Gary James' Interview With The Author Of
Beatles Gear: All The Fab Four's Instruments
From Stage To Sound, The Ultimate Edition
Andy Babiuk has written one of the most comprehensive books yet on The Beatles and their equipment. He was given not only access to band members and their most inner circles, but was also granted access to The Beatles' musical equipment. Andy is a musician, writer, producer and founding member of The Chesterfield Kings and the owner of a boutique music shop, Andy Babiuk's Fab Gear in Fairport, New York. He is also a founding member and bassist for The Empty Hearts which features Elliot Easton of The Cars, Clem Burke of Blonde and Wally Palmer of The Romantics.
Q - You'll be happy to know that yesterday (February 7th, 2016), Parade magazine ran an article celebrating The Beatles' 52nd Anniversary of landing in America. In Parade's online link to that article they suggested people should read your book. Did you know that?
A - I didn't know that. I know we've been getting really nice reviews and it's been well received. It's really weird with me, once I do a project I move on. I don't look back. (laughs) That's why we hire a publicist to keep me on track. But I've already got my mind on a new album. So I've been kind of immersed in writing new music. It's weird. My brain gets into... once I'm completed on a task, I move on. We're talking. I'll do interviews. That's when I'll usually find out more about it or my publicist sends it to me.
Q - Are you the guy who played Brian Jones in The Chesterfield Kings?
A - Well, I didn't play a part. People said I kind of look like him.
Q - At one time weren't you doing a tribute to The Rolling Stones?
A - No. We were never a tribute band. It was always original music. But we sounded similar to The Stones 'cause we were big fans. Mick Taylor played on our record. We had an album and as a joke we called it "Let's Go Get Stoned", but we were never a parody band.
Q - There have been Beatles books written on The Beatles recording sessions, their clothing, their record releases, their lawsuits, rare photos of the band. And now you have this book on their equipment. Who is the target audience for this book? If I was in a Beatles tribute band I'd definitely want your book.
A - Well, that's true, but take a bigger look at it. I do lectures for The Beatles' gear book, audio visual presentations at universities and museums and various different festivals. One of the things I'm able to show in that is I play some audio clips. I show examples of how a song might sound, like for instance the song "And I Love Her". We've all heard it a million times and we say, "Oh, that's a Beatles song. Oh, that's great." But what if they didn't use those instruments to record those songs? A Fender Strat sounds very different from a Rickenbacker or a Gretch or a Gibson Les Paul. They physically sound different when you play 'em. You play the same song, but the tonality it has is drastically different. You could study their girl friends and what drugs they took and it's kind of hokey to me. But the most important thing of what The Beatles were was their music. And so, what were the tools of the trades? I think that's just as important and if you really look at the book, it's a history of The Beatles from the perspective of musicians, and they were musicians and that created music. It's the music that made The Beatles popular. Without it, no one would care about The Beatles. So how did they create that music? What were the tools? What if they didn't use those tools? What if they used a different set of tools? It would sound drastically different. And that's the whole point of the book.
Q - And the other part of the equation is what's going on in the studio and who's turning the dials.
A - As you read the book I point that out. That's all encompassed in the book. So it goes through that whole thing, the song, the creation of the song, the way they're structured, the way they are put together and of course the instruments they used. Like I said, it's the tools of the trade. It's also a book that was written not for now but it was also written primarily as a historical document for seventy-five or a hundred years from now. I told you I do this stuff at universities. There's a bunch of universities in the country that use this book as an actual curriculum for courses. I go and speak. When that first started happening I was like, "Wow!" That's pretty far out, but if you think about it, there's music schools that teach courses on Bach and Beethoven. They go into great detail on the types of instruments they used back then. The turning point was different and the timbre of the instruments and the types of instruments they would use to create those songs, those symphonies. There's great studies in academia in great detail on this and they're considered "the classics." Well, if you stop and think about Beethoven or Bach or any of the greats from that time period, they were considered pop stars of their day. That was the only music, so if the court in Austria commissioned Wolfang Amadeas to create a piece to play as a symphony it was like he had a sponsor that asked him to write a piece of music because he was the pop star. He was the celebrity when it came to music and everyone would go to the symphony. They'd see it performed. He was patted on the back, probably got another gig out of it. If you really study that stuff stripped down, that's pretty much what it really was. People now study it as the classics. So it's been over fifty years as you pointed out since they hit the United States and Beatlemania started in the United States. If you stop and think, two hundred years from now it's going to be looked back on as the classic piece of music that was from a very specific time period that influenced so many different things that people will study it. Unfortunately, everybody will be gone and dead, but will there be a physical record of their musical existence in some shape or form? But I felt if it wasn't cataloged how it was physically done, the tools of the trade, that would be lost. So it's really a historical document for years from now.
