Nashville's Long Players are not a cover band. They're a tribute band.
Not a tribute band in the sense that Mini KISS is a KISS tribute band, or in the sense that Coldplay is a U2 tribute band. When The Long Players take the stage — as they've done at Mercy Lounge and Cannery Ballroom nearly every month for the past seven years — it's to pay tribute to one of rock's most beloved but increasingly antiquated mediums: the album.
"To me it's about the celebration of these records," says LPs guitarist and co-founder Bill Lloyd, "[because] albums as an art form are starting to disappear."
You've heard of the concept album. Theirs is the album concept: meticulously performing faithful renditions of classic rock's most cherished albums live, in their entirety, followed by a grab-bag-style set of songs from the featured artist's greater catalog.
Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, The Clash's London Calling, Prince's Purple Rain and Beatles classics like Rubber Soul, Abbey Road and even The White Album are among the 49 LPs The LPs have taken on to date. And this weekend they'll celebrate tackling their 50th album with a Friday night performance of The Rolling Stones' landmark double album Exile on Main St. — in reference to their maiden performance of the Stones' Let It Bleed — followed by a Saturday night blowout of hits culled from their entire "discography."
Beyond making up one-half of the '80s country-rock duo Foster & Lloyd, LPs guitarist Bill Lloyd has enjoyed a nearly 30-year career in Nashville as a songwriter, penning hits for Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood and Tanya Tucker. He's gotten work as a session player and sideman — appearing on records by Steve Earle, Placebo and Ray Davies — and released solo records focusing on his fascination with power pop. He even landed a gig as rhythm guitarist with Cheap Trick for their Hollywood Bowl and Vegas tribute performances of Sgt. Pepper's a few years back.
Lloyd's fellow LPs guitarist Steve Allen hails from LA via Tulsa, Okla., power-pop luminaries 20/20. He's appeared on records by Josh Rouse, Duane Jarvis and Jim Lauderdale, while drummer Steve Ebe — formerly of late-'80s Memphis rock notables Human Radio — counts names like The Boxtops, Badfinger, George Ducas and Radney Foster among his sideman credits.
When not busy tickling the black-and-whites with The LPs or Nashville's biggest little cover band, Guilty Pleasures, keyboardist John Deaderick divides his time between sessions and tours with heavy hitters like Michael McDonald, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller and Dixie Chicks. Regrettably, such professional commitments will explain his absence at this weekend's shindig — The Jayhawks' Jen Gunderman will fill in.
Only in a town like Nashville, with its like-cement concentrated culture and community of virtuosic musicians, would you find such unparalleled musical prowess amalgamated as a tribute act. And only in Music City would you find a tribute act boasting, say, longstanding E Street Band bassist and former Nashvillian Garry Tallent as a founder and former member. "I always pinched myself getting to be in a band with Garry," says Lloyd, an avowed Springsteen fan.
Tallent left the band when he left Nashville for the greener, wider pastures of Montana, although he's made one-off appearances with the band since — like joining them for their take on Elvis Presley's Elvis Presley last year. He was replaced by bassist Brad Jones — co-owner and in-house producer at Nashville's renowned Alex the Great Studio.
According to Lloyd, a years-long tradition of wine-and-vinyl gatherings in Tallent's home vinyl room was paramount to The Long Players' formation. Sometimes known as The Vinyl Throwdown, the get-togethers consisted of Lloyd and Allen — who'd met by chance at the now-shuttered Great Escape in Midtown — along with Ebe, Deaderick and other friends meeting to drink wine, spin 45s and 78s on Tallent's jukebox and pontificate about their favorite records. Lloyd characterizes the gatherings as having been "like a graduate course in music appreciation." The group began playing as the house band at an annual John Lennon tribute and gun-control benefit show, and that evolved into The Long Players in 2004. The civic component that initially brought the band to the stage remains, as proceeds from each of the band's shows have gone to benefit local and national charities such as The Red Cross, Alive Hospice, The Tennessee Environmental Council and Hands On Nashville.
Tallent tells the Scene that playing a Long Players gig at Mercy Lounge gave him more pre-show jitters than going onstage with Springsteen at Giants Stadium. "People in a small club are all in your face and watching and paying close attention to what you're doing, where in a stadium everyone is going up for a beer and it doesn't seem as crucial," he says. "For the Long Players thing ... I really had to have my focus about me."
Lloyd says performing in Nashville for a community that listens with the most critical of ears adds to the unease. "I know a lot of musicians who, when they come to Nashville, really get nervous because the concentration of talent here is daunting." But it's that pedigree within the community that allows them to nab guest musicians like Dez Dickerson, Al Kooper, Adrian Belew and Bobby Keys and guest singers like Pam Tillis, Suzy Bogguss, Bobby Bare Jr. and Ashley Cleveland.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about The Long Players isn't that they manage to unfailingly pull off performing rock's greatest albums with only a mere two rehearsals per show — or that they can wrangle the talent it takes to do so — but that in a town full of talent and egos, there's at least one band where everyone on stage is a sideman, playing subordinates, reading from the script of rock 'n' roll.
"It allows everybody to take their own version of what their career is about and kinda toss it to the side and go, 'Tonight we're celebrating somebody else's thing,' " says Lloyd. "Whatever joy people get from hearing those songs again, we better be feeling it when we play it too."
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