How To Be The Beatles, with Hard Day’s Night

Welcome back to Beatles Month!

Today we have the distinct pleasure of talking with not one but four Beatles experts! Mike Muratore, Frank Muratore, John Auker and Patrick Gannon, the members of Hard Day’s Night.

Hard Day’s Night is rated among the top national Beatles tribute groups performing today, a full catalogue touring Beatles Tribute act focusing on performing songs exactly as the Beatles themselves did. The band has performed on national television, at America’s top Beatles festival, and at the Beatles’ own Cavern Club in Liverpool, England.

We were eager to find out what goes into being one of the top Beatles tribute acts in the world and how the four members of the group think about the musicality of the Beatles.

We talk about:

  •  What exactly the band would do to learn a new Beatles song note-perfect
  • How performing as the Beatles compares to playing in a non-tribute band
  • And we ask, as four people who’ve studied and played the songs of the Beatles more carefully than almost anyone – why do they think the Beatles have had such a lasting impact over time?

It was really cool to hear about how each member of the group came to love the Beatles and perform in Hard Day’s Night, and how thoughtfully and carefully they approach their work in performing as the Fab Four. There’s a lot to be learned here about musicianship that goes way beyond tribute bands or Beatles specifics – so please enjoy!

This is The Musicality Podcast, and you’re tuned in to Beatles Month at Musical U.

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Christopher: Welcome to the show, Frank, Michael, John, and Patrick, the musical group known as Hard Day’s Night. A big thank you for joining us today.

Pat: Thank you.

Michael: Thank you.

Frank: Thank you.

John: Thanks, Chris.

Christopher: There’s a lot of ground to cover here. I’d love to start at the beginning with a little bit about where each of you are coming from as musicians. Maybe we can kick out with Frank, who plays the role of Paul in the band.

Christopher: Frank, how was your musical upbringing? Where did you get started in music?

Frank: My family’s always been very musically in tune. For example, my mother was a singer. As small children, we’d watch my mother in the local variety show at the local high school do her torch song Hard Hearted Hannah. But, then she’d sing some ballads. Then, at home, she could play the ukulele. As we were little kids, we’d learn how to play the ukulele. We did stuff like, “Five foot two, eyes of blue” …”

But anyway, make a long story short, we listened to the radio a lot and we would sing. I had three other brothers, so I was very fortunate to have a younger brother named John Muratore, who was very musical and both of us gravitated together. We’d sing all kinds of songs, even the Four Seasons came out in the early 60s, we would sing some of their harmonies, trying to do that falsetto thing, but we really weren’t impacted until the Beatles came out. One note, the rest of the family, all my brothers played band instruments at school. My brother played clarinet. My other brother played the bassoon. I played the saxophone. My younger brother, John, played trombone.

Frank: Once the Beatles came out, we immediately wanted to ditch those for guitars. We did talk my mother into buying a guitar for Christmas, oh, I can’t remember what year it was, but it was an acoustic guitar. We played around with that. We couldn’t even play chords on it at first, but we learned how to play the bass notes. It was about the time The Monkees were really big on TV in 1966 or seven. I can’t remember. We would learn to play like (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone with just the bass notes. We’d sing the harmonies, stuff like that.

Frank: Seemed like my brother John and I were the most, by ear, musicians of the family. We had probably the better harmony ear. So we continued that. Then, finally, we got band instruments. We played in the high school stage band with our guitar and bass. I played the bass. My brother played guitar. My brother and I had a band in high school that we, this is where all the experimentation came in.

My father at that time brought us a Sony tape recorder that has sound so we could record double tracks. What we would do is we would start recording stuff and even make up songs. We started writing our own songs in high school and we would listen to ourselves on the recorder. The first time you hear your own voice on a tape recorder, you’re kind of shocked like, “Oh, my god. I thought I sound better than that.”

Frank: Through trial and error, we got a little bit better. We found a couple guys at school. We formed a band. We played all the dances at high school. Then, we ventured out to playing bars before we were even of age. We’d lie about our age. Back then, you could play anywhere. Yeah. That was a real experience. The music at that time in the 70s, we were really into the bands like Santana and the Allman Brothers. These weren’t the most popular bands that kids wanted to hear at school. I’ll be honest with you. They want Three Dog Night, the Doobie Brothers, that type of thing. We would force … Our unfortunate audience had to listen to us jam on some of these Santana songs or Allman Brothers songs. Some of them were 15 minutes long.

Frank: During that jamming process, we learned different things. My brother developed into a very good guitar player, John. The band went around. We each wanted to have a solo during this jam. The audience was bored. I’ll be honest with you. The audience didn’t like it, but we did play enough top 40 to keep being hired at the school, but that continued into college where we played other bars, et cetera. We did Peter Frampton, that type of thing. More jamming. Through tape, we would tape ourselves occasionally and listen to it and figure out other ways to improve our overall sound and what we’re doing. Through trial and error, I think we picked up a lot of help along the way.

Frank: Then, my brother got interested in playing classical guitar. He actually left the band, when Madison College to pursue classical music as opposed to rock and roll.

Frank: That’s pretty much my journey. From there, I just continued from there with other bands, et cetera until I got to the Beatle band.

Christopher: Got you. Interesting. I’m not sure many people would have guessed that someone who was so into the creative and experimental and jamming side of music growing up would go onto play in what some would consider one of the most rigid forms of music making, being in a tribute band and one that particularly prides itself on authenticity in terms of the music. How did that transition happen?

Frank: When you said, “What does a tribute band do to put themselves at the higher level of the competition,” for example or present themselves to the public as authentically as possible. This was also a learning process. Since I’m the oldest in the band, I was in the original Hard Day’s Night, which started in 1997, I think it was. I had to go back …

Pat: In ’96.

