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Celebrating Greatness

Updated: May 4

A Tribute Band Roundtable with Rebel Rebel and The Minks

By Michael Molenda Rebel Rebel Photos by Michael J. Kirshner | Minks photo by band

I thought it was the lamest thing a musician could do.


The very idea of playing in a tribute band, trying to replicate songs created by artistic

divinities—songs that had transformed, energized, and passed judgement on culture—seemed vile and shameful. After all, if a musicians job is to look outward or inward, bare their soul, and conjure truth, love, angst, regret, joy, and other emotions with a voice, a guitar, a bass, drums, or any instrument of their choice, then the ultimate betrayal of the artform is stealing the treasures already owned by someone else. But I was young then. And I was wrong.


Tribute bands do not suck. It can be incredibly difficult to get the musical concepts,

techniques, compositions, and performance style of transcendent players absorbed into

your own DNA. (I would never ever be able to tackle Eddie van Halen, Jimmy Page, and

scores of other virtuosos, and I salute those truly amazing guitarists who can.)

Furthermore, there is nothing but beauty and benevolent power in sharing the sounds of

popular bands with enthusiastic audiences looking to dive into a carefree, communal

party atmosphere—where they can dance and shout and drink and remember how the

songs made them feel once upon a time, and still inspire them now. As an entertainer,

what can be a greater experience than making people happy?


To be quite honest, I would rather perform my original rock music onstage, but without a

past track record and a substantial, public-facing music catalog, it's challenging to

acquire good gigs in awesome venues when competing with the younger, hipper bands

of the moment. It's their time. The way of the world. No complaints. No regrets.

But playing songs I absolutely adore in two tribute bands—a glam-era David Bowie act

called Rebel Rebel (I'm the drummer) and a rocked-up celebration of Monkees hits

dubbed The Trouble With Monkeys (guitar and vocals)—has lifted my soul, challenged

my chops, allowed me to jump around in fantastic venues, and given me the opportunity

to play with wonderful musicians who I actually like as people (hahaha). It's a marvelous

personal "win" for a lifetime creator such as myself, and I'm now rather embarrassed by the arrogant rants I launched against tribute bands in my youth. (Sincere apologies to

anyone who was in earshot of my ill-considered tirades back then!)


All of these notions rolled around in my head as Rebel Rebel and our buddies The

Minks—an all-female Kinks tribute—prepped for a co-headline show at Club Fox in

Redwood City, California, on April 8, 2023. It seemed like an excellent opportunity to

talk with my friends and peers to reveal their perceptions and experiences performing

the work of musical heroes. Hopefully, this tribute-band roundtable will bring some

interesting insights and ideas to all players—whether they are rocking their own material

or honoring the songs of their favorite groups.


The participants are Jennifer Edwards (vocalist, The Minks), Christina Michelle (vocalist,

Rebel Rebel and bassist The Minks), Desmonde Mulcahy (bassist, Rebel Rebel), Linda

Palermo (keyboardist, The Minks and Rebel Rebel), Geri Vahey (drummer, The Minks),

and Joshua Vaughn (guitarist, Rebel Rebel).


Here we go...


Michael Molenda: I've often wondered how you get yourselves into the creative headspace of an iconic performer in order to present a faithful tribute to their music.


Christina Michelle: I don't. I'm focused on delivering a compelling live interpretation

that leverages musicality, movement, fashion, and performance to evoke the artist's

character.


Jennifer Edwards: I immerse myself in the lyrics of Kinks songs when we perform.

There is magnificent raw energy, genuine emotion, and intensity to tap into with songs

such as “Lola” and “You Really Got Me.” I am also struck by how relevant the Kinks’

lyrics feel today. Many of their songs—like “Do It Again” and “Set Me Free"—deal with

themes that are just as relevant now as they were when they were written decades ago,

from the struggle to find one's place in the world, to the complexities of love and

relationships.


Desmonde Mulcahy: I don't think it would be possible for me to get into [David Bowie

and The Spiders from Mars bassist] Trevor Bolder's head, but I do feel his presence

when I play his parts. I get a sense of how he interpreted Bowie's songs, how he

grooved with [Bowie drummer] Woody Woodmansey, and how he created his bass lines

against the harmony structures. I discovered that, for a lot of bassists I like to study,

transcribing their parts is the next best thing to taking a private master class with

them—if that were even possible.


Geri Vahey: Mick Avory [Kinks] is such a delightful drummer. I feel our high-level goals

are the same—to serve the song without overpowering it. While I wish I had his jazz

chops, I really enjoy emulating some of his subtle share fills in less-than-obvious spaces.


