Out and About
“Almost Almost Famous” – what’s it like being a music tribute artist?
On a road trip through an alternate universe, where famous musicians never died, Almost Almost Famous explores the lives of three of the world’s top tribute artists, the cost of borrowed fame, and the risk of getting ‘lost in the act’. Fifty years after trailblazers like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jackie Wilson defined music as we know it today, three world-class tribute artists carry on their legacy.
Almost Almost Famous follows the stories of Texas rockabilly musician Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis, Las Vegas based R & B singer Bobby Brooks as Jackie Wilson and the “Elvis from Orlando”, Ted Torres, on their “Class of ‘59” cross-country road tour. From the beer joints of Texas to the Karaoke bars of Honolulu, the film explores how three incredibly talented singers wound up paying the bills as tribute artists.
Ted would be happy to play the young Elvis forever, but he’s getting older, and Elvis died at the age of 42. Lance dreams that his own band, The Lovers, will make it big one day, and Bobby Brooks finds his aspirations turned on their head with a startling revelation. Their intrepid road manager, Marty Kramer, has his work cut out for him as he struggles to keep their feet on the ground, the music centre stage, and the crowds clamouring for more.
Much akin to watching a top-40 cover band performing at a bar and playing all the hits everyone wants to hear, tribute artists (often referred to as impersonators) take the concept to a much higher and more professional level. Think fancier venues and flashier outfits, of almost a theatrical-style in nature. It’s big business and big bucks, but what happens when the time comes to move on to another career? This documentary goes behind the scenes and candidly chats with these three individuals, and their tour manager Marty as well.
It’s basically like being in any other famous band touring on the road hundreds of shows a year…with the one exception…you’re famous for impersonating or paying tribute to, another individual. Lance seems to be struggling the most, being the youngest of the three in his early thirties, still with aspirations to become a successful musician on his own accord. He has his own rockabilly band, has released a record, but like any struggling musician he has to find a “day job”, hence portraying Jerry Lee Lewis in the “Class of 59” ensemble.
Ted has been impersonating Elvis for years, has won top awards doing it, and continues to enjoy entertaining the crowds every night. He knows that one day this will come to an end, and he’ll be replaced by a “younger Elvis”, but until then he’s happy taking home a regular paycheque doing something that he likes. Bobby was adopted at a young age and gradually drifted toward music. One night he was discovered at a karaoke bar and offered the opportunity to play with a band. He continued on until one day someone noticed an uncanny resemblance to 60’ss R&B crooner Jackie Wilson, not only in his voice but his looks as well. When auditioning to be Jackie onstage, Wilson’s daughter said she’d have to approve anyone portraying her father. When the two met, she gave her approval immediately and couldn’t believe the resemblance. Later on, Bobby learns something that is remarkably unbelievable.
The film is Canadian, with plenty of references to performing in cities both here and south of the border. It’s likely not for everyone, but fans of documentaries and music will definitely enjoy and get something out of this.
Here’s an interesting article on whether tribute artists are a legal entity.
Screening in Toronto at the Carlton Cinemas (20 Carlton St) on December 7th, and the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Theatre (506 Bloor St West) on December 14th and 17th, 2018. Also airs on CBC Documentary channel, December 16th at 9 pm.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.