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Monday, October 28, 2013
Living in a Material World? Remember this...
(From Elmore Magazine Online... Check it out..)
Forty Years Later, The Beatles Continue To Inspire
For Beatles fans or just music fans, it looks like an excellent six weeks. Forty-odd years after the Fab Four disbanded, some of music’s heavy hitters will play at least three concerts within shouting distance of New York.
October 26, the Fab Faux will perform a one-time-only George Harrison tribute show at the Beacon Theatre with special guest Jim Keltner, Harrison’s drummer both with and after Ringo Starr. Keltner and Starr were the drummers for Harrison’s groundbreaking Concert for Bangladesh, and Keltner would later go on the road with Harrison and Ravi Shankar (full disclosure: Jim Keltner has played with three of the four Beatles and virtually every great musician of our time, not just George Harrison). You can check out a behind-the-scenes look at the Fab Faux’s preparation for the show here and here.
On November 9, vocalist and guitarist Denny Laine will perform the entire Abbey Road album at the intimate Bearsville Theatre, in Woodstock. An original member of the Moody Blues, Ginger Baker’s Air Force and Paul McCartney’s Wings, Laine will ice the Abbey Road cake with hits from the Moody Blues, Wings and songs recorded at Abbey Road Studios by the Zombies, Pink Floyd and others. It’s not often we’ll hear Abbey Road, “Live and Let Die” and “Band on the Run” in a venue that’s smaller than a Jumbotron footprint.
On December 6, near the anniversary of his death, John Lennon’s music will be front and center at Symphony Space, not far from his home. The lineup for the 33rd Lennon Tribute includes many Elmore favorites like Bettye LaVette, Raul Malo of the Mavericks, Joan Osborne, Dana Fuchs, Marc Cohn and Steve Earle. Rich Pagano of the Fab Faux will join the lineup, too, presumably being especially well warmed up after drumming with Keltner on the October 26 Harrison show.
The Fab Faux Roll Out George Harrison Tribute
For those of us who never got to see the Beatles in concert, the Fab Faux is the next best thing. This ain’t your momma’s costumed cover band. These five musicians—Will Lee, Rich Pagano, Jack Petruzzelli, Jimmy Vivino and Frank Agnello—have world-class chops, which will be on display at their George Harrison tribute at the Beacon Theatre on October 26th. Conscientious to a fault, these pros gave Elmore a behind-the-scenes look at this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Part 1 of 4: Preparation
The amount of preparation for this one-time show is daunting. The Fab Faux has performed the music of the Beatles for over 15 years, but they’ve never had to learn this many new songs for any one show. They’re cramming post-Beatles tunes that they have never played before (and may never play again) into a one-off, but insist it will be of the same quality as the material they’ve learned over the last 15-16 years. “You get one take,” bassist Will Lee (of the CBS Orchestra on The Late Show with David Letterman) said.
Guitarist Frank Agnello (who has played with Phoebe Snow, Marshall Crenshaw and Joey Molland of Badfinger) curated the show, no small task because the set list is not based on airplay, but instead on the songs that the Fab Faux members themselves love. “We have always been big George fans,” Agnello said. “My job is to make sure that some big songs are in there. The trade-off is that the audience will hear a really cool performance of something that they may not have expected, and whoever is singing it is going to bring a little extra something because it’s a personal favorite.”
Agnello drew up a first draft in January, and the band rehearsed a few hours before a gig in Rhode Island in April and then planned three more Fab Faux rehearsals. Lee put together a six-person choir; Agnello wrote out all their backing vocal parts and distributed the sheet music electronically. In an interview two months before the event, Jimmy Vivino (band leader for Conan) told us, “Instead of talking to you, I should be doing horn charts now.” “It’s more like independent study,” Agnello explained. The day before the show, the choir, the horns, the strings and the guest musicians will be in a marathon rehearsal. “George’s songs were pretty large scale, especially in his solo period,” Agnello said. “We’re going to have as many as 20 people playing at one time, so to coordinate all that is the tricky part.”
For example, here’s their arrangement of “What Is Life”:
Lead Vocal: Frank Double Vocal, Tambourine & Last Verse Slide Guitar Fills: Jim B. Harmonies: Will, Jimmy, Rich, Jack, Erin Lead Guitar (Fuzz): Jimmy Rhythm Electric Guitar: Frank Acoustic Guitar: Erin Piano: Jack Bass: Will Drums/Verse Mounted Tambourine: Rich Drums: Jim K. Trumpets: John & Bones Saxes: Jerry & Sam Violin: Amy Cello: Sibel Choir: Elaine, Nicki, Tabitha, Chrissi, D-Train, Frank S.
