For the past month, I’ve been desperately searching for something inspiring to write while recovering from rotator cuff surgery. It’s not how I envisioned spending my summer, but I’m far from unique, as almost everyone I meet has undergone the same surgery at least once! I guess it is somewhat like a rite of passage, although given an option, I would like to have passed through something more pleasurable. As I mentioned in my previous newsletter, there is always a silver lining to every challenge we face. For me, it is twofold, with the first being a reprieve from my wife’s ever-growing honey-do list, which appears to be gaining interest. The second has been a bit of a challenge, as I’ve tried to reflect on other things that would bring enjoyment now that I’ve been forced to limit my outdoor activities.
Taking time away from the computer and the endless paperwork to read a good Nelson DeMille novel is entertaining and gets my creative juices flowing. His books are full of history and suspense, and the ever-present sarcastic wit of his iconic character, John Corey, someone my wife will tell you, resonates with me. However, even more inspiring to me is music.
Every generation has its favorite recording artists and songs, and while some may disagree, music is a language that touches the soul. It’s perhaps one of the last avenues where people can communicate with each other and where emotions and beliefs can be expressed often without fear of a harsh response. Music makes my heart sing, and I find it takes you on a journey through your life. Most people I know can tell you where they were or what they were doing when a particular song they heard hit the airwaves. While listening to music at home or on a road trip is gratifying, there is nothing like seeing your favorite songs performed live.
Today, you hear terms like “Cover bands,” “Tribute Bands,” and, to some extent, “Impersonators.” It was explained to me, “Impersonators dress like the artists. Cover bands perform the songs but often add their creative interpretation to the music, while Tribute bands have a higher level of audience expectation. It is a full-on symphony and tribute to a great composer or composition.” Vocally and instrumentally, the music is played as close to how the original artist recorded it. To be able to play note for note and vocalize with similar accuracy, I find not only entertaining but captivating.
Todd Pitts is a name you may not recognize, but this gifted musician is akin to the Rich Little of Music, where he has founded not one, but ten tribute bands that pay homage to those recording artists that have touched our lives in one way or another. I first heard Todd’s band, “The Alter Eagles,” an Eagle’s tribute band he founded, play at the Visani Italian Steakhouse and Comedy Theater. I was amazed by how close this talented group of musicians duplicated the vocals and instrumental work of the original Eagles band. Not only did they play each song to perfection, but they were multi-instrumentalists as well. However, despite his success, Todd’s story is a winding tale of a young man’s dream that was derailed, and it took years for that desire to be fulfilled.
Influenced by his mother, an accomplished singer, Todd and his brother started perfecting their vocal skills, paying close attention to the inflections in how each song was performed. Instrumentally, Todd admits he is self-taught, learning to play by ear. Humbly, he classifies himself as “utilitarian,” or in other words, “A singer who plays guitar and drums,” an understatement if you ask me. Todd tells of how they formed a band and were performing from Thursday through Saturday at a local bottle club, an after-hours club in the Tampa area; however, on the final night of this run, he crashed his car in front of the Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa, ironically the venue where he saw his first concert featuring the band “Rush” four years prior. His music career would take a detour and a dream delayed. For the next 11 years, Todd would serve as a combat paramedic in the U.S. Army in one capacity or another in what he describes as the “Straight Leg Infantry.” During that time, he was stationed for two years in Berlin and eventually transitioned to the mechanized unit out of Fort Polk. He continued his medical specialty, transitioning as a dermatology tech, helping treat patients in various hospitals.
In 1992, Todd entered what he described as “The World of Corporate America,” where Lanier employed him and sold copiers and fax machines. After that, he joined the tech world selling computers with 3-D modeling and effects capabilities. Todd recounted how these systems were used to create Pixar and Jurassic Park animation movies. As with many of us resigned to pursue a career more out of necessity than desire, it appeared Todd was inevitably destined to follow the same path until open heart surgery in 2001 was the awakening he needed. He decided to follow his passion.
In one of my previous newsletters, I mentioned that as a young teenager, we formed a rock and roll band and envisioned ourselves as the next Beatles, as I’m sure most kids did then. The thought one day we’d be playing in front of an audience was a thrill beyond our young imaginations. Of course, reality set in, and our careers were short-lived. However, I gained an inexpressible appreciation for those who can capture the performance of the original artists in such a way that it takes us back to those special moments in our lives. As I’ve gotten older, I find there is a time when we are the most creative, and if not acted upon, it seems to pass. For some, it lasts longer than others, which I find astounding when I think of the number of songs Paul McCartney and John Lennon penned in a relatively short time. Todd summed it up best: “It’s about applying creativity to life.” That time came to Todd 14 years ago when he wanted to recreate the tracks of the original artists as close as possible. He recounts that they performed only 15 shows in the first year, and by the second year, it had expanded to 35. Today, they perform 140 to 150 shows per year. What started as an Eagles tribute band has now grown to 9 additional tribute acts that pay homage to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Simon and Garfunkel, The Bee Gees, The Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller and America. Todd’s wife Chandra, who mixes the sound for the band at each show, added, “While our shows have expanded, so have our loyal fans. Each 4th of July, we are the featured band at the historic Daytona Beach Band Shell and have played to audiences approaching 20,000.”
While the number of shows has expanded, and their audience has grown, Todd said their greatest joy and satisfaction comes when looking out from the stage and seeing the smiles and emotions across each face in the crowd. He recounts witnessing a couple during their Simon and Garfunkel show where they closed with the song ”Sound of Silence.” “They were sitting in the front row, and as they moved closer to each other, you could see the emotion that came over their faces….it turned out it was their wedding song.” He tells of their Bee Gees tribute show they performed in Sun City when the crowd of 700 started singing back to the song they were playing. Todd said, “We stopped singing, and the crowd took control of the experience.” “And then you have a young girl in tears as we performed Desperado during our Eagles tribute show.”
Todd summed it best when he said, “Music is very honest and brings you back to those special times in your life.” I often think, in the world in which we live, perhaps music isn’t just a way of escaping some of life’s challenges for a brief moment or two but may be one of the best forms of communication we could have with each other where all our differences are put aside, and we can enjoy the best life has to offer……. together.
To view all their upcoming tribute events, go to www.ClassicTributeslive.com, but book your evening to remember early, as they sell out fast.