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"Meet The Beetles and revel in rocker nostalgia"

by John Paul Jones for The Fresno Bee, Saturday, March 29, 1997

On Feb. 14, my wife and I, joined by two other music-loving couples, went to Club Fred to see The Beetles.

Four years earlier, on Valentine's Day, The Beetles were born at Club Fred, the Tower District's premier nightspot.

The four men -- Tom, Nate, Stan and Jim -- share an abiding love for John, Paul, George and Ringo. [Editor's note: Blake Jones replaced Jim Carter as guitarist in late 1997.]
This enduring affection culminated in their ability to perform The Beatles' music to an amazing degree of exact replication. Even the fade-out at each song's end is carefully duplicated. They are not a novelty act, dressing the part like Elvis impersonators. Rather, Tom Magill, Nate Butler, Stan Shaffer and Jim Carter are studious musicians paying homage to the greatest rock 'n' roll band ever.

Just ask Al

My friends and I had not seen Fresno's Beetles perform before, but heard of their musical prowess from others. One of my companions, "Big Al" Maloney, a 300-pound guitar player and band leader, idolizes the original lads from Liverpool. As a senior in high school, Al researched and wrote a theme paper on The Beatles. He is the type of serious admirer who collects important and trivial information about his favorite subject.

I thought to myself, if Al is impressed with this performance, these guys will pass the test.

Club Fred was crowded, almost to the point of overflowing, as the lights dimmed about 9:30 p.m.

With the sound checks completed, the band opened with "Hello Goodbye." The energy, the unique harmonies, the subtle nuances of the original song blasted from a bank of speakers.

I discovered if I didn't look at the band, I could almost believe I was listening to a compact disc. Glances around our table confirmed we all shared a common disbelief at what we were hearing.

Raw energy

We listened to "In My Life," "She Loves You," " Help!" and the raw energy of "Revolution." I began to notice Al in particular and saw some half-dozen emotions flit across his face in the span of a few seconds. His brow, initially furrowed in concentration, gave way to a skeptical look, with half-lidded eyes. Finally, hints of mistrust and cynicism were replaced by a broad, bearded grin and giant smile.

The original Beatles were a vocal band, not known for their individual virtuosity. Success came through group contribution and collaboration. Their choice of instruments were drums and three guitars. Fresno's Beetles eliminated one guitar and replaced it with a two-tiered, electronic keyboard.

About five songs into the first set, with both guitars set aside, the bass player, Nate, joined drummer Stan at the keyboard, alongside Tom. Standing abreast, five coordinated hands manipulated the instrument's double row of keys. All three shared a single microphone, and sang the beautifully haunting refrain of "Eleanor Rigby." The digitally synthesized keyboard faithfully reproduced the sound of the string quartet used in the original studio recording.

Astonished, Al said, "If they can do that, they can do anything."

The Beatles' music already had a familiar sound when it surged to the top of the charts in the early 1960s. Part of their creative inspiration came from American artists like Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, Carl Perkins and others. When Club Fred's Beetles played Chuck Berry's hit, "Roll Over, Beethoven," they gave it the same rough and unfinished feel of the original, in deference to their mop-topped models.

Grateful fans danced near the bandstand and in the aisles, around the tables. Shouting, whistling and thunderous applause greeted each song's end. The sign above the front door limited the maximum capacity to 185, and there's no doubt that every one of them was eager for the next number to begin.

Unmatched melodies

In the 28 years since the breakup of The Beatles, no one has been able to take their place. The pleasing melodies, thoughtful lyrics and unforgettable harmonies of their songs have not gone unchallenged, only unmatched.

However, it is gratifying to know they are alive and well, and sound as good as ever at Club Fred. Just ask Big Al.

(John Paul Jones works in advertising at The Fresno Bee and is an aspiring writer.)

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