Well, it occurs to me that the term, cover band, has become something of a derisive description of any band that plays mostly music from sources outside the group. It wasn't always the case. In fact, pre- Zimmerman, going back to big band and jazz, it was the standard. Oh, sure, Ellington was a magnificent composer and he had the added weapon of Billy Strayhorn after awhile. He took material from all over the map, though. Elvis never really wrote anything. His name shows up on credits because Colonel Parker got it there. Playing six and seven hours a night in Hamburg, the Beatles relied on Larry Williams and Arthur Alexander and Carl Perkins for songs that made drunks dance. Yeah, they began writing because they could.
My good fortune was to start right off playing music with an artist. A lunatic. A writer.
Don Smith was bagging groceries with me after high school and had bought a set of tangerine sparkle Gretsch drums. He knew that I was sitting home on nights off learning to play bass. When he asked me to start a band with him I declined. I didn't have the confidence that I was ready to play. I had been onstage just once, filling in for my pal Charlie Suza, with the Tropics.
Don convinced me to go with him to meet Warren Novak who was the guitar player that he was beginning to work with. Well, I rode with him to the Dog & Suds and we walked across the parking lot. A young man with hair half way to his shoulders crawled out of a maroon '57 Thunderbird and stuck out his hand. I had trouble looking into his magic eyes because I was staring down at his candy apple red, patent leather shoes, with brass zippers. I know rock'n'roll when I see it! Warren was rock'n'roll.
At an early practice I stopped to advise Warren that Buddy Holly had, in fact, put a turnaround after the verse that we just breezed through. Without one. Those crazy eyes fixed me and he drawled, "So what?"
Doesn't sound like any big deal, I know, but it changed everything, on the spot, for me. Still one of my grandest lessons. I still don't know whether to file it under Zen 101 or Rock'n'Roll For Dummies.
Oh, and Warren wrote. They were all terrible but they dripped passion. Yeah, we played Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Gene Vincent and Little Junior Parker. We weren't a cover band. We were a rock'n'roll band.
Ronny Elliott, Warren Novak, Don Smith and Steve Newman