Frank: ’96. I had to go back and listen to all the records again to learn to play them correctly because I was not playing them correctly from my memory. I had to study it. We did this by ear. I can read music, from high school and stuff, but I’m not the best reader in the world. Pretty much more of an ear musician. I listen to it. We went over it and over it and over it. I have to be honest with you. It was an evolutionary process for me that took 15 years, I think to be half-way decent, even though I was pretty good, to be as accurate as I am today, it took awhile.

Frank: Then, when I switch to play the bass left-handed about 8 years ago, 10 years ago. I can’t remember how long now. That was another learning process. I had to learn how to handle that instrument left-handed. I knew the note fret placements, et cetera, but it took a while to get the coordination because when you’re switching your hands, the finger board wasn’t such a problem with my right hand. It was the picking action on my left-hand attacking the string took a lot of coordination work, but now I think I have developed into pretty good player left-handed after another 10 years.

Christopher: That’s a change you made for the sake of authenticity, right, because Paul had played left-handed?

Frank: Correct. Correct. We noticed back 10 years ago, whatever, all the major Beatle groups in the world, that Paul would play left-handed. I would play gigs right handed for years. People would say, “Oh! Oh, you’re really good, but, boy, if you were left-handed, you’d really be good. Stuff like that.

Frank: Only a few people would say that, but I know that everybody else thought that, too. It’s really funny because now that we are successfully playing left-handed, I play left-handed, and you see other Beatle acts who are pretty high up in the food chain who don’t play left-handed bass. In other words, Paul’s not left-handed, you go, like, “Oh, the guy’s not left-handed.” There is a little bias there when you’re watching it, I guess.

Michael: It makes a big difference on the stage because the way Paul and George got on the mic. It’s very unique.

Frank: It’s much more comfortable now.

Frank: And you got that look, when you look at the Beatles, you see the left-handed bass going up one way and then John Lennon’s guitar’s gone the other way. It just makes the frame of the picture match. It looks very good, visually.

Christopher: Wow! I’d love to dwell on it for a second because, for someone who was already at a very successful level to handicap themselves in that way, it takes quite a lot of ego control, I think, to put yourself back in those beginner shoes and, as you alluded to there, you had a head start because your brain and your ears knew what to do and your right hand, I guess, was quite nimble, but that must have been quite tough to put yourself back a few notches in terms of your instrument skills.

Frank: It was. I think you said something, I hate to admit, but the ego part of it is very important because unfortunately, people would come up to me and then my own band guys would challenge me as well. I bought a less expensive Hofner, a Chinese Hofner to start practicing on. It was cheap enough where I’d leave it sit right there in the living room. I’d pick it up and play it every day. Every day, I’d play this guitar. It took a period of six months to be able to play the easy stuff, the first set we would strip down. I could play that stuff.

Frank: Then, the harder songs, like Day Tripper, which are playing on the seventh fret on the A string, on the E on A and you’re going up with that riff from there. That’s a little trickier, but after about a year or so, I got proficient enough to do that song. From then on, I’ve been probably good enough to do all the songs. Had no real trouble doing all those songs we’re doing currently. Let’s put it that way. I have those down.

Christopher: Nice. I think it’s a neat, little case study, in a way of something a lot of musicians I’m sure can relate to, where you want to make a great leap forward, but you need to be willing to take a step or two back to be able to do it. You’re going to have to be willing to put in the work, even if you’re trusting that the payoff will eventually come. I think that’s really admirable.

Christopher: I think the Beatles are often talked about in terms of the unique relationship between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but in your group, you actually have an even more unique spin on it in that Michael, who plays the role of John, is actually Frank’s son. Is that right?

Frank: Correct.

Michael: That’s totally chilling.

Christopher: Cool. Then, we have to pick up with Michael’s own back story. What was music like in your household growing up?

Michael: It was ever-present. I think that was, from a unique standpoint, one of your pre-questions that I found interesting was when people were saying, “What made you want to become a musician or join a band?” It had the opposite approach where I don’t think there was ever a moment growing up where I didn’t think I was going to be playing music at some point. It was never made a conscious decision to say, “I’m going to be in a band.” It was, I think, me and the neighborhood kids from our first band in the basement when I was about nine. We were very young.

Michael: It helped, of course, that my dad was in bands and I had a whole band backline of drum, amps, guitars, microphones, basically in the basement from the time I was in elementary school. So it was very quick to pick up a guitar and learn to play it and learn from a young age that this is something that I was going to do and didn’t start … You don’t hone your musical influence and your musical voice until the moment for everyone.

Michael: The Beatles came late to, even though my dad certainly was a huge influence and there was always Beatles around, he didn’t want to shove them down our throat and force us to be Beatle people. The knowledge of the Beatles was very secondary. My first really big musical flashbulb was U2. We heard With or Without You, the U2 song on the radio. I can remember where I was to this day. It was a sunny afternoon. We were about to go over a railroad and this came on the radio and it just turned everything I’d ever heard upside down, which greatly influenced the way I wanted to sing.

Michael: I taught myself to sing in the garage. I’d sneak out there and sing U2 songs or the libretto to Phantom of the Opera to learn how to really project my voice and sing in a big way. That led me to just more and more music. I guess that it never really stopped. It was always something that was there and just kept growing and growing and growing.

Michael: Then, when the opportunity came to form an actual band and get out and play. By that point, the whole Beatles catalog had evolved in my life and I remember one of the first recording in groups that I was in, you had to do a project where we got to record a song that was going to be an independent movie. We did Norwegian Wood. It was fun to learn Beatle harmonies in an original way.

Michael: That also, as far as for honing yourself and honing your craft, to get into a studio and can actually hear in crisp detail how good you’re not and all the little errors, how you’re not finishing notes and finish frets and finishing phrases. You realize that, “Oh, boy. This is a lot more technical than I thought it was.” That step from going from pretty good to really good to really good or pretty good to great, even that is very difficult.

