What's Your Approach to Playing in a Tribute Band?

drummertom

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I had a post-Beatles tribute band where we played their solo material. Fortunately we didn't have to dress up (as that would have been tough dressing like all of those individual players) and we just focused on presenting the music like it was played on record. I focused on all of the signature beats, kick patterns and fills. It was a fun challenge copying parts from all of those drummers (and McCartney). :)
 

GiveMeYourSmallestSticks!

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I'm in a Grateful Dead cover band. We could care less about the look (we're five geeky looking scrawny Jewish guys), but focus on nailing the music. We do a lot of studying up, listening to different versions of songs, and dissecting parts and vocal harmonies to get it right. As I've mentioned elsewhere, contrary to the idea that they're a stoner jam band, there are many complex parts, unusual time signatures and other structured complexities to their music.

I'm not an obsessive dead head by any stretch (used to despise them actually), but what drew me to covering their music is the combination of very specific parts and structures, combined with more improvisational sections. This gives me the best of all worlds; having the challenge of playing tightly and nailing the details, and also having space to spread out and bring a bit of my own thing where appropriate.

We've received a lot of positive feedback from heads who know the music inside and out, and can appreciate the work that goes into getting everything, "just exactly perfect". My bandmates have told me they receive compliments about my playing (not sure how that makes them feel), with people noting how hard it is to get the parts and feel just right.
 

Pat A Flafla

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My approach is dictated by the band leader that hires me. Don't guess - ask lots of questions.
My Rush tribute leader just bought chimes. I told him I'd play them if he moves them, but I know I'll end up doing it because he's a dear friend and his heart's already exploded a couple times. He moves very slowly but arrives very early so maybe they'll be set up when I arrive. Since neither CttH nor Jacobs Ladder are on tomorrow's abbreviated setlist, that whole ridiculous thing is going up on a stage without a ramp for the three tubes (edit: four tubes) used in Xanadu. Maybe he's hoping to make up on the "look" factor for the fact that the band could accurately be named Tres Gordos.

I do have to say that given the scope of this particular material, part of the dynamic of the band has been me telling the band leader what I'm *not* willing to do. It would be easy for this gig to become impossible.
 
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backtodrum

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In my experience playing in an Elton John tribute show is we worked very hard to reproduce all of the music exactly as Elton recorded it. It was challenging to do that! Elton doesn't even play his own songs to sound as he recorded them most of the time. He plays them faster and the keys are dropped because Elton can't hit the high notes anymore, which is understandable. So we realized we would be compared without mercy to his early albums. When it came to between songs stage banter and such, my friend playing Elton chose to parody him and chide him good naturedly. For example; when he would walk on stage with 6" platform shoes he would sit down and start the show and we'd play Funeral for a Friend/ Love lies Bleeding and then Yellow Brick Road. He would then take the platform shoes off and kick them across the stage and my friend would say apologetically, how hard it was to really feel good about yourself when you wear shoes like that. He was an exceptionally funny guy and the audience was laughing through out. Another thing we did place a baby cradle close to the piano and then put a "baby whimpering and starting to cry on a loop" and that would come across the PA and he would pretend to comfort the baby before we would start another song, and sometimes while we were playing. This was when Elton and his partner just adopted their first child as an infant. He didn't try to speak in an English accent or imitate Elton to that degree because he was horrible at it. We built the show around humor instead. My friend had 20 or so pairs of crazy glasses that we would place all over the piano and different costumes that he would quickly change into between songs. It was great fun and we all loved playing the show. Sadly my friend suffered a debilitating stroke and he could no longer perform at the level he needed to and the whole thing came to a halt. We built the red piano shown in the picture as a hollow shell and slid his electric keyboard into it. we would transport that all over, it was light and easy to move. We played a lot of events and they didn't always have grand pianos so we would use the red piano for those gigs.

My point with all this is, there are different ways to approach a tribute show. I will say it was easier to do Elton because he's a solo artist. no one really paid attention to his band his audience was there to see him. So I didn't have to try and look like Nigel Olsen and our Guitarist look like Davy Johnstone. But we chose to approach the show to focus on Elton, and we used humor to engage the audience rather than an outright imitation. We were very successful using that approach.
 

