“It was like attending the best high school reunion you could ever imagine.” That is what I told my co-workers after attending 84- A Tribute to Van Halen on Saturday, March 24, 2018. I was fortunate enough to attend not one, but both sold out shows of the hottest tribute bands out of Atlanta, Georgia. This was the debut performance for 84 at MadLife Stage and Studios in Woodstock, Georgia and they brought high energy, outrageous outfits, and guitar shreds that made this 80’s gal long for her big hair and Member’s Only jacket. Anyone that attended the show can attest to the fact that the audience was blown away at the level of musicianship displayed that night.
Launched in 2016, the band is comprised of Jason Dozer, lead vocals, David Northrip- bass, Doc Rockson-drums, and Stratton James Wilson- lead guitar. Jason, David, and Doc have previously worked together on other projects including Mock of Ages (a Def Leppard tribute band) and Moby Dick (an 80’s party band). Stratton joined 84 after auditioning for the part when he saw the call for a lead guitarist on Facebook for Jason Dozer’s other band Moby Dick. Stratton was asked to play Panama and the decision was mutual that Stratton would be a better fit in 84. Jason Dozer’s decision to add Stratton to the band was tentative at first considering he was only 14 years old at the time but once they practiced together the fit was perfect and the decision was an easy one.
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to BE David Lee Roth. I’ve had cover bands and tribute bands for years…I’ve been busy. Well…a year or so ago, I had a David Lee Roth/Van Halen tribute going and it was great! I’d heard of this incredible 14-year-old who was new in town and jamming with some of the tribute bands in Atlanta, and we had him come up and playa song with us one night. When my guitarist split, we held auditions and Stratton just nailed it. Professional and easy to get along with. No ego. Just a nice guy! We had our doubts, but with one practice, we knew it was right. We decided to make it strictly classic Van Halen, rename the band and I am blown away how quickly we have exploded on the scene. Every member in this band is a pro who takes it very seriously, learns their parts, comes prepared, works on their look, and invests in the band. These things are rare and it makes everything run so smoothly and efficiently. We all see 84 being the biggest Van Halen tribute on the east coast. We are prepared to do what it takes to get there! – Jason Dozer
And the proof is in the pudding. I had a friend bring her husband to the MadLife concert and he is a die-hard Van Halen fan. She informed me he was leery at first but after hearing the first few songs and seeing Stratton nail his favorite Eddie Van Halen licks on the guitar he was sold. She told me that they played “all of his favorites.” As I was at the second show and already knew what the second show’s crowd was in for the thought occurred to me that I should have taken a photo of the fans’ faces around me as they heard ‘84 for the first time. Their mouths hanging open was surely a sign that they were impressed!
Interview with Stratton James Wilson
I had a chance to sit down after the show with guitar prodigy, Stratton James Wilson, to talk to him about his background, experiences so far with the band, and where he hopes the band will go. My impressions of him on stage was he was a natural talent…so comfortable in front of fans. You could tell he was having a wonderful time. In person, Stratton is a polite and genuine person. He is thoughtful and answered all my questions thoroughly. Personally, I am a new fan of his and can’t wait to see where he goes in life with his musical career.
As a tribute band, I am sure you get a lot of mixed feelings from people. Some may see you as fake and unoriginal while others view you as talented musicians that are keeping great music alive. How do you address this?
Honestly, the response has been nothing but positive. Isn’t it great that we have choices of what we like and support? In any given week here in Atlanta, you can choose the musical entertainment that is best for you and what you enjoy most. Pick your genre and then pick your type of performance (original, cover, tribute, etc.) and go do your thing. Now that’s awesome.
Beyond that, the rise in popularity of tribute bands can’t be denied. Venues all through the Nation are booking more and more acts and the demand is growing. Tribute bands are bringing audiences that have been missing from the music scene for decades back out to venues and they are introducing younger crowds to the music from years past. It’s a very special and unique musical performance that is often the closest thing to the original experience that some people will ever have.
Tribute performances are part music and part acting. A little-known fact about me is that I study drama as well as play music. I love performing theatrically so, a tribute performance is “the best of both worlds,” …no pun intended.
