Simply Queen is King!
By Sherrilynn Colley
Simply Queen performs all the iconic songs that made Queen one of the most legendary rock bands of all time. They faithfully recreate the grand scope of Queen’s live shows, both musically and visually, with attention to detail. They play completely live, with no backing tracks, capturing the amazing live Queen experience that filled hearts and stadiums around the world.
Canada’s foremost Queen Tribute Band is fronted by Freddie Mercury impersonator extraordinaire Rick Rock. Rock has supported countless acts including Edgar Winter, BTO, Burton Cummings, Mitch Rider, Kansas, The Turtles, Three Dog Night, and Kim Mitchell. He took his dynamic voice and stage impersonation to new heights by launching “The Freddie Mercury Rock Show” at the North American Queen Convention and performing in the “Legends Live” shows.
Other members include guitarist Wayne Brauer from Ajax Ontario. He is a producer, engineer, editor, songwriter, and senior audio operator for Bell/Media/CTV Specialty. Drummer Phil Charrette has opened for Kansas, Quiet Riot, Herman’s Hermits, The Monkees, Rik Emmett of Triumph, Foghat, War, and Honeymoon Suite. Bassist Mitch Taylor has been a member of Teaze (former Aquarius/Capitol Recording Artists), Mindstorm (Aquarius Recording Artists), Tanzen (JLT Recording Artists), and The J.D. Project.
I had a chance to sit down with Rick Rock (yes, that is his real name!) to find out more about his career path, how Simply Queen formed in 2012, and how they virtually exploded onto the world-wide music scene after the release of the film Bohemian Rhapsody.
Music Addict (MA): What are your earliest memories of music, and when did you know you wanted to be a performer?
Rick Rock (Rock): My earliest memories of music are watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show at five years old. By eight, I started playing guitar, a 67-year old Kent, which was semi-acoustic. It’s really important that a young guitarist has instruments that fit their hands, or they get discouraged. I am known as a lead singer but started as a guitarist and still play guitar.
My first performances were singing Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” and James Brown songs like “I Feel Good.” I took lessons for about a year, and by twelve or thirteen years old, I started playing in bands and then became the frontman. I remember making $125 a night in a wedding band, which seemed like a crazy amount of money at that age.
In high school, I was in a band [called] Sinbad, playing progressive rock [and] songs by Zeppelin, Cream, and Clapton. By fifteen or sixteen, we were sneaking in bars to play four to six nights a week. My brother had all of Hendrix albums; I was also influenced by Janis Joplin, 3 Dog Night, Bowie, Aerosmith, Foghat, Bad Company, and Queen.
I was originally a guitar player and the third singer in the band, but I developed as a singer. As a songwriter, my material like many artists was most creative at 25-27 years old. My older music [was] more influenced by the 70’s rock groups of that time but in later years, I wrote softer, more emotional music.
MA: Why do you think people like tribute bands, and why is your band so successful?
Rock: I think people just love to gather with others with common interests whether it’s Elvis fans, Star Trek Trekkies, or NASCAR superfans. It is a whole “nostalgic experience” that allows you to gather with others and to share a love for music, a band, or a common interest. Simply Queen is lucky; we have been performing for over 8 years and after the release of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, we were doing full tours (before COVID hit) like the Cotton Bowl, Busch Gardens, Bahamas, Grand Cayman, Bermuda, and playing the main stage on the Kiss Cruise.
MA: What do you think has contributed to your longevity in the music industry?
Rock: The secret of longevity is to learn more about the music business: where it is going… how you can keep the focus on perfecting your musicianship, [and] always striving to improve. It’s really important that you put in the work. As they say, “if you love what you do it won’t feel like work.” To have the energy to do sometimes 2 shows a day at any age requires taking care of yourself; don’t be lazy and keep fit. A healthy lifestyle is everything. I have seen people my age pass away from not taking care of themselves, lack of solid sleep, choice of foods [and] stress. [Keeping] only good relationships is everything. I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I de-stress through gardening/farming and I also work with a doctor/ nutritionist, helping others with eating healthy.
