music and ideologies and other assorted crap...

i recenlty witnessed a raging debate on the ‘integrity’ of cover bands. quick poll - what’s your opinion on bands bands playing predominantly covers (as opposed to writing your own music)?

Personally, I have a really hard time respecting that as far as creativity is concerned. If you want to be a musician, why would you just cash in on the successes on others? That’s like being a filmmaker that only makes re-makes.

However, I can see the points that others could make. When you go out to a bar and see a cover band, it’s not about creativity - it’s about entertainment. As long as they put on a good show and play the songs reasonably well, what’s the problem?

In general, though, I’m not much for 'em. If I want to hear a song, I want the original played by the people who wrote it, not some watered down version played by some guy who delivers pizza the rest of the week.


Well, one aspect of music is the composition, of course, but another is the interpretation and performance of the compositions. To say that cover bands have less integrity or creativity is to take a short view, I believe.

Where do you draw the line, in other words? Is a blues musician who does Muddy Waters or B.B. King tunes cheapening himself? Not if he perfoms the music well and puts a little of himself into it, IMO.

During the 70s, when ragtime music had a resurgence, new albums featuring Scott Joplin compositions were issued. Were these albums, recorded by contemporary artists, “covers”? Or should only piano rolls cut by Joplin himself be recorded? Some perfomers have the talent to perform, but not to compose. It’s not a flaw, it’s just what they do.

I’m going far afield, I admit, and my examples don’t really compare to the band at the Dew Drop Inn who does nothing but Beatles and Dave Clark Five every set, for instance.

But artistic reinterpretation is not necessarily cheap, in any art form. Actors recreate rolls originated by others, and they attempt to bring something new to it. How boring to only have one interpretation of Macbeth or Willy Loman! Directors who re-make a film or revive a certain play or musical do so because they see something else in that story that a new treatment will allow them to bring out. The most recent filming of Of Mice and Men had resonances to audiences of today that couldn’t have been dreamed of when the first version was filmed. The story itself is timeless. But the directorial vision is affected by the individual director, who is in turn affected by his/her time and place in history and society.

Perhaps I’m introducing oranges into a discussion of apples, but I don’t necessarily see it as a lack of artistic integrity to “cover” anything or anyone.

I think it’s a matter of degree. One extreme would be one of those Beatles or Kiss tribute bands that plays everything note-for-note. Another would be some band that does, say, punk versions of Carpenters songs. Me, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m a guitarist (and a pretty damned good one, if I do say so myself) but not a songwriter. I guess you could call me an interpreter. I can take a songwriter’s skeleton and flesh it out, or change it completely (I once did a pretty good job convincing a guy that his hard-rock song would sound great as early-Eagles style country rock; the mandolin solo put it over the top). I can also take a cover song and make it my own, whether through phrasing of the chords during the vocals or improving my own solo.

Only rarely do I play another guitarist’s solo–and then only when it seems perfect for the song, say Free’s “All Right Now,” or anything by Knopfler. And even then, I inflect it with my own phrasing and personality.

Really, if you think about it, most musicians are in the same boat, whether amateur or professional; there are one or two songwriters in the band, and the rest of the guys flesh it out with their own style and personality.

Myself. I’m a songwriter first, performer second. In fact I can’t even play my own songs. I learn them enough to get them recorded and then never perform them again.

I find cover bands somewhat destructive (in some cases). I know many, many good musicians that were in bands, writing their own music and playing it out live. One day they’d be invited to join a cover band and make some extra cash on the week-ends.

They join the band for a night or two a week… then 3 nights a week,… then four. Pretty soon they are spending all their time playing cover tunes and ignoring working on their own stuff.

One of the best guitarists I’ve ever met went down this road. He no longer writes his own music, just plays other peoples. Shame really because he had some really cool ideas when I worked with him.

That said, I know some musicians that are really good at playing but couldn’t write a single note. They fit in great with cover bands. They can be on stage and have all the attention without needing the skill of writing.