Gary James' Interview With Frank Muratore Of
The Beatles Tribute Act
Hard Day's Night
Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, home of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Beatles tribute group Hard Day's Night has been performing for audiences since 1996. Television clips featuring the band have appeared on Fox, PBS and CBS. They've shared the stage with Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits fame, Billy J. Kramer and Tim Piper, a nationally known John Lennon impersonator. They wear replications of the suits The Beatles were known for as well as using the equipment The Beatles used; Vox, Hofner, Gretsch, Rickenbacker and Ludwig instruments. Portraying Paul McCartney in the group is Frank Muratore.
Q - Frank, I'm seeing a lot of Beatles tribute acts these days. Is that because last year (2014) was the 50th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America?
A - That may have something to do with it. I'd say in the last ten to fifteen years there's been a plethora of Beatles acts. I've been doing it for eighteen years. We started out local, small. It took us years of course to get the correct instrumentation, the actual Gretsch, Rickenbacker guitars, the Hofner basses. I started out as a right-handed Paul. I taught myself how to play left-handed about eight years ago. The point is, as you move along, you become a traveling group. We invested more in the group, things like our own In Ear Monitor System, which is a very nice system with our own on stage board so we can control everything from the module, from the board up there on stage. Most professional groups are doing it that way now anyway. But yes, there's still a lot of Beatles groups out there. When you look in these catalogs you see they do the replicas of the Hofners and Rickenbackers, Rickenbacker guitars are hard to get right now, the Gretsch re-issue guitars, the Ludwig drums. It must be because all these tribute bands are buying them. I'd say in each state of the country there's got to be five or eight leveling from high level bands to low level bands. There's a lot of tribute bands all over the country. It's just amazing.
Q - You joined Hard Day's Night in 1996. Does that mean you did not put the group together?
A - Well, no. The original drummer, Glenn Birnie, about the time they had the Anthology series on ABC that seemed to be a new re-birth of Beatles groups... He wanted to start a group out of Cleveland. He interviewed a bunch of people. I was just one of them. I was basically taken on as the Paul and we kind of started the band together. He just recently quit playing I'd say maybe four years ago now. So he played for fourteen years or so. At that point we already had the current band we have now as far as the John Lennon, the George Harrison and myself. So we decided to go one step further. John Akor, who plays George, he's from Columbus, Ohio and my son, Michael Murature plays John Lennon. He's been doing that for ten years. I think we're the only national touring father / son act. (laughs) We decided to form a partnership, LLC, and run the band a little more professionally than Glenn. Glenn was kind of the ringleader of the old band. He kind of controlled everything, did all the money. But it was never put into an LLC or any corporation. We decided to take it one step further and make it a limited partnership for tax reasons and for every reason. I think it's worked out better since then. So when Glenn left we added a drummer out of Brecksville, Ohio. His name is Pat Gannon. Pat had played with a band, Back Beat. They were out of Ohio, mostly out of the Sandusky, Toledo area if I recall. I think they quit. They're no longer a band. He had some experience doing this with them. He played with some local groups before that, that just did it as a bar thing. So Pat brought a nice energy and a nice history to the band. I think the thing about our group, and I think it's true about most Beatle groups, is that most of the guys who do this are pretty much fans of the character they portray. They're still accomplished musicians.
Q - They have to be.
A - Yeah. All of us are Beatle fans, but I was always sort of a Paul fan. I think my son is a Beatles fan and of course he likes Lennon and likes the idea of doing Lennon. It took him a long time to put his head around that by the way. He saw me do it for years. 'Cause he's younger he always thought it was kind of silly. You have to look at it as a tribute to The Beatles as opposed to stealing their creative and artistic soul. (laughs) At first, even I had this problem. You worry, is this cheap and cheesy to cash in on a group that did all the work. They wrote all the songs. And you're just riding along on their coat tails. Well, at first you think like that, but once you put in the hours and hours of work, the costuming, the investment, learning how to play left-handed and the piano and you actually have to go out and learn it on your own. You only get so far being a Beatles group. You've got to prove your worth by being a good Beatles group.
