Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Christmas Show

Welcome to the Blog of the Year. 

Looking back, it was November 2016, after having posted 150 blogs in four years, that I took a break from blogging about The WannaBeatles. The next year, 2017, I posted only one blog, about our working up a medley of songs from 1967, an enjoyable fresh musical project for us.

Here it is 2018, near the end of the year, and The WannaBeatles have again engaged a project that feels like a big creative step forward, so it’s worth writing about. 

Expanding Our Boundaries

We accepted an invitation to play a Christmas show, December 3, at Tellico Village Baptist Church, in Loudon, Tennessee. 

Here's the poster that was made by superimposing Santa hats on our heads.

It’s all new material, over an hour in performance, ranging from traditional Christmas Carols to familiar favorites. It also includes four original songs, one from each group member, all very different from each other but appropriate for the occasion. 

The inclusion of the original material represents a major breakthrough in our history. We’re all songwriters, which is part of how and why the Beatles inspired us. And yet, it’s been a struggle to work that portion of our identity into what we end up presenting to the public. So this opportunity to include our own songs into our setlist, even though there’s a lot of work involved, is also deeply gratifying, and an encouraging sign for our future.

The deadline of December 3 gave us a big challenge, selecting all the songs, working up our own arrangements, and figuring out the right order. From three months out, with all the other gigs we had, we realized that even rehearsing weekly would be inadequate time to prepare. It felt like trying to design and construct a two story house in a few weeks. 

Pastor Charlie

An important part of this story is our relationship with Charlie Barnard, the pastor of the church. He first hired us in 2015, for a community picnic in their church parking lot. It turned out to be a rainy day, so they moved the show indoors, to their fellowship hall, which accommodated 700 people. It was packed, and the people loved what we did. 

That first visit, July 2015, was documented in this blog:

And here’s a quote: 

To give you an idea of Charlie's sense of adventure, here's the photo we got of him and his wife Teresa on their Yamaha motorcyle:


And when we returned in April 2016, it produced another blog:

And here’s another quote, demonstrating what a generous down-to-earth guy Charlie is:

When we arrived, we were greeted by Charlie and several other church members ready to help us unload.

So this year, Charlie invited us to play a Christmas show. Because it’s in the church sanctuary rather than the fellowship hall, and because it’s during Christmas season, it makes sense that we would tailor the songs to suit the occasion. 

Because two WannaBeatles, David and Nathan, are professionally employed as church musicians, they have experience in this area. WannaBeatle David, in particular, has seen in this show the opportunity to establish a more worshipful attitude for the congregation. 

It was with this goal in mind that David suggested “Have You Heard” as an opening song - a slow anthemic song written twenty years ago by my wife Holly and me. David has performed the song several times at his church, so he knows it well. I was open to the idea, seeing that the song would be appropriate, but not motivated to advocate its inclusion. My song was being promoted by someone else. That was one of the first signs that this would be a special gig.

Much of our discussion bounced between two different schools of thought: David’s traditional church worship experience contrasting with Dennis’s far more secular impulses as an entertainer. For Dennis, making the crowd happy is job number one, and in his experience, a song like “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” does the job. David, while aware of the professional requirements of our performance, is also thinking of a church service, and the reverential attitude that certain sacred music can help elicit. 

We’ve never been in a situation like this before. It’s a concert in a church, but not a church “service.” We’re not sure exactly how to walk that line. So it’s a process, taking what is valuable from each particular approach, along with conversations with Charlie about what he wants and expects. In a sense, Charlie is our employer, so our job is to fulfill his expectations. 

Part of what makes Charlie an effective leader is the wisdom to recognize and encourage the creative ability in other people And he has given us lots of room for coming up with things that we believe will work. He trusts us. And that has given us the chance to pursue our own creative abilities and desires, as individuals and as a group.

The WannaBeatles have been expanding our boundaries. We started by concentrating on Beatles songs, then opened up the repertoire with a medley of songs from 1967, none of them by the Beatles. And now we’re working up an even more diverse show, which includes only two Beatles songs, out of nearly two dozen. 

It’s a big stretch for us, producing a mixture of pride and exhaustion. We’re excited to be working on a new show, putting lots of creative touches into the music, while feeling the pressure of getting all the new material ready, squeezing extra rehearsals into our schedules, and still not sure we have everything down.

