Gary James' Interview With Andrew "Ciggy" Cater Of
The Rolling Stones Tribute
They are the only truly authentic tribute to The Rolling Stones in the Pacific Northwest. They have rock and rolled across Washington state in a multitude of venues including casinos, corporate events, clubs and concerts in the park. Playing Keith Richards in Midnight Rambler is Andrew "Ciggy" Cater.
Q - You've got a very impressive resume here. You started playing bars in England at 16
A - Right.
Q - How did you do that? Don't you have to be 18 to get into a bar? And now, it's 21.
A - Well, they don't have picture identification in Britain. At least they didn't when I was a kid. Basically, I came up through the apprenticeship sort of thing in England like all the other musicians. Even the guys who are Rock stars, you play in clubs, pubs and working men's clubs and you have to play the music they want to hear. Generally you are playing to the generation prior to you or even two generations prior to you. So, I started off playing "Apache" by The Shadows and Drifters' stuff and CCR. Stuff that was middle of the road, not too risky, not too edgy. I actually got kicked out of my first band because I brought "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "See Me, Feel Me" by The Who to rehearsals. They thought I was getting a little too wild. That was the first band I was ever in. I was the rhythm guitar player in that band. Then I formed me own band with a bunch of lads in the neighborhood and we were like the top band in the city
Q - What part of England were you in during that time?
A - Coventry. It's the English equivalent of Detroit. During World War II, Hitler blitzed the center of government which was London. He blitzed Coventry which was the center of industry and he blitzed Liverpool which was the Western, Northwestern port where all the ships were coming in, bringing in supplies. He thought if he blitzed those three cities he would bring Britain to its knees, but he didn't know he was up against "Winnie." Churchill was just a bulldog. He was having none of that nonsense.
Q - In 1985, you made your way to Seattle. Was Grunge around then? I don't even know. I know it was around during the late 1980s.
A - When I got here in '85, Seattle was a very sleepy city. It's not the big metropolitan area it is today with all the tekkies going on. I used to see Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell walking down 4th Avenue. Of course, my hair was halfway down to my waist, just below my breast bone and theirs was too. We sort of looked at each other as a band of brothers. We never spoke. We just nodded at each other. Occasionally you'd see the guys in the music stores picking up strings are buying an amp or a guitar. In those days the guy who sent me a one-way ticket to come to America was an independent writer. He's my best friend. He lives in Costa Rica now. But he was impersonating Rod Stewart in something called Lip Synch. I don't know if it got to the East Coast. They used to play records and people would impersonate the artist. He used to make quite a bit of money for a performance. Things were really bad in England and I was unemployed for two years solid. I was playing on the weekends to subsidize my unemployment, which was about $104 every two weeks. You had to live with your parents. You couldn't get a job for love or money in England at that point. So I kind of told him jokingly I was going to take a Roman bath where you run a hot bath with some razor blades. He got really upset and said, "Don't do anything! I am working on something." And the next correspondence I got from him, when it was snail mail, it had a one-way ticket to Seattle, so I sold all me records, my Marshall plexy, my Les Paul and any belongings I had and got on a plane with two guitars and a sports bag full of my favorite clothes, which almost filled the sports bag. Then when I got here (Seattle), I taught him a few chords and within about nine months he started his own band and wrote material. He needed a guitar player and couldn't find one. No one wanted to get involved. So he said, "Ciggy, will you come and be the guitar player in the band?" I said, "Yeah, okay." He wrote a whole bunch of material and there was a girl who was the bass player and singer who later became the sweetheart of Seattle. Her name was Laura Love. She had the Laura Love Band. She was on Mercury (Records). But we recorded an album here and we used to play the same venues as all the Grunge, Nirvana, Green River, Mudhoney and all those characters, The Melvins, The Butthole Surfers. We did sort of the whole routine in Seattle. I basically got fed up with the kind of music we were playing because it was more Punk than it was more melodic classic Rock. That's just not my bag. So, I kind of bowed out and told my buddy Scott that I wasn't going to do this anymore and I joined one of the top Blues bands in Seattle and basically played with them for a while. But there was a cocaine clique with the musicians in Pioneer Square which is in downtown Seattle, where all the Blues clubs used to be and I just wasn't involved in that either. I just got kind of despondent. Friends of mine had moved to Fort Lauderdale. So I basically packed up and drove 3800 miles Fort Lauderdale and was playing in Blues bands down there and working at a place called The Musician's Exchange, which was a musical co-op with a recording studio run by Frank Cornelius from Cornelius Brothers And Sister Rose and the guy that used to make Stevie Ray Vaughn guitars, Jimmy Hamilton was doing the guitar repairs there. He became like my drinking partner. He was actually the guy who dragged me off to my first "nudie bar." I'd never been to a "nudie bar" before. My agent came to me one day and said, "You want to go to Europe and play Beatles songs for stupid money?" I said, "How stupid?" And he said, "Real stupid."
