One of my earliest childhood memories is tied to The Beatles, the British band that made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan show in 1963. I was three years old at the time, but soon I was strapping my father’s electric guitar over my little neck and strumming through imaginings of being my own tiny version of a rock star. During third grade, I used to chase a boy named Eric around the baseball diamond — eager to give him love notes full of The Beatles lyrics written in pencil on crumpled up pieces of wide-ruled notebook paper. Sadly, I ended up “marrying” another boy at the altar of a metal playground fence later that year.
I was a college student sitting in a German rathskeller in Heidelberg, at the end of a long table with a rustic feel, when programming on a television screen I’d been ignoring was interrupted by news of John Lennon’s death in December of 1980. That got my attention — as did news in 2001 that George Harrison, whose fascination with Indian culture was similar to my mother’s, died from the cruel tyranny of cancer. Harrison was in his sixth decade of life, as I am now.
The Beatles have been a backdrop for much of my life, and the life of Mark Lewis (plus many millions of others) as well. Lewis is the founder of “Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles” to ASU Gammage this week. They began as “Reign” but changed the name after people kept flubbing the spelling. Rain recreates the music (and more) of The Beatles — making for a lovely bit of memory lane for us old-timers and a smashing reintroduction for younger souls never steeped in Beatlemania. (Poor dears.)
Lewis also got into the music groove quite early in life — thanks to piano lessons started at age five that left him “an accomplished pianist” by age 13. In between, Lewis encounted music by The Beatles. Blame it all on his mom. She made him turn the television channel, under protest, as he was deep in the throws of a Walt Disney show. Seems The Beatles were about to make their American television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Soon Lewis was the proud owner of the “Meet the Beatles” album.
Today he’s the father of two sons, ages 18 and 23, who keep busy with their own musical adventures. One graduates from college this month with a degree in journalism, after resisting the temptation to drop out and tour with Wayward. Another graduates soon from the Reno high school where he’s done marching band, youth honors jazz band and more. He’s trying out for a professional drum corps, and readying to enter the University of Nevada at Reno as a music major. Whether the music becomes a profession or simply something he loves is “something he’ll have to figure out for himself,” says Lewis.
But back in the day, Lewis was a kid born and raised in L.A., who went to Hollywood High School. He joined a band that went on to play a club in Calabasas called the Mine Shaft, where Dick Clark first heard them perform. Clark was looking for a band to perform songs by The Beatles for a “Birth of The Beatles” film (eventually released in 1979).
After the show, Clark asked the band to record and send him an audition tape featuring four songs by The Beatles. Lewis shared three the morning we spoke, just days after Clark’s death in April — “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “All My Loving” and “She Loves You.” Others auditioned as well, but Lewis and his bandmates got the gig. Lewis says they ”did more than 30 songs in one-and-a-half days” for the film. “Dick Clark came to the recording sessions,” recalls Lewis. “He was the nicest guy.”
Clark and the band were among those who attended the movie’s premiere. Lewis recalls Clark approaching the band to tell them they’d done a great job, impressed that he’s remembered each of their names. “Dick Clark was an icon,” says Lewis. “He changed our careers — he put us on the map.” That map’s taken “Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles” to Broadway and beyond, even earning the show a 2011 Drama Desk Award for outstanding revue. Click here for ASU Gammage show and ticket information. Then sit back and let it be.
Note: Click here to learn more about Mark Lewis and “Rain” band members
Coming up: “Annie” tales
Update: Click here to learn about a documentary called “The Beatles: The Lost Concert.” 5/8/12