Frank: I might say one thing about my own son. In his early band efforts, we recorded him a lot. In other words, they’d have me go out and video tape them a lot.

So, I had to go out there and video tape them. I think that helps them also tighten up the band that he was in, one of the bands he was in. It was actually pretty good.

Christopher: I see. That’s great. So that’s another example, I guess, of where that opportunity to watch or listen back to a recording of yourself gave the opportunity to be a lot more objective and a lot more critical about the difference between good enough and really great in your music making.

One of the gifts that learning Beatles music and trying to emulate Beatle music has given is learning a lot of ways to approach a note or a chord or a song in that the Beatles never did anything easy. They never took the simple route from point A to point B. They purposely went on difficult tasks in order to make the music more interesting. It’s a constant learning process. We’re learning more about how to play the things we’re playing on a daily basis. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Christopher: Very cool. And so Mike, if we come back for a moment to those times when you were sneaking off to belt out songs by yourself, do you have any insights for the people who are maybe nervous about singing and can only look with admiration at someone like yourself who’s front of stage performing confidently as a singer? How did you go about becoming that singer?

Michael: I’m a narcissist. No. There’s a tiny bit of truth to that, where anyone who chooses to jump up in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people, demanding that they all look at them. Hey, there’s a little bit of mental illness in that, but for those who are not so inclined, it really comes down to confidence. It’s not the confidence in I want people to know that I’m a great singer. It’s the confidence in saying I can do this.

Michael: It’s none of that belief, but that the voice is a muscle, but few things have to be done for any muscle to achieve a goal. You need to work and exercise that muscle and you need to use that muscle fully. So for a lot of people who are timid or afraid to go out and sing, they’re very tight. They’re very tight in the throat. They’re very short, shallow breath, and no projection. In order to really sing well, you have to put air through the vocal cords. You have to breathe deep and push from the belly and allow the vocal cords to expand and contract and vibrate through the air. That really is only done when you exercise it right and do it right. If you’re afraid to let that voice out, it’s going to be hard to sing.

Michael: That’s the belief you need. It’s not so much that I’m an awesome singer, it’s that I’m going to do this and I can do this and I’m going to go give it a try. Yes, practice on your own, but you can’t be afraid to get out and do it and let it out.

Christopher: Terrific. It sounds like Frank and Mike, you both were immersed in music from fairly early on. How about you, Pat? Was music part of your childhood or was it something you came to later?

Pat: Me, personally, it was part of my childhood in the fact that I just liked to hit things. No. My favorite toy was bringing out the pots and pans at age two. My mom and dad got me a toy drum set at age four. It wasn’t that anybody else in the family was musical. It was just me personally that wanted to do that.

Pat: Then, I finally got a real drum set at age 12.

Christopher: That’s great. Your parents presumably then were supportive, even if they weren’t musicians themselves?

Pat: I think so. They just knew that that’s what I was constantly doing. Before I even got drumsticks, I remember I had two broken pieces, sticks from, I don’t know, like a TV cart I used to carry around. I would pretend that I was playing drums with it. They obviously knew that I had a big inclination to do this. They didn’t discourage me.

Christopher: That’s great. Did you go onto take lessons or how did you learn drums from there?

Pat: Yeah. Unfortunately, I only took about six months worth of lessons when I was in grade school. I did learn to read a little bit. I then went onto play in the high school marching band and also symphonic band. A little of it was, there was a movie out called Drumline, if you’ve ever seen it. The character in there, one of his issues is he’s a great drummer, but he’s not great at reading music and he does it by ear.

Pat: That’s basically my story is that I wasn’t a great snare drummer in marching band, but I could pick up in so far as sight reading. When you’re in marching band and symphonic band, you have to be able to sight read a lot of music. While I could do it okay, especially if I can get some help and practice what I was reading, more often than not, I just listened to everybody else and copied it and was able to copy it.

Pat: That was a little bit difficult as being in high school and you’re with these other guys who are really good at reading music.

Christopher: But it sounds like it gave you a reason to develop quite a good ear for music if you were relying on that to pick things up to play them right.

Pat: Right. It probably helped me with the Beatle music because, as we’re trying to duplicate the accuracy of the Beatle music, you actually have to listen and re-listen to those parts. What spring doing on the bass drum? Okay, what’s he doing on the snare drum. He actually has to pay attention, to try to get exactly that sound because everybody knows Beatle music. If it’s not accurate, then people are going to know it’s not accurate. I think our job is to replicate it as true as possible. Obviously, that’s what I try to do.

Christopher: That’s fascinating. When we talk about dynamics, at Musical U and when we talk about rhythm skills, one point we often make to people is these are things that the listener is very conscious of, even if they don’t realize it. No one comes away from a gig being like, “Wow! That band had a really tight sense of rhythm,” but if the band doesn’t have a really tight sense of rhythm, they’re going to come away saying, “That was not a great band.” I guess that kind of accuracy of the way you guys perform the songs is something that subconsciously makes a huge difference to the listener. Would you say that’s right?

Pat: Definitely. We want them to come away with the feeling that that’s exactly how they remember the song. If we’re playing She Loves You, everybody knows how She Loves You goes, but we got to get the harmonies just right. We got to get the guitar parts just right. We’ve got to get the crash of the cymbals just right and obviously tempo and timing as well, but that goes more along with how we’re feeling, but …

Christopher: As I’m sure it did for the Beatles themselves – no click tracks for them!

Pat: Right.

Christopher: Patrick, maybe you can just give us a glimpse into what it would look like. You are someone who takes pride in replicating Ringo’s drumming very precisely and authentically. If you were going to learn a new song from the catalog for a new show, what would that look like in terms of sitting down at your drum kit and trying to put together the right rendition?