Q - Hold that thought. Back to Seattle for a moment. Did you ever see Nirvana or encounter Kurt Cobain?
A - Yeah. We played the same clubs. It was called The Vogue on Second Avenue. I remember the name for the simple fact that I knew what Nirvana means. It wasn't the name of the band, but I thought it was kind of a novel idea. I remember hearing them, thinking they were really noisy and rowdy and not very melodic when I heard them. Soundgarden was exactly the same. Soundgarden were absolutely atrocious when they first started. But it just shows how much effort and work they put in and how much they learned their craft because they ended up becoming major recording artists and selling millions of records all over the world.
Q - Didn't you record with some Seattle bands?
A - I did some sessions when I first got here. As an English musician, I was fortunate to meet individuals who took me on as like a pledge pin. I did some slide, dobro work on one guy and I did some the guitar work at various track studios, Ironwood Studios, Studio Five in Bellevue. I don't really remember who all the artists were. I used to go in and read a magazine and wait until it was time to go in and do my session. None of it ever came of anything. I did some of that for a while.
Q - Okay, back to your stint in Beatlemania. Who did you portray in that show?
A - Well, I was hired as John. When I did the audition, as I worked at the Musicians Exchange, they had a sort of musician hookup service. So, while I was at work, I just snuck downstairs to the retail outlet and went to the boss and said, "Hey, let me have a look through this too. Paul Gasparani wants me to do this audition for Beatlemania." So I threw a band together with three other individuals and March 17, 1992 we go and do this audition at the Musician's Exchange upstairs in the Hunter Hall, which was above the retail outlet. There was a number of bands that turned up for the audition and I guess they were holding auditions on the eastern seaboard. We weren't that polished. We got the vocals down for "Nowhere Man" and "I'm A Loser", but those other bands that were auditioning were already performing bands in Fort Lauderdale in some very high profile venues. So, I didn't think we stood a chance. I just figured what the hell, I'm going to give it a shot. About two weeks later, Paul Gasparini calls me at home and says, "Ciggy, you're going to Europe. You've been chosen as John." What they had done is cherry picked individuals out of all these bands they auditioned. No band was going to Europe to do Beatlemania. They were picking individuals that had the essence of that part they were going to play, which we didn't know at the time. So, when I saw these other polished acts up there performing much better than we (did), this little audition band I put together, I thought there's no chance. I was shocked. You could've knocked me over with a feather when Gasparini said you've been chosen as John.
Q - Did you ever see John Lennon in person?
A - No. When I got the job as John, I started reading all the books. I wanted to get inside his head to the point where I was even reading Dr. Janov's screen therapy. So, I read everything and I just recently finished Mark Lewisohn's Volume One on The Beatles. I had an enormous Beatles library. Then when I came back from Europe having done Beatlemania, people and friends that knew what I'd done and where I'd been, started giving me things like lunch pails from '64. But the John Lennon thing soon expired. We had the whole band getting ready to go to Europe and then our guy who was playing George Harrison said he's not going to sign his contract and he's not going to go. The guy that played Paul McCartney and the guy that played Ringo were ready to go and I was ready to go. I said, "What are we going to do now?" And they said, "We've got an idea." And I was all ears because if we didn't pull this off, nobody is getting paid. Nobody was going anywhere. I said, "What is it?" "You know Joey Malone?" I said, "Yeah. I know Joey." "Joey knows all the John Lennon parts by heart already. He's not much of a guitar player and you're a really good lead guitarist. This is what we propose: We are not going to tell anybody. We are going to practice all the material they've telexed to the agent and we are going to go over there and Joey is going to play John and you are going to play George. If we keep our mouths shut, the Europeans won't know the difference." And that's exactly what we did. And we got away with it and actually finished four months in Europe, working five nights a week, doing 35 minutes a night. I think I worked 3 1/2 hours a week. We were in a community. We had our own villa. All we had to do was buy our food. We lived basically two hundred yards from the largest venue in Spain, which is in the town Julio Iglesias is from. While we were there that Summer, I seem to remember or I heard something that he does an annual concert in the bull ring and donates all the proceeds to the children's hospital 'cause that's the town he's from. But it's a big holiday resort in Spain. Funnily enough, many people that vacation in Spain are from Liverpool anyway. So, we met a whole bunch of people that knew Paul and John and would come and talk to us after the show or they would see us in a pub or bar downtown and they would come over and approach us. So, back in '92 when we were there in Europe, the fashion was everybody had short hair in Europe. Here was three Americans and one Englishman with long hair over their shoulders. We kind of stuck out.
