Gary James' Interview With Gerald Brann Of
The Elton John Tribute
Yellow Brick Road
Gerald Brann is Elton John in the tribute band he's put together called Yellow Brick Road. His portrayal of Elton John has won him rave reviews. FACE Magazine wrote "When Brann is in costume and on stage, he is Elton John." The Sun Chronicle says "Nobody does Elton John better than Elton John, but Gerald Brann comes close!"
Gerald Brann spoke with us about his Elton John tribute act.
Q - Unlike many of the tribute artists I've interviewed, your artist is still very much alive. Elton John still tours, doesn't he?
A - He absolutely does.
Q - So, how much interest is there in an Elton John tribute artist like yourself?
A - Well, there's a few factors that play into it. With an Elton John tribute band, he's had such a diverse career as far as his music goes, being on sound tracks, Broadway and all of the albums and CDs he's put out over the years. He appeals to a very wide age range. He's got everything from The Lion King, Billy Elliot to Rocket Man and Bennie And The Jets. So, you're looking at an audience that ranges from seven year old to seventy years old. So, it makes it a very appealing act for all ages, all age shows like festivals, big events. Lots of cities have their concert series. And it's a huge body of work. Everyone has heard of an Elton John song.
Q - You have a band that you travel with?
A - Yes.
Q - Do you ever get a call for a booking where they just want you and not the band? Then, would you use tracks?
A - I don't play with tracks. See, there's another advantage to doing a tribute to an artist that's a piano player is if they only want me, I could go and play solo and that's what Elton does. He does tour solo as well. So, I could just come and play on a piano and sing the songs and I've done that. But, I've never gone and played the backing tracks. That's something I never want to do.
Q - How many gigs do you play in a year?
A - It varies depending on what we're all doing, but actual specifically Elton shows we might do thirty. We all have full-time jobs and other musical interests as well.
Q - How'd you get the idea to put an Elton John tribute together?
A - Well, I'm a piano player and I sing. I'm about the same build. (laughs) I wanted to do a specialty act. I've been performing music for decades and I wanted to do something more than just the average cover band, something I could really sink my teeth into. I didn't, up 'til this show, have a lot of experience as a front man. I was always the supporting cast member. So, I really wanted to take a stab at this. There was a couple of factors I weighed in my mind, which was if I'm going to do a tribute act, you need something where there's enough music to be able to play "hits" for the entire show and you want to have some kind of visual aspect to it, and Elton brings both of those. Flamboyant. Different costumes. Glasses. Very recognizable. And a giant body of work to choose from. It seemed like a natural fit, a natural choice, plus I'm a fan and have been a fan of his music for as long as I can remember.
Q - Does he know about you, or don't you know?
A - Yes. I don't know how much he remembers. I have had some contact. We did a show a few years back when we performed with the backing of a full symphony orchestra and when we put on that show we were given permission by Elton to use his orchestral scores that he was touring with. That was a big adventure to try and get that music. We actually got permission to do it. So, it was a real treat for us. We were actually doing a show with a symphony backing us up, performing the same music, the same instrumentation, same everything that Elton was actually performing with at the same time while he was on tour. It was a real treat.
Q - You probably tour all over the country?
A - Yeah. Most of the shows we got are on the Eastern half of the United States. We do on occasion get out there a little bit further. It's probably just more cost effective for an event to find something closer to them. Us, being in Maine, kind of limits us a little bit to the Eastern half of the United States as our primary focus, but we'll play all over the U.S. and out of the country also.
Q - How expensive was it to launch this group? All your costumes had to be tailor-made, didn't they?
A - Yes, my costume were made. I was in a lucky situation. I knew a seamstress who's very good and she's been doing this type of work for years, doing stuff for weddings and all kinds of things. I got this idea. I ended up taking a bunch of pictures and some screen shots from videos of different outfits Elton was wearing and brought them to her and said "Hey, this is what I want." She treated me very well. It wasn't nearly as expensive as it could have been let's say, (laughs) had I gone through other avenues. The piano, I actually had a baby grand piano that was given to me that was in a state of dis-repair. It had a broken leg. It had a bad soundboard. It was just awful. I ended up fixing it and I was doing a lot of stuff to it to be able to incorporate it into the show, not to mention paint it white.
Q - Elton John can sing Rock and can sing those ballads. So, which is harder to sing?
A - I don't know that one is really harder than the other. I think if you're doing something that's more rockin', the audience can be more forgiving. You can just go for it and bang on your instruments, play with your fists on the piano if you want. Run around. Use lots of high energy. The crowd is going nuts and they're singin' and they're up and dancing. If you're playing a ballad you're a little more exposed. People I think are listening closer. I don't think that one's any more difficult to perform than the other. I just think one is more scrutinized than the other just because the nature of how you would listen to it.
Q - You were actually in an Ozzy Osbourne tribute band. You didn't play Ozzy, did you?
A - No, I didn't. I was the keyboard player. I sang harmonies. I played lot of pipe organ. The thing that was good about that was it as an experience in a band that was a tribute act. It was a different level of show than the average band I'd been in, in the past. They were bigger shows, got treated better, got spoiled a little bit. I got a little taste of that kind of show. I saw things that I wish were different if I was in charge and I got a chance to make those changes when we did the Elton act.
Q - Now, what happened to that group?
A - That group basically dis-banded. Our lead singer had moved back to his home state of Florida and we just kind of fizzled out.
Q - The interest in tribute groups seem to be growing.
A - It is strange. When I first started the idea of doing a tribute, there weren't a lot of tribute bands around. I only knew of one or two. There were mostly Kiss tribute bands. Seems like everybody had a Kiss band. I didn't know of anybody who was doing what I wanted to do. It seems like there's a million of 'em out there now. You hear about 'em all over the place. Most festivals are operating on a budget. They can't bring in the true artists, but audiences really respond well to the tribute acts. It's less of a risk to the people investing the money 'cause they have somewhat of a guaranteed turn-out. So, it's a good idea. The other thing that's been beautiful about running this act is the internet. I don't call anybody for shows anymore. I haven't for a few years. I just field telephone calls. I would say 90% of our business is generated from our website. We took some real time, spent a lot of work and time in setting up our website. When you go to any search engine and type in Elton John Tribute Band, ours is the first one that comes up. That's been invaluable. I highly recommend that to any tribute band out there, spend some time. It doesn't take that much effort to be able to do that for your website. Do a little research. Do a little work and it goes a long way. I don't have to call anybody anymore. I manage and book the group. We work with some agencies, but we're not exclusive with anyone. So, to get a hold of us you send an e-mail or make a telephone call. You're not going to an agency and have to wait for business day on Monday for someone to field that call, get a hold of somebody who then has to give a call back to another guy. You call this number or e-mail us and you get us. We've been doing it for years and years. I've been performing professionally for twenty-eight years and this is the way it should be. It serves us well.
Q - You're wearing three hats; manager, agent, performer.
A - Well, when you're only booking thirty shows a year, it's not so bad. I get to spoil the guys a little bit. It's been great because I've been able to give the band everything that I've always wished that I had in the bands I was performing in. We stay in nice places. We always incorporate something fun when we go to travel. If we're going on a four, five, six, seven day tour, part of the trip will be incorporated that we go someplace cool that we're going to be near and spend the day goofing off doing something. It has to be fun or what's the point? So that's been important. I think that's gone really well for us 'cause we've had good retention of players. I have fantastic players. They're all the best performers that I know. So, I feel very lucky to get to work with these guys.