Chris VanDahl


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“You can’t fail if you refuse to quit.”

Love that quote. Love it.

A good portion of my reaction to it comes from personal experiences. I’m a believer in the overall idea that success comes from a drive to get back up every time you’re knocked down. And that is never quite as simple as it sounds. It’s easy to find excuses, assign blame to factors beyond control, and in general just accept defeat rather than working on getting stronger, better, and improving on personal shortfalls.

With regard to this particular project though, I find these words are an amazingly succinct and accurate reflection of Chris. Consider…

When we were working on the interview he described some of his biggest initial challenges this way: “The largest obstacle I think I faced early on is the fact that I was big on ambition but short on talent.”

That one sentence, if accepted as accurate, would require a fair amount of refusals in the face of failure to create a professional career in music. (And given what I have seen of his performances, he is being way too hard on himself… the talent is there, and a great deal of it.)

So how has 2016 treated him?

Chris has been performing with Aeromyth and Legends in Concert, delivering a world-class tribute of Steven Tyler. He is recognized as one of the leading tribute artists in the world. (Having seen him perform live, I can tell you that his voice, mannerisms, and stage presence are every bit as on point as the pictures accompanying this piece would suggest. I had the pleasure of seeing him deliver a set as part of a Legends cast in December of 2015, and we have a photo gallery here on the web site from that show.)

He also was part of a great announcement in recent months, focusing on the band Angels in Vein. Work on the new group picked up speed in 2015. They released a video for the song “1973” this summer, which is the first single from the upcoming album Love Dies Screaming. You can find the video and more information at the group’s web site.

Suffice to say, he never quit. Far from it. And the list of obstacles he’s overcome stand to the credit of the hard work he’s delivered in realizing the success he’s achieved.

Before we hit the interview, let’s meet Chris VanDahl…

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For those that look, there are plenty of stories, articles, and even books to be found that explore, chronicle and even make attempts at explaining the brilliant musical city of Detroit, Michigan. And most of them barely scratch the surface of reality. Outside of the supposed homes of the industry—places like New York or Los Angeles—it would be difficult (and likely impossible) to find a location that has been so important and diverse for music.

And that means one thing… if you’re standing in the middle of greatness, and you can’t identify places or things as the reason for that greatness, then it’s about the people. Which I think works when considering Detroit. It’s a city of tremendous accomplishment, strengthened by fire and overcoming challenges, and driven by the passion of its residents.

Should it be any wonder that Chris VanDahl was born, raised, and influenced in Detroit? (Short answer… no. Not at all.)

In looking over the artists that inspired him, Chris confirms something very interesting when covering his upbringing and exposures to music… greatness never hides. Many of his efforts are squarely based in rock, and often to the stronger and harder corners of it. So naturally, he cites everything from the quite likely expected Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin to the potentially surprising Simon and Garfunkel as important in his love of music and development as an artist.

He eventually reached out toward LA and was the lead singer of a band called Cherry Street at a time when Los Angeles was legendary for the musicians and characters stalking the boards of stages in clubs and bars and theaters. (And Cherry Street was one of the bands fueling those legends.)

Music doesn’t always play nice with accomplishments however, and often talent and an audience may not be able to overcome timing, those wearing suits, personalities and more. Windows close as quickly as they open. Which brings us back to that quote from Chris… “You can’t fail if you refuse to quit.”

A jaw-dropping resemblance to Steven Tyler has at times been a bit of a curse as Chris pursued his profession. And then… it became a bit of a blessing. In recent years he has been performing with the world-class tribute show Legends in Concert. His portrayal of Tyler is stunning… it’s visual… audible… sensory-overload brilliance.

In addition to working with Legends, Chris is also providing efforts as part of the group Aeromyth. Once again drawing from the Steven Tyler and Aerosmith foundation, Chris pulls no punches in his desire to deliver a high-quality, high-energy, fully respectful show. He wants to get things right, for the band and the audience.

