Michael Jackson tribute band beats it in Breck
summit daily news
The week after Michael Jackson passed away, three of the music industry’s top five selling albums were his. Within two weeks, fans had purchased $800,000 in Jackson albums and downloaded almost 3 million of his songs. Meanwhile, the phone started ringing off the hook for Who’s Bad – The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Band.
From the first show Who’s Bad played in 2003, it sold out. Though the band only played six gigs in its first six months, the following six months garnered 82 shows.
“Before he passed, there were a lot of nay sayers,” said tribute band founder Vamsi Tadepalli. “Then, once they saw it, they thought, ‘oh my god.’ A lot of people who weren’t Michael Jackson fans would get dragged to the show by their friends, and they’d stand there with their arms crossed. But by the end of the show, they were screaming their heads off and (people were saying to us) ‘I don’t even like Michael Jackson, but you guys are awesome.'”
Last year, Who’s Bad performed 150 nights nationwide. This year, the band tried to take a step back and pick and choose its dates, but as soon as Jackson died, the demand for the legend’s music skyrocketed. The tribute band is currently booked nonstop until November, Tadepalli said.
“The whole purpose of the band is to pay tribute to him, so who are we to deny requests,” he said.
The whirlwind of interest didn’t leave any time for Tadepalli to process Jackson’s death, or even “get a breath in.” Now, he simply finds the star’s passing shocking and sad.
Tadepalli got his first Jackson album, “Thriller,” when he was 4 years old, as a gift from his dad. Though he doesn’t describe himself as a super-fan, he did grow up listening to Jackson’s music, and when it came time to form his own funk band – complete with a horn section – after graduating from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill with a jazz performance degree, he found himself choosing more and more Jackson songs as part of his set list. That’s when he decided to do what no one else had – form a six- or seven-piece Jackson tribute band, with friends he met in the school’s music department.
Though about 30 different musicians and five different singers have moved in and out of the tribute band, Tadepalli has remained true to his “brainchild,” and he ensures only the best performers join his band. Currently, he has two lead singers.
Who’s Bad strives to be as authentic to Jackson’s live shows as possible, complete with costume changes and choreography throughout the decades – from adorable little “ABC” singer to glitzy, one-gloved “Billy Jean” belter and beyond.
“Obviously, we have big shoes to fill,” Tadepalli said. “We’re not saying we’re anywhere near Michael Jackson. We try to recapture the essence, the passion, the energy and the musicality … (we’re) performing the hell out of it. It’s a high-energy, musical production with dance routines.”
Before Who’s Bad took over the musicians’ lives, they each worked on their own projects during the week; Tadepalli teaches saxophone lessons and composes and arranges music for orchestras and bands.
But these days, Tadepalli’s singing, “I Can’t Help It,” “I’ll Be There” because fans “Never Can Say Good-bye.”
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