The leather pants were tight, the hair big, the vocals soared over raging guitars and pounding drums. The audience voiced their approval as Wayward Sons jammed to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” at Brixton in Redondo Beach.
“Any way you want it
That’s the way you need it
Any way you want it...”
With long red hair tamed by a black, white and red headband and chest to stomach exposed, lead singer Lawrence Faljean channeled Steve Perry as the rest of Wayward Sons were transported to a bygone era of rock and roll. The Wayward Sons are an all-encompassing arena rock tribute band, giving plenty of love to 1970s icon Queen, among others.
“It’s a guilty pleasure. People love it,” said bass player Justin Farar. “You don’t think about it so much, but when you hear it you’re like, ‘Oh, I forgot about that song.’”
Tribute bands are a fixture in beach cities’ clubs like Brixton and Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach. The bands come in different shapes and sizes, some focus on one band and live and breathe its persona. Some pay tribute by just singing hits by a particular group or singer. A group like Wayward Sons, which was formed in 2008, takes it a step further, creating fictional names with a fictional backstory.
“We defiantly didn’t want to be a couple of guys in T-shirts and jeans doing covers of Journey, Queen and Styx,” Faljean said. “So we wanted to do something more fun. We started coming up with jokes organically in rehearsal the first couple of times we jammed, started changing the lyrics ... because we had a couple of beers that first night or two ... we were rewriting the songs to make ourselves laugh, and we thought we could make other people laugh if we were to do the whole shtick.”
According to Moe Lato (Farar’s alter ego), Hugh Jass (Faljean’s alter ego), Isaac White (Peter Kay, drums), Lou Bido (Brian Pincus, keyboards) and Dabney Tellum (Jim Hant, guitar), for all intent and purpose it’s 1981 (but sometimes they do stretch into 1983) and their band didn’t become famous because groups like Queen and Foreigner stole their original material.
“We picked the genre that we cover and stuck to that,” Kay said. “We still don’t go out of it. We play the same bands and we’ve increased the bands we play, but we were going to go out there and do a bunch of Bon Jovi.”
“We don’t want to be, ‘Oh, wow, look what these guys can do,’” Faljean said. “We’re like ... we’re reliving it for them and they’re reliving it through us. It’s kind of like an understanding between us and the crowd, it’s 1981 ... remember what it was like, why it was so much fun to listen to that music.”
“People ask us on stage to play some Guns N’ Roses,” Farar said. “We’re like, ‘We’ve never heard of them before.’”
Sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll
Guns N’ Roses rose from the Sunset Strip in the mid 1980s as did hard rock icons Motley Crue and Van Halen earlier in the 1970s. When tribute bands True 2 Crue and Fan Halen hit the stage at Brixton recently, it’s like Sunset Boulevard had come alive again when Motley Crue and Van Halen rocked the famed clubs of the Strip.
Part of the allure of tribute bands for some fans is to relive their youth; maybe they saw Van Halen play at Gazzarri’s in West Hollywood when they were a house band or Motley Crue when they were at the arena-selling-out height of popularity.
“The idea is to get caught up in the whole show and relive something back in the day,” said Derek Fuller, who founded both bands and plays Mick Mars in True 2 Crue and Eddie Van Halen in Fan Halen. “The compliments we get ... someone comes up to us and says ‘it took us back to the Los Angeles Forum in 1979 for the ‘Van Halen II’ tour. I was there with my older brother we were smoking this or whatever and I was right there. You took me right back there.’”
“As soon as you put the tights on something activates deep down in the groin ... no, it’s a lot of fun,” said Larry Cornwall, who is Tommy Lee in True 2 Crue and Alex Van Halen in Fan Halen. “You have a serious obligation to the fans. They want a glint of what they remember. You try to grab snippets and reel them in and from there it usually explodes at the end of the set.”
With both bands, Cornwall said, it’s about the look and the moves while he works with different drums and clothes.
