A Cover Band That Doesn't Exist Yet

Cat Scratch Stevens

Before the music we listen to today became dominated by simple chords, repetitive poppy rhythms, and the abomination of Autotune, there were songs released that did more than just appease focus groups. They went viral at a time when the consumer actually had to think and make an effort in order to purchase music. Their singles and LP’s resonated with many people, and their music seemed to accomplish something outside of whetting sexual appetites. Their buzz was hard-earned, their music vetted by a more stringent audience, an audience not willing to accept the terms of YOLO. 

It is much too unfortunate that many band members from these iconic bands are now dead or rendered unable to perform due to years of vicious drug use. It’s just not the same going to see them in Hologram. Spotify and Grooveshark might be able to get you the audio, but YouTube and Palladia can only take you as far as their resolution. The realization is that we may never get to actually revel in the live experience these implicitly aforementioned acts offered to a generation of concert-goers. 

But maybe we can get close. There is an alternative if you’re willing to resort to parody.

Odds Yusuf Islam would join Ted Nugent on stage? Only in a Wild World.

Cue the market opportunity that is the ‘cover band.’ Insert the opportunistic outfit that is “Paradise City,” the Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band. Chuck Klosterman explains their share of the market here.

But what if you want a little variety “mashed-up” into your cut rate concert experience? What if you’re a “two-for-one” kind of guy? This is where the next step in tribute band evolution synthesizes out of necessity. Adding the twist that is the “mash-up.” A mash-up that is not homogeneously mixed, but instead segued in the flesh. A Mash-Up Cover Band.

Their lineup consists of a frontman/rhythm guitarist, a bass guitarist, a drummer... and one... pan flutist?

One half rolling thunder, one half melancholy breeze. The frontman and drummer possibly want to start a militia, while the remainder petition for tighter gun control laws and shop at Whole Foods. Welcome to the conceptual minefield that is Cat Scratch Stevens. A Ted Nugent/Cat Stevens mash-up that is a coexistence of highly recognizable, adrenaline-inducing power chords and the arm-in-arm, sip and sway of amiable melody. A song map that gets listeners across the bridge gently until a chorus of animal blood guitar riffs and persistent percussion forcibly take control of the song.

This cover band template will soon be obsolete

Their name comes from the creative combination of Ted Nugent’s single “Cat Scratch Fever,” and the artist “Cat Stevens.” As with traditional bands, the emerging industry of imitation bands also requires a catchy moniker. Others in the mash-up tribute pursuit have hit the stage with Incubush (Incubus/Bush combo), Knopfler Radar (Dire Straits/Golden Earring), and Seger Genesis (Bob Seger/Genesis).

This is by no means an all-star jam band. This is a group of high school friends that used to play grunge in a garage, and would reunite after college having picked up vastly different political views and musical tastes during their collective four year hiatuses. Having residual chemistry from adolescence and mutual distaste for their 9-5s, they decided to form a band. Realizing that you can actually make a decent wage as a cover band, they decided to try that. Figuring out that they couldn't agree on a style, and stubbornly forming two-man alliances is what resulted in the genesis of Cat Scratch Stevens. Four guys that all want to be frontman in the same vein that Sting wanted to as a bassist, Phil Collins as a drummer, and the barely finite list of guitarists. The pan flute guy? Okay, he pretty much went with the flow.. and was a moccasin-wearing Liberal.

When they refined their craft to a level beyond slovenly, they continued to consistently produce a collective of sounds that didn't naturally belong together. Hoping to create organized chaos a la System Of A Down, the product of their strings and percussion was roughly equal helpings Ted Nugent and Cat Stevens. Instead of scrapping, starting over, or giving up, they had the insight of developing a mash-up cover band. And they went with it. From this realization forward, they would be a combination of Ted Nugent and Cat Stevens down to every last detail. Merging sound, lyrics, and stage attire. Writing new versions of old songs, including the opening to this version of Stranglehold, which would serve as their usual opener:

Here I come again now baby
I'm like a dog in heat
But I've been both spayed and neutered
Here’s my paperless receipt

Cat Scratch Stevens is an odd entity of cohesion and disagreement. But still captivating enough to secure weekly gigs at dive bars. A band that plays so well together - so much so, other bands would kill for this chemistry - but disregards the other's taste so vehemently. They weren’t always this divided. Back in 2005 they could easily play Pearl Jam and be happy. They could lend their talents to Cream, Aerosmith, Steppenwolf, Led Zeppelin, and even Blur. But as friends grow apart, they make many changes. Especially when it comes to goals and life philosophy, and these adaptations to opposing ends of the spectrum are embodied in their music. Such unbelievable irony that they could come back together and merge through their differences.

Just before Stranglehold takes off, the pan flutist steps in and the bass guitarist takes over the framework of the song. If the drummer wants to keep this gig going, he has no better choice than to oblige. But it’s okay... they went over this. Thank god for two car garages and the formative years of band practice. And thank god the Stevens half hasn't been taken out via crossbow.

He will take you out with a crossbow if he has to

The Frontman eventually steps in by the second verse, as the guitar and drums make up the heaviest ingredients in the song, and he keeps the momentum going through the solo. But not a house gets burned down in the lyrics, and we can thank the Stevens half. Instead a frown gets turned into something less frown-y, and the more aggressive of their listeners will just have to wait for the intensity to return.

Pairing shredding with singsong is akin to drinking dessert wine while cutting yourself. But somehow they seem to pull it off. It seems to sound okay. Like the proverb that deems the tallest blade of grass the most likely to get cut, CSS incorporates this into their mix plan. Even though they are the emulation of two 1970s sensations that couldn't be more unlike each other, they intertwine their piecewise parts smoothly through gradual transition and the aid of 4 dollar rail drink specials.

Amongst all of this agreed disagreement, their is one song they preserve. A song that is usually their closer. Free-for-all. It speaks to both ends of the political spectrum, and it's something a lot of people in the audience can agree upon. Especially when they’ve achieved  a 0.15 BAC aggregate.

After a weekend’s worth of smalltime shows, one half goes into the woods to fish and hunt, the other half goes out on the streets to protect the forest. And you really couldn’t expect anything else from their stereotypical bipolar nature.

Four nights on, three nights off. Repeat. This is the work schedule of a tribute band. Sometimes traveling long hours in a car manufactured two decades prior, but always a tank of gas. In the case of Cat Scratch Stevens, they’re not quite ready to settle down yet. They should know, they’ve already tried it. And at the end of the day, they understand the value in recognizing and tolerating their interpersonal differences. It’s the only way to move forward to the next stop.