Despite new diplomacy with Cuba, playing there is still not about making money.
The classic rock veterans who make up the band The Dead Daisies will slake their curiosity about Cuba when they fly to Havana at the end of February to give a concert at the historic outdoor dance hall El Tropical, a shrine to cha-cha-cha and a choice venue for contemporary Cuban salsa bands.
At the concert, dubbed "Cuba Rocks for Peace," The Dead Daisies will be joined on stage by Cuban artists David Blanco and Anima Mundi.
The show has been in the works since last year, but the timing couldn't be better. When The Dead Daises play on Feb. 28, their show will be seen by Cubans and Americans alike as a symbol of the much-publicized renewed relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.
Under new regulations that went into effect in January, the band members will be able to use their American credit cards instead of having to bring enough cash to last them their weeklong trip. And, with the abolition of a per diem rule that ostensibly kept American citizens from contributing to the Cuban economy, they can spend as much as they want while in Havana. When they come back, they'll be able to bring with them $400 worth of souvenirs from the island, and a decent supply of rum and Cuban cigars.
But they still won't get paid.
The recent amendments to Treasury Department regulations under the 1963 Trading With the Enemy Act, which put the embargo in place, includes a "performance" clause that makes it easier for musicians to play in Cuba. Instead of having to apply for a special license from the U.S. government for permission to go to Cuba to perform, American artists can now travel more freely under a general license. They can book their tickets for Havana, provided that the purpose of their trip is to participate in a show for a Cuban audience, music workshops or other educational and cultural events.
So as far as legal compensation is concerned, The Dead Daisies trip will be no different than when Audioslave went to Cuba in 2005 and performed for a reported 70,000 people at a seaside open-air concert in Havana. The Dead Daisies itinerary, which includes visits to Havana's famed music schools and jam sessions with Cuban artists, recalls that of 1999's Music Bridges project, which brought Me'Shell NdegeOcello, Bonnie Raitt, current Blue Note president Don Was and other American artists to Havana for a cultural exchange with their Cuban counterparts.
The Dead Daisies will tread worn diplomatic ground, including attending a cocktail party with Cuban cultural officials, and giving a press conference for Cuban and Havana-based media. And that's fine with Marco Mendoza, The Dead Daisies bassist known for his playing with Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake.
"Music should always be considered as a common denominator for people to get together and share experiences," says Mendoza, who lives in Los Angeles.
"Cuba has always been on my list of places to go," he adds, expressing the sentiments of other artists in the band. "Cuba's been off the map, so to speak, and I was always very curious to go see how the other half lives."
Members of The Dead Daisies have a formidable rock resume among them. The band, which first came together in 2012, features guitarist Richard Fortus (Guns N' Roses, Psychedelic Furs), keyboardist Dizzy Reed (Guns N' Roses, Hookers & Blow), guitarist David Lowy (Mink, Red Phoenix), and Brian Tichy (Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol) on drums. Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones, Sting, Peter Gabriel), John Corabi (Motley Crue, RATT) and Bernard Fowler (Rolling Stones) will also be joining them in Havana.
"The goal of the band is to create new classic rock," Mendoza says. The Dead Daisies have toured with Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company. After the Havana trip, they will join KISS on their upcoming European dates.
The San Diego-born Mendoza, who grew up in Tijuana and later lived in Mexico City, has long had an interest in Cuban music. He has his own salsa project on the side, and relationships with Cuban musicians in L.A.
"Rock is where I would like to help to open the doors and help make a connection," he notes. "I know there are some amazing players [in Havana]. It's just a matter of connecting."
Mendoza is taking his role as rock ambassador seriously, and is arranging donations with the companies he endorses. He's planning on taking a couple hundred sets of bass strings, amplifiers, guitars, and "a couple thousand picks" to Havana, to be donated to music schools and musicians.
With the embargo against Cuba still in place, U.S. regulations continue to specify that artists travel there with the intention to "support civil society in Cuba," not take care of business. While it is not yet known when changes will allow bands to test the Cuban market for profitable touring, expect to hear about more U.S. bands to going there in the coming months to rock some kumbaya.
"Maybe we can make a little difference with our trip," Mendoza says. "I would like to see the lines of connection open so the exchange can really begin."