Jan 052010

An article in the New York Times got me thinking about cover bands and the love/hate relationship I have with them (as a music fan and as a musician who likes to play songs I have created). Check it out here.

My band, The Luxury Kings, are not getting gigs much anymore. Our fans are now 35-45 and have kids, live in the suburbs, and don’t go to see bands too often. The band members themselves are finding themeselves in the same situation (with kids or kids on the way, not getting out to see bands much…).

We are considering having an “alter-ego” band that plays all cover songs so we can gig out 1-2 times a month on a Friday or Saturday and not have to beg people we know to get a babysitter and drive 20 miles to see us. Playing blues used to be the way to do this here (Atlanta) but the blues scene has dried up with nearly all of the clubs closing in the last 2 years (and the same 20 bands looking for a gig at three places that are about to close as well). Sports bars are our only hope…

Here is my question: Is there a way to put together a “cool” cover band?

Where do “cool song,” “song I can stand to play,” “song that girls will dance to,” and “cover songs that will get you booked” intersect?

Some of it is me, If I was a big Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews, and Maroon 5 fan I could make this work. I’m not, and I will not play the “Margaritaville”/”Brown-Eyed Girl”/”Old Time Rock and Roll”/”Sweet Home Alabama” stuff…no way.

I came up with a few songs that fit my critera. I am open to suggestions and or advice. (I need 30 or so to make a set list.)

Stevie Wonder – Superstition
Bob Marley/Eric Clapton – I Shot The Sheriff
The Rolling Stones – Satisfaction
Lenny Kravitz – Always On The Run
U2 – Angel of Harlem
The Beatles/Cheap Trick – Day Tripper
Cheap Trick – Surrender
Hendrix/Derek and the Dominos/Sting – Little Wing
CCR – Fortunate Son
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust

My drummer suggested “Better Be Good To Me,” by Tina Turner. People know it, we would sound like us (37-year-old white guys), and we have never heard it covered before. My beef is that it’s not a “great” song and I’d rather play songs I really think are fantastic.

of course if we don’t play what “The People” want, we will just be playing other people’s songs to nobody….

Help me out Townspeople!


  43 Responses to “Can a “Cool” Cover Band Really Exist?”

  1. diskojoe

    A couple of songs that my friend Barrence plays are “Sympathy for the Devil” & “Around and Around” & they always get a good reception at his local gigs. I would also suggest “My Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher & Higher)” by Jackie Wilson as done by the Move, which was a great cover of a song that everyone knows.

  2. I say you become a specific tribute band. Pick a band you love and learn their best songs. You don’t have to look like them, like those silly KISS tribute bands. Do it like these guys: http://www.vimeo.com/8517361

    (Side note: I found that clip earlier today and am very psyched to see the full video. Latelydavidband, Hrrundi, and other Who-heads: Check it out!)

  3. misterioso

    If you do “Little Wing” you should definitely introduce it as “a song by Sting.” And if people fly into a rage and shout “It’s by Hendrix!” or even Derek and the Dominos or SRV, you should stand your ground and insist that Sting wrote it. Not because Sting’s version is good–in fact, it is terrible–but just to piss people off. I realize this may be contrary to your intentions. But consider it, anyway.

  4. BigSteve

    I think you should do it, but I don’t think you should expect to get paying club gigs out of it. You must know that there are probably more dad garage/cover bands than kid garage/cover bands. They usually end up playing for free at the gazebo in the county park for the Teacher Appreciation Day picnic. It’s sad but true.

    Remember that if you play in bars, you’re in the business of selling alcohol not music. And if you want to play weekends only, you’re making it even harder on yourself. Do you really know enough people to fill a club a couple of times a month? If you do, why would they only come out to see you play covers?

    I mean, I’d come to see you if you were good, but I would think you’d have to develop a huge stash of songs to keep from playing the same show over and over and burn out your audience.

    Do people who are 35-45 really still want to go to bars anyway? Bands need to find new places (other than the gazebo) to play.

