Heritage Music Review (reprint)A monthly guide to early rock, blues, country, folk, and traditional jazz in the Seattle area and beyond. Editor and Publisher: Doug Bright. ELECTRONIC EDITION: Now free to e-mail subscribers and supported by tasteful, music-oriented advertising with a unique news-format approach. Email: email@example.com
SEATTLE'S APPLE JAM MAKES CD DEBUT
"OFF THE BEATLE TRACK"
By Doug Bright
In September 2009, 300,000 people from all over the world attended the annual Beatle week celebration in Liverpool, England, the history-making band's hometown. The most astonishing thing about the event was that the headlining act wasn't even British. It was, in fact, a Seattle group called Apple Jam that had just released a CD called OFF THE BEATLE TRACK featuring fifteen songs from the early Sixties that the Fab Four had written but never commercially recorded. So how were these American upstarts received? "This Seattle band completely blew our socks off," Nina Douglas enthused in the UK-based Beatles blog "The Word Is Love".
The spark that ignited the band's creation was a play written by Steven Roseta drawn from the last interview John Lennon ever gave. Roseta, now 47, had barely been born when the Beatles took the American music scene by storm. His fascination with the legendary Liverpudlians began when he discovered a borrowed copy of the 1970 album LET IT BE among his parents' records. "That got my curiosity going," he recalls. "After that I remember hearing "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields". I heard the later stuff earlier: I kinda went backwards. The Beatles really weren't that popular in '77 when I was growing up, but the Beatles just really hit me as the greatest music I'd ever heard."
Roseta's interest in the Beatles remained constant throughout his career with Microsoft. "I was a marketing and business development guy," he says. "I left in 2004. I'd come up with this idea of taking an aggregate of those interviews John Lennon did in 1980 and making a stage play with John, Yoko, and an interviewer. Then I started reading about this one interview that he did with Yoko a few hours before he was killed, but it was never published. Then I ended up spotting the transcript on eBay, so for sixty dollars I bought it."
The hastily crafted transcript, originating from the RKO Radio affiliate in San Francisco, proved to be tough going, but Roseta persevered. "It was just filled with typos and misspellings 'cause it was done so fast," he remembers. "Through guys on some Beatles blogs who collect this stuff, I was actually able to get the audio matched up. When I read it, I expected it not to be very good. I thought, "Well, if it were good it would have been published," but I would say it was really powerful!"
Although this transcript covered much of the same ground that had been addressed in previous interviews, Steve Roseta found the timing of John Lennon's remarks irresistibly ironic. "I consider that my work won't be finished until I am dead and buried," Lennon told his interviewer, "and I hope that's a long, long time."
"He talks about life, death, his future plans," Roseta elaborates, "and all that just had a much stronger impact knowing that he really did only have a few hours to live. It ended up being more poignant because of the coincidental things that he just happened to say."
It was in 2005, just after Steve Roseta had completed his play, that he met singer/bassist Rick Lovrovich, co-founder of a popular Sixties cover band called the Beatniks, at a Brian Wilson concert. "I recognized him from a Beatniks show," Roseta recalls, "and we just started talking about John Lennon. I found out he was a big fan--told him about the play. Then we decided that it would be a really cool thing to stage a John Lennon tribute show at the Crocodile Cafe on the 25th anniversary of his death and use that to generate interest and funds for the play."
On December 8th, 2005, with a band of fellow Beatlemaniacs assembled by Rick Lovrovich, the John Lennon Jam took place at the popular Belltown nightspot as planned. "When those guys did their show at the Crocodile," says Roseta, "it all came together pretty quickly. Alan White of the rock band Yes and also the Plastic Ono Band, he's in town, and he joined the guys up on stage and told stories about working with John on "Imagine" and "Instant Karma". It just turned out to be an incredibly special, magical event."
With the success of the John Lennon jam, Steve Roseta devoted himself to marketing his new play. "I'm really not a playwright by trade," he confesses. "That's the first time I've ever done that. It took a lot of work. It was me shoppin' it around town and meeting with theaters."
The venue Roseta found for his production was the Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse on Green Lake, where the play, entitled "(Just Like) Starting Over", premiered in September 2006. A skilled marketer and promoter, Roseta staged lead-up events that virtually guaranteed the play's success. On September 1st, the John Lennon Jam was repeated at Seattle Public Theater, and predictably, it sold out just as the previous performance had done. On the following day, a thirty-minute excerpt from "Starting Over" was presented at Bumbershoot, the hugely popular arts festival held annually on the Seattle Center grounds.
Nevertheless, it was a George Harrison Jam staged at the Crocodile three months later that sealed the future of the group Rick Lovrovich had assembled. "The band was initially put together just to promote the play," he explains. "Then we realized, "Hey, this is really a great group of guys. Let's continue doing this." So we put the George Harrison Jam together and did George's songs."
The musician who proved most vital in the development of the George Harrison Jam was drummer Jon Bolton, who had worked with Rick Lovrovich in the Beatniks before leaving to pursue his own musical agenda. "My parents were Beatle fans," he says in explanation of his lifelong fascination with the Fab Four. "My mom saw them in '64, and when I was like five I started collectin' the Beatle records."
