What Happens to Aging Rock and Roll Bands?

The short answer is that they end up performing on cruise ships.

But this blog is about much more than the answer to the above question. A couple of days ago I got a call from my friend asking if I was interested in seeing Uriah Heep perform at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA.   An old rock-and-roller like me cannot even keep his bands straight, and my mind gravitated towards Jethro Tull, the name of another band from the same era! I was thinking of the music from Heep while thinking Tull. Go figure! But it would not have mattered. I said yes.

For those of you who do not know, Uriah Heep is a band from the 1970s that used to create music that would not have  necessarily been considered mainstream. Their heavier brand of rock music was actually quite innovative and catchy at the same time. Songs like July Morning, Easy Living, Lady in Black and Sunrise are all unique in their own way, with great vocals (including occasional notes up there in the stratosphere), fantastic extended guitar and keyboard riffs, and awesome drum solos. They were also one of those bands that were not afraid to make songs that were long. (This was not unusual for that time.) You could find yourself taken on a roller coaster of a musical ride that could last 10 to 15 minutes. Needless to say, the music was not necessarily targeted towards those with short attention spans.

I was surprised to find out that the band was still together.   A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that they have come out with new albums in both 2013 and 2014. While personnel changes happened very frequently during their earlier days, more recently there has been more stability in the group, except for the death of their bass guitarist in 2013. One has to remember that the older members of the band are now in their 60s!

Birchmere is small but a well-known musical venue that has been hosting music groups since the 70s. It is a somewhat more intimate setting than a concert hall or a stadium, with the audience sitting at dining tables not too far from the stage enjoying their food and drink. It makes for a great set up.

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The band started promptly at 7:30pm. There was no mistaking the age of the people who were on stage. The vocal lead was even displaying a nice paunch. They still had the long hair that was typical of bands of the 70s, as if they were trying to still keep some the reminders of their youth.  But they need not have worried about the hair. Their music instantly took us back to the old days. They rocked! Even the music from their newer albums had the same flair and style as the music of our youth.  The group had the same energy as a bunch of young rockers, and we even got our loud guitar, keyboard and drum solos.   The lead singer even hit the high notes that are unique to some of their songs with ease (he could be excused for losing his voice during the encore). This was great after my previous disappointing experience with BB King!   They did not play too long but they gave it all they had while they were on stage. They did not take a single break during their set.  (This could not have been easy for people at their age.)  One of the things I like about these type of shows is that it is less about the staging and the choreography and more about the music. I had a great time with the music, the food, and the drink.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne could not help but wonder what it takes for bands like this to stay together, and why they would choose to remain as a group for this long.   They are obviously not a mainstream band today (they tended to be a fringe band even during their heydays), and life cannot be that easy when you are performing in smaller venues like the Birchmere or on cruise ships. (Here is a piece of trivia. The band apparently performed at OAT in IIT Madras in 1983.) But these guys continue to come out with new albums with good music. They still appear to have their creative juices flowing. Is that all there is to it, or do they do this in order to be able to make a living and survive? But how can they manage something like that under the circumstances? They still seem to have most of the overhead of a regular rock band, but their audiences have surely shrunk from the days when they were better known.

There is probably no point to my wondering about questions for which I will get no answers – unless one of the band members decides to write a tell-all story.  For now one must just enjoy the music, and the nostalgic feeling that comes with the process of being taken back to a previous time in one’s life, in another century, when one was still young.

Published by

K. Joseph

I am an engineer by training. I am exploring new horizons after having spent many years in the Industry. My interests are varied and I tend to write about what is on my mind at any particular moment in time.

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