Doing a Zep cover...note for note or improvise?

Deltadrummer

Platinum Member
I like the way the original question was phrased because it was an opinion question, what do you guys think?

You have these varying thoughts about covering songs, and yes, it matters what the bands objective is. If you are a tribute band you do it note for note. I was listening to an interview on the local news with Lez Zeppelin and they said they treated Led Zeppelin like it were Beethoven. There's a big problem with that. Led Zeppelin, esp earlier on, were an improvisational blues band, like Jimi, Cream and The Who. If you do that stuff note for note, you are not covering the spirit of the music. You may have the notes but the music is gone. IMO. That's what I feel about a lot of tribute bands, even when you have these iconic bands playing tribute to themselves.

As the 70's progressed it became more and more typical for bands to offer note for note renditions of the album including the solos. Keith Emerson often kids about the expectation of doing the original solo from Lucky Man as on the album, when that was a first take that Greg Lake recorded where Emerson was literally playing with a machine he had just gotten. Or the classic guitar solo in Don't Stop Believing, which is expected. The tune has a classic drum groove. Do you do it literally? I would say, why not? But only the most well-tuned ear is going to hear that.

Then you have bands that do creative covers, like Dread Zeppelin, and again the style will dictate what is being played. It should always any way for me. I gave up long ago thinking that all these guys were such idols that all we could possible want to do is cover the note to note brilliance. For a typical Saturday night cover with folks drinking and having a good time, it doesn't matter, but it is nice to have the signature fills. For me, it's boring to hear note to note covers any way. If you're not doing something creative with the music, why bother.
 
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Cuban

Senior Member
Having just joined a Pink Floyd tribute band, I have been following this thread with interest and I can perhaps offer some input.

I was pondering this very issue of how to play the songs when I joined, but the very same week, I had the great fortune to meet
Nick Mason, so I grabbed the moment and asked him his thoughts on this subject and he told me this.

"Take 'The Australian Pink Floyd'" who are perhaps one of the world's biggest tribute acts and who have performed with members
of Pink Floyd watching, as well as having played at their private parties. "They perform us note for note, beat for beat to a given
Pink Floyd show."


Nick thought this was quite astonishing and "rather good", but at the same time, followed it up with, "but then that is one given night -
I never played the same song the same two nights in a row!"


I have taken that as giving me the option to learn the songs as they were written, but then to add a little of myself when the moment arises.

There is also a lot of 'push and pull' in Floyd's music, so timing needs to be somewhat fluid and I hope that I will be able to
interact with the band to make the stage show spontaneous without being detrimental to Pink Floyd's music.

So perhaps it actually depends on the drummer you are covering and how they played it each night?

I hope that helps a little.
 

Stoney

Senior Member
I'm sure even Jason Bonham injects a bit of himself into the ACTUAL Led Zeppelin gig so I wouldn't worry about it too much. Also I'm sure if John were alive today he'd play it slightly different anyway.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Having just joined a Pink Floyd tribute band
*sigh* that sounds like sooo much fun!

It's true. I've rarely heard a drummer play a song on a live album exactly the same as in the studio. Most drummers improvise a little around the basic template of a song. Ken put it well - capture the general feel of the song and the signature things unless you're playing in a tribute band.

Also, as Ken said, live is a different animal to studio. I find that audience reaction pushes me to do things - groove more, chop more, play with more intensity, less intensity. Similarly, the room and stage sound affects my playing. Some things that work in one setting won't work as well in another.
 

paradiddler

Senior Member
Great topic!

I used to think that it's better to cover a song exactly or as close as possible, but even the original artists, as noted in comments above, rarely if ever do that. If you make it totally your own, it might even sound like you're showing off or saying that you're better than the original drummer (maybe you are, sometimes :) ). I wrote an entire article on my web site precisely about what I think about drum covers:

A Perspective on Drum Covers

Just to give an ideal of what to think of when covering a song. Having fun is the main goal, of course!
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
. Or the classic guitar solo in Don't Stop Believing, which is expected. The tune has a classic drum groove. Do you do it literally? I would say, why not? But only the most well-tuned ear is going to hear that.
Funny you mention Journey.

Yeah, that song tends to be played not for note, but if you listen to the live Journey albums, vs the studio ones, they play their owns song differently.

Check out what Steve Smith does on "Greatest Hits Live" on songs like Stone in Love & Who's Cryin' Now vs the studio version; rather different.

Or "compare Wheel in the Sky" from the studio version, to the version performed on "Captured" to the version performed on "Greatest Hits Live" and you'll find all three versions are played differently.
 