Q - If you want to move up the ladder.
A - Yeah, and that's not easy to do. It takes a lot of perseverance and time. We've been at it for eighteen years, at least I have. I think John Akur has been with us probably six or seven years now. He's the youngest. He was a music major. He teaches music. He plays with other groups as well. He's pretty talented. He was very gung-ho as a young person wanting to do it in his 20s. He just loved The Beatles. And that's rare too, but that's one of the things you find in our shows. There's that percentage of young people who are really into The Beatles. It transcends all these generations. So you have to work your way up from being a local band to a Ohio band to a mid-West group and then try to get into the national level, which is really difficult. That's probably where we are right now. We do national shows, but we haven't really hooked up with a national promoter like Rain or a 1964 or some of those Beatlemania things you see around. The other thing that is odd about our group is that we all have regular jobs.
Q - Not all that odd, Frank. But when you say "national promoter" you really mean an agent who books tribute groups on a national level.
A - I will say this too: After you put the work in, we also spent extensive time in the last two years, three years, when we got Pat Gannon in the group, we decided to take it one level more. Instead of doing just the early Beatles and the '64 thing, from '62 to '66, we started adding things like "Revolution", "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", "USSR", but we did it in our Shea coats, which is not very accurate. A few years ago we decided to go the full route and get the "Pepper" costumes, get the studio look. We have the Shea coats, the black suits from the Sullivan Show. We even have the suits from A Hard Days's Night, the movie. So when we do a show now we go from the early Beatles in the suits. We then morph into the Shea coats. This is the 50th anniversary of the Shea Stadium concert. Second set starts with "Sgt. Pepper". So we do some "Pepper". We do some "Magical Mystery Tour" things, "Penny Lane". Then the band leaves the stage and I just take off my "Sgt. Pepper" jacket and I do a little solo rendition while they change their hair, moustaches and all that. I do "Blackbird". Sometimes I do "Yesterday", depends on how much time we need. Solo on my guitar. Then they come out and we do "Let It Be" and "Revolution" and "USSR", "Birthday". After "Sgt. Pepper" we do "Yellow Submarine" because of the movie. Then we continue the show to the point where we do "Get Back". Then we do "The End" from "Abby Road", which is the whole guitar solo thing at "The End". Actually George does it all. We finish the show like that. We do use a few tracks with that. There's a little bit of instrumentation we need with that. Rather than hire a fifth guy, which a lot of groups use; Rain has five people. Brit Beat out of Chicago has five people, we use tracks on a limited basis. In other words, "Sgt. Pepper", the horns, we have that tracked. "Magical Mystery Tour" at the beginning, we have that tracked. "Penny Lane", the high piccolo, we have that tracked. Strings on "Something" is tracked. Other than that we don't really track much. We play it ourselves. Like on "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be". I'll play the keyboard parts. On "Let It Be" I'll play the piano. On the one break before the guitar solo I'll switch that to organ and then go back to piano. We try not to rely on tracks too much, but we have to because we don't have the fifth guy. When you're traveling it's hard to make a fair amount of money with just four people and a sound person. We bring our own sound person. His name is Nate Lockwood. He actually has a degree in sound and producing out of Capitol University in Ohio. He works in a recording studio in either Cleveland or Akron. But he's been able to run sound for us for a year and a half. He'll continue doing it. He's very good. So, having that sound man with us really helps. He also helps us set up, tear down. That type of thing. So he's kind of like our fifth guy right now. He doesn't play an instrument. Add another person on keyboards? It's just more money.
Q - You were actually turned on to The Beatles by a segment you saw on Jack Parr in January, 1964, a month before the Sullivan Show. What do you remember about that segment?
