Reviving the classic music of Pink Floyd
Dec 23, 2014 10:11PM
● By Kerigan Butt
From left: David Fox, John Cassidy and Kyle Frederick at the Crazy Diamond Recording Studio in Newark.
By John Chambless
The epic, timeless music of Pink Floyd has been a constant presence for the members of Echoes, a band that will be gearing up this fall to bring Pink Floyd's magical aura to local audiences.
Echoes was playing steadily in the early 1990s, just as Pink Floyd released its last album, “The Division Bell,” in 1994. Audiences raised on the band's most popular albums – from “Meddle” in 1971 through “Dark Side of the Moon” (1973), “Wish You Were Here” (1975) and “The Wall” (1979) – couldn't get enough of the introspective, incisive and dark material that explored hidden corners of the human experience.
Fractured by personality conflicts and perhaps the sense that they had nothing left to prove, Pink Floyd ceased to exist by the late 1990s. But the bands that paid tribute to them were just beginning.
“We were playing a bunch of Pink Floyd songs in this other band a couple of guys and I were in," said David Fox, a guitarist for Echoes, who was in its previous incarnation. "We went ahead and thought we'd do a whole tribute. It worked out really well. We played within a 100-mile radius, out to Pennsylvania and New Jersey."
Echoes headlined at larger clubs such as the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, and Alibis in northern Delaware before family life took precendence over music and the band members went their separate ways.
Now, some 20 years later, with their kids grown or almost grown, Echoes is reforming with seven members who will perform the best-known era of Pink Floyd, beginning with the breakthrough LP “Meddle.” As an example of how successful covering Pink Floyd can be, there are tribute bands called Echoes in England, Seattle, Germany and Israel. And now, in Newark.
“We try to be crowd pleasing,” Fox said. "But Pink Floyd is known to be a little, well, depressing here and there," he added with a grin. "So we'll do a lot of the hits -- 'Money,' bits of 'Dark Side of the Moon,' maybe some things from 'Division Bell.' We don't want to deaden the audience.”
The band has the distinct benefit of a brand-new recording studio in the home of drummer/vocalist John Cassidy, located near Newark. Cassidy and bassist Kyle Frederick co-own Crazy Diamond Recording Studio, named after one of Pink Floyd's signature songs. During a recent interview, they showed off the basement room where Echoes rehearses, and the mixing desk upstairs where the sound is recorded and tweaked. The studio sits in a suburban home with no close neighbors, but Echoes tends to draw a crowd of curious people outside when they're playing.
While the individual parts of Pink Floyd's music aren't too technically demanding, Frederick said, filling the shoes of bassist Roger Waters on iconic songs can be great fun. “I really like Pink Floyd,” he said, showing an arm tattoo of the band's symbolic crossed-hammers design from “The Wall.”
The challenge of Pink Floyd is reproducing all the layers of sound – instruments, effects, voices – that made each song a little world of its own. The band's revolutionary use of studio technology in the 1970s produced albums that put the listener inside the narratives. Any band hoping to reproduce the music – and there are plenty of them, all over the world – has to be in perfect sync, with a lot of technology behind them.
Dan Long, the keyboardist for Echoes, is taking care of the pre-recorded bits and plays them in concert. Of course, copyright issues keep any cover band from using the actual sound clips, so they must be recreated as well.
"Technology today, compared to when we were trying to reproduce this stuff in the '90s, is a whole lot easier now," Frederick said.
"Twenty years ago, we created our own recordings and effects," Cassidy said. "We were able to archive that, so we can use it again. We get as close to the sound of the record as possible."
Of the three band members at the interview, only Fox had actually seen Pink Floyd live, on their last world tours without founding member Roger Waters.
“I was in the parking lot at their show at JFK Stadium,” Frederick said with a grin. "Never made it inside."
The other members of Echoes are Dan Long (keyboards/sound effects/vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals/guitar), and Bill Swezey (vocals/guitar).
Pink Floyd's astonishing, multi-media live shows – available on DVD – are the most lavish productions ever staged. Bringing them to life on a budget is a challenge that all tribute bands face.
“We would hire production companies to bring in the lights and the sound in the '90s," Fox said. “So we're probably going to need to do the same this time to go on the road.”
Hiring a laser operator is probably not going to happen, nor is the stadium-size inflatable pig balloon going to make an appearance, but Echoes is planning to bring much of the dramatic lighting that characterized a Pink Floyd show.
Even in the early 1990s, audience reaction to Echoes was very enthusiastic. “It was a very good reaction," Cassidy said. "People definitely got into it. Between songs, I couldn't hear myself yelling because the crowd was so loud.”
There will be a couple of warmup gigs in small clubs this fall, Fox said, before Echoes opens for the veteran jam band Montana Wildaxe at World Cafe Life at the Queen in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 27. That will be the official debut of the revived Echoes, and it will get the full spectacle staging.
“The shows are so big. With an unlimited budget, we'd love to have a screen to show videos on, but the logistics of that are just crazy," Frederick said. "We're just a bunch of local guys who love Pink Floyd. We're going to give the best possible light show we can, but what we can control is just how good the music is. That's what what we're focusing on, so that when people leave, they'll say, 'Wow. That was great.'"
Having a recording studio right upstairs will allow Echoes to record rehersals and post them on the band's website (www.echoesrocks.com), and they will take suggestions for tracks that audiences may want them to perform.
The timing for the return of Echoes couldn't be better, considering the surprise release of a “new” Pink Floyd CD, “The Endless River,” in October. The album will be comprised of tracks not used during the recording of the band's last two albums. While it's not the full-band reunion that fans have longed for, the CD should go a long way to stoking the fires of Pink Floyd fans – not that enthusiasm for the group has ever dimmed.
“The music doesn't seem to be fading away," Cassidy said. “It's been canonized on the list of serious music."
"It's extremely gratifying to play," Fox said.
Echoes and Montana Wildaxe will be at the World Cafe Live at the Queen (500 N. Market St., Wilmington, Del.) on Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $13 to $15.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.