By Tim Sommer
The Beatles are an Everest both musically and culturally. Their work is such an essential and familiar part of our lives that we often take for granted the extraordinary depth, detail, and grace to be found in their recordings.
“They inspired me to be a studio musician, to play on over 1,800 albums, to do everything I’ve ever done,” says Will Lee, one of the most famous session bassists in the world and a member of the Fab Faux, who have been reproducing the Beatles music in concert since the end of the last century. “No matter what I did – it didn’t even have to be rock’n’roll – I always had the Beatles as a reference point.”
It is ironic that as the Beatles’ own arrangements and recordings became more complex and full of the psychedelic, psychoacoustic, baroque and balletic touches that made them so singular and memorable, the band themselves withdrew from the live stage. We will never know how the Beatles would have handled intricate arrangements like “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Tomorrow Never Knows” in a live setting.
Thanks to Mr. Lee and the Fab Faux, we can now hear the magical gifts of the Beatles in a totally live concert setting, including faithful and vivid reproductions of their most ornate productions.
“The typical Beatles band that existed were people who pretended to be the Beatles, which always seemed to be a little bit silly to me,” says Lee, who is likely familiar to you as the blonde bassist for David Letterman’s band for the entire 33-year run of the show. “But I met our drummer and singer Rich Pagano back in 1997, and I was just hit over the head with a hammer after hearing Rich’s voice and the way he played drums in a very Ringo-esque way, and his singing voice reminded me so much of John Lennon. It dawned on me, wouldn’t it be fun to bring the Beatles records to the stage with that guy? The more I thought about it, the more I realized it had to be at least a five-piece on stage to get those great double harmonies and those extra percussion and keyboard parts that all those four-man lookalike Beatles bands had been missing out on. I realized that we had the potential to go deeper into the music, and get more of those great recordings on to the stage that people hadn’t really been doing because it was just too complicated.”
The Fab Faux, who are a must-see for anyone who appreciates the groundbreaking music and production landscapes of the Beatles, will be performing this Saturday night at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
“We realize that if you’re going to have the ‘Penny Lane’ solo, you have to have a piccolo trumpet player, if you’re going to play ‘Blue Jay Way’ or ‘I Am the Walrus,’ how great would it be to have real strings and have a cello and violin up there doing stuff,” Lee notes. “So we’ve gotten to the point where at a show like the one at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, we’re eleven pieces on stage. It’s the same core five guys on stage, we’ve stuck together all these years, which is kind of amazing if you’re a New York band. That’s kind of unheard of in this town, for guys to be so like-minded that they would actually hang in their for the music for so long.”
The Fab Faux also features Jimmy Vivino, Frank Agnello, and Jack Petruzzelli, in addition to the many guests who help bring the Beatles aural treasures to life. Mr. Vivino is also a veteran of another well-known late night TV band, having played guitar in Conan O’Brien’s TV band for decades.
Speaking of TV bands, the Paul Schaeffer-led Letterman band was one of the most famous talk-show bands of all time, and Mr. Lee was on board for the entire 33-year life of the group. “What happened for us was that, unwittingly, we became the most visible rock’n’roll cover band that there probably ever will be,” Mr. Lee notes, fondly. “When you think about it, that’s exactly what we were doing – we were just covering our favorite rock’n’roll and r’n’b stuff.”
When Letterman bid farewell to his long-running late night show this past May, was it hard to say goodbye?
“I thought I would have this feeling of emptiness afterwards, but it didn’t really ever happen. And as time has gone on since then, I’ve just started to miss people I would see on a daily basis that I really got along with well, especially the band. I don’t want to be greedy and say I want more, but I felt kind of fulfilled afterwards having gotten to witness a really great TV program every day of my life from my great vantage point.”
In the meantime, Mr. Lee continues his work as one of the most sought-after session bassist in the entire industry (he’s played with everyone from Steely Dan to Ringo Starr, Mariah Carey to Buddy Rich), and he has just released his third solo album, the eclectic and eminently listenable “Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions.” But a central part of his musical life is the Fab Faux and their continued quest to honor and explore the Beatles music and bring the thrill of it to live audiences. Mr. Lee says he finds new insights into that monumental canon of material every night.
“It’s a great lesson, and it’s humbling every time, I’m telling you, after all these years to go back and still find fresh stuff in every Beatles track. As your awareness becomes more used to the stuff you’ve heard before, now new interesting things start to pop up, if you just keep listening. Incredible.”
The Fab Faux will be appearing on Saturday, July 18 at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC), 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. For more information, or for tickets, call (631) 288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.