Q - Quite a few Beatles tribute acts use wigs as part of their act.
A - Yeah, well, I still have all my hair, thanks to my mother. When I do Keith, basically our Mick Jagger comes up once I got my bandana and animal prints on, and messes my hair up so I look like I've come through a hedge backwards on a bicycle. The biggest compliment we had was about eighteen months ago or maybe two years ago. We were doing an outside Summer festival. Three or four older guys like 55 or 65 years old came up and said, "You know the great thing about you guys is you all have the essence of the individual you're portraying." I thought that was really a nice compliment. Once you learn the music, anybody can kick the music out. Then, there's little things with The Stones. Keith pushes the band. Charlie, the drummer, pulls the band and that's how The Stones work and that's why they sound the way the sound. I'm fortunate that our drummer, Bruce Ericson, actually pulls and I push because generally 90% of the time I start all the songs, which if you listen to The Rolling Stones music, you can hear that Keith basically starts all the songs.
Q - Were you playing in a Hendrix tribute as well? That's after the Beatles stint.
A - Yeah. After I got out of Fort Lauderdale, funnily enough, the guy who ended up taking the John Lennon position and I dropped down to George, he was the lead singer for a band called The Kids. They were extremely popular in Southern Florida and Johnny Depp was the lead guitar player in that band. The drummer that went to Europe in Beatlemania, the guy that played John Lennon and they guy that played Ringo were in The Kids with Johnny Depp. So, I heard all the stories about Johnny Depp when we were in Europe, all their escapades. It was kind of interesting. I was a nice connection. I ended up marrying the lead ballerina in the Russian ballet when I was in Europe. When I got back to Fort Lauderdale, we had a baby daughter in the middle of May. The further South you go in Florida, it gets very nefarious. At that point, John Gotti was trying to get control of Southern Florida. It was just not a nice place to raise a baby daughter nor an extremely attractive wife that was as fit as a butcher's dog. So, we knew I had connections to Seattle and Florida was much too hot for a Moscowvite, so she asked if we could move back to Seattle, so that's what I did. I ended up in another Beatles tribute band for about a year or eighteen months. Then, I always like improvisation, so I used to get to all these Blues jams and that's when I ran into these two brothers that lived together. One was a bass player and one was a drummer and they wanted to get a band together. So, we kind of threw it together and we came up with the idea, "Let's just play all the high energy Blues instead of this "Weeping in your beer" shit. So, we started picking all the high energy Steive Ray Vaughan stuff and all the high energy Jimi Hendrix stuff, and that's what we did exclusively. I did that for about seven years.
Q - So, you didn't try to look like Jimi Hendrix, did you?
A - No, I didn't emulate Hendrix. I'm not Black for starters. But I did emulate Stevie Ray Vaughan. I'd wear the little lumberjack, what they call an applejack hat he used to put off to the side of his head in the early days. So, I'd kind of get a Tex-Mex flavor and wear cowboy boots and flashy shirts. I used to wear a white top hat. We played for Jimi Hendrix's birthday. The guy who bought Jimi Hendix's house was a friend of mine and he asked us if we'd come and play at Jimi's birthday down at a prestigious venue in Seattle called The Firehouse, which is now defunct. So, I did that for seven years. If you didn't know your instrument before you took that job on, you certainly knew it afterwards.
Q - Given you background and everything you've done, how can you be happy in a tribute band like Midnight Rambler?
A - 'Cause it's bloody fun! (Laughs).
Q - Did you put Midnight Rambler together or were they an established act?
