The Sincerest Form of Flattery


The sincerest form of flattery
Kristen Maxwell
Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dave Damm doesn’t look like Neil Diamond. His chin-length black hair and lineman build hardly suggest he could impersonate the singer of a romantic melody like ‘Hello Again,’ but that’s just what he does.

But of all the performers and bands out there, why Neil? The answer is simple: the Wichita senior loves Neil Diamond. And it shows in an interview as much as in performance.

Upon calling Damm for an interview, I got his voice mail. Ten seconds later he called back.

“Sorry, Kristen,” he says, sounding out of breath. “I had Neil cranked up on my headphones and was practicing some moves in the mirror.”

Damm remembers seventh grade, when his mom came home with a Neil Diamond cassette. He couldn’t stop listening to it. That year he also saw the marvel in concert for the first time. Ten years later, Damm celebrates his love and admiration for the performer and his music with his very own Neil Diamond tribute band, Dave Diamond.

Kevin Brown loves and admires another successful band: Boston. The Kansas City, Mo., junior is a typical college student. He’s a business major, member of Sigma Chi fraternity and he plays the guitar. Brown has been a part of many original bands, but says nothing is like his tribute, More Than a Feeling, named after one of Boston’s greatest hits.

He got involved in the band six months ago when his friend and bandmate, Matt Vianello, came to him with the idea.

“After laughing at him for a few minutes, I started really thinking about it,” Brown says. “I thought, ‘This is actually kind of brilliant.?'” The two recruited four other guys and the band was formed. They are now represented by two entertainment agencies, AME Entertainment and Omni Entertainment.

“It’s fun because it’s not very stressful. It’s like a novelty,” Brown says.

A bit of history

Although music critics claim that tribute bands are a new American phenomenon, tribute bands have been showing up around the globe, especially in the United Kingdom, ever since the time of Elvis and The Beatles.

“They (tribute bands) may be more popular or well-known now in the Midwest, but they’ve been around for years,” says Frank J. Moyer, president of AME Entertainment.

Moyer signed his first tribute band 15 years ago when Jimmie Van Zant, first cousin of Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, was bringing a tribute dedicated to his cousin’s band to Lawrence. Moyer says he recalls watching them and thinking this was a name he could sell, market and do well with. He quickly began representing the band. To date, Moyer and the band have put out tribute albums as well as three albums of original work.

Brown says he wouldn’t be surprised if the popularity of tribute bands has increased in recent years.

“The quality of popular music has been going downhill in recent years. Someone needs to bring back the good bands,” he says.

Whether they’ve been popular for decades or a few years, these imitations have grown so much in popularity that some tribute bands have established their own fan base, adding to the pre-existing fans from the original band.

Sometimes tributes can be seen as a “cop-out,” Damm says, because they capitalize on someone else’s work. But he and Brown agree that it’s easier to establish a tribute band than an original one.

“Let’s face it,” Damm says, as if shrugging off the critics. “People like to sing along and know the music of the performer.”

Not all tribute acts are as dedicated as Damm and Brown, yet some are even more so. They vary from act to act. Some are small and informal while others have the songs, notes, costumes, instruments, equipment, staging and quirky habits down perfectly. Regardless, a tribute band requires dedication.

As tributes become more popular, newer singers are starting to inspire some acts. According to a tribute band catalog Web site, tributecity.com, singers such as Beyonce Knowles, Creed and Britney Spears are starting to have tributes established after their original work. Still, older bands that don’t perform or tour anymore seem to be the most popular for replication, says Jeff Economy, director of . . . An Incredible Simulation, a documentary about tribute bands.

“People want to relive concerts and the time of their life when they saw these bands,” Economy says. “And that seems to be just what they are doing.”

Why bother?

. . . An Incredible Simulation follows and explains the world of tribute bands and takes a look into the mystery of these music enthusiasts, Economy says.

“We wanted to answer, ‘Why do they bother?'” Economy says.

“Because it’s fun,” Damm says, as if it should be obvious.

But Moyer says tribute bands can make a decent amount of money, too. Putting it in perspective, Moyer says original bands make about $50 a gig, while cover bands make between $300 and $400 a performance. Tributes are even more successful, bringing in as much as $1,500 or more per show.

“Whatever we make, it ends up being about $50 to $100 per person,” Brown says.

