Gary James' Interview With Michael Fulop Of
The Beatles Tribute
Michael Fulop is George Harrison in The Beatles tribute group, The Return. And these guys have some really prestigious credits to their name. They were the official band of The Hard Rock Cafe's 30th Anniversary Celebration. They headlined the 40th Anniversary Celebration of The Beatles' visit to Tokyo. They were the official band of the 2003 Magical Mystery Tour in London and Liverpool, England. They performed at The Cavern in Liverpool England. They have shared the stage with the likes of Peter Noone, The Monkees, Billy J. Kramer, The Association and the list goes on and on.
Michael Fulop spoke with us about The Return.
Q - Your band has performed at so many high-profile gigs. How long did it take you to get that position?
A - We first started out in 1995 and we were really just doing it for fun. We didn't even intend on playing shows. We were four guys that went to high school together. We were all in original bands, writing our own music and when we found some other Beatle fans that we went to school with, we said, "Hey, let's get together once a month, once every six weeks and do some Beatle songs" and that's really how it went the first six months or so. Someone twisted our arm into playing a gig, opening for a band that was having an album release party. So, we were going to do it one time and that was it. When we started to do it, we were like, hey let's go to a thrift store and get some black suits. We couldn't get all the instruments. We couldn't afford it. We used vintage instruments where we could and combed our hair down the best we could. We had an Ed Sullivan guy, a friend of ours who impersonated Ed Sullivan, introduce us. People just went crazy. We had so much fun and the crowd had so much fun that someone in the audience asked us if we would play some bar down the road and we said yes. It kind of went like that for the first two years. Soon after that we decided we were going to get a little more serious and really try to make a go of this. As far as the high profile gigs, some of them started kind of early because back when there were actual radio stations with actual DJs, there was a great station in Atlanta, Fox 97, and they used to have Ultimate Oldies concerts at the Georgia Dome. There would be 50,000 people there and they would have seven or eight oldies acts. I remember in the early '90s going to see The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry and all kinds of great acts. It was really around 1997, we had only been doing it for two years and one of the DJs for Fox 97 came to one of our shows. His name is J.J. Jackson. He loved the band and we became good friends with him and he was just pushing for us to do as many of their events as we could. So, they would have little promotional things going on. They would have us come on and play.
Q - This wasn't the MTV J.J. Jackson, was it?
A - Not that one. Another one. There's a lot of J.J. Jacksons I guess. He had us playing for all their promotional things and the fan base just started growing. Finally in 1998 at an Ultimate Oldies concert, he was able to push for us to actually open the show. So we got to play with, open up for Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tommy James and a bunch of great acts. So, that was a really cool experience for us. We were all kids and probably not deserving of it.
Q - In 1995 did you know there were Beatle tribute groups like
Rain out there?
A - You're gonna laugh at this, but when we decided to do this, we thought we were brilliant. We were like, "How is it that no one ever thought of this before?" We're from rural, central Georgia. In the '90s, no Internet. Atlanta is an hour away. Never heard of the Broadway show Beatlemania. Basically we were in a music store one day. It wasn't Rolling Stone, but one of the bigger magazines and there was an article on tribute bands. This article said there were 1000 Beatle tribute bands and we were sitting there thinking "What?!" Here we thought we were geniuses for coming up with this great idea and it already had been done a million times and we just never heard of it. Probably in the first three or four years we went and saw as many acts as we could that came to Atlanta.
Q - Taking notes.
A - Taking notes, yeah.
Q - Seeing as how you guys are from the South, I would have thought a Skynyrd tribute group would have gone over in a bigger way than a Beatles tribute.
A - Here in the South it would, yeah. All joking aside, if you look at our schedule, we don't have too many local shows unfortunately. We do have to travel quite a bit to reach The Beatles' fans I guess.
Q - If you like to travel you don't mind, right?
A - Right.
Q - In the early 1990s, the whole Grunge movement was underway. You must have heard of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, didn't you?
A - I was a huge Nirvana fan. I did like most of the bands that were associated with Nirvana back then like Pearl Jam. For me, what did it was, I grew up in the '80s and '90s. For the most part, except for a few bands, when I would go by a tape or a CD or a record, if I got home and I'd like two or three songs on the album, then it was a success. I didn't waste my money. If you take it home and there's one song you like, you're thinking I should have bought the single. But then I started getting into The Beatles. I got my first Beatles record, and unfortunately I don't even remember what it was, probably "A Hard Day's Night" or something along those lines. It was definitely an earlier album and I'd like to the entire album and then I got another Beatles album and I liked the entire album and it just happening over and over again. I couldn't believe that this one band who wasn't together very long was pumping out these albums full of great songs.