I’ll admit, it would be kind of creepy to watch some tribute performers that forget to leave their character on stage or on their Facebook/Web Page. It would be equally as creepy to see Clint Eastwood go full Dirty Harry up at Wal Mart too! Honestly, I think that has more to do with the personality of the performer than with anything else. I don’t personally know anyone who does that. Most great tribute performers study their characters just like and actor and do their best to deliver an accurate representation of that character for the show. You’ll have to ask the hundreds of people who come to 84 shows what draws them out. I have my theories, but they’d know best.
What was the first album that you added to your personal music library?
The truth is, I don’t remember. We are a big music family. Music has just been a part of my life, always. Electronic media has always been there too. Unfortunately, I never got the experience of getting to stand in line to buy that newly release record. I feel robbed! But, I can tell you that my first real love affair with music (long before I started playing) was John Mayer. 80’s music has always been there, but John Mayer is who I remember being the first that I kind of helped bring to the table for my family.
Do your parents play any instruments or sing?
Neither of them do. My mom can sing, but she would tell you she can’t and she’s never really done it formally. My grandad on my mom’s side plays the acoustic guitar.
What was your most recent addition to your personal music library?
The last thing that I bought was “Invasion of Your Privacy” by Ratt. I subscribe to Apple Music so I stream mostly now. I had to really think what I bought last. That’s kind of sad. But to balance that out, I bought Van Halen II on vinyl a few weeks back. I really, really wish we’d have a technology boycott in music and go back to buying physical copies of music. I think something like that may come in my lifetime. You know, at some point kids may think technology is lame. Hey! It could happen.
What was your first live music experience?
John Mayer Continuum Tour at Cynthia Woods Music Pavilion in Houston, TX. I was on my Dad’s shoulders the whole time. I think I was 5 years old.
If you could cover one album in your music library which would it be?
I’ve been so lucky and there have been so many musicians that have done their part to help me along. I’ve been the biggest Slash (Guns N Roses) fan since I started playing. Several of my musician friends, came together and we covered “Appetite for Destruction” in its entirety at my 15th birthday show this year. It was amazing. With 84, I’ve covered Van Halen 1 from front to back, so that one is marked off the list. I’ll have to think on it but since I’m doing 84, I’m pretty sure I’ll cover all the Van Halen stuff so I won’t waste a wish on that. I’d probably pick something from John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or maybe Aerosmith? Don’t make me choose!
What artist do you wish more people had in their music library?
I love and am influenced by the icons as much as anyone else. They get plenty of attention and to wish for someone to be exposed to them is kind of like wishing someone would get wet jumping in a pool. I think it’s time for people to really start to notice some of the great new music that is out there. There’s so much good out there. Slash has put some great stuff out with his band Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. World on Fire is amazing. But, to take it even a step further and to get people looking for new music totally separated from previous rock royalty, my favorite completely new band is RavenEye. Their debut EP “Breaking Out” is my favorite but they’ve had subsequent releases that are amazing. We put those guys up in our house for a few days when they were doing their US Tour last year. They are from Great Britain.
How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
I’ve known David Northrip (Michael Anthony) since I moved to Atlanta one and a half years ago. I met Doc (Alex Van Halen) when I sat in with the tribute band Appetite for Destruction last summer. He was playing drums for them. I met Jason Dozer (David Lee Roth) last summer as well. I pestered him to let me sit in with him with his project Everybody Wants Dave. These guys are top notch musicians who do both tribute and cover bands. I think you’ll find some original work in their past too. I’m partial, but I truly believe that every single one of them is the perfect fit for 84. We all share the same philosophy as far as rehearsals and work ethic and we all have the same vision for where we want this thing to go. We are having a blast and I hope it shows.
What can you tell me about your instruments?
