Three questions | AC/DC tribute band singer Martyn Jenkins

Highway to Hell plays Aug. 16 in Largo

Martyn Jenkins, far right, with the other members of the band Highway to Hell.

Highway to Hell

Martyn Jenkins, far right, with the other members of the band Highway to Hell.

Has it been too long since you heard rocking bad-boy tunes like Back in Black or Whole Lotta Rosie live in concert? (That's a rhetorical question, gang.)

Though AC/DC is busy working on a long-awaited album (and upcoming world tour), there's salvation close at hand. Meet Highway to Hell, a Tampa-based tribute band of men who turned their obsession with the legendary rockers into a part-time career.

The band plays the Largo Cultural Center tonight along with Black Sabbath tribute act Supertzar, though they've cut their teeth on gigs around Florida, including shows at Gasparilla and Daytona Beach Bike Week.

Two band members even took the stage with real AC/DC singer Brian Johnson and bassist Cliff Williams during a small show in Sarasota last year.

Still, a tribute band, you say? Don't laugh. For bars and festivals that feature live music, a tribute band can be big business.

"The people that snicker are the cover bands, because tribute bands get paid two or three times more," says Rich Rubin, who manages about 20 tribute acts — including this one — for his company, Maximum Bands Entertainment in Tampa.

Highway to Hell, which borrows its name from the 1979 AC/DC album, is one of the success stories, having been around since 2004.

Martyn Jenkins handles the lead vocals, a tough assignment because the real band has featured two legendary but distinct vocalists over its long career , the late Bon Scott and current singer (and Sarasota resident) Johnson.

So how did Jenkins, a Welsh native who works full-time in Tampa in the pharmaceuticals business, end up spending weekend nights screaming You Shook Me All Night Long at bay area audiences? He explained that and more recently:

1 What's the most misunderstood aspect of being in a tribute band?

A lot of time, people expect it to be a bit more like a Broadway musical. And they expect the people in the band to be session musicians and not necessarily fans of the band.

Back in England, I was actually lucky to see Bon Scott about a week before he died on the Highway to Hell tour. And I saw the first one Brian Johnson did on the Back in Black tour too. So I go right back with them.

When I stood up against Brian last year and sang Highway to Hell, it was amazing. I was petrified! But the nice thing was people in the audience knew us, and it was a heartwarming experience. After the gig, Cliff came up and said it was fantastic.

2 Why not just perform in a regular band?

I think it's like a cycle. I went through a regular band in Britain and didn't get anywhere. And then I realized that if you play Queen or AC/DC, crowds love you. It's more about the show and reliving memories.

3 Ever consider giving up the full-time job and trying the band full-time?

We're all too old and have too many responsibilities. We shouldn't be doing it, but it's great fun at the end of the day.

Steve Spears hosts the Stuck in the 80s blog and podcast on tampabay.com. Go to blogs.tampabay.com/80s.

If you go | Highway to Hell

The AC/DC tribute band performs with Black Sabbath

tribute act Supertzar, 8 p.m. today at Largo Cultural

Center, 105 Central Park Drive, Largo.

$18. (727) 587-6793.

Highway to Hell plays Aug. 16 in Largo 08/14/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 15, 2008 9:47pm]

    

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