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When Does A Band Become Just A Cover Version Of Themselves?

When Does A Band Become Just A Cover Version Of Themselves?

When does a band become a cover/tribute version of itself? The reason I am sitting around here musing on this subject is I recently was reading an interview with Burton Cummings about the band out touring calling themselves “The Guess Who.”

In the interview Cummings was explaining his side of the story about the legal entanglement of a band out there playing shows as “The Guess Who” where the only member of the original band is the drummer Garry Peterson who doesn’t always play with the current band. So when Peterson does not play with them are they a cover band since they don’t have ANY original members. In an interview with Goldmine Magazine, Cummings gives his thoughts on the version of The Guess Who, “They’re a group of hired musicians now. They go onstage and their shows are marketed as if they were the guys that wrote and sang and recorded the songs, and they’re just not. This is a fake band.”

The Guess Who 1969 (left) and The Guess Who 2024 (right)

To make matters worse, Cummings explains “But now what they’ve done, they’ve taken over the landing pages on Spotify and iTunes. They’ve replaced the images of us — the guys who really did the records — they’ve replaced those pictures with the fake band, the pictures of the cover band. And then they go on social media and they literally thank the fans for the millions of streams.” In April 2024, Cummings who owns the publishing rights went to court and revoked the performing rights permissions for The Guess Who songs that he wrote, which essentially leaves the current Guess Who without a setlist to play live.

So this takes me back to the original question, when does a band become a cover/tribute version of itself? Band members come and go all the time over the life span of a band. Some quit, some pass away, bands reinvent themselves but at what point is it no longer “the band” you love and just a shadow version of themselves?

Is it when the lead singer whose voice left that deep imprint on the songs leaves the band and is replaced or maybe the guitarist who wrote all of the hits quits? Is it still “the band” if the only remaining member is the drummer?

Charlie Watts is replaced in The Rolling Stones after his death in 2021 and they are out touring right now, do you consider them a cover band? No, of course not but what if it would have been Mick? What about if Mick And Keith decided they couldn’t go on without Charlie but Ronnie Wood wanted to continue?

What if a band actually replaces the lead singer with a lead singer from a cover band like Journey and Judas Priest did? Does that make the original band a cover band if the new singer is a cover band singer? (I’m getting dizzy thinking about that one)

Judas Priest with Tim “Ripper” Owens

A big question, would it be Led Zeppelin if Jimmy Page announced he was going out on the road as Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant? What if he had John Paul Jones coming with him would you then consider it “the real” Led Zeppelin?

What if a member of a band quits then goes out and plays all of the hits without anyone else from the band?

Roger Waters doesn’t go out and tour as “Pink Floyd”, but he does go out there and will do a whole show around a specific Pink Floyd album as he did with “Rogers Waters The Wall Live” in 2010 and “Dark Side Of The Moon Live” in 2006. He was the primary songwriter on both of those albums (put a check mark there), he was an original member (check mark), and he sang a lot of the songs especially on The Wall (check mark) but are you going to see Roger play the music or are you going to see a member of Pink Floyd play their hits? Is it really “Comfortably Numb” without David Gilmour’s vocals and that solo played by him and not a hired musician? During the 2006 “Dark Side Of The Moon Live” tour, Waters was competing with another tour at around the same time with David Gilmour’s “On An Island” tour but big difference between the two solo tours was Richard Wright (a founding member of Pink Floyd) playing on Davids’s tour. Personally, I saw both tours and there was no comparison for me, you needed the voice but that’s me. To take a lyric from the song, Have A Cigar, “Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?”

Jefferson Starship 1976

Another is Jefferson Starship. The Starship came about after the collapse of the Jefferson Airplane with original Airplane members Paul Kanter and Grace Slick then later Mary Balin joining but it was a new band, new name and actually a new sound. Over the years members came and went until the only two remaining original members were Paul Kanter and David Freiberg until Kanter’s death in 2016. The current band was given permission from Kanter’s estate and Grace Slick to continue under the name Jefferson Starship and even though some of the members of the current lineup have been in the band for years but weren’t on the hit albums, is it really the Starship or is it a cover version of the band?

Jefferson Starship 2024

Again, at what point does a band become a cover/tribute version of itself?

Fleetwood Mac reinvented itself from a British, blues-based rock band of the sixties into the pop powerhouse of the seventies with only two original members left in the band, the drummer and the bass player. Normally if a band just had the drummer and bass player left you would say the band is finished but would you consider them a cover version of the band going forward? Many people don’t realize the band’s original name was “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac”. If your old enough, did you think it was a cover version of Fleetwood Mac during or right after the Bob Welsh years after Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer all left the band and the band was kind of just flailing at times?

There are some fans that claim the “real” Van Halen ended after David Lee Roth left the band so for them were the Sammy years just a cover band? I can’t see that argument, but some people believe it and want to fight about it.

David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards

I once saw a version of Electric Light Orchestra where the only original member was the fiddle player. That in itself was just sad.

Carl Palmer is out on tour as Emerson Lake And Palmer with Carl playing live alongside videos of the late Greg Lake And Keith Emerson playing. The show is amazing but is it ELP as it’s advertised?

There are bands right now out on tour without a single original member and you probably didn’t realize it. Some on the list are Blood Sweat And Tears, Humble Pie, Thin Lizzy, Quiet Riot, Blackfoot and The Wailers to name just a few. Just a few years ago there were actually two different Wailers bands out on the road at the same time The Original Wailers and Wailers Reunited. The Original Wailers are still out on tour and looking at the photo below, none of the members look like the Wailers I saw with Bob Marley.

The Original Wailers

This trend of keeping the band out on the road at all costs isn’t something new, hell I saw three different versions of The Temptations in the seventies.

What about the KISS avatars that are coming in 2027 to tour. As Gene Simmons said in an interview “We can be forever young and forever iconic by taking us to places we’ve never dreamed of before,” and as Paul Stanley added “What we’ve accomplished has been amazing, but it’s not enough. The band deserves to live on because the band is bigger than we are.”

I guess that would be the ultimate tribute band…..



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