News Column

'Here Comes the Sun' -- and bluegrass

May 23, 2014

By Richard Carter, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas

May 23--Between ages 6 and 9, guitarist Dave Walser had three epiphanies.

Those discoveries revolved around getting his first guitar at age 6, hearing bluegrass for the first time at 7 and then encountering the Beatles at age 9.

"I pretty much have spent my whole life with those three things as my passion: guitar, bluegrass and the Beatles," Walser said.

Since 2003, he has played acoustic guitar in two bluegrass bands formed to play the music of the Beatles.

One of those groups, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Bluegrass Band, will be in concert 7 p.m. Thursday at The Kemp at the Forum.

The group features Reggie Rueffer on fiddle and violin, Gerald Jones on banjo and mandolin and Bach Norwood on double bass. Brian Magnus from the Austin Symphony will sit in with the group and play cello.

"It's all Beatles music," Walser said.

The earliest Beatles song the band performs is "You Can't Do That" (1964) from the "Beatles Second Album."

"Here Comes the Sun" (1969) from "Abbey Road" is one of the band's favorites.

"We are very attentive to harmonies and try to keep those as true to the Beatles as we can. We stay true to the chord structure -- no C major to A minor," he said with a laugh.

"We don't change the words. Our delivery vocally is also pretty close. It's the instrumentation, that's different," he said.

The funny thing with the Beatles, he added, is that each of them started out playing acoustic instruments. John Lennon played banjo before he picked up guitar, and he initially tuned his guitar like a banjo. George Harrison and his family played ukuleles.

"Skiffle music was big when the Beatles first started playing as a group, and it had a sort of jazzy, bluegrass, folky feel to it. They played acoustic songs like 'And I Love Her' and 'Yesterday,' and combined their acoustic influences with the music of people like Little Richard and Elvis Presley.

"They combined everything they knew, and we do the sort of same thing."

Walser said that some bluegrass bands don't like his group because they aren't traditional.

"We love traditional bluegrass. It's just not what we do. We love bluegrass. We love the Beatles. We love soul music. We take everything and put it together."

Walser put together his first Beatles bluegrass band, Beatlegrass, in 2003. It's a band that played a lot in Dallas-Fort Worth as well as the Northeast, Midwest and even touring in Ireland.

"We had a great following and played a lot of theaters for about eight years. We loved the music and each other, but things changed."

He formed Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Bluegrass Band in 2012 and was happy to land such quality players.

"Our fiddle player is world class, and he's a violinist, as well. It's usually one or the other. Sometimes he will play a beautiful violin solo and other times, he'll be sawing on it like a fiddle."

Norwood also performs and tours with Polyphonic Spree.

The band plays a lot in Dallas/Fort Worth.

"We have an agent in Las Vegas who books symphony halls (across the country), like the Meyerson in Dallas and Bass Hall in Fort Worth. We are letting her do the booking and see how it works. Right now, our shows are all in driving distance."

Audiences range in age from children to grandparents. The group plays two sets, the first is 45 minutes to an hour and a 30-minute final set.

"We have arrangements for 40 Beatles songs we've worked on and thought through. We probably could play almost any song with a few exceptions. We used to joke in Beatlegrass about doing 'Number 9' from 'The White Album.'"

Walser started guitar at age 6, when his father -- who worked at Sears -- bought him a Silvertone.

"I had only seen Elvis or Roy Rogers play a guitar, and when I played one, it was the coolest thing."

He discovered bluegrass from watching "The Beverly Hillbillies" at age 7.

"I had no idea you could play a guitar or banjo that fast."

At 9, he saw the Beatles on "Ed Sullivan," and musically it all came together for him.

"I played electric guitar when the Beatles were big, but by the '70s I had switched to acoustic, never having forgotten my bluegrass roots."

Playing Beatles music with bluegrass music came over a period of time, and when no one else was listening -- at least at first.

"I started playing a Beatles song, and then I'd play bluegrass, then I'd play Beatles and I started blending them. I never had a band back then. It was just private. I thought everyone would think I was crazy.

"As time went on, I had to give it a try, and in 2003, I found some guys and they liked the concept. That was the birth of Beatlegrass."

When Walser is not playing bluegrass music, he runs a recording studio frequented by former Wichitan, Jaret Reddick of the Grammy-nominated pop band Bowling for Soup.


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Source: Wichita Falls Times Record News (TX)

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