Musicians, I was speaking to the editor of Music Connection Magazine because they are doing an upcoming article on tribute bands, and it got me thinking about who was actually the FIRST tribute. Are there ANY well known artists left who haven’t had a tribute performed to them? Did tributes start because the current music scene became stagnant? I don’t think so – I think that no one had thought of the idea yet, just like no one had “thought” of rock n roll until the early 50’s. Were there Sinatra clones doing Frank tributes in the 40’s? I don’t think so. So, who was first?
A guy walked into our office around 1971 and said he was looking for musicians who were “really into the Beatles”. I told him that would be easy since everyone loved the Beatles. But he explained he needed players to BECOME the Beatles. (They had broken up just two years earlier). I had never heard of such a concept and besides, “being” the Beatles at that time could have been considered by many to be a big no-no.
Personally I thought the guy was nuts but as it turned out he was just ahead of his time! I don’t know if he ever got that band together, but I do know that about three years later I saw a full page ad in a large talent resource book proclaiming that “Alan – a Tribute to Elvis” was available for booking. This was still a couple years before Elvis died. So, to my knowledge, this dude Alan was the FIRST to pull it off, and it was the first time I remember the word “tribute” being used.
So what is the next phase after 45 years of tribute acts? Tributes to tributes? I can see it now: “Led Zepagain Again”. In the past few decades there were of course more jobs where bands were required to know 200 songs because they were working in the same place 5 nights a week, so performing a tribute would get old real fast. I suppose with the decline of house gigs, tributes are more popular today simply because even well established bands might only play a few choice jobs a month in different locations, so the audience may only see them once or twice a year. Feedback?