It’s not easy, being a rock legend. Especially if you have to be more than one.
Last month at Kleinhans Music Hall, Brody Dolyniuk took on the challenge of portraying Freddie Mercury in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s acclaimed tribute to Queen.
And he’s far from finished. Dolyniuk is returning to Kleinhans on Friday, this time as Mick Jagger in the BPO’s toast to the Rolling Stones.
How does he do it?
“I enjoy being versatile and doing different things,” he said on the phone. “I can jump from Freddie’s style to Mick’s style to Robert Plant’s style.” Oh, right, he also starred in the BPO’s tributes to Led Zeppelin. And the Who.
“I try to throw in a taste of the spirit of an artist without going there 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve seen a number of the really, really good impersonators that do Freddie Mercury to a ‘T,’ and I think it’s great, and there’s certainly a place for that. There are some guys who have really honed their skills. I always prefer to stay on the tongue-and-cheek side, keep it humorous. I always enjoy getting a laugh out of the audience, getting a rise out of them, but not being offensive or being corny.”
“But at the same time, a little bit of corny is good,” he reflected. “I like a little jest, I think, at heart.”
He is startlingly soft-spoken, compared with the powerhouse he is on stage.
“Brody Dolyniuk brought an undeniable energy to the stage,” ran The News’ review of the tribute to the Who. And in the recent Queen tribute, the crowd loved it as Dolyniuk, as a madcap Freddie Mercury, leapt off the stage and into seats.
“That’s me coming through,” Dolyniuk laughed, asked about that. “Growing up, I watched Warner Brothers cartoons. A little Bugs Bunny, a little Jim Carrey – these are TV icons that all share a little space with my spirit.”
First time as Freddie
The legends to whom Dolyniuk pays homages are famous for having the greatest voices in rock. It’s a marvel just to be able to hit the notes that Mercury or Plant hit. Jagger, with his unique personality, is also a tall order.
Dolyniuk, though, gracefully deflected praise.
“I was just an average Joe guy,” he said. “I see a lot of people out there who could do what I do.”
When he moved to Las Vegas, it was to be a mechanic. At night, after work, he began to sing at karaoke bars.
In a New Orleans-style piano bar, he heard dueling pianists playing classic hits. Dolyniuk knew some piano. He spoke with the pianists and, by the time he left the bar, he had been entered on a roster of musicians.
Before long, he was playing in a piano bar himself. And one night, a friend came in and, clowning, gave him a dollar-store pair of star-shaped sunglasses. A light went on: Dolyniuk assembled an Elton John band, Yellow Brick Road.
The road, he admits, had potholes.
“I was approaching casinos, and they all told me that wouldn’t work,” Dolyniuk said. “Everyone said, they want Top 40, they want this or that.”
Then luck struck. “We got thrown into a cattle call audition, 20 bands auditioning for a casino gig. We were the one at the end of the day that they wanted the most.”
After 14 years with Yellow Brick Road, Dolyniuk found a new path. In 2011, he auditioned for Windborne Music, the company led by Brent Havens responsible for most of the rock tributes with orchestras at concert halls. It was a big change. The first time he was about to step out on stage as Mercury, he was frozen with fear.
“I wasn’t nervous about performing,” he said. “I was nervous about performing with an orchestra. It was completely out of my comfort zone. It was probably only a couple of songs before I got comfortable. Once I loosened up and was myself again, I didn’t have to change anything. The audience responded in the same way they always do. I suppose that was a wonderful thing. It told me I was OK to just be myself. From that moment on, it just works every time. We’ve had some big, big crowds. We’ve played for 10,000 people, at some of those outdoor things. It’s a new experience.”
Dolyniuk only recently saw the Stones live for the first time, but it didn’t change his perception of them.
“Seeing it live was an affirmation of, that’s the guy I’ve seen and studied all these years,” he said.
Once, on stage as Jagger, Dolyniuk had a sudden inspiration. “I just spontaneously told the crowd, ‘Everyone stand up. I want to teach you Mick Jagger moves.’ I think that was in Houston. The entire crowd stood up and was waiting for instruction.” He laughed. “It was hilarious. Five thousand people doing Mick Jagger.”
Not every Stones song goes with orchestra. “My favorite song is ‘Shattered’; it’s such a quirky, upbeat song, with Jagger being his silliest. But we had to face reality, and it didn’t work with the orchestra well.”
Ballads work better. So does “Sympathy for the Devil.”
“It’s a kind of neat turning point in the show. We run a percussion loop in the background, and I get to turn loose a little, also get to sing in higher register when Mick is screaming. I stretch my vocal cords on that. The flip side of that is doing something like ‘Ruby Tuesday’ or ‘Wild Horses.’ It’s more of a musical moment. The strings and woodwinds are featured more. I love the balance of musicality and humor.
“ ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Angie’ are the most poignant and powerful musically – it’s the lyrical content, and the touch of despair. Any good love song really has an element of longing in it. Feeling the loss of a relationship that pulls on your heartstrings. Everyone has experienced that, whether it’s family or significant other. Anything that speaks to that is going to be moving. All you have to do is add strings to it, and it really gets you.”
Dolyniuk’s career has taught him life lessons.
“Don’t take no for an answer. When you know something is going to work, you got to go with it. I’m getting to sing my favorite music. I don’t do it because I have to; I do it because I love it. I’m happy to carry a torch for those artists.”