." Orion's East Garland home is a shrine to the band fronted by Bert Jansch, who actually lived with Orion for three months in the spring of 1987. The walls are littered with life-size posters of Jansch, which Orion says the front man put there so Jansch could remember who he was, and wallpapered with Billboardcharts documenting the time 1971's Reflectionhit No. 183 on the Hot 200--the highest charting ever for the fey, influential English folk-rock band.
Odder still is the story of Jim "Rik Emmett" Dowdy, a 43-year-old architect and would-be washtub bassist whose Highland Park home was constructed last fall to resemble the cover of Triumph's 1981 album Allied Forces, which features a silver flying-V guitar. Dowdy fronts Victory, a jug-band Triumph tribute whose set list features 18-minute versions of such Triumph masterpieces as "Air Raid" and "I Live for the Weekend."
"Makin' my way to the job each day, slave like a dog for my hard-earned pay," says Dowdy, who insists on being called by his nickname "Finger Talkin." "When the bell rings I'm ready to run, gonna get high, gonna have some fun. I know the boss--he don't think I'm good. But you know that I'm badly misunderstood."