When the Bad Examples were touring regularly in the 1990s, Springfield was one of the group’s favorite places to play. Bad Examples lead singer Ralph Covert returns to Springfield on Saturday with Ralph’s World, his kid-centric rock band.
When the Bad Examples were touring regularly in the 1990s, Springfield was one of the group’s favorite places to play.
“One of the radio stations down there started playing our songs, and it turned into this — I call it a competition between all the radio stations, where they all decided to play us to keep up with each other,” lead singer Ralph Covert said in a recent telephone interview.
“The first time we played Springfield, we had no idea that this was going on. And we showed up to play a show at the Lake Club II, and the place was a complete zoo. There were thousands of people there.
“We had no idea who they were there for. We knew it was a newer club, and we thought it was just some kind of a buzz to do with this new club.
“And to our shock and delight, we descended completely unwittingly into our own little Beatlemania experience in Springfield,” Covert said.
Covert returns to Springfield on Saturday with Ralph’s World, his kid-centric rock band. The group will perform in the morning at the University of Illinois Springfield, and then will give a private concert for patients and staff at St. John’s Children’s Hospital that afternoon. Sangamon Auditorium is promoting both performances.
Covert came to kids music by accident.
His daughter Fiona was enrolled in Wiggleworms, a kids music class at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, when Covert was asked to teach some of the classes.
“I think the exact thing I said was ‘No, I’m not your kindergarten guy,’ ” Covert said. But they kept asking and told Covert they wanted him to be himself in front of the class, so Covert finally agreed.
“I ended up having a blast with it. It was something I continued to do as my daughter was growing up just because I really enjoyed hanging with the kids and their parents. It was a real refreshing part of my week,” Covert said.
It took off in popularity, and before he knew what happened, Covert was playing shows and putting out records.
“It was not something that I planned to do,” Covert said.
“I remember an interview I read with Paul Simon from back in the ’70s, and they were asking him in the interview if he felt jealous of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. And he said, ‘Well, Mick’s audiences are people from age 19 to 26. My audiences are people aged 8 to 80. Why would I be jealous of somebody who has a fraction of the audience that I have?’ ”
Covert said he has embraced that outlook. “I played shows in Minneapolis and Madison (Wis.) over the weekend, and there were grandmas there that were shouting and screaming and singing and hooting in the audience just as loud as the 2-year-olds, and you can’t beat that,” Covert said.
“A big part of what I try to do with Ralph’s World is, instead of doing what a lot of folks do with kids music, which is thinking they have to dumb it down for the kids, I’ve tried to hold firm on the same level of musical quality,” Covert said. “In other words, trying to smarten it up, if you will.”
Kids have a shorter attention span, so instead of trying to simplify the songs to the point of blandness, Covert tries to engage the kids.
“If you think about it, most of the elements of what make a great song are pretty universal: a good, catchy beat, an inventive melody, fun word play, an interesting chord sequence, a strong emotional center,” Covert said. “I’ve not listed a single thing that is going to be different between a regular rock ’n’ roll song and a kids rock ’n’ roll song.
“The difference is in the subject matter: you tweak it slightly. So in a song that’s about, say, longing, you might be longing for a pet instead of longing for the love of your life. Either way, you’re longing for companionship,” Covert said.
It’s just an extension of the skills he developed writing, recording and performing with the Bad Examples.
With more than two decades as a musician, Covert has people approach him with kids at Ralph’s World shows to say they met or dated at Bad Examples concerts.
Sometimes his musical worlds collide, where he’ll play Ralph’s World songs at Bad Examples concerts (“Fee Fi Fo Fum”) or Bad Examples songs at Ralph’s World shows.
“The parents started shouting for ‘Not Dead Yet,’ ” Covert said. “The kids were jumping up and down and pumping their hands in the air — ‘I’m not dead yet!’ ”
Covert said the Bad Examples have plans to put out a new album and play about six shows a year. He has also seen success as a songwriter, with Styx’s version of his “Not Dead Yet” being used on the HBO show “Six Feet Under.”
Asked what that kind of success means, Covert says that while it’s nothing to shake a stick at, it’s not going to set one up for life.
“Life as a musician, as an artist, can be a lot of work, and you take a lot of knocks. When things like that happen, it’s gratifying. And moments like that allow you to catch your breath for a second and go, ‘OK. We’re not just gasping for air in a vacuum. There are people out there that are paying attention.’ ”
Recently, he said, a woman came up to him at a show and said she had sung one of his songs over and over again for four hours during contractions, and how much it meant to her.
“That’s as big as ‘Six Feet Under.’ They’re both equally important,” Covert said.
Brian Mackey can be reached at (217) 747-9587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fee Fi Fo Fum - Ralph's World