Gary James' Interview With
Elton John Tribute Artist
He's been called the next best thing to Elton John, someone who will make you think he's the real Elton John. That's because Rus Anderson and his Rocket Man Band have captured the imagination of audiences wherever they perform! His show is an exact replica of an early 1980s Elton John concert, featuring exact replica costumes and 100% 'live' instruments, not to mention an eight foot red Yamaha piano and an ultra modern laser and LED light show worth over $10,000.
Rus took some time off from a very demanding schedule to speak with us about his act.
Q - Rus, the fact that you're performing full-time with your Rocket Man Show must mean there's a lot of work out there for an Elton John tribute band. How many gigs are you doing in a year?
A - Well, what we do is, each of us are separate musicians. We're all busy with individual projects. As a band we're only an Elton John tribute band when we come together. For example, we don't get together as a band and do Top 40. But the Elton John stuff has really gone through the roof the last year. We've probably had three or four a month. So, if we can get one every weekend is what we're aiming for. It is an event. It's a show. It's not a gig at a beach bar which anyone can do any night of the week. It's an event, so it requires advertising and publicity and it requires ticket sales most of the time. Places like to put 'em together in a little advance than the beach bars for example. We're averaging three to four a month and those are places ranging from biker bars, corporate events, through historic theatres. We were even out in Los Angeles in January (2011) just South of LAX. It was kind of nice to get out there and get away from Florida for awhile.
Q - How are you traveling? You must be flying.
A - Oh, yeah. There's two ways that tribute bands work and that's either we go on the road and we drive all the way there with a trailer full of gear or they, the venues, supply the gear and we just fly out and stay at a hotel, play, and then fly back. It just depends.
Q - How do your costumes get there?
A - The costumes are quite easily traveled. I just put them in a couple of big suit cases. (laughs) The toughest part is the ostrich feathers. You gotta look after them. You can't just pack them in a bag.
Q - Have you taken your act overseas yet?
A - We've haven't played overseas yet, but we're going to be heading there, hitting the British scene. I've been talking to a few agencies about doing that lately. Even the Scottish media got in touch with me last month and they want to put a little tour together for us. When we've got all our ducks in a row and we're able to get overseas, we're gonna do that. At the moment, we're just concentrating on the U.S. stuff 'cause there's just so much work here that I don't really have to leave the U.S. to get work.
Q - You've spent thousands of dollars on your costumes. Where did you get that kind of money?
A - Well, it's kind of one of those things where you look at costumes and I fell in love with 'em right away. You can go and attempt to make it yourself or you can go to Party City and buy costume sunglasses and cheap feather boas, but I use a girl who's a costume designer for the shows up in Broadway and she's actually a Scottish girl. What we do is, we take photos and get old, archival footage of Elton and she takes them and transforms them into 3D imaging, which is used to create a design tactic. Very often it's all pieces of different fabric from all over the world that you use. So, you kind of have to replicate that the best you can. That's usually where the costs come in. You buy 400 bucks worth of fabric and then the crystals that go on it, you spend another 200 bucks and the glasses are pretty expensive too. The ones that I use are genuine Swarovskis. You can't buy them at party stores. You can cut corners, but I don't like to do that. You're up close to people and they bought a ticket and they're expecting to see something more than just a cheap cabaret (act). For the most part, pretty much every Elton John guy who's out there is doing that cheap cartoon version of Elton John, whereas we make it a real serious show as though you're actually going to see Elton John. Of course I'm only 30 years old, so I'm a lot younger than he is at the moment, so I have to do a replica of the job he did when he was in his 20s and 30s, which was a lot more fun. He used to jump around the piano and that's what I like to do.
Q - How many times have you seen Elton John in concert?
A - You know what? I've never actually seen him in concert. I've never been to one of his concerts. I'm going to go see him hopefully next year (2012), but I was within 5 minutes of meeting him in Los Angeles. I was at the Troubadour Club, which is where he played his first ever show in America. I left and I went for dinner next door. I found out the next morning that he had visited the Troubadour that night. So if I had stayed a little longer, I would have met him. So I'm getting closer and closer to meeting him. A lot of people when they see the show can't believe that I've never seen him because I'm so like him, but I've got quite a few DVDs that I watch of him and I'm constantly scouring the internet for old venues of him. There's no shortage of video of what he's like in concert.
Q - Do you think he knows about you?
A - Oh, sure he does. I played a gig for Elton John's AIDS Foundation a couple of years ago in Tampa (Florida). They told us he's very serious about getting involved with everything that goes on in the Elton John Foundation. So, it was part of an event he was involved in. He had to know about me because there's only a handful of us in the U.S. that actually do it. So, it's kind of cool.
Q - Did you put this whole show of yours together, including finding all the musicians?
A - Sure. Yeah. I was doing it solo for awhile and then the pressure was on to play in some bigger venues. Some theatres were calling, concert halls and most of them require bands, obviously. So it was kind of a mission for me to get out here in Tampa and audition some band members. Finally I found a few guys and a couple of girls who we auditioned and we took on the road with us. It's just been fantastic. The venues we've been playing are just getting bigger and better every time.
Q - Your group is advertised as "The U.S.A.'s Number One Full-time Elton John Tribute".
A - That's right.
Q - Who came up with the Number One part and the fact that you're doing it full-time is really what separates you from the other Elton John tribute acts, correct?
A - Exactly. I'll be honest, in America there's probably about six Elton John tribute artists including myself. I think only two have a full band and the rest are solo. So immediately we're a little bit more prestigious than the solo guys because we're a band. A full band is definitely more prestigious than sitting there with backing tracks. As far as the Number One goes, we were on Gig Salad, Gig Masters, Sonic Dates with a 5 star rating and also on i-tunes with a 5 star rating. It was kind of also like we were very aware of what the competition was up to. We were just blown away by how much busier we were than anyone else doing it. Our calendar was literally twice as filled. Considering we're a fairly young act, we've only been doing it full-time for only about two and a half to three years now, I think we've come on leaps and bounds. I think your reputation is everything. You play one gig and it's a success, word spreads like wildfire if you play one bad gig. I think we've been fortunate that everything we've done so far is a real high standard. We don't mess around. We're all tight musicians. Very experienced. Three out of four of us are music teachers. Of course I've been a performer in Britain and Europe for many years now, so it's kind of like all the experience comes together and that's what the people get.
Q - Where does the creative satisfaction come from when you're playing someone else's music time and time again?
A - First of all, we're all in love with Elton John's music, so that's the first common denominator. We can all agree that as a band we're all in love with his music. What we enjoy doing is no two shows are the same. What we constantly do is create a new set list, a new intro, new solos and audience participation. So for us, yes we're playing the same songs every show, but we are very conscious that it's a different audience. So we can get a hundred per cent by switching it up from our side. We give the audience a real good show because it's the first time they've seen us do it. As far as Elton John's music goes, there's 4, 5, maybe 6 hours of material that we could do and most of the shows are only about 90 minutes long. So yes, there's your staple songs that you have to do like your "Rocket Man", "Crocodile Rock", "Tiny Dancer", but there's also times when we'll pool all the B sides at the end of the show. We'll get rid of all the cheesy stuff you hear on the radio. So, just like Elton John does, we'll surprise the audience. For us it's kind of like a new experience as well. It's definitely a challenge when it's not your own music, but that's not to say we don't feel as passionate about his songs as we would about our own. But, I mean at the end of the day, his material is legendary.