BWW Interview: Jim Owen of CLASSICAL MYSTERY TOUR at Kimmel Center
I caught up with Jim Owen who performs the role of John Lennon as well as guitar, keyboard and vocals with the Classical Mystery Tour to see what the excitement is all about. Jim was born and raised in California and grew up with a rich musical background.
Pati Buehler: Your father was a great influence on you musically. What did you glean from him and what music did you play prior to your interest in the Beatles?
Jim Owen: Simply being around music so much at home from a very early age,
being exposed to mostly classical music playing on the home stereo, and also played on the piano by my father. Then my father's sister moved out to help take care of the kids and she also played piano, and brought Beatles records with her. I was about 7 years old when she played "Meet the Beatles" for us kids (in 1973---The Beatles had already broken up). So now I wanted to learn guitar to play their music, so my dad taught me the basics on a nylon string acoustic guitar. The rest was by ear by listening to Beatles records over and over. My dad also encouraged me to continue piano study, which I'd started at age 6, and to enter piano recitals and competitions. He definitely encouraged me to aim high in artistry, citing examples of Horowitz and Rubinstein frequently.
PB: When, how did the group form and where did you perform prior to your Symphony work?
JO: I played in various bands since about 11 years old starting with friends at school --- Beatles music only! --- and then continued through the high school years by entering sound alike contests at Beatles Fan events, then began working with some Beatlemania cast members shortly after graduating high school. We traveled far and wide playing as a 4-member Beatles Tribute band, always utilizing keyboards or backing tracks to fill in many of the more complicated Beatles songs. I suppose due to my exposure and attending classical and pops concerts when I was young, I thought it would be great to use real orchestral musicians to back our group. It took a year to put it all together and our first show was in 1996.
PB: There have been Beatles Tribute bands since the 80's namely BEATLEMANIA, RAIN to name just two. You all seem to have "Beatle camaraderie" with one another to the point that you often 'fill in' when needed. I personally know Graham Alexander who played Paul with RAIN on Broadway. Do you all keep tabs on one another and have a schedule as to who's performing and who's available?
JO: We are mostly very friendly with each other, with very few exceptions, so if we need a fill in we simply call and ask availability. Graham has filled in for us on a handful of shows, and I think he is one of the best out there!
PB: I agree... What a talented 'young' man!
PB: The Beatles themselves quit touring in 1966. The pioneering, intricate recordings from Sergeant Pepper through Abbey Road were never performed live by the group. Much has happened technically since then. How exciting is it to play these songs live? What are the challenges?
JO: I'll never forget the first time standing on stage with a full symphony orchestra and hearing "I Am the Walrus," "The Long and Winding Road," etc.---What an amazing experience! We try to be as authentic as possible in our Beatles character and musical representations, so it was nice to hear from orchestra members that they felt performing with us was like doing the original sessions at Abbey Road studio! The main challenge is obtaining and mixing the sound for the audience. Lots of work goes into mic'ing the band and orchestra and making a mix to sound as much like the original recordings as possible. Vocal effects are one of the fun aspects; for example the delay on John Lennon's voice in "A Day in the Life" which we can recreate live using today's technology.
PB: In 1996 you found someone in California to help you write out all the charts, scores and parts for the orchestra. How was that received with your first orchestral booking? And the Audience?
JO: Transcribing all the music for full orchestra was quite an undertaking, and it was a good thing we had nearly a year to prepare. Martin Herman, Bruce Miller, and one other gentleman whose name I can't remember did the charts, but Martin rewrote more authentically the scores by the others, so the charts are all his ultimately. The first-ever concert in 1996 was very well received by the audience in attendance, and also thankfully by newspaper reviewers!
PB: It seems most Beatles tribute groups are playing this wonderful music for many years. We hope you all will play this for the next generation of Beatles fans. How long will you play "Strawberry Fields Forever" ?!
JO: I hope our show will continue as long as there are orchestras to perform with. I'll certainly go as long as I can; I still love the music as much as ever, and it actually seems to get better and better with time.
For Philly Pops Tickets and Information: Visit www.phillypops.org.
For more information about Jim and the Classical Mystery Tour visit: www.classicalmysterytour.com
Photo Credits: Courtesy Jim Owen