  5. alexmagic

    Misterioso has the right idea and it might even lead you towards a concept I’ve wanted to see for years: a band that ends up having to fight the audience that comes to see it during/at the end of every show.

    I would add in a dash of what Oats mentioned and suggest that you do wear KISS make-up, but only if the band that you’re paying tribute to isn’t actually KISS.

  6. Lately David, the band, plays very few covers. We’ve done “Surrender” which fits us nicely, but one cover that we’ve played at almost every single LD show ever is “Video Killed The Radio Star.” We usually close our sets with it as a sort of “reward” for sitting through all our originals. It always gets a positive reaction and it’s fun to play.

    We’ve toyed with some Cars tunes, but never really attempted them.

    Ramones songs are easy (and fun).


  7. Alex, I like the idea of a Kiss makeup wearing band playing Tom Petty tunes or something. Good call!


  8. I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the past two minutes, and this is my take: A cover band with a concept can be cool for a short time, for example El Vez, or another band I have found amusing at times, Big Daddy, which did Sgt Pepper and also 80’s tunes in the style of 50’s tunes. (Their version of Mike & The Mechanics “The Living Years” as a parody of “Leader of the pack” never fails to crack me up.) But I think there is an expiration date on the Lez Zeppelins of the world – once the concept wears off.

    There used to be a band that played around the Philly area called Zen For Primates and they did a bunch of covers, from Led Zep to Raymond Scott, and they’d all fit into the band’s retro-cool lounge style. I think that worked pretty well.

    The flip side of the coin is that you have somebody who is such a kick-ass singer and interpreter of songs that it doesn’t really seem like covers. Like when you have somebody like Bettye Lavette singing Joan Armatrading songs, etc. So have an astounding singer and you can do anything.

    The only group I can think of that seems to constantly keep their cool is not really a band. I’m talking about the Loser’s Lounge, which is mostly a rough collective of musicians, some constant from show to show, but sometimes changing. They have a rotating cast of guest singers from song-to-song (not show-to-show) and each show is a tribute to a different writer or artist, whether it be Burt Bacharach, XTC or David Bowie. Those shows are a popular draw and they are events.

    I remember a friend telling me that members of a popular Deleware Avenue cover band (I think it was “Love Seed Mama Jump”?) used to go to clubs that played top-40 type music and note the songs that people reacted to the most. Then they’d add those songs to their repertoire.

    A year or so ago we were driving around and saw a car with a license plate holder with the name of a dealership on it. I thought the name would be awesome for a Fountains of Wayne tribute band. So anybody in the NY/Northern NJ area who wants to join me, the band is called “Hummer of Mahwah.”

    Most important thing, I think, is to have fun.

  9. Maybe you should consider live karaoke. Learn a bunch of songs from one genre and allow people from the crowd to come up and sing them. Or do a few sets in different genres. (first set is 60’s rock, second set is 70’s punk, third set is 80’s pop). I’ve heard of folks doing this before and it sounds entertaining. Plus, you wouldn’t need to worry about the “cool” factor since it’s karaoke so it’s all kind of a goof anyway.

    For instance, you learn God Save The Queen, Roadrunner, White Riot, Orgasm Addict, etc, and then post the set list and lyrics to the venues website. Have people e-mail which songs they would like to sing. Someone from the band can sing any of the songs from the set that aren’t claimed.

    People love karaoke (which I don’t get) and I would imagine that people would want to see their friends sing karaoke in front of a live band, so it would most likely be a fun raucous night.

