What’s so cool about cover songs?

I played a show recently as part of Chicks With Picks, a benefit for the Vancouver based Positive Women’s Network, in which a variety of solo acts and bands played songs festival style.  There was some really great talent at this event and equally good original material, but I noticed very clearly how much stronger the audience response was to the cover material – songs they recognized or could sing along with from Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to a rousing rendition of High School Confidential.

As a songwriter, there’s nothing like hearing my songs on the radio or performing them for a live audience and seeing folks enjoying the music. But I can understand from the perspective of club owners and some booking folks their general lack of enthusiasm for original material. I know the cringe-worthy feelings that arise when a performer announces they’re going to play an original song and it truly sucks or simply doesn’t resonate with the audience. It seems that whether original songs are strong or not at some point audiences want to hear something they know. I’ve been struggling with the realization that after two albums of original material, it’s time to add more cover material into the mix. It’s been a good run playing primarily originals and while I will continue to write, my focus for now will be on bringing in more covers. The Rolling Stones had a lot of their early success with covers like Howlin’ Wolf’s Little Red Rooster. John Hammond Jr. features several songs by Tom Waits (one of my favorite songwriters) on his release, Wicked Grin. And even Joe Bonamassa’s recent CD of cover songs (2014) Different Shades of Blues features a Jimi Hendrix song. I know in the blues world songs like Sweet Home Chicago, Stormy Monday and Born Under a Bad Sign are always going to be popular with folks, but there’s room for other versions of some great songs. Sharing the stage with a woman named Avi and hearing her scaled down acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s Beat It was very cool. If the Stones, John Hammond and even Joe Bonamassa can do it, I guess I can too.