Joshua Vaughn: My previous David Bowie tribute band had two guitarists and covered

a wider range of his career. As the rhythm guitar player, I got to play Bowie’s 12-string

parts on songs such as “Space Oddity,” and Nile Rodgers’ electric-guitar parts on songs

like “Let’s Dance.” As Rebel Rebel is all about the Ziggy Stardust glam-rock era, I get to

focus exclusively on playing like Mick Ronson. The biggest thing that helped me get into

Mick’s headspace was getting a new, red-finish Les Paul for Christmas. Thanks, Santa!

Mick always played a Les Paul, and when I played these songs on my Stratocaster,

they didn’t sound quite right. But the first time I played them with my Les Paul, I

immediately felt more like Mick.


Michael Molenda: When I'm emulating Woody Woodmansey from The Spiders from Mars, I know I have to perform well-known drum parts, such as the ba-da-da tom fills after the line, I'm an alligator on "Moonage Daydream". Also, as Desmonde plays the bass lines pretty exact to the original parts, I can't drop a surf beat on, say, "Ziggy Stardust" or we will be completely out of sync. For everything else, though, I don't think I have to copy Woody's beats as long as I capture his vibe. How do you choose where you can and can't infuse your own style—or interpretation—into the music of Bowie and the Kinks?


Jennifer Edwards: As a female singer, I've already added a different vocal dimension

to Ray Davies’ songs. Because we’ve already made a musical deviation, we otherwise

stay quite true to the original arrangements—which honors the Kinks, and all those who

love the songs just as they were recorded. Ray Davies poured his heart and soul into

every word he sang, and I love tapping into that.


Linda Palermo: That's true. We are women, after all, so even though we play the songs

as close to the original Kinks records as possible, our personal styles still filter through

the music. There's no way we can precisely imitate the artistic lives of men who grew up

in Muswell Hill, London, throughout the '40s, '50s, and '60s. We can only celebrate what

they did, and in our own way.


Desmonde Mulcahy: As a tribute band, there's an audience expectation that we

capture what the artist performed in the studio and onstage. But, with Bowie's material, I have some flexibility with my bass parts, as he often rearranged his material for live performances. In addition, Bowie always had really good bass players in his band, and

he gave them a lot of freedom with what they played. My approach is I tend to play

close to what was recorded but modified to my own taste. For an iconic song such as

"Ziggy Stardust", for example, I feel I shouldn't mess with the original bass line too

much. For some other songs—such as "Moonage Daydream" and "Star"—I give myself

permission to change things up.


Christina Michelle: I'm in the unique position of having emulated some of the most

famous male rock stars of all time in various tributes. As a female, I have no choice but

to bring my own style to the performance, so I'm definitely not mimicking David Bowie in

Rebel Rebel. I can't. But I think what makes a tribute interesting is observing someone

who has studied an artist's body of work to the extent they can exhibit a mastery of the

material, deliver an energetic and compelling performance, and hopefully add a fresh

twist to what is likely a familiar song in the soundtrack of someone's life. At the end of

the day, the tribute performer and the audience are celebrating the artist together.


Geri Vahey: With the Kinks, there are such a range of approaches. Their studio

performances are so rich, but the live versions have such different vibes—like throwing

a reggae beat under "Til the End of the Day" And I just love the punk energy of "You

Really Got Me", so when in doubt, I like to amp up the aggression.


Christina Michelle: Taking into account what we've all said, I still think it's worth

emphasizing that tribute musicians must absolutely nail the signature riffs. You can't

play "Satisfaction" in a Stones tribute and screw up the guitar riff. It's iconic. Respecting

signature riffs can also inspire creative interpretations. I recently saw a chamber-music

performance of Fleetwood Mac material, and the musicians had the band's signature

parts down pat. When they added their own beautiful layers, the melodies were still recognizable.


Joshua Vaughn: I listened to the studio albums, of course, but I also studied two live

albums from The Spiders from Mars—Santa Monica ’72 and Hammersmith Odeon

1973. It was obvious Mick Ronson did not play exactly the same way every night, so I

keep to that same spirit in my playing. For example, the short solo in the middle of

“Moonage Daydream” where Mick emulates the flute part from the album is iconic, so I

always play it exactly the same way. But on the second solo, I can blow the doors wide

open. I’m also a big Pink Floyd fan, and as I once played in a tribute band called "Space

Cadet Glow", I found the Bm progression at the end of “Moonage Daydream” is almost

the same as the chords at the end of “Comfortably Numb.” I’m sure some of my David

Gilmour influence comes out when I’m playing that solo!


