By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
Bill Kropinak has been in the Beatles tribute business for about 30 years.
“It’s as big a business as it’s ever been,” said the Pulaski man, who plays John Lennon in Beatlemania Magic, which will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Winner Arts and Cultural Center, Sharon.
The Beatles are always in the news but this year even more attention is being focused on the Fab Four because Feb. 9 marks 50 years since the band’s first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” a touchstone cultural event that revolutionized music, fashion, television and the way of life for America’s baby boomers.
Kropinak said he saw the show, but went into it as a skeptic.
“I was a big Elvis fan,” he said. “When I first heard ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ I was like, ‘What’s this all about?’”
He was won over quickly.
“As soon as you saw them on ‘Ed Sullivan,’ your jaw just dropped,” he said. “Everything was different after that.”
To understand the Beatles’ impact, you have to know what the pop music scene was like at the time, he said. Stars of the day included Bobby Rydell and Fabian, whom he called “manufactured singers,” and were patterned after Elvis Presley.
The Beatles looked different – they wore suits and had their hair combed down – but they also were musically fresh in that they played their own instruments and performed songs they had written, Kropinak said.
“It was something we were blown down by,” he said.
An important part of any Beatles tribute band is delivering the sound of the Beatles as they performed – complete with Rickenbacker guitars, Vox amplifiers and a Hofner violin bass – multiple-part harmonies and the moptop look.
For Saturday’s show, Beatlemania Magic will perform the Beatles’ set from “Ed Sullivan”: “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
Being as that will take up all of 15 minutes, there will be more to Beatlemania Magic than just the Sullivan songs, touching on all aspects of their career.
Kropinak said he has more leeway in presenting the later material because the Beatles stopped touring after 1966. There were no tours for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “The Beatles” – also known as “The White Album” – or “Abbey Road” to base a show on, only videos and footage of their Apple Records rooftop concert, at which “Get Back” was recorded.
“That’s where we can get creative,” Kropinak said, especially with between-song banter, when the musicians try to recreate the humor – sarcastic and light-hearted – of the original Beatles.
Kropinak got in the Beatles tribute game in the mid-’80s with a band called Abbey Road. He dropped out for a while, then returned with A Hard Day’s Night in 2000.
After that band went gently into that good night, he focused on Lennon with Come Together, which played solo Lennon and Beatles music.
He started Come Together because he had trouble finding a Paul McCartney character, someone who could play bass left-handed and sing the high harmonies. There is simply no cutting corners in the Beatles tribute biz.
In the later years of Come Together, fan demand got him back on the Beatles bandwagon.
“The people were just asking, ‘What about the Beatles?,’ so we had to go searching for a McCartney,” Kropinak said.
He found him in the person of Russ Saylor of West Middlesex.
Mark Baranski of Howland, Ohio, plays George Harrison, and Burt Scheel of Orangeville gets the biggest applause for his Ringo Starr channeling.
Beatlemania Magic, which is 6 years old, has played in 24 states, from Massachusetts to Oregon, and does 40 to 60 shows a year.
“You would think we would get tired of this at some point,” Kropinak said. “We don’t.”
He attributes that to the passion that each musician puts into the show.
“You have to have the burning desire to be the best you can.” he said. “Every show is a new show in a new place and a different crowd. It’s a chance to show people how much time we’ve put into this.”
Because the band doesn’t often perform locally, Kropinak promised some surprises in Saturday’s show.
“We thought we’d give our friends and family something different,” he said.