“Luckily it’s the same hair, so that’s not a problem,” Cornwall said. “Tommy is more flamboyant, more loud and jumps around more. But Alex is a different character. He’s smiling a lot, which is natural to me, so I smile the whole time I play. I have a great time whenever we play. It’s kind of the vibe that Alex does. He’s enjoying what he’s doing and he just rocks out. He’s kind of an animal on drums. You have to keep in mind which character you’re doing, but they are somewhat similar.”
Fuller added, “I find the most challenging thing is actually doing Eddie’s hair, getting that right. He had the perfect rock hair.”
Stones vs. Beatles
Speaking of hair, with their mop top, The Beatles had some of the more iconic hairdos in pop music history. They are also one of the more influential bands in history. But the debate rages for some ... Beatles versus the Rolling Stones? That question came to the forefront when tribute bands Abbey Road and Jumping Jack Flash battled at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach recently. The bands take you through their history of hits while alternating back and forth. The crowd cheered their approval, but with a full house, the band’s popularity seems evenly split.
“Without a doubt The Beatles started the ball rolling for the Stones and other groups,” said Tom Loweth, who gives an eerie impression of Mick Jagger, both vocally and physically, but the singer recently left the band because of illness. “I would say The Beatles are the greatest pop group of all time and the Stones are the greatest rock group of all time. People may disagree with that. Other people may think Led Zeppelin is better than all of us put together, but that’s a matter of opinion. I think we represent two of the greatest bands of all time any way you look at it.”
Jesse Wilder, who plays George Harrison in Abbey Road, said the audience really digs the act, and the band enjoys feeding off that energy as it turns into a competition as well as a show. Wilder said they always strive to make sure their next set is better than their last, too.
But of all tribute bands, fans of The Beatles and the Stones are probably the toughest to impress. So for each band, it sometimes has taken years to get it just right, which continues to be an ongoing process.
“I watch for gestures and facial expressions and picking up on the language, the way they speak, listening to a lot of interviews,” said Frank Mendonca, of the Fab Four, who has been performing as Paul McCartney for more than 18 years and was filling in for Abbey Road regular Chris Paul Overall for a few gigs, including the show at Saint Rocke. “I make my own tapes from CDs of interviews and I just take out the Paul bits. I listened to them when I was going back and forth from work, and I would go over those lines just to learn how he speaks.”
For Greg Wilmot, it’s no different. Playing John Lennon, he knows there are millions of Beatles fans who know exactly what he did, and “you got to do your homework.”
“I watch everything I can, every video there is,” said Wilmot. “At this point I’ve probably seen most of it. You analyze everything and you pick something. ‘OK, what does he do with his face while he’s singing? OK, I kind of got the face thing down. What does he do with his upper body? How does he hold himself?’ I went to school for theater. I’m playing a character that happens to be a real person in history. If I was in a show playing Abraham Lincoln, I’d do the same thing too. It’s another role that I’m playing.”
Axel Clarke said there was plenty of unlearning from his years of studying and playing the drums when he took on Ringo Starr. Because of Starr’s unique style of playing — a lot of body movement, sitting high and at a weird angle to the drums — “You would never teach anyone to play drums the way he does.” But to Clarke, the work to get it right is never done. He listens to the sets quite often, especially if something didn’t sound perfect and is quick to fix any imperfections.
Between The Beatles and the Stones, the physicality of a performer is never more important than with the frontman for the Stones and getting the “Moves Like Jagger” correctly.
“Mick never choreographed himself,” Loweth said. “He never has. As far as I’m concerned, the most important thing about Mick Jagger is his spontaneity. Even though we may have set lines that we throw out to the audience, we certainly have the music set to a ‘t,’ but there’s a certain latitude from me to move comfortably as long as I’m hitting some of those images that people really relate to when it comes to Mick. I’m trying to live up to the way he comes across to the audience and be spontaneous and throw a little of myself in there too from time to time.”
Pat Hennessey plays Brian Jones, the Stones founding member who died at 27 after leaving the band. He had to rely only on video to learn Jones’ moves and idiosyncrasies.
“You have to act like the character,” Hennessey said. “I can’t make guitar faces. That’s a challenge in itself. Brian Jones never made a guitar face in his life. I have to be smiling and do that whole thing.”
