I remember a time when I said, “I will never be an impersonator or dress up like a famous star in a tribute band.” The funny thing is, playing the role of Angus Young of AC/DC, is not only invigorating, it is also a big source of income and has become a major part of my life. Like the saying goes, “who knew?”
A few years back, I was asked to replace a kid quite a bit younger than me as Angus Young in an AC/DC tribute band. I attended the show, as a courtesy, and not anticipating any interest in pursuing the gig offer. The first thing I noticed was the thousands of people in the audience that loved the show. I instantly realized that a tribute band done correctly, with integrity, is an art form all of its own.
When putting yourself in the performer’s shoes, you realize the task of learning the parts correctly, and being able not only to have showmanship, but also the acting ability to recreate the famous artist you are portraying. At this show, in one evening, I gained a ton of respect for the very thing I swore I would never do, as my opinion about playing in a tribute band took a 360-degree turn.
I took the gig, and after a couple of years, playing for an already established AC/DC tribute band, I went on to form my own. “Dirty Deeds” (www.dirtydeedsusa.com), which is of course an AC/DC tribute, but with a strict attention to detail on all levels. I really got the bug and went for it. I set out to develop the show into a two-act production.
The first set is an authentic Bon Scott era dedication. The energy of a young Angus, and the early sound of AC/DC sporting a Bon Scott look-alike front man. The second set is dedicated to the Brian Johnson era, with a complete costume and stage prop change, illustrating the post Highway To Hell sound. A giant bell lowers, as the bell sample is cranked through the PA for the intro of “Hells Bells”. Cannons are uncovered, and the crowd is on their feet screaming, as the second set begins with the “Back In Black” album performed in its entirety.
At the beginning, there was an initial investment. Two Gibson SG’s, a backline of amps, and three different colored “Angus” schoolboy outfits. What a great excuse to buy new gear and not feel guilty about the purchase! I was on a mission to becoming Angus Young! In regards to learning this gig, my daily regimen was to transcribe the music, get on a pair of shorts, and clear away the living room furniture to work on all the Angus stage antics while playing along with the songs.
I was truly in physical training at this point, to prepare for the shows that would be outdoors in 95-degree weather with 90% humidity. I had to practice the parts, especially the lead solos, on a regular basis, since I would need to pull off the playing while running around, duck kicking reminiscent “Chuck Berry”, and maintaining accuracy in spite of the weather conditions.
Learning the playing style of Angus involved more elements than one may think at first listen. First off, to really copy a player to the point of being extremely convincing and, in this case, giving the people the AC/DC concert experience, it is very important to capture the nuances that make up the artist’s style. I’m a firm believer in studying the player’s influences.
To understand Angus and the writing of AC/DC, we need to study players like Chuck Berry. Along with many of the old blues men like B.B. King and the early rock and roll pioneers. Players such as Scotty Moore, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Paul Kossoff, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Angus draws from those players’ licks, feel, tone, vibrato and phrasing. It is easy to interoperate AC/DC’s tone with too much gain on your amp. Angus’s and Malcolm’s tone is more power amp distortion than pre-amp distortion, like the earlier classic players’ tone. This results in a crunchier, bigger sound, rather than a buzzy thin tone. I tried constantly to practice the leads with less gain. It is harder to play clean with less distortion. My goal is to capture as much authenticity to the original recordings as possible.
Copy or Improvise
It is very important to learn the material note for note as much as possible. It is more important to understand the player, and perceive all the subtleties along with the obvious things. You actually can sound more like the artist by playing with the right vibe, feel, and technique true to that artist’s style, than to learn it all note for note and come up short on capturing the artist’s feel and vibe.
Playing in an AC/DC tribute band at the level of “Dirty Deeds USA” not only gives the crowd the true AC/DC concert experience, but it gives me the rock star experience, and great gratification, while entertaining thousands on a given night, hence, the reason I started playing in the first place.
Is A Cover Band For You?
If you are considering getting into a tribute band and are on the fence trying to decide if it is cool or not, just do it with all your integrity. Treat it like you are acting and performing in a Broadway play. Pay homage to an artist that has given us so much over the years. Dedicating myself to forming a top tribute band certainly is a big investment. I still find time for my own music and other side band projects. Learning the Angus Young role really got me back to my blues/rock roots. It also reinforced my playing technique and rhythm guitar stamina. I’m loving every minute of it.
Written by: Freddy DeMarco