Like a Rolling Stone: The Strange Life of a Tribute Band, by Steven Kurutz
“Tribute bands occupy the lower rungs of the show business ladder,” Steven Kurutz writes in this, his first book. “Somewhere between lounge bands and wedding singers.” And indeed, they are one of the more curious offshoots of the music industry.
Why would a group of men—often firmly slid into middle age—spend their full or part-time music careers aping the sound and/or look of another band? On one hand, you’ve got a built-in audience ready to party and sing along with all you play, and you might even get famous or laid by connection. On the other hand, you’re playing someone else’s music over and over, and the audience is not interested in hearing the introduction “and now for something we wrote…”
Like a Rolling Stone is at times screamingly funny, sad and joyous, and is ultimately an affectionate look at musicians and bands who make a living (or not, as it sometimes seems) being something they’re not.
Much of the narrative covers the year that Kurutz spends tailing two Rolling Stones tribute bands—Sticky Fingers and their rivals, The Blushing Brides—as they shadow the real Stones on their Bigger Bang tour. Expect substituting venues like radio station bar parties and frat houses for stadiums and theaters, often with Spinal Tap-like occurrences.
The central character is the mercurial Glen Carroll, the “Mick” lookalike/soundalike of the Sticky Fingers who, by his own admission, has “turned being someone else into a full-time endeavor.” Often at war with his bandmates, girlfriends, the bottle, and the competing “Mick” from the Brides, he nonetheless emerges as something of an admirable rock and roll animal whose passion leads to satisfaction he wants, if not the success he craves.
Through the book, Sticky Fingers band members come and go, audiences run the gamut from rapturous to bored at European festivals and Elks Lodges, and Carroll’s performances vacillate between spot-on Jagger and drunken messes. One latter incident results in his jailing after a frat house gig when, bombed out of his mind, he attempts to fight two brothers.
However, Kurutz never tags his tribute band performers in terms of losers, wannabes, or neverbeens. Instead, he sees them as sort of historical reenactors for the rock and roll generation, often extremely dedicated to their work. Can’t afford to pay $150 for a nosebleed stadium seat to see the actual Rolling Stones when they happen to be touring? Well, you can pay $10 to see Sticky Fingers play almost the same set list at your local bar next month. And if you close your eyes a sway to the jams with a beer in your hand, maybe, just maybe…
Kurutz also gives a history of the tribute band culture, which began in the ‘70s with the enormously successful Beatlemania Broadway show. Along the way we meet the Dark Star Orchestra – who reenact specific date Grateful Dead shows and have a large following of their own. And then there’s the story of Tim “Ripper” Owens. Living the ultimate dream, he went from fronting a Judas Priest tribute band to a stint with the real thing
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