By Christina Fuoco Karasinski | February 8, 2021
John Colby’s career mirrors his business name: Chameleon Entertainment. He seamlessly veers from country to rock covers to ’80s music, depending on the venue’s preference.
Colby chalks up his 30-year success with Chameleon Entertainment and his music to friendship.
“The biggest thing about being in a band is the camaraderie,” says Colby, a Marcos de Niza High School graduate.
“The majority of the people I’ve played with have this bond on stage. When we play, we have to win over everybody in the room. Winning over people together is great.”
A Dublin, Ohio, native, Colby moved to the Valley in 1980 with dreams of being a professional baseball player. Music won the battle for his affection, especially after he purchased his first guitar, an electric Hondo.
His first band was called Zero Discipline, which evolved into The Trend. He continued with Method U, The Cells and Pop Culture. In 1995, Colby teamed with musicians like Stephanie Fox and Allan Chadwick to form The Chadwicks.
“We formed the cover band because we had done our own originals for such a long time,” says Colby, who was inspired by his father, folk singer Lewis Colby. “It just took off.”
The Chadwicks opened for anybody who was big in the 1990s, like Lit, Matchbox Twenty, Bryan Adams, Dishwalla and Sugar Ray. Sponsored by Miller, The Chadwicks played Milwaukee’s Summerfest but were initially unaware of the event’s magnitude.
“We didn’t know what Summerfest was,” Colby says with a laugh. “Our plane was already late getting there. Our guitar player’s guitar didn’t show up on time. We didn’t know there would be 10,000 people there.
“They took us in this van, and we went from an airplane to a van to 8,000 people within a half hour.”
The Chadwicks were successful, but they were being stretched fairly thin. A club owner suggested Colby start a second band, an offshoot, to pick up the extra gigs.
“We were just playing too much as The Chadwicks,” he says. “The club said, ‘Why don’t you put an ’80s band together?’ So, I did.”
Colby quickly pulled together Rock Lobster on New Year’s Eve 1996. Chameleon Entertainment was formed as an umbrella for both bands.
Chameleon Entertainment snowballed. Colby founded Metalhead, an ’80s hair metal band, in 2003. Country’s Georgia Chrome made its way to the stage in 2013 for the opening of Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row. Smashed was formed around the same time, combining all of Colby’s bands.
“We do everything from ‘Baby Got Back’ to The Weeknd,” Colby says. “We do country as well, depending on the show. Our lead singer is a fiddle player. Jessica Jackson is the lead singer of Georgia Chrome, Rock Lobster and Smashed.”
Echoing the sentiment of others in the music industry, Colby says the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough.
“I do a lot of booking as well,” says Colby, who handles music for Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, Wasted Grain, Eastmark and DC Ranch. “I know hundreds of musicians who are out of work. It’s such a tough year for this group of people.
“It’s hard to top the energy of being on stage. It’s so much fun.”
It’s still fun for Colby to play covers. When he was playing originals in high school, he thought less of cover bands. Now, he realizes, it’s all music.
“Playing in cover bands or theme bands is a lot of work,” he says. “You have to keep it going and keep it fresh and keep everybody motivated. It’s worth the work.”