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|"Got you covered: Beatles? Stones? Fresno has them both, and Neil Young, too."
by Mike Osegueda
The Fresno Bee, Thursday, October 9, 2003
The moment he awoke, he knew what he had to do.
The dream had been too vivid. One of those dreams where the details linger in your head for days. Don Ramirez's went like this:
He was sitting in a coffee shop with his friend Ron "Doc" Morse. An idea struck Ramirez and he told Doc, "We should do a Neil Young cover band and do nothing but Neil Young songs."
|So there was Ramirez, wide-eyed and awake, knowing he had to follow up on the dream. He tracked down Doc.
"Hey, get the people together. I'll do it with you," Doc told him.
About a month later, the band materialized, just like in the dream. They called it Ragged Glory.
"It's actually true," Ramirez says. "It actually happened. I can remember the dream just like how I can remember what happened yesterday, which is all kind of hazy to me, anyway."
Ladies and gentleman, Neil Young. At least, Fresno's version.
You didn't know we had our own Neil Young, did you? Or our own Rolling Stones? Or Beatles?
It's true, except that our Neil Young admits he doesn't sound much like the real one, our Mick Jagger's lips aren't that big and our Beatles/Beetles have three e's in their name.
Aside from those minor details, these groups and others like them put in a lot of effort to play the music of a certain band or a certain era.
|It's not just covering the music. It's re-creating it.
Experience it yourself at this weekend's Woodward Pop Festival, which, on the first day, will feature The Beetles, Gimme Shelter (the Rolling Stones tribute band), Sippy and Ol' Guzzler ('60s music), Dreamweaver -- The '70s Band, the Neptunes (surf music) and Ramirez's Ragged Glory, all re-creating tunes from the past.
|The second day will feature an assortment of jazz bands, including the After Dinner Mints, Tocanto, Voyager and more. Proceeds from the festival will benefit United Cerebral Palsy.
"The musicians in these bands are really good at re-creating the stuff note for note, with a nice live flavor for it," says Vince Warner, the organizer of the festival and a member of Dreamweaver. "It's not like you're seeing a cover band slopping away through the same 10 songs."
If a band born from a dream was strange, what about a band whose genesis is in a junkyard?
It was the 1970s, when Julie and Jim Meadows found a box of records in a junkyard in Bakersfield. They started using them as Frisbees, until their older brother stopped them from tossing one particular record. That's the Mamas and Papas, he said. They're good. We've got to listen to that.
That ignited a passion for music that stays with Julie and Jim Meadows today as the principal members of Sippy and Ol' Guzzler. The group specializes in mid-to-late-'60s music.
"We were singing together just for fun for years before we decided to put a band together," Jim Meadows says. "We just didn't want to see it forgotten. We like the music so much that we wanted to reproduce it."
And they have -- since 1992.
"The singing for us came easy," Julie Meadows says. "Because we were such fans and studied so much. Getting the band together and learning the songs, that took a lot of work."
They strive for authenticity, from stage props to clothing. That means watching old videos from the Monterey Pop Festival and searching vintage shops and thrift stores for clothes.
"It's like going back to the '60s," says Julie Meadows, who wasn't even born until 1970. "We don't ham it up at all. We take the approach that we wrote the songs and it is the '60s and we're singing them as brand-new popular songs."
As most of these bands will affirm, sometimes the music isn't the hardest part of re-creation.
Sometimes it's getting grown men to wear women's pants. That was Dreamweaver's task.
"We had to all go out and get bell-bottoms," Warner says. "Which means nowadays we all had to go out and get girls' pants that would fit us. That was an ordeal."
Dreamweaver plays Top 40 songs from the early '70s, the result of one afternoon when a couple of friends were looking through a Billboard book and kept saying, "Oh, I love that song," or, "Oh, I forgot that song." So they decided to start a band and play those long-loved or long-forgotten songs.
"Each one of those records is a little blueprint for a rock band to re-create," Warner says.
