Tribute bands have been a staple of the club, theater and festival scenes for decades. From Elvis Presley and the Beatles to Neil Diamond and Led Zeppelin, classic artists have always been the objects of desire and emulation. And, as ticket prices soar and the availability of seeing your favorite acts wanes or is less frequent, tribute bands are there to fill that void.
Aerosmith is certainly a band that needs no introduction. And the Boston-based act has had a number of tributes and imitator dedications in their nearly 50 year career. But a relatively new band is bursting on the scene, with a new attitude and fresh take on the Aerosmith legacy.
The southern California-based Ragdolls is an all-female outfit composed of six seasoned musicians in their own right. Lead vocalist and founder Susie Major, rhythm guitarist-vocalist -music director Masha McSorley, lead guitarist-vocalist Ali Handal, keyboardist-vocalist Julie Dolan, bassist Lex Wolfe and drummer-vocalist Marisa Testa quite literally embody the intensity and spirit of their legendary idols.
Ragdolls is the brainchild of Major, a self-professed Aerosmith fan. But she has come up the hard way growing up in California and moving to Las Vegas to pursue a music career. “My dream was to make it with my own music since I was 17,” says Major. “I got noticed and tried to get signed to Warner Brothers. I also had some of my music in a film called Rocktober Blood. I was in L.A. for years doing the pay-to-play thing. I noticed bands doing tributes and covers. I finally said this is a lucrative business, but if I was gonna do it, it would have to be unique.”
McSorley followed a similar career path, with a ton of original band experience behind her as well. “I’ve been in bands since I was 17,” says the music director. “I played all over Hollywood trying to get managers and agents and trying to make it. It was a lot of frustrated wheel spinning.” She too was an avid Aerosmith fan, as they were the band that initially got her into guitar.
A turning point in Masha’s life came years ago when she saw one of her first tribute bands dedicated to Aerosmith, called Rocks. “I saw them at a club. I could get close to them and it was so freakin’ cool,” recalls McSorley. “That got thrown in the back of my mind as an option, but I was still pursuing my own music at that point.” However, as the years passed, she felt music might make a nice hobby but nothing more. Fast forward six years later and McSorley met the frontman for North America’s leading Queen tribute band, Queen Nation. “They completely blew me away,” says McSorley. “There were like 1,000 people all paying 20 bucks to get in. I started meeting all these tribute band musicians and it re-planted that seed stowed away in me for so long.”
“This is the only tribute band I will ever do,” says Major. “My whole singing career I don’t like being compared to another female. You wanna be unique. So if I do a tribute it’s gotta be something from the heart and hasn’t been overdone. I researched Aerosmith because they were my first rock band love. They are still a relevant band,” continues the dynamic frontwoman. “Looking at it from an audience perspective, what would be attractive musically and entertainment-wise? I feel if we put together a group of girls who aren’t trying to look like or be the band, but pay homage to the band with that same energy, it would be unique and be a good selling point.”
As the music director McSorley arranges the set lists and general mechanics of their live show. “I’ve learned a lot about the tribute band scene, about what works and what doesn’t, from our manager Dave Hewitt, who also works with Queen Nation,” explains McSorley. “I took everything I got from seeing Aerosmith over 30 times and listening to an absolutely perverted amount of their music. I put a show together the way that Aerosmith does. They have special things that they do between songs. “
In summation, Major and McSorley offer sage advice on pursuing the tribute field. “What makes a good tribute is you bring your own flavor to the table,” says Major. “Make it your own while bringing something new, fresh and, maybe even comedic.”
“The music comes down to notes,” adds McSorley. “What you’re doing with those notes is you’re capturing the essence of a band. And the band is a collective experience. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts. Being in a tribute band is a very humbling experience. If your heart isn’t in it, you won’t connect with people.”
More info at ragdolls-band.com