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SMF Cyndi
Posted 2006-06-03 4:28 PM (#2988)
Subject: "Fans don't consider them second-best" says Daniel Stanton of Coallier
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Location: Graveyard BLVD.
COVER STORY By BRIAN NIEMIETZ - New York Post Online Edition: Entertainment



Steve Perry, Jon Bon Jovi and Stevie Ray Vaughan are muses for Hugo, Steve Sage and Eddie Jelley, photographed at Canal Room.
Photo: J. Scott Wynn

June 3, 2006 -- HOOKED ON PHONIES

THERE'S a big difference between a cover band and a tribute band, in case you were wondering. "You have to have the look and the sound to be a true tribute band," says Mark Weis. He should know. Weis is a talent

manager, and from his Long Island office he books a number of tribute bands, including Eddie Jelley and Cold Shot (playing the songs of Stevie Ray Vaughan), Evolution (honoring Journey) and Rocket Man (Elton John, duh).

According to Jelley, going the tribute route is more than mere imitation.

"It's more like acting - you're playing a character," he says.

And the character he's playing - a hard-drinking blues rocker who died in a plane crash - is a far cry from his day job as a sales associate in Bay Shore, L.I. Still, his commitment to verisimilitude is impressive: The 51-year-old commissioned an exact replica of Stevie's guitar, complete with cigarette burns.

But don't get the wrong idea. Guys on the tribute circuit play an endless series of crowded bars, fairs and cruises - all in the service of a good time.

"They do it for fun," Weis explains.

To hear Marcus Linial tell it, they deliver. Linial is co-owner of the downtown venue Canal Room.

The first time he hosted Evolution, in March, he had to hype the show personally and comp a few tickets so the room wouldn't look empty. When Evolution returned a month later, word of mouth alone attracted 250 Journey fans. By their third show in May, an audience of 300-plus lined up outside to buy $15 tickets.

"It's a fun night of hits," Linial says. "Everyone sings along." He admits the genre can be a little cheesy if taken too seriously - but that will hardly matter when, as he expects, 500 fans paying $20 each will fill his club to capacity Aug. 19 when Evolution returns.

"When Journey played the Beacon eight months ago, tickets were going for as much as $137.50," he recalls. Journey's current singer, Steve Augeri, "is great, but for the price, I'd have to go with Hugo."

That would be Hugo Valenti. When not fronting Evolution, the 43-year-old runs an appliance repair shop in Suffolk County, L.I.

"I'd always been compared to Steve Perry, so I figured, 'What the hell? I can sing it,'" says Valenti (who, as a performer, goes solely by Hugo).

Before he, well, evolved, Valenti had a taste of rock stardom with his '90s band, Valentine. He says he was signed to three major labels before getting "burned out" reaching for - and missing - the brass ring. One of those near misses, he says, was when Steve Perry left Journey and the arena-rock supergroup's manager contacted him about filling the void.

"No disrespect to anyone, but I think I could've taken them where they wanted to go," Valenti says.

Part of the tribute-band appeal is accessibility - sort of like Minor League Baseball.

"People like that, they get to meet us and hang out," says Steve Sage, who heads Bad Medicine, a Bon Jovi act based - obviously - in New Jersey. Dix Hills, to be exact.

Fans don't consider them second-best, and neither does management, says Daniel Stanton of Coallier Entertainment, who manages Bad Medicine. "I treat them the same way I'd handle Twisted Sister, Foreigner or WASP," the band he's currently touring with.

Stanton also handles Who's Next (a tribute to The Who) and Almost Queen (Queen).

For whatever reason, the most popular band to honor is Kiss.

"There's a lot of competition for Kiss bands," says Tom Pressaro, the Gene Simmons stand-in with the tribute band Kiss Alive.

What gives his Simmons an edge?

For starters, Pressaro notes that, like Simmons once was, he is an N.Y.C. educator (of English at Clinton High School). "I'm following in the demon's footsteps."

For another, he is perfecting the signature Simmons expectoration. He uses a recipe of yogurt and food coloring to spit blood and is currently working on spitting fire.

Joey Fatale's genes makes his Simmons stand out - and does it ever. The founder of little people tribute band MiniKiss even played a party for the Kiss bass player he idolizes. "It was the greatest thing in the world playing for the God of Thunder," he recalls.

Having started the outfit in 1996, Fatale says his band today travels the world, and has signed on with Universal Germany.

"I've always been a performer, I've done Oompa Loompas and all that stuff - but I'm having the time of my life," he says. Nor has he forgotten the little people: "After we play, we go and party with our audience."

But as appreciative as audiences are, says Almost Queen's Mercurial Joe Russo, "Europe is where the real fans are." He should know - the band's off to Budapest to play a $30,000 gig.

Jet lag isn't the only price Russo pays for his art. "I have to constantly wear a mustache, which is a pain, but I do it," he says.

Russo tries hard to maintain perspective.

"It's a great impetus to stay in shape," he says from the garden of his 1-acre South Jersey property, where he relaxes when touring allows. "I'm still looking for the ballet outfit."

Fame in a name

HALF the fun in tribute bands is in the name. Here are some of the best:

- Unforgettable Fire: Local legends will have their annual U2 tribute cruise June 16, departing from the 41st Street pier.

- Sabara Cadabra: A local Black Sabbath tribute with an awesome Ozzy frontman.

- AC/Dshe: Cali-based female rockers who will shake you all night long.

- Hell's Belles: Catfight coming unless the West Coast has room for two all-girl AC/DC tributes.

- Hammer of the Gods: Long Island's Led Zeppelin tribute is always a crowd pleaser.

- Hotel California: This Eagles tribute should be a big draw at Atlantic City's Fake Fest, June 23-25.

- Big Shot: Billy Joel band is a big draw at Wantagh's tribute Mecca, Mulcahy's.

- Cheap Chick: L.A.-based female band that wants you to want them.

- 2U: Tired of seeing Bono pretend he's Jesus? See 2U's singer pretending to be Bono pretending to be Jesus.

- Dark Star Orchestra: What's worse than being the Grateful Dead? Wanting to be the Grateful Dead.

- B.N.

Edited by SMF Cyndi 2006-06-03 4:35 PM

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