All of which in turn leads to the fun. Because the reality is, some things simply can’t be faked. It takes talent, practice, drive and motivation to get on a stage, grab the microphone and take hold of an audience. It takes even more to blow the roof off of the theater and make certain everyone watching feels great about the show.

When Chris and I were exchanging information for this project, he closed one of the questions discussing some aspects of tribute artists and productions. He said, simply: “Just remember out there, you get what you pay for!” That’s a nice way of thinking about seeing Chris perform… because you get far more than you pay for from his efforts. This is a man that simply won’t quit.

Folks… Chris VanDahl and the In My Backpack interview…

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I’m always stunned by how often one particular city seems to come up so often for musicians, and here it is again – Detroit. Tell me a bit about your childhood and early influences in music. How important was music to you growing up?

Rock City, Motown, HitsVille USA!

By any name I think Detroit inspires an almost reverent type of awe regarding its enduring influence on the worlds’ music scene. From the Jackson Five, to the MC5 and right on up to Kid Rock there’s no denying that to some extent location has to be considered in the equation. Detroit is more than a city. It’s a living breathing beast that at one point not only ruled the automotive world but the Billboard charts as well. Fast cars and fast music.

It’s undeniably ugly with its concrete and metal factories. Busted out and boarded up windows and rundown slum like tenements. But it’s also a place of infinite beauty with its glorious stone churches, deeply connected communities and interracial relationships. Bonds in that city are built the same way the old muscle cars used to be. To last.

I grew up sneaking into clubs like Blondies, the Falcon, Harpo’s and the Ritz at a very young age to watch the local heroes of that time. I was mesmerized by bands like Halloween, Seduce and Bitter Sweet Alley. Whether you’re familiar with these bands or not doesn’t matter so much as the fact that the Detroit community is. We definitely support our own, which is part of the reason I believe so much creative originality is born there.

When I was about 14 years old (just a punk kid with the big eyes and big dreams), I actually had the balls to approach some of my local heroes and ask for a favor. The two things you have to understand here are that, A, these guys were one of the biggest bands on the scene at that time and, B, they had absolutely no idea who I was.

This is what happened. After a completely sold-out matinee gig at the Ritz watching Halloween, Detroit’s heavy metal horror show, I hung back and waited for everybody to leave. I planned my ambush at the back door to the theater where I knew the band would be coming out. When they did I introduced myself and mentioned that I had a friend whose father owned a studio and told them I wanted them come in and help me record. George Neal, the bassist, and Rick Craig, the guitarist, not only came down to that studio but they helped structure, produce and record those songs. Hell, George even played on one of them. Now that’s Detroit!

Also, I might mention that George and I are still friends to this day. For the record Halloween is still around, although Rick and George seem to be focusing a great deal of energy on their more recent endeavor, Ichabod Krane.

As far as the influence music had on my earlier years I'll just summarize it like this. I was 15 years old when this happened and I will never forget the look on my father’s face.

We were heading out the door to go to a Christmas function for his work and he looked at me with pure horror in his eyes when he realized that under the pant legs of the hand-me-down pinstriped suit I was wearing I had on a pair of 4-inch stiletto pumps that I had (appropriated) from a woman’s shoe store in a local strip mall. From the look on his face he couldn't figure out whether I was gay or just crazy!

The simple truth is that I was neither. I just wanted to be Randy Rhodes, and Randy had a pair. Talk about manifesting your reality without consideration for the consequences… Lol!

Was there any particular person, band event or motivation that led you to take to the stage and grab a microphone? And when did you begin to realize that you had talents and abilities when it came to performing?

There are number of people and things that all played pretty relevant roles in leading me to where I am today. Some positive, some not so much.

When I was a little kid I had this cousin (Wim) from Holland come stay with my family for an extended period of time. He had long hair, bellbottoms and wildly colored shirts. No idea where it came from but there was this old beat up acoustic guitar that had been laying around our house forever. He picked it up, tuned it, and began to play. The song was “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel. That was a true “God wink” moment for me!

