(photo by Richard Lovrich)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of one of the most beloved Beatles albums of all time, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The members of RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles, will celebrate this classic album by playing it all the way through, every single track, when they perform at the Academy of Music March 23 – 25. Along with Sgt. Pepper, you’ll hear other favorites from “John”, “Paul”, “George”, and “Ringo”.
Performer Steve Landes (aka John), a Lansdale native, says this is Philly’s chance to experience all of the high points from the Beatles’ career in the span of two and a half hours!
Landes is a life-long Beatles fan, and taught himself guitar at the age of 10. By 17, he joined Beatlemania and toured the world with the show. He joined RAIN in 1998. We caught up with Landes last week to hear about his experiences with the Beatles’ music, growing up near Philly and his favorite “untapped” Philly hot spot, the song he likes best from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and why you should check out RAIN this weekend!
Q: You’ve been a lifelong Beatles fan. What was your first experience listening to the Beatles? Can you remember the first song you heard?
A: The Beatles were quite literally always a part of my life – my parents would play their music, my sisters loved them, so I really cannot remember a time without the Beatles, or a ‘first’ anything, as far as that goes. Maybe “A Hard Day’s Night” sticks out as an early memory, song-wise, ‘cause they used to play reruns of The Beatles cartoons, maybe on Captain Noah, if you remember him and his TV show. I think that was the theme song to the cartoon. I can also remember one of the first pieces of Beatles memorabilia that I bought myself (as opposed to stuff that belonged to my sisters, that I then claimed for myself!). One summer in Atlantic City, at Taber’s Toy-A-Rama on the Boardwalk, they had a Beatles coloring book for sale, which they’d probably had sitting somewhere in the back for at least a decade. But I saw it, and bought it, and loved it, and colored in the whole thing. I’ve since bought one in mint condition – I’m not planning on coloring in that one!
Q: You taught yourself guitar at a young age by listening to Beatles records. What was the first song you learned?
A: I don’t really remember for sure, but I think it might’ve been “Twist And Shout”. That was one of my favorites at the time, and I think it probably seemed to my kid mind that it would be an easy song to learn on guitar, which to some extent is true; three chords, pretty much. My Dad taught me those chords, and I did the rest by just listening to the records over and over. John really rocks the rhythm guitar on that one, though. It might not have taken me long to learn the chords, but it took me a really long time to learn to really play like John.
Q: Tell me a bit about the cover bands you joined as a teenager.
A: I was in a few, here and there. First one I was in, I had just turned thirteen. The other guys were in their early- to mid- twenties. We were playing in bars, and they’d have to sneak me in the back door, and hope nobody noticed this kid fronting the band! That was a lot of fun, and I learned an awful lot in a short amount of time, as you can imagine! I was chaperoned, though – my Dad was the sound man, and my bandmates were good guys and looked after me. I’m still friends with some of them!
Q: You grew up outside of Philly, in Lansdale. What are some of your favorite places to visit in Philly- both while growing up and now?
A: Growing up, we used to take the train into 30th Street Station, which is still really beautiful; Art Deco. I’ve spent the whole day in Reading Terminal Market, sampling food from all of the different little shops. I’m a science geek, so Franklin Institute is always great to explore. They change up their exhibits; last time I was there they had one on the Titanic, and I’m an ocean liner buff, so that was a must. Speaking of which, my favorite thing to see in Philly, and I think it’s Philly’s great untapped treasure, is the SS Unites States, the American ocean liner docked out on the Delaware River, across from Ikea. In Southern California- where I live now- we have the Queen Mary, the British ocean liner that’s now a hotel, convention space, museum, all-around great hang. It put Long Beach, CA on the map. If Philly were to play its cards right, it could do the same thing with the SS Unites States.
Q: You joined RAIN in 1998, how was the audition process and what did you perform?
A: It wasn’t your typical audition process situation. We’d already known each other, or at the very least, known of each other, for years through the whole ‘Beatles tribute’ world, and the Beatlemania show that we were all a part of at various points. So they knew who I was, what I was capable of on stage, my talents. The process was more about finding out who I was as a person – would I be compatible with them, could we get along? Vocally, how would my voice match up with Joey’s, our ‘Paul’ at that time? Would it have that John/Paul ‘magic’? So it was more a process of feeling each other out over the course of a few gigs here and there. Of course, we hit it off right away, we became family almost instantly, and it’s been that way ever since.
Q: As a performer with RAIN, is there a particular show or tour stop that stood out for you? If so, what/where?
A: Well, coming home to Philly is always great. It’s pretty certain that there will be some family of mine in the audiences! But of course, Broadway was a definite high point. Plus we just played the West End, the UK’s version of Broadway, this past October. And that was at the London Palladium, probably the most prestigious venue in England. The Beatles played there in 1963, and it was after those shows that the press coined the term ‘Beatlemania’, so playing on that stage was just crazy for a Beatles fan like me.
Q: When you visit Philly this month, you’ll be performing the Sgt. Pepper album in its entirety. What’s your favorite song from the album and why is this the last chance for fans to hear the whole album?
A: I think “A Day In The Life”, the final song on the record, is the real piece de resistance. It’s truly epic, equally great moments from both John and Paul. But at the end of the day, it is pure classic John Lennon. At his best.
We added the whole Sgt. Pepper album to our show last year for the 50th anniversary – 1967-2017, and have continued with it this year because it went over so well, and wanted to do it this year for cities we hadn’t gotten to last year. But next year will be the 50th anniversary of another classic Beatles album, and we want to celebrate that somehow, so it’ll have to be goodbye Sgt. Pepper (for our show at least!), and hello to something else…
Q: What can you tell Philly about the show? Why should they come see it?
A: Oh, if you haven’t seen our show yet, you really have to! I always like to say it’s as if you could have the Beatles play out the high points from their career in the span of two and a half hours – Ed Sullivan, Shea Stadium, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, the Let It Be rooftop concert, etc. But it’s so much more than that. This music is special. It transcends its time; it’s more relevant now than ever. Love is all you need. Give peace a chance. ‘Take a sad song and make it better’. These themes touch the heart. You’ll leave the show so much happier, humming these tunes, and with peace & love in your mind. The Beatles’ music has that kind of power, I truly believe that.
Q: Favorite Beatle?
A: John, of course! The Beatles are this great, whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts kinda band, but John’s message of peace & love, his ‘tell it like it is’, ‘what you see is what you get’ attitude, his sense of humor, just really spoke to me. His music has such an honesty that I just love, and can relate to.
RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles is here in Philly at the Academy of Music for a very limited time, March 23rd to 25th. Tickets can be purchased here.