BWW Interview: Billy McGuigan of YESTERDAY & TODAY at Omaha Community Playhouse
YESTERDAY & TODAY, THE INTERACTIVE BEATLES EXPERIENCE returns to the Omaha Community Playhouse for the 10th year. This popular show starring Billy McGuigan and his two brothers, Ryan and Matthew, is a musical tribute to their late father who started them on this path as children. Having memorized more than 200 Beatles songs, the McGuigans personalize each show by taking requests from the audience.
I recently spoke with Billy over the phone while they were on tour.
Hello Billy! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. You know, I have been mispronouncing your name as 'MahGeegan" instead of "McGwigan." I heard you tell a story about someone who said he knew you and he was pronouncing your name wrong to your face, not realizing that he was talking to you.
On the airplane? I 'know' that guy. Haha!
I was reading some of your biographical information. I love your statement about your dad leaving you a great legacy. I assume you've heard of Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band" dedicated to his father. Have you ever written a song for your dad?
You know, I have. And I'm not really a big songwriter. I think it was probably 11 years ago that I released an original CD and there was a song on it that I wrote about my dad. One of the last things that he ever said to me was, "Keep your eyes wide open." And I wrote a song about it. Yeah, my dad was an awesome guy. I see this show affects people and it really all started because of him. It's a pretty cool thing.
What a beautiful story! Your dad was a Tech Sergeant in the Air Force?
That's correct. Yes.
So you moved around quite a bit?
Yeah, it was interesting. We didn't move as much as other people. I think we were in Germany for about four years. And then Columbus, Georgia for eight. And then we moved to Omaha in 1990. There were about three huge moves. I think Germany had the most profound effect on my brothers and me. We lived on base and didn't have TV. Being ages 4-9 or 3-8 or whatever, not watching TV and only listening to music, having my dad play guitar and singing-- I think that was pretty affective for us, you know?
Let me ask you this question. We are a Navy family and our kids have had to move around a lot and attend many different schools. Do you think that being an "Air Force Brat" made you more independent or enabled you to make friends easily?
That's a really great question. I think about that. When you look back you wonder what effect that lifestyle has on you. My brothers and I are able to adapt to the road lifestyle very easily. I'm not sure about the social aspect. I think everybody reacts differently to it. I actually am pretty awkward in a setting where I don't know people. I think that's a result of moving schools so often and being the new kid. So many times, I've had an anxiety about meeting new people. But the desire to get up and go at the drop of the hat ...it never bothers me. I'm the person who, if someone says, "Let's go on a road trip," I say, "Okay, let's go for three days, and we'll go here..." The travel part of this job is probably my favorite part. Just getting to see different places. It hasn't worked for everybody who has accepted a tour with us, but I think it's partially because of that kind of gypsy lifestyle we lived, with the traveling and the moving, and you get accustomed to that. There's something that's comforting about it.
I see people that talk about that, "Oh, gosh, we're moving for the first time in 15 years and I don't know if I'm able to do it." And I'm like, "I'd move tomorrow!"
How about your brothers? Are they just as mobile as you are?
Absolutely. It's great that that lifestyle led us to love it and embrace it. You know, we also have a youngest brother. We're all three years apart. He's nine years younger than I am.
It staggers me that you and your brothers have memorized all 200+ songs by the Beatles.
It never seemed like a big task to us--not in a bragging way--but I think when I was one or two, my dad was already trying to quiz me on Beatles songs. "Who does that?" "What album is this off of?" When my brothers came along, it just kept compounding. Then when we got to Germany, my dad started getting out his guitar and making us sing parts. These songs were as much a part of our life as the alphabet. When my brothers and I are together, it's not like, "Who sings what?" We can interchange. Because it's always been a part of our lives; it's a language that we speak. I'm so grateful that he did it. I don't think he ever had any idea that it would have affected us in this way.
What's good about YESTERDAY & TODAY is that we get to see that we're not the only ones like this. That music really struck a chord with people. The cliché thing that we talk about is that it's the soundtrack to people's lives. Even if you're a casual Beatles fan, listening to a song will transport you to a certain place or time.
In YESTERDAY & TODAY you always ask the audience for a few words to explain why they chose a particular song. What is one of the most memorable audience requests you've gotten?
It's interesting. I get asked that a lot. I never think of one specifically. They all kind of group together. There are the funny ones. One that sticks in my head is a guy from North Carolina when we first started touring the show. This guy requested "Eleanor Rigby" and his reason was, "It reminds me of work." And that struck me as odd. Then this lady stood up and said, "He's the undertaker!" But I'm kind of a sap. I love the ones where people talk about falling in love to a song or "I danced with my son to this at his wedding," or this was played at a funeral. That always gets me. Again, cuz I'm a sap. Or when little kids, say six or seven, want to hear The Yellow Submarine soundtrack, you see that it's going on to another generation and that parents are doing what my dad did, I'm a sucker. I choke up.
What is your first remembered performance?
The very first thing that I ever did (I have visions of it) was when I was two years old, my parents entered me in a Fonzi look-alike contest. I was in my diaper, I didn't even have pants on, and a T-shirt and a little jeans jacket with my bottle in my hand. I walked to the microphone and went, "aayaaah." The crowd went crazy. I won a transistor radio...a little transistor radio that I hung onto probably into my teens. I think that's probably when the bug started. That little moment had such an effect on me, that I'm still at it at 42.
Did your dad ever perform professionally?
He could sing really well. I always loved his voice. He could sound like Paul. He was an okay guitar player. He knew probably like 5 or 6 chords. But he always wanted to be. I think that desire--we always felt that. I think in the back of his mind he was starting a band. But I never saw him on stage, other than in our living room. We would dress up like the Beatles and put on concerts. That was about the extent of it.
What is the one question that you wish people would ask you?
(laughs) That is a great question. I don't even know! "Do I enjoy it?" I guess. And the answer is, "Yes, I'm incredibly pleased." It doesn't seem real at times, you know? It has been such a whirlwind ride. I can't wait to keep doing it.