Andy Timmons Takes On The Beatles - The “lifelong Beatles fanatic” did his guitar parts from memory

Andy Timmons Takes On The Beatles - The “lifelong Beatles fanatic” did his guitar parts from memory

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APRIL  2013

Andy Timmons Takes On The Beatles

The “lifelong Beatles fanatic” did his guitar parts from memory

By Tom Geddie, photo by James Bland

Andy Timmons and his band mates found themselves with a couple of free studio days back in 2011. Somebody suggested they use that time to record some Beatles songs, and the band has been so busy since then that it hasn’t found time to finish that original album.

What they ended up doing was re-record the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’ Lonely Hearts Club Band — song for song, with one bonus track — as an instrumental collection. They called it, simply enough, Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper, and released it in late 2011.

Timmons remains an in-demand studio musician who tours with Olivia Newton-John and, from time to time, others when he isn’t doing his own band gigs with bass player Mike Daane and drummer Mitch Marine.

He admitted to being a “lifelong Beatles fanatic.” During a European tour a few years earlier, the band was doing an arrangement of ”Strawberry Fields Forever” and Timmons’ Italian promoter, seeing how well audiences liked that arrangement, suggested a whole set of Beatles’ songs.

“I didn’t think I could pull it off and keep it interesting, especially since we are a power trio,” Timmons said. “But it inspired me to work on some tunes. It became hobby for a couple of years.”

Next, he did a version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which worked well on guitar. “Then I thought it would be fun to play the whole Sgt. Pepper’s album and capture the essence of every song with the orchestration, vocal lines, and other sounds coming through even with one guitar,” Timmons said. In the studio, he kinda sang the songs with his guitar. “Obviously in a vocal arrangement you have the benefit that every verse can be different lyrics, but on the guitar it’s the same melody. Sometimes I gave myself the latitude of playing a solo in its place and extemporizing to make it a little bit more interesting, but not very often. I didn’t want it to be a guitar solo record, or an excuse for an extended jam.”

Strawberry Fields

The hidden track, “Strawberry Fields,” wasn’t on the original Sgt. Pepper but, Timmons pointed out, was recorded by the Beatles during the same sessions. “I had all these arrangements, but the band hadn’t even heard them,” he said. “We had gone into the studio to make a new band album. We finished everything in three days, and the engineer let us know another session had fallen through so we had two extra days.

 “Mitch said, ‘What about those Beatles’ songs?’ So in two days we recorded what became that record.” He did his guitar parts from memory. “Even as a little kid, when whatever song (from that Beatles’ album) I was listening to would end, I could sing the first part of the next song coming up. It was kinda ingrained in my brain. The only song I had trouble with was ‘Within You Without You’ with that tricky middle Indian section with the odd timing. Later, it became my favorite song on the record.”

Timmons and the band kept about half of the live tracks including all of the drums and the bass; Daane and Marine had referenced the original to get their parts down, then modified their performances to match what Timmons did.

“My confidence was still ebbing and flowing whether it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I’m not always that receptive to Beatles’ covers. Some are successful, but some are not to my taste. But it had become such a personal thing that, after a while, it seemed to become the right thing to do. It gathered so much energy.”

Now, in 2013, the band is still playing a lot of the interpretations at its gigs. “When you put out a record like this, it can take on a life of its own. You wonder if fans are coming for your music, or for Beatles’ music,” Timmons said. “My hope is all of that. Some of my fans are not really Beatles fans but they like these records. How could anybody not be a Beatles fan? “But I understand that. I was born in 1963 and had three older brothers, so the Beatles, the Yardbirds, and the Animals are my foundation. Some people didn’t grow up with that. I’m pleased and honored that most of the Beatles community has embraced the record all over the world.”

Dallas Guitar Show

Timmons and the band have a series of gigs in Japan in April, following a set of the Beatles’ songs with a set of their own music, before returning home for the Dallas International  Guitar Festival to perform April 21 at 4:30 on the Bugs Henderson Stage. The band will perform with a host of others including Rick Derringer, Innes Sibun, Rick Vito, Point Blank, Johnny Hiland, Redd Volkaert, Paul Reed Smith, Greg Martin, Reeves Gabrels, Pete Anderson, Chris Rodriguez, New Bohemians, Zac Harmon, Mike Morgan, Hunter Hendrickson, Lance Lopez, Maylee Thomas, Kirby Kelley, The Stratoblasters, Junior Clark, Rhett Butler, Dave Millsap, and Jim Suhler.

Timmons looks for “feeling” in his playing. “For me, it’s about what vibe and feeling you are trying to project,” he said. “So much of it is energy. The guitar is a unique instrument, so attractive in so many ways. “How can I get the best tone, put the most feeling into every note. Not just for me, but to get the whole audience together. When it’s the right night, it can be magical. That’s why players like me and some of the others keep doing it. ‘Spiritual’ might be a little over the top, but when I go see Jeff Beck I feel that from him.”

Occasionally and when his schedule permits, Timmons will teach a lesson at Guitar Sanctuary in McKinney, where there’s a waiting list to work with him. “Sometime I will do one-off lessons if people are persistent enough. I feel like I can offer the students quite a bit. I did study music theory, but it’s challenging to teach somebody else. When I connect with right student and I’m giving them things that will help them for the rest of their playing careers, I’m giving back what I got back when I was young.”

Making a living playing guitar is a privilege that Timmons doesn’t take for granted. “I’ve been very fortunate. From high school on, it’s all I’ve ever done,” he said. “The bottom line is you have to love it and not worry about the money. In my teens and 20s it was a very free lifestyle. That’s still at the core of my musical essence. “At a certain point, you obviously have to pay the bills. I can’t say I worry about money a lot even if I should. But I’m blessed. At the core of that is if you love it enough and put the time in to really develop, you can do well.” Timmons figured out early that being able to play a lot of different styles would help him make a living.

Timmons worked with the pop-metal band Danger Danger, toured the world opening for Kiss and Alice Cooper, sold over a million records worldwide, and had two #1 videos on MTV along with seven solo releases. In the studio, where he’s also done countless radio and television jingles, he’s worked with Kip Winger, Paula Abdul, Paul Stanley, and many more. “I was lucky enough I had a studio career established even before Danger Danger. Some of those other players fell on some hard times, I think. But I could still put on a tux and play a wedding or do whatever I needed to do and still enjoy it: having a guitar in my hands and getting paid for it.”

In addition to his and the band’s shows, Timmons just finished a project with drummer Simon Phillips and will do some dates with Peter Frampton this summer. From the April gigs in Japan, he’ll be in Italy in May. And he does still plan to finish the album he and the band were working on when the Beatles project fell into their laps. ■

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