In the career path of a rock star, playing in a cover band typically comes near the beginning, somewhere between discovering your parents’ vinyl and winning a battle of the bands at the county fair.
Lately, however, some rock stars have been forming ironically named cover bands after making it big. In fact, what used to be considered somewhat lame has suddenly become chic, with Dave Navarro’s Camp Freddy leading the way.
“Everyone’s jumpin’ that train, man,” said Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, whose cover band Chevy Metal has been playing around Los Angeles for five years.
So why the step back?
“Because we have a really killer time doing it,” Navarro answered. “It’s kind of a celebration of that time where there’s no publishing, there’s no management, there’s no label that’s attached to it. It’s really just a group of guys getting together and doing what they love doing, which is playing music.”
In many ways, playing in a cover band helps musicians balance the stresses that accompany playing in an original band. “Anything that’s no pressure, musically, is a lot of fun,” Hawkins explained. “There’s a lot of pressure to get up and play drums in front of 30,000 people. So I like those low-pressure things and I think everybody who does what I do enjoys that too.”
“None of us are out here trying to prove anything,” added Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, who also fronts the cover band Bucket of Weenies. “We’re just out here having a good time and hopefully people show up and listen. And if they don’t like it, then they can at least go buy a beer and it sounds like they’re in any other bar.”
For Bennington, doing a cover band was also a way to play music far different from his main gig, as well as to pay homage to his variety of influences, from the Cure to Oasis. “These are songs you play when you pick up your acoustic guitar and you’re sitting there with your friends figuring it out and you’re like, ‘God, that is good,’ ” said Orgy’s Ryan Shuck, who plays guitar in Bucket of Weenies. “Except all our friends happen to be really talented musicians.”
“It’s just stuff that we grew up loving and playing in garages with each other when we were kids,” added Navarro, whose Camp Freddy focuses on classic-rock hits like Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.”
Music journalist Lorraine Ali credits rock stars’ early fandom as their main inspiration for forming cover bands later on. “Most musicians were influenced by someone, they want to be somebody else — or they did when they were kids,” she said, citing John Lennon’s love of Elvis Presley. “And doing a cover band is kinda the way to be like, ‘I actually can slip into the shoes of, you know, Prince.’ And there’s something about it that’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, so nobody can really ridicule you for doing a cover band after you get famous.”
Since Camp Freddy formed in 2002, the band has become a major draw, mostly reserving their shows for special events and posh private parties. There’s also been talk of a star-studded album in the works.
For Hawkins and Bennington, though, the occasional gig is enough. “We’re the worst band in the world. I mean, it really is a joke,” said Hawkins, whose Chevy Metal draw from the catalogs of Deep Purple, Queen and the James Gang. “It’s not a joke, but it’s not serious, it really isn’t. I mean, we don’t do corporate gigs or any of that kind of thing. Everybody makes 150 bucks here and there and we have fun.”
“It’s really something that wasn’t planned,” Bennington said of the Weenies. “It was really spontaneous and I think it will continue to be spontaneous as far as the songs we play and the venues we play. You know, we played the other day in a parking lot in front of Home Depot. And it was really a fantastic show.”