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6:55 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Tribute acts: How close to the real thing?

One of These Nights, an Eagles tribute band. (Courtesy photo)

One of These Nights, an Eagles tribute band. (Courtesy photo)

How would you like to see Johnny Cash, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Santana, George Strait, Lynyrd Skynrd, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, The Beatles, Springsteen and Elvis, right in your hometown, without taking out a second mortgage? Yes, some of them are dead or defunct, but that's not a problem - not in the world of tribute acts and tribute bands.

It's a little hard to find a clear definition of what a tribute act is, but let's try anyway. After all, here in Prescott we have tribute acts coming through town almost every week, usually at the Elks Opera House.

Bob Conrad of TAD Productions, the promoter who books most of these shows, explains it: "Impersonators primarily 'look' like the artist whereas 'tribute' performers primarily pay tribute to the music while at the same time paying attention to the 'vibe' given off by the artist, which includes the look. Some acts we promote are spitting images of the original and others are not. Each show is different that way but most do spend some time to create an experience as close to the original as possible." So there it is: If the bass player looks kinda like Paul McCartney, shakes his head when he sings "oooo," and plays left-handed bass, it's a tribute band.

Finding really good tribute acts is what Conrad does, and he says they aren't all equal. After all, how many singers out there can look and sound like Johnny Cash?

"We try to find the best band, or act, that gives the audience the experience of seeing the real thing," he says.

Why are tribute acts so popular, when there are plenty of cover bands playing in Prescott every weekend? Mike Torres, who looks just like Carlos Santana, by the way, recently brought his Santana band Evil Waze to the Elks. He says "the baby-boomers miss that music, and you can't really see most of those acts anymore, and if you do, it's in a huge arena."

Tribute acts aren't a new phenomenon, of course. The concept probably took off with the rise of Elvis impersonators after his death, but Wikipedia lists a band called The Buggs, a Beatles takeoff, as possibly the first tribute band. They hit their mark and released a record of Beatle covers in March 1964, only a month after the Fab Four arrived in America. Today there are countless tribute acts-you'd be hard-pressed to find a famous band that doesn't have someone who covers their style and their songs.

Coming up with a name may be the most creative part of forming a tribute act - after all, if you're copying an act, it's the one place you can be original. A quick web search found Purpendicular (Deep Purple), Beatlejuice and Yellow Matter Custard (Beatles), Bjorn Again (ABBA), Motorheadache (Motorhead), U2-2 (U2, although U2-too might've been better!), No Way Sis (Oasis), Nearvana, Proxy Music and The Rolling Clones. This could turn into a game for your next party!

Musicians are all about using music for self-expression, so why would a musician sign on to play, as close as possible, exact renditions of someone else's music? That's a good question. Or it's an obvious question, at least. Torres, who has played music his whole life and has earned a living at it, puts it this way: "A lot of tribute acts play note-for-note guitar solos, but I don't do that. I use Santana's style, but I don't copy his licks." So he does get to be creative, and he does still work on his own music.

And then there's the pay. Tribute bands are enjoying a surge in popularity; people are buying tickets. Torres didn't want to be specific, but he did say his band Evil Waze gets paid far better than all of the bar bands he was ever in. Do the math if you wish: the Elks Theater holds about 500.

The Eagles and Bruce Springsteen are in the house! Actually, those are the next two tribute acts to grace the stage of the Elks. One Of These Nights will appear on Nov. 15 and The Rising on Nov. 22. See you there. I'll be dressed as Stevie Nicks.

Don Cheek and his band The CheekTones are about to release a new record, "Second Chance at a First Impression." Check 'em out at www.cheektones.com.