Rolling Stone hands cover to the Sheepdogs—winners of a Garnier Fructis contest—instead of Amy Winehouse

Dylan Stableford

The Beatles. The Stones. The Dead. The Who. Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Dylan. Zeppelin. Nirvana. Kurt Cobain. Clapton. Springsteen. Stevie Wonder. Michael Jackson. John and Yoko. Neil Young. Prince. Sting. Beastie Boys. Bowie. Madonna. Gaga.

The Sheepdogs.

The who?

It used to be that making the cover of the Rolling Stone was, arguably, rock music's highest honor--a sign that you or your band, after years of toiling in relative obscurity playing tiny booze-soaked clubs, had finally arrived. ("We take all kinds of pills that give us all kinds of thrills," Dr. Hook sang in a 1972 song called "The Cover of Rolling Stone." "But the thrill we never know is the thrill that'll getcha when you get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.")

Now, it could be simply because your band from Saskatoon picked up the most votes in an online contest sponsored by Garnier Fructis. That was the case this week, as Rolling Stone announced the winner of its "Do You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star?" competition, in which fans selected the Sheepdogs to grace the cover of the iconic magazine's 1137th issue. Its publication Friday makes the Sheepdogs the first-ever band or artist not signed to a major label to appear on Rolling Stone's cover.

More than 1.5 million votes were cast online, Rolling Stone said, with the "Canadian boogie rock revivalists" beating out 15 other bands--"American Idol"-style--for the honor.

The band, which formed in 2006, is thrilled.

In addition to the Rolling Stone cover, the Sheepdogs also won in the contest a recording contract with Atlantic Records, and performed on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" on Monday--the same day a billboard of the cover was unveiled in New York's Times Square. (Also part of the prize was an opening slot for the Canadian leg of the Kings of Leon tour, but that's up in the air as KOL cancelled the remainder of its tour after singer Caleb Followill's on-stage meltdown last weekend.)

Prior to winning the contest, Sheepdogs frontman Ewan Currie told the magazine, "s--- was bleak."

"I saw high school friends get jobs and get married and become adults," he said, "and I'm still pursuing this artistic dream where I have no money, no assets and a s---ty car I can't even afford to register."

The 'dogs rags-to-riches story, while undoubtedly fascinating to those unfamiliar with the Saskatchewan music scene, would've seemed to be slightly less important than the untimely death of Amy Winehouse—which is relegated to a coverline. Rolling Stone insists that the choice between the Sheepdogs and Winehouse for the cover was an editorial decision, and that they were not entirely locked into this date for the cover showcasing the contest winners. And obituaries are, historically, relatively rare cover choices for Rolling Stone.

"If news warranted, Rolling Stone always had the right to bump the cover to another issue," a spokesman for the magazine told the Cutline. "Not putting Amy Winehouse on our cover was strictly an editorial decision."

But it appears that a sponsor was necessary to get an emerging artist on the cover.

"The cover competition was something our editors have been looking to do for a while now," the spokesman said. "In order to do it on the scale the magazine wanted, we needed a sponsor."

The move is, of course, drawing some sniping from rival music magazine publishers.

"Would L'Oreal have allowed Rolling Stone to pick a band for the cover if they were all bald?" Andy Cohn, president and group publisher of The Fader, quipped on Twitter.

In the end, it could be that the business interests were placed ahead of editorial--with some good reason. Ad pages for Rolling Stone, which were flat in 2010, jumped 15 percent during the first half of the year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, a year removed from a marginal increase, and two from a 20 percent drop. And the magazine's print circulation through June—1,479,000 copies per issue—was virtually unchanged from a year ago.