Better Off Led

Mockstars are the new rockstars.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 22 | Posted Jan. 21, 2009

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"I love the scrappiness of tribute bands," Kurutz says over the phone from his home in New York City. "The earnestness--they weren't being rewarded particularly well with accolades or respect for the work they were putting in, but they loved getting on-stage and playing these songs anyway."

In Like a Rolling Stone Kurutz theorizes that the essential notion of the tribute band, i.e., "something directly inspired by what has gone before," extends beyond tribute bands and into society. "Steven Colbert is, in a way, a tribute band to Bill O'Reilly," he writes. "Quentin Tarantino is a tribute band to 1970s blaxploitation and B movies ... Karaoke is based on the same premise as a tribute band, as is the popular video game Guitar Hero, in which players replicate, note for note, famous guitar solos."

Kurutz traces the short, odd history of the tribute act in his book, beginning with the hit 1970s Broadway musical Beatlemania. Beatlemania's creator, Steve Leber, started the show on the premise that tribute bands were no different than classical orchestras. But instead of playing Mozart and Bach, Handel and Chopin, they played the music of Jagger and Garcia, Plant and McCartney.

"The argument is at once convincing and also off-base," notes Kurutz, "because so much of rock 'n' roll relies on elements beyond the musical notes, like style and attitude."

Jill Stein, a Ph.D. at the UCLA Center for Sociology, takes a slightly different tack in Mockstars, a documentary about tribute bands. "Perhaps much like we're still doing Shakespeare plays, there will be recreations of famous concerts a hundred years from now," she says.

Which argument you buy is a matter of personal belief, but the most glaring omission in all three is this: The intrinsic belief that performing music written by other people is unavoidably, inherently, toxically and indubitably lame. In other words, the question shouldn't be, "Why do people form tribute bands?" so much as, "Should they?"

"Tribute bands were once marginalized; this strange oddity in the music world," says Kurutz. "Now they're totally legit. They aren't demeaned or made fun of the way they used to be."

Last November The Late Show With David Letterman had a tribute band on each night of the week. For "Tribute Bands Week," the show featured acts aping Prince, James Brown, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Guns N' Roses. "That it wasn't presented as a freak show says a lot," says Kurutz, who posted the YouTube performances on his blog, likearollingstonethebook.blogspot.com

Established musicians are also getting in on the tribute circuit. Letterman's Late Show band bassist, Will Lee, is in a Beatles tribute that does bang-up business, the Fab Faux. Also a member of the Faux is Late Night With Conan O'Brien guitarist Jimmy Vivino.

"They command a certain level of respect," says Sinclair. "No one calls them a tribute band. They're just amazing musicians playing their favorite music. That's what we aspire to."

None of the debate about integrity or lameness is lost on the Pauls, Sinclair and Hammond, as they try to maximize the former while minimizing the latter. The members of Get the Led Out don't dress the part of Zeppelin. Sinclair doesn't employ a fake British accent when speaking to the crowd. When the group signs autographs after shows (and they do) they sign them with their own names, not the names of members of the band whose music they play, as some tributes do.

In fact, Sinclair and Hammond wince with pain at the very term tribute band. "It just reeks of impression to me," says Sinclair, dismissively waving a hand adorned with more rings than most men wear in a lifetime.

"When I'm onstage I don't think I'm Jimmy Page," agrees Hammond. "I'm Paul Hammond playing guitar parts by Jimmy Page. Paul Sinclair is Paul Sinclair singing the lyrics of Robert Plant."

"Every [Zeppelin tribute] band out there, their template is the [concert doc] Song Remains the Same. They mimic that '73 performance you see in the movie," says Sinclair. "That's what they emulate, down to the fact 'Dazed and Confused' is 20 minutes long. What we're doing is bringing you the songs just as you know them from the record."

To do so requires hours of meticulous listening to and studying of the music of Zeppelin. "We listen to it under a microscope," says Hammond, who has built electronics to help aid in capturing some of Zeppelin's more odd aural landscapes.

