I'm the keyboardist/accordianist in the band Kettlestrings
For the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a “cover band”. It all started when I was chatting up the bar tender at a local beer and music establishment where I naively believed Kettlestrings was a shoe in for a gig. I had a nice chat with this bartender, and then she asked me if my band plays originals. I responded that, no, we play our own arrangements of songs written by other people. In her mind, that made us a “cover band,” and the bar wasn’t interested in hiring cover bands. Conversation over.
I didn’t argue. She was busy pouring beer. But on reflection, I should have made the case for bands that play other people’s songs. It seems crazy to divide the music world between cover bands and original bands. Wouldn’t it make more sense to divide it between bands that play good songs and bands that play bad songs? I mean, it’s great that there are bands writing new songs, but there are so many good songs already out in the world that deserve to be played well and discovered (if they are not well known) or reimagined (if they are).
Many great jazz and pop artists (not to mention orchestras and chamber ensembles) are “cover bands.” The best ones bring fresh ideas to even the most over-played songs, and enable listeners to hear those songs again, for the first time. My life is richer because Linda Ronstadt covered “Tracks of My Tears” and “Blue Bayou”, even though I knew the Smokey Robinson and Roy Orbison versions. And I first discovered Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful” when Ronstadt sang it. (I love Zevon’s version too — each has its own rewards.) Doesn’t the world need both the Nick Lowe version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” and the Elvis Costello version (not to mention the Kettlestrings’ version, which is different from both)? And weren’t both Ronstadt’s countrification of Motown, and Costello’s transformation of Nick Lowe’s sad ballad to an angry anthem acts of creative audacity?
Kettlestrings mostly plays music written by other people, though we are starting to add originals by our marvelous lead singer/guitarist Victoria Storm. But I don’t think of Kettlestrings as a “cover band” — at least if that term diminishes what we do. We are musicians who find inspiration in a world of great songs. We try to mine them for new inspiration so we and our listeners can enjoy them together, again.