Years before most music was made, performed and bought digitally, people would go out to see it live. There was a time when rock and roll ruled radio, not just in Houston but across the country as lines were drawn in the sand between 97 Rock and Rock 101 KLOL. People had arguments over whether it was cool or not that Eddie Van Halen played keyboards on "Jump" and the title track for Van Halen's sixth studio album, 1984. We had things like Texxas Jam, and bands such as Foghat and .38 Special played at the Astrodome.
It was American as apple pie. And life was good.
While those days are gone for most people, those precious memories live in the hearts and minds of many. Luckily, you don't have to depend just on your old and fuzzy recollection of times past. They are still alive and well, and you don't have to go too far to find them. Just drive any direction outside of 610 on any given night, and you'll run into a pub or bar billed as having "live music."
That's where you'll find some of the finest talent(s) in Houston paying tribute to the glory days of yesteryear. From Aerosmith to ZZ Top and practically everything in between, if it was at any time considered rock, there's a local tribute band out there playing it. Over the past couple of weekends, that's what I went to see. I hung out at Scout Bar, Concert Pub North and Vintage Pub, to name just a few, chilling with the locals of north and south Houston and seeing weekend warriors strut their stuff onstage.
One night I caught Houston locals OZZ -- a tribute to Ozzy Osbourne -- opening up for a touring Metallica tribute act, and they were nothing short of mesmerizing. They blew the headliners off the stage. They were so versatile, moving seamlessly from one era to the next without missing a beat. The singer, Iggy, looks and sings like and has the mannerisms of Ozzy. I'm not even that big a fan of the Zakk Wylde stuff, but the pinched harmonic squeals made by Todd, their guitarist, during "Mama, I'm Coming Home" were flawless.
All the bars are set up as live-music venues: stage, door guys, multiple bar wells, some food, pro gear, pro attitude. With hundreds of signed guitars lining the walls, Scout Bar is reminiscent of a Hard Rock Café. A plus at all the venues, albeit a minor one for some, is plenty of ample seating.
"My friend turned me on to Alice in Chains when I was a kid," says Tommy, 23. "After that, my dad thought it would be a good time to introduce me to the classics."
Tommy came out to see Black Dog, a tribute to Led Zeppelin. They certainly have some of the biggest shoes to fill in rock's annals, but do a mighty fine job. They even go off the expected course and play deeper cut "Moby Dick" in its entirety.
"While we do make good money playing, we also have day jobs," says Brad Caudle, vocalist and guitarist for Black Dog. By day, he's the creative director of his own company, which makes educational videos and apps; by night, he's a hero better known as Robert Plant.
One thing I noticed at all the shows I attended was something I haven't seen before: families having a night out. Young and old together, enjoying bands playing music they love. However you may try to classify this music -- classic rock? -- it transcends age barriers. Many of these bands broke up long before some of the audience had even been born.
Whether covers or originals, though, many of these musicians have been playing in the scene for a long time.
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Kevin Coffey, drummer for Benastar -- a tribute to Pat Benatar -- says, "Joe [Villarreal] and I have played in bands together for many years. We wanted to start a new project. A tribute band sounded like a nice change of pace from what we had done before."
While I was raised by a longshoreman and an ESL teacher who both loved Van Morrison and the Steve Miller Band, my formative years were spent listening mostly to punk rock. I formed my own DIY ethos as an angsty teen. Although I could barely strum a chord, I was in a few bands that got no further than our bedroom or the garage. But we were making "real music," and cover songs were looked down upon.
That "type of music" was played by nerds who were in high-school band. I was cooler than that. We made original music. And it was terrible. But it was still ours and, at the time, that seemed to be all that mattered.
Well, youth is wasted on the young. The thing is, I've come to the realization that I might have had it all wrong. Or at least I didn't have enough life experience to totally understand or fully appreciate certain things in life. These guys are living out their dreams. They get to play the music of their heroes onstage in front of a paying audience. I was playing "originals" because I couldn't play covers, not the other way around.
Todd Bishop, guitarist for Ozz, says, "As far as criticism for not doing our own original music, all I can say is 'to each his own.' I was in an original band for 20-plus years. [I've] made two CDs, made several elaborately produced videos, opened for big-name national acts, played in front of large festival-type crowds.
"But honestly, I'm having more fun now than I've ever had," he continues, "and think I can speak for the rest of the guys on that as well."
He concludes, "I think it's all about doing what makes you happy."
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to start my Simply Red/Really Red tribute band. We're called Simply Rad. We'll be hitting the scene soon, playing our back-to-back staples: "Holding Back the Years" and "Teaching You the Fear(s)."
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