The Beatles are coming, The Beatles are coming!
May 6, 2008
Paul McCartney played bass with his left hand and bent his knees, John Lennon chewed gum – these minutiae are not forgotten by the members of the Pennsylvania Beatles tribute band known as "Come Together."
When the group takes the Egyptian Theatre Stage Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, it will be the culmination of two decades of mop-top devotion. For Come Together, the business of covering Beatles tunes has grown from a hobby and passion to a full-on profession. They still rehearse and research, brushing up on John, Paul, George and Ringo’s mannerisms through old footage from concerts and archived newspaper interviews. They stick to playing tunes from 1964-66, during the British Invasion era.
The group plays on the same equipment as The Beatles did in the ’60s and they wear boots imported from Liverpool, the band’s hometown. The dedication to authenticity has paid off. While performing songs like "Yesterday," "This Boy," "All My Lovin’" and "Day Tripper," they often elicit the same legendary "Beatle mania" from audiences.
"It’s so much fun to be on stage having people think you’re The Beatles — it kind of gives all of us a brief little glimpse of what they went through," says Bill Kropinak, the founder of the band who plays John Lennon. "It’s not uncommon for the theater to be up dancing out of their seats and screaming during the songs. It’s the whole Beatle hysteria – it still goes on, which is hard to comprehend, but we’re happy it does."
The transformation officially begins for Kropinak on the day of the performance, putting on their wigs and buttoning their suits. "As we’re getting into costume backstage, we all begin to get into character," he explains. "But we’re always going over what we’re doing, making it sound right. It’s too easy when you are trying to be someone else’s character to slip out of John and become Bill."
Kropinak remembers when he first heard The Beatles on television.
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"They were on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Paul started it off with ‘All My Lovin,’ if I’m not mistaken," he recalls. "It was mind boggling. There was a lot of hype prior to their performance about these guys coming over with long hair and I — quite frankly — was an Elvis fan. I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know. Elvis is the man.’ But after seeing The Beatles play, I was blown away. They wrote their own songs, played their own instruments – they re-wrote rock ‘n roll history."
Kropinak hasn’t met any of the members in person and never saw a live show, but he did meet Cynthia Lennon, John’s first wife, accidentally once at a Beatles convention in Cleveland, Ohio. "I happened to open a door and she was in front of me," he says. "I got an autograph and said, ‘Hello.’"
Kropinak mostly just enjoys the finer points of the band’s songs. "I Feel Fine" is his favorite. "They released it in August of 1965 and what’s so unique about it is that little feedback intro which was done almost by accident with John’s acoustic guitar feeding back when Paul hits a bass note and it rattles a little," he says. "There’s something about that moment, where I was in life and where I was when I heard it."
So when, at the age of 36, Kropinak, a body-building Harley-rider, decided to play on stage for the first time, it was a Beatles review at a Beatles tribute show. "It was something I did for the fun of it, but here we are, 20 years later, and we’re making a living out of it," he muses.
The band arrived at its current configuration in 2000 with Steve Marks as Ringo Starr, James Willaman as George Harrison and Russ Saylor as Paul McCartney. Kropinak considers it his most dedicated team.
Saylor, who had previously performed with other oldies bands, says after 30 years of right-handed playing, he decided to teach himself to play with his left. "I was amazed at how many people actually recognized it, because they would come up and say, ‘Well, you know Paul was left-handed,’" he explains. "So I said, ‘That’s it. I’m going to teach myself to play bass with my left hand so I don’t have to hear it anymore It was a very slow process and it was rough: You know how to play it, but your hand doesn’t want to move the way you want it to at first."
Saylor says he rarely tires of The Beatles’ songs. The meaning of the lyrics still shines through and the band’s influence on rock bands continues, he explains. Though it’s been more than 40 years since The Beatles first American performance, the music still matters to audiences, according to Saylor.
"The Beatles had this raw energy and broke all the rules, and to be able to go back and create that, it’s just amazing," he explains. "I think people come to our performances because it makes them feel young again. It brings them back to a time when they didn’t have to worry about things. It gives them their innocence back."