Dennis, as the experienced show biz pro, has brought in classic songs like “Let It Snow” and “White Christmas.” We all wanted to include the beautiful “Mary Did You Know,” written by Nashville songwriters Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene.

We had worked up some Beatlesque versions of some Christmas songs before, like a version of “Joy To The World” treated like The Beatles early hit “Please Please Me.” We did that song two Decembers ago for our first Facebook live video, for which we dressed in seasonal garb, and generated thousands of views within a day, thanks to the vedography and technical skills of our friend Johnathan Pushkar.

Here's a photo of us in that facebook video:

and a link to the video, if you wanna hear us do the song: 

WannaBeatles Originals

But one of the most surprising and satisfying parts of this new show was the inclusion of original songs. As it turned out, each of the WannaBeatles had an original song that we had not heard before, each of which became an appropriate addition to the show. And each song, besides contributing to the overall mood of celebration, also represented the amazing diversity of the group.

We had decided to open the concert with the slow and serious “Have You Heard.” That was followed by Dennis’s light hearted charming pop song “It’s Christmas Time.” Nathan sings an energetic gospel song built around a rhythmic and adventurous piano part called “Born a Baby.” David has a lovely worship song that he used to perform with his Christian group back in Florida, called “Dwell In The House of the Lord,” which we did near the end of the concert.

On top of all this, we worked up our own versions of “Little Drummer Boy,” featuring David’s Cuban drumming prowess, “My Favorite Things,” with Dennis getting into Barry Manilow territory, and a jazzy bossa nova version of “Silent Night.” Nathan has also arranged a lengthy medley of familiar carols as a singalong.

It’s an incredibly diverse and enjoyable collection of songs. We were excited to put it together, and to bring it to Tellico Village Monday night. We had never seen the sanctuary before. It was a beautiful space, decorated with poinsettias and greenery. We had our trusted sound man Allan Waugh, along with talented young audio assistant Steven English. 

How the stage appeared before the concert 

Charlie had pastors from other churches to join him onstage, to read sections from scripture to and pray. It was a very brief but appropriate way to establish an atmosphere, a perfect way for us to begin with “Have You Heard.” We got through our two  shows with certain minor mistakes, and corrections, but the overwhelming response from the crowd was very enthusiastic. 

Thanks especially to Charlie Barnard at Tellico Village Baptist Church fior being such a creative an supportive friend. We love playing there. We’re very happy to have worked up this very special show. And we hope to perform it again, and to take it many other places. 

After all, it looks like Christmas is here to stay. 

Blogging Bryan 6 December 2018

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Summer Of Love

1967 was known for many things. Those of us who lived through the sixties remember it as the peak of the cultural transformation that was changing us all. 

Musically, the focal point would have been embodied by the Beatles’ radical album Sgt. Pepper, which was released that summer.

The most colorful expression of the emerging “hippie” culture seemed to be concentrated in San Francisco, especially at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, near Golden Gate Park, where free concerts by groups like Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead provided a soundtrack to go with the drugs, long hair, bell bottom jeans, and thousands of runaways who landed there to check it out, and tune in.

It’s fifty years later, and many aftershocks from that cultural moment are still being felt, in fashion, politics, language, and music. 

Our Medley

The WannaBeatles have decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “the Summer of Love” with a special medley of songs that were hits when they were released in 1967.
WannaBeatle Dennis began the project by looking at the charts from that year, to find songs that captured the spirit of the age, songs which would also be fun to play.

We even composed a bouncy faux radio jingle about 1967 - the Summer of Love - to integrate into the medley.

We found songs that represented that era of love beads as well as any tie-dyed shirt or leather sandals. We found classics by The Doors, The Who, and The Monkees. We found messages of peace, and love, and the aroma of incense. We found some loud guitars, corny lyrics and some wacky chord changes scattered throughout the list.

So here are some highlights of the songs in our Summer Of Love Medley, and various responses from members of the group:

“San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)”

This song is probably the most blatant example of “hippie” jargon packaged as a pop song to exploit the fascination with the San Francisco phenomenon.

It was written by John Phillips, of the Mamas and the Papas, and recorded by Scott McKenzie. Dennis sings it, and does a great job, soaring where McKenzie merely warbles. Dennis gives the song more than it deserves. Nathan compares his vocal to Roy Orbison. We also added some extra harmonies.

Incense and Peppermint

This hit from Strawberry Alarm Clock sounds like it was written by people trying to sound like hippies. The lyrics are loaded with pseudo-enilghtened phrases like “tune in, turn on,” while the chords are jammed into exotic progressions that seem to require a hookah to appreciate. 

