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|"Fresno's Fab Four: If you close your eyes, you can't believe they're not the real thing."
By Don Mayhew
The Fresno Bee, Sunday, June 23, 2002
The Beatles lasted together roughly 10 years, playing to screaming hordes and defining for many the decade (the '60s) during which they existed.
The Beetles, a Fresno tribute band, also have lasted nearly 10 years.
|They didn't change the course of pop music or define the decade during which they've been together. The screaming hordes, and there have been a couple, have been much smaller.
But just as "The Beatles 1" proved a couple of years ago that the Beatles' music is timeless, the Beetles have remained one of the most popular local rock acts by bringing the songs' exuberance to life on stage -- where, let's face it, the original Beatles appeared far too rarely.
Oddly enough, the Beetles are calling it quits, more or less, after 10 years. All married, several with children, they continue to create music, often in combination with one another but under different band names. They also write and record non-Beatles material.
So apart from the occasional reunion gig (including one Saturday at the first Woodward Park Pop Festival), the band members have decided to give the Beetles a rest.
It's been a long and winding road, one we celebrate today with recollections from the band, other local musicians, club owners and fans.
|Come Together (or, How the Lads Became Fresno's Fab Faux)
The band was the result of bass player Nate Butler's desire to play Beatles love songs on Valentine's Day during the early '90s. He got together with drummer Stan Schaffer and keyboard player Tom Magill for shows at Club Fred.
Vince Warner, recording engineer and Beetles sound man: "I gave Nate the idea at the end of the '80s. I knew all the Beatles songs back when we were young. But that turned into a strange band called Pure Death. We played everything from Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin to Camper van Beethoven and Syd Barrett."
Photo by Marc Blake
|Butler: "I never set out to put together a Beatles tribute band. I was out to put on an event. I wanted to play all of 'Sgt. Pepper,' too."
Magill: "They didn't know me at all. The first time Nate called me back, I was washing dishes. He thought I was this northeast Fresno nerd. Hey, you've got to keep up with the housework to find room to put your gear."
Schaffer: "We realized putting together a tribute to 'Sgt. Pepper' in a month was pretty adventurous, considering we were only a trio. So we decided just to do Beatles love songs instead."
Butler: "Maybe the second or third show, we put a guitar and amp on stage and invited anybody who so dared to come up and play guitar. There were a bunch of great guitar players sitting in a row at the bar, and Jimmy Carter of a band called the Clams swaggered up and said, 'I'll do it.' "
Carter: "We played a few things. 'Back in the USSR,' I think that was the first one. 'Get Back.' I didn't have a big repertoire at that point."
Butler: "First it was an event, then a recurring event. We just called ourselves the Beatles."
Carter: "We didn't want to do the double-E thing. But then, it was a 'maybe we'd better.' We had no big concern about it. I was all for us getting sued, as if anybody would care. That would make my life, being sued by the Beatles."
Butler: "It was a full two years before we had big crowds turning out. [Club Fred owner] Freddy Martinez kept saying, 'Come on back,' even though we weren't making him much money. He encouraged us a lot. If he hadn't, that would've been the end of it."
|Hello Goodbye (Jimmy Carter Leaves, Blake Jones Arrives)
After four years with the Beetles, Carter decided to move with his wife to Texas, where she would attend graduate school. The guitarist eventually returned to school himself and became a therapist who works with musicians. He was replaced by Blake Jones.
Jones: "I'm the Ringo. When I came in, they already had their success. They had it in the bag. For a while, I was the substitute guy. Even now, I hold on for dear life."
Carter: "I never saw them play after I left. I played a gig and left the next morning. It was the last Saturday of July 1997."
Butler: "Our first gig with Blake was one of those Concerts in the Park. It might have been the biggest crowd we ever played to."
Photo & design by Marc Blake
|Butler: "Our first gig with Blake was one of those Concerts in the Park. It might have been the biggest crowd we ever played to."
Jones: "It was not really enjoyable. My mind was strictly on not screwing up. We crammed about 50 Beatle tunes down my throat and, right off the bat, played to a couple thousand people. I remember this kid standing in front of the stage yelling out a request and Nate saying, 'Give him a break, kid. This is his first gig.' "
Twist and Shout (Testimonials, Favorite Songs and Great Gigs)
Though the Beetles didn't take off right away, they got a lot of support from a close-knit music scene.
Dave Norris, former Fresno guitarist who's now living in San Diego: "I saw them play that very first month. They were tight. It was amazing. They did album fades. I couldn't believe it."
Steve Lipari, owner of the Tower District club Starline: "No one ever heard the Beatles sound good. You had all those screaming girls. Unless you were in Liverpool, you never heard the Beatles' music without the screaming. Beatles music is very powerful, very exciting. To see it performed live is twice as thrilling."
Donny Marvin, Fresno drummer: "Every time you see them, you can close your eyes, and it's the Beatles."
Cindy Schoonmaker, Butler's wife: "I went to see the Beetles for the first time probably a year before Nate and I started dating. I went with a friend. He goes, 'Now, close your eyes. See? You can't tell.' "
Norris: "One show, the Monkees opened for them. It was the Beetles, but they played the Monkees. In between every single song, they did that little jingle [the Monkees] would play on the way to a commercial."
John Kirby, who's driven back to Fresno from law school (but never during finals) in the Bay Area just to see the Beetles: "The most amazing thing is when they do stuff that the Beatles never intended to play live."