A - We're (Frank and his brothers) all sitting there watching Jack Parr on a Friday night. I don't remember when it was on. My brothers were older and I was younger. Jack Parr said "We were just in England last Summer and my daughter is just a big fan of this new group over there called The Beatles." He showed a black and white clip of The Beatles. I'm pretty sure it was "She Loves You". We were kind of shocked. My brothers were, "Look at this! This is different! Wow!" It just so happens that when he showed that clip, I'm not sure if it was December 1963 or January 1964, it was way before The Ed Sullivan Show, their record started getting played in the United States about the same time he showed the clip. We heard "She Loves You" before "I Want To Hold Your Hand" or maybe it was both at the same time. He bought the "She Loves You" record on Swan (Records). I remember that. I think he had the first Beatles record in his high school. (laughs)
Q - Quite an accomplishment!
A - Yeah. What happened was that record ended up not coming back to our house for months because the cheer leaders got it. I think they used it for a pep rally. When it came back the girls had written on it, "Paul", with a heart. It was just hilarious. But we did get it back. At that point we went out and bought the next record which was "I Want To Hold Your Hand". That was about the time they were on The Ed Sullivan Show. The we bought the album. It was after that. It's really kind of weird, everybody knew back in those days, even where I grew up which kind of like in the country, they gave The Beatles big air play. We had great radio from Cleveland. Everybody knew The Beatles were going to be on Ed Sullivan that weekend. I don't know if Ed Sullivan advertised. He must have. Capitol Records was pushing it. It was must see TV. What ruined it for me watching it the first time, Sunday night was the night all the uncles used to come over, and my aunts. They used to come over to my mom's house. While we're trying to watch it, they're all yelling at the TV. (laughs)
Q - Probably making negative comments.
A - Oh, yeah. My uncle was a guitar player. He actually taught my brother and I how to play guitar. After The Beatles. I remember he was yelling, "I could teach you that in three lessons!" Well, that's not exactly true. Everybody over simplified The Beatles' musicianship in the early days. They think that's not hard! Well, you know what? It's much more complicated than people think. It's taken Hard Day's Night and a lot of those Beatle groups time. You've got to really tear apart the chord structure, tear apart what Lennon played, what Harrison played. The bass playing is not always the easiest thing to play and sing at the same time. It's a lot more complicated than people think. It comes across as happy, fun, great music, it's easy, but it's not easy to make it sound like The Beatles. It really isn't.
Q - What's interesting about that is I interviewed a promoter by the name of Barry Fey. In his autobiography he ranks bass players. He put John Entwhistle at the top. I thought that position belonged to Paul McCartney. He hit the ceiling when I said that.
A - John Entwhistle is considered today as one of the most innovative bass players. In the day of the early '60s, '70s, he wasn't really mentioned. He wasn't mentioned as one of the top bass players. The reason McCartney's bass playing was always highly rated was because it was melodic. It was
intricate with the drum beat at times. Listen to the bass on "Penny Lane". That's a melodic bass run. It's a very good part. The structure of the song is the bass line. It's really an interesting thing. I'm a Paul guy. I would say in Rock there are some other great bass players. Jack Bruce was pretty good in his day. Chris Squire from Yes I always thought was pretty good. A guy I think is underrated is John Paul Jones, who played bass for Led Zeppelin. Innovation wise, back in the day when McCartney played bass, bass was not considered a lead instrument. It was just a background rhythm part.
Q - That Hofner bass caught the public's eye. Having a violin shaped bass guitar was different. You mentioned earlier you taught yourself to play left-handed bass. There are some top rated Beatle tribute groups out there where their Paul guy is playing right-handed bass. Do fans coming out to see Hard Day's Night pick up on that?
A - Oh, yeah. I've really gotten pretty good at being left-handed actually. The give away is I did not learn the six string left-handed. When I do "Blackbird" and "Yesterday" I do it right-handed. So finally the audience goes, "Oh, so you're really right-handed." And I say, "Yeah, I am." And they're impressed by it. They're impressed by it more. That's why I switched. To be considered a national group you had to be left-handed. The original Rain guy was excellent. Sings great. Looks good. His son is doing it now. He was right-handed for years. His son is in the band now and he's doing it left-handed. So give 'em credit. They went left-handed after the other guy retired. Yeah, that's a big thing. One of the first things people look for is a left-handed Paul. It does take a little effort to play left-handed. For me, it took six months. When I started left-handed it took me six months to learn the first set. I wasn't great, but I was pretty good at it.
