Tuesday, November 22, 2011


When They Was Fab:

An EXCLUSIVE interview with

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     No matter how much information is available at our fingertips, whether on the ‘net or in books, we can never get enough of The Beatles. From the heady days of vinyl in the ‘60s up through the age of digital downloads, The Beatles have continued to dominate the music world, even 40 years after they split. Practically every Rock band with a snappy tune has been compared to the Fab Four at some point in their career and most bands borrow from the blueprint that John, Paul, George and Ringo wrote back in the ‘60s.
     Four decades after they called it a day, they are still being listened to by new generations of music fans, many of whom were born after the deaths of John Lennon (1980) and George Harrison (2001). Even after they told their own story in The Beatles Anthology, there still seems to be a passionate desire to learn more. The recent release of Fab Fan Memories: The Beatles Bond is the latest chapter in The Beatles’ tale: a collection of fans talking about how the band affected their lives. From normal folks off the street to celebrities like Alan Menken, Phil Keaggy, Janis Ian and Melissa Manchester, everyone has their own personal memory of The Beatles.
     The most dominant voice on this fascinating release is Louise Harrison, George’s older sister, who shares some of her own Beatles memories and introduces each of the subjects discussed. Louis has been involved with many projects over the years, making her a familiar and comforting voice to many Beatles fans. On Fab Fan Memories, her relaxed and friendly voice practically steals the show.
     In a unique twist, on this release, brief musical interludes are provided by two separate bands: The WannaBeatles and The Liverpool Legends. The WannaBeatles are a quartet of dedicated and stellar musicians featuring Grammy-winning producer Dennis Scott. They provide the Beatles-influenced originals and are executive producers of Fab Fan Memories. The Liverpool Legends are a Branson-based Beatles tribute band that Louise Harrison helped create and is still involved with.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to connect with Louise, Dennis and fellow WannaBeatles members Bryan Cumming and Nathan Burbank to discuss this fab and gear release and to shed light on all things Beatles related…

SPAZ: Fab Fan Memories is now available. How are you feeling about the project and everything leading up to it?
LOUISE HARRISON: I’m really happy with how the project turned out. All the people that I’ve given it to have been very, very happy to listen to it. They’ve all thought it really gives a nice, friendly insight to the response that people have had toward the Beatles all these years. I’m hoping that it will be something that people will enjoy having as part of their library.
DENNIS SCOTT: It’s great when a project lives up one’s expectations. That has certainly been the case with Fab Fan Memories. Both longtime Beatles fans as well as new listeners have expressed a deep appreciation for this album which allows them to tell their stories about The Beatles. As one of the album’s producers, is very gratifying to know that this album has helped accomplish that goal. Conceptually, this project “come together” even better than I could have hoped for. It is the power of the idea behind the album that makes the recording itself so unique.
NATHAN BURBANK: Knowing how much the Beatles influenced me growing up, It was fun talking to Beatle fans about how the band influenced them. I now feel even more rooted into the worldwide Beatles family.
BRYAN CUMMING: This has been an unusual project, full of unexpected surprises, with a tight deadline that brought a lot of creativity into the process.

SPAZ: How did this project come about?
DENNIS: A series of related incidents caused the idea to germinate. As you know, I play with a Beatles tribute band known as The WannaBeatles. The group was approached to write and perform a theme song for a Beatles themed local TV show. It was agreed that the audio track for that show would also be used as the content for an upcoming CD. However, that did not go quite as planned. At around the same time, I attended a Nashville based Beatles Meetups Group where I saw guest stand up and tell their own “Beatles Stories.” I was touched by affection and friendship of these fellow fans. Some of their stories were just amazing. It was an “ah ha” moment wherein I knew that somewhere in all of this was an album that needed to be made.
NATHAN: The same spirit that visited Paul the morning he woke up with “Yesterday” in his head must have visited Dennis in his sleep. I think he woke up knowing that we were to make an album which married interviews with music, and that it was to be called, Fab Fan Memories – The Beatles Bond.

SPAZ: How did you decide which audio bytes to use for the release? I’m sure you had plenty to choose from?
DENNIS: Yes. It’s too bad CDs don’t have a longer playing time because there were several stories that did not make it to the final mix. During the editing process, I gravitated towards the interviews that were touching or funny rather than a regurgitation of Fab Four facts. It is the emotional attachment to The Beatles that impressed me. Hearing what fans went through during those times really struck a chord with me.
NATHAN: Some audio bytes were obvious – the dancing Barbies; the man losing his job in order to acquire a Beatle’s autograph, etc. – while others were more subjective. Sometimes one of us would remember an interview we had personally done and so we would suggest certain parts of it be included. The hard part was having so many good stories but so little space!
BRYAN: It was like editing a documentary, finding and staying tuned in to the underlying themes. But even more intuitively, it boiled down to the selecting most entertaining and engaging stories, and then finding music that best fit the tone of that particular segment.

