ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 20, 1994
By Steve Newton
Some hard-rock bands just don’t do justice to the tunes they cover. Great White had a huge hit with its 1989 rendition of Ian Hunter’s classic “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, but the revamped version sucked, for lack of a better word. The mighty Megadeth tried but couldn’t match the Sex Pistols’ cynical intensity on a remake of “Anarchy in the U.K.”. And what about Mötley Crüe’s lily-livered take on Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ in the Boys Room”? Gimme a break!
But once in a while a band will come up with an effective interpretation of someone else’s tune, as the Headstones did recently with the Traveling Wilburys’ “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”. The Toronto-based quartet’s cranked-up version of that 1988 gem is a highlight on its debut release, Picture of Health, and could be the tune to tear the roof off the Town Pump when the band plays there on Friday (January 21), backed by the Morganfields and Sex With Nixon.
“We had to talk to the Wilburys’ lawyers and Dylan’s lawyers, and it took a little doing,” says Headstones vocalist-harpist Hugh Dillon, calling from the road en route to Thunder Bay. “But there were characters in the piece that I felt I knew, so it had some kind of innate fascination for me. Actually, I heard the tune in a record store one rainy September, when things weren’t lookin’ too good for me, and I just loved the song.”
There’s no mention of the tune in question in the Headstones’ bio, however. That four-page promotional piece tends to expand more on the band’s inherent rowdiness, noting that club owners have written letters “complaining of kicked-in dressing rooms and flailing objects”.
“That was a little while ago,” says Dillon. “That happened once or twice, but things have changed. There were a few clubs we played in Ontario—we were playing gigs with bands like Honeymoon Suite, bands that we had no business playing with, really—and we just didn’t give a shit. We were kind of a punk band at the time—still are, to a certain degree, although I wouldn’t use that word—and some club owners were just… I mean, if we’re treated like shit, that’s the way it goes.”
With the Headstones’ formerly destructive tendencies now in check, Dillon and cohorts are riding a promising rock ’n’ roll wave that has gained velocity from a direct signing to MCA Records Canada.
“Initially, I started putting some money away instead of blowing it on drinking and drugs,” says Dillon. “I managed to save up enough to make a decent-sounding demo tape, and it’s the same old rock ’n’ roll story—it got into the right hands of the right people at the right time.”
Now the Headstones are rockin’ on the same label as their old pals from Kingston, the Tragically Hip.
“It’s just a funny coincidence,” says Dillon. “I’ve known [Hip vocalist] Gord Downie since I was 17—I played at his wedding. We all kinda went to high school and then ended up playin’ in bands for MCA.”
“Workin’ for MCA”—now there’s a great old Lynyrd Skynyrd song that nobody’s covered yet, as far as I know. But don’t expect the Headstones to tackle the tune any time soon. They’re concentrating on getting their own material heard these days, like a thousand other new bands.
“It just depends on the city,” says Dillon of the struggle for airplay and recognition. “Certain cities it’s overwhelming; other cities not so big. But everybody’s happy and we get to make more records, and we’re presently working on an American deal, so things are looking good.”