Lovingly paying homage to living legend Willie Nelson, Red Headed Stranger is fronted by Nelson
look-a-like/sound-a-like Red Shepherd. Drummer Dave “D.B.” Madden formerly spent over two decades playing with Wild Child.
"Red and I started this a little while ago," says Madden, who bears more than a passing resemblance to 1980s rock guitar god Pat Travers. He answered a Craigslist ad when Shepherd was looking to start something up.
"A big red flag," says Madden. "He didn't post a picture." He explains that in order to make it as a tribute band, the lead has to look and sound like the original. "You gotta be a dead ringer."
Red Shepherd, from Vista, is a part-time rocker and country musician who looks like a Willie with no hair (in performance, he wears a wig braided by his wife).
"My dad actually looks more like Willie than I do," Shepherd says. "He introduced me to country." Shepherd played in rock cover bands as a teen and in some original-music bands "that never went anywhere."
The tribute approach has been gravy for Madden, who played in one long before tribute bands were in vogue. He agrees that the genre has soared in popularity. "Especially the ones you can't see anymore." But even when founding members are still alive and working together a concert ticket price can be prohibitive. "A couple hundred bucks to see the originals? It's cheaper to see the next best thing [meaning, a tribute] and, they may even be better." He laughs.
San Diego is fertile ground for tribute bands. Consider Back 2 Black (AC/DC,) the Red Not Chili Peppers, King Kruk (Elvis,) Dwight Lightning (Dwight Yoakam,) OU812 (Hagar era Van Halen,) and more, all veterans of traditional and cover bands who decided that as a career move, the tribute dollar is the strongest. As rock and roll ages into the golden years of retirement and its fans and its founders become bona fide elders, all bets are off.
"Some of the vintage acts out there are really tribute bands," Shepherd says, "because they only have one original member."