  10. Thank you for your comments and your 2+ minutes of thought.

    I don’t think I am at the gazebo gig just yet.. (sports bar for $200 and free beer maybe)

    Our guitar player suggested a Hendrix / SRV tribute (sure the guitar player picks this) but we actually do a Hendrix tribute show almost every year and even recorded three songs in the studio just for kicks. It is the 40th anniversary of Hendrix’s death (and SRV’s 20th) I just question if anyone would go to see a band do Hendrix and/or SRV (even if it was done VERY well) I feel like this is the very lack of commerical appeal that the original band suffered from (although in this case the random bar patron would know just what they were getting)

    Maybe the Kiss makeup would help

  11. CDM – there is a band in Atlanta doing VERY well with this Meatalsome Inc. They do Def Lepard, Van Halen, Ozzy etc. It’s a huge production but the guys have been doing this for three years and are bored out of thier minds. It’s kinda tounge in cheek (Whitesnake, RATT)but they do exact copies of the songs note for note.

  12. Mr. Moderator

    jungleland2, I hear you about the diminishing opportunities to pull aging friends with families and serious jobs out to shows at we reach (or blow past) our 40s. I think I understand what you’re getting at – the idea of a meat and potatoes cover band playing regular bars that have their own drinking crowd. A lot of the conceptual approaches that people have suggested could be more artistically rewarding, but you’d still be faced with trying to pull aging, real rock ‘n roll fans out to a club. You’re looking for a way to play covers you dig with your bandmates to an audience of dudes and chicks out for a night of pounding burgers and pitchers of Bud. The music just happens to be playing, and you would just happen to have people to play for. I’m not demeaning what sounds like your goal, just trying to make sure it’s clear we get what you’re going for. Anyhow, my suggestions will be based on how I’m “reading” you.

    If my assumption that you’re looking to begin this venture by falling into a bar that has its own crowd that is having fun without or without you, then you’ve got to have fun and project fun. You guys might be able to have fun playing good covers and possibly build something with the bar’s crowd out of that opportunity.

    I’d start with a basis of Super Classic Rock – the Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” a big Tom Petty hit (eg, “American Girl”), even a fun Skynyrd song like “Gimme Three Steps” or Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs.” I know you don’t want to “go there” regarding Skynyrd, but you’re in Atlanta. Can’t you laugh among yourselves while giving the hometown crowd a little Southern-fried boogie? The song’s pretty funny and self-aware. Or what about Black Crowes and Georgia Satellites, some neo-Classic Rock?

    You mentioned some Cheap Trick and Bowie. What about some other “New Wave” songs, like “Pump It Up,” a Police song, and “What I Like About You”? Fuck solo Sting! Don’t we want to feel young again when we’re out at a bar? Solo Sting connotes the beginning of the end of anyone’s youth.

    There must be a few good “Modern Rock” tunes that you could enjoy playing, maybe a Pearl Jam hit, one of the tolerable Stone Temple Pilots songs, or that “Caught Stealing” song by Perry Farrell’s band. I avoided most of that music, but some of it has good guitar riffs.

    More recently – hell – I don’t know what’s considered popular rock ‘n roll these days, but maybe you can find a couple of songs to cover or find a way to arrange something like a Justin Timberlake song for a rock band.

    Finally I’d round out your set with some ’60s and ’70s soul standards – almost Blues Brothers stuff and things like “Love Rollercoaster.”

    Don’t be too cool about this. Don’t even think about B-sides, HVB’s excellent Scratchy Vinyl stuff, or all the other super-cool ideas we’re likely to offer. Take advantage of a free audience and see if you can’t get something going through solid covers that anyone with any history of rocking will dig. To me, with spirited music you may be able to build a bridge to the people who JUST HAPPEN TO BE THERE. If that works, maybe a day will come when they are SURE TO BE THERE the next time you play.

    Anyhow, that’s my 200 cents. If that all fails and you want to go the conceptual route, I think you’ve received a lot of great suggestions so far. That Clash of the Titans night I witnessed in Portland, ME this summer is where I’d personally go if I wanted to go the cover band route, but that’s highly conceptual and labor/promotional intensive.

    Cool thread!

  13. “…but the guys have been doing this for three years and are bored out of their minds.”

    Well, that buys us three more years to come up with another idea for you.

    Another idea: start a ukulele orchestra. KISS make up would be optional.