The band will perform 12 Harrison solo songs that they’ve never done before, six solo songs that they have previously performed and 13 of his Beatles songs. With the Beacon Theatre’s curfew, the whole thing must be done in three hours. Do not expect much patter.
The band divides lead vocals by the time-honored schoolyard tradition known as “dibs.” “When you call a song, you get the lead vocals,” Vivino explained. Agnello then breaks down the instrumental parts. “Every part is important, so whatever the job requires—we serve the music,” Vivino said. When pressed, he added, “It’s not the last time you’re going to play … Hopefully! If it is, you say, ‘Damn! I wish I had had that solo.’”
Not only do these musicians learn the songs, they learn instruments as well. Vivino learned sitar to play Harrison’s songs, and he now owns three. He likens the sitar to the blues: “It’s a lot like John Lee Hooker, like an open tuning. Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf—one chord,” he said, adding, “When I got my sitar, the first thing I did was learn how to play ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.’” Similarly, Agnello considers “Any Road” from the Brainwashed album to be Harrison’s last great song, so he went on eBay and bought a vintage banjo uke to play it. “George played a lot of slide guitar, so we all have to brush up,” said Agnello. “There’s going to be as many as four different guys playing slide guitar.” Rich Pagano (Rosanne Cash, Ray Davies) will even sing “Bangladesh,” the song Harrison wrote specifically for The Concert For Bangladesh. “We are going deep,” he said.
The Beatles, and Harrison in particular, had a massive influence on these musicians. Frank Agnello heard his first Beatles song at six years old, when his cousin played him “It Won’t Be Long.” “My first perception of George was that he was the lead guitarist (Wow, he’s playing the hard stuff),” Agnello recalled.
“The first rock ‘n’ roll concert that I ever saw was The Concert forBangladesh,” Pagano said. “I was ten years old, and there may have been five people in the theater, but we still sat in the second row like we were in the first row of the concert, with our necks tilted back. I just loved George’s sense of changes. He was coming out of the whole Band thing, and he had a Robbie Robertson sound in his songwriting at some point … I knew as soon as I could grow a beard, I was gonna do it from watching that movie.”
Lee, the only member of the Fab Faux to have played with Harrison, recalled that Harrison insisted on teaching him a particular part, the subtle figure underneath the bridge of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” telling Lee, “This is very important to me.” “Every time I get to that part of the song, I get very emotional, tearful, and I think, ‘How’s this, George?’”
Jack Petruzzelli (Joan Osborne, Patti Smith and Rufus Wainwright) simply said, “George was how I wound up playing guitar, so this will be a highlight of my career.”
In addition to choosing songs, the sequencing becomes very important. The Fab Faux often play Beatles records in their entirety, start to finish. “When you play ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ in a White Album show, it comes up too soon, the great song that it is,” Vivino said. “It’s buried in the beginning of the album, if that makes any sense.” In the all-Harrison show, Vivino promised, “It will be extra special. Now you are presenting the crown jewel, in my opinion.”
Differences like sequencing change the way both the band and the audience hear the music. “We keep finding things out,” Vivino said. “That’s why the Fab Faux can keep going, because information keeps leaking out.”
The Fab Faux Roll Out George Harrison Tribute (Part 2)
For those of us who never got to see the Beatles in concert, the Fab Faux is the next best thing. These five musicians have world-class chops, and they will present a George Harrison 70th Birthday Celebration October 26th at the Beacon Theatre. They were kind enough to give Elmore insight into their concert preparation. (You can read part 1 of our story here.)
Part 2 of 4:
George Harrison’s music
Unquestionably a junior member of the Lennon/McCartney collaboration, George Harrison found the Beatles’ songwriting club tough to break into. Although he tried to get songs on an album, acceptance was difficult. Schoolboys everywhere discriminate on the basis of age, and John Lennon was no exception. When fifteen-year-old Paul McCartney invited his chum George Harrison to audition, Lennon, then seventeen-and-a-half, thought Harrison (about eight months younger than McCartney and still fourteen) was too young. After a month, Lennon relented, but he may have been marginally correct: two years later, during their successful residency in Hamburg, Harrison was deported after German authorities discovered he had lied about his age.
