by Dianne Austin
Rock ‘n Roll was established in the 50’s and 60’s but it wasn’t until the 70’s and 80’s that “covers” bands emerged as a driving force on the local music scene. Amongst them were the soon-to-be-known-as “Indie” artists. They often had dreams of hitting it big with their own original music but were also the ones who lived vicariously in pubs and discos every weekend when they performed a vast array of mega-hits–hits that came from the stars that had topped the charts for the last 5-10 years.
In the 80’s and 90’s fans sought covers groups because they could really dig into the strains of a favorite song over and over again while meeting up and dancing—and the cherry on top was–they got to hear it played LIVE! It didn’t matter that the covers bands realized their inception in someone’s neighborhood garage—in fact, that little detail added a bit of grit and interest to the whole experience!
Fifteen, twenty years ago local dudes played Walk this Way and We Will Rock You while crowds reveled in their reminiscences. The more like the original it was, the more the fans yelled for an encore. Covers bands played copycat, and everyone ate it up. But somehow it wasn’t enough. The “covers” were often all over the map and some of the fans of the real-dealers couldn’t quite get enough of their particular favorite band’s songs. Hence, the “tribute” band came to be. Suddenly, a simulated scenario was taking a crack at the entertainment!
Some of the first tribute bands began simply from solo tribute acts—people who imitated famous artists like Elvis, Liberace, Cher, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton.
Most likely, the first band ever to play and pay tribute was probably one for the Beatles. Groups like Rain, Ticket to Ride, Strawberry Fields, and Liverpool Legends have been around now for awhile. There’s probably a Beatles tribute performing on a stage in your town right now. In Orange County, California, a tribute to the Beatles and their music is an ongoing practice every week at Kobe Steakhouse in Seal Beach. It’s the entertainment of choice that accompanies their Sunday brunch!
But tributes didn’t really skyrocket until just now—maybe within the past 4-5 years. Used to be, they were in the minority. Now, smaller, local concert-hall venues are once more becoming “the” place to congregate for music enthusiasts. Whereas once these houses were known for their ability to book A-list names in the music industry who were up and coming (e.g., the Golden Bear) now, more intimate concert venues like the Grove of Anaheim, Coach House in SJC, and House of Blues in L.A., Anaheim, and Vegas, are often featuring tribute acts as their headlining music!
One of the best and longest lasting of the “tributes” is a band called Wild Child—a re-enactment of the Doors. The band has been gracing stages now for almost 31 years. They continue to be one of the most sought-after tribute bands in Southern California.
Dave Brock is Jim Morrison. As a youth, growing up in northern Calfornia’s bay area, Dave was more interested in riding motorcycles and building hot rods than he was in developing his musical talent. Always a music enthusiast, however, he had a great interest in listening to various artists in many genres of music. With rock at the heart of the matter, one of his favorite groups was the Doors. The story Dave Brock tells about how he came to be this musical impersonator of the legend that was Jim Morrison is strange and also, somewhat magical!
It was 1982 and Dave decided to go to Gazarri’s on the Strip because he had heard a radio commercial about a production they were doing of a rock opera about the Doors. The show was being produced by Jim’s sister, Anna Morrison, and her husband Alan Graham.
Thinking it was an interesting premise for a musical, Dave decided to go check it out but when he got there, he wasn’t sure of how, why, or what it was all about. He simply attended, thinking he was going to see an unusual show about a band he knew a little something about and one for which, the lead figure came to such a tragic end (Jim Morrison died in 1971.)
When he entered the venue he was handed a form and a number and told to wait. Looking around, Dave saw a scene that could be likened to a circus—minus the animals. There were throngs of Morrison look-alikes walking around acting odd, each one trying to top the next with “channeling” the Rock star and impersonating him to a tee. Dave comments, “I never went down that path.” He also claims that he really didn’t know that he had just been pulled into an open-audition situation. As far as he was concerned, he was just checking out the scene to see what the show was all about.
What happened next must have been kismet. Brock recalls,
“My name was called. I went up onstage. The band members asked me what I was going to sing. I only knew one Doors song. Everyone else was singing the same two or three songs repeatedly—Light My Fire, Touch Me, and Back Door Man. My favorite song by the Doors was L.A. Woman so I asked the band if they could play that song. They talked about it and then turned to me and said, “Yeah, we can play that one.”
“At this time, I had never, ever even spoken into a microphone over a P.A. before, much less, ever sung into one. But this was my favorite song and I knew this song, so I just gripped onto the microphone and gave it my best shot. And after I was done, Anna Morrison Graham came up onto the stage and brought photographers over and had pictures taken with me. Yeah. They apparently liked my audition, because the next day I got a call from the production office to come in and talk to them. By the end of the day, they offered me the lead role in the show.”
The Grahams had six months of pre-production work before the show ever had an audience. During this time, various scripts were written then scrapped and the task of financial backing had not even been tackled. Anna and Alan had no prior experience in theatrical undertakings, and the inexperience took its toll. Dave Brock went on to do a six-week stint in the show as their Jim Morrison. The show was of loose construction and it was not written well. Because of the flaws, it didn’t flourish.
But. . .
“One week after the show opened, there was a blurb in the newspaper and I was sandwiched in between something on Paul McCartney and a promotion for Mick Jagger and the Stones. Then, there was a write-up in the Calendar section of the times. Later, there was a clip from our show up on MTV.”
Q: So you started gleaning a lot of attention?
A: Yeah. A lot of attention.
And this is how Brock was able to tuck some experience under his belt. When it was done, he was bound and determined to put a show of his own together. He created Wild Child and the band has been going, great guns, ever since.
Anna Morrison Graham saw something in Dave. She saw something that was not there in all the Morrison wanna-be’s that filed in during the multitude of audition days prior to that. What she heard in Brock’s rendition of L.A. Woman was not something so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It wasn’t a carbon-copy reincarnation in the way he looked or acted. It probably had more to do with the way Dave stood as he delivered the song; the subtle nuances he was able to instill as he sang those notes that sounded ever-so-close to the way that Morrison had delivered them. True, he did look a bit like the rock star, but there was such an array of subtle elements combined into Dave’s presentation that he was able to create the feeling that the late, great rock mystique known as Jim Morrison was once again, in the house!
Finesse and subtlety in the central figure may be the key, but Wild Child is made great too by the fabulous other musicians that re-invent the music of the Doors in performance. They are: Kit Potamkin on keyboards, Pat Hennesy on guitar, Gene White on drums, and often, Forrest Penner on guitar.
A wide spectrum of ages attends the shows ranging from teenagers to seniors. This cross-generational audience adds a special feel and zeal, to an evening out while watching the band.
Some years ago, Brock was asked to tour with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger. For him, it was an honor and a lifetime goal that he’s been able to realize. The time he spent playing shows with the two former Doors members is regarded by him as “the pinnacle of my career.”
This summer, he was scheduled to do it again, but things came crashing down when Ray Manzarek passed away. For a time, the effects of his passing threw Dave into an unplanned upheaval with his own emotions and with his career.
But time is the great master-healer and planner. Dave Brock and Wild Child go on, and the amazing music of Jim Morrison and the Doors will continue to be remembered and felt in a similar, simulated, live music experience for a long time to come!
For more information on Dave Brock and Wild Child visit http://www.wildchild.info and http://www.DaveBrock.com. You can see Dave Brock on FB as well.
Check Back for Part Two of “No Legacy Lost”–Cheap Trick and Cheapest Trick Tomorrow