Nothing in all my 12 years of life experience had ever affected me so profoundly. I think I drove him batshit all summer long. He taught me my first chords and then he taught me how to play my first song. It was “My Best Friend’s Girl” by the Cars. After that, it was all I could do to keep out of my older brother’s record collection.

I can still see the album covers and feel them in my hands. Led Zeppelin, Kansas, Bob Seger, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, Kiss, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick and of course, Aerosmith. That was the good stuff.

The other side of the coin was my life was in a constant state of flux and turmoil. My parents were going through a horrible time and I was a funny looking kid with extreme facial features. They earned me the nickname monkey face and it got me jumped by a local gang of kids on a pretty regular basis.

I started to withdraw into the music and I developed an “I’ll show you” attitude. My love for music became co-mingled with the idea of retribution. I think everybody has the fantasy of what it would be like to be a rock star at one time or another, but in my mind I had taken it to a whole new level. I’m pretty sure for me that was the point of no return.

I don’t know that I can honestly say I ever realized that I had a particular talent or ability that gave me an advantage. In hindsight I can say that I was motivated to a point beyond caring. Whether that were true or not, that in and of itself may have just been my greatest advantage. You can’t fail if you refuse to quit.

What were some of the obstacles and challenges for you in developing and learning your craft? Do you play any instruments, and if so, in what kind of ways has that shaped your approach to a song and performances?

I’ve always been kind of like the kid that wants to run away and join the circus. The thing is, I actually kept trying until I eventually became the ringleader.

When I first started, I was so young that I had absolutely nothing to base my career on but desire.
It was like deciding to become an astronaut with absolutely no concept of what gravity is and how it affects you.

The first time I tried to make it to California I was 15. I talked to this older kid I hung out with into driving. We left home and headed out. We made it as far as Lima, Ohio, before he was arrested for drunk driving.

Don’t ask me how you leave Detroit and end up in Ohio trying to get to California, but that’s what happened. The legal drinking age in Ohio was 18 at the time which meant that he could buy beer which is exactly what he did. My mother and sister had to drive to Ohio to pick me up and neither were too happy about it. Not that I can blame them.

I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I did get to California. I just knew that that’s where the record companies were, and I needed to be where they were paying attention. Lucky for me I didn’t make it. I’d most likely be dead.

The largest obstacle I think I faced early on is the fact that I was big on ambition but short on talent. It was a long time before I was able to step up to a microphone without embarrassing either myself or all the people around me.

The other thing that was difficult, because it interferes with and distracts from the creative process, is learning how the business works. Delusions of grandeur are fine. But they’re useless when it comes to learning how to book your band, promote a show, or get paid for that matter. Forget about the record deal. This is launch pad 101 I’m talking about. The competition is fierce. (Everybody wants to be a rock star.) And at the end of the day it takes a lot of out of the box thinking to set yourself aside from the pack.

As far as instruments go, I actually play a little of everything. Guitar, piano, bass. Mostly it’s a necessity. It’s much easier to communicate an idea to another musician when you can sort of play through it. I can give my guitarist a basic idea of what I want by playing it for him and then letting him take it from there. It’s a lot easier and more effective than trying to hum it.

Also, when I hear something in my head (which happens pretty frequently, LOL!), I can record the general idea while it’s still fresh instead of hoping it’s still there when I’m finally with somebody that I’d have to try to explain it to.

The other ways being able to play affects the process for me is that it allows me to work from the road. I travel constantly. Not only with my band but with Legends in Concert. Since I’m working on a new album, I usually keep a mobile recording studio with me. That allows me to record my rough ideas wherever I’m at in the world and send them off to my guitarist in Texas. It’s increased and simplified our work flow immeasurably.

I suppose people could argue that there are twists and turns throughout music history, especially rock music. (And it’s definitely true.) Your background though… it really does place you not only in an interesting time and place chronologically, but physically as well. Los Angeles was exploding musically in the late eighties, as bands that had been dominating the region were becoming white hot nationally (and globally). This was also happening as smaller cities, such as Seattle, were making marks. What was it like being in LA in those days? What was happening in music there… and what was happening for you?

