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Music Sin Fronteras: the power of cover bands

The skill of a good cover band is more than just knowing the songs of a bygone era

I like cover bands. Since I live in a town with a lot of retirees, I have seen that bands  here can make a good living playing moldy oldies while they work on their original music. Some do so well that they just forget about original music.

Cover bands have a great history, so to speak.   They “cover”  songs  that are usually from times  long past by playing them in their own style or interpretation…or they try to duplicate the original, often with terrible results. They are frequently hired to perform at events such as weddings and parties, but here in Ajijic they are a major component of the entertainment scene for the retiree audience. As a result, there are some damn good cover bands here.

There are also Tribute Bands, which bring their own take to a particular original band and present the audience with a costumed and choreographed but different version of familiar musicians. Militia Vox’s band Judas Priestess in New York City is a prime example – an all-female version of Judas Priest that this so good, yet so unique, that even Judas Priest members have praised them. Our tribute bands mostly come from the clubs in Puerto Vallarta and are excellent.

Cover bands are so popular in the US, that music critic John Lange has taken to ranking his favorite 5 cover bands for his YouTube programs. There have even been battles of the cover bands;  two of the greatest epics were Ozzy Osbourne vs. Bon Jovi and  Cher and Tina Turner fighting it out.

A type of cover band that I had not experienced much until this weekend is the band that has been carefully assembled, tuned, and practiced to bring back not only the songs an era, but the sonic spirit of the era, and plays only covers. This is not an easy thing to do. Depending on when you were born, you came of age listening to the sounds of a particular era, and, as described in the great book by Daniel J.  Levitin,  This is Your Brain on Music, the music you grew up with cut neural grooves in your brain that resonate with certain notes, riffs, tunes, melodies, rhythms,  and sounds – the  soundscape of an era. Creating this soundscape so that it follows those grooves requires a much more sophisticated touch than just singing the songs and following the chords.

I experienced one such band this weekend at a fundraiser for a local orphanage. The band was called The Manuel Orozco Band , led by Manuel Orozco, a singer, guitarist, producer, and most of all,  a conductor. I say conductor because that is what he has done for over 20 years – assembled, rehearsed, and directed a group of musicians the way a symphony conductor does. He didn’t wave a  baton, but the band and the sound was as meticulously constructed and led as an orchestra.

The result was remarkable. The sonic landscape of late 60’s through mid-70’s era came alive  (with a quick foray into 1982 for “Eye in the Sky” ), both in  its US version and the British Invasion sound. Not only the songs, but the way in which the band played – replicating familiar notes and riffs and melodies, but then going beyond them, especially in the guitar solos. The Beatles, the Stones, Creedence, Janis Joplin, Alan Parsons, Chicago, Neil Diamond (not great on that one, but hey who can replicate that voice)… all made their appearance in the sonic landscape.

The audience responded exactly as Levitin’s book said they would – they were transported back to the era in which they came of age musically. What I found doubly interesting was that not only did the Expat retiree audience love the concert and take the trip back to times with more paisley, but so did the much younger Mexican fans, many of whom knew the songs and sang along in English, even if they only spoke Spanish. Ah, the power of cover bands.

Patrick O’Heffernan



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (485 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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