Jones: "The 'Abbey Road' medley, with all the horn bits and string bits, was one. They couldn't do it live. The Beatles played through stuff you wouldn't use [at a pizza parlor] nowadays. That's no slam on the Beatles. They were working with a massive handicap."
Magill: "I liked any song where I would think, 'We're the only band in town who could play this right,' songs like 'Nowhere Man,' where there's a great three-part harmony. Most Beatles songs have that kind of harmony, but that's one where it's naked."
Patrick Tromborg of Fresno, who's seen the Beetles play about two dozen times: "My fiancee and I, our first date was seeing the Beetles. When they played 'In My Life,' that was the song [when] we looked into each other's eyes and knew right then and there. We never looked back."
Jeanne Garcia, who's gone to see the Beetles since 1993: "I lost my boyfriend for the Beetles. We had a big fight because I wanted to stay and listen to them. My boyfriend got mad, so he went home, and I stayed. A week later, it was all over."
Lipari: "The Beetles are a public-service group. They are singlehandedly more responsible than anyone for getting old farts up off the couch and into the clubs."
Jones: "We put on the longest-running musical in Fresno, period. We're the 'Cats' of Fresno."
|A Hard Day's Night (Disasters, Close Calls and Just Plain Weird)
New Year's gigs consistently drew big club crowds but were typically fraught with illnesses and disagreements. But those weren't the only tough or odd moments.
Magill: "We played the Wild Blue [a venerable Tower District nightspot] before it closed. One of the bathrooms broke down. Everybody had to go in one bathroom, and the line went through the dressing room."
Schaffer: "One gig in Madera Ranchos, we thought people were going to beat us up. They were just begging for ZZ Top. It was like, 'OK, what can we do? We need to get out of here alive.' "
Photo by Marc Blake
|Cindy Schoonmaker: "There was a private gig where people didn't get it. They kept trying to say, 'Do you know any Steppenwolf?' 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida?' "
Schaffer: "I have a nephew who would've been 7 or 8 years old. He would tell his friends, 'My uncle was in the Beatles.' His friends to this day probably still believe it."
Carter: "One time I looked in the back at Club Fred, and there was a guy who looked just like John Lennon. I went to look for him later. I couldn't find him. I'm not a guy who believes it was John Lennon. But it startled me."
The Ballad of John and Yoko (and Fifth Beetles and Quiet Beetles)
When real life imitates real life:
Butler: "We joke that my wife is Yoko. She counts the money at the end of the show."
Warner: "Cindy's everything everyone wished the real Yoko Ono could have been."
Schoonmaker: "I was the last Beetle wife. Everybody else was married. . . . When there are group e-mails, I always sign them, 'Love, Yoko.' "
Magill: "We all have our Yokos. Every one of our wives."
Carter: "I would not call one of the other guys' wives Yoko. I'm not that crazy. I'm 46. I've learned a couple of things along the way."
Schaffer: "Jim [Carter] was like the James Dean of the Beetles. He was the coolest. That set the tone for how we continue to present ourselves."
Lipari: "The fifth Beetle is Vince Warner. He's really sneaky. I've caught him singing. He'll flip the microphone in the sound booth on and sing the chorus."
Schaffer: "Tom is the quiet Beetle. We'll go through two weeks of e-mail between me and Nate and Blake, all these arguments, then Tom will come in at the end and say, 'Yeah, whatever you guys say.' "
Warner: "Stan would be the quiet Beetle. He sings both lead and harmonies, plus he provides the perfect drumbeat and doesn't make a whole lot out of it."
Carter: "Stan doesn't suffer fools lightly. He's funny and spiritual, kind of like George [Harrison]."
Lipari: "At sound check one day, Stan says, 'Hey, Steve, this microphone has bad breath.' It was a mike used by some guy before him who was drinking beer or something and singing into it. Stan brings his own [microphone] everywhere he goes now."
Let It Be (The End)
The only thing more rare than a Beetles rehearsal was a Beetles meeting. When they got together last year to talk shop, Butler announced his intention to depart.
Jones: "I had a couple ideas, ways I was trying to cross-promote our original music and Beetles music. I spilled out my ambitions. Nate said, 'There's something I probably should say.' "
Butler: "No one knew one of the purposes of the meeting was for me to resign. I totally blindsided them."
Schaffer: "I kind of had a feeling, I don't know why. I know that he really wanted to take a stab at the cabaret deal he was trying to put together."
Magill: "He said he'd play until the end of the year or until we got somebody else. It was the most generous offer in the history of band breakups."
Butler: "To tell you the truth, I'd been saying I was going to leave two years before I did."
Baby You're a Rich Man (Or, Everyone Has His Price)
During the late '70s, several deals to reunite the Beatles for a concert were rumored, with multimillion-dollar offers thrown around like so much confetti. Lorne Michaels and "Saturday Night Live" made a mockery of the situation on the air by offering a paltry payday. How much would the show have to pay for a Beetles reunion?
Magill: "For me, it would be my standard, a six-pack."
Schaffer: "Heck, I'd do it for plane fare and a couple of tickets to the New York Philharmonic. And the plane tickets could be one-way. Then I'd have an excuse to stay there for a while."
Butler: "I want enough money to pay rent for a year."
Carter: "I think about four bucks and a plane ticket would do it for me. Of course, I'd have to learn the songs again."
Until "Saturday Night Live" comes calling, the Beetles will settle for a few reunion gigs. Besides the Woodward Park festival, the Beetles will play at Starline in fall and again during winter.
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