You know, they say if you remember the 80s in LA you weren’t actually there. (Ha ha)

I think that was a time like the world will never see again. There are no words to do justice to the amount of energy coming off the Sunset Strip on a Friday or Saturday night. Bands were relocating from all over the world to take their shot. There would be thousands of us walking the strip. From the simply curious down to the starry-eyed fangirls and countless groupies that would hang out and hang in long after their moment was missed.

The bands clad in black leather and eyeliner. Our jet black or bleach blonde hair blasted with aqua-net, spiked and standing a foot off our heads. Starting out in front of Gazzarri’s, the Rainbow and the Roxy then working our way right up the block to the Whiskey a Go-Go. All the while armed with and passing out homemade flyers that we would have to go to Kinko’s to have mass produced.

It wasn’t unusual to find Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead hanging out with Sam Kinison. Ron Jeremy and C.C Deville from Poison sitting on the wall bordering Gazzarri's parking lot shooting the shit and watching the festivities.

For my part, I was in a band called Cherry Street. This is well before my LA Guns days. Our flyers touting the moniker “Straight from the streets of Detroit”, we came on the scene with a vengeance!

We literally went from 8pm pay to play slots to headlining and consistently selling out every venue on the strip. The band received a star from Bill Gazzarri, the Godfather of rock himself, which he presented to us on stage in front of a sold-out house and prominently placed it on the front of his venue proclaiming Tomorrow’s rock stars here today!

We had the fire marshal out to the Whiskey on a number of occasions because of the sheer numbers jammed into and around the club. I once brought down an entire lighting rig at the Troubadour because I was scaling it over the main dance floor. We were featured on the cover of Rock City News. With full-page spreads in magazines like Bam and Screamer, and were getting attention from the big leagues as well. Metal Edge featured us a number of times, as well as European magazines like Metal Forces and Kerrang.

The band had grown to a point where there was nothing left to do in LA and still we couldn’t get a record deal. So we took matters into our own hands, self-produced an album with an accompanying video that had cameo appearances by members of Poison, Motorhead, Warrant, Jon Bon Jovi and very likely the last footage Sam Kinison ever shot while he was still alive. He was tragically killed shortly after.

The band hit the road. Over the next few years we toured ceaselessly. Living on bologna sandwiches and the generosity of our fan base, returning to LA in the interim to play the occasional (sold out) show and check in.

By this time the band had formed its own record company (Perris records) which still exists to this day and is thriving under the ownership of Tom Mathers, one of the two guitarists from Cherry Street. The band secured independent distribution for our self-produced album and sales did so well that the record companies could no longer ignore us.

Shortly after, we secured a deal with JRS/BMG. Unfortunately, we were just too late. By the time the album was released the Seattle scene and grunge music had reared its ugly head. That was the beginning of the end. Not only the LA rock scene, but for Cherry Street as well.

I’ve seen where you sum yourself up as a rock singer, which is exactly what I know of you professionally as an artist both on your own as well as a tribute performer. I find it curious that in that idea the music you play really does and doesn’t reflect bands from that timeframe in LA, Seattle and so on. Even in something so basic as on a visual level. As an example that just works for what I mean, Aerosmith obviously provided an influence for them, but these bands did not look like Aerosmith. Any thoughts on that?

A few.

I kind of look at it this way. We are all to some extent a product of our environment. When we're very young we tend to emulate what’s before us. For a child it may be mom and dad, or a brother or a sister, but as we grow and start to expand our environment and so too expand the external influences that play an ever evolving role in our lives. They begin to include friends, classmates, pop-culture figures and so on.

I think it’s much the same with bands. We all start out wanting to be the artists that got us interested in the first place. We learn by listening to their music and playing their songs. We copy their fashions and mannerisms but eventually somewhere down the road things begin to change. We start to form our own identities and from the collective arises something new.