One interesting fact we learned is that Ed King, the Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist who lives in Nashville, who co-wrote “Sweet Home Alabama,” was a member of Strawberry Alarm Clock, and actually contributed an uncredited portion of “Incense and Peppermint.” Ed, if you’re reading this, we’d love to hear more about your side of the story.

For What It’s Worth
Steven Stills’ observation of Hollywood street riots became a big number for Buffalo Springfield. It features a smoldering groove, innovative use of guitar harmonics with tremolo, and Dylanesque political lyrics. Because it’s more authentic personal observation than a calculated trendy product, the song holds up surprisingly well. WannaBeatle Bryan sings lead on this one, because it fits his voice, and he’s old enough to remember it.

The Letter
Memphis boys make good. Singing lead for the Box Tops, Alex Chilton is a sneering bluesy teenaged pop star. We’ve added the trombone parts, but refrained from adding the sound of a jet plane to the sound track. 

We could do it if we wanted. Our fans know that we’ve added a jet plane to the sound track of “Back In The USSR,” so it’s no problem. We got sound effects if you want ‘em.

Light My Fire
What can you say about the Doors? Jim Morrison. Rebel, rock poet. Leather pants, sexual charisma. Unpredictable performer, tragic early death, buried in Paris.  

And Ray Manzarek’s multi-modal organ intro. What a strange, cool song, and what an artifact from a different era. So we play it, and Nathan sings it, and then, after the final organ chords we go suddenly into…

Feelin’ Groovy

Paul Simon’s easy listening ditty, “59th Street Bridge Song,” was done by Harper’s Bizarre, a group from Santa Cruz, California formerly known as The Tikis. Producer Lenny Waronker turned their version of the song, with an arrangement by Leon Russell, into a hit. 

Dennis and I sing the harmony as if we’re Simon and Garfunkel (which is familiar to us, as we pretend to be that duo for another WannaBeatles bit, “Sounds of Nonsense.”) Nathan and David join us on the chorus to make it a four part harmony vocal. 

And then, some more complex vocal parts, this time from The Association. 

As with Harper’s Bizarre, this song requires many voices to sound anything like the record, so we’re putting our four voices to good use, and enjoying it. We also do the flute solo, although the original was played on recorder.

“Windy” was the first #1 produced by Bones Howe, who later produced hits for the Fifth Dimension. You can hear the resemblance.

I’m A Believer

This Neil Diamond song was a huge hit for The Monkees. Mickey Dolenz sang lead, and did a great job. WannaBeatle David does a great job doing Mickey’s part. We really feel the energy when we do this song.

Which is a good thing, because we need it for....

I Can See For Miles
This is the Who song, called “the heaviest” in the British press, that caused Paul McCartney to write “Helter Skelter.” 

It contains some amazing harmonies on the chorus - partly Beach Boys sweetness, mingled with pungent dissonance, driven by Townsend’s power chords, Daltrey’s supple voice, and Keith Moon’s insanely hyperactive drumming. 
The Who in their earlier "mod" days

WannaBeatle David is thrilled to be studying the various fills found in the Keith Moon performances, even sending us examples of fills from other Who songs. Something about Keith Moon really wakes up the thunder in other drummers. 

Get Together

Our fast and furious Who tribute lands gently on a more serene groove, and a fitting close to the medley: The Youngbloods’ idealistic anthem that urges us to “Smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”
Who can argue with a message like that?

Of course, love is nothing new, but now that we’ve put these songs from 1967 into our minds and set list, we can look back and appreciate how love was expressed in a strange cultural explosion fifty years ago.

We hope people will come to City Winery on June 11 to hear us play these songs from the Summer of Love, among the many wonderful Beatles songs that are so familiar.

-Bloggin’ Bryan 11May2017

Friday, December 30, 2016

End of the Year, and Nathan Puts the Bomp

Our latest blog ended October 1 with The WannaBeatles returning to Nashville after a gig in Aiken, S.C. 

But that Saturday wasn't a normal trip back home. Bloggin' Bryan stopped in Atlanta to visit his mother in the hospital.  

That turned into a memorable visit. The next day Mother and Daddy's celebrated their 68th anniversary, October 2, in the hospital.
"PaJoe" and "Embo" in formal wear, with special candle lit dinner of spinach quiche, lobster bisque, and champagne, celebrating their anniversary.

