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Playing Covers Like a One Act Play

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by StyleOverShow, Sep 29, 2008.

  1. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Hillsdale, Portland
    Was thinking about this on today after I had worked with all three of my bands this weekend (Yeah rubbery legs last night loading up the car).

    Playing covers is like acting in a one act play. Everyone knows the script including the audience and you are expected to produce enough of the nostalgic resonance to have them recognize it.

    During the "cover play" the guitarist and/or singer(s) usually have the lead roles and the supporting cast members all say their lines when queued. Getting the emotional tone set, continuing with the one act analogy, is the hardest part in playing with new bands or learning new songs, or sensing when it is okay to improvise.

    IMO, the most boring bands are the ones that try to reproduce the cover, and many guitarists fall into the 'idol' trap of trying to pull off the same licks, distortion and body movements as the original artist. S**t, they don't even play it like that anymore.

    Bass tracks on recordings are often simplified to make it easy to hear them on a blown '68 Beetle car speaker (Don't pepper me with Claypool or Flea references, I'm talking the Eagles, STP). I don't often play these lines verbatim, unless it is the hook of the song (Super Freak, Brick House).

    What I try to do is listen to what the other 'actors' are doing and react, prompt and looks for holes where I can punch an appropriate 'tasty' line albeit slap or arpeggio. What do you do?
  2. Andy419


    Aug 13, 2007
    I agree about guitarists trying to virtually reproduce a song. I'm in my 2nd band (first one just kinda went our seperate ways after about 3 1/2 years of playin covers) and for the guitarist/singer this is his first band. He's a great guy (a bit hard-headed though) but I sense a lot that he tries to get the exact same sound as whatever song we are playing (Now we are going to do originals and have 1 completely down and about 4-5 others in the making, so this might not be an issue forever.)

    I've brought up to him before how he doesn't need to sound exactly like the CD but I still think he tries his best to do it. I guess just experience will tell him that it doesn't need to be done that way.

    As for the mention of cover bands, I think they can be successful in the fact that crowds will like them because they recognize the songs but for the musicians it just gets extremely tiring and for people like me who live to express themselves through music, a pure cover band wont cut it. I mean playing a few covers in a show from your inspirations isn't a bad thing at all, but all I know is that I don't want to end up being 40 years old and being in a bar cover band (No offense to anyone that is, I just don't see it being my thing).
  3. oldrocker


    Feb 13, 2005
    Long Island, NY
    Sometimes people like to see the play performed as written. Who is some hack actor to change the lines of a great playwrite, just because he's bored saying the same lines over and over?
  4. Dave R

    Dave R

    Sep 21, 2007
    Boise, ID USA
    That's the way my cover band does it. We play the song the way WE sound good playing it. Sometimes we add another harmony part--if it sounds good. Sometimes we'll throw in a 2nd solo--if it sounds good. Sometimes the keys will harmonize with the guitar on the solo--if it sounds good.

    We try to strike the balance between making it our own, and staying true to the original. Its a fine line.
  5. Rick Auricchio

    Rick Auricchio Registered Bass Offender

    Yes, a play should be performed as written. The director may introduce subtle changes, but lines should not be changed. Many play licenses specifically prohibit changes.

    I've acted in a half-dozen plays, though in the past two years I've been enjoying music more. Less effort.
  6. Lazylion

    Lazylion Goin ahead on wit my bad self!

    Jan 25, 2006
    Frederick MD USA
    Same licks, yeah, same tone or close to it, yeah, but same body movements? I've been playing covers for more than 30 years, and I've never noticed that. Or maybe I don't understand what you mean. Like playing with the teeth, like Hendrix? Duck-walk like Chuck Berry?
    And this is a problem because...?
  7. I've played with many cover bands over the years and it may just be coincidence, but the bands who perform the songs "as recorded" are the ones who seem to be getting all the work 'round my way. Sure, fellow musicians are keen to hear what new version you can come up with of a particular song, but Jane and Joe Sixpack just want to hear what they know.
  8. There's nothing "tasty" about slapping. :smug: Especially if you're doing "classic rock" songs.

    There's a point at which you have some "artistic license." There's another point at which you're changing the sound and feel of the song. If that's your goal- then go for it. (If you're doing 3 gigging bands you must be doing something right) However, if you're trying to stay within the framework of the song and present it as the "hit" artist intended- you stick relatively closely to the script. There's "keys" or "signatures" in all the parts to songs- and if you hit the important ones and roll over the rest competently- you can have every single person in the bar saying you "nailed" it. The thing is hitting the memorable stuff.