Q - Because the name of your group is Hard Day's Night, do you ever get bothered by someone from The Beatles' organization saying that's too close of an association to the real deal? I realize tribute groups are in fact helping stimulate interest in the groups they're portraying.
A - We don't get bothered anymore. Let me explain how that happened. First of all, we use the name Hard Day's Night, not A Hard Day's Night. That's the first thing. When 1964 started they were going to be called Revolver and Apple did go after them. They went through a court proceeding and guess what? They finally won the right to use the name Revolver, but they decided to change the name to 1964 anyway. By the way, I think Apple would be offended if you put The Beatles on the bass drum. Some guys do that and it's probably not legit. If we advertised ourselves as The Beatles I think we'd have a problem. But being a tribute to The Beatles, Hard Day's Night, then they know this helps perpetuate more album sales for The Beatles.
Q - I interviewed one British tribute groups endorsed by George Harrison's sister, Louise Harrison. Would having an endorsement by someone close to The Beatles help your group?
A - I know who that is. I know all about that. Louise Harrison is George Harrison's sister. Now, Louise Harrison used to be big in all The Beatles events ten years ago. When George was alive he was not happy with his sister, I read somewhere, and all her involvement in Beatle stuff. Apparently he wasn't thrilled with that. That group is defunct now anyway, the group she used to be involved with. But that helped them out a little while. They made the mistake of going to Branson, Missouri and tried to do a show there year 'round and it didn't work. They had to close it. It lost money.
Q - How much work is there for Hard Day's Night?
A - We did thirty shows last year (2014) I think. That's a lot for us. That's working other jobs as well. Some of those jobs are during the week, but not many. You have to have support of family to allow you to take off with your little buddies to play in your Beatle group. (laughs)
Q - Some groups, tribute groups, will play a hundred and twenty gigs a year.
A - That's playing wherever you can play. We just aren't going to do that. If I wanted to play a hundred gigs, yeah, I could play nightclubs anywhere for five hundred bucks. We're not going to do that. I want to say one other thing; We don't have roadies. We haul the equipment. We have thirteen different guitars we have to set up. We have three or four costumes per person. I mean, that's a lot of work. People have to realize when you're doing a costume Beatle act where each guy plays a character, when you're doing it on a national level, each guy has to assume that role. For example, Paul played piano on that song, well then you've got to play piano. If you want to play bass you have to do it left-handed. If you want to play "Blackbird", you better learn how to play it. That's not so easy either. Point is, George has to play all the guitar parts that George played. John does the guitar parts that John played and doing the vocals John did. Ringo sings a few songs. It really is a dedication to do that. It's not as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of work.
Q - Have you ever seen Paul McCartney close up? I'm not talking about being on a concert stage.
A - Not any further than fifty yards is the closest I ever got to him. The Beatle we got to know was Pete Best when we were in Liverpool. (laughs) We met him and that was kind of fun. He was a great guy. Quiet, but a nice guy. He was making a living in 2000 being Pete Best again because the interest in Pete Best was huge. He played with his little band. I understand on one of the albums, "Anthology" or whatever, he got a settlement because he played on some of the Decca sessions.
Q - As close as John Lennon and Paul McCartney were, having your son in the band makes Hard Day's Night even closer. You can just look at him and vice-versa and you know what that look means.
A - Right. Oh, yeah. We're really good at that. He just gave an interview and he said when he hits a wrong chord or does something stupid, he looks over and sees that little look I give him. That's the same look he got when he was a little kid. (laughs) He knows I'm not too pleased with that. It really has turned out well. It worked out well with my son and myself in the band. I think it's pretty neat actually.