Billy Idol was the beautiful bad boy of punk rock, and the darling of the MTV era. Everything about him screamed loud and pissed off. With his metal-studded tight leather jackets and pants, finger-less gloves making fists, crosses on chains, nearly-white spiked hair, he was sensuality and defiance personified.
The English musician, singer, songwriter and actor first achieved fame in the 1970s, emerging from the London punk rock scene as a member of Generation X. He then embarked on a solo career, moving to New York City in the 1980s.
With his partner in crime on guitar, Steve Stevens, in tow, along with his twisted metaphorical lyrics about sex and drugs on his sneering lips, the brooding, naughty rocker clawed his way to the top of the charts. Fans, especially the ladies, couldn't get enough of monster hits like "Eyes Without a Face," "White Wedding," "Dancing with Myself," "Mony Mony," "Flesh for Fantasy," and his signature anthem "Rebel Yell."
There was no denying he borrowed a bit from Elvis, if the leather outfits, the lip-curl and jerry curl were any indication. But the whole package, the "I don't give a s—” attitude, being different, not just looking different, was Idol inside and outside of music. He lived the lyrics he wrote until he realized it was time for Peter Pan to give up fast life with the Lost Boys and grow up. But his music continued to make a difference.
Idol was part of the MTV-driven "Second British Invasion,” becoming a staple on the network. The Rebel Yell album (1983) was certified double platinum, selling 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. The music video for "White Wedding" and "Dancing with Myself" were played repeatedly in heavy rotation on MTV for months.
In 1986, he released Whiplash Smile, which sold well. The album included the hits "To Be a Lover," "Don't Need a Gun" and "Sweet Sixteen."
Idol released a 1988 greatest hits album entitled Idol Songs: 11 of the Best — the album went platinum in the U.K. Idol then released two studio albums, Charmed Life (1990) and the concept album Cyberpunk (1993).
He left an indelible mark on the musical landscape, a "rebel yell" that is still heard today. Craig Knight with Generation Idol recreates an unforgettable night of classic Billy Idol music spanning nearly four decades in their honest, heartfelt tribute they bring to the Harrah's Laughlin stage as part of the Summer Beach Concert Series on Saturday, July 27.
The well-versed band faithfully captures the spirit of Idol live in concert playing all his mega-hits including “Mony Mony,” “Dancing With Myself,” “White Wedding,” “Rebel Yell,” “Flesh For Fantasy,” “Eyes Without A Face,” “Cradle Of Love,” “Hot In The City,” and so much more.
They've performed in major cities across Texas, Georgia, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Ohio, Nevada and their home state of California. Knight had an extended residency with Planet Hollywood's "Superstars on Stage," and has performed for Vince Neil's Las Vegas Outlaws Arena Football League halftime show at Thomas & Mack, as well as the "Rock Fantasy Tribute Show" at Hooters Casino in Vegas.
Generation Idol also appeared on AXS TV's "The World's Greatest Tribute Bands," in 2016.
Knight not only nails the vocals, but personifies the whole lip-curling, sneering, swagger and attitude that was Idol. Now joined by Ben Morris as Steve Stevens, the tribute is a nostalgic flashback to those days when everybody was proclaiming "I want my MTV!" It all began for Knight years ago, when he realized he had an undeniable passion for the artist and his music.
"I started performing professionally as Billy Idol in Las Vegas in 2003, just as a solo. It was on the Las Vegas Strip in 2003, I was working at the Imperial Palace actually," Knight told the Laughlin entertainer. "What's funny, the first time I ever performed as Billy was in my high school talent show in 1983.
"The funniest thing about that is when you run into people from high school and they're like, 'what are you doing these days?' It sounds silly, but it's almost embarrassing," he added with a laugh.
"Before I started doing this tribute, I was a musician all my life and I always liked Billy Idol. I was a big fan and later I moved on to L.A., and played music through L.A. like a lot of us people in tributes do. We didn't just pop up out of nowhere.
"I guess the band officially started about seven years," he added. "So, we've been around and put our dues in and played all over.
"Putting the Generation Idol band together has been a process," Knight said. "At first I wondered if Billy had enough songs to sustain a show, and then I started researching and listening and watching and remembering. He not only created his own songs, he recorded covers and made them his own, like Tommy James' 'Mony Mony,' — I discovered there was more than enough material.
"We've always had some good guys in the band. The last three years, I've had one guy in particular, Ben Morris, he's my Steve Stevens. I knew when he came in it was gonna take a little bit to grow, but he was the guy. I've looked at guys for 20 years, since 2003, when I was thinking about doing this and he's the guy and he's the guy that's grown into it. Now it's me, him and I've got one of my original bass players in the band, Joey Alva. He's been with me about six years, too, off and on because he plays in other groups, too. We usually have a mystery drummer playing with us every show.
"My challenge has been not just finding and having good musicians in the band, but I wanted guys who had the same love for the music as I do, the same vision and somebody who seemed like a natural fit in the guitarist position, like Ben," he added. "So it's been a process of bringing these guys together. But we're having so much fun and we're able to do so many wonderful things and enjoy the music of Billy Idol with all these people, but kind of in a different way.
"We have a couple drummers but they're so good they're out on national tours, but we don't really give 'em up. Our drummer has to be one of the best and when they are at that level, they're just incredible musicians. A great drummer really makes for a great band," Knight explained. "So that's our secret on that. We've always got a rock-star mystery drummer with us."
Knight particularly loves how people still respond to Idol's music.
"I'm sure Billy gets it, but it's amazing how many people his music relates to and that we can bring his music to them, too, with an honest approach and respect," Knight said. "I'm sure we don't always play for just the pure Billy Idol fans, but those who appreciated his music back in the day. I guess our best compliment is when they say, 'You know, I forgot how many great songs he had.' Our show reminds them of all the great music he created." One of the bands biggest highlights was when Idol's bass player, Stephen McGrath, and a friend jumped on stage with them during a performance.
"He came out with us back in 2016 and he and his friend straight up jumped on stage with me and one of the drummers and played several songs. Then they sat back and talked with us for about an hour.
"We had a chance to talk about how they go through songs and how we go through songs as musicians and we run into the same issues where we need to make things happen," he said. "It's almost refreshing to have them run into the same issues we do and to know everybody struggles and it's something we just have to work through. You get to laugh at some of that stuff and it's kind of ironic — we definitely have things in common. I thought it was a generous thing for Billy to do, letting his bass player come out with us, even though he wasn't there. The fact that one of his guys came out to rep him was cool and cordial. It was a great compliment that he would stand on stage with us."
Knight is particularly happy to share that music for the Harrah's Laughlin Beach Concert Series.
"We're thrilled to be part of this series Harrah's has put together, because we are in really good company," Knight added. "It just adds credence to what we're doing and it means a lot to us to be taken seriously as musicians.
"We've all been musicians doing our own thing, long before we became part of the tribute business, but it's crazy how much more the phone rings and how much more work we've gotten because of the tribute business," he said. "It just seems like the last six months, it's really been catching fire. We've been playing better venues and things have been coming around, hopefully pivoting us to a really good next 2020. We'd love to rock this show and win it back for next year and have more shows like it next year.
The tribute has proved to be a rewarding experience for both the band and fans.
"For us, that means people still love the music and connect to the music and we love the reaction we get when people come and experience our shows," he said. "Watching people sing the lyrics with us word-for-word is pretty cool, too. When we do 'Rebel Yell' everyone is up out of their seats and singing and dancing. We love it and we can't wait for the Harrah's beach show."