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Rock and Roll Never Forgets

Classic rock finds a new generation of fans and keeps on keepin' on into the new millennium

And even bands that can't tour again (Led Zeppelin, Queen, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles) maintain amazingly healthy record sales for their back catalogs. The runaway success of the Beatles 1 CD, with material that had already been repackaged countless times, proved something of a shocker.

Still, today's touring classic rock bands do have an inherent problem with member attrition. Whether it's attributable to age, infighting or death, the band on stage with the famous name most likely won't be the same one that recorded the famous material. This is a hot-button issue with classic rock fans. A few bands, such as the Who, excepted, no one usually minds the loss of the original drummer or bassist. But if the band is touring without the original front man or lead guitarist, the current incarnation's claim to the band name becomes more tenuous.

These days, many touring editions of acts are without their distinctive classic front men. At Arrowfest, Styx and Grand Funk no longer have Dennis DeYoung or Mark Farner. Journey, the Grateful Dead and the Doors are other examples. But does that really matter if the crowd has had enough beer and the "new guys" sound reasonably like those on the records?

Peter Frampton: "Sometimes I'll see three generations of one family at my show, and it's the younger ones who know all the words."
Peter Frampton: "Sometimes I'll see three generations of one family at my show, and it's the younger ones who know all the words."

"Absolutely not. You can still have fun at those shows, and the 'leftover guys' know what they're doing," Roark says. "You still get all those great songs."

Jeb Wright, co-creator of the Web site Classic Rock Revisited, disagrees somewhat. "This bothers me. It's pretty obvious that a lot of the bands keep the name to get a better paycheck," he says, before making an about-face. "But in reality people need to make a living. The diehards can complain, but the crowd still sings along." (A subissue are the squabbles between fans of a band's "original" [the first] lineup versus the "classic" [most commercially successful] version. Bands like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and the Doobie Brothers fit this description.)

The downside for the artists is that often the festival crowds want to hear the hits and just the hits. Nothing will send the audience to the bathroom or beer line quicker than hearing this announcement from the stage: "Thank you! And now, here's something from our new record."

And that's a shame, because many of them still make extremely viable music. Frampton's fine recent release Now is a case in point. "You start off underground, and you end up underground," Frampton laughs.

The "classic rock" radio format debuted nationally in the mid-'80s, and Z107 out of Lake Jackson was Houston's first station, a mantle picked up today by 93.7 The Arrow. Of course, we wanted to get some comments about Arrowfest from Arrow DJs, and morning team Dean and Rog agreed to an interview. However, the idea was nixed by the Arrow's rock programming director Vince Richards, who was apparently upset about criticism of Clear Channel Radio that has appeared previously in this paper in an opinion column (see "Racket," February 12).

Still, they'll be at Arrowfest -- along with everyone from teens to grandpas. It was Bob Seger who said that "rock and roll never forgets." This is especially true of classic rock. Its listeners haven't forgotten. Nor, it seems, will their kids.

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