Pat: At first, I would get my headphones out and listen to the song repeatedly. I might just concentrate on an individual drum, for example, like the bass drum. “Okay, what’s the bass drum doing,” and then, “What’s the snare drum doing?” I would listen to that over and over.

Pat: Nowadays, they actually have scores. Back when I was growing up, they didn’t have the Beatles scores that you could actually sit down and read the drum music, et cetera, but nowadays, they do. That actually helps a lot. The funny thing is they’re about 90% accurate. Sometimes, they’ve made mistakes, I think, in those scores, but they do help. Oh, yeah. Along with and nowadays, too, now that we’re getting into Anthology and stuff, they have isolated tracks. They might have a track out on YouTube that just has the bass part or the drum part. It’s the real Beatles. It’s not somebody just doing a cover of their … It’s the actually Beatles.

Pat: For example, Revolution and I Feel Fine has just Ringo’s drums out there. It’s really fascinating to listen to that. It’s much easier to duplicate that when you can just hear the drums by themselves but then, of course, you go along and play. You can even, often times, I’ll play along with the song to get a feeling of the tempo, et cetera and just a feel of the song, but that’s my process, anyway, of at least starting to learn a new song.

Christopher: Got you. Cool. Would then that just be something that you had memorized and relied on your memory for or would you be notating down your opinion of what the precise playing was?

Pat: No. I don’t ever notate it myself. Although we’ve got in arguments in the band between ourselves between exactly what’s going on there, but I rely on my memory to get the part accurate. I’ve heard these songs, I mean I grew up a Beatles fan and they’re the only band that I really listen to, so I’ve heard these songs hundreds and hundreds of times. In fact, if Mike or Frank say a word wrong, it hits me right away because I know it’s wrong.

Frank: Watch out.

Pat: Yeah. Yeah, so they can’t get much past me, but …

Frank: No.

Christopher: Cool. So with Frank and Michael, clearly jamming and improvising and being creative was a big part of how they developed as musicians, Patrick was that something for you? Is there a creative side to your musical development in those high school days?

Pat: I would just try to write … I used to like to try to write songs. I taught myself guitar. I taught myself piano. I always try to like to write songs. This is back in high school. They’re all simple songs, very simple and kind of naïve and corny, but as the years went by, I noticed that I got a little better and the songwriting that I wrote got better. There’s stuff that I’m actually pleased with.

Pat: I look back on the Beatles career. It’s very similar in that when they started out and even Paul McCartney said this, that when he and John starting writing, their songs weren’t very good. They had quite a few clunkers, but he said, as the years went by, they got a little better at it and more skilled at it. I think it is. I think it’s true that not only when you grow up, your songwriting might change perspective, but I think you get better at it just because you’re practicing at it. I think it’s just like playing an instrument. I think songwriting is something you have to practice.

Michael: Yeah. I think they were also studying. When they were in Hamburg or playing in bars, they had to play all the time. They would learn songs during their breaks and just keep learning and learning and learning songs till, in a sense, they were studying or getting schooling without even really knowing that they were. They weren’t really consciously like, “Oh, yes. I’m studying this music,” but learning all these songs and being able to play them by memory. That, I think, fed into their songwriting, too, and learning good stuff. Early rock and roll and early Tin Pan Alley songs and jazz music. I think that really played a huge role in their writing as well.

Frank: One thing that I’ll point out, too, is when you have a partner or, in my case, my younger brother and I would play together and we would write songs, too. A good technique is having a partner or guys in the band all on the same page who want to write a song or whatever, if you want. Sometimes, it takes that little bit of teamwork to get you going and start doing something like that when you’re thinking of originality. John Lennon and Paul McCartney worked a lot together early on. Then, later on, they wrote their own songs basically, but …

Michael: Yeah, like a communal mind of sorts.

Frank: Yeah, so for Pat, he did it all on his own in his younger years. I found out after my brother and I sort of, he went the classical way and I stayed with rock and roll, it was harder to get motivated when I was in college and stuff to write songs. I gave it up because John was so good of a partner. My John. My John Muratore brother. If any musician out there has a friend or can get a partnership in a band going, even with all the band members, that’s a really great thing. Just bouncing ideas back and forth is a great learning experience. That’s all I’m saying.

Christopher: That’s great advice. I think, for me, it’s definitely one of the most interesting and encouraging things to come out of looking at the Beatles and their back story is that reality that they did not start out on day one incredible songwriters and performers. There was definitely a long journey of learning their craft.

Christopher: It’s really interesting, Pat, to hear that you relate to that journey of songwriting and that you saw it in your own work and were encouraged by the fact that it was clearly a learned skill even for the Beatles.

Pat: Yeah. Very much so. You think that they tend to learn to do it by emulating The Everly Brothers and Chuck Berry and Little Richard and a lot of the bands that they liked, that they learned to become the Beatles by emulating these other artists. We’re all standing on the shoulders of somebody giant.

Christopher: For sure. In a moment, I want to dig in a bit more in the music of the Beatles because I think you guys have a really unique perspective on that, but before that, I want to make sure we hear about John’s back story.

Christopher: John, you play George in the group. Could you tell us about your own musical upbringing?

John: Yeah. Sure. Similarly to Frank’s story, my sister played in the middle school and high school band. Then, it came time for me, when I was about in fifth grade to make the decision to kind of like, “Do I want to do something like that, too?”

John: A little bit before that, I had a guitar, about in third grade, but really wasn’t able to learn much on my own. I’d just plunk around and think I remember, it came with a sheet music of Oh, Susannah. I tried to play that. I just couldn’t quite figure it out.

John: Fast forward a little bit to about fifth grade, one of the earliest events that led me in a musical direction was when the school orchestra teacher came in, fifth grade in my elementary school was pretty much like, “Okay. Now, you decide. Do you join orchestra?” It was the first experience in my school district where we could really explore music. Before that, it was just general music class and recorder, things like that, tapping rhythms and singing things, but fifth grade was the orchestra decision test.

