Gary James' Interview With Drew Harrison Of
The Beatles Tribute Band
The Sun Kings
They've been together since 2001 and have been entertaining Beatles' fans throughout California. They've played clubs, festivals, concerts and done 'live' radio performances. They are The Sun Kings. Drew Harrison, who plays John Lennon in the band, spoke with us about The Sun Kings.
Q - Drew, the obvious question, with your last name being Harrison, why aren't you playing "The Quiet Beatle" in the group?
A - I just do a better Lennon, arguably. I used to say George was my uncle, back in the day. Harry Harrison was the DJ on WABC in New York (City) some time ago and he used to say I was related to George. But I've always been a John fan, if I have to choose and "have to" is the hard thing to say. Of course, every Beatle means something to me in the course of my life.
Q - Did you have a hand in naming the group? I understand the name connection to The Beatles, but it sounds like it could be a '50s group.
A - I did. We had a list of names and a lot of Beatle Tribute groups go out and they throw out the various song titles. We opened up a bar here in town. The Sun Kings name just came out of a pile of names. I happen to be a big fan of Los Paranois, which you have to go in a little bit for that one, but it's been around. We all thought Sun Kings made sense. We're in our 40s, playing music and doing what we're doing as a day gig. It kind of felt like we were courtesans. So it had a little bit of meaning for us as well as the song itself. That's where it comes from, off "Abbey Road".
Q - When you were growing up, you remember people parking their cars in your neighborhood and when you asked why, your parents told you they were going to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium.
A - Thank you for flattering me. Yes. That is the story. I remember that. I'm 48. For so many of us growing up at the time, the music was just ubiquitous. You heard it everywhere. So there's so many points of my life as a child, wonderful, inquisitive points that are just defined by these moments. It's a random memory I don't think my life was defined by that moment, but it's a memory that's just stuck. I remember these twins that lived beneath us in the brownstone we lived in, in Forest Hills. We were just sitting out there. I was four years old and I remember asking my mother, "What's all the traffic for? What are all these people about?" And she said "The Beatles." It was Shea Stadium. That was it. They were there and I was right nearby. (laughs) These guys sound like at that period, they were just four guys that literally, truly four guys anywhere, but everybody knew them. Obviously they made so many people happy. What a time!
Q - How did you get involved with The Sun Kings? You probably were involved with other bands, weren't you?
A - Yeah. I had come back from Europe. I spent some time in Czech Republic in the late '90s. I lived there for about eighteen months. I ended up playing with some band over there and doing some of my own stuff. They were so starved for the '60s (music) because of the Wall. So there were all these tribute bands. So, when I finally came here, I called up my buddy Michael and said "Hey, they're all doing it over there. Why don't we do it here?" He said "What the hell." And that goes into a bar on Tuesday night for fun. So let's play. That was the genesis of the whole idea. It was influenced by the Eastern Europeans, the Czechs. And I'm going there next month (January 2010) to play with them again. They're dear friends of mine.
Q - Is there in fact, a lot of work for a band like The Sun Kings?
A - Yes, there is. We want to create the music as if The Beatles had re-united, kind of playing their albums again. It's a good model for us. A lot of bands are doing that of course. They're giving the best they can. The thing that's cool about it is, there are a bunch of folks our age that want that music again and they're not into what's going on today musically. Baby boomers and even the youth and even the grandmothers, they all have something nice to say about The Beatles. So there's a lot of work. A lot of the art and wine festivals and shows for it. There's a couple of hold-outs on tributes, kind of nasty, shouldn't do it. But in the end, a bar will open up because...open up to the idea because if you bring in two hundred people to come see you, they're making money. And no one's getting hurt. (laughs) People laugh and cry and hold each other. The kids are singing with their grandparents. It may not have been family values back in the day, in the '60s, to some folks just because of the time they were associated with, but it is now. That's the cool thing about it.
Q - How many gigs are you doing a year?
A - We did about fifty-five, but we could've played every weekend and three or four nights a week. We chose not to because we have kids or family or our day jobs.
Q - How far do you travel with the band?
A - If it's do-able financially, we'll go just about anywhere. We've been asked to do Florida, the Carolinas, we've gone to Louisville for the Abbey Road On The River Festival and to Scranton. We'll go as far as the money will go if we can make it work.
Q - You have a solo career going, so will there come a time when you'll spend more time on that and back away from The Sun Kings?
A - My God, I thank you for that question like you would not believe. (laughs)
Q - Don't tell me I'm the first one to ask you that question.
A - No, you're not, but the way you posed it was just well put and I thank you for that. I thought in the process of doing The Beatles, me personally, I'm not speaking for everybody else in the group, that this would be a leg-up into people listening to us do The Beatles and then would get interested in my music. Not uncommon. That's the way bands do it usually. They're playing somebody else's' material. We just focused on The Beatles. I would like to say I've written a song of a caliber that I'm tributing and I haven't or at least the public says I haven't and I don't think I have either. I work at it. I sing in another group called The White Album Ensemble. Again, this is me, not the rest of the band. Ex-Doobie Brothers, Little River Band veterans, playing around the Monterey area. I'll do pick-up gigs with them. The Beatles are just hot right now. I do sell some CDs of my own at the shows. Generally it's well received and appreciated, but I haven't been able to put the same amount of time these last couple of years. In fact, I haven't even done an original show this year (2009). Hope to next year.
Q - Do you have a greater appreciation for John Lennon since you portray him in The Sun Kings?
A - Yeah, I do. I have appreciation for the music. I'm a Rock 'n' Roll musician, not a studied musician. Some of the guys in the band are, thank God. What you realize is how complex their music was, how remarkably intelligent they were with harmonies. If they weren't studio musicians, which they weren't, arguably McCartney must be by now, their instincts were brilliant. Their mistakes, which a studied musician would say you don't jump to that interval, they would do. They worked at it. So, if intelligence is a sign of being crafty and able to craft something, they have been the most brilliant musicians on the planet. Everybody wants to emulate them. With all these new masters coming out, you hear these bits and you're going "Did they do that?" (laughs) George did that. George is kind of left off, floating around in some songs like "Yes It Is". You'll hear his harmony and you'll think "my God, that's so hard to do 'cause we're not trained to hear it normally." And yet, it was a brilliant harmony in the song. Even the mistake made sense. I have an appreciation for Lennon as a Rock 'n' Roll musician, as a melodist and perhaps mostly, his passion. The in-your-face, truthful Lennon, you don't find a lot of musicians out there who go out that far. A lot of people say you don't want to do that. Music is entertainment. You know, art is entertainment and it's also in your face. Reality reflects art. Lennon was about that.
Q - I don't suppose you ever saw John Lennon in person, did you?
A - I would've like to have met him. Then I think of, what would I have said if I met him today and I would just say "Thank-you."