A funny thing happened to Chris VanDahl on the road to becoming an original artist.
He decided to “walk this way” instead and ended up on the path to becoming a successful Steven Tyler tribute artist who is currently appearing in “Legends in Concert” at Harrah’s.
Yes, dude looks like a Tyler twin in real life and says he can’t go anywhere without being stopped by people because of his natural resemblance to the Aerosmith frontman. Moreover, VanDahl handsomely gives “Legends” its piece of the rock with his right-on impersonation of Tyler’s singing, mannerisms, costumes, and persona.
I’ve been doing this going on eight years,” VanDahl says. “Ironically, I had a whole career as an original artist, playing everything from laundromats to arenas in Detroit. Admittedly, it was frustrating trying to forge my way in the music business. I was in northern Michigan recording with my band called Pack of Wolves for which the guitar player was Kenny Olsen from Kid Rock and the base player was Adam Kury from Candlebox. That’s when I got a call from a guy, referred by a mutual friend, who knew what I looked like and was looking for a lead singer for an Aerosmith tribute band.
“But the guy lived 3,000 miles away and, plus, being a tribute artist was the last thing I was going to do,” he continues. “But we became friends by phone and he was very persistent. Eventually, I made my way to California, I was there for a year before I decided to check out the band. I went to the rehearsal space and played with them – they were horrible but the guy was a great guitar player. I took him aside and told him that my condition of joining the band was that he had to get rid of all the guys except for himself. He agreed and that was the beginning of Aeromyth, my tribute band.”
It proved to be a fortuitous move. According to VanDahl, in one year, Aeromyth went from being a $50-a-night dive bar band to performing internationally at festivals and other big events.
“No one was more surprised than me,” he admits. “But that’s when I embraced it.”
Then, one night, VanDahl was working a corporate event with a Michael Jackson impersonator named Damian Brantley. After watching VanDahl perform, Brantley told him that he had to check out “Legends in Concert.” VanDahl filed the suggestion in the back of his mind. He then ended up in a band with a guitar player named Jimmy Crespo, who had actually replaced Joe Perry in Aerosmith from 1979-85. VanDahl moved to Las Vegas five years ago to work with Crespo and formed with him the Jimmy Crespo Project, which, unfortunately, didn’t last long. It was then that VanDahl remembered about “Legends in Concert.”
“I pursued it because I had an idea for a spinoff show -- a legends in rock show -- but they weren’t ready for it,” he recalls. “But the next day, I got a call offering me a four-month contract in ‘Legends in Concert.' That was almost four years ago. I’ve spent the last three-and-a-half years traveling with the show and this is my first time in Las Vegas. With Steven Tyler’s success on American Idol, it was thought that it might work.
“I had a chance to meet Steven when he performed at the MGM Grand in 2003 through a friend who had a meet-and-greet package,” he adds. “It was 3 in the afternoon and he was wearing a ratty t-shirt, jeans, and sneaks, and he jumped up and threw his arms around me. We hung out the rest of the day. He is warm, energetic, and has an infectious personality. After his show, he asked me to come to L.A. but I couldn’t because I was leaving the next day for a six-month gig in Hawaii. He then invited me to Maui where he had bought a home. The last time I saw him was in Maui. He’s now in the process of signing a solo artist deal with the largest country music company in the world.”
VanDahl says that his greatest challenge in impersonating Tyler is sounding like him, noting that Tyler has an incredible range. At home in his studio, he put Aerosmith’s songs on a track and opened a mic and recorded himself singing over the track until he could get as close as he could to Tyler’s voice. He says that the rest of the portrayal comes easily because he and Tyler are cut from very similar cloth. Although he didn’t really study Tyler, Van Dahl pays very close attention to his facial expressions because Tyler is very animated. Van Dahl cut his own music tracks and created the video of Aerosmith performing that plays behind him on stage so that he could emulate what is happening on the screen as he performs.
“Doing a 11-12 shows a week, it becomes second nature,” VanDahl says about impersonating Tyler in “Legends” in which he does six Aerosmith songs including “Walk This Way,” “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” “Come Together,” "Love in an Elevator,” “Sweet Emotion,” and “Dream On.” “However, it’s difficult and it takes its toll because of the extreme amount of physical showmanship. I never put down the microphone stand and it weighs 20 pounds. It gets exhausting. The only thing I can do when I get home is go to sleep.”
Still, that’s when he can “dream on” about what it will feel like to “come together” with the rest of the “Legends” cast the next night and do what he loves – perform as Steven Tyler in this award-winning tribute show.