It's hard to imagine two people who do loosely the same thing being more different than Giles Taylor and Doug Benson. Taylor, a classically trained actor and musician from the UK, plays the stunning role of Freddie Mercury in the show, "Queen—It's a Kinda Magic," while Benson, a former hard-traveling optical engineer from San Diego, sings Johnny Cash songs with his band Cash'd Out.
Taylor got his start impersonating Mercury though a rigorous and worldwide audition process to be a part of the large-scale show from esteemed production company Showtime Australia. He practices religiously, watching hours of footage of Mercury's performances throughout his career, trains with vocal and endurance coaches for his on-stage performance, and doesn't talk for hours before shows to preserve his voice. Alternatively, Benson said he hates to practice, and got his start singing along with Johnny Cash tapes on the road for his former career. When he would land in a strange town and tell the cab driver to take him to the nearest bar, if there was a karaoke machine, he would light it up with a Cash tune.
Funny, that both Taylor and Benson will take the stage in Bend this week, performing their respective tributes to two legendary and influential rock artists. Both acts, while very different in approach, are worth seeing and are some of the premier tribute acts to their respective bands. The Source interviewed the two front men, cover to cover, to find out how they both approach their craft.
Source Weekly: When was the first time you heard the artist that you would later impersonate?
Giles Taylor: My earliest memory was listening to Queen's Greatest Hits, on my ride to school with my father. I'm of the generation everyone's father had Queen's Greatest Hits, and played it to death.
Doug Benson: I don't remember the first time I heard Johnny Cash. My dad and mom were very strict Christians; all I ever really heard in our house was gospel that they would buy from the traveling singers. I asked my dad why he didn't play Johnny Cash because he does some gospel stuff and my dad said he thought that he talked instead of singing. I think I started listening to him in 1998; that's all I ever listened to after.
SW: How do you study for your role?
GT: Playing this role is probably one of the biggest challenges I've ever had. I had a West End career and was offered very big roles. Without sounding too smug, they wouldn't have taken half the effort this does. To sing this stuff you're blending opera and pop, which is a technique that I didn't have any idea about. The man [Mercury] does not stop moving when he's on stage. I had to do a lot of fitness and training.
The production team has seen every bit of footage that exists of Queen. We decided what we liked from this show and that show. We are trying to put all the best performances in two hours. We also have Peter Freestone, Freddie's personal assistant who can suggest nuances and tell us what Freddie was thinking. We have direct access to that. It's an amazing treat.
DB: I'm still finding stuff out about him [Cash]. I never looked at videos. I don't practice. I'm not trying to imitate him at all. People ask me, "Do you stand in the mirror and practice? You look like him," and I didn't even know what I was doing. I was just doing it. It was just what you have to do it to make that tone come out. He had like 3,500 songs that he wrote and recorded, and who knows how many unreleased there are. Over the 10 years I've been doing this I've maybe learned close to 300.
SW: What is your favorite song to perform?
GT: If I can have two, one is "Seven Seas of Rhye." It's me and the piano, the guys are going flat out, everybody knows it. It's like going to an ABBA tribute and seeing "Dancing Queen."
The second one is "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's the hardest to preform live, a lot of other tributes don't even attempt it, especially when it gets to the middle section. I spent months learning the piano part.
DB: I love 'em all. If there's one song the one I always loved it's "Wreck of an Old '97." It's one of my favorites, but so are the other 300.
SW: Did you ever think you would be where you are today, impersonating this idol?
GT: No. I'm actually enjoying it so much more than I thought I would. For example, one of my favorite things about the show is the costume. It's like dress up for adults. There is this hand-made gorgeous velvet cape I wear and I'm only on stage for 2.5 minutes with this thing!
DB: No, never even crossed my mind. My goal was just to put a little band together and maybe once every couple months or something play a little dive bar and get drunk and laugh and have fun playing music.
Cash'd Out at Munch and Music
5:30 pm, Thu., July 31
Drake Park | Free
"Queen—It's a Kinda Magic"
8 pm, Sat., Aug. 2
Tower Theatre | $49-$59