Q - Which is actually what Classicbands.com is doing as well.
A - Yeah, because unfortunately we're starting to lose them (musicians) right and left here. I was very fortunate in my career to speak to and be friends with tons of great musicians that are no longer here. So again, doing it with The Beatles and for that matter doing it with The Rolling Stones was a great honor to work with both bands and to be able to have access to all their stuff. It was a lot of fun, but it was really a passion thing that I wanted to do for historical reasons.
Q - Did you have the support of Paul and Ringo for this book?
A - Sure, Paul, Ringo, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison. All great. All really, really nice. Ringo, what a sweetheart. Great guy. As a matter of fact, when we did the launch for the book, which was December 1st (2015), he was tweeting stuff about the book. I was doing a lecture in Beverly Hills. I was helping him out. He had a charity auction he was doing. They're really nice people. Once they saw my motive was not just to do another picture book or a cash-in book I should say, I'm cashing in on The Beatles fame. This was a historical document that I was trying to get right. That's why they embraced it. All four parties concerned were really helpful. The greatest pleasure to me was when the product was physically done, they embraced it and really liked it. Paul McCartney told me that one of the things he liked about it was being able to look at all the other guy's equipment in detail which he hadn't seen since they cut the records. Ringo keeps it on his coffee table and says he often looks up things that he used to do because he doesn't remember himself.
Q - When it comes to John's equipment, would Yoko have know what he had? Seems like Paul would have known.
A - No. Neither. The odd thing is for instance when Olivia Harrison and I were doing the George Harrison App; they wanted to do this cool George Harrison App featuring all his instruments. She contacted me, her and Dhani. "We need your help on this. You know more about it than anybody." Again, they keep the book in the studio, in Healey on the Thames at Friar Park and they said they refer to it all the time. "When we need to find out what George did on something, we just look in your book." To me, that's the greatest compliment ever.
Q - Did you ever meet George or John?
A - Well, John no because he was killed prior to me delving into this. When I started doing the research on it back in the '90s I did reach out to George and then he wanted to see all the questions I was going to ask him ahead of time. This was in the days of fax machines. So I faxed them to him and it was soon after, a couple of weeks after that he had that crazy guy break into his house and stab him. I found out soon after through his office when they did the CAT scan and M.R.I. on him to see how he was stabbed and if there were any other problems, that's when they found the cancer, and in respect to him as a human I never approached him beyond that because I thought it was disrespectful and in bad taste, which years later Olivia was very thankful for because there were people driving him nuts and the poor guy is going to die.
Q - So, it took you twenty years to get this book together?
A - Well, I don't know if you know, but I did an original book in 2001.
Q - I know that.
A - So it took about six years then and then I worked on my Rolling Stones book for nine years. Then I had accumulated a ton of more stuff and in the meantime had befriended Ringo and Paul and Olivia and Yoko more so and worked with them on various projects. They hired me to work on various things for them. And when I decided to do this Ultimate Edition they were more than helpful. It was great.
Q - No doubt you'll be going to all the Beatle conventions with this book, correct?
A - I'm not sure. My schedule is pretty tight. I agreed to do Mark Lapido's convention in, what is it, April?
Q - I couldn't tell you.
A - I plan to do that one and beyond that I'm booked for a lot of different things. I'm doing a thing in Malibu. I've been asked to go to Europe for some stuff. Right now with my new band, The Empty Hearts, we're concentrating on a new album. I folded The Chesterfield Kings a few years back and I started a new band with myself playing bass, Elliot Easton from The Cars is the lead guitar player, Clem Burke from Blondie is the drummer and Wally Palmer from The Romantics is the singer, harp player and rhythm player. So, we did an album with Universal Records I think last year (2015) and then we toured in the States and in Japan. We had a lot of fun. We just played at the NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants.) We're talking about jumping back into the studio and recording a new album. So, we've been putting new ideas together for the new recording.
Q - What will you follow this Beatles Gear book up with?
A - I've been asked to do a lot of books and they're very difficult and time consuming. Right now I just want to concentrate on music. I've got a guitar store in Upstate New York, in Rochester, New York called Andy Babiuk's Fab Gear. So, I do that and play in a band, The Empty Hearts.
Q - How's Beatles Gear doing sales wise?
A - It's in it's third printing in a month and a half. So it's doing really well. It's released world wide too. It just got released in January (2016) in Europe and it's going to be coming out in multiple languages as well. The original version of Beatles Gear sold 150,000 copies and this is predicted to go over that. The pace that it's at, it will be well on its way.