Gary James' Interview With Ronn "Nigel" Roberts Of
The Beatles Tribute Band
The Eggmen are considered Austin, Texas' premier Beatles Tribute Band. They've been voted number one for seven years in the "Best Cover Band" category in the Austin Chronicle Music Poll. Portraying Paul McCartney in The Eggmen is Ronn "Nigel" Roberts.
Q - Ronn, when I think of Austin, Texas, I don't necessarily think of a place where a Beatles Tribute band would go over. I think of Country music when I think of Austin. Are you one of the few Beatles Tribute acts in Austin?
A - There's actually a couple of others that work a lot less than we do. We kind of have that niche of the market cornered, but there's always a couple we see around every once in awhile, but nothing to the giant monstrosity known as The Eggmen. We've been around since '92, so we're pretty well established as the Beatles band in town. Every year the local music scene has the Austin Music Awards and we always get invited. We've won it seven years now. We do sort of stick out when you see us with the other winners in town, like Asleep At The Wheel. But there's lots of nice restaurants around that have 'live' music. We don't do a lot of clubs like a nightclub. There are several outdoor venues here that serve food, so we always pack those places. There's a few where we have at least a monthly thing at.
Q - I notice on New Year's Eve you're working not one, but two gigs.
A - Yeah. We tried that last year (2008) and it was a huge success. So we're gonna do it again. The early show we call it the Family Show, where the kids are invited and there's tables and chairs set up and party favors and give-always, drawings, that sort of thing. Then the later show is a more standard Eggmen show.
Q - How many shows do The Eggmen perform each year?
A - I would say average is probably eight shows a month. Sometimes more, sometimes less. We're heading into January, February. That's usually our slow period. Up to last winter, December was usually a very busy month. We were always doing a lot of corporate Christmas parties. That has really tailed off with the economy such as it is. That's hit us pretty hard. But we still have our regular stuff. We do a lot of weddings. That sort of thing, which is a whole other interesting sort of thing. (laughs)
Q - As Beatle tribute acts go, you're working a lot, more so than most acts I've recently interviewed. They tend to perform 35 to 40 shows a year.
A - I think everybody (in this band) is close to 50, if not in their 50s. So everyone's got family and kids. We don't do as much traveling as we used to. We have been probably as far west in the country as Salt Lake City and to the east probably as far as Washington, D.C. We don't do a whole lot of that sort of thing anymore, just because we've kind of become homebodies I guess. (laughs) We work as much as we want basically, I guess is the way to put it.
Q - You have six guys in this group, correct?
A - Correct.
Q - That would be to perform the intricate songs that The Beatles never performed onstage in their career?
A - Yeah. When we first started, we were just a four piece. It was just two guitars, bass and drums and all we did was the early Beatles stuff. I really wanted to branch out to the later stuff 'cause when I listen to The Beatles, that's what I listen to, the middle period stuff. The guy who played drums with us at the start, is really a keyboard player. It was basically a kind of thing where we needed a drummer and he owned a drum kit. (laughs) So he was in. But after a couple of years we met a real professional drummer who was in a band in the '60s called Bubble Puppy. When we got him in, then the guy who started off playing drums switched over to his real instrument, keyboards. That is when we were able to stretch out and do the later stuff. That was a big deal. That's when we started having an actual show, as opposed to just a few guys up onstage playing a few tunes. It became a big deal then. That's when we started to take off with a fan base.
Q - Your favorite band is The Moody Blues? Not The Beatles?
A - Yeah.
Q - Logic says that you would create a Moody Blues Tribute Act, but you didn't. Why not?
A - The thing is, myself and the three other guys who started the band in '92, we had been in a band in the early '80s. We were big. I love The Beatles, but I wouldn't call them my favorite band. But we were all Beatles fans. The other three guys, The Beatles are definitely their favorite band. Anyway, in '92 we kind of got to thinking we hadn't been in a band together for years when we found that Tom had a drum kit, the other two guys are guitar players, I play bass, boy, we could get together just for fun and play Beatles' songs. So that's how we did it. Maybe four years ago I put out feelers on Craig's List and such about getting a Moody Blues band together as just kind of a side thing. I thought, I can probably pull it off, but I'm never gonna find a flute player. But I actually got more calls from flute players than anyone else. So that was kind of weird. So it never really got past that stage. It would still be fun. I think we've talked about throwing some Moody Blues into our third set, which is kind of a British Invasion set. Once we started getting calls for gigs, private parties and weddings, people were like, "I've heard great things about you guys, but I don't think the people at my party would be interested in sitting through a whole evening of Beatles tunes." So that's when we got to thinking we ought to throw in these other '60s band and so basically that's the third set, being the early Beatles stuff and the second being the later Beatles. January, February is a time when we get together and work on new tunes. We don't rehearse much at all during the rest of the year 'cause we're playing a lot. We've been together so long, we're pretty tight. So we might throw some Moody Blues tunes in. It comes up every once in a while in the discussion, what we should add in.
Q - You have twenty-five bass guitars?
A - I actually just hit forty the other day. (laughs)
Q - How many of them are left handed Höfner bass guitars?
A - I actually have only one official left handed Höfner bass, but it gets used a lot. It's kind of beat up, but yeah, it's a nice, old bass. It's one of those things. It's instantly recognizable when it comes out of the case at the show and it gets tuned up. One of the guys in the band, his name is Brian, he kind of handles all the guitar tuning and swapping out of guitars onstage during songs. He sometimes has a little crowd around his area when he's working on swapping out guitars and tuning them up. A lot of 'em are really old, classic stuff. Everybody who's a big Beatles fan knows what those instruments are, so they appreciate we cart all that stuff around.
Q - What do you think of Paul McCartney as a bass player?
A - He's amazing. He plays parts that I think your normal bass player wouldn't come up with and that's what amazes me about his playing. People always come up to me at shows and say "You really nailed his parts. It sounds just like him." I say "it's one thing to be able to play the parts, but the real thing is to come up with those parts." (laughs) That's the tricky thing. Anybody with a bit of skill and enough time can figure those parts out. It's actually coming up with those amazing bass parts that is the real interesting thing.
Q - And you also have to sing like McCartney in the group as well. So you actually have to do two amazing things at once.
A - Yeah. (laughs)
Q - And Paul was singing lead or harmony on practically every song.
A - Yeah, exactly. There's a few things where our keyboard player will do some of the McCartney stuff as well. Basically, we look at it as he's Piano McCartney and I'm Bass McCartney. (laughs) There's several songs where McCartney played piano on and somebody else played bass. So we kind of divide it up that way. Some people have a tricky time playing bass and singing at the same time.
Q - Why did you decide on the name The Eggmen?
A - We rehearsed several months before we got our first gig. We were having a very hard time coming up with a name. I can't even remember anything we came up with. It was that hard to come up with a name. Then our rhythm guitar player, John, his actual name is John, his wife came up with it. His wife Sara came up with it. We were all just like "Yes, it's perfect! And we don't have to keep thinking about it anymore."
Q - And now Sara is your manager!
A - (laughs) She kind of works magic behind the scenes, I think. John is basically our manager. He does the booking. So she helps him out as far as that goes. We would've been in trouble if she hadn't come up with that. I don't know what we would've come up with, but that was the perfect name.