RAIN – A Tribute to The Beatles has drawn widespread praise for its faithful renditions of the Fab Four’s classic compositions – and will kick off the new Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center’s inaugural season Sept. 9.
Like most people of his generation, RAIN founder Mark Lewis said his love for The Beatles dates back to Feb. 9, 1964, when the band performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Lewis played keyboards for the original incarnation of RAIN, which started in the 1970s as a Southern California bar band. Lewis continued to manage and grow the act – eventually achieving national fame and finishing a successful run on Broadway.
Lewis recently chatted with the Mirror from his home in Reno, Nevada, about everything from the timeless appeal of The Beatles to using modern technology to reproduce “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” note for note. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.
How has learning The Beatles catalog made you a better musician?
When it comes to honing rock n’ roll fundamentals, The Beatles are “your main study,” Lewis said. “The Beatles are the backbone, the heart of what contemporary music is. It’s great songwriting, great lyrics, great melodies.” This helps explain the band’s enduring popularity, he said.
“The Beatles started the trend of writing their own music and playing their own instruments and singing their own songs,” said Lewis, noting the band’s prolific album output and evolution between 1964 and their breakup six years later. “They wrote great songs and had great arrangements.”
What is the most difficult Beatles song to reproduce live?
“A difficult one would be ‘A Day in the Life,’ the last track off ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ with its backwards tapes and orchestration and weird sounds and different moods,” he said.
At one time, before the digital revolution, Lewis and his fellow musicians would emulate rather than duplicate The Beatles’ songs. Through trial and error, and with the help of modern technology, Lewis has been able to hone the right tones and nuances. Technology allows RAIN to tear apart arrangements and isolate tracks in order to hear every handclap or cowbell, for example. Other programs help RAIN nail down the Fab Four’s signature harmonies.
“It’s very easy to play The Beatles poorly,” he said, laughing. “Anybody can go out and buy a songbook and plunk through a Beatles song. But to do it right, it takes a lot of time and patience.”
He also said RAIN learns all the songs by ear, rather than relying on sheet music.
“None of the sheet music that I’ve seen is accurate,” Lewis said. “We mostly study the albums and live concerts.”
What’s the most underrated Beatles song or album?
“I don’t consider any of them underrated because there are so few of them,” he said. “How do you compare ‘Meet The Beatles’ with ‘Revolver’ with ‘Sgt. Pepper’ with ‘Let It Be?’”
On that note, Lewis also said it’s hard to classify the individual members’ musical styles because of their versatility.
“Some people say John Lennon was edgier, but Paul McCartney was prettier,” he said. “But then how do you describe Paul singing ‘Helter Skelter’ and John singing ‘In My Life?’”
He added that George Harrison was the more transcendental Beatle who “went more inside of himself. You can hear the Far East influence.”
Have you met any real Beatles?
“I have not, unless you want to consider Pete Best,” said Lewis, referring to the band’s original drummer before Ringo Starr took over.
Lewis said he was playing a small Beatles festival in Miami where Pete Best had been hired to sign autographs. The two were able to visit and get to know each other a bit.
“You don’t want to ask him the obvious stuff like, ‘How did it feel to get kicked out of The Beatles,’” Lewis said. “But I was impressed by the fact that he’s over it. He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder or anger or anything. I was impressed by that.”
Do you prefer digital or vinyl when listening to The Beatles?
“Vinyl is the real sound of how I grew up with The Beatles,” he said. “On a practical level, I’d say the digital format makes more sense, but if you want a more original version of what The Beatles sounded like, I’d say vinyl because that’s the format they mixed for when they recorded.”
Although he was impressed with the clean sound of the CD versions, Lewis may have some regret about not hanging onto those original Beatles releases from the 1960s.
“If I knew then what I know now,” he said, “I would have taken better care of my Beatles records.”
RAIN – A Tribute to The Beatles will begin at 8 p.m. Sept. 9 and is part of a fundraiser for the Federal Way Performing Arts Foundation. The show will be preceded by a gala and dinner. Tickets range from $79 for the show to $249 for the full dinner package. For tickets and information, visit fwpaec.org or call 253-835-7010.