In the 2001 film Rock Star, former rapper and underwear model Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg fronts a tribute band that pays sonic homage to his favorite hard rockers, Steel Dragon. He takes the gig so seriously that he gets into an onstage fistfight with his guitarist.
“There’s no solo after the break,” shouts the alleged singer. “That’s not how the song goes!” POW, right in the kisser.
His policeman brother ridicules his sibling’s career as a clone. “You know the sickest thing about you, little man? You don’t have any fantasies of your own. You fantasize about being somebody else.”
Some musicians see tribute groups as a way to get a foot in the door of the music industry. Others have been on the other side of that door, only to find more closed doors. Copping someone else’s successful act may seem the only chance at earning a bit of applause, adulation, and -- ultimately -- affirmation, however secondhand.
In Rock Star, Wahlberg gets fired from the tribute group. One phone call later, he replaces the singer he idolizes in Steel Dragon and, within a few dozen movie minutes, he’s leading that band to greater heights of fame than ever before, transforming overnight from wannabe to bona fide.
To paraphrase another unreal character, Rocket J. Squirrel: “That trick never works.”
Though few have gone directly from paying tribute to playing stadiums, this hasn’t stopped the number of soundalikes from growing exponentially over the last few years.
We contacted as many local tribute acts as we could find, barring the endless array of Elvises (Elvi?), since they frankly get too much media attention already and this only causes them to breed all the more, like porky pop-culture kudzu.
We’ll start with the most unlikely of the lot, an all-male tribute to the Bangles who dress in drag and call themselves the Dangles.
“We acknowledge how ridiculous it is to dress up and pretend to be something you’re not, just to get a tiny taste of someone else’s fame,” says lead Dangle Tarzana Hoffs (real name Percy Murray). “We’re like the supermarket generic brand trying to Hoover a few bucks from the pocket of some chump who refuses to pay full price for his Cheerios. Or, more accurately, the TV versions of Private Benjamin or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…cash in on whatever’s hot and maybe, just maybe, lightning will strike again the same way.”
“We’re not delusional,” says Murray. “We know we’ll never have a hit record, so we just play it for fun, and the audience, when they get it, they have fun too. That’s as long as the crotch of my pantyhose doesn’t rip. I may look better in a miniskirt than Susanna Hoffs, but if Mister Happy accidentally pops out, then nobody’s smiling anymore.” Indeed.
40 Ounces to Freedom is all about Sublime. “A lot of people think I sound very similar to [Sublime singer] Bradley Nowell,” says 27-year-old front man Dane Scott. “Some people even say I bear a striking resemblance to him.”
According to Scott, “We do Sublime with a twist. We play a lot of the specific guitar solos and bass lines the same, but we also like to improvise on top and add our own arrangements of some songs…we don’t try to look like Sublime, although the drummer and I have both been tattooed by one of Bradley’s longtime buddies.”
The 40 Ouncers have a richer musical pedigree than one might expect from copycat rockers, perhaps explaining their hectic gig schedule.
Scott spent six years with Tubby and is currently working on a project with former Social Distortion player John Maurer. Bassist Sol Turpin (36) also fronts Safety Orange, while Jeremy Miller (31) plays in Stepping Feet, a Dave Matthews tribute. Adam Bausch (33) was the original drummer for Slightly Stoopid. “Adam actually played gigs with Sublime back in the day,” says Scott, “so he knows them all. I met Bradley’s widow when I worked for a store I think she owned in OB, called On the Contrary. I was her shoe guy.”
Scott says those days of reliably gainful employment are long gone. “Now, we all support ourselves with music. Nobody has a ‘real’ job. And Sol is the only one of us who’s married, for around two years now. It’s hard to be married and make a living as a musician at the same time.”
Dust N’ Bones is an homage to Guns N’ Roses. “We try to sound as much like the albums as possible,” says singer Richard Gwaltney, who founded the band in 2005. “But at the same time, we let our personalities come through. Anyone who thinks they can just go out there and be an actor will fail immediately. You have to be real, be yourself, and do what you want to do, regardless of the fact that you’re the ‘fake’ version.”
Regarding visuals, he says, “All of us go as far as we can to emulate the look of the original Guns N’ Roses members. We go for sort of an action-figure version of what everyone recognizes.”
Gwaltney — who strongly resembles his dimpled doppelganger — says gig offers increased when GN’R’s long-awaited Chinese Democracy album became a reality. “This works in our favor,” he says, “but we’re not trying to be them or anything. We just respect their artistic genius.”
The players all have day jobs and are spread around the county; they meet once a week in OB to practice. At 26, Gwaltney is the youngest member. “The other guys are all mid- to late 30s,” he says, “and the only married one is Tommy, our lead guitarist. He’s got a kid who’s way too young to understand the awesome magnitude of his father being in a GN’R tribute.”
“In my opinion,” says Gwaltney, “being married almost defeats the whole purpose of being in a Guns N’ Roses tribute. You should be able to rock out with your cock out.”
Led Zeppelin tribute Dazed and Confused has also benefited from the renewed activities of forebearers, in their case the November 2007 one-shot Zep reunion at England’s 02 Arena. “In the months surrounding the concert,” says vocalist Jason Ott, “we played more and better gigs than usual. That’s when we first began booking at A-list places like the Belly Up Tavern and Canes.”