"He's a major George Harrison fan in particular," Steve Roseta says of Bolton, "so he took a leadership role. Alan White was in that show as well. Alan played on "My Sweet Lord", so he got up and told stories about working with George."
From that point onward, the band, named Apple Jam in honor of the Beatles' short-lived Apple record label, performed about once a year. It was Jon Bolton who came up with the idea of recording an album of songs that the Beatles had written and given to other artists. "Jon conceived of this back in '07," Rick Lovrovich elaborates, "so he's sort of the mastermind. We really didn't want to be just another tribute act: we wanted to do somethin' a little more unique. We wanted you to feel like you had a new early Beatles record in your possession."
It was in early 2008, just after a show at The Triple Door in downtown Seattle, that work began on the project. "I think we had the list of songs that we wanted to do," Rick Lovrovich remembers. "We used the same microphones, gear, and studio techniques of the period. I don't think we really sat down and said, You're gonna do this, I'm gonna do that."
"You end up sounding kind of silly if you try too hard to imitate their voices," Jon Bolton adds. "We didn't have one guy do all the John parts and one guy do what he thought the Paul parts would be."
"We recorded the whole thing at one point," Lovrovich remembers, "and then we decided that in order to get that real Beatle live feel, go back into the studio and do it all in one day as they did the first record. That's what we did to give it that urgency."
"It ended up taking close to 18 months for them to work through all the songs and finish the record as they wanted to see it done," Steve Roseta adds.
It was during those 18 months that an amazing thing happened: a chance encounter that ended up bringing Roseta and his band more exposure than they could have imagined in their wildest dreams. "It was like July of '08," he recalls. "I just happened to be in Liverpool on a tour bus, and I spoke to the driver about this band. He looked them up on the Web."
Apparently, the driver of the tour bus had some contact with the organizers of Liverpool's annual Beatle Week celebration. "By September they'd contacted me and had this conversation about the band playing," Roseta continues. "Once they learned about the CD, they wanted to put a special show together at the Philharmonic Hall focused on those songs that the Beatles gave away."
By September 2009, Steve Roseta and his associates were on their way to Liverpool with their new CD in hand. "Apple Jam headlined the event," he recalls proudly. "The band was received very well there. They ended up going on the radio with a guy named Spencer Leigh who's got some historical background with a show called "Jukebox Jury". They got thumbs up from the BBC!"
Apple Jam's debut CD, OFF THE BEATLE TRACK, is a marvel of creative historicism. Nearly all of the songs included here were commercially recorded during the 1963-64 period by British artists such as Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Peter and Gordon, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Cilla Black, but in the capable hands and voices of Apple Jam, they become unmistakably Beatlesque, right down to the guitar stylings, vocal harmonies, and mild Liverpudlian accent. Even the recording strategy harkens back to the early Sixties, often utilizing the old-time stereo tactic of isolating vocals on the right channel and the lead guitar on the left. Yet despite this meticulous attention to historical detail, there's nothing contrived or pretentious about the sound of this band. Rather, the album radiates the natural exuberance of musicians who have steeped themselves so thoroughly in the early Beatles sound that they can reproduce it instinctively.
Sometimes, however, this intuitive channeling process involves some astonishingly ingenious rearranging. On "I Don't Want To See You Again", for example, Apple Jam substitutes a Harrisonesque twelve-string guitar and some beautifully hummed background vocal harmony for the orchestral backing that characterized Peter and Gordon's version. The Peter and Gordon hit "A World Without Love" gets the kind of lyrical acoustic guitar accompaniment that characterized the Beatles' "And I Love Her". The most striking demonstration of all is "It's For You", which replaces Cilla Black's Burt Bacharach-style jazz-pop orchestration with a gently Beatlesque guitar setting. "When you listen to a Cilla Black song," Steve Roseta points out, "you have to think, "How would John and Paul have done this?" These guys have to use their imagination."
OFF THE BEATLE TRACK can be found locally at all Silver Platters and Sonic Boom outlets, at singer/guitarist Mike Mattingly's Pacific Music store in Redmond, and at Guitar Maniacs, the Tacoma vintage-instrument shop where singer/keyboardist Johnny Jones works. In addition, as you might expect, Apple Jam maintains a strong Internet presence that begins with its website, www.offthebeatletrack.com. "We're selling on Amazon and CDBaby," Steve Roseta elaborates. "There's a lot of people searching for Beatles vintage stuff on Amazon. eBay's also turning out to be a place where the CD's doing well and people are becoming aware of it. I think hardcore Beatles fans are coming through those sites quite regularly. The orders are just coming from all over. This week I think I shipped two or three off to Germany. We get lots that go to the UK and all over the U.S."
Given the degree of local and international success that Apple Jam now enjoys, Steve Roseta and his band are excited about the future. "A bunch of gig opportunities in the Northwest are gonna be cemented pretty soon," he says, "so this year I would expect the band to be playing more regularly than they used to at local Seattle venues--probably in Portland as well."
"We're gonna do another CD," Rick Lovrovich adds. "We're excited about it but we're not really talkin' about it yet. It's gonna be a different thing, and it's gonna be a big, interesting project."