Music — Four Sticks

From Mama Kicks to Four Sticks

Members of party band trio take on Zeppelin

 

By Bill Copeland [news@hippopress.com]


Most fans of Gardner Berry, singer and keyboardist, know him from his R&B trio Mama Kicks.

Playing with guitarist Lisa Guyer and drummer Dave Stefanelli at The Black Brimmer every Wednesday night has made Berry a local celebrity.

But most have not seen him perform with his Led Zeppelin tribute band, Four Sticks. This new venture has Berry caterwauling at the microphone in note-for-note representation of the legendary hard-rock band of the 1970s.

Four Sticks has played several gigs at Whippersnappers in Londonderry and has been well received at Wally’s at Hampton Beach. Berry and his band mates—guitarist Tim Theriault, drummer Dave Stefanelli, and bassist Chris Lester—are ready to take it even further.

The decision to form a Led Zeppelin tribute band came easily. Berry and Stefanelli already played together in Mama Kicks, and Lester had guested with that band on bass.

“One night David just said, ‘Want to do a Zeppelin thing—do a Zeppelin tribute band?’” Berry said. He answered yes.

“We had all the pieces together with the exception of Tim Theriault…. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the right time.”

It didn’t hurt that Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page released a live CD and a concert DVD shortly after the birth of Four Sticks. “That was a coincidence,” Berry said. “That came out after we started rehearsing, and we’re in the planning stage. Nice timing for us, we decided to do it first, then all of a sudden Zeppelin came out with this live DVD.”

Berry cut back on solo work to make time for Four Sticks. He still plays regularly with Mama Kicks but gave up his G-Man solo beach gigs. “I did it last summer. I was playing at the beach and averaging nine gigs a week and still rehearsing with Four Sticks. I could see the direction that was going in.”

Four Sticks marks a return for the 54-year-old rocker to the style he played in the decade of Nixon, Ford, and Carter.

“I loved the 70s, what I remember of it. I love the music. We have a break CD of just 70s music that we use for Four Sticks, just to kind of set the mood. I started playing in the 60s, and I have a fondness for that music, but it doesn’t bear up. It seems to have aged a little less gracefully than the 70s music. There’s a strong market for classic rock.”

From 1969 to 1983, Berry played in New Hampshire-based cover band Stone Cross, which sold out nightclubs, high school dances and college frat parties and toured from New York state to Florida. During the era between Woodstock and Thriller, Berry sang lead vocals to Led Zeppelin songs as well as songs by other bombastic English rock bands, like Queen and Jethro Tull.

Crowds’ demands changed when karaoke and DJs got popular. Now, with Mama Kicks and The Wicked Big Band, Berry plays more R&B. “It’s more of a dancing crowd nowadays than it was back then,” Berry explained. “[Back then] they would dance to Jethro Tull—that’s a spectacle you want to see—but nowadays if we play some Jethro Tull, half the audience isn’t going to remember it, and it’s just not something that’s going to go over well on the dance floor.”

“When I first started working with Lisa in The Wicked Big Band and then in Mama Kicks, the swing, blues, classic soul was what worked best for us, so that’s why we do that a lot. We don’t expect people to come out and dance to Four Sticks. If they do, God bless them.”

 Berry believes there’s always been a market for Led Zep tribute bands.

“I never perceived Zeppelin music as going away…. Certain songs were always a mainstay on classic rock radio. My own son is a huge Zeppelin fan, and clearly, he’s a lot younger than I am. Certainly, there’s other Zeppelin tribute bands around. The one I remember most is Physical Graffiti. They were really big in the late 80s and early 90s.”

Filling in for Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant, whose voice reaches higher octaves than most, would seem a daunting task for many rock and rollers. Yet Berry has met the challenge.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy stuff to sing, but it comes easier to me than a lot of stuff. I happen to have a freakishly high voice when I sing. I don’t know why that is. I took vocal lessons in the 70s, and it’s something I’ve been able to do without burning myself out too much.”

“A couple songs at the first gig were pretty difficult. We considered tuning down a half step, which I really don’t like to do. Now we’re going to try one of those songs again because it seems a little easier than it was in the first place.”  Four Sticks did tune down for “Out On The Tiles” in their earlier gigs. “We did for that song. We tried it. It was just a catastrophe.”

Berry might be the only local player over age 50 to perform full-time for a livelihood.  “I’m the only person I know. I regularly do some AC/DC stuff. I just seem to have the voice for that.” And age does not concern him. “I’ll do it until I drop,” he quipped.

When Led Zeppelin first came on the scene in 1969, there wouldn’t have been too many people in their 50s listening to them.

“People in my generation grew up with it, so we stay with it. Four Sticks has a lot of fans that are my age and perhaps older. Led Zeppelin music has a really wide-range appeal,” Berry said.

“They were a phenomenal combination of musicians, and a lot of the newer bands came along and tried to capture that over the years, and I think failed for the most part,” Berry opined. “I don’t think anybody’s ever nailed it as well as they did, or will. It was a perfect combination. Lennon and McCartney were a perfect combination. Jagger and Richards were a perfect combination. Led Zeppelin were one of those life- altering combinations that will never happen again. Other things will happen. Other combinations will come along, but they really found something that was their own.”

Berry credits the surviving members of Led Zeppelin for calling it quits after the alcohol-related death of drummer John Bonham.

“I’m glad they actually discontinued the band,” the singer said. “I think that was a wise choice. Reuniting for a one- or two-time thing and going out with Bonham’s son was fine. But I saw Page and Plant when they went out. It was really, really good. It was great. It was an awesome band. But they didn’t try to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes and call themselves Led Zeppelin.”

The local singer does have an issue with The Who’s touring and recording under their original moniker.

“The Who lost two members and I think it’s a slap in the face of their late band-mates. I think they shouldn’t call it The Who. I think they should call it Townshend and Daltrey. Hard-rock bands of the 60s and 70s all had their own distinct feel to them. Keith Moon was a really unique drummer. You’ll see somebody copy him, but you won’t see anybody like that again.”

Four Sticks have played several times at Whippersnappers in Londonderry, and they have been well received at Wally’s at Hampton Beach. The response has been good. Berry explained how his Mama Kicks band mate Lisa Guyer reacted to Four Sticks at the beach.

“Lisa went to see us at Wally’s out at Hampton Beach and she said, ‘It’s awesome that you do that. But I have to tell you, after two hours I was exhausted.’ SHE was exhausted!” Berry said, incredulous. “We play hard. We really do. It’s not an easy night. It’s a fun night, but it’s not an easy night.” 

Four Sticks will play Wally’s September 9. For more information, go to www.four-sticks.com

 —Bill Copeland 

 
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