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A cover band (or covers band), is a band that plays mostly or exclusively cover songs. New or unknown bands often find the cover band format marketable for smaller gigs, such as those taking place at pubs, clubs or venues. The bands also perform at private events, for example, weddings and birthday parties and may be known as a wedding band, party band or function band. A band whose covers consist mainly of songs that were chart hits is often called a top 40 band. Many bands, however, start as cover bands and then grow to perform original material. For example, the Rolling Stones released three albums consisting primarily of covers before recording one of original material.
Cover bands play several types of venues. When a band is starting out, it will typically play private parties and fund raisers, often for little or no money, or in return for food and bar privileges. With enough experience a band will begin to "play out" professionally at bars and night clubs. Most bands make barely enough to cover the cost of equipment, so their members usually have day jobs. For the large majority of local cover bands, playing out is a labor of love rather than a profession.
Cover bands play songs written and recorded by other artists, usually well-known songs (as compared to "original" bands which play music they themselves have written). There are a wide variety of cover bands - some cover bands play material from particular decades, for example a 1980s cover band. Others focus exclusively on the music of a particular group, usually iconic groups, and are called tribute bands: it is not uncommon to find The Beatles tribute bands, Led Zeppelin tribute bands, Kiss tribute bands, Pink Floyd tribute bands, Oasis tribute bands, Duran Duran tribute bands, Aerosmith tribute bands, or U2 tribute bands. Some cover bands will play a variety of song styles, of widely different artists, genres and decades. Another type of cover band is one that covers songs in a different genre or style than that of the original composition (e.g., jazz versions of what were originally hard rock songs).
Some cover bands perform covers that are of a different musical genre from the originals. For instance:
- Richard Cheese covers rock and rap songs in the style of lounge music.
- Gregorian covers pop and rock songs in the style of Gregorian chant.
- Gabba covers the pop songs of ABBA in the punk style of the Ramones (the name is also a reference to the chant "Gabba Gabba Hey" from the Ramones' song "Pinhead" from their Leave Home album).
- Nouvelle Vague covers new wave-era bands with a bossa nova twist.
- Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is known for punk covers of other artists, with each album picking a different genre or era (i.e. hits of the 1970s, showtunes, etc.)
- Dread Zeppelin specialized in reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs, with an Elvis impersonator on lead vocals.
- Hayseed Dixie started as a "hillbilly tribute to AC/DC" and has become a bluegrass tribute band covering many well known rock bands in their own "rockgrass" style.
- Run C&W performed bluegrass arrangements of '60s soul music, primarily classics from the Motown catalog.
- Turetsky's Choir, a former synagogue choir from Moscow, is famous for its remakes of music pieces from different styles, ranging from opera classic to pop hits. The band's repertoire usually includes covers only. Some of them are arranged into medleys.
- Ten Masked Men is known for death metal covers of pop songs.
- The Baseballs are a German band, known for doing rockabilly covers of modern pop songs, like Bleeding Love and Umbrella (song)
- Mallavoodoo, a Brazilian band from Recife, plays instrumental covers of hard rock with keyboards and saxophone.
- Fretted Wall, an American band from Idaho Falls, mostly covers 80s hairband songs from bands like ACDC
Examples of cover acts
- Dark Star Orchestra - Widely renowned Grateful Dead cover band that recreates the feel of individual Grateful Dead performances.
- Three Dog Night - Tremendously successful '60s and '70s rock band that almost exclusively recorded covers of songs from many different artists and genres.
- Sha Na Na - Another successful '60s and '70s rock band that plays rock and roll music from the 1950s and early-1960s. They burst onto the scene in 1969 when they performed at the Woodstock music festival and went on to have their own variety show similar to The Monkees.
- Joe Cocker - The "Sheffield Soul Shouter" has covered music by many artists including The Beatles, Dave Mason, and The Lovin' Spoonful.
- Jimmy and the Soulblazers - Covers of '60's and 70's Soul music.
- Liquid Blue - Cover band from San Diego, California that mixes covers and originals and has performed in over 100 countries.
- Lt. Dan Band - a cover band founded by Kimo Williams and actor Gary Sinise. The band is named after the character Lieutenant Dan Taylor, whom Sinise portrayed in the film Forrest Gump.
Fictional cover acts
- Rock Star starring Mark Wahlberg who had a small group that performs cover songs from a fictional band called Steel Dragon. He eventually became the lead singer of the said band when a recorded performance was seen by the band members.
- The Wedding Singer features Adam Sandler as a cover singer who performs for wedding parties.
- Detroit Rock City is the story of four teenagers in the '70s who are in a Kiss cover band called "Mystery".
- Saving Silverman features three friends who are diehard Neil Diamond fans, and they form a cover band called "Diamonds in the Rough".
- In an episode of The Simpsons, Otto Mann hires a cover band called "Cyanide", which he says is a tribute to Poison.
- In the American Dad! episode "Finances with Wolves", Klaus the goldfish swaps brains with the lead singer of an Earth, Wind and Fire cover band.