Sinclair even goes as far as to make his voice crack when Plant's does on record, and is well aware that their audiences know every word to every Zeppelin song, even exact Plant phrasing. "These songs have been played on the radio for 40 years," he says.

It's an intense exercise, and the Pauls are devoted to it completely, so much so that criticism of their earnest efforts by purists seems grossly misplaced. Fortunately, it's something they don't deal with that often.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 22 of 22
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1. Dave W. said... on Jan 21, 2009 at 08:36AM

“These guys are great! Go see them whenever you can - they will blow your face off with the Zeppelin covers. They get it SO RIGHT! Don't miss them this weekend! I'll be front row ~~”

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2. james said... on Jan 21, 2009 at 09:02AM

“ Boy I don't know why I try to write & record original material when all I have to do is copycat & ape a group that already has a built in audience. I still think a tribute band is pretty lame.”

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3. Carol said... on Jan 21, 2009 at 09:20AM

“The entire band is awesome! A MUST see! You will be impressed!”

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4. Cheryl said... on Jan 21, 2009 at 10:46AM

“I just have to say having grown up with "the Pauls" There are no better artists! GTLO ROCKS!”

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5. reds4life said... on Jan 21, 2009 at 11:33AM

“I need to say having grown up with "the Pauls" there is no better GTLO ROCKS! I LOVE YOU PAUL”

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6. dan said... on Jan 21, 2009 at 12:16PM

“Did you read the article, james? Did it not record how these guys tried to make original music forever? What is so lame about playing the music you love, making a few bucks, and giving lots of people enjoyment?!? Zeppelin songs were made to be heard live and since the Zeps won't do the honors, give me a great tribute band and I'm there!”

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7. silent e said... on Jan 21, 2009 at 12:19PM

“The punny names are always the best part of any tribute band. There's a SF-based all-female Metallica tribute band called Metallicunt, an all-male Go-Go's tribute band called We Got The Meat, and 2 all-female ACDC tribute bands called AC/ D-She and Hell's Belles. Anybody want to join my all-male Hole tribute band? I've already got a name: Pole.”

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8. Becky High said... on Jan 21, 2009 at 10:13PM

“Every artist in Get The Led Out is a consummate professional with many years of experience in all aspects of the music business, and it reflects in every performance they give. GTLO is awesome, but it's just a small part of what these guys can do! They are making a good living doing what they love. Sour grapes much, James?”

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9. R said... on Jan 22, 2009 at 09:34AM

“I'm surprised that original founders of the band, Paul Piccari (the third "Paul") (Bass, Vocals) and Adam Ferriaioli (drums) were not mentioned in this article, especially since they are a major part of the band to this day as well, along with Jimmy Marchiano (electric and acoustic guitar, vocals) who joined the band a couple years ago. I think the reporter should have been more thorough with his facts, especially since Sinclair (an awesome vocalist - unmatched in talent) actually auditioned for Paul Piccari initially before becoming a part owner in GTLO. I LOVE this band and they have never been anything but remarkably talented and entertaining! A must see, hear and totally experience! ”

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10. JH said... on Jan 22, 2009 at 01:52PM

“GTLO is awesome. I've seen them many times, and honestly, you can't critique someone you haven't heard. These guys are Led Zeppelin heaven to your ears. I wish I could see them more often. And by the way, the band members are down right nice guys, oh and girl, Diana, who sings the female parts in the Battle of Evermore is great. Keep doing what your doing, we need an American Led Zeppelin. ”

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11. jgskidding said... on Jan 23, 2009 at 06:31AM

