The James Bond Blues Band Plays Xanadu!

Musical Psycho-analysis for the sensitive new-age musician


Greetings Poppa Chris,

I have what you might call a moral dilemma of the musical kind.  On one side of the
argument lies the cover band, a nice and safe Saturday night earner.  On the other lies the
hope of getting our original music heard by people other than our friends.  This
is where my problem begins.

Recently we were forced to make a difficult decision.  Do we play the originals for very
little reward, thus staying true to our so called 'priorities'?  Or do we cancel the gig
in favor of playing the same tedious old 70's covers, thus getting the rent paid on time?....
We reluctantly chose to pay the rent and I can't help but feel we have made the wrong
decision.  Can you offer any insight into our problem.


Poppa Chris:
Dear Frustrated.

Do you want the long answer or the short answer?
Well, here's the long one ........

I have faced the same dilemma a few times; the last situation was in October '94 ..... doing
an easy restaurant gig with the chicken dance and hokey pokey with an aging restaurant
band made up of old farts getting $150 each; or doing the band from utopia frank zappa
influenced Halloween gig for little pay and lots of stress ......

well .... I did the Zappa Halloween gig, there was little pay, lots of stress, but I did get to
put on Halloween make-up and wear fish-net stockings!!

I was never called by that restaurant band again; I think they found a drummer who
actually enjoyed that shit and was happy being an old fart who didn't put in fancy fill-ins.

The band from utopia fell apart 8 weeks later, but I never regretted the decision.

(on the other side of the coin; a bass player pulled out of a gig I was organizing in '97,  to
play covers, leaving us in the lurch a week before our gig; I never rang him again)

Unfortunately for trying-to-be-working musicians everywhere, there is only one Saturday
night per week; double-bookings do happen and some hard decisions have to be made.
whatever decision you make, be careful of not burning fellow band mates; bad, bad

My rule: whoever rings me first gets the gig.
Pricks who leave me in the lurch a week before the gig for an extra $20 shit me!
Other pricks who read me their diary over the phone also shit me, but not quite as much; at
least their trying to help!

But since I no longer get phone-calls for gigs; this is no longer a problem.

Nowadays, if I ever get the urge to join a cover band playing material I do not have my
heart in, simply for the sake of making money; I lay down; put on either faith no more or
Zappa; and wait for that feeling to pass.


Well .... for me; I have missed the excitement of the Beltane days (an original band I was
in 7 years ago); playing my stuff; winning a battle of the bands competition; cassette single
etc .... what I don't miss is having to put up with amateur hour; but don't worry, my
original streak is alive and well and living happily in other genres.

(My advice here is DIVERSIFY, a couple of eggs in a couple of baskets helps keep a
musician working as a musician.)

The Zappa Instrumentaale is covers ... technically .... but the band was on a mission from
god to get the music out there; meaning that our hearts were in it and we loved the music 
It has also scored me drum/cymbal/stick  endorsements and taken me to Europe with the
open invitation to return.

and thats what it comes down to ...... do you love the music?

So, some quick advice?

There is really nothing wrong with a cover band if you love the music. 

I know a lot of great, well known musicians who regularly do restaurant gigs and smile
when the chicken dance comes on, remembering  that on the odd occasion that it's fun to
play the chicken-dance AND xanadu if the blonde gyrating in front of your bass drum 
wants to have a smooch and is happy to help you pack your drumstick! Remember what I
said earlier, if your heart's in it, you're being paid, you get a few free beers and attractive
people smile at you .... it sounds like a good gig.  

There is nothing more pathetic than watching an aging restaurant band in tuxedos playing
Xanadu; then half-heartedly trying to read through a singer's arrangement of "Volare" then
acting like smug shitheads during the break.

Sometimes your original music gets better after having learnt some musical stuff from
memorizing some classic songs (classic songs that you like, that is!). (Was that the
influencial touch of Led Zep's Kashmir I heard on the latest Alanis Morrisette track?)

Some bands have two names ...... their cover band in disguise name; and their original
music band name; this helps in not confusing the punters. When 70's super-group
JETHRO TULL were starting, they changed names weekly so they could get more gigs!
one name was "THE JAMES BOND BLUES BAND" ..... believe it or not! 

Remember that a lot of original cd's have been paid for by the proceeds drawn from the
horrible cover band gig. 