John: The school orchestra teacher came into our class. She basically played a game with us, but what I didn’t realize, it was really sort of a placement test for the students to see who might fit in the orchestra program or be a good candidate to studying music through middle school and high school. This game she played audio recordings for us of melodies, chords, different scales, basically like two examples back to back. We basically have two choices. Is this the same or is it different? We just check a box saying we’re different.

John: I remember, for some reason, I wanted to do really well at that test or that game. From what I remember, I think I did. I don’t have the results of the test. I don’t think we ever saved those, but I remember doing pretty well and getting a good result. The teacher grading our test at the end and would say, like, “Hey, you should try orchestra,” or, “Hey, maybe you should try it later in middle school,” or something like that.

John: I joined the school orchestra in violin. I committed to that with my parents. For me, the whole motivation to join orchestra was really, I wanted to play guitar. My parents said, “Well, okay. Fine. You can try guitar maybe later, but you have to do this serious study of music first. You have to really …” It’s like that rite of passage kind of thing I think a lot of parents go through and when a kid wants to take up an instrument.

John: Did violin for a couple of years. Then, when I got to about 12, that was about in seventh grade. The option came for me to, “Hey, do you want to try out guitar? Do you want to take some lessons?” I switched to guitar at that point. I was doing both. To be honest, violin and orchestra, I didn’t really do well at. I was kind of like last chair most of the time in the violin section, but I was always like had the eye on guitar, like, “I want to do that.” Finally, at about age 12, I started taking guitar lessons and really got hooked into it. I kept up with violin until about high school, but then guitar just took over from there.

John: Then, after that, like I made a decision to go to music school and went to Capital University in Columbus. Then, I studied jazz guitar and contemporary guitar. As a guitar performance major.

Christopher: Where did the Beatles enter the picture?

John: That’s a good question. The Beatles entered the picture early on. I guess I forgot to mention that. I had a friend in about sixth grade. I’d go to his house and we’d play pool after school. I remember one day we came down and we’re getting ready to play pool and put a CD into his stereo. The first sounds that came out were the Sgt. Pepper orchestra sounds. Then Sgt. Pepper just came out. It was like seeing color for the first time. It’d be like transported into a whole new world. It was really, really cool like a vibrant experience, hearing that album for the first time.

John: For me, that album really stuck with me, just the sound of it, really brings back that vivid memory, every time I hear it. Then I’d see features on TV like The Beatles Anthology when it came out in the 90s. I remember seeing that on PBS. My parents got the Anthology tapes and things like that because that was about transitional time when tapes and CD were both still kind of around, which was cool.

John: But I was really moved by the whole Beatles story. I remember feeling an instant connection or this nostalgia for something that I never really even experienced or lived myself, like I wasn’t old enough to have seen them on Ed Sullivan or grow up through the 60s with the music, but I just remember getting to the end of that anthology and just being sad and moved in a strange way and wishing that they were still together, but even wishing John Lennon was still alive. It was a weird feeling in that regard, but it was an instant connection with the music of the Beatles.

John: After college and everything, that kind of always stuck with me. I left that music for a while to study jazz and classical, but then after college, I found myself gravitating more towards the Beatles again, like getting into the White Album, I think was one of the big albums that I got into after college and just immersed myself in and listen to day in and day out while I was working on other things.

Christopher: I see. As George in the band, your guitar skills are obviously front and center. You also have to factor in playing sitar on some tracks. Is that right?

John: True. Yeah. We came into that endeavour a couple years ago. We played at this event called “Abbey Road on the River” every year, which is in Jeffersonville, Indiana. One of the things they started doing in 2016 is they said, “Okay. We want everybody to try to do something special for their sets and program your sets in a way that’ll be special.” We decided, “Well, why don’t we try a whole album straight through?” 2016 was the 50th anniversary of the Revolver album. We felt, “Well, let’s pitch that. Let’s pitch that to the festival and see what they say.”

John: We did. We said, “Okay. We’re going to do Revolver all straight through.” Listening through the album, we were actually on a trip to Canada, the whole band was riding up to Canada. We were listening to the album straight through. We got to Love You To, the George Harrison sitar track. It was the second track that George Harrison really used sitar on. We got to that part. We were all like, “Well, great. What are we going to do there?”

John: We all started. “Maybe you can get a guitar pedal that’ll sound close or maybe you could play on guitar and that’d be close enough.” Everything I looked at and everything I tried, I was like, “Well, that’s just not quite there.” For me, it just didn’t quite do it for me. I kept it a secret for a while, but I was like, in my head, I was like, “Well, maybe I’ll try to find a sitar or something.”

John: This is kind of a really cool connection. Where I live in Columbus, Ohio, there is a sitar instructor who is pretty well-renowned across the nation for us. One of my guitar students at the time had taken sitar lessons from him. I knew of him. He was close to my circle of people that I knew. I’d heard about this guy. I went and found him. He was running an open mic. I went out and found him and say. Found him on the set break. I said, “Hey. I need to learn sitar.” This was February of 2016. The festival is in May. It’s like, “I need to learn sitar in about three months.”

Christopher: Wow!

John: He’s like, “Well, you could probably do it.” He said, “You know, George was good. He knew what he was doing, but he wasn’t really a virtuoso necessarily. He knew the right techniques and he could apply them.” He’s like, “But, you know, it’s attainable. It’s accessible, I think, for a guitar player of your level right now.” I said, “Great. You know, can we start taking lessons?” He’s like, “Yeah. Sure.”

John: Took a couple of lessons or, I should say, we arranged to take some lessons and then we were talking at that open mic. I also said, “Well, I also need a sitar. I don’t have one.” He’s like, “Okay. Well, that’s fine. You know, I actually happen to have one right now that one of my former students gave back to me.” He’s like, “I can sell it to you for a really good used price.”