  14. It’ll be difficult to be a cool band with the inherent cynicism involved. The younger versions of cover bands seem to sincerely enjoy the covers they choose. Middle-aged musicians wear their ironic detachment from the songs like a protective cape. You can’t nail the songs while simultaneously looking down your nose at them. The audience is wondering if they are dorks for honestly enjoying the songs, or are hip enough to be inside the ironic bubble.

    I think you come up with a set list of cover songs that you’d want to play as much as any of your originals, and go with that. If you’re picking songs that the audience “should” like, you’re a dirty whore. Or Rod Stewart.

  15. Chickenfrank, I think you got to the heart of this. I am trying to be “partial-whore” the kind that gets respect and has self respect. Not sure if that can exist (or if it can will I get any “Johns” to care)

    My list of songs is now over 100. Everything from “Memphis Tennessee” to “Love Rollercoaster” to “My Momma Belle” to “War Pigs” … now can we PLAY any of these?

  16. Alexmagic, the KISS makeup would be genius for a Van Halen cover band. Remember “Mini-Kiss”? Why not Van Halen KISS? I’ve got it: Dead Presidents KISS! The members wear KISS makeup and act as famous presidents, and the song lyrics are changed to be about American History. Abe Lincoln as Paul Stanley (stove pipe hat and star makeup), George Washington as Gene Simmons (white wig and axe bass)..
    The lyrics to “Rock N ROll All Nite” can be changed to

    (Gene/George) I-I-I chopped down a cherry tree-e-e (points to Paul/Abe)
    and he emancipated the slaves!

    I’m thinking FDR for Peter Criss (he can use the wheelchair to sing “Beth”) and JFK for Ace Freeley.

  17. hrrundivbakshi

    Hey, the magpie: that shit is *genius.* Welcome aboard!


  18. Mr. Moderator

    the magpie, hrrundivbakshi beat me to it! Don’t be a stranger.

  19. 2000 Man

    There’s a golf course hotel thing around here that we’ve gone to in the winter for our anniversary. They have a package that includes a nice dinner, a few drinks in the bar and a big breakfast (possibly the biggest, actually). But the bar always has a band. One year it was a Beatles tribute band, one year it was the Country Top 40 and one year it was a motown/soul band. A lot of times we’re the young ones there, but hey, we get the pool and hot tub to ourselves that way!

    Anyway, I always thought it would be funny if a band would show up at that that looked like GWAR and sang Carpenters songs. Would the people stay? I’d hate the songs, but love the look. The old people would hate the look and love the songs. Something would have to give – maybe the second set they could come out dressed as The Carpenters and play GWAR songs.

  20. Thanks for all of your advice, warnings and strange daydreams/nightmares about cover bands.

    My guys looked at the musical landscape and decided that the Stevie Ray Vaughan / Jimi Hendrix tribute band was the way to go (with the 40th anniversary of Jimi’s Death and 20th of SRV this year it made sense)

    We are the ONLY SRV / Hendrix trib band that I could find anywhere, which makes us unique I guess.
    We will never play Brown Eyed Girl
    We know how to play 90% of the songs we need for our 1st show.
    We have a 3 song studio demo of Hendrix covers and a video of a Hendrix trib show.
    …and no song choice arguments (or at least very little)

    We can even get away with Sgt. Pepper, All Along The Watchtower, Sunshine Of Your Love, Taxman, Superstition and other songs that either group played.

    Kiss makeup is still on the table

    Now we need a name (for the time being it’s Stevie Ray Hendrix – simple and direct, but not very clever)

    And the answer to “does your guitar player have the chops to handle this?” yes he does.

  21. Mr. Moderator

    Can the band name be modified by at least two adjectives? 🙂 Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

  22. BigSteve

    I’d recommend that you get on the stick and assert your primacy quickly, jungleland. There’s going to be a Experience Hendrix tribute tour coming up in March:


    And one of the members of SRV’s Double Trouble is on the tour. And they’re playing Atlanta.

