BLACK STONE CHERRY’s CHRIS ROBERTSON Weighs In On Bands Using Backing Tracks During Live Shows

Chris Robertson of Kentucky rockers BLACK STONE CHERRY has weighed in on bands who rely heavily on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances.

In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for relying on pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. For better or worse, pre-recorded tracks are becoming increasingly common for touring artists of all levels and genres and they’re not just used in pop music — many rock artists utilize playback tracks to varying degrees.

Speaking to the Jeff Gaudiosi of MisplacedStraws.com, Chris stated about acts who rely on pre-recorded tracks in part: “I am not gonna just turn a blind eye and say ‘fuck all bands that use tracks’ ’cause that’s unfair. Because in today’s production, there are a lot of bands that 50 percent of their song — even FALLING IN REVERSE, for example; Ronnie Radke will be the first to tell you that 50 to 70 percent of some of their songs are a track that the band plays with. Now, do I think that makes it okay to cancel the show because your track machine is down? Absolutely not. I think that at the core of it, the band should be able to perform their songs as the band. And if you can’t, then you should have some kind of clause or something to dispel that. But I have no problem with bands using stuff, because who can expect a band to hire out an orchestra every night? If they If they truly think that sound is detrimental to a song, right? What band — I don’t care who you are, you can’t afford to hire out a 40-piece orchestra to tour with you to play one song a night. Bands can’t do that.”

He continued: So, it’s a fine line, man — for me, it’s a really fine line. The way I look at it is it’s a fine line, but it’s actually pretty simple. The integral band should never be tracked. The guy playing drums, the guy playing guitar, the guy playing bass, the people playing the fucking instruments and the vocals should be doing their job. Additional stuff? If you’re doing that, then I understand, man. Do your thing. Or if you’re a band where you’ve got one guy that sings and he puts on harmonies on a chorus in the studio and nobody else in the band can physically sing, and he sings the lead vocal but they’ve got the harmonies brought up, then so be it, man. Whatever. I personally wouldn’t, but I get it. I understand why, because at the end of the day, 95 percent of the bands that run tracks aren’t doing it because they can’t play the stuff or because they don’t wanna play the stuff; they’re doing it because they’re so afraid to play a version of that song that the people haven’t heard on the radio. And we just have a different mindset, man. We have a mindset that the live show is the live show, and the album is the album. And that’s the difference. And there’s no right or wrong answer to it, man. In today’s society, there’s no right or wrong answer to ‘yes tracks’ [or] ‘no tracks,’ in my personal opinion. As far as BLACK STONE CHERRY goes, we won’t use it. The only thing we ever do is if we see videos of us getting a song really, really fast sometimes, every now and then we’ll play it one night to a metronome, just a cowbell to start the song tempo so it doesn’t get so fast that I can’t sing it. And then if we play it one night to a metronome, then we’re right back locked in the groove and we don’t use it anymore.”

Chris added: “I can promise you, if you come see BLACK STONE CHERRY, anything you’re hearing that is an instrument or vocal, if you’re hearing it during our show, it’s one of us playing it. And if it’s bongos, it’s J.F. [drummer John Fred Young] coming out from behind the drum riser playing the bongos. We don’t use any kind of backing track whatsoever. We never have [and] never will. We’re much like HALESTORM in that regard. They’re another great friends of ours that — same thing. They don’t use any kind of backing track — nothing. They just go out there and do their thing.”

KISS frontman Paul Stanley, who has been struggling to hit the high notes in many of the band’s classic songs for a number of years, has been accused of singing to a backing tape on KISS‘s ongoing “End Of The Road” tour.

Back in 2015, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons slammed bands who used backing tapes for not being honest enough to include that fact on their concert tickets.

“I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks,” Simmons said. “It’s like the ingredients in food. If the first ingredient on the label is sugar, that’s at least honest. It should be on every ticket — you’re paying $100, 30 to 50 percent of the show is [on] backing tracks and they’ll sing sometimes, sometimes they’ll lip sync. At least be honest. It’s not about backing tracks, it’s about dishonesty.

