Pittsburgh-area bands rooted in classic rock forge strong connections
Tony Zig of North Huntingdon and his friends Frank McCracken and Zak and Joe Harbulak started Steel City Sabbath in September 2017, covering songs by iconic early metal band Black Sabbath.
On April 13, less than two years after forming, they’ll play a sold-out show at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Zig, 52, who has gotten a new lease on life, partially through music, after being laid low by Crohn’s disease in 2015.
In neighboring Allegheny County, theCAUSE , a jam band that draws heavily from the Grateful Dead’s massive repertoire, hosted the 20th annual D Jam in March. The benefit started by bassist Dave Tauberg has raised more than $120,000 for charity over the years.
“It was the first time we did total revenues over $20,000 from the combination of sponsorship, tickets and raffles,” Tauberg said.
Looking through live-music listings in the Pittsburgh area, it doesn’t take long to come across one of a large number of cover or tribute bands that draw their repertoire primarily from a world-famous rock act.
And they can be a lucrative enterprise.
“I think there’s always such a demand, especially in Western Pennsylvania, for classic and hard rock,” said Mike Lamanna, talent buyer and production manager at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale. “Talented musicians are talented musicians, and if you want to see that music, it’s a great way to do it.”
Zig knew his current band-mates from other musical projects, and when one of them heard him sing, they decided to try a few rehearsals.
“It was a vision that Joe (Harbulak) had,” Zig said. “He heard me sing and saw that it could work. I’ve always been into music, but I’d never had the guts to put myself out there and try to sing.”
During a couple months of rehearsals, the band got a seven-song set list together and played a friend’s Halloween party.
“We just kept practicing,” Zig said. “Word of mouth spread and now we have a great following.”
Tauberg, a Munhall resident, said theCAUSE functions slightly differently, incorporating original music into its shows along with Grateful Dead tunes.
“It’s very much in the spirit of what the Dead did,” said Tauberg, 63. “They played covers, they played some originals, and they were kind of like your friends, who happened to play music really well. And there was a real community that sprung up around that, as opposed to seeing someone like Bruce Springsteen, where you know you’re going to see sort of a production.”
Tauberg said he feels theCAUSE, which hews very closely to the Dead’s try-anything ethos, is a more accurate “tribute” band than groups that bill themselves as such.
“We work from the idea that it’s OK if we try a Dylan song, or a Beatles song,” he said. “We get very little push-back from people when we play something like a Phish song. For our audience, when you come see us, you’re not sure what you’re going to get, except that it’ll be pretty decent musicians having fun playing the music.”
That is certainly the case for Ryan Delaney, 32, of Plum, who has been attending theCAUSE shows for more than a decade.
“Every show is better than the last, and the best show is always the next one coming up,” said Delaney, who was already a Dead fan but said theCAUSE “definitely helped take it to a forever level.”
“It’s the community,” he said. “It’s how we all know and love each other. Take D Jam, for instance: I probably knew at least half that room on a first-name basis. That’s a powerful draw, to feel so connected to not just the music but the people.”
Zig said he feels that same connection to Black Sabbath and also sees it in the fans who attend Steel City Sabbath shows.
“I lived parts of that music,” he said. “I remember riding around in the car listening to that music when I was young.”
Both Zig and Lamanna said the music of the 1960s and ’70s still resonates strongly with concertgoers today.
“There was so much good music then, no matter what genre,” Zig said.
“A lot of these classic bands toured well into their 60s and 70s,” he said. “They toured until they became old men, and now that they’re not on the road anymore, this type of band can make a strong connection with those fans.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .