The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

February 8, 2014

Still fab at 50

Arrival of Beatles inspired Schang’s musical career

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

SHARON — After Max Schang saw the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” his accordion started to feel heavy.

Schang, who was 10, had been taking squeeze-box lessons on a full-sized model for four years. There was something about the guitars that the Beatles played that made him think he was learning the wrong instrument.

“The guitars looked so sleek and cool,” said the Sharon man, who made playing and teaching the guitar his profession. “I wanted to lose my accordion immediately.”

His mom, Patricia, approved his change of musical direction.

“She liked music and she thought it (guitar) was still music,” said Schang, best known for his blues playing in a career that has seen him also play classical, power pop and Gypsy jazz. “She didn’t know what to make of the Beatles.”

Asked if it seems like 50 years since he saw the Beatles on “Sullivan,” Schang appears to want to say it feels like it was only yesterday. But, he comes clean.

“It seems like it (50 years) when I look at the black-and-white TV clips and black-and-white photos,” he said. “Anything in black-and-white looks ancient.”

In those 50 years, two of the Beatles have died – John Lennon and George Harrison – and the remaining two are showing their ages, Schang said; especially 71-year-old Paul McCartney, “the cute Beatle,” who is getting a little jowly.

In watching McCartney and Ringo Starr age, Schang sees himself, even though he is a decade younger.

“I’ve seen myself go gray,” said Schang, who turns 61 on Monday.

The one thing that has not changed is the importance of the music.

“It was so joyful,” Schang said. “I was immediately enthralled with them.

“It was the sound of youth. It wasn’t Elvis because Elvis wasn’t really my generation.”

Schang’s generation was a restless one. It broke with the status quo, protested the Vietnam War, marched for civil rights, used recreational drugs and bought into free love.

The Beatles spoke their minds in ways that popular culture figures were loath to do, particularly Lennon, who was Schang’s favorite.

“Their music came out of that time,” he said. “A time that will never happen again.”

The Beatles’ songs “mean so much to people,” said Schang, who took “John” as his confirmation name in tribute to Lennon.

“They were so tuneful, so melodic. Not to disparage today’s music, but there’s nothing that touches my heart. The climate is totally different, musically speaking and socially.”

Musically, the Beatles “wrote the book,” Schang said. When people want to learn how to write songs and play an instrument, they can’t go wrong with studying the Beatles.

The Fab Four also broke with the standard conventions of the time to create the kind of music they did. They changed recording techniques, embracing stereo and multi-tracking, and brought staid orchestras and newfangled gizmos – synthesizers – under their command. They quit touring totally to concentrate on the studio.

After breaking up in 1971, each member went on to a successful solo career, but none of those solo efforts has had the resonance of what they did in 10 years with the Beatles.

Schang said each member brought qualities that lifted the whole into another dimension. Consider their vocal harmonies, he said.

“They knew how to crunch words together to morph the inflection so it would sound a little better,” he said.

On Sunday, when CBS airs a program marking the Beatles’ first “Sullivan” appearance – “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to The Beatles,” showing McCartney and Starr reuniting, and today’s stars putting their own spins on Beatles hits – Schang will be watching.

And remembering.

“They mean everything to me,” he said. “Long live the Beatles.”