If you can’t decide what style of live music to listen to this weekend and don’t have the cash to fly to wherever that favorite group might be playing, the cover band Contagious is your best bet.
"We do a pretty good job of sounding just like the guy we’re trying to reproduce," said lead guitarist Rob Fox, who also sings backup vocals. "In other words, if we’re doing a Bon Jovi song, our singer can sound like Jon Bon Jovi. If we’re doing a Journey song, he’ll come around and sound just like Steve Perry. If we’re doing Garth Brooks, he’ll sound like Garth Brooks. And the band has good enough musicianship, and we’ve been doing this long enough, that we can copy the sound of that original group’s vocals and guitar sounds and keyboard sounds and all that. I think that’s another thing that separates us from a lot of the other cover bands, is that we actually sound like the band we’re trying to cover."
Contagious, a five-man group that will play from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday at the in Wentzville, has a wide-ranging song list that, at last count, was at 97 tunes.
"We do a variety of music, anything from old rock to new rock. We do a little bit of country music, a little bit of funk, some disco even," Fox said. "That’s kind of our niche, I guess. We’re not just a classic rock band, we’re not just a new rock band, we’re not a country band--we mix it up."
The group, which can be seen on YouTube, has been together since February 2005. In addition to Fox, who lives in St. Charles, the group includes Steve Scott of O’Fallon, MO singing lead vocals and playing acoustic guitar, keyboardist and backup vocalist Greg Leiber of Creve Coeur, percussionist and backup vocalist Greg Rice of Maryland Heights and Terry Block of Imperial, who plays bass and sings lead and backup vocals.
The musicianship and effort to sound like the original artists--or better--is being noticed. Just last week, a fan dropped a note on the stage requesting a song.
"She said she caught our show at the Washington Town and Country Fair last summer, and she said on the same night, Ted Nugent played the festival and (we) played the ‘Stranglehold’ song better than him," Fox said. "She said, ‘You played it better than him, and you’ve got a whole group of people who saw you there, and we’d like it if you played that song again.’ So we played it for ‘em. We get compliments like that all the time."
When people go to hear Contagious, they get a big show.
"All the guys in this group grew up playing music in the ‘80s. And back in the ‘80s, you showed up, you had the big hair, the big lights, the big P.A.-- it was more of a production," Fox said. "And it seems like somewhere along the line, the music business, as far as the local musicians anyway, has kind of just taken a big left turn. Now, you show up at a bar, and they’ve got their own P.A. system, and they’ve got their own lighting, and it’s substandard compared to what we would like to have. But you go and you play those rooms anyway because that’s what you’re dealt."
Fox said the Ice House and some other bars do have good sound and light systems, but many systems are mediocre, which affects some musicians.
"You got guys standing in a corner who don’t care about how they look, they don’t care if it’s a show or entertaining. They’re just sitting back playing music," Fox said. "We’ve kind of taken a different approach on it. We’re concerned about being entertaining. There’s energy on stage. We interact with the audience and try and put on more of a performance than just sitting back and playing music. We want people to look at us while we’re playing. We don’t want to play a great song and be playing to the backs of a bunch of people’s heads."
They don’t want to be background noise, Fox said.
"That’s not what Contagious is all about," he said. "Contagious is energetic. There’s something to watch when we’re on stage--it’s not just the music. It’s the energy and the interaction with the audience. It’s definitely a much better night when the crowd’s into it and going crazy, and we get off stage and everybody’s mobbing you, high-fiving you, telling you how great it is. It’s definitely funner than playing to a crowd where you’re just like jukebox music. We feed off that too. If the audience is into it, we’re really into it."
Sometimes it takes a while to get to that point.
"We’ve always said, the first set, they’re just kind of getting to know us," Fox said. "We don’t expect people to be lining the front of the stage in the first set. But some rooms that we play, where we’ve been playing them for a little while now, that’s what we get. We walk in, and it’s kind of like a concert sometimes."
Fox and drummer Greg Rice have known each other 10 to 15 years--much longer than they have played music together. They met on the local drag race circuit and raced each other a long time without knowing they shared a background in music. One night, they attended a concert by a Led Zeppelin tribute band at The Pageant, and they both ran into people they used to be in bands with.
That stirred the fire. They starting talking music and jamming together.
"One night after me and him jammed together, we looked at each other and said, ‘You know what--we gotta get a band going,'" Rice said.
They found some other like-minded musicians and "It’s just progressed from there, over the last six years," Rice said.
Lead singer was the last piece of the puzzle.
"It’s funny," Fox said. "We had auditioned a few guys for that spot, and Steve came in, and we all just kind of looked at each other and (we) were like, ‘Wow, this guy can sing.’"
Although lead singer Steve Scott will perform tonight at Ice House, occasionally he isn’t available. However, the band has a couple of other lead vocal fill-ins who are also very talented, Fox said.
"Both of those guys are as remarkable as Steve," Fox said. "They can go from one artist to another and be able to mimic them extremely well."
The group was formed and performing in public before it had a band name. While playing a small bar, the band members mentioned that the group didn’t have a name yet. Fox was telling a story about a man who had been a musical mentor to him.
"He was a very accomplished guitar player, and he kind of took me under his wing and showed me some stuff and got me pointed in the right direction," Fox said. "He was there that night, and I kind of always looked up to him, I guess. So I was telling a story about that...and I said, ‘One thing led to another, and it must’ve been contagious. I lived in the same neighborhood as him, and here I am now.’ Well, some girl just blurted out, ‘That’s it--that’s the name--Contagious.’ It kinda stuck. I didn’t care for it too much at first, but I was kind of overruled."
The band plays 40 to 60 shows a year and performs somewhere almost every week. Their playlist is extensive, ranging from AC/DC, Aerosmith and Bad Company to Van Halen, Wild Cherry and ZZ Top. A random sampling of other groups and individuals it covers includes Rod Stewart, Matchbox 20, Maroon 5, Kiss, Justin Timberlake, Foreigner and Cheap Trick.
"We cycle some of those songs in and out, just to keep the show kind of fresh, and we’re not playing the same songs weekend after weekend," Fox said.
With three 1-hour sets per gig, they can hit a lot of highlights and please a lot of listeners.
"We can go in and cover anything," Rice said. "Like, if somebody wants us to do weddings, we’ve got enough material to cover that. If they want us to do a Chamber of Commerce show and tone it back a little bit, we’ll do some Neil Diamond. It’s stuff that’s better than just the rockers. We can go in and entertain any crowd. That’s the best thing about this band. Everybody is so versatile, we can accommodate anything."
In most cases, they can also add hot new songs in a hurry, with the band members downloading the song and learning it individually. For more complicated songs, the band will rehearse before playing them live. Once they have added a new song, it’s solid.
"Everybody’s real good improv players in this band," Rice said. "So we roll right through it, and nobody even notices. We’re so good, and everybody feeds off each other so well, I mean, we can pretty much work through just about anything on stage. There’s never really been any bad mishaps at all."
The experience of playing as a group for six years has given Contagious a professional, very entertaining sound.
"Just the feel and the vibe that everybody has for each other," Rice said. "Once we get on stage, I think we’re probably one of the most tight-knit groups around. We really feed off each other."
The Ice House is located at 909 Main Plaza Drive in Wentzville.
Contagious will also perform April 16 at, 990 Wentzville Parkway.