A - Well, that again is another story and I'll try to keep it short and sweet. I was playing with probably one of the earliest Rock stars in Seattle. His name is Fred Zeufeldt. He used to be in a band called The Viceroys that had a hit back in 1960 called "Granny's Pad". They used to be on Where The Action Is in the early '60s and later went on to become Surprise Package and I think they recorded for Mercury (Records) and then they became a really big band in Seattle called Big Horn. There was another band that was very popular in Seattle called Heart. There was a bidding war going on and the record companies were either going to hire one band or another and the marketing boys must have said, "We can really market these two attractive women with large breasts as opposed to the five dowdy, ugly guys" and so Heart got signed and Big Horn didn't. But now we skip on twenty years later and I meet Fred and I get into a band with Fred. One day I go to rehearsals 'cause we're going to play the creme de la creme from '64 to '74 and we're going to call ourselves Broken English. I walk into his house for a rehearsal 'cause he's got a studio in his house, and there's a chap sitting on the couch and he said, "This is David." I said, "Hi." He said, "Sit down. We want to put something to you. David's been impersonating Mick Jagger for twenty years." He came from from Spokane and he was in a band called Cheyenne, which was an extremely good band in the '70s here in Seattle. He said, "Would you be Keith Richards?" So I never thought about it before, but I know quite a bit about Keith. I knew his guitar style. I thought it would be a nice experiment to get into alternate tunings and learning all The Stones' catalog. I said, "Yeah." So, we threw that together and basically played all the casinos and it was very successful and we got paid ridiculous money, and then David's wife was offered a 15 K per annum raise if she would go and open an office in Reno. So, David left for Reno and if you've got no Jagger, you got no show. So, that leads me up to Midnight Rambler. Nine months I'm dicking around. I don't know what I'm gonna do. I go onto Craig's List here in Seattle and I just went to the Musicians Thing, which is the first time I'd ever done it. I always meet people at the Blues jam and meet people fact to face, and I'll be damned if there wasn't an ad in there saying, "Rolling Stones Tribute Act Looking For Keith Richards." So, I called the phone number and it was Albert Ceccacci, the guy that plays Ronnie Wood, and he said, "Can you come down for a rehearsal?" So I said, "Yeah." I didn't tell them that I'd been playing in Tumbling Dice with one of the earliest Rock stars in Seattle, playing all the casinos. I kept that to myself just to see what they were about. I went down to rehearsals and they obviously had some pretenders to the throne because they said, "What songs do you know? Do you have a list? What songs do you want to play?" I said, "Start the warming and we'll just go down until we've played enough." So, we played the first song and I knew it exactly 'cause I'd been playing it with Tumbling Dice. I played the second song, the third song. Eyebrows started getting raised. People started looking at each other 'cause I was nailing all the parts and they were going like, "Where the hell has this guy been? Where's he from? After we did about six songs, I said, "You know what I'm about. I know what you're about. I know you've got other people to see. So I'm gonna pack my stuff up now. You guys can call me. You've got my phone number. Whatever you decide is cool with me." I didn't know any background politics of the band or anything like that. I didn't know what was going on, so I was just humbly packing up my gear and leaving the ball in their court and by the time I put my guitars away and stood up, all the hands were sticking out. "We want you in the band if you want to join." I said, "Yeah." So that was like four or five years ago. We basically de-constructed all The Stones' songs, made sure everybody knew all their parts in concrete and then we assembled all the songs. And now, we don't even have to rehearse. It's become second nature. You almost became like de-caffeinated copies of The Rolling Stones. It's funny, when I put my glad rags on and my eyeliner and the bandana and the skull ring and all that stuff, I have people yell at me across the venues, "Keith! Keith! My wife loves you. C'mon over here. She wants to talk to you." They know and I know I'm not Keith, but they want some of the fairy dust to rub off on 'em. It's fun. You go over and talk to 'em respectfully and have a chat with them. They tell you a little bit about their lives. Sometimes they buy you a drink and other times they'll ask you to sign something. I just sign my name. I don't sign "Keith Richards." That's just stupid. But it's fun. I like people. I like visiting with folks. We all have a good time. One of the guys that's in No Quarter, the Led Zeppelin tribute band, Brian Chirstiansen is one of our biggest cheer leaders. He just can't say enough about us. He comes to see us. He'll drive sixty miles from Tacoma, with his wife, to come see us in Northern Park Seattle. Brian's just a brilliant guy. Brian has the full-blown suit with the dragon down the trouser legs. He looks just like Jimmy Page. We've done a number of gigs with 'em. We did an amphitheatre with them and a tribute band called Bastards Of Reality, which is a Black Sabbath tribute. We played about three or four gigs with 'em. Wonderful guys. Very nice guys. I find all the tribute band guys very humble. There's none of this prima donna behavior. They know that they're carbon copies of their idols and they're quite happy doing it. With a specialty act, you can get more money than just being a Classic Rock band. Classic Rock bands are a dime a dozen. Everybody can play "What I Like About You" or "Brick House" or Tom Petty songs, but very few bands can stay together and learn a whole band catalog and pull it off with any sort of zeal and reality. If nothing else, we explode off the stage. We've got nothing but balls full of energy. I think the music is what keeps us young.