For example, let’s say you and I formed a band together. I love Aerosmith but your favorite band is Black Sabbath, and we have a drummer that wants to be John Bonham. What happens after we’ve spent a year together knocking it out in the garage or a basement?

This stuff crosses the board on all levels. For the band to survive we have to embrace each other in our differences of taste and opinion and eventually because of (or in spite of) that we develop our own identity.

At what point did you begin developing your version of Steven Tyler? Considering the striking similarities and your passion for rock music, I’m guessing there have been comparisons throughout your career. Couldn’t have been easy for someone working very hard to claim a spot on the stage based on their own steam. Was it tough for you to embrace the idea of performing in character?

The comparisons have been ramped from early on. It didn’t seem to matter whether I was playing laundromats or arenas all I would hear is you look like, move like, sound like Steven Tyler. A great complement but a double-edged sword for somebody trying to carve out their own identity. It got so bad at one point I actually dreaded my hair, shaved it into a mohawk and ran multiple piercings through my eyebrows in an attempt to redefine my physical appearance. Crazy but true!

I started performing as Steven Tyler about 10 years ago. I was actually approached about it years before, but at the time I was living in northern Michigan cutting a record with Kenny Olson, formally of Kid Rock, and Adam Kury, of Candlebox. The band was called Pack Of Wolves.

I received a phone call from Neal Shelton who is actually the Brad Whitford in Aeromyth. He had gotten my number from a mutual friend and told me he was looking for a Steven Tyler.
I think I actually laughed when he told me that and said something along the lines of “Look, I really appreciate your thinking of me, but the last thing you will ever catch me doing is performing as Steven Tyler in a tribute band”. Then I mentioned the fact that I no longer lived in California and pointed out I was over 2000 miles away.

Neal, being persistent as he is, kept in contact with me and we actually became friends of a sort at that time. I eventually made my way back to California and he badgered me for another year before I finally wore down and told him I would come check out his crappy band. (LOL!)

The funny thing is when I finally went, I had a great time and for the first time I remember thinking I wonder what would happen if I just embraced this?

So after rehearsal was over I pulled Neal aside and said, look if you really want me to do this I’m open to it but here’s the deal. We basically replace everybody in the band that’s not right because there’s no real point unless we nail it. At the time I was waiting for him to tell me to go screw myself but he really surprised me by saying OK, let’s do it. That was really the beginning of Aeromyth.

It was never really something I set out to do. Not in the beginning anyway. I was still in the process of pursuing my career in original music when I got the call. When I eventually opened myself up to it, it just sort of snowballed. Not so surprising in hindsight considering we were covering music by the greatest American rock band in history. That may seem biased but it’s how I feel. The band went from playing $50 a night shit holes to touring internationally and selling out large theaters all over the world. It just took on a life of its own.

Can you introduce us to Aeromyth?

Here are a few particulars.

Neal Shelton (Brad Whitford) – He’s the owner/operator of Neal’s Music in Huntington Beach, CA, an extremely accomplished musician and the cofounder of Aeromyth.

Frankie Wilsey (Joe Perry) – Frankie was the guitarist for the Sea Hags back in the 80s. They were signed to Chrysalis records and were a huge favorite among the bigger signed bands of the day. He also played guitar for John Waite as well as Steven Pearcy of Ratt’s Arcade. As an accomplished session player who also plays piano and drums, he’s frequently brought into the studio by known names in the industry.

Tony Cavazo (Tom Hamilton) – Tony was and remains the bassist for Hurricane, and his history is well documented. He and his brother Carlos co-founded the LA-based band Snow in the late 1970s and are considered by many to be pioneers in the LA rock and metal scene. Tony’s brother Carlos went on to replace Randy Rhodes as the guitarist for Quiet Riot just before the band broke internationally with their mega multi-platinum debut album, while Hurricane’s front man Kelly Hansen now sings for Foreigner.