“There’s nobody with a synthesizer on our stage, there’s no samples on the drums, there’s nothing,” Gene continued. “There’s very few bands who do that now — AC/DC, METALLICA, us. I can’t even say that about U2 or THE [ROLLING] STONES. There’s very few bands who don’t use [backing] tracks.”

This past March, KISS‘s longtime manager Doc McGhee defended Stanley‘s vocal performance on “End Of The Road”, explaining that the “Star Child” “fully sings to every song” at every concert. He explained: It’s enhanced. It’s just part of the process to make sure that everybody hears the songs the way they should be sang to begin with. Nobody wants to hear people do stuff that’s not real, that’s not what they came to hear.”

When McGhee was asked to clarify if he was “actually saying there are backing tracks that [Paul is] singing to,” Doc said: “He’ll sing to tracks. It’s all part of a process. Because everybody wants to hear everybody sing. But he fully sings to every song.”

In March 2020, SHINEDOWN guitarist Zach Myers said that “90 percent” of rock artists use at least some pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. He told Rock Feed: “It bothers me that it bothers people. I’m, like, ‘Why does this bother you?’ It’s the way it is. People have been doing this since the ’80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that’s not how we wanna do it.”

Former SKID ROW singer Sebastian Bach has previously said that he is “one of the last people” who are still not using pre-recorded tracks at their live shows. “I don’t know how much longer I can say to you that I don’t use tapes onstage, because I don’t, and I never have,” he told Consequence Of Sound. “And I still don’t. When I have opening bands, and they’re using tapes, and then I come out and I don’t use tapes… sometimes, it makes me feel stupid, because I’m like, ‘What am I doing, when all these kids half my age can come onstage and do all of my moves, but they don’t have to warm up for an hour before the show, or weeks, before the first show?’ Sometimes, I’m like, ‘Why do I even bother, if the public is so used to this other way?’ It’s becoming very rare to come see a good band that’s actually a real band — that’s not miming or doing silly moves while a tape is running. It just becomes more rare as the years go on.”

In 2019, IRON MAIDEN guitarist Adrian Smith said that he doesn’t “agree” with certain rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. “I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don’t think it’s a good thing at all,” he told the New York Post. “I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We’ve toured with a couple bands that use tapes — it’s not real. You’re supposed to play live; it should be live. I don’t agree with using tapes … I think it’s a real shame.”

One musician who has been open about his band’s use of taped vocals during live performances is MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx, who said: “We’ve used technology since ’87.” He added the group employed “sequencers, sub tones, background vox tracks, plus background singers and us. [MÖTLEY CRÜE also taped] stuff we can’t tour with, like cello parts in ballads, etc…. We love it and don’t hide it. It’s a great tool to fill out the sound.”

In a 2014 interview, MÖTLEY CRÜE guitarist Mick Mars admitted that he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that his band used pre-recorded backing vocals in its live shows, claiming that he preferred to watch groups whose performances are delivered entirely live. “I don’t like it,” he said. “I think a band like ours… I have to say ’60s bands were my favorite — ’60s and ’70s bands — because they were real, like, three-piece bands or four-piece bands, and they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what? Sounded a little bit empty here or there? So what? It’s the bigness and the rawness and the people that developed and wrote the songs and made them and presented them. To me, that’s what I really like. I mean, I could put on a MÖTLEY CD and play with it all day long. I don’t wanna do that.”

BLACK STONE CHERRY will release its eighth studio album, “Screamin’ At The Sky”, on September 29 via Mascot Records.

Chris Robertson (lead vocals/guitar),Ben Wells (guitar/backing vox) and John-Fred Young (drums/backing vox) are joined for the first time on an album recording by “new” bassist Steve Jewell Jr. (ex-OTIS). The band’s fanbase will be more than familiar with Steve, as he has been touring with BLACK STONE CHERRY in 2021.

Photo credit: Jimmy Fontaine


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