  23. 2000 Man

    jungleland, you guys could call yourselves Stevie Ray’s Big Bad Jimi Tattoo. You could be the Last Man Standing and get paying gigs!

    Last Man Standing is obviously the cooler thing to have happen.

  24. Jungleland2,
    Forget about the chops, does he have a strat with an upside down headstock? That is crucial even if he’s right handed.

    As for a name, I suggest All of Vaughn The Watchtower

    Good luck.

  25. Third Stone from the Vaughn?

  26. Third Son from the Stoned?

  27. alexmagic

    I’m a Hendrix fan and not a SRV fan, so I can’t fully support the act, but I’ll throw in a band name suggestion of “Stevie Rays of the New Rising Vaughn”.

    Magpie, I can’t add much to your brilliant KISS/Hall of Presidents Band idea other than suggesting that the act should be called “KISStory Of The World Pt. 1” and that the Ace performer should start the show as Ace’s true totem president, Ulysses S. Grant. During the show, Ace/Grant and Peter/FDR should be fired and replaced by, say, a Vinnie Vincent/Richard Nixon and a drummer in a Gerald Ford Mask and Chicken Suit.

    Or maybe the guys playing Ace and Peter can double as the Presidents who have been assassinated or left office in disgrace, and those presidential moments of shame can be paralleled by your Peter and Ace being fired/re-hired multiple times throughout the show.

  28. Hey Jungleland,
    Would you be willing to name the band based on a RTH poll? We could allow folks to have the rest of the morning to make suggestions and then put those suggestions in a poll on the side of the page to determine a winner.

  29. The Wind Cried Stevie?

  30. I am but one of three votes on all band matters. That said, I Townsperson Jungleland2 will present (and only present) the name that my fellow Townspeople choose for the Stevie Ray Vaughan / Jimi Hendrix Tribute Band.

    So far the only suggestions from a bandmember have been “Up From The Skies”, “Stevie-Ray-Hendrix” and “Death By Power Trio”

  31. BigSteve

    Electric Stevie Land?

    These names are a good laugh, but if you’re really going to do this, you want to keep it simple. Up From The Skies is the right idea. My suggestion is A Slight Return, though that might be a tad obscure for the audience you’re trying to get into the club. Wasn’t Little Wing one of the main Hendrix songs Vaughn played? I vote for Little Wing, or even Little Wings if you want to make it sound more like a group.

  32. mockcarr

    I guess the lead guitar player getting the stage name of Jimi Vaughn would be a little subtle.

  33. “Jimi Vaughn”


  34. Mr. Moderator

    Keep the name suggestions coming, and I’ll get a poll together tomorrow, probably around lunchtime!

  35. “Couldn’t Stand The Experience”

  36. alexmagic

    “Band of GypZzzzzs” would represent both acts.

  37. Couldn’t Stand the Weatherman to Tell Which Way the Wind Blows?

  38. You guys are craking me up! Keep ’em comming and don’t be shy. I have a sense of humor about this (or I would not put this in the hands of the likes of you Townspeople)

    I think we need to pick a “Real” and a “Joke” category (although my Real may be your Joke and vice versa)

    A friend of mine is in a 38 Special Cover band….with Jeff Carlisi as the band leader (I guess he does not have the name rights to 38 Special?)

    They are called Jeff Carlisi and the “Hold On Bruce-Lee’s” …for real

  39. How about the “Fauxy Laddies”?

  40. Mr. Moderator

    The Choose jungleland2’s Jimi Hendrix-SRV Cover Band’s Name poll has been posted! Make your vote count!

  41. Mr. Moderator

    It looks like Townspeople are going with Electric Stevie Land. Let us know how things work out, jungleland2!

  42. That is brilliant. Definitely piss off the jimi heads. An interesting scenario would develop and break the monotony of playing cover. Well done sir, now will you give me a good name for my covers band please

  43. Welcome to the Hall, Melvin! Don’t be a stranger.

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