This was a question that came up for discussion on my Gibson Chat yesterday, so I figured it would make a good topic. It’s related to my “Covers or Originals?” blog, but still different in its basic content. This is because this time, I’m really discussing what it takes to truly make a cover song your “own.”
For years, this has always been a love of mine; the art of taking a song I love and turning it into something fresh and new, and most of all, uniquely “mine.” I have found that rather than taking apart the original recording of a given song, and painstakingly working out a new version of it, I much more naturally “fall into” the right way for me to play it with very little effort at all. I suppose that this is because the song exists in a part of me where it is very well-preserved, and it is protected as a kind of “memory”, that comes out of me in its own musical way. This means that it’s almost like a “first take.” A way of preserving my first impression of this song, yet a way in which it is “processed” through me. My way of playing these covers I’ve done, such as When a Man Loves a Woman, I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ain’t No Sunshine, Unchained Melody and many others is really just a re-playing of how I actually hear and feel the original version. When I play these tunes, I often evoke the background parts, the orchestration, the original arrangements and basically all the parts that make up this musical “tapestry.”
Of course, there are times when one must truly “work out” a song and its new arrangement, so as to really and honestly make it “different”, but odds are, you’ll be able to still find your way simply through making that song and its memory come through you. One other thing to remember is that ALL songs are originals to begin with, and it’s very important to take a fresh look at whatever you play, regardless of whether or not it’s an “original” of yours. Don’t look at covers with disdain……these are the building blocks of truly getting to be a better overall musician, and I would think of it as a real prerequisite to becoming “complete” as a player.
So give everything you love musically a real, true and openly honest evaluation, so as to make it the most “honest” approach when you play, and therefore, honor that “cover” tune!