Harrison’s songs differ fundamentally from the Lennon/McCartney model. “Paul played a lot of leads because their attitude was ‘Let’s get it done,’” Jimmy Vivino (bandleader for Conan) noted, and the Lennon/McCartney team worked together to crank out many, many songs. Harrison, who primarily wrote solo, competed against this amazing powerhouse.
“John and Paul used to tag-team,” explained bassist Will Lee (The Late Show with David Letterman). “One guy would come with an idea that would spark the other, and one guy would be a little too soft and the other guy would put some harshness into it and make some push and pull throughout the song. Paul would say, ‘It’s getting better all the time,’ and John would come back with, ‘It can’t get no worse.’ It took a lot of balls for a guy like George to present his meager scribblings. These guys had already latched up, they had thing going. They had writing at the top of their agenda when George was just their fledgling guitar player and hadn’t really started being a composer yet.”
The tables turned when Harrison landed the opening song on Revolver with “Taxman,” but still, Paul plays the lead. “George said, ‘Oh that’s great.’” said Vivino. “I wouldn’t have done that, I would have said, ‘It’s my song.’ But George was honored in a way to have his brother get so into his song that he played lead guitar. There was a reverence for each other that we can never imagine, a club that no one was allowed in but four people. And they’re brothers, no matter what…dysfunctional or not.”
Choosing songs from Harrison’s Beatle days was pretty easy, since they only recorded the cream of the crop. Later on, when his songwriting flowered and he was putting out a lot of material, the choices become less straightforward.
“People always say, ‘Oh, it didn’t get good until later,’ but it was always good, as you look back,” Vivino said. In the Beatles’ heyday, two songs per album were about as many as Harrison was allowed, and a lot of songs on his masterpiece solo album All Things Must Pass were turned down for Beatles albums for one reason or another, although they probably should have found a place on Abbey Road. Given Lennon and McCartney’s sheer output as songwriters, however, Harrison was swimming against the tide.
Harrison’s writing did not hit the public in a straightforward timeline. “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” two of his—or any Beatle’s—greatest songs were on the last recorded album,Abbey Road (Let It Be, the last album the band released, was recorded earlier). If Harrison’s allotment was two songs per album (and Ringo Starr one), Harrison’s own output was so strong that All Thing Must Pass‘ backlog of rejected material blew the Quiet Beatle’s solo debut up into a triple album.
Some see Harrison as the Beatles’ audio standard-bearer. “I find that when people mimic the Beatles, I think that they mimic George’s style of songwriting because he was that sponge from both Paul and John,” said drummer Rich Pagnano. “And he always sounded more British in his vocals. Original bands who come from the Beatles’ college, their music tends to have more in common with George’s sensibilities.“
One could argue that Harrison’s contributions changed popular music more than any other Beatle. It was Harrison, of course, who introduced the influence of Eastern music, and it didn’t go away. He placed emphasis on the diminished chord, which he used over and over in the most strategic spots. While the others used it in passing, it became a Harrison signature.
“He liked to do what is called a pre-bend,” Fab Faux curator and guitarist Frank Agnello said. “Instead of bending up, you hear it on the comedown. For instance, in the beginning of “Something,” the second note you hear: bum bowwwww owwww. It shows up in Indian music a lot, and George is always the person I think of when I think of that.”
When he got into slide guitar, Harrison said Muddy Waters was one of his influences; Harrison’s skill as a slide guitarist is something that the Fab Faux will highlight. “We all have to brush up on our slide playing because there’s going to be as many as four different guys playing slide guitar” Agnello said. “Jimmy [Vivino’s] the first lead player, but we’ll be harmonizing with him and playing a few licks here and there.”
“He really got to be a great slide guitar player, he just found his voice very late,” Vivino said, noting that Harrison actually asked Muddy to show him some stuff. “And the good thing about that to me is that no matter how successful, how much money, how great your songs are, you’re still thinking as a player.”
Harrison’s persona is more obvious because he wrote solo. “It was a darkness and humor at the same time to George’s stuff, he was a funny, moody guy,” Vivino pointed out. In interviews, whatever George said was cutting and quick, but Harrison’s music is about subtlety. His vocals are often delicate, his guitar playing nuanced. He arguably released the greatest solo Beatles record out of all of them, and he wrote incredible ballads, certain to be highlighted in the show.
“We love to champion George,” Vivino told us. “All the emphasis has been on Lennon/McCartney for so long, that we’re being the not-down- the-middle-of-the-road fans.”