Copyright ©2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This year's inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will be honored in Brooklyn tonight. It is quite a list: Cat Stevens, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Nirvana, KISS and the E Street Band. With the exception of Nirvana, this year's inductees all came to prominence during the 1970s, and even those Seattle grunge-rockers traced some of their influences to '70s music.

That era of classic rock has inspired countless tribute bands. You can find them performing in bars and clubs across the country with a lot of passion. Here's David C. Barnett, from member station WCPN.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONCERT)

RICH KOSAK: Is everybody here ready for a rock 'n' roll party?

(CHEERS FROM AUDIENCE)

DAVID C. BARNETT, BYLINE: The guitarist's face is painted white, except for some red lipstick and a big, black star around his right eye. A hulking bass player, dressed in armor and kabuki make-up, stalks the stage behind him in 6-inch platform boots, as the musicians break into a KISS classic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BARNETT: This is the Cleveland-based KISS tribute band, Mr. Speed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BARNETT: Fifty-year-old Rich Kosak plays the part of vocalist Paul Stanley, and claims to have seen KISS 52 times since the late 1970s. Kosak grew up with an older brother who was into the heavier sounds of Jimi Hendrix and Yes.

KOSAK: I thought: Well, I don't like all that stuff that you have to think about so much. I like this stuff that just makes me feel really good. We're fans just like the people that come to see us, the people that go to see KISS. We're really passionate about what it is that we do.

HOWARD PARR: They've certainly invested to make their show look good.

BARNETT: Howard Parr is impressed with the effort that the band has put into its look and sound. As executive director of the Akron Civic Theatre, Parr says he's seen the number of such performers explode in recent years, from the occasional Elvis imitators to a mini-industry of tribute bands. Many of them play what commercial radio now calls classic rock - music from the '70s and '80s. The trend has even hit concert halls.

PARR: There are tribute packages that are being sold to symphony orchestras, for example. So a John Denver tribute show was recently done by the Akron Symphony, where the symphony performed with this guy doing John Denver songs.

BARNETT: Every one of this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees has its imitators. Majickat is among the Cat Stevens tribute acts. Hall & Oates have inspired the likes of Maneater and HMFO. And for Linda Ronstadt, your choices include Different Drum, Just One Look and Heart Like a Wheel.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR RIFF, APPLAUSE)

BARNETT: Bleach pays homage to Nirvana, a group that 35-year-old guitarist Greg Polovick first saw on MTV in videos like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AS YOU ARE")

NIRVANA: (Singing) Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be...

GREG POLOVICK: As a teenager, I hated life. I hated everything about everything. And it was just like the perfect music to listen to, to say screw authority - screw everybody.

BARNETT: The members of Bleach, named after Nirvana's debut album, are a bunch of working class Akron guys who channel the band's spirit on weekends. Bass player Nathan White joined Bleach after seeing them thrash though a set at a local club.

NATHAN WHITE: It was inspiring, in a way, 'cause like - I mean, that's the kind of dream I wanted to have, was to be like, in a band with that much power.

BARNETT: While some critics may dismiss tribute bands as musicians who aren't talented enough to do original material, UCLA music scholar Mitchell Morris says the ones that he's seen tap into something deeper.

MITCHELL MORRIS: I think it's actually a kind of basic human desire. You're playing. You're creating fiction. It's really the performance version of telling a story.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONCERT)

KOSAK: How are we doing so far?

(CHEERS FROM AUDIENCE)

BARNETT: Mr. Speed, the KISS tribute band, played to a packed club in suburban Cleveland this past weekend. They'll take the act to LA on the 21st, to play at a World's Greatest Tribute Band event.

KISS co-founder Paul Stanley says he can relate to the passion of emulating your musical heroes.

PAUL STANLEY: The old adage of imitation is the sincerest form of flattery comes to mind.

BARNETT: But what happens when that's not totally clear? The Akron Civic Theatre's Howard Parr suggests that some fans may not know the difference.

PARR: I mean, it happens all the time that we get people that want to get backstage on the tribute band shows. And you're just like, do you not realize that that's not Jon Bon Jovi? You know?

(LAUGHTER)

PARR: And, you know, they don't.

BARNETT: Then we've got a problem - especially when money is involved, says Paul Stanley.

STANLEY: If it's done with the right heart and as a fan, I appreciate it. When it becomes business, then it's time for us to talk about it.

BARNETT: In a new memoir, Stanley acknowledges that 40 years on the road are starting to take their toll on him physically, and he can see himself eventually stepping aside and letting someone else take over his KISS character. Rich Kosak, of Mr. Speed, has been practicing.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONCERT)

KOSAK: Rock 'n' roll!

BARNETT: For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett in Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONCERT)

MR. SPEED: (Singing) You need my love, baby, oh so bad. You're not the only one I've ever have...

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.