Covers and Cover Bands: Yes, No or Quizas

It can be infuriating for a young musician trying to get gigs playing original music.   They are often passed over for cover band or tribute bands. If you ask any musician trying to book gigs, engage audiences, or get attention, one of the easiest gimmicks is playing covers.  “When you play a cover someone has already done the work.  Not just of writing the song, but the work of making the world love that song” (Tom).

That said, I still love a good cover. It doesn’t take long to think up some truly great songs that are covers.  Jimi Hendrix version of “All Along the Watchtower”, The Flamingos version of “I Only Have Eyes for You, Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and The Fugees version of “Killing Me Softly” not only stand up to the original versions, but would stand up against anything in popular music.

Then there are those classics that get new life each time they are reinterprated.  Some great Blues, folk or country songs are so old or have been done by so many people that the songs aren’t thought of as belonging to the person who wrote them, but band that did them the best

My favorite example of a song like this is Quizas which has been played by:

Trio Los Pancho

Nat King Cole

Cake

Celia Cruz, Lila Downs, Paco de Lucia, Ruben Gonzales and a host of other great artists.

As a consumer of music I can admit that when I am hearing a band I don’t know, I often enjoy the songs they cover more than their original songs.  A lot of what we enjoy about music comes with familiarity.  So while I sympathize with artists composing their own music, I can still see it from the perspective of audiences and venues that prefer to hear the songs they know the like to those that they may like.  Full disclosure: my band H for Hombre plays some covers and they are a lot of fun.  We try not to cover songs that stretch us out of the songs we would generally play or audiences would generally hear.  But, its great fun playing songs that people know.

Also, I think that while it may be easier for cover bands to achieve a certain level of success, they also have to deal with a lower ceiling.  Who is the world’s most popular cover band? How many albums have they sold? I think there is something great about a person or a group of people loving a group enough to dedicate themselves to a recreating a group or style of music that they love, but I still wouldn’t pay 15 bucks to see one.

What about you gentle reader?  Are tribute bands a help or a hinderance to creativity in music? What is your favorite or least favorite cover?