Recommended Playlist - The Electric Prunes- I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night), The Zombies- Time of the Season, The Surfaris- Wipe Out!
The Next Best Thing
The Weird Weird World of Rock n' Roll Impostors
In the glorious pre-internet times it was possible to hear a song on the radio or buy a single in the record store without ever seeing an image of the performer behind it. With generic record company sleeves and labels an artist could sell millions of singles without anyone seeing their face. Even when rock started appearing on TV most people didn't have clear enough reception to make out all the details.
Enterprising promoters, producers, and musicians often took advantage of this confusion. In some cases they replaced the original band members with more pliable performers, and in others they simply took the name, and tunes, of another band and tried to pass it off as their own. You could never really be sure who you were seeing.
The Electric Prunes
The Electric Prunes were an LA area band that got their start playing surf rock in 1965. After some time bashing things out in the garage they were put in touch with an ambitious music producer named Dave Hassinger. The Prunes did what they were told and managed a couple of minor hits with “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” and “Get Me To The World On Time”.
A few records later and Hassinger decided it was time to change musical directions. He envisioned a concept album which mixed psychedelic rock with medieval chamber music and brought in composer David Axelrod to write it. The music was too complex for the real Prunes so Hassinger brought in other musicians, including Vancouver band The Collectors, to record the actual album. After a few failed attempts to play the songs live the few remaining members of the Prunes called it quits in 1968.
Unbeknownst to the band, years before Hassinger had copyrighted the name “Electric Prunes” and he saw no reason to stop using it now. Now In late 1968 he hired a new band from Colorado called Climax, and toured them around as “The New Improved Electric Prunes”. This completely unrelated version stuck around for a couple more years and even put out a pair of records before dissolving in 1970.
The Zombies were one of the British invasion bands who barely made it on the boat. In 1964 their song “She's Not There” surprised everyone when it made it to #2 on the American charts. The band got a lot of attention and pulled off another lesser hit, “Tell Her No” in 1965, before they ground to a halt. The band starting fighting while recording their album “Odessey and Oracle ” and broke up in late 1967 before it was released. Even though the band was gone the album was quietly released the next year. If you know The Zombies at all, chances are you know their song “Time Of The Season”. It came from this album and became a big hit. The only problem now was that there were no Zombies to promote it.
This is where some entrepreneurial Americans stepped in to fill the gap. A promotions company called Delta Promotions put together their own version of the Zombies (actually 2 different versions) and put them on the road playing all of the British band's hits. The musicians hired to impersonate the group did their best to fake British accents and explain why they appeared to young to have been in the original band.
One of the groups of American Zombies were operating out of Texas and featured future members of ZZ Top. They managed to pass themselves off despite not even having a keyboardist in the band to cover the songs live. Eventually the production company folded after ripping off other bands like The Animals and The Archies (who weren't even real humans in the first place) and the faux Zombies faded away.
(For the full hilarious story of this check out Daniel Ralston's BUZZFEED article “The True Story Of The Fake Zombies, The Strangest Con In Rock History” from 2016)
When The Yardbirds fell apart in 1968 after the loss of guitarist Jeff Beck, the band's manager Peter Grant decided to carry on. He claimed that he owned the rights to the band's name and decided to build a new group around remaining guitarist Jimmy Page. They quickly found studio musician John Paul Jones, and then rounded up a pair of Northern small timers, Robert Plant and John Bonham. The band went out on the road as “The New Yardbirds” and toured Scandinavia playing all the hits. The band came back to the UK for a couple of shows, playing their last one on October 19, 1968, before changing their name to Led Zeppelin.
In 1974 people bought tickets to the Fleetwood Mac U.S. Tour and showed up to see a band without any members of the actual band. The band's original manager Clifford Davis claimed that he was the real mastermind behind The Mac's success. “This band is my band. This band has always been my band,” Davis told Rolling Stone Magazine. He claimed that Mick Fleetwood had intended to come on the tour but had dropped out last minute, a claim denied by the better known band members. The fake Fleetwood Mac made it through a few disappointing shows before completely falling apart.
Mick Fleetwood and John McVie sued Davis to keep the fake band off the road, while Davis sued to keep the real band off the road too. After more than a year of legal struggles the courts awarded the name to Fleetwood and McVie.