BY: MICHELLE PEREZ-VEGA
Tribute bands are an anomaly in so many ways. Unlike a cover band, who performs popular songs from a variety of artists, a tribute band centers around one specific artist. Some tribute bands just perform the music while others take it to the extreme by copying every detail of the original band down to the buttons. Why, you may ask? What purpose does a tribute band serve? And why do fans go nuts over them? Sometimes as much as the original band? Well, we spoke with an up-and-coming tribute band called UNLEASHED – THE CLASSIC JUDAS PRIEST TRIBUTE based out of North Carolina. The band’s drummer, Robb Williamson, filled us in on not only the who, what, when, where, and how, but most importantly, WHY. Let’s take it away, Robb!
1. So, please briefly introduce the members of the band and their roles!
Robbie Norris and Gil Bush fill the roles of K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton respectively on Lead Guitars; Dave Meyers is Ian Hill on Bass; I’m Scott Travis/Dave Holland on Drums; and last but certainly not least – Dillon Reynolds is the voice of Rob Halford!
2. Who decided to form the band and why?
Robbie and Gil have been playing for years together in various bands and have always leaned towards the heavier side of Rock/Metal in a band called Voltage. They were playing songs from bands such as Dio, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, etc. About two years ago they successfully recruited Dillon to do lead vocals after literally pestering him to death over several months. Dillon finally decided to give it a shot and has been the vocalist even prior to Unleashed. After having played with several different drummers and none really working out, I answered a Facebook Marketplace post where Robbie was trying to sell some of his PA cabinets. I came by and met Robbie and talked about the cabinets and then offered to sit in if they ever wanted to play and didn’t have anyone available to play. Needless to say, I was kind of like the stray dog that once you feed him he isn’t going anywhere and I has been the drummer for Voltage and then Unleashed. Dave Meyers was the final piece to the puzzle who came to the band from another local band called Shotgun Saints out of Charlotte, NC. We knew at the first rehearsal with Dave that this was the lineup that everyone has always hoped for. How we actually started as Unleash was different. We were rehearsing as Voltage doing the variety cover set list when an Iron Maiden Tribute out of Raleigh posted that they were looking for an opening act to play at the Maywood. We jumped on the chance and decided that it would be cool to do an all Priest show to go along with their Iron Maiden show. At that time probably 70 percent of our set list was Judas Priest anyhow so it was a natural fit. We went and played that show as Voltage doing an all-Priest set, and the reception and feedback were incredible. We discussed it and decided that we should just go full steam ahead and build a true Judas Priest Tribute. “Unleashed in the East” was one of our favorite albums so we decided that we would use “Unleashed” as the band name and then added the tag “The Classic Judas Priest Tribute” after it so as to not cause confusion with the Death Metal band in Europe called Unleashed.
3. Why form a tribute band when Judas Priest is still alive and kicking?!
If you’re going to play music and hope to eventually be able to at least supplement your day job income you basically have three choices: You play a variety of cover songs that everyone else in the local and regional scenes are playing; you play originals; or you play in a tribute band. Originals are great, but the ability to generate income can be tough. Regardless of what band you play in, you have to generate income to pay the bills and expenses. Cover bands can be fun and allow you to play a variety of different artists but the problem we saw with that is: if there are 20 cover bands playing in one region/city, the same song/set lists get ran into the ground – the only difference is who is actually on stage performing. With a tribute band, you focus in with laser pin point precision on the songs, the look, the movements, etc. You work really hard to get everything just right because it is more about the experience that just playing a show. We chose Judas Priest because we all grew up in the 80’s as well as playing music during that time (with the exception of Dillon) and we all love the music of Judas Priest. There are only a few other Judas Priest Tribute Bands in the entire world so it was a natural progression for us to move into the direction of being a tribute band as opposed to another cover band on the scene. Venues are more receptive because they realize that we would draw from the actual fan base of Judas Priest instead of trying to draw from a fan base that has to be built.
4. What does an audience get out of a tribute band? Why are tribute bands so popular?
Back in the 80’s, you could take $50 and buy a concert ticket, a t-shirt, get a burger and pay for gas to enjoy a national headlining show. Today, that same $50 will make a good start just to buy the ticket. Tribute bands give the audience a chance to get out of their day-to-day grind and listen to a band that brings back a lot of memories. They realize that a tribute band has really dissected the original artist’s music to play exactly if not as closely as possible to the original artists. With national acts such as Judas Priest, their touring schedule often coincides with an album release so once they have completed their tour for their latest release, the fans probably won’t be able to see them perform again until they release their next album or decide to do a Farewell tour as is becoming the case for a lot of bands that dominated the 80’s such as Motley Crue. But in a nutshell, a tribute band is a way for a fan to experience a live concert setting hearing their favorite songs by a band that has polished not only the music, but the show; movements and looks of the original band, and they can see them more frequently and for a lot less money because the expenses are a lot less for a tribute band than a national band.
5. What are the benefits for musicians of being in a tribute band?
For the ones who really put the time, effort and energy into it to deliver a spot-on show, once you become established and people learn who you are, then bigger opportunities will present themselves in accordance to your contacts and desire to work. Most bands that I have ever played in I would make $100 a show playing four 45-minutes sets or three one-hour sets. With the tribute, our shows can go from 45 minutes as an opener up to two hours in length as a headliner. The bigger the buzz and draw, the more money you can make. So the difference is: An original Metal band playing a sports bar may make $200 for a show. A seasoned and polished tribute act on average makes anywhere from $2,500 up to $12,000 a show in some cases. Another perk would be the ability to book much larger venues, simply because promoters have discovered the built-in value of hiring a tribute act. That same original Metal band making $200 in a sports bar would have a difficult time booking say, a House of Blues show. It’s strange how that works, but at this point and time in the industry, tributes are what sells!
6. Confession time! How many of you have seen “ROCKSTAR”? Anyone hoping Judas Priest might pick them up on an “as needed” basis?
“ROCKSTAR” is actually one of my favorite movies! Ironically, it was loosely based off of the period when Rob Halford left Judas Priest and Tim “Ripper” Owens was hired to replace him, and he was in a Judas Priest tribute act at the time. Me personally, I’m not holding my breath hoping that Scott Travis quits, because I am a huge fan of Scott Travis and I want him playing with Priest until their last show! I guess, though anything is possible! Robbie is actually working on finalizing a show with Tim “Ripper” Owens where we will do a set of the Judas Priest Tribute and then Tim will come on and do 10-12 songs (a few of his favorite Priest as well as other covers). If this pans out, someone will be getting one helluva show!
7. Are you frustrated musicians doing cover material all the time?
Not at all. We actually plan on writing some original material, but under our other moniker of Voltage. That can be a slow process, but in order to create something great, it’s going to take time and patience. I think most of us have reached a point in life where we have learned how to be happy with the blessings we have received. We certainly are not expecting a recording contract or seeking mass fame and fortune but, at the same time, you just never know what might happen. And, if that opportunity did arise, then we would certainly be open to jumping all over it.
8. What has the reception been to the band?
Unbelievable in the reception we have received from people. We just played a Tribute to Metal Show at The Firmament in Greenville, SC on June 22nd with three other tribute bands (Mostley Crue a Motley Crue Tribute, Out of the Cellar a Ratt Tribute, and Shoot to Thrill an all-female AC/DC tribute that kicks total ass!). We opened up the show since we are the new guys on the scene. From the first hit to the final goodnight, the crowd was electrifying, and we were feeding off of their energy. Since then, our social media accounts have blown up, with more people checking us out. The word-of-mouth has been great and we delivered the goods!
9. Why does your band do Judas Priest better than any other JP tribute band?
With Judas Priest, the most distinct thing about them is Rob Halford’s voice and stylizations. Dillon is a natural with Rob Halford’s voice. He nails the vocals to even the highest scream that Halford is known for. People lose their minds when he hits those notes and they just go berserk with excitement. I’ve listened to the other Priest tribute bands and absolutely none of them come close to properly emulating Rob Halford, but Dillon absolutely kills it!
10. Tell me, what can an audience expect from seeing your show?
Sore necks and ringing ears! Seriously though, we pride ourselves on delivering a show that we deem to be “Full Power,” from the opening chord to the final encore, we are non-stop Metal mayhem delivering some of the greatest music ever written. The audience should expect incredible vocals, blistering double leads, thunderous drums and bass all working together in tandem to recreate a complete Judas Priest experience.
11. How authentic to JP are you making Unleashed – The Classic Judas Priest Tribute?
We want our fans to be able to close their eyes and not be able to tell the difference between Unleashed and Judas Priest. Me personally, in my work in preparing each song, I will listen to the original studio recordings, chart out the different sections, notate the stops and punches, and listen to the dynamics. Once I have that framework down, I then begin listening to any live versions or pulling YouTube videos and study Scott Travis playing his parts to really get a feel for how he delivers his live presentation and then incorporate the two together. Everyone in the band works in this same manner on their individual parts and then we come together and work out how we are going to end or flow into the next song as a unit and then play it until we know every note played!
12. What are the band’s goals for Unleashed? What are you personally getting out of this?
Goals for Unleashed would be just to get out and play the music we love to crowds who share the same passion. We hope to also maybe turn some of the younger generations onto Judas Priest, grow their fan base and demand for more music. It’s all about celebrating one of the greatest decades and bands to ever exist. On a personal level, I love music period! Over the years I have spent way more money on music than I have ever made by doing it, so it isn’t for the money for damn sure. I just love the adrenaline rush and thrill of being on stage with my four musical brothers and feeding off of the energy of the audience who are really digging what’s going on musically. That’s what it’s all about for me and I plan on doing this for as long as my body will hold out.