Vail: ‘Queen music in their blood’
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –Mike McManus, who brings his Queen tribute band to Vail Tuesday, is a man obsessed. The lead guitarist for Queen Nation mastered the vocals for every song on The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album by age six. And so began his obsession with classic rock music, and especially Queen.
When McManus was contacted by lead singer Joe Retta to join Queen Nation, it was a calling he had been training for his whole life. Always a perfectionist, McManus set out to transcribe the harmonies and rock tunes of Queen. His work was so respected that he received an endorsement from Burns Guitars, the maker of the Brian May guitar “Red Special.”
Queen Nation rocks Vail Tuesday night, so break out your leggings, tease your hair, and don’t forget your stonewashed black jeans.
Vail Daily: What is Queen Nation’s main focus?
Mike McManus: To try to emulate as close as possible the 1980 “The Game” tour. It’s pretty much song for song the set list that Queen did back in 1980 because “The Game” is obviously their most popular album, at least in America. Of course, we throw in some songs that came later like “The Show Must Go On,” which was off their last album and “I Want to Break Free” that is off their album, “The Works” and a couple other songs. But for the most part we focus on “The Game” Tour.
VD: The “Red Special” is Brian May’s guitar, and it is almost as famous as the player himself. What would you give to play that guitar?
MM: That is a good question! It would probably be one of those great things I would check off my personal bucket list before I die. Let’s just say that I’m not putting it past me. I will play that one day. Luckily I have a replica of “The Red Special” that was made by the Burns Company in London. So when you come to see us you will be seeing an exact replica of that guitar.
VD: What’s your favorite Queen song, or any song from the last half of the 20th century?
MM: I can’t answer that. It would depend on my mood. Any great artists, whether it’s the Beatles or any band that was as diverse as Queen was, every song fits a different mood. There’s way too many good ones. Man, that’s the hardest question you could ask me. Let’s just say I never get sick of playing “Somebody to Love.” And yes, we will play that.
VD: Queen Nation was formed in 2004 and each of the four members “plays” a different member of the original Queen band. What is it like to be Brian May?
MM: You know he was the reason that I play guitar, so it really wasn’t a stretch for me to try and emulate him. His guitar playing made such an impact on my own guitar playing that even when I’m not playing Queen songs, it pretty much sounds Brian May-esq. I actually got to meet him about a year ago and I told him that he was the reason I play guitar. I waited 30 years to do that. It was surreal to meet him. He was at a book signing in L.A., and what do you say when you are given an allotted 30 seconds with someone who has made such an impact on your life? All I could say was ‘thank you for being the reason I play guitar and make music.’
He was genuinely appreciative and humbled. He’s a nice guy. I am exactly the same height, the same weight as he was in 1980, and we have the same hair and features. It would be a lot more difficult for me to emulate Meatloaf.
VD: You were one of the founders of the hard rock band EGODOG, and you created the musically animated Uncle Moondog. Do you think Queen Nation is the culmination of all of your hard work?
MM: I wish I had a crystal ball to answer that. Back when I was doing EGODOG if someone told me that I’d be in a Queen Tribute band and playing for 30,000 people in Las Vegas for New Years Eve, I’d tell them they were crazy. That’s one of the cool things in life, sometimes you get thrown these wacky curveballs that make your life that much more interesting. Same thing with Uncle Moodog. I don’t have children but I wanted to do a kids album and next thing you know my films and music (two albums) are shown at children’s film festivals all over the world. I guess music has actually been really good to me over the last decade or so and has enabled me to go to many places and meet a lot of cool people.
VD: Who out of your band is the most Queen obsessed?
MM: Me. Me, without a doubt. When Joe called me it was one of those things where he called me because a lot of the guitar players before me really struggled with the intricate music. He really needed someone who had Queen music in their blood since they were 10 years old. Luckily I got the call and hopefully I have raised the bar for the other guys. I’m a perfectionist bordering on anal-retentive about the music.
VD: What can the people of Vail expect from a live show at the Amphitheater?
MM: They can expect to be taken back to 1980, arena-rock that is huge. You don’t really get a chance to see shows in big arenas today. Back in the ’70s and ’80s everyone played arenas. It didn’t matter if you were Molly Hatchet or U2, everyone played them. Vail can expect an awesome rock show. How four guys from Southern California are going to rock out at 8,000 feet in elevation when we are used to eight feet is a mystery!
What: Queen Nation
Where: Gerald Ford Amphitheater, Vail
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
More information: Visit http://www.vvf.org