Drew Harrison evokes Lennon in Monterey, then joins a Beatles tribute in Salinas.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Drew Harrison has a tradition that he has enacted every New Year’s Eve for the past 31 years. On the cusp of the new year, Harrison makes sure that he hears John Lennon’s “Imagine” no matter where he is or what he is doing. Harrison has listened to the piano ballad pleading for a new world order on headphones under the bar graph skyline of New York City and in rowdy barrooms across the country. He has sung the song with gypsies in a small Czech Republic spa town and performed it with The Sun Kings, his Beatles cover band, at Redwood City’s Little Fox Theatre.
“It’s the most continuous thing I’ve done in my life,” he says.
Harrison believes the number, which is Lennon’s most popular song from his solo career, resounds with people like himself for many reasons. He says it’s a great poem with a great philosophy.
“It’s an advertisement for a better way for people to manage their existence,” he adds.
Harrison has also requested that “Imagine” be blared on a speaker at his funeral. “I’ve asked to have that played if my box is put into the oven,” he says.
“Imagine” is far from being the only Lennon song that excites Harrison. The Alameda-based musician will get to play a wide range of Lennon’s solo work and Lennon-penned Beatles numbers at a special acoustic tribute show at Monterey’s Carleton Hall this Friday night. Then on Saturday, Harrison will perform at Salinas’ Fox Theater as a member of the Beatles tribute act The Sun Kings.
He sees a distinct difference between the two performances. “Sun Kings is Beatles and nothing but the Beatles,” he says. “The Lennon show is a little bit more emotional.”
The Friday night show will dig deep into the artist’s catalogue – with well-known Beatles numbers like “Dear Prudence” and cuts including “Isolation” from Lennon’s intense 1970 solo debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
“The Lennon show is an acoustic guitar tribute,” Harrison says. “Imagine if Lennon sat down to do an ‘MTV Unplugged.’ ”
Harrison contends that Lennon’s songs can be clumped together under themes including introspection, politics and love. “The story that I see is that his career or music was his life written out,” Harrison notes. “He began with ‘Help.’ ”
Some of the songs from Plastic Ono Band, which Lennon made after undergoing primal scream therapy, will require Harrison to scream certain sections of lyrics. “It’s really kind of cathartic if you are having a bad day,” Harrison says of impassioned numbers such as “Mother.”
Harrison’s respect for the acclaimed ‘60s and ‘70s artist extends farther than just Lennon’s recorded works. “He inspired me to get into Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” he says. “He questioned a lot of institutions that I questioned during my youth.”
Like Harrison’s Lennon tribute, The Sun Kings’ show on Saturday night will feature a wide range of material. While the big hits will be played, Harrison reveals that lesser known numbers including “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” might make an appearance. The Sun Kings will also proceed from early, exuberant tunes like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to the more complicated, later songs like “A Day in the Life.”
“It’s chronological, and it flows that way,” Harrison says.
The Sun Kings got together back in 2001 after keyboardist Michael Barrett bonded with Harrison over a common love of The Beatles at some Bay Area open mic nights. Until then, the band had gone through several incarnations before settling on the current five-person lineup.
Today Harrison notes that everyone in The Sun Kings are Beatles fans, albeit with varying degrees of intensity. He says lead guitarist and vocalist Bill Zupko has almost every model of guitar that George Harrison ever played, while bassist/vocalist Peter LoMenzo owns every known Beatles recording, including interviews.
After some prodding, Harrison admits that he has a piece of Beatles memorabilia too. His sister met John’s son Sean Lennon on an airplane and persuaded him to write a special message on a napkin for Harrison. “I don’t have any locks of hair or bed sheets or anything like that,” he says.
A year ago, Harrison released his first official solo album, titled Go It Alone. Surprisingly, the bare bones acoustic CD doesn’t particularly sound like Lennon’s work. Even though the vocals and melodies differ from that of the popular Beatle, Harrison finds that his solo material has at least one thing in common with Lennon’s songs.
“It’s an honest assessment of my life,” he says. “It’s my attempt at Plastic Ono Band.”
Drew Harrison performs a solo acoustic tribute to the music of John Lennon 8pm Friday, Dec. 14, at Carleton Hall, 400 W. Franklin St., Monterey. $20/in advance; $22/at the door. 238-7425.
The Sun Kings perform 8pm Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Fox Theater, 239 Main St., Salinas. $25/adult; $15/children under 15. 888-825-5484.