Monday, March 24, 2014

Beyond The Beatles

Playing Beatles songs is, of course, our original purpose and continual joy.

But as we reflect upon what makes Beatles music so appealing to us, we realize that there's a bigger picture - the cultural turbulence of the sixties affected us all on so many levels. And although The Beatles were the most prolific and influential of the musical artists from that era, they were certainly not the only ones to make a lasting impression.

We recently played a benefit in Columbia, called Coca Bella, which had a retro theme. Many folks showed up dressed in psychedelic clothing, and the room was decorated with furniture from the 50's and 60's, including old issues of LIFE magazine on the coffee tables. 

This was the perfect chance to play other songs from the sixties. 

Here are some of the hits we added to our list: "Satisfaction," "You Really Got Me," "I Got You (I Feel Good)," "Mr. Tamborine Man," "Oh, Pretty Woman," "Good Lovin'," and "Daydream Believer."

What's interesting is that most of the artists represented in this list had direct musical and social connections to The Beatles. 
                                Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison, whose "Oh, Pretty Woman" hit the top of the American charts in October '64, had toured with the Beatles in England, and was among the major influences on their songwriting. 

"Please Please Me" has been identified as a song John Lennon originally wrote in the style of a Roy Orbison ballad. And anyone who has played "She Loves You" can see a chord progression that the Beatles copied from Roy Orbison.

The Rolling Stones were signed to Decca because of a personal recommendation by George Harrison. Mick and Keith, originally blues purists, started writing songs because John and Paul told them it could be done. "Satisfaction," which hit number one in '65, is a great example of what the Stones could do as songwriters.

The Rascals, whose "Good Lovin'" hit number one in '66, had their start as members of Joey Dee and The Starliters, who worked with The Beatles in Europe.

                            Rickenbacker 12 string

"Mr. Tamborine Man," which hit number one in '65, is known for its use of the Rickenbacker 12 string electric guitar, which Roger McGuinn started playing because he was inspired by George Harrison's first use of it in "Hard Day's Night."

And  "Daydream Believer," which hit number one in '67, is from the Monkees, who were known as the "PreFab Four," a group deliberately patterned on The Beatles.

Interestingly, Davy Jones, their lead singer, had performed on The Ed Sullivan show on February 9, 1964, the same episode that famously featured the first Beatles television appearance in the U.S. He played the part of Artful Dodger among the cast of Oliver!

              The Monkees: Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith,        
                      Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork

As we learn more about The Beatles, we discover how much American music they listened to before they came into their own as songwriters. And so, when we play songs beyond the Beatles, we end up exploring their own list of favorites, or later songs that reveal their influence. 

Bloggin' Bryan 24March2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Make No Mistake

Everybody makes mistakes, but musicians are especially sensitive to playing a wrong note - or missing the right one - because everybody hears it. 

Or so we think.

Much of our time as WannaBeatles goes into learning and rehearsing the songs we play. We dissect the songs, making sure we've captured all the details from the original performances faithfully. 

Sometimes, it's impossible to do a fully authentic reproduction of a vocal by Paul or John, for example, due to the unique inflections and overtones of the original are not really available in the voice of the person singing the same song. 

We find that the more we play, the better we get at what we play. The parts become more comfortable, more solid, almost second nature. But we take on a big challenge to perform these songs onstage, attempting to keep track of thousands of details. It would be remarkable if we never made a mistake.

It usually feels, to some degree, like we're falling short of what we aim for. But we like trying. 

Then there's turning a mistake into a comic moment, which is worth more, in pure entertainment value, than the right note. Dennis is the master of this. 

One of our favorite stories is the legend of the night Dennis played a wrong note - very exposed, all by himself - supposed to be a simulated French horn, from "Sgt. Pepper" -  and rather than get embarrassed, he immediately fell to the stage in a mockery of clumsiness, deliberately inviting the crowd to laugh. 

WannaBeatle Dennis has great instincts onstage. He is a true embodiment of the New York stand-up comic tradition, with its reservoir of fearless improvisational instincts. It more than makes up for any musical glitches.

Our most recent local gig was Puckett's in Franklin. This is a spot we enjoy playing, and we usually do well there. This time the place was sold out a week in advance, so we anticipated a good night. 

It felt great up until the moment we started playing. Then it seemed we were off our game. Things were just not going right, and we were having to maintain concentration while overcoming errors, keeping the show on track even though it was slipping off, sometimes wildly.

The most obvious instance was near the beginning, when we were supposed to start playing "Please Please Me," but one of us, looking at the set list and seeing another title, started playing "From Me To You." 

Those two songs are in different keys, so the clash was not subtle. In a split second we realized that we weren't all playing the same song, and grasped at a solid foundation while playing, which replaced confidence with ambiguity. It was like an airplane hitting a pocket of air where everyone on board is suddenly weightless, and the controls have no effect. 

But within seconds we settled on a consensus. It was strictly by instinct and by ear, with no extra words or glances. Soon all four of us were playing "From Me to You," even though it wasn't what we were supposed to play. "The show must go on" was the mantra that played in my head.

There were plenty of other mistakes throughout the evening. I was missing things I'd never missed before, in all six years of being a WannaBeatle. A simple flute note on "Penny Lane," for example. When it happened, I just smiled inside, thinking that this was just one of those nights. 

It almost felt like an evil spell had been cast, and our instruments, memories and skills were temporarily rendered useless.

The worst part was thinking of the folks who'd come to see us, who were getting (what I assumed was) a false and disappointing impression of us.

But then a strange thing happened. We were greeted with applause, and many fans coming up after the show, telling us how much they enjoyed it. I even had some songwriter friends in the audience who surely would have heard the mistakes, but they said the show went fine.

And so, even though we made mistakes, we somehow delivered what we intended, and people enjoyed it. A happy audience is the final measurement of whether a gig is successful.

Those close to us know that Bloggin' Bryan is married to a wonderful woman we call The Good Yoko. She's a source of wisdom in many things WannaBeatlish. Her comment on our night of mistakes is that we are "four perfectionists." 

Each of the WannaBeatles is different, but we're alike in wanting to get things right, to play each note correctly. 

And so, we will probably always know about, and obsess over, the mistakes we make onstage, most of which are not even noticed by our listeners.

Maybe if we can tell you in advance that we're sorry for all mistakes we will ever make, we can put that issue aside and concentrate on having fun.

Do you forgive us?  

Bloggin' Bryan 21Mar14