What it comes down to it, according to Keith Richards’ doppelganger Young Hutchison, decades after they started, music fans still care about the music and are still arguing and polarized on the issue. The music, as well as the stage persona, continues to resonate with people, and they try to reproduce that for every performance.
“It’s as crazy mad and sweaty and amazing as you would think,” Hutchison said. “Not all nights are like that, but when it’s going off you live in a dream because the suspension of disbelief. It’s a good night out. They want to believe for two hours that they can be this close to the Rolling Stones and Yhe Beatles ... we’re creating this joy. It’s a good time.”
Heavy Metal mavens
Iron Maidens came out on stage like a blistering inferno of leather, sending the fans of the iconic heavy metal band the women are emulating into a headbanging, fist-pumping frenzy, at a recent performance at Brixton.
Kirsten Rosenberg (who is Bruce Chickinson on stage) joined the band in 2009, when she found them online. She became a “huge cyber fan” until they needed a singer and she “stalked” them until she was hired.
Although she rarely speaks in an English accent, she does try to channel Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson.
“There’s obviously signature moves that he does that I like to try to embody,” Rosenberg said. “After years of watching the videos and seeing them live, there’s just some things that people associate with them that I like to try to capture. But I still have to be me.”
Linda McDonald (Nikki McBurrain on stage) on drums is an original member of the band, which was originally a coed Iron Maiden tribute band, Phantom Blue, that had a female bass player. Like Rosenberg, she puts her own mark on the music.
“You can’t play music as a musician and not put a bit of your own stamp on it,” McDonald said. “That just happens as it should. But being in a tribute band ... you recreate the whole show, the whole vibe, visually and sonically. Cover bands just play someone else’s songs and play it however they want.”
Although it was supposed to be just for fun originally, the Iron Maidens’ popularity has increased over the years in large part to their energetic live performances.
“It’s not so much about psyching yourself up 15 minutes before, it’s like the preparation of the day ... it’s going to be a show date, getting ourselves in that mood rather than something that happens 10 minutes before where you go backstage and do some shadow boxing or look at yourself in the mirror or say some inspirational thing,” said bassist Wanda Ortiz (Steph Harris on stage). “It’s more of a throughout-the-day sort of routine.”
While many in tributes have had the opportunity to watch their counterparts live, some have had the chance to meet them also. Courtney Cox had heard that guitarist Adrian Smith was in the same hotel one day and had to meet him.
“I’m in like six-inch heels and he was upstairs … and I literally take off in a full sprint in heels ... we crashed his business meeting,” Cox said. “We just walked in, ‘Oh, is this Adrian? Meet Adriana.’”
Hitting the road
Fuller tried to do the sex, drugs and rock and roll thing and tour the world, but he ended up getting a career and raising a family. Few can make a living being in tribute bands; they have the occasional gig or perhaps become the weekend warrior.
Fuller said since they’re in their 40s, it’s difficult to get people to be dedicated to the band because they also have careers and families to balance.
“You have to find guys that play the instruments, can sing the parts, can look the part, but also have a free-enough schedule to do this,” he said. “We do this almost on an every-weekend basis, so it’s pretty demanding. It’s like having another full-time job and a full-time marriage with three other guys. In my case with two bands, it’s seven other guys.”
Being in three Beatles tribute bands has kept Mendonca very busy.
“It’s hard to live out of a suitcase,” Mendonca said. “We get paid to do this, but they don’t pay us to do the shows, they pay us to travel. When you’re flying into Singapore and you’re spending 13 hours on a flight and another eight hours to catch your next flight at the airport, when you get on stage you forget all of that and you have a good time. When it’s over it’s, ‘Oh, they paid me for that.’”
Hutchison said it is long hours in cars and sitting in airports, but he’s not “sitting in some office cubicle somewhere.”
“It’s like for anybody who’s reading this, they go to their office and they walk into the office and they become that office guy,” Hutchison said. “That’s not the same guy who is home with the kids and running around with a 3-year-old and rides the horsey on daddy’s back. That’s a different guy. It’s like the same. I spent years learning this craft just the same as the guy at the office that’s the CPA. When he walks in, he’s the CPA guy. I walk on stage, I’m the Keith guy.”