Deltadrummer

Platinum Member
I've never listened that closely to the live stuff, nor multiple versions. But it really doesn't surprise me that Steve Smith would work out something different for the alternate version, esp if they were to be recorded for posterity. I'll have to give a listen to it, thanks.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
I've never listened that closely to the live stuff, nor multiple versions. But it really doesn't surprise me that Steve Smith would work out something different for the alternate version, esp if they were to be recorded for posterity. I'll have to give a listen to it, thanks.
Many years ago (early 90s) I was working at a place that hosted Steve Smith in clinic.

Backstage I asked him about the fill in "Separate Ways" and his reply was
"oh, that's easy, because we played that one the same way every night" which implied (although didn't necessarily state) they played other songs differently from night to night.

Then when Greatest Hits live was released a few years later (even though it was recorded in the 80s) you can hear Steve Smith played much busier parts on some songs than the studio version.

Rod Morgenstien told a story in Modern Drummer once that when he went to audition for Journey (after Steve Smith had been canned, before Mike Baird got the gig), he had learned Don't Stop Believing note for note, with every subtle thing Smith did. Then at the audition Perry said something along the lines of "yeah, that's nice, but come up with something different". On the flip side, Deen Castronovo took lessons from Smith to make sure he was nailing parts perfectly. Although if you ever watch Deen on Youtube, he's clearly taken liberties with the parts over the years he's been with the band.
 

yesdog

Silver Member
I got into a argument with the leader of the cover band I am in. we are playing a song were I play an eight count fill to cue the band when the song ends he got pissed off at me because I played the same pattern between the snare and toms instead of just the snare.
he told me it threw him off and I said learn how to count. he wants everthing played note for note like the record. I told him get rid of the band become a D.J if you whant that.
The song I am talking about is called footstomping music by Grand Funk Railroad. buy the way there is no eight count fill that ends the song on the recording. I do not over play on any of these songs I play the key fills if there are ones in the songs we do. I keep the template of these songs correct but he gets pissed when I pick my spots to be me. He has no feel and relies on memory in order to play cover tunes. I have no complants from the rest of the band. I also said if he has a problem with my playing (he does the same thing to the sub drummer as well) To get a %^%# drum machine. I'M OUT!!! I feel there is nothing wrong with adding your own flavor here and there. The guy does not get it.
 

Deltadrummer

Platinum Member
I think my tolerance level for playing note for note is going out the window thinking about what people are saying. If you do not add your own spice and flavor to the music, you are not engaging a dialogue with the music. Performance is a monologue; it is not active; but static. Who wants to do that.

I played with a tribute band several years back, and I hated it. I found it so constricting; it was maddening. I got very frustrated when people say to me, listen to the record or play it like the record. I'm not here to play to a record. I'm here to make music. If everybody has the record in their head, no one is listening to each other.
 

yesdog

Silver Member
I think my tolerance level for playing note for note is going out the window thinking about what people are saying. If you do not add your own spice and flavor to the music, you are not engaging a dialogue with the music. Performance is a monologue; it is not active; but static. Who wants to do that.

I played with a tribute band several years back, and I hated it. I found it so constricting; it was maddening. I got very frustrated when people say to me, listen to the record or play it like the record. I'm not here to play to a record. I'm here to make music. If everybody has the record in their head, no one is listening to each other.
Thats pretty much what I was saying.
 

Michael McDanial

Senior Member
We're learning I Can't Quit You Baby from Zep I in my bar band.

With most covers I pretty much do my own thing, while still paying attention to the original groove and spirit of the song.

With Bonham it seems almost like heresy to do anything other than the recorded version - even though he was himself a great improviser.

I'll probably end up doing 90% Bonham and 10% me.

Wondered what you guys thought of covering classic rock songs???
Well, unless you're playing in a Led Zeppelin tribute band, I'd say do your own thing. The song was recorded many, many times by blues musicians long before Zeppelin recorded it. The song was written by Willie Dixon (the most famous blues songwriter that ever lived) and was recorded by artists like Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy quite a few years before Zeppelin.

My advice would be that right before you start to play the song just say "here's a blues classic by Willie Dixon recorded by many artists throughout the years". That would inform people in the audience who only know the Zeppelin recording of the song that it's not an original Zeppelin tune to begin with, and I'm sure that there will be at least a few people that are already aware of the fact that it's a blues number recorded many times by many different musicians long before Zeppelin did their version.
 

ChrisCirino

Senior Member
I've been following this thread for a while and thought I'd throw in my two cents. I play in a band that does exclusively covers and I try to play anything I think is recognizable by a non-drummer just as it was recorded. Everything else is fair game as long as it keeps the original feel and vibe of the covered song. I don't know if anyone can recreate any performance note for note, except maybe that cadre of youtube Peart clones I watch all the time (love me some AstroTama). If it's a reinterpretation of the original by all means have at it. Personally, I take bits and pieces from different versions of the song and meld them into my own brew.

Here's my take on Led Zep's "The Rover".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeM8Bb9K05E&feature=PlayList&p=8ECD090553FDFADE
 
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