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Dennis Zimmer

By Gary Wien

There's something interesting going on in the world of New Jersey cover bands. Several of the most popular groups are taking a break from performing Bon Jovi classics in front of their usual throngs of fans. Instead, they're finding themselves in clubs where a couple dozen people could be called a good night. In other words, they're taking a stab at the original music scene.

Two of the major players in this movement include the popular bands Big Orange Cone and The Benjamins. The former currently has front man Dennis Zimmer touring under his own name in support of his debut CD as well as members playing in the band Full Out Freak. The latter has decided to mix original music shows within the band's schedule.

Historically, fans of NJ cover bands have not show support for local original music. Dennis Zimmer hopes to slowly change that, and in fact, at his early shows there are signs that he's making some inroads. His performances at venues like Stingers (Long Branch) and the Stone Pony (Asbury Park) won over new fans and led to return bookings. I talked with Dennis before a show in Asbury Park about going the original route.

You're used to playing in front of hundreds and thousands of people, why take a chance at playing to dozens?
Desire, just desire. It's the challenge. I want to breathe a little bit and have some fun. I've had plenty of fun and still am having fun with Big Orange Cone, but it's just desire. During the day I have a lot of time to write, so I've been sitting down in that basement and spending a lot of time creating music. It's fun.

There's a vision that I've had. I'm a huge Black Crows fan, huge Stones fan, Lenny Kravitz - I just always loved the way a rock and roll band with a couple of girls in the back looked. And to have this vision and watch it come together. It felt so good to have this picture in my mind out there.

For a while it's going to fall on some deaf ears, but I think it'll turn around.

What was it like during that first show at Stinger's? You're used to seeing that flood of people in front of you. What was it like to play again for a dozen or so?
It felt great! I was so excited about it. It's a new challenge.

Is that how you felt about making your debut album?
Yeah, every step in the process of getting it out there is exciting. It's exciting despite these small crowds. And I'm definitely coming out at a tough time. The first show was in the middle of November; the second show was the end of November; the third show is two weeks before Christmas. It's a tough time to launch. I think some of those Cone people will get on it eventually. They'll come check it out - out of curiousity.

Can you build on the Cone audience or do you think that they're two separate audiences?
I'll have a few curiousity seekers and some die hards that will be interested. There definitely will be a small infiltration of Cone people, but I'm not expecting the masses to come over because they want to hear us play Bon Jovi and Blink 182. I'll get some, but I'm not expecting the masses.

But let's call a spade a spade. If Big Orange Cone was playing a Wednesday night at the Stone Pony in the middle of a freezing night two weeks before Christmas, I don't think we'd be doing all that great anyway. And that's another reason it's tough because I have to do it on the nights that people don't like to go out. But I have no choice, the Cone takes precedent right now.

So will you be doing Cone shows while trying to squeeze in original shows here and there?
Yeah, well that's my plan - pursue them side by side. I know what I have with the Cone and I'm not going to screw that up. It's a great thing we've built.

Like Big Orange Cone, another big cover band in the Benjamins have started doing original shows now. Is there any particular reason why this is happening now? Or is it just coincidence?
That's a great question. I don't know. Maybe it's just a gut feeling.

Sort of like maybe the time is right?
The ship may turn because in the early 90s it was all about girls flocking to original bands now they flock to cover bands.

Now the Benjamins are going out as the Benjamins. The only confusion they're going to run into is if they say The Benjamins at the Stone Pony; people may come here hoping to hear them play Bon Jovi perhaps. I've gone completely separate. Big Orange Cone / Dennis Zimmer - one's cover and one's original. The Benjamins may draw but people may be wondering where the Bon Jovi songs are. They have to really specify that this is an original show.

I guess it's just gut. It seems that lately the gut tells us to get on it... to get something going.

You can hear tracks from Dennis Zimmer's debut record, In My Head, and see where he's playing at his official website

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at

For more by this author, click here

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Event calendar
Saturday, Jan 25, 2020


WHISKEY CROSSING @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

An Evening with Tony Award Winner Debbie Gravitte and the Russ Kassoff Little Big Band @ The Avenel Performing Arts Center, Avenel - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

BRIAN WILSON: GREATEST HITS LIVE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Jim's Big Ego @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 8:00pm

Brubeck Brothers Quartet @ Berrie Center for the Arts, Ramapo College of NJ, Mahwah - 8:00pm

Lunar New Year Celebration @ Prudential Hall @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 7:30pm

The Sixties Show @ The Newton Theatre, Newton - 8:00pm

Little River Band @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Bob Mould Sunshine Rock Winter 2020 Solo Electric @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm

Ethical Brew presents: Reggie Harris & Greg Greenway "Deeper Than The Skin" @ Ethical Brew/Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, NJ, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Shaky Show @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm


Pygmalion [#NotMyFairLady] @ Black Box Performing Arts Center, Englewood - 8:00pm

All Shook Up @ George Frey Center for Arts/Fair Lawn Community Center, Fair Lawn, NJ - 2:00pm and 7:00pm

The Diary of a Mother @ Hackensack Performing Arts Center (HACPAC), Hackensack - 7:00pm

RITZ KIDZ - The Pied Piper @ The Ritz Theatre, Haddon Twp - 10:00am and 1:00pm

Brighton Beach Memoirs @ Algonquin Arts Theatre, Manasquan - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Class Act Performing Arts Studio Presents: #ThrowBackTheatre @ Hamilton Stage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 2:00pm and 7:00pm


Nai Ni Chen Chinese New Year Celebration, Year of the Golden Rat @ Victoria Theater @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 2:00pm


Toy Story 4 @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 2:00pm

New Jersey Film Festival Spring 2020 Screening @ Voorhees Hall #105, New Brunswick - 7:00pm

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