    My main gig these days is a Rolling Stones "tribute" type band. We don't shoot the look, but we do a very passable Exile period Stones sound. When I got hired, the guy told me that I didn't have to stick slavishly to what Wyman did, but to do what I thought would work best. I was never a big fan of Wyman, so I thought I'd be able to play those songs "right." After a few years of working around it- I've figured out through listening and going through conceivable alternate lines- Wyman more often than not did it right for what the song was presenting. Yeah, it's much more fun to play the riff on Jumpin' Jack Flash, but when you do that- you pull the dark, evil aspect of the song out of it. It's that sort of thing to watch out for.

    Again, if the goal of your band is to use the song as a framework and you're shooting for an entirely different version and don't care about coloring in between the lines- by all means- see what you can do. It's the fun in being a musician. But if 4 of 5 guys are trying to stick to the script, and you're being an artist...

    Dude, I'm in a "tribute" band and our guitarists don't really do that. And I don't think the realm of trying to "nail" licks, solos or presence is just limited to guitarists.

    I think I've mixed and massacred a multitude of metaphors here...
  9. Problem is, if you play what Jane and Joe Sixpack just want to hear you become "Just Another Bar Band".

    I don't want to be just a radio. I have more fun playing with and for musicians. We do covers and don't worry about nailing the original. In fact, we often wind up jamming sections of them. Fewer gigs? Absolutely. But, I'm in this for the fun and becoming a better musician. YMMV.
  10. oldrocker


    Feb 13, 2005
    Long Island, NY

    Absolutely :)

    IMO - Bill is a very underrated and big reason the stones sounded like the stones. And probably a big reason Stones covers don't always sound like the Stones. The more Stones tunes I learn the more I appreciate Bill. Oh BTW, and I'm sure you already know this, for the Exile period Stones there are aslo tunes with Keith playing bass.
  11. fourfinger

    fourfinger Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2003
    Central Ohio
    I think both approaches are correct. The key is, the whole band needs to approach the song as a team.

    If the whole band has big ears and likes to take a song someplace different every time -- then you CAN'T just play like the record. Every time the song is called, there's a chance it will turn out much better than the original recording if the whole team is together.

    On the other hand, if the whole band is trying to reproduce a song flawlessly, that can turn out extremely cool and really please an audience.

    In a best-case, the band does it both ways depending on the song, and always does it together.

    In a worst case, you've got good musicians wasting each others' time -- one faction always trying to be great parrots while the other faction always tries to cut loose. And each faction plodding on, wondering how long before the other side starts to "get it right."
  12. This goes to what you're goal as a band actually is. It depends on what "scene" you're in.

    I don't like playing for musicians. Worst bunch of people to play for. I don't need to impress anyone. I also don't want to be playing for a bunch of guys with their arms crossed knowing they're thinking they could do it better.

    If you're lucky enough to have people pay to see you being you- you're lucky. However, most of the gigs you're going to get in all reality are an audience wanting to see you playing the Beatles sorta like the Beatles, the Zeppelin sorta like the Zeppelin, the Pablo Cruise sorta like the Pablo Cruise... When that audience member pays to see you- your job is to entertain them in the manner in which they expect.
  13. Pablo Cruise? you put these guys with the Beatles and Zepplin?

    BTW my 2 cents goes for do it your way but I'm in a hobby band and dont care to play in a bar.

    but Pablo Cruise?
  14. The greatest musical force of the 70s, next to Air Supply?

  15. rzpooch


    Nov 14, 2007
    Bonney Lake Wa
    I played in blues bands for years and it was never the goal to nail a song note for note. I also played and helped write a lot of originals. I tried to play them the same way every time, but would end up with a little change here or there. I'm playing in a cover band now and enjoy it very much. The cool thing for me is that all the tunes that have been played over and over and over are mostly new to me. I try to keep the vibe of the tune, but don't worry about playing it note for note. The most important thing to me is trying to be an entertainer. People want to be entertained and really don't care about a missed or added note. They also don't care about your tone (unless it is really bad...lol).
    Bring the fun, bring the show and the play will be a success.
    BTW, I have nothing against playing note for note. I wish I could do it...LOL. As long as your playing it's all good to me!
  16. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    Don't want to go OT but Pablo Cruise was way better than Air Supply. :)
  17. QORC


    Aug 22, 2003
    Elberon, New Jersey
    I've seen bass players "overplay" songs by adding too many fills and riffs to well-known songs. Personally, it's not for me, unless you are doing a COMPLETELY different version of the song.

    If you are bored with covers, don't do covers. But don't try and pretend you're Victor or Jaco on every tune.
  18. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    +1. That's what our cover band does, too. And it is indeed a fine line. Fortunately our lead guitarist doesn't try to look or act like the artist he's covering, and he also only plays the soloes verbatim if they are an integral part of what makes the song recognizable; otherwise, he improvises his own interpretations using the original structure.
  19. Oh, it's "on," buddy.

  20. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota

    Although we do tend to put our own twist on some tunes, we generally play as recorded. I play Brown Eyed Girl the same every time because that's what people want to hear.

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