The surf-playing Neptunes choose to breathe new life into an almost-forgotten genre rather than just bring back old songs. They play instrumental surf music, which was plenty popular in the '60s until the British invasion pushed it aside.
Things have changed for the band during its seven years. It started as a cover band, but began playing originals. Members have added double-neck guitars and a stage show with beach balls, fog and a tiki head.
Remember, it's all about authenticity, so they went out and found fezzes.
Proving, once again, the look is key to re-creation.
"We don't wear Hawaiian shirts, because that's kind of expected," says guitarist Tom Walzem. "A lot of bands will do that; we just don't think that's cool. It just seems too cornball to wear a Hawaiian shirt, too expected."
"I just need to do something about the lips," says Reid Power, who doubles as Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter, the Rolling Stones tribute band.
Aside from the lips, Power has a powerful resemblance to Jagger. He said it became more noticeable when he grew out his hair after Gimme Shelter was formed.
"I've had people come up on the street or at Blockbuster and they'll stop me and go, 'You know, you look like Mick Jagger.' I say, 'Well, it's funny you should mention that. I just happen to be in a Rolling Stones tribute band.' "
Power and the other members of Gimme Shelter also are in Rocket Ride, a cover band that plays a variety of music. About a year ago, they decided to make a band that focused specifically on the Stones.
"When we decided to do it, I went out and bought every video I could get ahold of and I just kinda studied Mick's moves and costume and general demeanor onstage just so I can get as close as possible," says Power, who, at 51, is nine years younger than Jagger. "It's a lot harder than it looks. That guy never stops moving."
The Beetles' philosophy, meanwhile, is this: As long as you play like them, it doesn't matter if you like look them.
The band doesn't even like being asked who is supposed to be.
One of Fresno's Fab Four, Nate Butler, doesn't know what to say when he's asked that question. Because he plays bass, that would make him Paul McCartney, but he's not left-handed. And when he sings, he often sings John Lennon's parts. At least he knows he's not Ringo.
These Beetles focus more on re-creating the music. Although in preparation for Saturday, the group worked a little on its look.
Members rented uniforms like the ones on the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" cover and will perform the entire album with a horn section and the Fresno Youth Symphony backing them up.
Playing the full album wasn't too much of an adjustment. Ten of the 12 songs were in the group's regular repertoire, so the remaining two songs took only a little practice.
The uniforms, though, led to a problem: They're are all different colors, so who will wear what color?
"Beatles fans are so particular," says Butler, who adds that the Beetles are not sure who will wear which uniform. "They're sure to say, 'Well, your bass player was wearing green, but Paul McCartney wore blue.' "
Ramirez (aka Neil Young) doesn't have such problems. He naturally dresses like Young. People also say he looks like Young, but he doesn't buy that.
"Somebody asked me, 'did you decide to do Neil Young because you look so much like Neil Young?'" Ramirez says. "That's never been a consideration of mine. It made me laugh because I don't think I do. I've let my sideburns grow out -- that's the most costuming I've done for any band."
He's concerned with other things, anyway.
"The weird thing is that Neil Young is still alive," Ramirez says. "He's still touring. He's still putting out new stuff. It would be weird to think that through some weird happening, I could look up and see him sitting in the audience.
"Ahh man, he might walk up to me and say, 'Don't ever do my songs again, you hack.' "
•If You Go (2003)
•What: Woodward Pop Festival.
•Day One: The Beetles, Sippy and Ol' Guzzler, Dreamweaver -- The '70s Band, MoFo Party Band, Ragged Glory, Gimme Shelter and the Neptunes.
•Day Two: The After Dinner Mints, Tocanto, Voyager, Craig Von Berg's Jazz Mercenaries and the Buchanan High School Jazz Ensemble.
•When: 2 p.m. Saturday; noon Sunday.
•Where: Woodward Park.
•Cost: $15 per day or $25 for a two-day pass.
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