Michael Molenda: It's probably more of an issue for the guitar, bass, and keyboard sounds, but how important is tone to your presentation of the music? Admittedly, I have no idea how Woody tuned his drums in 1972. Sonically, I could be completely tanking the illusion of The Spiders from Mars.


Geri Vahey: It's the same for me. I love Mick Avory's drumming on those classic Kinks

tracks, but I'm not about to tune my snare and the rest of my kit to match how his drums

sounded in the '60s and '70s. Instead, my mission is to share the love of the tunes and

bring on the energy the material deserves.


Christina Michelle: I'm not trying to replicate Bowie's vocal sound on the recordings.

My goal is to capture the energy and passion of a live performance and make it my own.

Hopefully, I can channel Bowie's energy and allure when I sing his songs.


Desmonde Mulcahy: I love how my bass sounds through my amp rig. Does it sound like Trevor's? I wouldn't know. I do know the tone works in Rebel Rebel, and it works for the audiences we play for.


Joshua Vaughn: A lot of guitarists are gearheads and collect analog effects pedals, but

I’ve always preferred the convenience of an all-in-one digital processor. I had been

using a BOSS processor that I bought at Gelb Music almost 20 years ago, but it finally

crapped out on me during our initial Rebel Rebel rehearsals. I bought a new Zoom G6

processor to replace it, and I have been really happy with it so far. It sounds great. It

has a touchscreen interface, so it’s way easier to program, and it’s also smaller and

lighter than my old BOSS. I created four main settings—Clean, Spacey, Rhythm, and

Lead—and assigned each patch to a dedicated footswitch. On “Moonage Daydream,” I

use all four settings for different parts. I switch tones at least 20 times during the first

half of the song alone—and this is before I get to the big solo at the end. I’ve had to

practice using my feet almost as much as my fingers.


Michael Molenda: Present company excepted, of course, but it really bothers me when a tribute band steps onstage in jeans and t-shirts. There's no effort at all to take the audience on a nostalgic journey. It's like, "Hey, I just weeded the garden, and now I'm going down to the club in my soiled scruffs to play Beatles music" I strongly feel that performance gestures and costuming are essential components of whatever musical illusion you're putting out there. What do you think?


Christina Michelle: Anyone who has seen me perform knows I'm a fan of both the

gesture and the costume! I take inspiration from the original band, so I can represent

the fashions of the artist, while modifying them to fit my body, style, and personality.

Sometimes, I try to modernize the look. I also actively include an artist's signature

gestures into my performances, and I always have some kind of prop, costume, or

stage accessory on hand. Bands are in the entertainment business, and a little effort

can go a long way in creating a unique and captivating experience for the audience.


Linda Palermo: Costuming is partly what makes it so fun to be in a band—shopping

together and trying on outfits. The Minks evoke a '60s look with gogo boots and mod

dresses. It's our brand identity. It would feel wrong to perform in everyday clothing.


Christina Michelle: I mean, there's something to be said for musicians "being

themselves," but that's when the act stops being a tribute. Instead, it becomes a

creative interpretation by an independent artist. Personally, I'm attracted to bands that

pay attention to details and have a strong visual presence. Now, I'm not saying you

have to look exactly like the original artist, but you do need to look original. There are

certainly very successful tribute bands where no one on stage looks anything like the

original artists. But they still look amazing.


Michael Molenda: What's your methodology for studying parts? I tend to print out a lyric sheet, play the original track on YouTube, and write performance notes and arrangement

cues over the lyrics as I listen.


Geri Vahey: I also spend the bulk of my study time with the band’s studio recordings. I’ll

reference YouTube videos, as well, but my main inspiration comes from being a Kinks fan.


Christina Michelle: I make playlists of songs on Spotify and put them on repeat. I'll

download lyrics, guitar chords, and bass tabs from online sites as a starting point. In

fact, I've learned some cool parts from working off online bass tabs published by people

who approached a part differently than I would have. YouTube videos are super helpful,

and I also use an app that lets you see tabs while playing along with a backing track. A

key foundational strategy—whether it's practicing vocals, bass, or guitar—is that nothing

beats playing solo with a metronome to tighten things up. In the words of the great

bassist Carole Kaye, "The metronome has to sound like it's grooving!" That's when you know you're locking in. Then, of course, it's all about rehearsing with your band so those independent parts can gel into a cohesive performance.


