Q&A: Beatles cover band


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Dubbed the Ultimate Beatles Tribute Band, the Fab Four will bring its meticulously sculpted renditions of Beatles hits to the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The California-based quartet —Ron McNeil as John Lennon, Ardy Sarraf as Paul McCartney, Michael Amador as George Harrison, and Rolo Sandoval as Ringo Starr — has toured the world as the famed rock group for nearly 15 years, portraying every stage of the Beatles musical career. The Daily Iowan chatted with Fab Four founder McNeil about bringing Beatlemania to the 21st century.

Daily Iowan: Have you always been a Beatles fan?

McNeil: I’m a huge, huge Beatles fan, and being a fan has crossed over into hearing the music and taking on the persona of one of the most famous people to walk the planet. I have a whole career based on a small part of their lives, really. It’s really amazing to think about the power their music has had to sustain a business, and here we’re talking about them 50 years later. They’re everything to me.

DI: So is John Lennon your favorite Beatle?

McNeil: No, as a matter of fact, I’m a huge Paul fan. Growing up, I bought all of Paul’s albums. I was very, very young when John passed away, and I started to get an interest in his music and realize my voice and face were closer to John’s. A cool dynamic is I’m a huge Paul fan, and Ardy [Sarraf], who plays Paul, is a huge John fan and used to hate Paul. We’re both in each other’s role, so it keeps us on our toes, so to speak.

DI: How do you get into the character of John Lennon?

McNeil: Getting into character isn’t the problem. Getting out of character is. First of all, he had a little bit of an attitude because he had lost his parents so early. He has that “I don’t care whether I’m on stage or not, but you should care that I’m here.” He goofs off a lot onstage and is himself. As we progress into their careers, John gets a little psychedelic, so you try to act like you’re not quite there, and later on, he doesn’t really look at Paul and is just like, “Man, I want to get out of here” as the Beatles disconnected and was splitting. Those are my three eras of John. It’s a lot of fun.

DI: Do you have a favorite Beatles song or album?

McNeil: It’s like picking your favorite child. The first set is fun-loving, with “Twist and Shout.” I really like the period around Revolver,when the Beatles guys weren’t quite completely out of their minds, but past the “She Loves You” phase and learning how to write songs. They were honing their craft and starting to gel as a band, and their stuff was really starting to sound good.

DI: What do you do differently from the original Beatles?

McNeil: There are a lot of things that we have to do onstage they didn’t have to. “Strawberry Fields,” for example. They never performed that onstage, but for us, we have to decide who’s playing the horns and the bells. And there are things we have to do that the Beatles never had to to entertain an audience in 2013. They just showed up, and they were the greatest, and people loved them. Today, we show up on stage, and people have their arms folded. We have to persuade them to love us. We’re really only a mirror to bring [audiences] back to the first time they heard “Can’t Buy Me Love” or danced with a girl to a Beatles song.

We have original music, but it’s not as good as the Beatles’. They set the bar really high. Those guys were amazing songwriters, but we’re obviously better imitators, and that seems to be our forte.

DI: The world is full of Beatles tribute bands. How do you set yourself apart?

McNeil: It’s hard because everyone loves the Beatles, so everyone wants to play the Beatles and be the Beatles. When you’re dubbed the best Beatles tribute … there’s no getting out of certain details. Some groups don’t have a left-handed Paul, and that puts them down a peg. It sounds petty, but that’s what you have to do. I can sound exactly like John, but if I don’t have the look, it doesn’t work. We’re the only four-person group that plays all the stuff live on stage, which is very challenging. There’s no fifth Beatle. Hard work is put into every single note. For example, if John used a particular note or guitar in a song, I have to work it in, or it puts us that much further from our goal. I told the guys, we’ll be working on this until we are the Beatles — and how long’s that going to be? Forever. So we’ll always be working.

DI: What’s coming up for the Fab Four?

McNeil: People ask, “Do you have a CD?”  We say, “Go buy Abbey Road, that’s a good CD.” But for some reason, there’s some desire to see how close we can come on a record, which I understand. So we’re releasing some stuff on iTunes. In recent years, there’s been a Beatles group on Broadway, so that’d be cool to do someday. We’re a company as well as a band — the first two Georges and Ringos are our production crew. As we grow, we’ll be able to continue to carry the show as long as people want to hear the music live. Unless they clone the Beatles. Then we’re out of business.

Tickets for the performance are $35 for reserved seating and $55 for Golden Circle seating; they may be purchased at the Englert Box Office or online at www.englert.org.

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