Looking back on it now, at the end of the year, that visit was the beginning of the end, a season for a vibrant woman who lived 90 exciting years to enter a stage of peaceful withdrawal, with enough time to say goodbye to everyone she loved before making a final exit just after Thanksgiving.

That is part of why these blogs have been neglected over the last few months. 

It's interesting to see the different paths that our lives take between the times we get together. Gigs bring us together, and we enjoy working together, then we return to our homes, our families, our lives. 

Sometimes that includes parents dying. Dennis lost both his parents over a three month period less than two years ago. Last year, we were playing a gig in Cadiz, Ky. when David lost his father, and had to take an immediate flight to Florida, and The WannaBeatles had to find another drummer for a gig the next day. 

When this band started out, all our parents were alive and well. We've been with each other through all these experiences. 

And along with the losses, we experience joy together, sometimes unexpectedly. The same trip that took Bloggin' Bryan to Atlanta included a memorable example of being entertained by a rare case of Nathan's spontaneity.

WannaBeatle Nathan is normally a very reserved guy. He's definitely the quietest member of the band. That's what makes it especially enjoyable for us when he turns loose and lets himself go, as he did that morning we were driving back from Aiken.

Fortunately, we have a video to document the silliness. And here is the link to the facebook version of the video:

"Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)" is a classic novelty song from 1961, about a guy who's grateful for the silly doo-wop songs that made his girlfriend fall in love with him. We put our google to use and discovered it was written by Barry Mann (along with Gerry Goffin) and performed by Barry Mann. 

We have no idea why this particular song struck a nerve in Nathan's earnest New England soul, but we were delighted to witness the result of his inspiration. 

Now that we've witnessed Nathan's performance of "Who Put The Bomp" (while wearing a seat belt), we are more certain than ever that there is no band anywhere quite like the WannaBeatles. 

We're grateful for that and plan to keep it that way.

-Bloggin' Bryan 30December 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Aiken SC

On Friday morning September 30, The WannaBeatles left Fayetteville NC, after singing in the hotel lobby with Shelby Sunshine, arriving in Aiken, South Carolina early that afternoon. 

The rain had passed, and the weather was balmy, and Aiken is a charming southern town.
Dennis presents....Newberry Hall!
An easy parking space for the trailer

Our gig was at an event space downtown called Newberry Hall, playing at a fundraiser for Aiken Technical College. 

We joined the event planners in setting up the stage, moving tables, and adjusting our positions to accommodate the video projector.
Nathan and David moving table into storage closet
Dennis with stage skirt
Dennis working on stage 
Nathan and Dennis adjusting stage position
David and Nathan onstage
Dennis and staff assess stage
David catching glare of video projecter

Something motivated me to take a picture of a painting of flowers. I must have been impressed with an elegant atmosphere, so here’s the painting.

Nathan set up our merch table in a corner, but it didn't get much attention.

We were served a nice dinner in a separate room, and put on our vests and ties for the show.
Before the show, we posed on sidewalk and got a few photos. 
Another shot on the sidewalk
One more jolly shot

The evening was quite a success. The folks from Aiken Technical College had a great time, and did a lot of dancing when we played.

And that was that: another fun gig, another night in a hotel, and another safe drive back home, via I-20 through Atlanta, then up I-75 and I-24 to Nashville. 

Except this time there was a slight variation: Bloggin' Bryan's mother was in the hospital in Atlanta, and the other three WannaBeatles dropped him off there to be with his family before they returned to Nashville. Good Yoko came down from Nashville to be there too. 

-Bloggin’ Bryan 29December2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Camel, uh, Campbell University

In the last week of September, the WannaBeatles had two shows: one Thursday in North Carolina, the other one Friday in South Carolina. Each gig had its own atmosphere, purpose, and collection of photos, which make a good reason to divide the adventure into two separate blogs.

The first destination was Campbell University, in Lillington, NC, near the middle of the state, which meant nearly nine hours of driving. That meant that Wednesday September 28 was our travel day. 

We met at Nathan’s house, our usual gathering spot, at 10:00 am, to load the trailer.
This time the U-Haul trailer said Coos Bay, which I noticed is in Oregon, which happens to be where my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters live. A long way, but a good reminder of the connection.

