On Sunday, May 18, Rock Fantasy, a tribute to Elton John, Pat Benatar and Lou Gramm, performed live at the House of Blues, Anaheim. Rock Fantasy is a tribute show, in the same vein as the Legends show in Las Vegas, but with tributes to classic rock artists from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Rock Fantasy is the brainchild of Faux Music, LLC owner Mitch Thomas who brings together the best of the best entertainers for corporate events, trade shows, casinos and showrooms and almost any type of celebration, party or venue.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Mitch along with Kenny Metcalf as Elton John (Kenny Metcalf and the Early Years Band), Jill Burke as Pat Benatar (Live From Earth) and Kyle Frost as Lou Gramm to get a sense of what it takes to perform as these rock star legends.
Q: I’m interested to know what lead you to perform as these artists: Pat Benatar, Elton John and Lou Gramm?
KYLE FROST: I kind of just fell into it. I heard that one of my friends, who I play music with in another band, was putting together a Foreigner tribute and I was like, “Oh, I’m a huge Foreigner fan. If you need a singer, let me know.” And, they already had someone but for whatever reason it didn’t work out. So I went in and auditioned and that was just how it happened.
Q: Vocally, do you think you’re close Lou Gramm’s voice?
KF: I had to work to get close to what he does. I’m still in the process of getting there, but it was definitely music that I was not only a fan of but I felt like I could portray it successfully.
Q: How long have you been doing this?
KF: Just a little over a year. And this is my first foray into the tribute scene. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.
KENNY METCALF: Well the reason I decided to do an Elton John tribute was there wasn’t really a Pee Wee Herman tribute. I’m kidding with that. (laugh). No, a friend of mine actually approached me and he said, you know, you always kind of sounded like Elton and, he said tributes are playing the kind of venues you were playing when you were in Stryper. So I just rolled tape and started recording all the parts for “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and I started to sing the vocal parts. I played it back and I sounded like him.
Q: And his vocal quality, you were comfortable with it?
KM: I had no idea the complexity of Elton’s voice. From one song to another his tone quality completely changes. So it’s a constant study for me. I just keep working at it.
Q: You pretty much do Elton early years, right?
KM: Yeah, I do the early years of Elton up until about 1978 right now. We changed the name of the band from Elton the Early Years to Kenny Metcalf as Elton and the Early Years band. Gotta plug those guys. But we did that to literally be able to take on a broader palette of Elton’s music and not be limited to just that if we wanted to.
But that’s how I started it. We spent anywhere from 12-14 months putting a show together before we played our first gig. Three months after our first show, which was Hermosa festival, and 4,000 people always right in front of you, which was just a blast, I found myself on stage with the Fab Four for John Lennon’s 70th birthday and then it’s just been a fun ride ever since. And the “World’s Greatest Tribute Bands” we got to be on, that just launched our career even more.
JILL BURKE: First off, I’ve always been a huge fan of hers [Pat Benatar] and she’s been a major influence of mine since I was a pre-teen. I had all of her albums. A couple of years ago, being an actor and a singer/musician myself, I’ve been kind of following the tribute scene and kind of following the Pat Benatar bands. And it’s just sort of been stewing in my brain. I want something that I can do of my own, but it is paying tribute to one of my heroes. About almost a year ago now I went in my first rehearsal for my band, came up with a name and started from there.
Q: Do you have the training like Pat?
JB: There’s actually a lot of similarities with our backgrounds. She just got smart early on and said, the musical theater is not for me. (laughs) And I still do a lot of theater but I’m turning to this genre of music more and more the past several years, like she did early on. And we’re both tiny with gigantic voices. And, I guess there’s some similarities in appearance. And I thought that would be an easy transition.
Q: And the music, it’s demanding, right?
JB: I was like, okay, well not a piece of cake, the more I got into it. I was like oh yeah, the stamina . . . and she is even tinier than me. She’s shorter and tinier. Chicks with big voices.
Q: Do you have any inspiring stories about performing as your artist or fans you’ve encountered?
