Sting was a school teacher. Jagger studied economics. Gene simmons taught public school as well. Rod Stewart was well on his way to becoming a pro soccer player until a knee injury ended his career. Paul McCartney always played music.
But, what if they hadn't made it? What if George Martin received --in what he, himself, said was "The final option"- - yet another in a long string of rejections from EMI? Would The Beatles have broken up?
If The Stones never got a record deal, would we be seeing a well-groomed and bespectacled "Micheal P. Jagger" -- financial author/correspondent for CNN's Money?
If they hadn't gotten their deals when they did, how long would they have stuck at it? A year? Ten years? Would any of these guys still be playing music or would they be living in the suburbs with five kids and a mortgage? Your guess is as good as mine. But, odds are, if they were still at it, they'd be doing so in cover bands; as that's where old musicians go to die. Or, so I used to think.
A friend forwarded me a great piece on cover bands in this week's Wall Street Journal written by Neil Shah, and, I couldn't help but add my two cents:
Back in what seems like 1888, I played in an original band called The Rosenbergs.
We shared the stage with acts like No Doubt, Duran Duran, The Strokes, Echo and The Bunnymen, Bob Dylan, etc., partnered with guitar legend Robert Fripp of King Crimson -- as well as with Napster -- appeared on the Stern show with Gene Simmons, and were regulars on Carson Daly and Dennis Miller. I also testified at the C.A.R.P. hearings on Capitol Hill on behalf of artists nationwide.
These days, aside from writing for The Huff, amongst others, I basically survive on whatever royalties ASCAP's magnanimous computer feels like doling out each month for composing the theme to Jenna Elfman's last, short-lived CBS sitcom. But, life wasn't always this "amazing."
After The Rosenbergs broke up, I ended up working as Kevin Clash's (Elmo) assistant on Sesame Street, living on my sister's couch, and pretty much gave up playing music, altogether. To my own surprise, it was a cover band that "saved me."
Several years passed without me playing a gig of any kind. Until, one day, I saw an ad on Craigslist for a cover band in Jersey looking for a singer. I thought, "I love karaoke... why the f$#k not?"
Fast forward three plus years and I'm out of my mind bored when a Friday roles around that doesn't see my band, The Counterfeiters, playing.
The funny part is, back when I was doing originals, I, too, used to look down on cover bands; thinking these guys were just "copping out" and didn't have the guts to try to make it with their own stuff. That was then.
To my utter shock, I had no idea how competitive the cover band scene really is. In some areas, it's even more grueling than originals.
Because everyone's older in cover bands, you're dealing with even more reasons for players to want/need to quit the band; job stress, jealous/abandoned wives, babies on the way, etc., etc., Not to mention, in a cover band, you're constantly dealing with 1000 guys who just want to pick up a guitar and play "Rock Star" for a few hours on the weekend.
If you're serious about being a professional, steady-working cover band, you're forced to sift through a myriad of amateurs. Not to mention, the biggest surprise is that even places that only hold 50-100 people, like "Joe's Taco Shack" in Seaside, think they're Madison Square Garden.
Most bookers automatically assume your band sucks -- and, given the above, why shouldn't they -- thus, it can take six months of phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and in-person visits just to secure a single "audition" at their fine establishment for summer 2015.
When you finally play there, provided the band's still together, if they like you, you're usually forced to wait another six months to a year to play again, due to most clubs/bars booking so far in advance. And these are the "small" venues.
When it comes to the bigger venues, i.e. Bar Anticipation, Jenkinsons, Atlantic City, etc., good luck ever getting in without one of the three agencies that run the entire cover scene, behind you.
And yet, after all the crap; after all the humiliation; after playing to seven people in a blizzard down the shore in November; after being forced to jump off stage in the middle of a song to run to the broom closet in order to adjust the p.a. so the over-whelming stream of feedback stops making people's ears bleed; after busting your ass for three-plus hours playing 50-60 songs for a whopping $40 bucks, each -- I wouldn't trade it for the world.
When folks come up to me afterwards and ask me what it's like playing in a cover band, I tell them it's the most fun I've ever had playing music. And I actually mean it.
Growing up with a mother who sang in the Catskills and opened for the likes of Buddy Hackett, Jackie Mason, Robert Klein and Alan King, both my sister (a PH.D. prof. of clinical psych. at Columbia) and I received a first class education in comedy. Thus, no matter what, although I take music very seriously, when The Rosenbergs were together, I could never take the music business seriously. And I never quite figured out why.
For me, playing cover tunes to a room full of inebriated folks who are out to dance and have a good time is the perfect combination of karaoke and "shtick."
The main thing I, personally, loved about Neil Shah's article is guys like Trixter's Steve Brown -and myself--, we'd play ukelele for $20 bucks a night in Kabul if there's an audience. We do it for the love of the music. Doesn't matter if we wrote the songs or not.
Thus, it got me wondering what our surviving rock legends would be doing today if their bands hadn't made it?
Obviously, we'll never know. But, I like to think, perhaps, in some parallel universe, if you're up for some good, ole fashioned sixties blues this weekend, you'll be able to catch Mick and the Magic Tones at The Boiler Room in Surrey, Fri.Sat. 10PM.