Faux phenomenon - Tribute bands keep the music alive

Gary Mullen performs as Freddie Mercury in the Queen 
tribute band One Night of Queen.
Unforgettable Fire performs as a U2 tribute band.
Bruce in the USA is a Bruce Springsteen cover band.
Beatlemania now performs in the guise of The Beatles.

Gary Mullen performs as Freddie Mercury in the Queen tribute band One Night of Queen.

Unforgettable Fire performs as a U2 tribute band.

Bruce in the USA is a Bruce Springsteen cover band.

Beatlemania now performs in the guise of The Beatles.

Freddie Mercury is running around the drum kit as he sings for a crowd of 45,000 at the BBC's Proms in the Park in London in 2005. All eyes are on the stringbean-skinny, moustached musician producing an anthemic sound. There's only one problem: the Queen frontman died in 1991.
This isn't Mercury's ghost. It's Gary Mullen, a Mercury look- and sound-alike who fronts the Queen tribute band One Night of Queen. And he seems to have the audience fooled. They cheer and sing along spiritedly to the intro to "Somebody to Love," as the Mercury copycat puts a denim-covered leg up on an amp and pumps an arm in the air.
Tribute acts - bands that perform the music and, in many cases, take on the looks and personas of their favorite musicians - have been around for a long time, with Elvis and the Beatles impersonators being some of the first to pop up. But since 2000, the number of tribute bands has exploded.
Lenny Mann, Webmaster for, one of several sites dedicated to tribute bands, says tribute bands were a novelty when he first started tracking them in 1999.
"There were a few sites up, but not many that were informative. They didn't allow people to take the bands seriously," he says. Now, nearly 3,000 bands are registered on his Web site, which gets up to 30,000 hits a day.
The most popular tribute bands are those that pay homage to mega groups that have disbanded, such as Led Zeppelin and ABBA, or who have members who are dead, like the Beatles or Queen. Baby boomers can relive the faves of their youth and bond with their Generation-X and -Y offspring over bands they can no longer see. For them, tributes are the next best thing.
Even when a band is still together and touring, such as U2, fans turn out in droves to see the tribute act because they love the music and tribute acts are more accessible and affordable than seeing the original.
Most tribute bands exist to celebrate their musical heroes, to help the music live on. They believe imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. Some acts tried to make it in the music business with original music before going the tribute route. Others have original music projects on the side.
Gary Mullen, the Freddie Mercury impersonator from One Night of Queen, says he fell into the tribute gig. He had been in rock bands as a teenager in his native Glasgow and was frequently told he sounded like Mercury. So he competed on a UK sound-alike reality TV show, "Stars in Their Eyes," and won. It was then that he decided to trade in his 9-to-5 desk job and turn Mercury into a career.
"I've been a Queen fan since I was 4 years old. For me to go onstage and play Freddie for two hours is like an extension of being a fan," he says.
Paul Sinclair, singer for Philadelphia-based Led Zeppelin tribute Get the Led Out, says he's always been a fan of Zeppelin-type music. "We didn't sit around and try to think of a band to pay tribute to; I've been doing this type of stuff with my original band for a long time," he says. "So when this came up I didn't really need to be convinced."
The only thing he needed to be convinced of, he says, was how to approach the performance - whether to just play Zeppelin music or become clones of Zeppelin. Some tribute acts just cover the music - they don't dress in costume or take on the nuances of the original band. That's what you'll get from Get the Led Out, although they did try the imitation route.
"We played our first two shows and I had more of an impersonation vibe; I had a Robert Plant outfit going, as if I was mimicking the era.," says Sinclair, who has the stringy, long-haired look of the Plant of the '70s.
"I've just always found the impersonation thing to be a bit hokey because, unless the musician's a genetic clone of the person, you're always looking at him like his chin's not quite right or his shoulders are a little hunched or he's a little thicker around the middle. I'm so turned off by it that I'm distracted from the music."
Eventually, he and the band agreed to play the music without the imitation aspect.
