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Santa Maria Sun / Music

The following article was posted on June 21st, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 16 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 16

Not just a tribute: Two different tribute groups perform on the Central Coast as bands long gone, but still loved

By Joe Payne

Every generation gets to rediscover the great bands and singers that are no longer with us. Whether it's the rock 'n' roll groups your parents listened to, or the iconic voices that epitomize a genre, there's a timelessness to the music that touches everyone.


WHOLE LOTTA LOVE
Led Zepagain, a Led Zeppelin tribute band performing June 22 at Presqu’ile Winery, features (from left to right) bassist Jim Wootten, singer Swan Montgomery, guitarist Anthony David, and Derek Smith re-creating the classic rock band’s iconic sound.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANE LYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

That's how Swan Montgomery felt growing up in Ireland, listening to Led Zeppelin while the band was still putting out records. The group was hugely influential in his own quest to become a musician and singer.

Montgomery moved to the U.S. in the 1980s to pursue a record deal that eventually fell through, he told the Sun, but he got an opportunity to join a group that exclusively played the music of the band he grew up idolizing. It was a tribute group called Led Zepagain.

"At the time I was like, 'What the hell is a tribute band?'" Montgomery said. "Because we didn't really know; there was only like three [tribute] bands in existence in the states at that time."

One of the longest-running tribute groups, Led Zepagain aims to re-create the live experience of Led Zeppelin, Montgomery explained. The group will perform on June 22 at the Presqu'ile Winery in Santa Maria, including Montgomery singing as, or "playing the part" of, Jimmy Page.

"We're not just playing it just to play, like a cover band or something like that," he said. "We're actually inside the music. Being in a tribute band is like being an actor, so you're playing a role with the mannerisms and the costumes, making it as real as possible and going back in time."

Led Zepagain isn't the only tribute group performing on June 22 on the Central Coast. While guests at Presqu'ile can enjoy the hard rock sound, the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez will feature a tribute group to one of country music's best known artists.


MEN IN BLACK
The Only Cash Tribute Band includes Danny Millsap as Johnny Cash (pictured center, left), bassist Mike Gentry (left), guitarist Stephen Bernd (center, right), and drummer Edward Fritz. The group performs at the Maverick Saloon on June 22.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DANNY MILLSAP

The Only Cash Tribute Band features four musicians who resurrect the sound of the late Johnny Cash, with singer and guitarist Danny Millsap playing the "Man in Black." Millsap saw Cash perform live in 1990, he told the Sun, which he counts as a transformative experience.

"The magic he created on stage, the mystery, I've always been a Johnny Cash fan," he said. "It's just amazing the people that come out of the woodwork that like Johnny Cash, and we don't get to hear his music anymore."

Millsap and the rest of his band are dedicated to "trying to keep his sound alive," and perform songs from across Cash's discography. 

Able to switch his voice to sound like Cash's on a dime, Millsap tries to capture as much as he can about the iconic country singer in his performances. The rest of the group–which includes bassist Mike Gentry, guitarist Stephen Bernd, and drummer Edward Fritz–wears black suits and ties, just like Cash's band.

"I won't say I'm exactly like Johnny, but I work on his mannerisms, his voice, his humor, and the way he just talked to the audience," he said. "And some history. It's not a boring history lesson, but I give dates of the songs and just kind of walk you through the hits through time."

Unlike Millsap's band, Montgomery's has actually had the chance to perform for the artist they emulated. Led Zepagain played once at a venue where Robert Plant was a visitor. 

The frontman and founder gave the band his stamp of approval, Montgomery said, because they were dedicated to learning the music "note for note."

Remembering the best
Presqu’ile Winery features Led Zepagain, a Led Zeppelin tribute group, in concert on June 22 starting at 5 p.m. at the winery, 5391 Presqu’ile Drive, Santa Maria. More info: (805) 937-8110 or presquilewine.com. The Maverick Saloon features a concert by The Only Cash Tribute Band on June 22 at 8 p.m. at the saloon, 3687 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. More info: (805) 686-4785.

"I think to be a tribute band, you've got to play it like how it was really played," he said. "Don't be brushing over notes. Learn the bass parts. Learn the guitar parts. Sing like the singer. Play like John Bonham did."

The band also wears costumes, but there's more to it than just looking like the band, Montgomery said. He and the group have studied filmed Led Zeppelin concerts to "see how the band played live and put the energy out."

Led Zepagain performs all over the world, Montgomery said, and often tours for weeks on end. Making sure everyone in the group is rested–and not emulating the rock 'n' roll "lifestyle," but focusing on the music and performances–is a big part of the band's quality too.

The fans expect an experience at the level of Led Zeppelin's records or live performances, he said, especially parents who saw the band live, and want to share the experience with their kids who also love the music.

"It's a new day every day, and that's what keeps me going," he said. "It's a new audience; you've got to keep your standards up and keep it fresh."

For Millsap and his Johnny Cash tribute, there are a few little things that help elevate the performance. One surprise is when his fiancée, Christie Kelly, takes the stage as June Carter Cash to sing some of the couple's famous duets.

"The crowd always loves it," Millsap said. "It's just a fun night. They really leave there with a good feeling in their heart."

While artists like Millsap and Montgomery work to embody famous artists like Cash and Page, respectively, they also have their own solo careers as well.

Montgomery has an album coming out soon, called Ogham, he said. More information is available on his website, swanmontgomery.com.

"I have some originality to myself as well," he laughed. "In my own voice, not so much like Plant's, you know."

For Millsap, he takes his solo work on the road with his tribute band. The Danny Millsap Honky Tonk Band includes all the same band members, but performs an opening show of more dance-oriented country music, he explained.

"I've been playing country honky-tonk music around the valley for years, and we open up with the Danny Millsap Honky Tonk Band," he said. "We do a kick-ass hour opening show, then we get in our suits and transform into the The Only Cash Tribute Band.

"It's really fun, we're having a great time doing it, and we're gettin' a great response," he added. "And we're really glad we get to play the Maverick; it's been around for years, and a lot of big stars have played there."

Managing Editor Joe Payne still isn't sure which band he'd start a tribute to. Contact him at jpayne@santamariasun.com.




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