Bob (Thunder Bob) Duda (Joey Kramer) – Bob played drums for Takara with Jeff Scott Soto of Yngwie Malmsteen fame. The band had a number of label deals in the United States and abroad. Bob currently splits his time between a number of world class tribute bands.

I’ve got to believe you feel very strongly about your work with Aeromyth as being much more than a cover band. Considering the classic music created over decades by Aerosmith, how do you go about designing your set lists? Do you try to recreate certain concerts?

No doubt, a cover band is just that. A band that covers other artists’ music. A tribute band on the other hand pays tribute to a specific artist or band.

Because I’m detail oriented to the point of being borderline obsessive, I take this part of what we do very seriously.

The idea behind Aeromyth is the suspension of disbelief. The goal is to immerse the audience so deeply in the experience that they can let go of the idea that they’re watching a tribute and get a true sense of what it would be like to attend an actual Aerosmith concert. That means everything we do comes under the microscope. The way we look, the way we sound, even the way we move makes all the difference in the world.

As far as the set lists go I literally have hundreds of them in my computer. The band knows over three hours worth of Aerosmith music, although we rarely get close to playing through it all. There are a lot of factors that go into the set list and I never fail to agonize over them as the responsibility for it lays squarely on my shoulders.

First off, there are a number of songs you just can't get away with not playing. I think of those as the no-brainers and they go into every set. I.e. “Walk This Way”, “Sweet Emotion” and “Dream On”.

After that is when it starts getting tough. I always have to remember who we’re playing for. Just because I feel like singing “Lord Of The Thighs” doesn’t always mean it makes sense.

If we’re doing 90-minutes to two hours, there’s a lot more flexibility and I can get away with some of the more obscure stuff. Which is fantastic because those are also the songs that Aerosmith rarely gets to perform live and it gives the diehard fans something to really sink their teeth into! If you wonder what I mean you should be around sometime when we hit the opening chords to “Seasons Of Wither”.

On the other hand, if we’re doing one hour to 75-minutes it often comes down to do we perform “Angel” or “What It Takes”, “Crazy” or “Livin’ On The Edge”?

It gets complicated because we’re talking about a band here with over 40 years of incredible music under their belts and there is always (and I mean always) going to be somebody who didn’t get to hear the one song they were most waiting for.

The next thing I always factor in is what Aerosmith themselves actually do. I pull set lists from online and compare them. Not only to what we’re doing, but to each other and believe it or not there is an underlying theme. There seem to be certain songs the band (Aerosmith) prefers to open and close their sets with. Not always, but in most cases, and believe me when I tell you the fans know this stuff.

What about working in a setting such as Legends, when you might only have say fifteen minutes? When I saw you, I was having a hard time figuring out what three or four songs you might use. And then I’m sitting there stunned, as the ground you covered by weaving some songs together was phenomenal.

Here’s one of the things I love most about what I do. I get to perform in two completely contrary environments.

With Aeromyth, I’m completely out of the box and free to do pretty much anything I want. But things work a little differently with Legends so I’ll break it down.

For the people who aren’t familiar with Legends in Concert (assuming there are any left), I perform as Steven Tyler in the longest running show in Las Vegas. And at over 33 years, these people have learned a thing or two about production value! In fact, we took Best Of Vegas for 2015. (It’s not bragging if it’s true.)

The thing you have to understand about what I do with LIC is that I’m just one part of a much bigger picture. Being that it’s a world class production show, things tend to be very structured. They have to be because generally we’re talking about five or so acts in a 75-minute time frame. So aside from me you may get Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Rod Stewart and Madonna all in the same evening.

Between the band, the back-up singers/dancers, the complex costuming and stage sets for each independent act, there’s nothing else like it on earth but it has to be a controlled environment for all those elements to work symbiotically the way they do.

The point is, a lot is happening in a very short period of time and… all at once. I decided back when I started working with Legends that I wanted to cover more territory with the time I had available. So we sat down and decided a medley would be the best compromise for my set and it’s worked out beautifully. Now, instead of getting three full songs you get the best parts of six.