Q - You're known as "Ciggy" because Keith Richards always seems to have a cigarette in the side of his mouth or stuck on his guitar?
A - No. (Laughs) No, I'm called Ciggy because when I went to grammar school in England, and don't tell my mother, but I used to spend my lunch money on a ten pack of cigarettes. When we were on the playground or around school, teachers, they used to call me "Ciggy", meaning cigarettes man, but nobody ever caught on as far as the authority figures. Everybody in England has a nickname of one sort or another. So, they just thought that was a nickname that the school children used to call me. They never twigged that I had cigarettes in my school jacket. I went to a school like Harry Potter where you have to wear a uniform. I had the school tie and the school badge on the breast pocket and the school scarf. The authorities never picked up on that. All the children that were a year younger than me and all the children that were a year older than me that weren't in my homeroom class also thought my name was Ciggy. And so, after it started, it didn't take many months before everybody was calling me Ciggy.
Q - So, the work for a Rolling Stones tribute band is not as much as it used to be, is it?
A - No, it's not.
Q - As good as you are, that has to be driving you crazy.
A - Oh, you don't even know the half of it. We are so frustrated and Brian from No Quarter has tried to drag us into as many venues as he can when there are multiple acts on the bill. He will say "You've got to have Midnight Rambler. These guys are just explosive. They're fantastic!" In many instances, concerts we wouldn't have gotten, we got because of Brian.
A - That's back East. A lot of the venues that used to have 'live' entertainment have basically moved over to a guy with a couple of turntables. Techno is really big out here, and Rave music. It's more financially rewarding for the club owner to have Karaoke or have a DJ where he's only got to pay one guy spinning discs than pay for seasoned musicians.
Q - That goes on for only so long.
A - Yeah, well we try to pick up corporate gigs. We played the Seattle Aquarium for some corporation that was really wild. They took a lady in a Rolling Stones t-shirt and threw her into one of the aquarium tanks. It was part of the show. We played another big venue called The Highway 99 Club which is opposite the Aquarium. It's one of the big clubs downtown. That place was packed to the gills. When we do play big venues, the people turn out, but the big venues are probably getting bombarded by all kinds of people that are their friends or friends of friends, and they tend to hire them.
Q - Would you say tribute bands are growing in popularity or would you say it's leveled off?
A - I would say it's leveled off because anybody with any amount of talent can apply themselves and learn the catalog of whatever act they're going to do a tribute to. There's different levels of tribute. We try and resemble the individuals we're playing. It's kind of like a tribute, but it's also like five or six actors playing their parts.
Q - How many times have you seen The Stones in concert?
A - Probably five or six.
Q - First year was when?
A - I don't remember.
Q - Do The Stones know about Midnight Rambler?
A - No, of course they don't. They could give a shit. All we're doing is an advertisement for them. Then people realize, I didn't know how much great Rolling Stones' material there is out there. I better go down to the local store and buy four or five of The Stones' albums or see what the top Stones albums are on Amazon.com and order five or six of them. The regional bands are probably surprised in the increased amount of album sales that they thought would taper off with tribute bands re-educating people who didn't know that much about the band in the first place. When tickets are like 300 bucks, you gotta really like the band. The Stones are still at the top of their game. They're still the top earners. People can come and see us at a casino for free, for very few dollars, or they can wait for The Stones to come through in five years and pay $350 or $450 or $550 or $800 for a ticket. Yeah, were not The Stones, but we're a good facsimile and it don't cost $800 to see us.