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Monday317

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Greetings folks, I just got a gig with a really popular tribute band and am considering my approach - musically and gear/presentation wise, and wondered what yours would be.
After discussion with the band, their main aim is for the audience ( who can't get to see the real thing) to be able to close their eyes and imagine they are seeing "their" band: this, I think is a great philosophy: stylistically it needs to be sonically right. As far as presentation goes though they just kind of do what the originals do: turn up in suitable street clothes. What do you fine people do as far as playing and presenting the music and yourselves to a bunch of folks who have come to see you play their favourite band's stuff?
( Please note, I am not looking for a discussion on whether TBs are a good or artistic idea, thanks :) )
I avoid playing in them so as not to defame the original band or water off their fans. Rotten eggs are murder to clean off of cymbals, see and—
 

drums1225

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If you’ve ever seen The Machine, Pink Floyd Tribute Band, my friends in there look nothing like Floyd members and neither have the stage show, clothes or instruments that Floyd members had, yet they cop every note with the correct feel to the tee. Of course they have been at it since 1987. Now if you look at The Musical Box, Genesis Tribute Band out of Canada, they dress, look and stage show as Genesis did prior to Gabriel leaving. They too are spot on note for note. So all this said, there is no right of wrong answer. Be true to the band you are paying tribute to as best as you can with your total band as one.
Scott and Ryan from The Machine are my band mates in Beginnings (Chicago tribute). Killer players.

To the overall point, there are "impersonator" tribute bands that match the look and clothing, and go to varying lengths to cop the gear, stage set, etc., and there are straight-up tribute bands who play the music without trying to look like the artist they cover. We don't look or dress like Chicago, but we put on an energetic rock concert, and I can't remember a show where someone hasn't come up and emphatically insisted that we sound more like Chicago than the currently touring version of Chicago does.

My tribute band philosophy is the aforementioned "eyes closed test". I'm playing to the people whose favorite band is Chicago, and their favorite drummer is Danny Seraphine. I go pretty far in copping Danny's parts, and when I don't play note for note, I'm channeling his style and vocabulary, not my own. I've met and spoken with many of Danny's superfans at our meet and greets (when they were still a thing), and it's quite gratifying when they express their appreciation for my efforts.
 
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wflkurt

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Personally I think if you play in a tribute band, it should be a band you really love. I could never sit back there and pay tribute to a band I only kind of liked or did not know much about. I played in a VH tribute band that did both Dave and Sammy VH. All the guys in the band are huge VH fans and we all went to high school together back in the 80's. The singer and I saw VH for the first time in 1986 when we were 15. That added history and all of our combined love of the band made it so much fun and a lot less work. It was tough though as Alex has had some monster sized sets and I brought a gold sparkle classic maple Ludwig 10,12,14,16 with a 16x22. I had all Paiste 2002 cymbals and a 6.5x14 hammered bronze Ludwig with a black dot head taped up. I also brought out a Simmons SDS-8 brain with three Simmons SDS-8 pads to get those real 80's sounds. We had backing tracks with keyboards (I recorded all the parts to a click), the guitar player had EVH Wolfgangs as well as a striped up frankenstrat that he made and the bass player had Yamaha basses as well as a JD bass he made.

It was a LOT of work and it wiped us out pretty good doing shows as it took a decent amount of energy to do them as well as set up and tear down. We actually got lucky and befriended a KISS tribute that had tons of cool shows. They let us open for them at some really great places and it was really fun. I can't think of too many bands I would want to tribute though as I really feel like it needs to be done right. I think I would have a lot of fun playing in a Doors tribute but it's not something I would actively try to do. I was asked once to be in an Alice Cooper tribute and I turned it down as I am just not a big fan. I like some of the stuff and could probably learn what I would need to but my heart would not be in it. When I think of the word tribute, I think of it as paying respect to someone. I have been a huge VH fan since I discovered drums and rock band when I was 11 in 1982. Playing that music was only meant to show my love and respect for those guys as it was a massive part of my childhood.
 
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In my youth, I played in a GREAT Blues Brothers Tribute band, then much later a Clapton tribute, and a Stones tribute, I also did the "Legends" show for a while. Recently, I played in a Santana Tribute band for several year.s I always approached these bands by studying the studio records, and then studying how the band "interpreted" the songs live. I learned both approaches, and used them for my starting point. For the Santana Tribute, I studied the various drummers that were playing (originally created) the parts: Mike Shrieve, Ndugu, Graham Lear... Rodney Holmes, Dennis Chambers. And also the latter drummers who interpreted them, and how they interpreted them: Walfredo, Negro, Cindy, etc...


For the Santana band, most importantly, I studied the idea of playing drum set as a part of a percussion section. That was actually the reason I took the gig (when offered.) When do you get the chance to develop that approach with a section consisting of two other percussionists? Sure I had played with percussionists before in a jazz world beat big band. But the idea of playing in a rock-latin percussion section really intrigued me, and was fun (and very different!)


I played my own set (never thought of trying to imitate anyone drum set,) which was appropriate sounding and looking for the gig, and thankfully none of the bands ever didn't do the dress up thing, that probably would have been a deal breaker. Playing an exact replica set or dressing up to look like someone else just seems VERY weird to me. Approaching a gig like an actor is fine, and wearing gig appropriate clothes is fine. But dressing up or trying to look like someone else, or playing a specific "replica" kit on a gig is just weird to me.


We continually had people come up afterwards saying, "I just saw Santana last week, and you guys were MUCH better." That was always cool. The thing that I couldn't stand was some people who play in these bands, play the music like they are playing chart-transcriptions of the original records with no interpretation-improvisation at all. Sure, I stayed true to the original parts, but it's still me playing drums, (so of course) I'm going to use my own (when appropriate) musical vocabulary. That's the only way that I know how to play, and so far (30 year career) it has worked.


There were a few tunes that I chose (or was asked) to stay really close to the original (for performance reasons) versions (like "Smooth.") No problem, it's wasn't my band, but the weird "religion" of staying 100% true to the original recorded parts drove me a little nuts. However, it was fun and VERY beneficial-educational to REALLY learn the tunes and the (successful and exact) drumming approaches (parts) though.

MSG
 
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CC Cirillo

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I did a short stint in the Father of All Tribute Bands—Vegas-era Elvis.

This was an era of music I was unfamiliar with. I took it seriously that folks of a certain generation had a deep connection to the genre in general and Elvis in particular. Foremost, I needed to respect that.

I also needed to respect that Elvis himself resonated so deeply with our singer that he, 24/7styled his hair like Elvis. He owned a number of jumpsuits with capes. For him it was a lifestyle. He was all in.
(Not that it was asked by the OP, but I am not a fan of the dress up. However, IMO playing Elvis is the one tribute band is the one scenario where the singer has to dress like Elvis. Doesn’t matter your race or gender, or how you look, people expect a reference to Elvis. The iconography is just that strong.)
So I dove into the catalog and shut out every other form of music and for those months only listened to Elvis and watched Elvis on YouTube.
I think to really do a tribute band right—unless you’re just a gifted musical chameleon—you need to do a deep immersion into the music, style, feel, gear and tuning. It helps to also listen to what that band’s or artist’s influences were.
I don’t necessarily think to play rockabilly you need to get tattoos, drive a hot rod, or have a girlfriend with a Bettie Page haircut, but that is your choice.





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langmick

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I've been in a Floyd and a Dead tribute, both fun gigs. I managed the Floyd band for a bit and our guiding ethos was to be good musicians playing the music and hitting the notes people need to hear, but then not trying to sound exactly like Pink Floyd, because that's impossible. The solos and jams would get a little out, the idea was to sound like a killer band playing the music. The Dead tribute, I did a lot of listening and tried to keep my own take while playing a bit of Billy (snare drum and ride) and a bit of Mickey (toms). I find it hard to play exactly like anyone but myself. I've seen bands that care too much about it and it ends up sounding forced and weird. One person in the Dead band said I sounded like Bonham playing the Dead. Probably close to accurate.

After all, Chris Slade, Jeff Porcaro, Jim Keltner and Nick all played that music.

Might be auditioning for a Fleetwood Mac tribute, I'lll approach it the same way. Get close and make it sound good but don't get too worked up about sounding just like Mick. I have my own groove and try to keep steady time and be the foundation.
 

DrumKeys

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I play in a Beatles tribute band. We don't do the costumes but focus on playing the music as authentically as possible. It's a shame that it limits us somewhat as lots of places want to book tribute bands that try to look the part as well. I get it. Some put as much, or sadly, more emphasis on that. I do play a new classic maple kit with bop finish and the guys have hofner, gretch, etc guitars/vox amps but that's a bit different. I agree with some of the earlier comments that unless you can really pull it off, you can look a bit ridiculous.
 

michaelocalypse

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I'm going to talk to a few friends soon about a tribute band. We're all fans of the band, have been our whole lives. It's mostly just and excuse to have fun playing, and have fun with other fans who want to hear it played. We'll see where it goes from there, if it goes at all.
 

mgdrummer

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I've played in tribute bands doing Queensryche, Styx, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith. As mentioned early on, I would learn the studio version of the song and then scope out various live versions for endings, medleys, etc. that were part of the "live experience" of seeing any of those artists. None of those acts (with the exception of the front men impersonating Kenny and Toby) were trying to look the part. Well, the singer in the QR tribute did have the denim jack it w/"Bastard" on the back like Tate had on the Empire tour...
 

langmick

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We did have a pig in the Pink Floyd band, it didn't fly however. I had a Starclassic Performer kit. Nick played silver sparkles too! Found it used for not a bad price.

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