Linda Palermo: I learn all the songs by ear. There is almost never music notation

available strictly for the original keyboard parts, so I have to play a song over and over

again—often broken down into segments.


Joshua Vaughn: I have a Best of David Bowie guitar tablature book, but it only

included a few of the songs on our Rebel Rebel set list. I looked up tablature on

Ultimate Guitar for some of those songs, and I watched YouTube tutorials for others. I

actually found a YouTube video Allison [Bennett, Minks guitarist] had made for “Ziggy

Stardust.” That was cool. I always create a handwritten cheat sheet for each song with

the basic structure, chords, and essential riffs, and I update the sheet if the band

decides to make arrangement changes. Those one-page cheat sheets are often

essential during early rehearsals, but I eventually need to wean myself from them so I

can play our live shows off book.


Michael Molenda: Does anyone feel it is an advantage, disadvantage, or no impact either way to be a female-fronted tribute band?


Linda Palermo: I see it as an advantage. I believe because we are female fronted, we

are more unique and interesting.


Christina Michelle: It's all of that. In most cases, I think ladies like to see other ladies

rocking out, and they are very supportive. Then, there are some guys who will

immediately dismiss female musicians. Overall, I've seen no positive impact in

marketing a female-fronted act to music fans. On the other band, all-female bands do

tend to be very appealing to bookers, and if those bands can get any traction, they often

attract larger audiences than conventional tribute acts.


Michael Molenda: I'm in Rebel Rebel because I was blown away by Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson after first seeing the band on The Midnight Special in 1973. But I also know musicians who join tribute bands solely because they are commercial and/or marketable. Gigs and money. Should it matter if a player's motivation is musical adoration or potential revenue?


Desmonde Mulcahy: Why would you put in all the work if you didn't love the music?


Geri Vahey: I'm fairly new to The Minks, and this is my first official tribute band. Like

you, I love participating in original songwriting, and I'm blessed to be able to do that with

my original rock and roll band, The Seagulls. That said, there's something very

compelling about the "zero-to-60" factor, when fans are instantly sold and united in

sharing their love of the Kinks. My first Minks gig was an outdoor venue in San Francisco at Zeitgeist, and it absolutely poured rain. We played last, and, frankly, we weren't sure if we'd even have a crowd to lose. But the venue was packed, and the rain just brought this crazy, joyous energy to the show that I mostly attributed to people's enduring love for the Kinks; timeless tunes—although there were some longtime Minks fans who were geared up to see the band back out there.


Christina Michelle: My longest-lasting act has been performing as Chick Jagger, and I

do it because of the profound impact the Rolling Stones had on me. I literally cannot

listen to the Stones without getting emotional. It's deep! So, I like to think musicians are

driven to cover certain bands because they feel connected to them. In cases where

there is no emotional connection—just a commercial opportunity—I don't think those

acts get very far.


Joshua Vaughn: I’ve played in several tribute bands, and most of them were for artists

I already loved—Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Smashing Pumpkins, Prince,

and David Bowie. The one exception was when I joined Suburban Robots last year. I’d

always liked Devo, but I only knew the hits like, “Girl U Want,” “Whip It,” and their unique

arrangement of “Satisfaction.” When I heard the Robots needed a new guitarist, I jumped at the chance. I had played with most of the musicians in previous tribute bands, and I had missed playing with them during the pandemic. The experience of learning to play deep cuts I didn’t know—such as “Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy” and “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA”—turned me into a big Devo fan. I hope I can see them live before they retire. I really believe people can tell if you’re doing something for the wrong reasons. For me, playing music is my favorite hobby. I’m not doing it for the money. To paraphrase Mark Knopfler, “I’ve got a daytime job, I’m doing all right.” I have played in a band that wrote original songs, and that was a great experience, but I love playing in tribute bands because you can play to audiences that already know the songs and love them as much as you do. Plus, trying to emulate great guitarists such as David Gilmour, Prince, and Mick Ronson has made me a better player.


I'd like to introduce and welcome my friend Michael Molenda to The Music Soup team. We've been friends for several years, and I am truly honored that he is now a contributor to TMS. Michaels' lifetime of experience in the music industry is impressive and includes being the Editor in Chief of Guitar Player magazine from 1997-2018; Founder/CEO, Guardians of Guitar NFTs; former Content Director of Modern Drummer; and COO of Neural Tunes—a tech startup that combines AI and biometric data to alleviate anxiety by using music as medicine. Happy reading...Cheryl - The Music Soup


Rebel Rebel Photo credit: Michael J. Kirshner | Minks photo by band


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