Once, I played at a venue (with I know not who) where there were different rooms with different events, one of the events in one of the larger spaces hosted a Queen cover band. A singer with a strong voice wearing a yellow bandsman’s double-breasted jacket like Freddie, a guitarist that had nailed Brian May’s tone and knew the licks (hair was a problem) and a more than adequate John Deacon and Roger Taylor, albeit probably not as quiet as Deacon John and certainly not as pretty as Roger Taylor.
So what is it about covers bands? It isn’t skill, understanding or appreciation that delivers the goods when performing someone else’s music and as an example I have found a video that confuses the issue. After writing about Gayle McCormick yesterday, I was listening to her band Smith’s cover of The Weight from the Easy Rider Soundtrack and it wasn’t really happening. It was a straight cover of The Band’s version and obviously it would be difficult for anyone to capture the original’s magic because something special happened when those five people played together. So perhaps it’s just chemistry that makes a band great? I stumbled across this video of Spooky Tooth from Beat Club in 1968 also doing a straight cover of The Weight. But for some reason it completely works (for me anyway) and I can’t figure out why except that although Spooky Tooth recorded covers, they weren’t a covers band whereas essentially Smith were.
A short history: The Ramrods formed in 1960 and became The VIPs and then in 1967 became Art and released an album called Supernatural Fairy Tales. The album had two cover versions; Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth and The Young Rascals’ Come On Up. The rest of the album was original songs written by the four members that had formed Art out of The VIPs. Mike Harrison, vocals/keyboards, Luther Grosvenor, guitar/vocals, Greg Ridley bass and Mike Kellie drums. The album was produced by Guy Stevens and released in 1967 by Island records. They also collaborated on the Psychedelic graphic design and music collaboration, Haphash And The Coloured Coat featuring The Human Host and The Heavy Metal Kids in the same year (no relation to the band or the genre). So, although it took them a while to settle on a name and a direction, Spooky Tooth were born. They added another member Gary Wright, that like Harrison sang lead vocals and played keys and thus incorporated organ into their sound. Interestingly in their previous incarnation as Art the whole band wrote the songs, in this incarnation Gary Wright was the prominent writer, writing or co-writing seven of the songs, four of them with producer Jimmy Miller. Grosvenor co-wrote three, Harrison one and Ridley and Kellie none at all.
Spooky Tooth’s debut album, It’s All About was released in 1968. It began with a cover version, Janis Ian’s Society’s Child and it is nothing at all like the original. It’s an interpretation, another approach entirely, the typical sound of the time, somewhat controversial dealing with black/white issues and adding a different kind of power to the message – noise, not Janis Ian’s clear singer-songwriter version but a full on noisy Rock version changing the lyric from “boy” to “girl” with not quite the same affect but the message remained intact. The album also has a cover of John Loudermilk’s Tobacco Road and of course The Weight. For some reason The Weight was only released on the US version of the album, the UK release had a cover Of Bob Dylan’s Too Much Of Nothing that was in turn brilliantly covered by Sandy Denny’s Fotheringay in 1970.
To reiterate the point, Spooky Tooth’s cover of Society’s Child was nothing like the original, their cover of The Weight was similar to the original but because they were not a covers band as such, their versions had the same qualities that worked for them when they recorded their own songs – but why covers bands can’t find that essential ingredient remains a mystery.
This is a link to a previous article on Spooky Tooth in the In Deep Music Archive that includes some more history about the band members and an incredible version of the Beatles’ I Am The Walrus.