Q - As John Lennon said, they weren't together very long in the public eye. But John and Paul had teamed up in 1956. That's years before the world ever heard of The Beatles. So, they had years to hone their singing and songwriting skills. I'm impressed with the fact that a guy like you would like the music of your parents.
A - Right.
Q - It shows you how dismal the music world was when you were growing up and how much worse it's gotten today.
A - Yeah. I couldn't even tell you about anybody on the charts today. I'm totally clueless.
Q - I've heard it said by some people that George was the Beatle. Since you played George every night on stage, do you feel you get a lot of attention or do you recognize the fact that the character you are playing is really being overshadowed on stage by the John and Paul guys?
A - I think it probably depends on the crowd and from night to night. I think from a personal standpoint that John and Paul would be kind of overshadowing because obviously all four of The Beatles are legends, but John and Paul are something that will never happen again I think. But there are nights, especially when we do an early Beatles show and we also do a show that spans all eras like most bands do where you get into Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road, and typically our early Beatles show doesn't really highlight George hardly at all. There's a couple of tunes we do that he did like "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby", but when you do all the eras, towards the end you hit on "Here Comes The Sun" and "Something" . When you play those two songs in a set, it kind of changes the mood in the way George is looked at. So, I definitely feel like people pay more attention to the George character when you're doing the Abbey Road era.
Q - Are you always studying up on The Beatles? Are you watching the videos and documentaries? Are you reading the books?
A - Yeah, definitely. As far as studying them? Yes. I'm a fan before we started the band. So, I was always reading the books, the biographies and all that. Then as far as studying the portrayal of the character, to me, I'm sure there would be people who would say the opposite, but to me that's the hardest part. I'm not an actor really. I'm more of a musician. And I'm not George. I'm me. So, if I don't keep on top of things, and it happens all the time, you do something one night on stage that wasn't really a George thing. It was more of a Mike thing and all of the sudden I'll do it again the next night. Then all of a sudden it's now a habit. So, you constantly have to stay on top of things and things that you have already learned, you have to relearn them.
Q - Who brings that to your attention? The audience or the other band members?
A - We videotape shows if we can and go back and watch them together. I think each one of us is harder on ourselves then anybody else. So, usually when we are watching a video of the band, I'm paying more attention to me than the rest of the guys and the John guy is paying more attention to himself. Of course there's the hard-core Beatles fans who probably think we don't look or act like them at all and then you have the other end of the spectrum, people who don't really know a whole lot about The Beatles, they see us and think we look just like them and move just like them. Really, we are probably somewhere in the middle I guess.
Q - Besides putting on the wigs and the costumes, is there anything else you will do to get in character?
A - That's pretty much it. We'll listen to a little bit of Beatles music before we hit the stage. You might kind of warm up with the accents a little bit before you hit the stage just to try and get into character.
Q - If you are not doing this full time, does that mean you have a full-time job? And what job allows you to take off all that time to travel?
A - You kind of get tired of what you are doing from time to time and any time I start having negative feelings about the band or negative thoughts, I think this is really not a bad deal. (Laughs). This is really a cool thing we got going here where I get to travel with my friends. We are all like family. A lot of people just hate work. Hate going to work. Can't stand it. We get to hang out with our friends and travel the world, so it's really a cool thing.
Q - So, and I hate to ask the question this way, but The Return is your full-time job?
A - Yeah, if you want to put it that way.
Q - You are not getting up at eight in the morning to go down to a warehouse job, are you?
A - No.
Q - How many gigs a year would you say you are doing?
A - We are doing between 80 and 100. We always would love to play a little more, but when you start to consider the traveling days, it's pretty time consuming a lot of times if you have two gigs in a weekend, that turns out to being gone for three or four days depending on where these gigs are. So, a lot of people don't look at that side of it.
Q - I take it you have never seen any of the original Beatles in person?
A - I've seen Paul quite a few times. I sort of met him one time and that was really cool. I've seen Ringo a couple of times.
Q - You met Paul?
A - Yeah. It wasn't like, "My name is Mike." Basically, my wife went to high school with a guy who later became a light tech for Paul. So, it's probably about five years ago. She hadn't talked to him since high school. He called her up and said, "Hey, are you still a big Beatles fan?" She said, "Yeah." He said, "I'm working for Paul McCartney. If you want to come to his sound check tomorrow in Atlanta, I'll get you guys a pass." So, we went to sound check. I mean, it was just me and my wife and a couple of other people in this huge arena. He sat there and talk to us. He looked at us and said, "Is the sound good? What does this sound like?"
Q - Did you tell him what you do for a living?
A - No. I didn't want to mention that. It was a really cool experience. I guess the fact that I got there was totally unrelated to my band, just through my wife's friend. We'll just go and have a good time. For an hour and a half we felt like we were friends with Paul. Then all of a sudden it was over. And that was that. (Laughs). It was a really cool experience.