You mentioned no-brainers. What about things that casual fans might not consider that way? For instance, I know “Train Kept A-Rollin’” is a great, classic song for so many groups, huge roots in blues, and really special to the guys in Aerosmith. But I would bet that most people wouldn’t quickly list it in their top five to ten of Aerosmith requests.

For the most part, I think we kind of covered this in the set list question, so I’ll keep it simple.

With “Train”, you wouldn’t have to add it to your request list because Aerosmith ends nearly every show with it. It’s been a consistent staple in their show since the very beginning so the fans know and anticipate it. Maybe not so much as “Walk This Way” or “Dream On” but close.

I think you’re on the right track (pun intended) by suggesting it’s sort of an homage to their roots. And, as I said, the type of show will play a part in how deep you can or do get to dig.

It’s a strange point in Aerosmith’s history… Rock in a Hard Place. I think you still work with Jimmy Crespo on occasion. What was it like for you to be exploring that material, especially with him, when at times Aerosmith doesn’t?

Pretty diplomatic way of asking the question. LOL!

Although Jimmy was definitely a part of the band’s history and at one point an official member of the group, I think the general public perceives Aerosmith as the five guys we all know best. Steven, Joe, Brad, Tom and Joey.

Jimmy arrived at a very dark time in the bands evolution. Drugs, drinking, fame and infighting all took heavy tolls on the members independently and collectively.

The way I understand it through my relationship with Jimmy is that he essentially provided a bridge that kept the band going until they could finally cross and find each other again. At one point, Jimmy even told Steven “You need to go back and be with Joe”.

If the band tends to ignore that period of their history, I think it has much more to do with the idea that if you were in a serious car crash you’d likely spend more time grateful for the fact that you survived it then wanting to relive the details.

For his part Jimmy is a brilliant guitarist but I can tell you from our conversations that it was not easy for him to be a member of the band at that time. Beyond that and respectfully, it’s not my place to say more on the subject because it’s not my story.

As for my relationship with Jimmy, he’s as sweet a person as he is a brilliant guitar player and we got along beautifully. But when we were working together in the band, I think it tended to stress our relationship a bit because of the similarities between Steven and I and the obvious comparisons that people started to draw.

We actually talked about it in advance but I don’t think even Jimmy was able to fully comprehend what that actually meant. The conversation went something like this…

Me: “Jimmy, are you sure you want to do this with me because people are going to give us hell over the Aerosmith thing.”

Jimmy: “Definitely man! You’re the right guy for the gig.”

Me: “All right as long as you know people are going to give us hell for this. At least at first.”

Jimmy: “I’m not worried about that. It’s going to be great.”

The surprising thing is that people were actually really receptive and the feedback for the most part was fantastic. Still, in the end it didn’t change the fact that I started getting emails telling me that I needed to change the way that I looked, dressed, moved because it was just too “Steven Tyler”.

He was concerned that people were going to start to think of us as an Aerosmith tribute band. Which is pretty funny when you consider the fact that you have Jimmy Crespo with a guy that looks and sounds the way I do, playing a set of 80% Aerosmith music. I mean yeah, that’s what I’d think too.

Now add to that the fact the band was called the Jimmy Crespo Project and draw your own conclusions.

I actually love that guy. I think it just made him uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious. No doubt there are better ways we could’ve gone about it, but hindsight is 20/20 and I didn’t force the issues.

Never mind Jimmy had been a member of Aerosmith, he’s a brilliant and talented player! People may forget, but that’s why he ended up in Aerosmith. I was just thrilled to be playing in a band with musicians of that caliber. When all is said and done, I did what I thought was best and just bowed out gracefully.

I’m not certain of the real question here… microphone stands and scarves. As much as I really like Aerosmith, and Steven Tyler, it just never connected with me that the scarves he has all over that stand were much more than decoration. Then I started going over the pictures I took during your set, and I was stunned. I’m seeing them wrapped around your hands, or stretched out tight as you prepare to pull the mike back in. Like any great front man for a band, standing there with a microphone and an attitude, there really is an artistry to it that goes well beyond singing. Self-confidence, personal expression, and other assorted bits creating that on-stage persona. So, first, what aspects of Tyler’s performances did you struggle with adding? How long did it take to get used to using the scarves and the microphone to create your tribute?

