Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The White Album Ensemble began on a whim and a credit card eight years ago in Santa Cruz. Five stellar musicians – Richard Bryant (vocals, keyboards, percussion), Ken Kraft (vocals, guitars), Stephen Krilanovich (guitars, vocals, keyboards, recorder), Dale Ockerman (keyboards, guitars, electric sitar, trumpet, harmonica, vocals) and Tiran Porter (bass, vocals) – had something to do with it, too.
“It started out as an art project, not a business venture,” Ockerman says. “One of the guys had a credit card with an $11,000 limit and wanted to do every song on The White Album live.”
The idea to recreate the seminal Beatles record in its entirety, live, wasn’t a simple even for seasoned pros including former members of the Doobie Brothers. The Beatles’ 29-track album, released in 1968, was recorded with the intent that the songs like the LSD-inspired “Revolution 9” and cartoony “Wild Honey Pie” would never be played live.
The WAE practiced vigorously while simultaneously figuring out ways to recreate the sounds on the album without studio tricks – or the help of Beatles’ mastermind producer George Martin. Six months later, they played the double LP for a sold-out audience at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz and have been a sellout draw ever since.
Their attention to detail helps pack the seats, from nailing McCartney’s blistering and abrasive vocals in “Helter Skelter” and the horn parts in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
The WAE has brought Abbey Road back to life at the Golden State in Monterey and resurrected Revolver at the Henry Mello Center in Watsonville with a full string orchestra. On Saturday night at Sly, they venture into new territory with their first bar gig.
“We won’t do too many ballads,” Ockerman says. “We’re gonna do some ripping and rocking dancing stuff and dig from our whole catalog.”
He likens the Sly’s gig to The Beatles’ early days of playing tunes like “She Loves You” at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. But WAE has always strictly focused its attention on the Fab Four’s work after they stopped touring.
“I like to look at it as if The Beatles were playing the Cavern Club in 1969 after they released Sgt. Pepper,” Ockerman says. “We’re picking songs appropriate for the venue, people eating and drinking and wanting to dance.”
Some of the tunes that will be featured in the two-set show include the jaunty “Lovely Rita,” the timeless “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and several tracks from Ockerman’s personal favorite Beatles LP, Revolver.
“When I first heard that album I thought, ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore,’” he says. “It really blew my mind.”
Local audiences know the feeling.
“We just played Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley and drew 400 at $25 a seat,” Ockerman says. “Everyone’s bitching about the economy but people love The Beatles, so I think we’re doing the right thing.”
WHITE ALBUM ENSEMBLE performs 8pm Saturday, Nov. 26, at Sly McFly’s, 700 Cannery Row, Monterey. $25. 649-8050.