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More ‘White Album’ talk from CCA-bound superstars

October 1, 2019
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Last week’s feature cover story in The Maine Edge focused on the upcoming all-star 50th anniversary tribute to The Beatles’ “White Album,” scheduled for Monday, October 7, at the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine in Orono.

The “It Was 50 Years Ago Today” tour began nearly two weeks ago and includes musicians Todd Rundgren, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Christopher Cross, former Chicago bassist and singer Jason Scheff, and Badfinger’s Joey Molland,performing songs from the “White Album” in addition to their own hits in a night of music that is drawing rave reviews from both concertgoers and critics.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing four of the show’s five superstar musicians (Dolenz, Scheff, Molland and Rundgren) for the story. When I discovered I could incorporate only a fraction of the wonderful interview material they provided due to space, I was faced with a bit of a conundrum. Thanks to Maine Edge super genius assignment editor Allen Adams, I can now share with you more highlights from those interviews.

The interviews with Micky Dolenz, Joey Molland and Jason Scheff were conducted via telephone. Because Rundgren was in Hawaii at the time (a six-hour time difference), he responded to my questions via email.

Micky Dolenz’s long career in show business began when he was just 11 years old as star of the TV series “Circus Boy,” which ran for two seasons on NBC and ABC. Years before auditioning for a role on “The Monkees” TV show, he had his own band called Micky and the One-Nighters.

As The Beatles matured and evolved at breathtaking speed, the band’s music became more sophisticated, leaving the mid-60’s marketplace with a need for a new happy-go-lucky boy band to love, and The Monkees filled that void beautifully with their (mostly) innocent, lovable personalities and catchy hit songs. The Monkees were an instant smash in the fall of 1966 as millions tuned in weekly to watch Micky, Mike, Peter and Davy’s zany antics, inspired by both The Beatles and the Marx Brothers. The first five Monkees albums went platinum (sales of more than one million copies each) and 12 of their tunes scaled the Top-40 charts with three hitting the top spot. The Monkees have sold more than 75 million records to date.

Micky Dolenz: This is turning into an exciting adventure. They asked me last year if I would be interested in being part of this tour, and I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ Not just because I love The Beatles and the “White Album,” but to sing and play with these other incredible musicians is just a thrill.

(At this point during the interview, Micky broke into song with a slight variation on The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” He sang to an audience of one but rocked it like he had a full house.)

It was 50 years ago today, when our band started to play. We’ve been going in and out of style, but we’re guaranteed to make you smile.

The Maine Edge: Wow. I was not expecting that. I feel privileged – thank you for that.

Micky, The Monkees have released two very well -eceived albums over the last few years – both produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. “Good Times” (2016) and “Christmas Party” (2018) each contain very well-chosen songs. Is there a chance we’ll see a further collaboration with Adam?

Dolenz: I have no idea if there will be another one. It’s kind of day-to-day with The Monkees and it always has been. After the show went off the air, there was never a Monkees organization like what The Beatles had with Apple. The record companies we’ve been associated with – mainly Rhino Records – have released albums and reissues and compilations but we never had that continuity of organization that bands like The Beatles and Rolling Stones had with theirs.

Mike Nesmith and I went out and did a show called “The Monkees Present: The Mike and Micky Show” and it was very successful here in the states. We also took it to Australia and New Zealand.

It’s not quite the same without David and Peter (Davy Jones died of a heart attack in 2012. Peter Tork died of cancer in February of this year) but you never know what the future will bring. I’ve learned to never say never.

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Todd Rundgren wrote nearly all of the songs recorded by his band the Nazz, a psychedelic pop band based in Philadelphia from 1967 to 1969. Rundgren then began releasing a series of classic albums, both solo affairs and full band efforts with his group Utopia. He was an early advocate and producer of music videos, embracing and encouraging new technology at every turn.

Rundgren has also produced classic albums: Badfinger’s “Straight Up” (in 1971), Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band” (1973), Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” (1977) and “Skylarking” for British band XTC in 1986, among many others.

Rundgren is a natural choice for the “It Was 50 Years Ago Today” tour. His Beatles pedigree is lengthy and includes multiple stints as a member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, beginning in 1989. He published a memoir (announced here in The Maine Edge in 2016) last year aptly titled (like his 1995 album) “The Individualist.”

The Maine Edge: Did Ringo ever share stories with you about the lengthy recording sessions for the “White Album?”

Rundgren: I think he may have, but I wouldn’t tell tales out of school.

The Maine Edge: “The Individualist” was a fascinating book. I devoured it when it came out last year. Any plans for a follow-up?

Rundgren: I find writing difficult, so a whole other book is unlikely. However, I keep remembering things I should have included in the autobiography, so…

Of all of the musicians on the “It Was 50 Years Ago Today” tour, the one with the most Beatle connections must be Joey Molland of Badfinger. The band was signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1969, just before Paul McCartney handed them a huge hit with his song “Come and Get It” (Paul’s one man band demo version, recorded during the “Abbey Road” sessions in July 1969, appears on the new “Abbey Road” 50th anniversary box set released last week).

George Harrison produced part of Badfinger’s best-selling album ‘Straight Up’ but handed the sessions over to Todd Rundgren when he jumped into action to organize two benefit concerts to aid the people of Bangladesh held on August 1, 1971, which included Badfinger providing support for the all-star band.

Badfinger’s 1970 album “No Dice” (containing the hit ‘No Matter What’) was produced by Beatles confidante and personal assistant Mal Evans.

Molland is currently recording his next album with producer Mark Hudson.