This is a typical payment for a start-up tribute, Moyer says, but he insists band members can make a living doing a tribute. He has a few that actually do.

“We’re booking them all the time and they are going places like Trinidad to perform,” Moyer says.

So, besides the fun and the money, Moyer says, people get into and stay with tribute acts because of the recognition.

“There’s no fame or glory in cover bands,” says Moyer. “But in tributes, they treat you like the real deal.”

A successful tribute

To be treated like the real deal, you have to embody the real deal. Throughout Economy’s research for ‘An Incredible Simulation,’ he says, he found that the higher the level of devotion, the more successful the band.

“The more you can be a carbon copy, the happier the audience is going to be,” he says.

Damm, although not a physical look-alike of Neil Diamond, does a fair amount of preparation for his role. Donning a sequined shirt, either silver or gold, and Neil’s signature white scarf, Damm looks as though he stepped out of a Neil Diamond concert or the movie Saving Silverman. Besides the costumes and the songs, Damm says, it’s the little poses and ‘cheesy’ remarks he does before songs that make the crowd go crazy. He does one of his favorites before the song “Cherry, Cherry.”

“This is my acoustic guitar,” Damm says, doing an impromptu imitation of Neil. “But the only problem with my acoustic guitar is that it only plays oldies. And then the crowd goes wild,” Damm says, smiling.

More Than a Feeling, Brown?s Boston tribute band, also goes to extremes to make themselves as believable as possible. Mustaches glued on every performer?s upper lip and loud printed button-ups or cut-off t-shirts paired with jeans, the six typical college students transform themselves into the band, with two guys playing Tom Scholz’s multiple guitar parts and no Kimberley Dahme representative.

Economy says it’s these costumes and other personalized tidbits that make the band believable.

“It’s not just about the songs,” he says. “It’s about the band’s whole personality.”

And tributes will continue to capture these personalities. Whether it’s for the money, the fun or the fans, tributes will continue to recreate the bands they – and we – love.

CHECK-EM OUT

Dave Diamond

What: Solo performance at Cinco de Mayo party.

When: May 5 at 7:00 p.m.

Where: On the Border, 3080 Iowa St.

What: Full-band performance

When: May 13 at 7:00 p.m.

Where: Jazzhaus

What: Charity event

When: June 24 at 8:00 pm

Where: Wichita

www.davediamondlive.com

More Than a Feeling

What: Group performance

When: May 13

Where: Alley Cats, Lee?s Summit, Mo.

What: Group Performance

When: April 29

Where: Beaumont Club, Kansas City, Mo.

WHAT?S IN A NAME

The names of tribute bands are usually a pun of the original band. Here are some of the names found on tributecity.com.

Fully Clothed Gents: a Barenaked Ladies tribute

Hotplay: a Coldplay tribute

Bootylicious: a Destiny’s Child tribute

Dookie: a Green Day tribute

Stone Free: a Jimmy Hendrix tribute

Departure: a Journey tribute

Ricky La Vida Loca: a Ricky Martin tribute

Proud Mary: a Tina Turner tribute

SOMETIMES DREAMS DO COME TRUE

Most groups’ initial draw to impersonating a band is a love for the original. For some, just singing the songs is enough. For others, every note has to be perfect. Tim Owens, 29, is one of the perfectionists. An office supply traveling salesmen by day and Rob Halford impersonator in a Judas Priest tribute band by night, Owens is proof that the ultimate dream of a tribute band member can come true.

In 1993, the real Judas Priest decided to re-form and record another album, but their lead singer – the real Rob Halford – had left the band. This left them needing a new lead singer. A tape of one of Owens’ performances was sent to the band by two Judas Priest fans and after a live audition, in which Owens sang only nine words of ‘Victim of Changes,’ he was offered the job. Before joining the band in London, Owens returned to his hometown of Akron, Ohio, where he signed his first autograph. The lucky recipients were his parents. It was a picture of him and the band and it read, “Mom and Dad, dreams do come true. I love you.”

Owens, now known as Ripper Owens, recorded Jugulator, the band’s first album of new material in seven years in 1997. He recorded one more studio album, two live albums and a DVD in 2002, before leaving the band to make way for their reunion with Halford. Owens soon became lead singer for another band, Iced Earth, and released an album with them in early 2004.

Rate