SPAZ: Louise, how did you get involved with the Fab Fan Memories?
LOUISE: I received a call from Dennis Scott in Nashville. I’ve worked a number of times with different people from Nashville. I have a great respect for everything that Nashville is all about. I’m very spontaneous about everything. I don’t give much thought to what I’m getting into most of the time, which isn’t always good for me, but I immediately said yes. I was thrilled with the idea of working with Beatles fans because, let’s face it, for the last 48 years, they have been my family and they consider me their global mum. I was happy to be part of something that was bringing the fans to the fore and giving them a chance to have a voice in the whole story of The Beatles.

SPAZ: You’ve done voice over work with Beatles-related projects in the past, correct?
LOUISE: I’ve done so much stuff that I don’t even remember half of the things that I’ve done! (laughs). Back in the ‘60s, I was doing daily Beatle reports on about 21 radio stations all across the country. In the ‘90s, I put together what I called Good Earth Keeping Tips, which were environmental spots that were addressed to Beatle people and anybody else who was interested about the environment. I did 170 of those public service announcements and they were broadcast on 9200 radio stations all across the country during ’93 and ’94. So, yes, my voice is fairly well-known to Beatles fans all across the planet, really.

SPAZ: Instead of interviewing obvious celebrities in regards to the Beatles’ influence on them, you’ve thrown a curveball and featured people not normally associated with them and their music including Melissa Manchester, Billy Swan, Phil Keaggy, Wesley Orbison and Janis Ian. Did you purposely try to avoid the obvious artists and go for the ones that the public may not immediately realize were influenced by the Beatles?
DENNIS: Although celebrity appearances are interesting and help draw attention to the product, I wanted to hear from the everyday fans. And “In the end” (sorry, but life is full of Beatles song titles) I learned that when it comes to The Beatles all of us are everyday fans.
NATHAN: We started talking to anyone we thought would have an interesting take on the Beatles – fellow musicians and fans - and then we slowly widened the circle as we made more contacts. Practically everyone over the age of twelve has a Beatles’ story to tell.
BRYAN: The reality is that the influence of the Beatles is far deeper than has been documented by cultural historians at this point in time. Almost by accident, we wound up with a Studs Terkel type of approach, where interviews with everyday people provide the essential material from which the cultural landscape can be observed.

SPAZ: Dennis, tell us a little about The WannaBeatles. Does the band normally do Beatles-influenced recordings as opposed to Beatles covers? Or a bit of both?
DENNIS: The WannaBeatles came about when three other musicians and I were playing a gig at a Mexican Restaurant. At some point in the evening, we started playing Beatles songs and felt an immediate reaction from the crowd. That turned in to a regular Beatles night billed as “Beatles and Fajitas.” We became inspired to do a better job re-creating the music and went back to school using all the technological aids available to us. Four years later, we’re doing a high energy show that not only covers Beatles songs but also includes songs we have written in tribute to or in the style of The Beatles. Although we are not a “look alike” band, we introduce comedic elements that offer fun and variety for our audiences. This includes Beatles parodies (i.e. “Crème Brule” for “Yesterday”). And, because people say I look like Paul Simon, we have worked up a spoof of Simon and Garfunkel (“The Sounds of Nonsense). Audience involvement is almost as important as the songs which, of course, are timeless.

SPAZ: The Liverpool Legends appear on the album as well. Isn’t this the group that Louise had a hand in putting together?
LOUISE: Back in the early part of the 21st century, I became good friends with Marty Scott, the guy who plays George in this band. I had met him shortly after my brother died. If we believe in anything dealing with eternal life or things like that, it just seemed to me that my brother’s being had sort of enabled this particular meeting. When I met Marty and got to know him, he became so much of a substitute or replacement brother to me and has been ever since. When he realized that I didn’t have much in the way of resources, he said “Hey, why don’t we put together a Beatle band and that way, you’ll have something to keep you occupied and something to keep me out of mischief and a way of making a living.” So, that was really how we started this thing. I think that my brother’s being had something to do with us being able to round up just the right guys as quickly as we did. We have done something that’s very exceptional: it’s just a phenomenal group of people. We have had such tremendous acclaim from everybody that has seen us. People walk out of the show in awe and they come over to me and say “This is the best show I’ve ever seen!” so I guess we’re doing something right!

SPAZ: Is it a bit strange seeing someone portraying the ‘role’ of your brother?
LOUISE: Not really. Let’s face it: people have been portraying my brother for the last 40 years so I’ve gotten used to it!

