“Tribute bands zapped”

I have a monster blog coming up… lots of pics to crop and info to write.. but for now, check out this article in the news:


Imagine an Elvis Presley tribute show being shut down by a cease-and-desist order.

Imagine any of the hundreds of Beatles tribute bands being threatened with lawsuits.

That's what's going on in the Frank Zappa fan community now, and it raises the question of when a tribute stops being a tribute and starts being thievery of the artist in question.

The 12th annual Midwest Elvis Presley Impersonators Competition runs tonight and Saturday at the Springfield Hilton. (The event traditionally sells out, but as of Thursday morning a number of tickets were still available for tonight's show only. check out www.pietalent.com if you're interested.)

These shows – similar ones take place all around the country and lead to a national showdown among Elvis impersonators – are enjoyed by thousands. Of course, many more Elvis impersonators perform all around the world.

In the past few months, a Presley tribute act (Al Hull) and a Beatles tribute act (British Export) have played to paying crowds at Decatur's Lincoln Square Theatre. American English played Decatur Celebration's Show Stage in August, and Rain – a Beatles tribute band that aficionado Kevin Breheny says is the best he's ever seen – plays the Rosebud Theatre in Effingham on Feb. 26.

The Presley and Beatles estates are judicious about guarding their copyrights. That's one reason Beatles tribute acts work hard to wiggle their way around using the band's name.

But even those estates realize that the best way to keep the act's name alive is to have the music performed in front of people. As long as the music remains alive, the performers (and the value of their images and music) remain alive.

Frank Zappa died 14 years ago, just short of his 54th birthday. While it might be hard to believe for those who know Zappa for "Valley Girl" and "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow," his 60-plus albums represent a valuable canon to a pocket of fans (certainly considerably smaller than Presley's or The Beatles').

That music has also launched about a dozen tribute bands that play both here and in Europe. In addition, Zappa Plays Zappa, a group headed by Frank's son Dweezil, has conducted a pair of tours of the United States, recently toured Australia and is planning shows in Japan this month.

The problem is, Zappa Plays Zappa is the only group authorized by the Zappa Family Trust, the group that controls Frank Zappa's estate. And the trust spent much of December sending out cease-and-desist letters to blogs, to tribute bands and to a European memorial concert that's been going on since 1990 (one that Frank Zappa endorsed during his life).

The trust's cease-and-desist case – which has altered but not shut down any blogs, and which failed to stop at least two tribute band performances it was designed to halt – seems to rest on the interesting yet dubious assertion that, quoting the letter from trust lawyers posted on the Web site of tribute band Bogus Pomp:

" ¦ (ASCAP) licenses ¦ limit the grant of rights to nondramatic performances ¦ Many works by Frank Zappa are inherently dramatic in nature."

Carried to a logical extreme, any band that performs a tribute to another band in some "dramatic" form is performing against the law. Isn't any performance on a stage "dramatic" by definition?

In the past 10 years in Decatur, we've seen tribute bands perform sets of songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Eagles, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rod Stewart and Faces, The Beach Boys and others. Did anyone seeing them think they were seeing the real thing? Did anyone seeing them feel they reflected negatively on the original performer and have their feelings about the original performers affected as a result?

The law certainly has its place in the entertainment industry. Unreliable acts and unscrupulous promoters and venue owners need to have their feet held to the fire.

But lawyers are out of place when they begin to affect the art, and the audience's enjoyment of same.

Frank Zappa said it best during his lifetime:

"If you're a musician, play my music. If you're not a musician, play my music."

Tim Cain can be reached at timcain@herald-review.com or 421-6908.

 Click HERE to see article online