The Maine Edge: Do you think the fact that both you and Tom Evans (Badfinger bassist) came from Liverpool further endeared the band to The Beatles?

Molland: I think it did, in a way. They had friends from Liverpool working at Apple, including Georgie Peckham who was the mastering engineer. (Peckham, now retired, began his long career in the music business as a trainee disc cutter for Apple Records. He went on to become one of the most respected and accomplished engineers in music history. His “Porky Prime Cuts” – so called because of the inscriptions Peckham would etch into an album’s run-off groove – are renowned for their fidelity.)

I think they liked us partially because of the Liverpool connection. Jackie Lomax was also an important Apple artist and he’d been in the Liverpool band The Undertakers. Billy Kinsley – the bass player for (Liverpool band) The Merseybeats recommended me when The Iveys (Badfinger’s previous band name) were looking for a new member.

The Maine Edge: When Beatlemania swept the U.K. in 1963, did people around you mention that you had more than a passing resemblance to Paul McCartney?

Molland: People would occasionally say there was a facial resemblance, or that my hair looked like his. I would hear it once in a while but I didn’t pay much attention to it.

The Maine Edge: Tell me what you’re excited about in relation to this 50th anniversary ‘White Album’ tour.

Molland: It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done a major tour so I’m looking forward to getting back on the road. Of course, I’m also looking forward to doing these Beatles songs. Everybody has sung along with those songs but I’ve never played them before in a professional capacity. Hopefully we’ll do a good job and everybody will be happy (laughs).

People are so familiar with these songs, and there are lots of signature licks and parts in there. I think we have to include them or people will miss them. We can’t get too far out in the arrangements. I’m sure the other guys are doing the same thing as me and they’re all at home studying those records.

Some of those songs are tricky. I’ve been listening very closely to songs like “Dear Prudence” and all of the individual parts in that song. John sings it in a nice, melodic way. It goes into the ‘look around’ bridge and then it goes into that last bit where he starts to suggest a new tempo in his vocal. The band picks it up and slowly increases in speed. If we don’t play it exactly that way, I think the audience will miss it.

The Maine Edge: Of all of The Beatles, were you closest with George?

Molland: In terms of working and hanging, yes, I was definitely closest to George. We went to a few concerts together. I remember going to see The Band with George. He really loved them – and Bob Dylan. And he really enjoyed Badfinger. I think we reminded him a bit of that band he was in. We had the same guitar, bass and drums lineup and we wrote all different kinds of songs. Peter (Ham) and Tommy (Evans) were remarkable vocalists. I could sing – including harmony – but both those guys had really strong vocals – just like John and Paul.

The Maine Edge: Did George ever offer you advice?

Molland: He told us to never give up on songs. He encouraged us to think outside the box. He advised us on playing acoustic parts – to keep them straight so they wouldn’t clutter up the arrangement. People tend to overplay acoustic parts on records.

George would sometimes edit our songs or move parts of a song around. He would do all of the things a producer would do. I had a song on “Straight Up” called “Suitcase.” I wrote is a rhythm and blues song with a guitar riff for the base of it. George thought it was going to be a single and he arranged it that way. He put a little keyboard riff in there. The changed the guitar to a slide guitar and had (longtime Beatles friend and associate) Klaus Voorman come in to play the piano on it. He was very diligent as a producer. He came in with his arrangements and we would sit down and talk about it, then we’d play it.

He would change a lick if he didn’t play a song on the radio. He would say “I’m doing it this way otherwise it will never make it on the radio.” I never thought of songs that way. We never considered radio play.

Jason Scheff was bassist and singer for the legendary band Chicago from 1985 to 2016, replacing Peter Cetera. Scheff appears on 19 Chicago albums beginning with “Chicago 18,” released in 1986.

Scheff’s father is Jerry Scheff, formerly of Elvis Presely’s TCB Band in the 1960s and 1970s, and he also played bass on “L.A. Woman,” the final album by The Doors recorded with Jim Morrison.

Jason Scheff will soon release a solo album produced by Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts and has recently recorded a project with guitarist Tommy Thayer of KISS.

Jason Scheff: I’m just over the moon about this tour and I’ve always loved coming to Maine. I just met someone the other day from Bangor. I’m telling you, this tour is going to be so much fun.

The Maine Edge: You were only 6-years old when the ‘White Album’ was released in 1968. Were you aware of The Beatles at all during their time together?

Scheff: Not like kids that were a little older but I was certainly influenced by the next generation of musicians. My birth year (1962) classifies me as a boomer but I can relate much more to the next generation. Boomers came up smack in the middle of that explosion of the British invasion, led by The Beatles.

It’s really cool for me because there is so much full circle happening with this tour. You know about Todd Rundgren producing Badfinger’s album when George left to do the Bangladesh concerts. Christopher (Cross) was on the bill with Chicago once or twice and I also played bass on one of his records, although he wasn’t present when I added my part. I met Micky when Chicago was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.

The Maine Edge: How would you go about attempting to recreate “Revolution 9” during a live concert? How would you feel about that?

Scheff: I’ll try anything but I think there’s some debate about whether that one is going to be played or not for that very reason. As far as people interested in doing the unexpected or doing strange things, I hear I’m in good company with the rest of the guys on this bill. I’m not opposed to doing anything bizarre or strange but I don’t know how interesting it would be. If everybody says we need to do it, I’m in.

(Tickets for “It Was 50 Years Ago Today,” live on stage at Collins Center for the Arts in Orono on October 7 at 7 p.m., are available at www.CollinsCenterForTheArts.com or by calling 800.622.TIXX.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 October 2019 12:07

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