SPAZ: The Beatles seem to have surpassed Elvis in being the most influential Rock artists of all time. Why do you think that their appeal has stood the test of time?
DENNIS: In my opinion, it was the culmination of various forces at work that brought the Beatles together. It was the times in which we were living as well as their undeniable talent that allowed the group to grow. They created music that was melodically and lyrically interesting. Add to that the contributions of George Martin, their producer, and you have songs that are memorable and will continue to endure.
LOUISE: I’ve talked to many theologians, philosophers, psychiatrists and all kinds of people over the years and so many of them have said the Beatles phenomenon went far beyond just the music. Their message has resonated with people all across the planet, the good people. Again, I’ve been very very privileged to be part of that Beatle family because, inevitably, the people that I am associating with, the people that love The Beatles are the positive people that want to do some good in the world. I think the message is something that people want to hear, people want to live by it. The Beatle message is so, so important, especially the lines in John’s song ‘Imagine’, where he says “Imagine all the people sharing all the world” and “Imagine all the people living life in peace”. Those are two of the most important things that The Beatles, as a group, ever said and although it was John that said it, they were all part of that mindset.
NATHAN: The Beatles were intentional not to copy their successes. They were constantly looking for new sounds and new subject matter. In the song, “She Loves You,” for example, they wrote the lyric from a third person’s perspective, which was a fresh way to write a love song. In the song, “You’re Gonna Lose that Girl,” John further expanded this approach by speaking to a girl’s current boyfriend, rather than to the girl directly. Couple these ideas with creative chord changes and melodies, and you get an idea of why the Beatles created such a lasting legacy.
BRYAN: It was a combination of factors that made them so big. The central factor was their talent and cohesiveness and chemistry as a group, but along with this raw material were the essential roles played by Brian Epstein and George Martin, and of course, the timing of the cultural moment.

SPAZ: With each passing year, the Beatles’ dedicated fan base continues to grow. Even with the Beatles Anthology and all the info on the internet, there still seems to be a desire for more info. Are you surprised that there is still so much to share, as you have proven with Fab Fan Memories?
DENNIS: No, there is a tremendous thirst for any new tidbit of information or discovered recordings. When it comes to Beatles fans, you can never have too much. That’s why Fab Fan Memories: The Beatles Bond is becoming a welcome addition to collectors. And, of course, getting Louise Harrison’s memories and unique perspective on tape is quite a treat.
LOUISE: I’m certainly hoping that there still is a lot of space for people to want to know more about The Beatles because, finally, after 45 years of people saying to me “Isn’t it about time you wrote a book about The Beatles and about your experience with them?”, I’m finally writing my book about them and it’s called It’s About Time.
NATHAN: By hearing what others think about the Beatles, it broadens one’s own understanding. It’s akin to having multiple camera shots of the same scene. People want to keep learning about the group they love by studying them through different lenses.
BRYAN: What we've learned with Fab Fan Memories is that there's no bottom to the well of art. The Beatles are like Shakespeare or Bach: popular, endlessly fascinating and worthy of our attention, because it's constantly fresh and alive. Their music does exactly what great art is supposed to do.

SPAZ: What’s next?
LOUISE: (laughs) Well, apart from trying to finish my book and starting Help Keep Music Alive (her charity dedicated to keeping music programs in schools across the U.S.), I may get a chance to put my feet up now and again. But I’m not really holding my breath that that might happen
DENNIS: With Laurie Montgomery at the helm, our distributor, MDI, is busy setting up interviews and shows that will help bring the Fab Four memories to an ever growing audience. The WannaBeatles and I continue to tour. As a producer who wears several hats, I am completing work on writing a producing music for a touring showed based on the popular children’s character Clifford, The Big Red Dog. More projects are in the wings.

SPAZ: What do you have currently spinning on your CD and DVD players?
LOUISE: I hardly have time to put my CD or DVD player on at all, as a matter of fact! One of George’s songs that keeps going through my mind when I’m not thinking of anything is a song, a fairly obscure one, where he sings “I don’t want to do it” (‘I Don’t Want To Do It’, written by Bob Dylan and featured on the Porky’s Revenge soundtrack). I don’t know why, but that keeps going through my mind.
DENNIS: Being consumed with music of one form or the other, 24/7, I like to roll down the car window and just enjoy the sounds of silence. However, if there is to be any music coming through my speakers, you can bet that it will be courtesy of The Beatles.
NATHAN: I tend to listen to a lot of theatrical cast recordings and soundtracks. I’m particularly interested in how arrangers create tension and mood for film underscoring.
BRYAN: The "Disk Repair" utility!

Thanks to Louise Harrison and Dennis Scott
Special thanks to Laurie Montgomery, Bryan Cumming and Nathan Burbank

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