Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Copycat crooners

It takes more than a resemblance to rock 'n' roll royalty to be a good tribute act

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AT a stage of life when most people have finally figured out who they are, Larry Cariou and Julie Myers adopted alter egos and inadvertently launched mid-life careers.

Cariou, 52, is a native Winnipegger who moved to Toronto at age 11. Myers, 50, grew up in Memphis and moved to Winkler two years ago to be with her new husband.

Both will be counting on Manitobans' love for a couple of middle-aged music icons when they perform their respective tribute acts this summer.

Cariou, an animator by trade, insists he had bushy sideburns, scruffy hair, a fondness for plaid shirts and a high-pitched, nasal voice long before he became the frontman of the Neil Young'uns, a Toronto-based Neil Young tribute band he founded with four friends from the animation and film industry about four years ago.

"I always kind of looked like him anyway. I'm Neil in the late '80s or early '90s, I think, although I'm starting to look more and more like him now. Gotta lose some weight," Cariou says with a laugh during a phone interview.

His friend's dad taught him to play guitar in high school, and when they got together with other musicians to jam, Young's tunes would inevitably pop up, along with songs by Bob Dylan and John Prine.

"We'd all play along and sing, and then whenever a Neil Young song would come along, they'd all sort of stop and look at me and go 'What the hell?' recalls Cariou, a father of three and nephew of Winnipeg-born theatre star Len Cariou.

"My natural singing voice is also very much like his. So I just have to 'Neil' it up a bit and there we go."

Music was never a professional goal, and he hadn't picked up his guitar for more than a decade when the opportunity to play arose at a party.

"All I could remember how to play was the Neil Young stuff," says Cariou. A friend, who was impressed by what he heard, encouraged him to form a tribute band.

The Neil Young'uns, who have a repertoire of more than 130 songs spanning Young's four-decade, cross-genre career, will play three shows in Winnipeg this month. The band will also make an appearance at the Victoria Beach Summer Winds Festival.

As for Myers, a performer since childhood, she'd already worked as a backup singer and dancer for the Las Vegas live celebrity tribute show Legends in Concert, and for Playboy's Girls of Rock and Roll when she decided to dye her hair, cut her bangs, amass a collection of gypsy gowns and long gloves and master the ethereal stylings of Fleetwood Mac rock goddess Stevie Nicks.

"The last six years, all I've done is study her and vocal-train and build my costume wardrobe and try to market the show. It's a full-time job," says the tribute artist known as Nearly Nicks.

Myers bears an uncanny resemblance to the artist, whom Rolling Stone magazine included on its list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. Shortly after they put up a website to sell T-shirts and merchandise, Myers and her husband, Winkler businessman Ralph Fehr, received a letter from an attorney warning them to stop using Stevie Nicks' image.

Meyers performs her Nearly Nicks act several times a year in the United States -- she missed Fleetwood Mac's May 13 concert at the MTS Centre because of a corporate gig in Florida -- but she also wants to tour in Canada, starting with her adopted hometown.

The brand-new steampunk-inspired show she's bringing to PW Enns Centennial Concert Hall in Winkler on Sept. 6 and 7 will take tribute artistry to a whole other level, she says.

"It's not just me and a bunch of guys standing on a stage singing Stevie Nicks songs. It's a full spectacle with lights and video. And the whole show is set in a dream state, so there are just all kinds of crazy possibilities," she says of Dreams: A Rock Fantasy, which will also showcase her band, Raff Haze Atlantis Airship (a.k.a. the Alchemist Symphony).

Her mother went to school with Elvis Presley, and her high school boyfriend was a Gene Simmons impersonator in a Kiss tribute band, so Meyers' performing path might seem somewhat preordained. But she says the work chose her.

After a fall from some scaffolding sidelined her dancing career at age 29, she spent most of her 30s in Florida, helping her mother care for her ailing father, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

"All the while, I was praying really hard to get back into show business," Meyers recalls.

She lightened her hair and got bangs to cover forehead wrinkles, she says, but soon people were stopping her on the street and in restaurants, asking if she'd pose for a photo.

Having grown up a "classic rock child," she knew and liked Fleetwood Mac's music, and while never a devoted Nicks fan, she saw all the attention she was getting as a sign and started to nurture her inner Nicks. Still, Meyers admits she had to challenge some of her own impressions about impersonators.

"I always thought the tribute artists were a little strange when I worked at Legends, especially the ones who were impersonating artists who are still alive," she recalls of her Vegas days. "I kept thinking, 'Why don't you just want to be yourself?'"

 

The tribute business has gotten a bad rap, Myers says, mostly because it got so saturated at one point that you couldn't walk down the street in Las Vegas without bumping into someone dressed like Elvis. But its profile has been raised among the performing arts in recent years, she adds, if only for economic reasons. Like the name suggests, in other words, Nearly Nicks is the next best thing to the real thing.

"A lot of people can't afford $300 to go see Fleetwood Mac. That's an expensive evening."

Myers points out that a big part of her act is to remind audiences that Nicks' talent and appeal extended well beyond the scope of a British-American rock band that just happened to put out one of the bestselling albums (1977's Rumours) of all time. Nicks, who launched her solo career in 1981 with the album Bella Donna, and was once deemed the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll by Rolling Stone, is still going strong at age 65. New York Magazine recently referred to her as the "Fairy Godmother of Rock."

"My goal is to have Stevie recognized as much as a solo artist as that girl from Fleetwood Mac," says Myers.

carolin.vesely@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2013 D1

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