"We realized, hey, why don't we just go up there and be ourselves and play these songs, and if we play them with enough passion and fire, it will be all right. And it was," says Sinclair, who pulls off convincing high-pitched vocals on hits like "Stairway to Heaven" and "Whole Lotta Love."
Others, such as Beatlemania Now! pull off the full faux phenomenon, working to both resemble and sound like original band members. They're not only musicians, but actors as well for a throng of fans devoted to them even though the music is not even their own. For the few hours they're in the spotlight, they become that band.
"When I'm onstage, I'm costumed to look like John (Lennon). I speak with an accent and I am John," says Scot Arch of Beatlemania Now!
"It's harder to get this type of show together because not only do you have to sound like The Beatles, but you also have to look somewhat like them. You're not just looking for a great bass player, but one that looks and sounds like Paul McCartney, and plays left-handed like him."
To get the look just right, Beatlemania Now! put out casting calls. Their costumes are custom-made and wigs are purchased and cut properly. They have up to 20 different guitars onstage at a time, so as to play with the exact types of instruments The Beatles did.
"We're very anal about getting the proper sounds and guitars going with the proper costumes. Those are details we adhere to so the performances are historically accurate," says Arch.
Whether they're dressing the part and using elaborate lighting and sound systems for stadium-sized venues or keeping it simple in a smaller club-type atmosphere, credibility is all a tribute band has.
To be convincing and suspend the audience's belief for a few hours is their mark of success; it separates the really good ones from the many, many glorified, bar-style cover bands.
"You have a lot of people who think that just because they go out and buy matching black suits and play Beatles music that they're a Beatle and it doesn't work that way," says Arch. "A lot of the competition is sub-par; just not very good. You get resentful when you're lumped in with them."
Sinclair of Get the Led Out agrees. "A lot of tribute bands are guys in bad Halloween costumes," he says. "The tribute tag tends to be something negative in the music business - at least it has been for us, because there are so many bands out there doing the tribute thing and a lot of places are turned off by it. We're like, no, no, we're not another one of those bands, we're something different entirely."
The stigma attached to tribute bands is beginning to lift, though, as the business grows. More credible, talented acts are developing, drawing accolades from members of the original band and garnering a following all their own.
"At first people thumbed their noses at it and laughed at it, but there are a handful of tribute bands throughout the world that are as good as the original bands themselves. I think tribute bands have earned respect. The credibility factor has really risen," says Mullen of One Night of Queen.
One of the most entertaining things about tribute bands are their sometimes campy names. The best ones play on the names of the original bands they're tributing. Check these out.
A Band Named Sue - Johnny Cash tribute (Colorado)
AB/CD - AC/DC tribute (Italy)
Alanis Moreorless - Alanis Morissette tribute (California)
American Idiots - Green Day tribute (California)
Anything for Loaf - Meat Loaf tribute (New York)
Atypical Situation - Dave Matthews Band tribute (New Jersey)
Blizzard of Ozz - Ozzy Osbourne tribute (Ohio)
Cream Pie - Cream tribute (Japan)
Food Fighters - Foo Fighters tribute (Italy)
Iron Mayhem - Iron Maiden tribute (Texas)
Led Zepplica - Led Zepplin tribute (California)
Mac Sabbath - Black Sabbath tribute (U.K.)
Maid of Iron - Iron Maiden tribute (Sweden)
Off the Wall - Pink Floyd tribute (U.K.)
Ozzmosis - Ozzy Osbourne tribute (New York)
Red Not Chili Peppers - Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute (U.K.)
Rock This Way - Aerosmith tribute (Canada)
Roleplay - Coldplay tribute (U.K.)
Shania Twin - Shania Twain tribute (Canada)
Stung - Sting tribute (California)
The Beach Toys - Beach Boys tribute (California)
The Cheatles -The Beatles tribute (U.K.)
The Fab Faux - The Beatles tribute (New York)
The Lightness - The Darkness tribute (U.K.)
The Rolling Clones - The Rolling Stones tribute (U.K.)
The Wholigans - The Who tribute (Canada)
U-Rythmix - Eurythmics tribute (U.K.)

Updated : 2021-04-11 19:17 GMT+08:00