“I have seen GTLO perform many times & as a musician growing up in the Philly area, I am impressed with the way they can "duplicate" Led Zeps music to a tee!! I also have a copy of Sinclairs original music on CD of which I bought at one of their shows. The band has come a long way since Ron Kayfield left , & has stepped it up a notch!!! I will be at the Electric Factory tommorrow with some family & friends who have not seen them, & everytime I bring someone,they are pleasantly surprised! Since I saw Led Zep at the spectrum many years ago, I am extreemly happy that I can listen to their music,live, by some very talented musicians, who are also very down to earth, working class guys like myself!! THANK GOD FOR GTLO - KEEP ROCKING FELLAS...... joe, from down the shore”

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12. JP1959 said... on Jan 23, 2009 at 08:47AM

“HOW COULD SOMEONE (LIKE ME ) GET A COPY OF THE DEBUT VINYL ALBUM PRODUCED IN '88? wHAT IS THE TITLE AND WHAT LABLE WAS IT ON? i AM AN AUDIOPHILE AND AM STILL USILG MY LPS 'S”

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13. jesselun said... on Jan 23, 2009 at 10:47AM

“The Pauls rule (so does Lipke and the rest). I've worked with them a millions times, and it's always been the BEST experience. Great article, McManus”

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14. Heather said... on Jan 25, 2009 at 05:42PM

“Black Dog is also a great Zeppelin tribute!! www.blackdogzeppelin.com”

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15. Mike H. said... on Jan 26, 2009 at 08:38AM

“It was an incredible show Sat. First time I've seen them perform. Blown away by Jimmy -- I agree that the author of this article really left out some key members of the band...Jimmy carries the hard guitar parts. Anyway, I would highly recommend seeing them. I would also recommend seeing Jimmy when he plays with LeCompt. Much smaller venues and you get to see what he is capable of doing a little better.”

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16. Rock Hardson said... on Mar 25, 2009 at 07:33AM

“Everybody knows that Jimmy Page NEVER had red silk lapels on the inside of ANY of his onstage costumes, sheesh...

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17. zeppelinwoman said... on Jul 12, 2009 at 07:54PM

“THEY R THE NEXT BEST THING !!! END OF STORY !!!! CANT WAIT 2 SUCK UP THEIR MUSIC IN MY VEINS AGAIN !!”

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18. Lorraine (south philly!) said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 11:52AM

“Hey people, lets just say i know one of the members pretty much all my life and i believe in my heart that he was a musician in his past life lmao,, he is just incredible in my eyes,the best guitarist ive ever witnessed playing,, on and off the stage, YES JIMMY THATS YOU BABE LOVE YA!!!!!!,,but anyways i could listen to them all day and all of the night,,I think they sound better than the original band,but hey thats my opinion and im entitled to it right? But hey,,,,,,,,,,,they are better lol!”

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19. Ronald Wilkinson said... on Nov 23, 2009 at 04:32PM

“I am bringing my grandson to see the show at the Turning Stone on Jan. 16. Saw the show there last Feb. and was blown away. Also bringing some other friends that I am treating. It will be an "I told you so" evening. Rock on, guys!

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20. bet and bri said... on Mar 22, 2010 at 05:14PM

“Saw you in blackwood NJ for the first time. you guys are awesome. We were really blown away . Cant wait to see you again. We are celebrating our 25 th
wedding anniversary in 2011 and want to share that day with GTLO and some of our close friends. That would make a very special day.

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21. franky t said... on Aug 21, 2010 at 04:17PM

“one day i walked past two painters in NYC one was painting his own stuff, another van gogh repros.....everyone oohd and aad at the repro painter...its easy to copy anothers music and sound good....from what ive read these guys released one original record twenty years ago.....no wonder they are copying zeppelin....they are failed artists, regardless of how succesful they became with their own music...good businessmen tho”

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22. Paul Sinclair & GTLO Fan said... on Sep 6, 2010 at 03:17PM

“One day I was reading an article that was published two years ago, and someone named Franky T posted a comment two years later about something he had no knowledge of. The members of Get The Led Out are constantly producing and selling their own original music to this day and keeping all the money with no middlemen involved. Franky T who? Paul Sinclair is the man!”

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