As I understand it there are other advantages to having scarves on your mic stand. Such as secret pockets where you can keep things you don’t want other people to be able to get at.

Out of the gate I would say filling Steven’s shoes, I just don’t think anybody has feet quite that big. Personally, I just do the very best with what I’ve got.

The thing I struggle with more than any other is the voice. Steven has a vocal range that nearly defies logic, and he uses it in incredibly unique ways. Nailing the notes and the nuances is tough enough, but when you add constant travel (up to 11 shows a week), climate change and lack of sleep to the equation, you find yourself wondering at times if you’re going to make it through the night. I’m happy to say so far so good, but I definitely don’t take it for granted.

Using the scarves as a prop for me was like a fish taking to water. The bigger challenge is tying the damn things and getting them right. There’s actually an art to that. LOL!

And second part of this idea, having been not only a tribute artist, but also fronting your own bands, what is it like being a lead singer? Just watching you perform can be exhausting… you’re all over the place, using not just your own body (voice, movements, expressions) and the microphone stand, but the band, stairs, and just about anything available to you. Do you have a certain approach to the stage and the audience as far as wanting to deliver a show and entertain?

No doubt about it I suffer from a touch of LSD or “Lead Singer’s Disease”.

It takes a certain mentality to get out in front of the masses with all eyes on you and just think to yourself, “I got this!”

It’s just about the only thing I can ever remember wanting to do and there is no drug more powerful than the roar of a packed house going wild!

When I’m on stage, I’m less concerned with the first 5 or 10 rows of fans because they’re already up there. What I am looking for is that guy in the back with his arms folded and that cocky “impress me” look on his face. I see that and I’m thinking to myself, “Oh no you don’t!” Because if I can get that guy to stop worrying about looking cool and just have a good time I’ve won.

Over the years I have become very aware of a sense of community that exists in tribute work… it’s a network of respect, support, and comradery. And I find this to be especially true in the area of social media. Am I mistaken about this, or, is there a special bond between those working in this area?

There’s definitely a connection on certain levels. A lot of us know each other and have worked together. We’ve developed relationships based on mutual respect. There are also some guys out there who perform in a number of different bands. But there’s also the other side of the coin.

This can be an incredibly competitive and cutthroat business. Tribute has become so popular in recent years that I refer to it as the Elvis syndrome. It seems to me that anybody with a jumpsuit and a pair of fake sideburns thinks they can go out and pull off performing as Elvis Presley.
The sad part here is that to some extent they’re right. I see fantastic performers sitting on the sidelines because some idiot with a bargain-basement Elvis suit just undercut his price by $300.

The exact same thing is true throughout in the tribute community. Just because four guys from Des Moines, Iowa, put together a band and call themselves the greatest Led Zeppelin tribute on the planet doesn’t mean you’re getting Led Zep again.

Just remember out there, you get what you pay for!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One of the keys to completing a solid interview for the site is getting a good participant. That part was checked off with ease thanks to Chris, and I cannot thank him enough for all of the time and patience he offered not only to this project, but also to the Photo Gallery we have here on the In My Backpack site.

While sending material back and forth, in addition to countless other hurdles I kept creating on my end, Chris was working on his music, performing concerts with Aeromyth and Legends in Concert, and preparing to announce an incredible new group… Angels in Vein… while releasing and promoting new material from the band. I am beyond grateful for everything he has brought to the effort here, and simply cannot explain how fantastic he has been during the process.

Do yourself a huge favor and catch him on stage. Here are a few places worthy of checking out…

Legends in Concert Chris VanDahl at Facebook

Chris VanDahl at Legends in Concert


Angels In Vein

The Chris VanDahl Photo Gallery here at In My Backpack

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at