I have a love affair with guitars and gear. I like all kinds. My rule of thumb is to use the tool that is right for the job. I own Charvels, Gibsons, Fenders, and Martins. Which one I pick up is dependent on what I’m trying to do. Maybe I would change my tune if a company decided to pay me, but I don’t think that’s coming any time soon so…. Right now, my favorite guitar is the custom built Frankenstrat that I built with my Dad and a local luthier here in Atlanta. I debuted it at our recent MadLife shows and I’ve never played anything that felt better or sounded better for Van Halen. I will keep it forever.
Where have you performed? What are your favorite local venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
You can find our upcoming shows on our Facebook Page -84 A Tribute to Van Halen. There is always a post pinned to the top with all our current bookings.
As far as the venues we’ve played, we like them all! Of course, we have our favorites but we don’t kiss and tell!!
Which songs do you like to perform? Do you have a set play list or does it change often?
We focus on the Van Halen early years, so everything from 1978-1984. Although, what we try to do is make the experience as authentic to that time period as possible. It’s worth mentioning that many of the riffs from later Van Halen albums were developed during that timeframe. Eddie experimented with them in his live solos with DLR and then later recorded them on Sammy albums. So, there’s no telling what you might hear in that regard. The singing is specific to the DLR years.
The beauty about Van Halen is that there’s lots of mainstream hits but there are lots of also very recognizable favorites that didn’t chart. There’s lots of music from those albums that you hear and your first reaction is “wait…I remember this! It’s been so long since I’ve heard it.” After a few moments pass, you are singing/jamming along as if you never missed a beat. Van Halen was such a record driven group that many fans can sit down to listen to a record and without trying, their brains just recall the next songs up on the album in sequential order. We did Van Halen 1 in exact order as a celebration of the 40-year anniversary and watching people anticipate what was coming next was awesome.
We love to play it all. I don’t think you could pin us down to a favorite. Depending on the crowd, the favorites for them change as well. We definitely change our set list around. At the recent MadLife shows, the core of the show was the same but we made sure we gave each performance the proper attention with a unique set list. Maybe we’ll have some fans start attending both shows?
What are your rehearsals generally like?
We are constantly working on the project. Rehearsals aren’t at set times but we rehearse quite a bit based on everyone’s schedule. The beautiful thing about this project is that everyone is in the same page and is committed to work, rehearse, and get it right. We will typically play a song a bazillion times before we put it in the list. Everyone shows up ready to go and rehearsals are pointed at getting ready for the show, not learning the material. These guys are professionals, as you would expect. Efficient and disciplined. Oh, and we have fun nerding out on music stuff. I enjoy rehearsals almost as much as the shows.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band?
I’d have to say just being new. It takes time to get the word out. It takes time to get on schedules. Most venues are booked well in advance so by the time the venue realizes “oh man, I gotta have these guys”, you have several months (sometimes double digits) to wait for your spot and often it’s not an ideal date (that’s why it’s available). Things have happened very quickly for us though so nobody is complaining. The sun is shining on us and we feel blessed that our hard work is getting return so quickly. Our fans have made that possible. Thank you!!!!
What are your goals and what advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?
We just want to continue to do what we are doing. We want to go where there is a demand for us and keep that demand fed. We are already booked quite a bit for the foreseeable future but we all have plenty of capacity/desire to play more. I’m confident that will happen. For new bands? My personal advice is to just do what you do. Don’t waste your energy on converting people. You will have people that are naturally drawn to you and people who are not. That’s just the way it works. Find “your people” and throw some musical love all up in them. They will be happier, you will be happier, the world will be happier. And remember….the enemy here is NOT other bands. The biggest challenge is re-growing the live music scene as a whole. You can only play one stage at a time, and there are lots of stages out there. Work together and there will be even more.
How can fans-to-be gain access to your music?
The easiest way to find out what we have going on is to Like and select “see first” on our band page of Facebook. 84 A Tribute to Van Halen. Website coming soon!!
You can keep up with me personally at Stratton James Wilson- Music.
Any last words?
I would just close by saying that NOBODY in this world has achieved any amount of success ALONE. We all need and get something from others in whatever we do. I count myself as so lucky to have so many people that have helped and continue to help me along the way. For that, I say THANK YOU and I will do the best I can do to turn that into something. That’s the very least I can do. I’m having the time of my life!