Exile on Stones street: Monkey Man pays tribute to rock and roll greats

Rolling Stones tribute band chats ahead of Coach’s Corner show

IT SEEMS like everyone loves the Rolling Stones. Even if you don’t love all of it, there’s almost certainly an era of the band, an album, or a song that you enjoy.

For many, the landmark Exile On Main Street is the benchmark of 70s rock and roll, and for others their more psychedelic material like the songs compiled on the 1967 compilation Flowers showcases their most interesting work.

Whether you love Some Girls or gravitate towards the more harder edged Steel Wheels, there’s a Stones era for everybody. Monkey Man, Savannah’s very own Rolling Stones tribute band, knows this well and they know how to play it all with precision.

Monkey Man has been around in some form or another since 2004, and is comprised of Joe Marshall, vocals and guitar, Craig Johansen on lead guitar and vocals, Jason Anderson on piano, organ and vocals, Scott Tanner on bass, Billy Groves on drums, and Stewart Marshall, rhythm guitar and vocals.

The band is set to headline Coach’s Corner on Fri., March 13, and we spoke to several members by phone about their love of the Stones and more.

What was your individual introduction to Stones music?

Stewart: Joe and I are brothers, and we’ve got a pretty big family. Our aunt had a huge record collection, and when I was about 8 or 9 years old I was going over to my grandmother’s house and poaching records. So my first Stones record was Flowers.

Joe: I think when you poached that album and brought it to the house, I think you returned it because later in life I poached it [laughs].

Jason: I don’t think I really appreciated the Stones until I moved to Athens in ‘95. The first time I listened to Exile On Main St. from start to finish, that’s when it kind of woke me up. I never thought of them as being hugely artistic until I heard that record from start to finish, and then I was just hooked.

Stewart: When I heard Exile, that kind of changed things for me, too.

Billy: I’m going to sound like a broken record, but Exile was my introduction, too. Growing up, I was not a fan of the Rolling Stones. I heard all of the songs on the radio that everybody else heard on the radio, and it never really did anything for me. It was honestly some musicians that I really enjoyed, like Steve Earle and other folks, doing Stones covers. But Exile was really what opened my eyes.

Considering that there are so many eras of the band to pull from, how do you go about putting a show together?

Joe: We do, of course, some of the hits. But it’s primarily Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed, albums like that. We also do songs like, "100 Years Ago," which the Stones played four times live and then never played it again. It's got so many changes to it, but we've really practiced it and we enjoy playing it.

What's the most challenging part about taking songs like that apart and figuring out how to arrange them and cover the necessary ground?

Stewart: You know, this band has been together from inception since 2004. So we've got a depth of experience playing a healthy portion of these songs. With our other band, Junkyard Angel, we already had some of their more acoustic-based, Gram Parsons-era songs in the repertoire. But when you expand the band, that just opens up so many more possibilities for songs to choose from.

Now, with Scott on bass, and with Craig—who has a wealth of knowledge of the licks that Keith Richards does—it’s just incredible. What we’re also able to do is add in three-part, and sometimes four-part harmonies. We also rehearse like crazy!

If you could sum up why you enjoy being part of a project like this, how would you do that?

Stewart: That’s a big one! I would say, it goes back to your earliest memories of identifying with the songs and with rock and roll in general. There’s a reason why the Stones are as big as they are. They continue to reinvent themselves, and they’re not afraid to stretch the boundaries. That just makes it a very inviting thing.

Jason: Of course, everyone likes the Stones. I’ve played in a lot of bands where not everyone likes a song you play and you hear crickets in the room. The good thing with the Stones is that there’s at least going to be one song that is going to be liked by everybody. And one of the cool things that I’ve enjoyed is breaking these songs apart and really listening to the parts.

Billy: I like a lot of different kinds of music but I’ve always loved rock and roll. In my mind, the Stones are quintessential rock and roll. But all of that is fine and good; like Stewart mentioned earlier, we spend a lot of time rehearsing together. Getting together with this group of guys, we get in a room together for two hours every week and play music together. If we never did anything else, that would keep me coming back.

cs

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