John: I bought that from him, started learning every day, just like what Frank was saying. Really, what all of us have been saying, pick it up every day. I realized I had a pretty heavy task in front of me learning this instrument. I’d sit with it every day and learn the technique, learn how to actually physically make my body do the things that needed to do in order to play this. It was definitely a learning curve, definitely more painful on your left hand fingers than a guitar would be and even on the right hand. There’s a little device that you hold on your finger called a mezrab on your right hand index finger that’s the plucking mechanism. It’s like a little piece of paper clip wrapped around your finger. It’s pretty painful thing to use.

Christopher: I see. And so it was a matter of putting in the daily practice. In that three-month window, were you able to get up to speed?

John: It really was, yeah. We did it. We pulled it off at that festival. Yeah. It was just learning the instrument, my background in music theory and music school and things like that really helped because I’d knew how to practice and how to practice efficiently, use my time wisely. I was only learning that one song. I basically had this real heavy focus on this one song where I could put in that effort on the instrument.

Christopher: John, you mentioned something there that’s been a common theme already, which is putting in the daily effort and the kind of, to put it bluntly, the hard work that goes into such a faithful rendition of the Beatles’ music.

Christopher: Before we talk a little more about that, I’d love if one of you could maybe paint a picture. I think, John, you gave us a little bit of insight there into what might go on at one of your shows, the fact that you are putting together a start-to-finish rendition of Revolver for one of these festival shows. You did a performance at the Cavern Club, the famous place where the Beatles kicked off their career, as it were. Maybe one of you could tell us about that performance and what you put into that set and what it was like for an audience member to see Hard Day’s Night perform there.

Frank: That was me and Michael, so I’ll take that. That was a few years ago. First of all, it was an amazing trip for us to go to Liverpool. We played at the Adelphi. We played at the Cavern upper and lower cavern and we played at Pete Best’s back yard. They had a tent set up there. Pete Best was there, matter of fact. Number one, we had to meet Pete Best while we’re there. Number two, the year we played the Beatles festival at the end of August, they call that Beatles Week. What do they call it? International Beatles Festival, they call it.

Frank: There were only two American bands there that year, I believe. We were one of them. A lot of the audience people came up to us and were very friendly. When we played the upper cavern, I think first. I think it was 1:00 on a Saturday or something or Sunday. I can’t remember. We’re walking in, getting ready to play. I was really early in the afternoon, like 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. I’m saying to the guy, “What are all these people doing all lined up out there?” He says, “They’re here to see you, mate.”

Frank: All these people crowd into the upper cavern. We had a full house. We played, I don’t know, a 90-minute set. By then, I was about ready to go hoarse, but the people were so nice to us, so friendly and because we were Yanks, they thought it was great that we were imitating the Beatles, but the other Cavern, we played the lower cavern then. It was very tight stage. It was very hot, of course. I don’t want to say sweaty, but it was kind of sweaty. It was tight on stage.

Frank: Matter of fact, for a left-handed bass player, that’s why Paul might have stood in the middle a lot because if you play the bass left handed and you’re standing where he normally did later on in the years on that side of the stage, you’d ram the bass into the wall a lot. If you look at the pictures of the Beatles in the Cavern, I think Paul’s mostly in the middle of the stage.

Frank: Anyway, it was a great experience. We got to see all the sights, of course. We got to stay in a house just around the corner from John Lennon’s boyhood home

Frank: And Strawberry Fields is just up the road. Went to Paul’s house, of course. We made the rounds. It was a great trip. We’re thinking about going back, but going back is always a price. It’s a cost adventure because we give up local, US gigs here to pretty much fund ourselves to go to Liverpool. It’s a decision we would do for our own entertainment more than making money. It’s not a money thing.

Michael: Yeah. Trying to remember what the set listing. It was just early Beatle rockers. That’s the only thing I remember.

Frank: Yeah. We did the hard stuff, rock and roll music. Long Tall Sally, Hard Day’s Night, I Saw Her Standing There, Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, of course. Probably did things like You Can’t Do That. Most of the stuff from the early ’62 to ’66 era.

Christopher: Very cool. Obviously, to be selected for that opportunity is evidence of the fact that you guys are among the best Beatles tribute bands in the world. I’d love to hear from your perspective why is that? What is it that sets you guys apart from, let’s say, the average Beatles tribute band or even just the average band that gets together to play some Beatles songs? What makes the difference between being okay at this and being really world-leading?

Frank: Attention to detail’d be one thing, I’d say. That’s what Pat mentioned earlier about the songs. In other words, when we go to learn song, we do strip it down. For me, I do the Paul, so obviously I listen to the vocal. I do it opposite. I listen to the vocal first and then I go to the bass parts. I listen to that and I work on that.

Frank: Then when we get together to rehearse, we fine tune it from there. John, being a music major, we do have that complete Beatles score book or whatever. John’ll go and look at that. Then, we’ll listen to it. We go back and forth saying, “I think this is what the note is, just the chord structure, whatever.” We do a lot of that in rehearsal and study on our own to try to get the attention to detail.

Frank: We haven’t mentioned this yet, but each character in our group spends a lot of time looking at the real Beatles on stage and try to emulate the stance, how you stand, how you project yourself when you’re playing a guitar solo, how Ringo moved. Pat’s really good with the Ringo moves. That’s part of this show, too. You’re not really yourself acting. It takes a while for each member to be comfortable in its own skin to be somebody else on stage even though it’s really hard to say that because these are four icons. And we’re just four guys, but we’re just part of an act, but we try to put the detail in.

