Q&A:’ The fifth Beatle’ looks back on 20 years of songs
The gods of rock ‘n’ roll may have shattered the mold after making the Beatles, but Northern Nevada’s fab-four tribute band RAIN has spent the last two decades meticulously putting the pieces back together. With the ability to play any song in the Beatles catalog, RAIN has achieved international fame, becoming something greater than a tribute band and the sum of their mop-tops, Cockney stage banter and vintage Vox amps, even going as far as to be the source and inspiration for numerous other Beatles tributes. Founding member, keyboardist and business manager Mark Lewis talks about life as a faux Beatle.
How did RAIN get started?
We didn’t start out playing Beatles. We were a bunch of young guys in original bands in Southern California trying to ink a record deal like everybody else. Once in a while we’d throw in a Beatles song. I was playing in a Top 40 band when a couple guys from Orange County joined. They had another band called Reign. We were all big Beatles fans. Eventually, we found we could make a better living playing covers than our own stuff.
We started doing just Beatles music and started to get a cult following around Los Angeles playing high schools and colleges when we heard that Dick Clark was putting together the special “The Birth of the Beatles” for ABC and needed a band to do the soundtrack because they couldn’t get the rights to the original Beatles tracks. Dick Clark saw the band at a club in San Fernando and the next thing we knew we were hired to do about 30 songs for the soundtrack.
And you guys sounded good, right?
Yeah. We were so dead on that (the Beatles label) Apple sued for the right to require that a disclaimer be put on the soundtrack saying that the songs were not recorded by the Beatles but by the band RAIN. So all of a sudden every single ad had our band’s name in it. After that the phone started to ring off the hook.
How did you like it? Weren’t you still intent on making it with your own material?
Some of the guys didn’t want to really get that serious about it or they didn’t want to be on the road so much and they left the band. At that time “Beatlemania” was on Broadway so there was a great talent pool of “Beatles” musicians out there. We got the best. The guys in the band now: Steve, Joey, Joe and Ralph, have more experience playing Beatles stuff than anyone on the planet.
With the exception of two people perhaps?
But we’ve been together twice as long as they ever were.
Last year you guys relived the 40th anniversary of the official British Invasion of 1964. What was that about?
We got a call from the radio station KBSG in Seattle with the idea. We got the Concorde from the Boeing museum up there and there were like 7,000 people out on the tarmac screaming and cheering the group as they got out of the plane, recreating that great scene. The roar almost knocked you over. The guys felt it was the closest they’d ever felt to being the Beatles.
What is your role as the “fifth Beatle?”
Basically, the Beatles went into the studio and stopped touring at a certain point in their career. They started using a lot of crazy strings and horns in the “Sgt. Pepper” era and with “The White Album.” It’s my job to enable the band to be able to do the full spectrum of Beatles songs. We can play all the songs the Beatles weren’t able to play live because they were complicated.
When did you know you had made it?
When I first started playing Beatles songs, I didn’t see it as a career. There were Elvis impersonators and that sort of thing, but we really coined the term tribute band. We were the first to do it and really be successful at it.
Do you ever get tired of being a Beatle?
It’s hard to get bored with so much material. We feed off the energy of the audience. Sometimes they really go nuts. Plus, note for note, when you do play at that level, it’s always challenging. You can’t put yourself on automatic. We’re always pulling out songs we haven’t played in months, and some of these tunes are extremely complicated. The Beatles didn’t just want to hold your hands. They wanted to contort your hand.
To your knowledge, has Sir Paul ever seen you? He’s been known to hang out in the Lake Tahoe area.
Not to my knowledge, no, but we think it’s gonna happen one of these days.
How long do you guys tour?
We’re on the road maybe 200 days a year. That’s why it’s great when we can play locally. All of us live in the area and a place like Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe is a great venue with great energy from the audience and when it’s over with, we get to go home and sleep in our beds and eat dinner with our families.
If you go
What: A Tribute to the Beatles featuring RAIN
When: Friday through Sunday
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
Information: For ticket prices and show times call Harrah’s at (775) 588-6611.