JB: Again, it’s early on but even just a few of the shows I’ve done like women my age come up and they’re just inspired. I don’t want to give-away my age, I mean, I’m younger than Pat but they’re like you’re doing this, you’re out there and wearing these outfits and we’re just inspired. I’ve had women just come up and give me a big hug. They have stories with the songs that go along with it. And they just want to be taken back.
KM: Well, you know, the most gratifying part is after a show to go out and meet the people and you find out that some of them literally got so emotionally wrapped up in the illusion that we create that it made them cry. They relived their youth. And yet, the funnest part is I’m making friends with all these people that I meet. My friendships have grown exponentially and it’s awesome. From those experiences, for me as the fan to have Caleb Quaye join me on stage, which was Elton’s original guitar player, for the fan to have “the guy” on stage with you, that you watched, you know, looked at their album covers while the record was spinning. That was like amazing to me.
KF: I think it’s the nostalgia of it all. A lot of times when we finish playing people will come up and say, oh brings me back to my high school days. Brings me back to the prom when “I Wanna Know What Love Is” was our prom song. And you meet all these people and it’s just, they’re so grateful. So you’re trying to bring that back and you know, for them, the appreciation that they show is just fantastic. I’m very grateful for it.
Q: Any of you met your counterparts?
JB: Not yet. I did go to a benefit -- a children’s benefit. I could only stand next to her. I didn’t have the nerve to say anything yet to her or explain it. I didn’t want to be like a stalker.
KM: Is that the “Hell is For Children” benefit?
JB: (laugh) I know. They made a quick appearance. I bought the VIP ticket. I just really wanted to just watch from afar. And I’m sure it will happen. It seems kind of fair. It’s like I’m doing your music, I’m paying tribute to you and I am a fan. So when that happens somebody better have a camera nearby. I’m sure I’ll be (sobbing noise)
Q: Any association with Elton and the band?
KM: Well like I mentioned Caleb Quaye has joined us on stage. We’ve got to play with him twice. He’s actually going to join us again for the OC Fair, July 19, but we’ve had Davey Johnstone, the guitar player, leave his video on You Tube, saying, “Hey I’m gonna be watching you on TV; if you have any problems with any of these songs, give me a call and I’ll help you out.” And then he watches the show and calls Caleb the next day to say, “Hey, tell those guys they don’t have to leave town”. So that’s been nice. And we’ve gotten word back from different people that you know, everybody from Elton to his band have watched us. It’s just a blast you know.
KF: I know that Lou’s coming to the Canyon Club in October and I’m going to do whatever I can to -- I wanna meet Lou Gramm. That’d be a dream. And I’m silly enough to where I would say, ‘I sing your stuff.” You know.
Q: Mitch what is your part in all of this?
Mitch Thomas: I just decided to go and do a show like Legends but change it up a little bit and just go with a classic rock genre. I decided to do it a little over a year ago. I just decided to go with what I felt was the best of the best as far as tribute singers go. And, you know, Kenny was one of the first people that I talked to and it just kind of grew from there. I think that we’re lucky. We’ve got now a three month residency starting next year in Reno. The first three months of next year. And I think the show is just going to take off from there.
Q: It’s been a pleasure meeting all of you. Do you have anything else?
JB: You got me thinking about meeting Pat.
KM: The Rock Fantasy show is a blast. It’s so different from what we do with our own bands. And, the Rock Fantasy band that supports us is amazing. And, so we get to come out, we get to have a good time. Mitch, thumbs up brother. I love being a part of this. It’s a blast.
JB: Give it to the band that has to learn three different sets if not more of material.
KM: Every show.
JB: Of every show.
KM: Solid musicians. They do the brunt of the work. We do what we do and we show up, but they have to learn all these songs and it’s different feels. It’s different, you know, not necessarily different genres but certainly different feels. I’m just excited that I’m able to share the stage with these two. I’m just glad to be here, really.
JB: I gotta go pour myself in the faux leather outfit now.
Rock Fantasy Band is:
Bob Duda (drums)
Sir Robert Warren (bass)
Rick Gagliano (lead guitar)
James Alexander (keys & guitar)
Patrick McGrath (keys & guitar)
To find out more about Rock Fantasy and the artists featured above: