Rolling Stones Tribute Band To Get Its Rocks Off At Off Broadway Tonight

Just when you thought that St. Louis' love for cover nights and tribute bands couldn't swell our collective hearts any further, a promising new venture in classic-rock recreation hits Off Broadway tonight. Street Fighting Band is a new local tribute to the Rolling Stones, and the band is made up of a veritable wrecking crew of local talent - members of the Feed, Via Dove, the Incurables and the Funky Butt Brass Band have all converged to cover one of the all-time great rock bands.

We caught up with guitarist Jimmy Griffin and keyboardist Dave Grelle over email to hear more about how the band came together and how these players came together. Both men are well-practiced players in original and cover bands - they share the stage in both the Incurables as well as the Led Zeppelin tribute Celebration Day. (The action starts at 8 p.m. tonight at Off Broadway, and the cover is $12 for 21 and up and $15 for under 21.)

Christian Schaeffer: How did this particular band come together?

Jimmy Griffin: About a year and a half ago, I played with Via Dove for An Under Cover Weekend. Since then it's kind of morphed into the band it is now. I have to give a lot of credit to Dave Grelle for getting together some really talented folks. The addition of the Funky Butt horn guys and Ermanie and Tandra (El Monstero, backing vocals) has been a real shot in the arm. We have a fab rhythm section with Kevin Bowers (drums, the Feed) and Andy Coco (bass, Dogtown Allstars) making it swing; and my good friend Jordan Heimburger (The Incurables, the Feed) on guitar. Lastly our Mick, Andy Shadburne from Via Dove, is out front shaking it all over the place.

Dave Grelle: I made some calls and we came up with not only some of the best players around town, but also guys who were just cool to hang with a have some beers. The vibe has been ideal for trying to recreate some of those legendary recordings.

What's the best part about playing these songs? Are there any songs that have been especially fun or challenging to work out in the band?

JG: Best part is really learning something about music you love. Just about anybody that ever picked up a guitar has learned a lot of these songs, but with tribute gigs a lot of it comes down to minutia: How they REALLY played it, what gear they were using. The swagger these guys possessed is really immense, so much attitude and feeling. About 75 percent of the catalog is hips and crotch. The only real esoteric stuff, aside from some of the ballads, are Mick's lyrics. Which are some of the best in rock history.

DG: I also have to say that I never had any idea how tricky some of the Rolling Stones arrangements were. There's really no rhyme or reason to it. Weird little five bar solos, odd vocal phrasing, and it goes on. It's been a real challenge. It's also been a challenge as a keyboardist to try and really capture what Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins, Ian Stewart, and Chuck Leavell. Not only are these guys just on fire on the records, they're parts are sometimes buried in the mix, so it really takes a good hard listen to hear what they're playing. As songwriters in original bands, how do you balance these more high-profile cover gigs and the day-in, day-out routine of writing for and fronting your own band?

DG: It's really not hard to switch modes. You grow up listening and playing along to other bands' music and you take the best of it and try to apply it to your own sound. Whether or not you're consciously doing it or not, doesn't really matter. If you listen to something enough, it's gonna come out. I've never done the steady cover band thing, but I do really get off paying tribute to Led Zeppelin with Celebration Day and now the Rolling Stones with Street Fighting Band. I'm still trying to convince El Monstero they need a third keyboardist...ha! JG: The difference is that you're musically acting. It's emulation, and make believe. I think that they (the Stones) do it to some degree today, live up to their past. Nobody plays like Keith, that's why he is a legend. Keith can't even play like he did in the sixties and seventies. I doubt he really knows what he did then, and it really doesn't matter cause he did it. When it's your band, you have so much personally invested in it. It's apples and pizza. What era of the Stones' songbook will you be drawing from? Do you dip much into the Brian Jones era?

JG: Going pretty far back. "Time Is On My Side" and some early stuff. Think we wind up at Tattoo You. I wanted to do "Undercover Of The Night," but the boys wouldn't have it. The bulk of the set is late 60's early 70's, when they we're on fire.

What is your take on the current state of the Stones as a recording/touring entity? Is their longevity admirable or should they have hung it up, despite the massive payday that their tours bring?

JG: Nobody is holding a gun to anyone's head. Millions of people wait in line and will fork over any amount of money to see them do their thing. They're musicians. How do you tell someone that's never done anything but play rock and roll (and played a big part in shaping what we think of as rock itself for that matter) to not do it? Have I listened to a Stones record since Steel Wheels? No. Have I ever seen them live? No. If they start showing up to stadium gigs and there's a couple hundred folks in attendance, then maybe it's time to pack it in. Until that happens, and I really don't see that happening, they are The Fucking Rolling Stones. How do you argue with that? You don't...

DG: More power to 'em. It's what they do. If they don't wanna stop, why should they? They've got an extremely loyal fan base and it's obvious the boys still love performing.

You both play in other big-draw tribute acts in town. Is the hope that Street Fighting Band will become something on the scale of El Monstero or Celebration Day?

JG: All the acts that I'm a part of are extremely different musical entities. Street Fighting Band is the loosest of the bunch. The music really gets to breathe. If you watch them through the years, they've done these songs different ways, in different keys, tempos. The record is the record and live is live. El Monstero is the polar opposite. The record is live, and any deviation is glaringly apparent. It's also a pretty low impact gig, lots of highs and lows, and 20 percent of that gig I'm in the back having a smoke and a sipper. Celebration Day is the most physically and mentally exhausting gig I have ever done. It's three hours of swinging as hard as you can at 110mph fastballs, and the pitcher is throwing wild. Street Fighting Band is a nice steady groove, a loose right arm and a lot of 'tude. I would love to see this on a grander scale, and think it's worthy of an audience because we love and care about the music as much as the people that come to see it; fans first, band second. All these bands were big chunks of my musical history, and it's a blast to get to get to step into the shoes of some of the greatest players that have walked the planet. It's like being 15 again, but you can play really well and have way better gear. DG: The hope is that we can keep doing this once or maybe twice a year and that the fans who come out enjoy it as much as we do. The Stones did the hard part - they wrote the songs. We're just having a blast and trying to put on a top-notch show in the process. The setlist is right at 30 tunes. It's gonna be a long night of hip shakin'.

Let's assume that Street Fighting Band becomes an annual happening, whatever the scope. Who is the next band or artist to get the full-on St. Louis tribute band treatment?

JG: The only other band I've talked to people about doing would be the Who. Partly because you could do a lot of things visually as well as musically. It could have a lot of the elements that make El Monstero the spectacle that it is. But with a little help, I think we could make it happen. It would give me an excuse to buy a Hiwatt amp, and grow that crappy beard I've always wanted. I also think I'd look really bitchin' in a white jumpsuit. DG: I'd personally love to see a James Brown tribute. I don't know anybody on the planet that could pull it off, but wow, can you imagine trying to capture James and that band in their prime?

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