Since the creation of the hit Broadway musical Beatlemania tribute bands have become an indelible part of the musical landscape, playing local bars, biker rallies, banquet halls, town fairs, and, occasionally, even stadiums. In an age when famous rock groups charge $100 or more for a concert ticket, their tribute band imitators offer an accessible, intimate, and surprisingly authentic outlet for fans. The Grateful Dead have Dark Star Orchestra; Led Zeppelin Zoso, Hammer of the Gods, and the all-girl Lez Zeppelin; Van Halen have twenty-five tribute bands, including Hot for Teacher and Van Heineken; and KISS have not one but two tribute bands peopled by dwarves—Mini Kiss and Tiny Kiss.
In this droll and entertaining expedition to the heart of tribute world, Steven Kurutz chronicles the ups and downs of one of the oldest and best-established acts, Sticky Fingers, who bill themselves as “the leading international Rolling Stones tribute show.” The narrative follows Sticky Fingers as they shadow the real Rolling Stones 2005–06 tour like a remora trailing a shark. When the Stones perform at an arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sticky Fingers plays a preconcert bash at nearby Dixie’s Tavern. More gigs follow: a trip to Las Vegas, bookings on the southern fraternity circuit, a spectacular sold-out stadium show in the Netherlands. The band’s frontman, Glen Carroll, is a roguish and colorful Mick Jagger look-alike, and we see him onstage and off, navigating the peculiar life of a tribute performer. As Carroll says, “I know what it’s like to walk in Mick’s shoes—with lift supports, mind you.” The band’s guitarist, meanwhile, is so committed to his role as Keith Richards, he’s always in costume. Along the way, the writer travels with the members of Sticky Fingers’ archrivals, the Blushing Brides; profiles a group of Deadheads who re-create entire, highly specific Grateful Dead concerts, and examines an occupational hazard one musician calls “tributitis”: identifying too closely with the rock star one portrays, with resulting swelling of the ego. As the book unfolds, what emerges is an honest and sympathetic portrait of the musicians as they juggle work and band obligations and come to terms with middle age and their fading dreams of rock stardom.
Like a Rolling Stone is a superbly reported, affectionately told, hilarious account of life at the lower altitudes of the music industry. In its own sly way, it is also a critique of the Rolling Stones’ stadium juggernaut and the baby boomer nostalgia pervading modern culture. Above all, it is a testament to the timeless appeal of rock and roll, even in a culture of perpetual rewind.