A Fitting Tribute

A Fitting Tribute by Barbara Neal Varma

Today's "mock rock" bands keep it real

Those lips. 

That hair. 

That voice. 

Move over Elvis impersonators - these days it's Chris VanDahl, Gregory Wolfe and Dave Alcantar who are onstage rekindling the music memories of audiences everywhere. They know what it takes to stand up and "become" the best - respect. Respect for the original artists, respect for their music, and perhaps most of all, respect for the legions of fans who flock to see first-rate tribute bands perform their favorite songs live. Given the musicians' talent and tenacity for detail, it's easy to forget it's not really Aerosmith's Steven T. stirring up sweet emotions onstage, or Rod Stewart promising us tonight's the night. Easy to believe that maybe, just maybe, Journey's Steve Perry has returned to serenade us with open arms. Because these three artists, at least, are committed to putting forth a likeness so vibratingly close to the bone, it stirs the soul.   


VanDahl's "Steven Tyler" Doesn't Miss a Thing

In a darkened corner of West Covina's Crazy Horse dine and dance club, a group of blondes in black sequins raise their arms and sway reverently to Chris VanDahl's rendition of Aerosmith's "Crazy." VanDahl, dressed in skin-tight, treacherously low red pants and a matching long-tailed jacket that frames a lean, bare torso but for the tats, belts out the ballad with Steven Tyler-like resonating rawness. Behind him, the rest of "Aeromyth" expertly plays along as "Steven," alternates between marching straight legged across the stage, and pressing Tyler-full lips to the microphone, cradling the scarf-festooned mike stand like a lover. The corner girls go wild. Their idol spins around, revealing Tyler's tight tush, too.  

Right on.

Hard to believe VanDahl's alter ego to his Super-Steve persona is a mild-mannered husband of eight years who prefers to be home with his wife rather than out with the guys. "When I'm home, I'm home," said the Michigan native who's been performing onstage since he was 13 years old. "I'm not the guy who's out at the bar getting wasted."

But he is the guy who was teased at an early age about his looks - "The kids called me monkey face" - until Steven Tyler and the boys broke onto the music scene during VanDahl's junior high years. Then the similarity became more of an asset than a liability.

"People started commenting on the resemblance. If I had a dollar for every time I heard I looked like Tyler, I'd be rich." He shunned the attention at first, changing his appearance to get away from the tailored Tyler look, even sporting a Mohawk for misdirection. But he never disguised his love for rock 'n roll.

By the time he reached his twenties, VanDahl was singing on the road with a series of bands and musicians including the platinum-selling L.A. Guns, and later formed a band with guitarist Kenny Olson of Kid Rock. Then came the phone call from a former band buddy who'd put together an Aerosmith tribute group and the rest, as they say, is hard rock history.

"It fit like a glove," VanDahl said, recalling his first time following in Tyler's frenzied footsteps. "I stopped thinking and just started being. I knew then I'd made the right decision."

These days VanDahl is living the very real life of a rock star. With Aeromyth, he's rocked the bras off of thousands of female fans from Los Angeles to San Salvador. He's hung out with many of his rock idols, some of the same motley crew he postered his room with as a kid.

He even met the real Steven Tyler not so long ago at a sobriety awards event. VanDahl, attending with a media friend, was standing on the edge of the red carpet when Tyler walked his way and stopped to regard the younger spitting image. In a telling kind of coincidence, both were sporting matching white jackets and fedoras.

"We were eye to eye," VanDahl said. "Then he leans in, smiles, and says, 'Feels good, don't it?'"
That it does.

And now, thanks to Aeromyth's growing notoriety, plenty of fans can feel just as good as they hear their favorite Aero-hits and see their memories come alive onstage and in kaleidoscope color. VanDahl, who sews all of his Steven-styled costumes himself, said his band mates were all selected for their musical talent and "fit" to their respective A-team counterparts.

"For us, the most important thing is the suspension of disbelief. We want to take people back to that time, that place. It's in the details."

A Wolfe in Rod's Clothing

Tonight's the night/Gonna be all right.

At least that's what Gregory Wolfe performing as Rod Stewart figured. It was one of the last nights of his first tour in Singapore and the local censor board had only approved a selection of Rod songs that didn't mention, well, virgins and first-time fantasies. But he'd sung the same songs for several months straight, and ain't nobody was gonna stop him now.

"I took it upon myself to throw in 'Tonight's the Night,'" he said. "It went over great. The only 'bad' thing that happened was afterwards the production manager called the show's producer back in L.A. and basically snitched on me."
A small price for passion.

Another time, Wolfe nearly caused a riot in a German mall. That adventure happened a few years ago when he and a spot-on "Michael Jackson" were paraded through a crowded shopping mall by their local promoters who just wanted to "see what happens."

Wolfe said the crowd had started to grow in dire density before the promoters finally pulled them out. "They had to shut it down," Wolfe said, shaking his head at the memory of the chaos closing in. "These guys [the promoters] were not the sharpest tools in the shed, if you know what I mean. They wanted to repeat the stunt the very next day."
But Wolfe and his moon-walking friend refused, feeling it was a cheap trick at the fans expense.

Wolfe's first appearance as Rod was in a local "mock rock" contest in his hometown of Lansing, Michigan. A friend and DJ alerted him to the event, so Wolfe, having heard for many years by then that he resembled rock's "hot child in the city," casually said, "Hey, suppose I go on as Rod Stewart?" His pal said, "You'd win hands down." So emboldened - the Bacardi and Cokes before the show didn't hurt either - Wolfe bought a flashy jacket, mussed and moussed up his hair and proceeded to take first place.

A quarter of a century later, Wolfe's still donning the colorful clothes, snazzy shoes and, of course, keeps his fair hair fashionably unruly, the better to be Rod by. He says he's never had to work on the look too much beyond that, his own genes filling in the rest of the ensemble quite nicely. More important has been to practice and nurture the vocals Rod is known for. He says he wouldn't mind meeting Mr. Stewart one day and hearing him sing one of Wolfe's own songs, "since I've been doing his for the past 25 years."

Wolfe credits the talented musicians who accompany him for keeping the old songs new, night after night. "I get to do what I love to do - and make a living at it," he said. "This stuff keeps you young. We're like kids in a sandbox."

Some guys have all the luck.

The Journey Man

A young Dave Alcantar always said he'd make it as a musician one day. Just like his dear old musical dad and older bro, just like he told his grade school teacher when she asked all the kids: What do you want to be when you grow up? Even the family name of Alcantar, "cantar" meaning "to sing" in Spanish, foretold a career in music. And sing he does, often six nights a week, using the voice that started him on his journey to perform as rock's velvet vocalist, Steve Perry.

"Other guys are out there doing this," Alcantar said. "But I've got the voice."

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