News Column

Musicians in Fresno tribute bands work to get it right

May 9, 2013

YellowBrix

May 09--Nate Butler was going through a Doors phase.

It was the mid-1990s, and he had just re-watched Oliver Stone's "The Doors" biopic (on video) and was way into reading Jim Morrison's poems. He found himself utterly fascinated by the band's image and music.

"I thought, it would be really cool if I could do that," says Butler, a local actor and musician.

He wanted to become Morrison -- at least on stage for an hour.

So he reached out to some musician friends and put together a tribute band, the Double Doors, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a show tonight at the Starline, 833 E. Fern Ave.

If the math doesn't add up, it's because Butler doesn't count the '90s incarnation of the band, just the current lineup, which includes Jeffrey Fetters on guitar, June Beard on drums, Darren Fletcher playing keyboards and Mark Michel on bass.

Fetters, who was in the original lineup, had worked with Butler on similar projects. For a while, they did a live performance of Pink Floyd's "The Wall."

"We were into that music and wanted to put together a cool show," Fetters says.

That's not a singular feeling among local musicians.

Danielle Rondero's Amy Winehouse tribute Back to Black -- which plays tonight at Frank's Place, 1432 Fulton St. -- started much the same way.

"Our whole concept was to play the songs that we love," says Rondero, a local singer who was in the bands King Sugar and The Burners. It was with The Burners that she started playing a few Winehouse songs.

For the tribute, she pulled together an all-star crop of musicians, including drummer Sean Alderette and trombonist Gary Anderson, who leads the band's full horn section.

All of the musicians play in other projects. Alderette is the drummer for the hip-hop funk band 40 Watt Hype, for example. But they come together as fans of Winehouse, Rondero says.

"We want to bring her music to the people. Especially to people who have never experienced it before."

That's a large group.

Although the late R&B, soul and jazz singer was a success and a tabloid-news star, Winehouse was in the music business for less than a decade.

Rondero never saw her perform live. No one in the band did. In fact, Rondero only knows one person who caught Winehouse when she came through on a California tour.

In order to capture the essence of what Winehouse did live -- which was vastly different from her recordings -- Rondero and the band became students of YouTube, watching videos of the singer's early performances, which they use as the basis for their arrangements.

Make no mistake, being in a tribute band isn't easy. There is the hair and makeup. Rondero's beehive up-do is her own. Butler's beard is not.

Plus, the fans can be hardcore, Rondero says, so you want to get things right.

It's a challenge to do Winehouse's live act, or to do the second side of "Abbey Road," which Butler does with his other tribute band, The Beetles. In some ways, though, it's much simpler than playing originals. There are no "band" arguments or creative differences, Butler says.

Everyone knows the goal: "Sound like the record," he says.

Not that Rondero came out trying to be a carbon copy.

In fact, she was leery of even calling what they did a tribute band at first. The term can have a stigma among musicians, though eventually she came to realize that's exactly what Back to Black does.

"We want to help the legacy of her music live on," Rondero says.

With the Doors, that legacy is part of the draw, the reason the band plays to audiences much larger than its members would see for any of their original bands.

"People haven't been listening to my music for 40 years," Butler says. "They didn't grow up listening to it and have their first make-out session to it. We're giving people what they want to see."

Which, in turn, keeps the band playing.

The Double Doors used to do one or two shows a year, but have increased that number as interest in the band has grown.

"If people stopped being interested," he says, "we'd stop doing it."

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Show information

Back to Black, a tribute to Amy Winehouse, 8 p.m. Friday at Frank's Place, 1432 Fulton St., Fresno. Ska band Pocket Money opens. Tickets are $10 or $12 at the door. (559) 264-2848, warnors.org

The Double Doors 10th anniversary show, celebrating the music of Jim Morrison and the Doors. 9:30 p.m. Friday at The Starline, 833 E. Fern Ave., Fresno. Tickets are $10. (559) 485-5356, thedoubledoors.com

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The reporter can be reached at jtehee@fresnobee.com, at (559) 441-6479 or on Twitter @JoshuaTehee

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