News Column

John Lennon impersonator brings Beatles icon back to life

December 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Dec. 06--In 1977, a young musician named Tim Piper discovered "Beatlemania" on Broadway.

It was an epiphanous moment.

"So," he remembers, "you can make a living doing the Beatles?"

With his forward-brushed hair and sideburns, colored hippie glasses and a chain with a dog tag and a peace sign dangling around his neck, Piper has in fact enjoyed a long career as a John Lennon impersonator on concert stages around the world and on screen -- most notably, "as a ranting, raving, lunatic John" in the 2000 CBS movie "The Linda McCartney Story" starring Elizabeth Mitchell and Gary Bakewell. He's currently at the Hayworth Theatre through Dec. 29 with "Just Imagine," a rock 'n' roll fantasy.

The show begins at the end. Lennon was shot and killed 33 years ago today outside of his New York City apartment as he and Yoko Ono were returning from a recording session. But in this show, he comes back for one last concert.

"You see the stairway from heaven and in a puff of smoke, there I am," says Piper, who has his sights ultimately set on Broadway and is in the midst of putting together an original, autobiographical musical about the ups and downs of life as a tribute artist.

Backed by his Working Class Hero band -- featuring musical director Greg Piper (Tim's brother) on bass, Don Butler on guitar, Don Poncher on drums and Morley Bartnoff on keyboards -- Piper's Lennon picks up his guitar and takes the audience through many of his greatest hits. He offers up a taste of the show in his Northridge living room, where the 57-year-old tribute artist demonstrates his Liverpudlian accent and strums the iconic opening chords of "A Hard Day's Night" on a replica Gibson J-160E -- or "Jumbo" as Lennon called it.

He's got a collection of replica guitars, harmonicas and outfits, and even signs his name with a version of Lennon's famous self-doodle.

Of course, he's been mimicking Lennon since childhood.

Piper, who was born in New York and raised in the San Fernando Valley, was 7 when the Beatles first played "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Feb. 9, 1964. His early favorite was Paul McCartney, whose hand he would get to shake decades later at an Adopt-A-Minefield fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel where he would hear the Beatle say "Keep up the good work, lad" in return. But he later gravitated toward Lennon and still finds him a fascinating study.

"The whole world was turned on by the Beatles," he says. "I just never gave it up. I kept proliferating the phenomenon that inspired me as a child."

As the son of actors, Piper grew up around the stage, but always favored music. He played in high school bands and worked as a sound engineer in the '80s on records by the likes of Adam Ant. In 2000, he put together the Lennon tribute act that would become "Just Imagine."

The show has since traveled the world from India to Iceland. It's even landed in Liverpool, England, which Piper worried might be received as if an English Elvis were to come to America.

"How do you go to Liverpool and try to pull off John Lennon? They're either going to hang you or they'll like it," he says. "Fortunately, they loved it."

On his travels, he's bumped into Beatles siblings and children.

At LAX one midnight, Piper was heading toward the baggage claim area and saw a young Asian man sitting in a chair. He had a Beatles haircut and glasses.

"Wow! He looks like me," Piper remembers saying until he realized who it was.

It was Sean Lennon nearing the end of a phone conversation. As he was putting down his phone Piper called his name.

"Sean looked up at me from under his glasses and there were his father's eyes," he says. "My hair stood on end. But he's not his dad."

And Piper, as much as he looks the part, is quick to point out that neither is he.

As he puts it, "I just play a good John Lennon."

___

(c)2013 the Daily News (Los Angeles)

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