Michael: Yeah. Details also, but the other thing, it’s been lucky for us is, for the last six, seven years, we’ve had the same four guys play every show, which, for a lot of tribute bands, a lot of bands, it’s hard to keep a group together. That continuity helps mentally to where most of the time there’s always little hiccups, but you can see something in each others’ eyes. You know basically, “Okay, we need to cut this. We need to move to something else.” Little, innate, intuitive things that you pick up from each other helps to show just flow. Rather than just being a bunch of guys playing a collection of songs, it really becomes a show from start to finish. That’s something that we work very hard at creating presentations. From the first note to the final bow, it’s an act.

Pat: So one of the other things that sets us apart is the authentic instruments we’re using. It would be hard for other people if they were playing modern drum sets or modern guitar that actually get the correct sound that the Beatles produced. So I have a set of 1960s Ludwig guitars and Zildjian cymbals, the same ones from that era that Ringo used.

Michael: Ludwig guitars?

Pat: Ludwig drums. I’m sorry. Ludwig Drums

Michael: How many sets you have, Pat?

Pat: I have four sets.

Michael: He has four vintage sets.

Pat: Then, the other guys have authentic Rickenbacker guitars, Hofners, Gretsch. Actually using those instruments makes the sound that we’re making very much closer to what the Beatles sounded like.

Frank: John, what do you say about that?

John: Yeah. I think that’s all good. We have a ’67 Gretsch Country Gentleman. Right, Frank?

Frank: Right. Yes. We use 13 or 15 guitars in our show, I can’t remember.

Christopher: Wow!

John: Too many, right?

Frank: I have to haul them, so they’re too many. Yeah.

John: Yeah. that was the big reason why we chose to use the sitar in the show to emulate Norwegian Wood, Love You To, and Within You Without You because when we did our research, there’s nothing else that could get that sound. Something had to be done. That’s what got us the sound. Use the Sitar.

Frank: The visual impact of him playing that Sitar is very, how should I say this? It’s big. The audience really is … They’re surprised by that. They’re surprised by that.

Christopher: You touched on the visual impact there. I believe the costuming is also a big part of your attention to detail and authenticity. Is that right?

Frank: Correct. We go through lots of different costume changes. We obviously have the early suits. Then, we have on what we call the Shea jackets, which they wore at Shea Stadium. Then, of course, the Sgt. Pepper outfits. To get into that, they all had mustaches at that point and different type, longer hair, sideburns. All that, yeah. Not only do you have to pay attention to the music, you have to pay attention to their wardrobe and how they looked as well. That’s a challenge.

John: Yeah. That’s hard. That stuff’s hard to really get right.

Frank: As John Auker as George, at one time, you were wearing that full beard. You remember that beard?

John: Yeah.

John: We did the Abbey Road with a full beard on and the big, long wig.

Frank: So anyway, the clothing does add somewhat to the visual effect. The correct instruments also help.

Christopher: Yes. Terrific. I definitely recommend our listeners go have a look on your website and on YouTube because I think you have to see these costumes in action to understand just how powerful it is visually that you guys recreate the look of it as well as the music.

Christopher: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but that’s maybe touching on something I was keen to ask, which is all of you guys have played at a high level in non-Beatles groups. You’ve performed in bands in varied genres. I’d love to know what is it that’s different about playing in Hard Day’s Night? What is it that it brings out of you as a musician that other musical projects maybe don’t?

Frank: There’s more leeway. You’re playing in a band doing original music or a band doing covers, so it’s a top 40 going back … I mean, back when there was a top 40, you could replicate. You had a lot more leeway in that because you were a nightclub band, not a concert band.

Frank: In Hard Day’s Night, we’re doing mostly concert shows and the focus from the audience is really pinpointed to the four guys on stage. When you’re doing a nightclub show in a bar or whatever it is, it’s just backup music or dance music. The people are more concerned about having a good time dancing, drinking, whatever. They’re not concentrating on you, the performer at all. You rarely get even applause after the songs in a bar, but here, we’re doing performance and people applaud and recognize what you’re doing.

Michael: Looking at it from an original band standpoint, when you’re playing your own songs, your own creations or original music, it’s a lot more open-ended, meaning if I wanted to change some lyrics or change a chord progression or throw in a different solo, not only do people not care, but sometimes, they’re fans of the band might find that exciting, whereas what we’re doing now, especially the Beatles music is so part of the pop culture, so part of the zeitgeist that you really want to try to be accurate. People expect accuracy and relentless precision. They want to hear what the source material was.

Michael: Replicating that in an accurate way while still being live, electric, and exciting is the challenge that we take on. I’d say, Frank and I definitely push the envelope on being raw and live. I think Pat and John are better at keeping us on track, of not straying too far …

Frank: Yeah. The purist mentality, right?

John: For me, it’s kind of like multi-faceted. Music, if you’re going to play music, there’s so many avenues you can go and there’s so many facets of your musicality that you can tap into. For me, it’s almost like personality, like whenever I play with other groups, other music nights, I’m in a house band at a place called 31 West. We do big tribute nights that are basically just go out and play the songs of a legendary songwriter. When we do that, it’s a little more loose and we can provide our own interpretation. I think there, you can put more of your own personality into the music. You can tell your story.

John: When I play at church, it’s like, we have to play the original arrangements of the recordings there and it’s just play the part and go, like a touring musician would if they were playing with a large tour like Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga or Katy Perry or something. You play the part and that’s it. Maybe some musician might feel that that’s stifling. “I don’t get to be creative in that regard,” but it’s all just playing a part.

John: For me, the Beatles is such a strong connection with everybody and everybody takes a meaning from one of their songs. Yes, we’re being purists and we’re playing the exact parts and I’m seeing the exact part George would have sung. I’m playing the exact guitar part George would have played, but at the same time, it’s connecting with that. What’s that song mean to people? What’s the song mean to me? What’s the story of the song and can I bring that emotion every time into the song and give that to people and give that feeling to the people when they first heard that song either blaring through a stereo or on TV on Ed Sullivan or something like that, that excitement and that energy. The notes don’t change, but that amount of feeling we put into it changes.

