Column: Local Foo Fighters tribute band joins 'Clash of the Cover Bands'

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When I connected with plumbing contractor Nicky Rich on Thursday, he was on the roof of a 20-story high-rise under construction by Balboa Park.

In less than a month, however, he’ll be projected into living rooms across America and elsewhere as a totally different persona — not wearing a tool belt but holding a microphone and singing with his rock band.

Under the spotlight, Nicky Rich transforms into Dave Grohl, lead singer of the Foo Fighters. Except he and his bandmates are called the Fooz Fighters.

They are contestants on the “Clash of the Cover Bands,” a reality series that premiered on E! Entertainment Oct. 13, pitting U2 lookalikes against Coldplay impersonators.

The San Diego-based tribute band will battle it out on the L.A. studio stage in an episode of the Jimmy Fallon-inspired reality series, tentatively set for Nov. 10.

The Fooz Fighters, who mimic the movement, look and sound of the Foo Fighters, will face a tribute version of Blink-182, which coincidentally originated in Poway. The faux band is calledBlank 281.

There’s another San Diego connection. Adam Lambert, who attended Mount Carmel High School in Rancho Peñasquitos, serves as a judge on the 10-episode show, along with Ester Dean. Co-hosting are Meghan Trainor and Stephen “tWitch” Boss, DJ on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Fooz Fighters musician/manager Brent Wright, a commercial real estate broker by trade, came up with the idea of founding a tribute band in 2014. After briefly imitating the Stone Temple Pilots, he switched to the Foo Fighters. “We looked around the country and did not see a lot of Foo Fighters tribute bands. We all love their music, and everyone loves Dave Grohl,” explains Wright.

At the time, Rich, lead vocalist, bore little resemblance to Foo Fighters’ front man Dave Grohl. Rich was clean shaven, and his hair had a long way to go to reach shoulder length.

Nevertheless, several months later he “grown” into the role and is in the painful process of adding identical arm tattoos. Now he’s often approached by Grohl fans seeking autographs. (Rich always signs his own name, although he sheepishly admits his scribbled signature is unreadable).

“We’ve had several variations of the band over the years,” Wright says. “Nick and I are the remaining original members.” Today’s line-up includes guitarist David Tishenkel, a San Diego engineer by day, and two professional musicians from Los Angeles: Boll3t and Gui Bodi.

The band tours and was nominated for “Tribute Artist of the Year” at the 2020 Musivv Digital Musical Awards. They were even invited to perform at Dave Grohl’s Ultimate Jam Night and at the Foo Fighters’ annual Love Hope Strength Foundation charity event in Los Angeles.

“We were contacted because the Foo Fighters, who always performed at this event, were on tour,” Wright says.

Rich and Wright have yet to meet the real Dave Grohl, although they have crossed paths with Foo Fighters’ lead guitarist Chris Shiflett.cq

“I really, really do want to meet him,” Rich says of Grohl. “He’s just everywhere. He’s really hot right now.”

On the “Clash of the Cover Bands” show, which airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m., two performers of similar genres go head-to-head in each episode, with the victor getting $10,000. At the end of the competition, one overall winner will get $25,000.

The Fooz Fighters had high praise for this season’s impersonators, taking on the personas of Aretha Franklin, Bon Jovi, Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood, Celine Dion, Cher, Depeche Mode, Dolly Parton, Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Lady Gaga, Ozzy Osbourne, Poison, Tim McGraw and Tina Turner.

Unlike a cover band, which plays music in the style of various artists, a tribute band sticks to imitating one original performer or band in appearance, dress, movement, music choice and note-for-note sound.

Wright says there have been no repercussions for adopting a name so similar to Foo Fighters, and the tribute group is free to perform the band’s songs as long as the Foo Fighters get their royalties.

The musicians were uncertain about becoming contestants on the show and had meetings on Zoom over three or four months to work out the details. “We found out only a week before we had to be up in Hollywood that we were supposed to be there,” Wright says.

Both he and Rich found the experience exhilarating, fun and enlightening.

“We were blown away by the show and how big it was,” Wright says. “It’s one thing to perform in front of big crowds. This was so different with Adam Lambert, Megan Trainor, Dean and tWitch. …To get feedback on your performance from that group of people. It’s an amazing experience I’ll never forget.”

“The whole process of the show was a learning experience,” Rich adds. “There were so many things we did not know about what’s involved in taping a TV show when we went into this. We got input on how to make our performances better. We came out knowing a lot more than when we went in.”

They hope it translates into bookings.” Just being seen nationwide on TV will be a boost to our performances,” Rich says.

The San Diego musicians have released recordings of their own music but breaking through the barrier to fame is daunting. As a tribute band, they get to ride their predecessors’ coattails.

“Since I got started, the tribute band scene has just picked up steam and is more popular now than I ever imagined it would be,” Wright says. “As people have gotten older, it’s become a very big industry. We play in front of crowds that, if you were an original band, you’d play for at the top of your game.”

The San Diego group is the only West Coast band on the show, and one of the few that doesn’t perform full time.

“David, Nick and I all have day jobs,” Wright says. “They were intrigued by us because we have lives outside music. … We do it for the fun factor.”

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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