Imagine if ALL the musicians only played what THEY liked as an ARTIST without
getting sucked into the WORKER mentality. Would there be any more '70s retro? I
wonder? Would the top40 consist of frank zappa; king crimson; primus; faith no more;
peter gabriel? Full of life and musicality? Or full of pretentious 25 minute 3 chord love
songs written by musicians who are the equivalent of 2nd year apprentices at their trade?
....... hmmmmm that's a thought. MUSIC as an ART rather than an INDUSTRY. 

There WAS (and could one day again be) a time when musicians actually dictated musical
trends rather than the UNSEEN ELITE dictating trends to musicians! (refer to Frank
Zappa's "Greggery Peccary" on the Studio Tan album for cynical historical amusement) ...
NO MORE; if you stick at it and you are GOOD and always trying to be BETTER; You
WILL succeed on some level EVENTUALLY. Keep in mind; to get the best out of
yourself you have to be HONEST, PATIENT and yes, sometimes this HURTS.

That's about it ...... but ........

I was born in 1960, so the 70's were me going from ages 10 to 20 ....... as I recall, the
biggest money-spinning, crowd-pulling bands in the world at that time were:

LED ZEPPELIN (the most cloned band in the world)
THE ROLLING STONES ( there should be an X-files episode with Scully checking
Keith Richard's DNA, to see if there's any left)
JETHRO TULL (don't fuckin laugh! the lead singer bought an island off Scotland!)
BLACK SABBATH (every metal band that plays in E and detunes should send this band
50% of their royalties )
EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER (everybody filthy rich and living in the bahamas)
THE WHO (hope I die before I get sold)
ALICE COOPER (when Alice sang Billion Dollar Babies, he wasn't talking about Shania
Twain or Mariah Carey)
YES (still going, still dreaming)
DEEP PURPLE (Smoke on the Bar Tab)
FRANK ZAPPA AND THE MOTHERS (Zappa's widow worth around $30,000,000)
KING CRIMSON (Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford, need I say more?) 
THE SEX PISTOLS (Anger/Attitude and the guts to do something with it)
THE CLASH ( This is Radio Clash; not fucking Triple M)
QUEEN ( Mamma mia; Mamma Mia; ABBA sucks; Freddy ruled)
KISS (Revlon meets Hard-Rock! ..... Revlon won)
PINK FLOYD (Pink Freud ...... the first musical shrinks? They worked it out early, it
really is Us and Them) 


Even though Saturday Night Fever was a big hit for a while, Disco never had a chance
when stacked up against the musical talent listed above! Was Grease really the word? Not
if you saw the poxy sequel!

The only reason disco exists is because chicks like it and guys have to put up with it in a
club if they want a chance to get a root! Money talks and a young man's world is ruled by
a pair of open legs. Sad but true. (hate mail here I come!) 

Too much Beer and Bourbon makes guys swagger to Barnsey; whilst feeling totally
individual drinking the same drink and hooning around in the same colored commodore;
The fourth glass of white wine makes some people feel superior and arrogant whilst
pretending to listen (but really talking over the top of) Miles Davis clones at some kind of
swank jazz club situated in a lane, in which the owner wipes his arse with the musicians,
paying them only gutter rates. (whew .... glad I got that off my chest!) 

.... should I also take on retro Jazz Police put-together-the-night-before jazz clone cover
bands playing the same real book material ad nauseum in this article? hmmm, maybe next

Some of our musical elders who are still young at heart will tell you that when discos
started in the '60s they played the Mothers; Hendrix; Jefferson Airplane; The Doors and
The Cream ... oh .. and The Beatles.

So I ask; Is retro a 20 year plan by record companies to finally recoup money from the
schlock they financially fucked up on when punk/new wave flushed disco down the toilet
in '77?

Is this the reason why I only hear second-rate shit when I poke my head into some beer-
barn or club? If it's a live band playing it, why do they generally look morose? Is it just the
attitude or is it how they genuinely feel? 

Maybe it's because all of the great/ground-breaking bands of the 70's listed above had a
great degree of musicality about them, and as musicality is about as rare as a polite waiter
in South Yarra, maybe we hear schlock because we're used to schlock and after all is said
and done ........


So there you go, hope some, any, or all of this rambling helps.

all the best

Grumpy Poppa Chris
PS; dear frustrated; I know, you really wanted the short answer, didn't you?