E ven if you were of age in the 60s, you probably didn’t have much opportunity to see the Beatles live.
After all, the band stopped giving concerts in the summer of 1966, opting to focus on writing and recording music. So for most people, the only way to experience a Beatle concert is to watch old film clips— or to find a Beatles tribute band.
Don Bellezzo has been performing as John Lennon since 1986, when he founded Yesterday — A Tribute to the Beatles. In addition to regular gigs at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City, Yesterday—which has multiple casts — also tours the country.
The faux Fab Four and their vintage instruments will stop in Arroyo Grande Saturday.
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We recently spoke to Bellezzo about the mop tops and his career imitating them.
Q: When did you first get into the Beatles?
A: Probably around 1974. I was probably only about 10.
What was the first album you ever owned?
A: “Meet the Beatles.”
Were you a John guy or a Paul guy?
Q: You formed the tribute band in 1986. How did that happen?
A: When I was in college, I used to play some Beatles songs, along with other songs. And when I played the Beatles songs, I got the biggest reaction because of the sound of my voice and the way I played them. It was natural to me, especially doing the John stuff. So I decided to start a group that would impersonate the Beatles because I had seen some other people who were impersonating Elvis.
Q: You guys have multiple casts. How do the auditions work for that?
A: The Internet, I would say,
was real helpful probably in the last seven years or so. We drew from a nationwide base and we expanded a little bit. It’s based upon their sound mainly and their look and how easily it is to work with them.
Q: In doing John, what are some of the most important nuances you’ve tried to capture from him performing?
A: He had a really strong, high falsetto that he would use, kind of like Frankie Valli. He just had a great voice and a great range, and he had a little bit of an edge, and I try to capture all of that. It comes fairly natural to me.
Q: What’s your memory of the day that he was killed in 1980?
A: I was a teenager. I was at home watching Monday Night Football, and Howard Cosell told me.
Q: What was your reaction?
A: I was mad. I was really pissed off. And afterward I felt sad, and I calmed down. But when I first heard it, I didn’t quite believe it — it was ridiculous.
Q: Had that not happened, what do you think would have happened to the Beatles? Do you think they would have gotten together and recreated the magic?
A: I think they would have gotten together here and there — that’s quite possible. But it wouldn’t have been the same. They wouldn’t have gotten together as the Beatles again.
Q: Do you have a certain era you like the most?
A: I like it all, but if you had to ask me my favorite, I’d go for the early Beatles.
Where have you found the craziest crowds?
A: We’ve been to Japan six times, we’ve been to Hong Kong twice. We played in every state except Alaska and Montana. We’ve played out in Guam a couple of times. I’d say right here in the good ol’ U.S.A. is the best reaction. Maybe the Midwest.
Q: Do you have banter or straight up music?
A: We do the whole thing. We have the look, the sound, the stage banter. We talk with the English accents. We do all the songs in the original keys, nothing has changed.
Q: What’s the key to those Liverpool accents?
A: That’s a difficult thing to do. It’s hard to explain, but you have to listen to it. (Speaking in John’s accent): You have to go to that guttural type of thing, you see? It’s more in the back of your throat, you know?
Q: How do you make Ringo’s nose bigger?
A: Actually, the one guy that we mainly use, he has a big nose anyway. But if their nose is a little smaller, they have a little bit of a prosthetic nose they put on.
Q: If you had to list your top three Beatles songs, what would they be?
A: “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Help!” and hmmm . . . Wow. Maybe “Please Please Me” — I always get a kick out of that one.
Q: Do you guys ever get any feedback from the Beatles or their people?
A: Only their lawyers.
Q: How does that work?
A: They sued us two years ago. And they tried to stop us from playing, but they were not successful.
Q: It must be hard to take on Beatle lawyers.
A: Well, it was kind of like unwanted flattery. But we just have to agree not to use any of their logos or trademarks. Other than that, anybody can put on a black suit and a wig and play a Beatles song — it’s not against the law.