Gary James' Interview With Tom Teeley Of
Classical Mystery Tour
Tom Teeley is a member of Classical Mystery Tour, which re-creates the look and sound of The Beatles. Tom portrays George Harrison onstage. What is that like, we wondered. Tom Teeley fills us in.
Q - Tom, you were a part of Beatlemania prior to joining Classical Mystery Tour.
A - Right.
Q - As I understand it, you were in the movie version of Beatlemania and you weren't happy with it?
A - Well, the movie is really not a well-executed motion picture. That's the primary (reason). The second reason is, just the concept of it doesn't really work. The whole point of Beatlemania was to go to a 'live' spectacle where you get to sort of transcend the moment and make believe you're watching this group and watch stuff happening from the past. Seeing it on film - there is really no point in seeing it on film. You see that it's not The Beatles and you're not really transported that way through the 'live' excitement of it. So, the concept I think was ill-founded to turn that into a motion picture. And then, how successfully it gets transferred has always been a problem for any stage production. There have only been a few musicals I think that have transferred well. A lot of them, in my opinion, went very poorly. Things like "Jesus Christ Superstar" or "Hair". Things from that period. Whereas recently, other musicals have had better success, something like "Chicago". They seem to transcend that barrier better. But, Beatlemania was a classic flop in terms of how something that was great onstage was horrible on film. That's just the way it went down in history in my mind. I don't have a problem with that. For me, it was fun just being part of a movie and being part of a movie set, having captured for all time.
Q - How long has Classical Mystery Tour been around?
A - I think (since) '96, '97.
Q - How long have you been a part it?
A - Since around 2000.
Q - How did you get the role of George Harrison? You didn't have to audition, did you? Did they say Tom would you like to play George Harrison?
A - That was pretty much it, yeah. The world of Beatle imitators is a pretty small one. Anybody who's been around the block as long as I have been doing this, all know each other. We pretty much go by reputation from the experience of having all worked together. It's not a question of can Tom do it or can somebody else do it? Unless there's just a whole breed of new comers who nobody's seen. If somebody were to come in who's 25 years old and nobody knows, yeah, they'd have to show what they could do. They'd have to audition. It wouldn't be a panel, so-to-speak. It would be more along the lines of somebody sitting in an playing and seeing how it works out
Q - If you were asked to play the role of John Lennon in Classical Mystery Tour, could you do that?
A - Well, I could do it musically and probably vocally, but initially I was more prone to wanting to sing John Lennon's parts than George 'cause I always enjoyed his voice. I sort of emulated him. I probably sound more like him in some of my original work that I've written and sing. But, I didn't feel like I had any potential to physically resemble him, whereas George just seemed a little closer. Not that I think I look that much like him, but I felt I could put make-up on and sort of get that look going. In terms of going up and playing John Lennon and all the mannerisms end of it, I don't really do, but I could sing like him. I could play the parts, but nobody's asked me to do it. It hasn't happened.
Q - Has anyone ever told you, you look like George Harrison?
A - No. I don't wear my hair like that. I don't walk around looking like that in day-to-day life. I have a totally different look. It wouldn't occur to people. If I had the hair on and I was going for that look, somebody might say that, but that's not what I do.
Q - I've noticed in these Beatle productions you get guys who bear a strong resemblance to Lennon and McCartney, but rarely George and Ringo.
A - Greg George, who worked with 1964 is a great Ringo look. There's a kid, boy, he's probably just 25 years old, who does George. I forget his name. I was just looking at him on YouTube. He does a lot of solo stuff, just him and his guitar. He looks exactly like the young George Harrison. It is uncanny.
Q - Have Paul or Ringo ever seen Classical Mystery Tour?
A - I don't think so. I don't know, but I doubt it. We would certainly be aware.
Q - Were you a fan of The Beatles and George Harrison?
A - Sure, Yeah, I was a big fan. I got turned on to the guitar like a lot of kids by watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. It prompted me to ask for a guitar. Certainly 'cause George was the guitar player, I became real interested in what he was doing and all the guitar work and that's essentially how I learned the guitar before I had any training. I was just listening to The Beatles' records, picking up what I could. So consequently, a lot of the parts I've played them since I was a little kid, so it's so ingrained in my hands that I can't even remember learning the songs. It's so long ago.
Q - You toured with Joe Jackson. Did you do a world tour with him?