Heading east on I-40, we decided to stop at a mall near Knoxville to try the food court, an upgrade from the usual quick stop at MacDonald’s. 
Nathan selecting lunch items
Dennis and Nathan sitting at lunch
Dennis getting popcorn after lunch

Chipotle was a very satisfying alternative.

Our destination was a hotel in Lillington, N.C. Continuing east into N.C., we drove past Asheville, Hickory, Statesville, Winston-Salem, before leaving the interstate to head south on a smaller state road. 

By this time, it had started raining, and the weather report was full of tornado warnings. But we made it to Lillington without too much delay, in time to visit a sports bar next door for supper. 
Nathan and David at table, Guiness in foreground

This evening - Wednesday Sept. 28 - happened to be the time when WannaBeatle David’s son Wesley would be making his prime time debut as a television actor. 

For those who keep up with WannaBeatle business, Wesley Toledo (and excellent drummer, by the way, who once sat in at age 14 with The WannaBeatles on “I Saw Her Standing There” at Puckett’s in Franklin, and did a great job) recently graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, majoring in drama. He’s signed with a local agent, and has been getting calls for various television work. 

His first time to appear on camera, as a minor character in an episode of CSI, happened to be aired while we were in a sports bar in Lillington, N.C.

And so we asked the bartender and waitress if we could change the channel on their large screen tv, so that we could watch the show, and celebrate with David this milestone in his life. 

We had already ordered our supper when the episode came on. David knew that Wesley’s appearance would come near the middle of the show. When it occurred, David got up to point at the screen.
David points at screen
David looking at screen
Wesley on screen (in a car)

It was a brief scene, but great way to celebrate a major career step for a talented young actor, to share David’s pride and excitement at his son’s accomplishment.

The next day, we checked out, then drove to the campus of Campbell University. 

The plan was to leave after the gig, and drive down to Fayetteville NC for our stay on Thursday night, so we would be closer to Friday’s destination.
Nathan unloading trailer at Fine Arts Building
Dennis on phone in band room, amidst drums
Setting up drum riser
David with school staff
Drums on riser
Bloggin’ Bryan had recently purchased custom cables to use with his guitar pedal.

Unfortunately, the new cable in the acoustic guitar coincided with a bent input jack, which caused the plug to get stuck inside the guitar.
The new cable stuck inside the Taylor

That problem got solved by replacing the pickup, a few days later at World Music Nashville, a job by our trusted friend Ed Beaver.

It was a beautiful auditorium, and the staff was very helpful.
Setting up the drum monitor
Stage ready for sound check

It was a treat to see an array of snacks in the dressing room.
Snacks on the table (before getting eaten)

We were treated to dinner in the student dining room across campus. We were transported in a large golf cart.
Riding in golf cart

And that was when we met the most amazing sight of our journey: the camel.
Meeting the camel (Dennis in front, 
Nathan and David approaching from the side.)

In front of the administration building is a large bronze camel, the school mascot. It’s a massive sculpture, strong enough for people to climb all over. 

We couldn’t resist the opportunity.
Admiring the camel
 Nathan climbing the camel
The camel’s face
Four WannaBeatles on camel
Four WannaBeatles happy

The camel was not the only statue on campus. We also encountered a noble portrayal of the founder, Dr. Campbell.
Nathan poses at statue of Dr. Campbell
Plaque with history of Dr. Campbell

We met the music professor, Dr. Ran Whitley, and his students who were so enthusiastic our show. The conversation somehow landed on boomwhackers, which are various sized hard plastic tubes, which make sounds when struck. 

The students and Dr. Whitley were so enthusiastic about them that they took me to an office where he played a recording of a concert that featured boomwhackers being played in concert, a piece he composed.

It was clear that the students enjoyed all kinds of music, and their teacher. 

After the show, we drove to our hotel in Fayetteville, and discovered that we had been classified as their “guest of the day.”

This should have prepared us for the entertainment we would find in the hotel lobby the next morning.

We woke up and came to breakfast to meet an in-house singer who called herself Shelby Sunshine. She had a purple microphone to match her purple lipstick. Her spontaneity and energy inspired us to join her. We sang together, before breakfast, a bit of James Brown, just to prove we were up for it.
Shelby Sunshine posing on counter at front desk

Shelby joined the four of us for a rousing “yeah yeah yeah” that was posted on Facebook.

That was a memorable morning in Fayetteville.

Then we left for South Carolina, for our second gig of the trip, which will be covered in the next blog.

Thanks for joining us.

-Bloggin’ Bryan 29December2016