MA: I have seen you perform over the years and often, it has been for charities like The Autism Society or The Missions. Do you think it is important to give back?
Rock: Serving the community is important; it affects others’ lives more than you think. I have supported local charities whenever I can, and have a soft spot for the Missions and Food Banks because they directly help the most vulnerable and homeless within our area. I also play guitar and sing at seniors’ homes; as research tells us, music not only enhances the quality of life but is helpful for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
MA: Are mentors an important part of your life and career?
Rock: People’s careers always start with mentors, whether they admit it or not. My mentors range from local friends that I admired while growing up in the music scene — like Joe Konas — to international artists that I came in contact with as a support act. I sometimes wonder how I will be able to keep playing the same songs for so many years – but as Willie Nelson said, “you have to treat every song like it’s the first time you play it.” I try to give each performance my all and bring the “Mercury” type energy to every song. I also think the costumes and mannerisms help elevate the audience’s experience.
MA: Who would be in your dream band to perform with, and what is something we may not know about you?
Rock: Dream performance would be with Freddie Mercury & Brian May (Queen) and David Pack & Joe Puerta (Ambrosia). Some people don’t know that I have written books and I wanted to be a motivational speaker. I think it’s really important to learn from others, take advice from mentors, and listen to the words of the wise to be successful.
MA: Do you have any advice for young musicians?
Rock: It’s important to find your interest, jump in with 2 feet, do the work, put in the time to perfect your craft, and never accept being ordinary. You also need to know about the business and management side of music. I handle the bookings for Simply Queen working with different agents. It’s important to be organized and professional, have your stage plot, equipment lists, hospitality riders… The most important thing in this industry is making connections and [nurturing] relationships with others in the whole industry- not just musicians but booking agents, sound/lighting… It is through relationships that you get advice and mentorship which leads to bookings, collaborations, and projects.
MA: What are some of your career highlights?
Rock: I have to say, every time I step on stage to impersonate Freddie Mercury with Simply Queen is a highlight and honour to be able to perform at the peak of my performance in front of people who have the same music interest. Other highlights were performing on the main stage of the Kiss Cruise, performing with Edgar Winter, and helping NVIDIA collaborate with AIVA to develop a “Queen” style song with the aid of artificial intelligence and play it at an international tech conference.
MA: What’s next for Rick Rock and Simply Queen?
Rock: We’re just trying to stay motivated through the pandemic, since March it was like the lights went out for all of us. For full-time working musicians, it feels like a hurricane came through and wiped out everything we have been doing for years. It is very tough to [stay] positive when no one has an answer to where we will be a month, six months, or one or two years from now. We are patiently waiting to get the ball rolling again, traveling with Simply Queen; most of all the 2020 tour dates are being rescheduled for 2021- 22. My guess is a lot of events will fold from a lack of sponsorship; businesses will not exist that have sponsored events for years, or [they] will not [be able to] afford to sponsor. I feel for all industries out there, but the entertainment industry might be one of the last to recover what we were in the past. The production companies have the most invested in gear and business, which is sitting dormant in warehouses right now. Sadly, many of these businesses may never survive…. The show will go on… maybe not what we all had the past few years, but we will keep positive and press on.
I have been lucky enough to witness the magic of Rick Rock and Simply Queen’s performance, and was blown away by their talent. When I watch tribute bands, I close my eyes to see if it feels like I am listening to the original band. With Simply Queen it does, and you can open your eyes and their visual performance further enhances the feeling of what it was like to see Freddie Mercury and Queen perform live. Watching Wayne Brauer (Brian May) with his searing guitar licks on the Red Special copy, jogging like May to the mic, and seeing Rock killing the vocals — it all adds to the experience. His yellow jacket, white pants with gold and red stripes, and famous 3 stripe Adidas shoes all give you a glimpse of the 1986 Wembley Stadium performance. Watching Rock’s energy as he gets the audience chanting to Radio Gaga wearing jeans, a white tank, and an armband, really stirs emotions and memories of good old classic rock and roll. Experience simpler times through Simply Queen!