A - I did three tours with Joe. This was mid-80s through the '90s...early '90s. Initially it was part of the "Big World Tour", which was an album of his. That was European tour as well as Australia and Japan. There's a video of the Japan show I did. I don't know if it's out of print now or what. Then, "Blaze Of Glory" was the next album. I recorded that album with him and then we did a world tour around that. And another one for an album called "Laughter And Lust", and again that was another U.S. and world tour. I had a great time working with Joe. The first tour was my favorite though because it was really just a very small band, just bass guitar, drums surrounding him and then he would play some piano. It was just a lot more fun for a guitar player. The other ones were big bands with horns and you name it...everything.
Q - Did you go on to tour with other musicians?
A - Not on that scale. I worked with singer / songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins. She had a bit hit in the '90s. I've worked with my old pal Marshall Crenshaw on a bunch of tours. He's a Beatlemania alumni and a great singer / songwriter. That's the extent of the sideman work that I did during that period. Then was more involved with writing and production after that. I sort of went off the road and went of the road in all senses. I was not doing really my Beatle music or other artists. Just really writing and composing. Just sort of stuck with that for a while. Based in New York City at the time. In 2000 I sort of got back on the road with Classical Mystery Tour, doing The Beatles shows again. Demand and money sort of put that out there for me. (laughs) That's how that ended up.
Q - How many shows a year are you doing with Classical Mystery Tour?
A - About fifty shows.
Q - That's about one a week.
A - Yeah, pretty much.
Q - And you go all over the world with it?
A - Yeah. It's scheduled to go to Australia this summer (2009). We've been to different countries. It goes all over the place.
Q - What was the song you co-wrote for Alice Cooper?
A - "This Maniacs In Love With You".
Q - Will there ever come a time when you say to yourself, I don't want to do this anymore?
A - Well, I'm always pursuing other interests, more personal musical endeavors. It's a matter of economics really. If I find there are other ways to support my lifestyle and be comfortable without traveling and getting up every week and playing, whether it's Beatle music or something else, then I will probably want to stop and focus more on writing and producing music. So it's a matter of if and when that opportunity is there that I can say I don't need to do this economically. That's the way it is for musicians. We go where the money is. The Beatles thing is just a very unusual niche that only a few people can do that are qualified to do to the level that I do it. In a certain way, it's been a great blessing to just know how to do that. There's just been more of a demand it seems in the last ten years than ever before.
Q - Why would that be?
A - I don't know. It's sort of the day and age we live in. People look around at the news. The generation aspect of it, the people that age want to go back and sort of remember maybe a simpler time, not that those were simpler times, but in a certain way they were. It's sort of taking you out of the moment, the world as it is now. I think that comforts people.
Q - Since you play George every night and play The Beatles music, would you have liked to have been George Harrison?
A - That's an unusual question and something I never would have thought about. The only way I think I can answer that is to say when I was a little kid and I saw that Ed Sullivan Show and I got my guitar, I remember saying to somebody, whether it was one of my parents or one of my friends, that I wanted to be a Beatle when I grew up. I don't even know what I meant by that, but it sort of came true in an off beat sense I guess, being a Beatles impersonator. But you can't step into somebody else's' body and soul and experience what they experienced as a human being. That was just those four guys. I don't have the desire to have been one of them and have their experience. But I do find a close affinity particularly to George Harrison, just sort of philosophically and spiritually perhaps. Sometimes when I do go up there and put it out there, I'm sort of connecting to that energy, connecting to his energy. I've had couple of dreams over the years that were kind of profound, relating to that. I'm not him. I don't want to be him. But, I like to put him across for people and give them that sort of feeling he gave us. I like to give it right back out there.
Q - I think I know what you meant when you said you wanted to be a Beatle when you grew up. I thought to be a Beatle was the best job you could have and those guys were the most interesting personalities around.
A - Well, certainly at the time what they presented when they appeared, it was both shocking and exhilarating to people. There was really nothing quite like that. To also see that power and incredible energy and creativity, it's something that every kid who had any kind of musical ability what so ever wanted to do, if not to be them, then to at least be a rock star. The only negative by product of that I think is that you had millions of kids who all believed they were going to be as rich and successful as The Beatles, including myself. Of course that is not meant to be. There was only one group like that and most people ended up having to go back to working as a plumber or whatever and give up music eventually. So, it sort of planted that seed in a lot of people's heads.