Christopher: Very cool. We’ve talked a bit about the kind of showmanship involved and also the hard work and attention to detail that goes into the performances you guys put on.

Christopher: I’d love to step back and just talk a little bit about the music of the Beatles as a listener, as a fan, because you have probably listened to this music in more detail, in more depth than even the most rabid fans. So I’d love to hear your insights and ideas and opinions about what it is that makes the music of the Beatles so worth forming a tribute band around. Why is this one of the, if not the band of the 20th century, what makes them so special?

Pat: This is Pat. One is that they have such a vast body of work that’s great. Maybe you can form a tribute band out of several other groups.

Pat: AC/DC or whatever, but they don’t have the body of the work the Beatles did. Not only that, but it’s interesting in the fact that the Beatles, you can break it down into at least three, possibly four different segments of musical …

Michael: Era.

Pat: … eras. They had had an early era. They had this Sgt. Pepper, where they totally come on as a different type of group. Then, they had their later period where the songs are vastly different and there’s a lot more piano and there’s a lot more orchestration. It keeps it interesting, not only for us, but I think it keeps it interesting for the public.

Frank: Yeah. Then, what you ask what make the Beatles music special, whatever, to any one of us. I have to say that somehow, everybody has a personal connection to the songs when they listen to it. When I listen to the Beatles, somehow, I imagine them in the studio doing it. I also imagine them singing to me. In other words, in how I remember my life relates to some of the words of the song. That seems to go on with some of the people come see us play. They have certain songs that are like therapy to them. It’s just a personal attachment to their lives. I suppose we’re that way, too because I think everybody in this band’s a real fan of the Beatles. I don’t know that we would do this if we weren’t a big fan of the Beatles, would we?

John: Yeah.

Michael: You have to be a fan. To put this much relentless obsession into buying all the guitars and the costumes and the wigs and the learning the stats and the out-of-body experience that comes with learning to try to perform as somebody else. Yeah, you have to have a deep enjoyment and passion for the music. The Beatles have such a wide catalog that they appeal to a wide range of people. It’s easy to get four guys together that love the music. I bet you poll us all and we probably have different favorite eras of the Beatles, let alone favorite songs. It creates for a fun dynamic.

Michael: There’s an amazing hunger for it with an audience, where you see it reflected back at you every time you play. It’s a hugely rewarding experience for both the band and the audience and they’re really sharing this love of the music.

John: Yeah. For me, it’s like they’re a groundbreaking band. There’s the history behind it, all the legend and the lore behind it that plays, I think, a huge role. The fact that they’re a really high-selling band, the highest-selling band of all time. Those things, I think, keep the appeal going. The fact that generationally, parents have their kids listen to the music of the Beatles. Those kids have those kids listening to the music of the Beatles. It’s just something that’s continued on from generation to generation, too. That’s what keeps it, I think, having that high appeal and hopefully high demand, knock and wood, hopefully for years to come.

Frank: Yeah. Some of the young fans who have become fans of the Beatles, the younger people, say maybe about 30 to 10, it’s all new and fresh to them. They appreciate the fact that seeing a tribute band do a good job live because they’ll never get a chance to see the Beatles live, obviously, as nobody else will.

Frank: My point is, there’s a turnover of fans that are young, younger coming along and they’re big fans. They buy their records and everything. When I started doing this 20 years ago, I thought, “Eh, it’ll last, you know, 5 years, 10 years,” or something like that, but I’ve been doing it for 20 years. Other groups we know out there have been doing it for 30 years. It’s keeping going and I think we’re very happy to hear that. I think everybody takes that personal relationship. When they hear the songs, they feel a personal relationship with the Beatles.

John: Yeah. I think what you said is important, too, that the fact that you can’t see the Beatles live right now. A tribute band is the only way to see something close to the Beatles live in concert nowadays, whereas these other groups, you can go see another group live, but there may be a tribute band. Why go see a tribute band when you can actually go see the real band live on tour next week?

Frank: Might be less expensive.

Christopher: Absolutely. Well, I was joking to Adam from our team earlier today that I was really looking forward to interviewing The Beatles. I can certainly relate to that thrill of getting to see as close to The Beatles live as it’s possible to get these days. I thoroughly enjoyed watching your videos online and on the website and YouTube. It definitely made me envious of those in the States who get to see you guys perform live.

Christopher: I’d love if you could share a little bit about where people can get to go to learn more about your band.

Frank: There’s the website. John, why don’t you say all the things we have. We have the website, Go from there.

John: Sure, yeah. We’ve got the website, From there, there’s direction to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube. Our Facebook is Facebook/hdntribute. Our Twitter is hdntributeband. These are all our social media tags. Facebook is hdntribute. Instagram is hdntribute. You can go to YouTube/user/hdntribute. Finally, Twitter, @hdntributeband. Those are the main ways to find out about us.

Christopher: that’s fantastic. Thank you. I definitely encourage our listeners to go watch some of the videos on YouTube and give them a like or a follow on Facebook or Twitter so you can stay up to date on the latest. I think you guys are fantastic in the performances you put on. Next time I’m in the States, I’m going to look up your tour dates because I would love to see you live myself. It has been a real pleasure to get to talk to you all and thank you for sharing these insights, both into your own journeys as musicians and into the world of the music of the Beatles. It’s been a really unique conversation and I’d just love to thank you all for joining us on the show today.

Frank: Thanks for having us.

John: Ta, Chris.

Michael: Yes. Thank you.

Christopher: Cool. I don’t think I’d ever had a ta from a guest before. Very nice.

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The post How To Be The Beatles, with Hard Day’s Night appeared first on Musical U.