‘From Chuck Berry to Katy Perry’
Decades is putting in the work to be a successful local cover band
As their name suggests, local cover band Decades is dedicated to playing popular music from as many decades as possible, and they’re intent on making a living while doing so.
According to drummer Billy DiBono, the group’s inspiration came from his father, Don DiBono, owner of the popular Cabos nightclub in downtown Chico during the 1970s and current entertainment booker for Feather Falls Casino. In 2010, he told his son he thought a cover band that could play any genre well would be wildly successful. He also came up with the band name after suggesting that the band would play popular songs from each of the decades from the 1940s to today.
The younger DiBono already had a lot of onstage experience as drummer for the popular Chico progressive indie band The Secret Stolen, and even though he was initially skeptical about its sustainability, his dad’s idea was worth a try, he decided. He proceeded to round up a handful of young, local players and started learning some hits.
It turns out his father was spot on. In the three years since the band’s inception, Decades has played more than 220 shows and has drawn enough fans for the band members to (a couple of part-time jobs aside) make a living playing music. And with 110 gigs slated for the coming year, the prospects are getting even better.
Decades went through a few lineup changes before the band’s current roster was solidified. Guitarist/saxophonist Will Watje and bassist Tobias Brooks (who both played together in local rockers Wicked Honey) have been the constants along with DiBono. Once current lead vocalist Samantha Francis and keyboardist/vocalist Ben Ruttenburg—both of whom bring backgrounds in local community theater and a lot of presence and vocal power to the stage—came in to replace departing members, things really started to click.
“I know we’ve all seen a dramatic increase in shows, payment and activity as soon as it [became] this [particular] group,” said Watje.
On the Decades website, the band advertises its musical range with the saying: “From Chuck Berry to Katy Perry,” and a comprehensive set list includes 10-20 songs from each of the different decades. “I just think, for the band to have more fun,” said drummer DiBono, “it keeps it refreshing to be able to play anything at any given time … which makes for a really unpredictable and fun set list, too.”
When asked about the transition from being in an original band to one doing covers, DiBono said the it was practically seamless. “We get the best of different music worlds in regard to learning how to play songs by our favorite artists, performing over 100 shows a year, and still having a chance to write and record songs,” he said, referring to the fact that the group does occasionally write and perform its own material as well.
On their debut album, Take Me Back, which came out earlier this summer, there are four ’50s-inspired originals, and eight covers, including “School Days” from Chuck Berry (whose influence is strongly felt on the band’s own “Little Girl”) and two made famous by Dion—“Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer.” The album was produced by Sylvia Massy (who has worked with everyone from Johnny Cash to Tool) and recorded at her Loud Palace Studios in Weed.
The band members are excited about the album, saying that the enthusiasm of the people with whom they worked made them even more enthusiastic about their efforts. “[They] really helped us hone in on the sound we were looking for,” said DiBono.
The majority of Decades’ shows are at casinos throughout the western United States, although they are looking to branch out from that circuit. While the band members said they enjoy playing all kinds of shows, they were all in agreement that “the bigger the audience, the more fun it is.” They also agreed that “weddings are stressful.” Ruttenburg recalled one reception in particular at which he was asked to announce the wedding party. Since he hadn’t been given the last name of the couple who had just gotten married, all he could announce was: “For the first time: The bride and groom!”
DiBono added that his extensive touring experience with The Secret Stolen gave him some useful insight into the work that goes into being in a band. “Music is an everyday thing,” he said, “If you’re not performing, you’re practicing. If you’re not practicing, you’re listening. It’s not just fun and games. Being in a band—it’s work.”