|Q & A with P.M. HOWARD:
* How did you hear about BEATLEMANIA
The Producers of the show ran
an ad in the Calendar section of the Sunday LA Times -probably late January
or early February of '77. The ad said something about looking for “Beatle
look-alike, sound-alikes for Broadway show.” I loved the Beatles and was
an actor, so I jumped on it.
* Had you been impersonating
George Harrison before you heard about
No. In fact the first song I
did at the audition was “Norwegian Wood.” They asked for something more,
so I did “Here Comes the Sun.”
o How long had you
been a musician prior to Beatlemania?
I first saw the Beatles on the
Jack Parr show, over Christmas holiday of '63 - '64. Then came the Sullivan
shows in February and I got my first guitar on my 15th birthday in April.
I think I was in a “band” about a week later.
* What was your
audition experience like? eg: was the room full of Beatle
or was it just you and a music director?
It was in a big rehearsal hall
at S.I.R. in Hollywood. There were quite a few people in the room when
I got there. I was late because I had nearly sliced off my left index finger
just before leaving the house.
I had just moved to LA from Toronto
with my ex-wife Diana and our 3 yr old son Dylan and we were already in
pretty dire straights. I was so broke that I had pawned my acoustic guitar
and had to borrow one from my friend Dave Draper (he'll show up again in
another story). As I was walking out the door I realized that there was
no guitar strap. So I grabbed two old leather belts, put them together
and started to cut a hole for the strap button with a steak knife. I was
running late, I was nervous, I was pissed off that I hadn't taken care
of this and the leather was thick.
A little voice inside my head
started to tell me that I'd better calm down or I was going to …And then
the knife slipped and slashed my left index finger on the inside of the
big knuckle. Blood went everywhere and it wouldn't stop.
After putting ice on it for a
few minutes, we were finally able to get a band-aid on it and if I didn't
move it, it didn't bleed.
Fortunately I lived fairly close
to SIR, because I had to walk. I got there and signed in, maybe the only
guy in the room with a headshot and resume. Eventually they called me up
and I did “Norwegian Wood.” I was able to get through that song because
it didn't put a lot of strain on the cut.
The Musical Director was Sandy
Yaguda, formerly with Jay & the Americans, and he yelled out that I
sounded great and to do another one. I started playing “Here Comes the
Sun.” At that time I had no idea that George had capoed the guitar on the
7th fret and played it in D - thus putting it in A. I had figured out a
way to play it in A, pretty much note for note, without any capo, but it
was probably the hardest song I knew how to play. I got through the first
couple of verses, but when I got to the bridge (Sun, sun, sun …) my fingers
slipped and I looked down at my hand and there was blood dripping off my
elbow. So, I stopped. Sandy yelled at me to keep going, that it sounded
great. I explained over the mic that I had cut my finger and was bleeding
all over the stage and I couldn't continue.
Well, that caused quite a stir
and yeah, I was milking it. Producer Steve Leber's wife (a really nice
lady) got me a band-aid and fixed me up. Sandy told me to get my finger
fixed and come back the next day with an electric guitar and to be prepared
to play “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Then he took my
photo & resume and wrote on it in big letters, “Bleeding Finger.” It
was kind of a metaphor for the next 2 yrs. of my life - I was willing to
bleed for this job.
I didn't have an electric guitar,
but fortunately my neighbor had a green Gretsch and he let me borrow it.
(Later on, Sandy told me how impressed they were that I showed up with
a Gretsch and figured I must really be into George.) I started working
on the two songs. I figured out “Something” fairly easily, but I
was basically an acoustic folkie who had played in a couple of bands. Lead
guitar was definitely not my forte; which is why “While My Guitar Gently
Weeps” intimidated the hell out of me. I mean, it's Clapton!
The next day, I showed up for
the Callbacks. I was pretty much out of my element and I was very nervous.
I remember Randy and Reed were onstage when I got there. Reed was obviously
very good. It was his piano playing that really impressed me and of course
he sounded just like Paul and even looked a lot like him. You could tell
that Randy was kinda green, but he looked like John and sounded like him
and he really wanted that gig. I honestly don't remember seeing
Bobby, but I was in my own little world. Sandy told me to get up and play
“Something.” I got through the solo pretty well and even sang all the notes,
which is pretty high for my voice. I don't remember if I did anything else,
but I know I didn't have to play “While My Guitar …” - thank God!
Sandy gave me his phone number and told me if I hadn't heard from him in
a few weeks, to call him.
* How old were you when you were
accepted into the show?
I turned 28 shortly after arriving
* Were you excited
when you were told that you were "IN"?
I waited the few weeks (and then
some) for Sandy to call and then one morning I decided to give him a call.
He wasn't there, so I left a message. An hour or so later, he called
and told me to take the red-eye to JFK that night and I would start rehearsals
the next day. Excited doesn't begin to cover my emotions. About
15 minutes later, Sandy called me back and asked me what I had called about.
I said “But, you already called me back.” He said, “I didn't know you had
called. I just called you the first time, because I need you to be here
I flew to NYC that night and
arrived at Sandy's house, early the next morning. As he and I drove into
the city, he told me we were going to pick up “the guys.” First was Justin.
He was very quiet. Next was Mitch and it was pretty obvious what
part he was playing. I think I said something that inferred that
I was looking forward to playing with them and was puzzled by their kind
of evasive response. Then we picked up Leslie - - - What do
you mean, he's playing George? I had no idea there was another
band that had been in rehearsal for about a year and that I was basically
an understudy. I thought about going home right then, but had no
We went to SIR and I met Reed,
Randy & Bobby. Then we sat there and watched Bunk 1 rehearse.
After a couple of hours, they left and it was our turn. They handed me
a guitar and told me that we were going to play “Day Tripper.” I
sorta knew the lick and watched Randy's left hand to get the chords and
played some semblance of the solo.
When we finished Sandy said it
was OK, but could I sing the harmony. I asked which harmony and when
they told me it was the High harmony, I nearly had a heart attack.
It starts on C# and I had never sung that high in my life, let alone on
no sleep and a pack of Marlboros.
I took a deep breath, squeezed
my butt real tight and squeaked it out. Sandy gave me a funny look and
said “You got it, but we'll have to work on that. And I know you're a good
acoustic player, but you're really going to have to practice on electric.”
The bottom line was that I was on a kind of Probation, until they could
see whether or not I could cut it.
About a year later, Reed told
me, that Sandy had told him, that I was “the wrong guy.” You see,
I was not the first guy they hired. He was some guy from the Bay Area and
apparently he had some anger management issues, which culminated in him
tossing a Gretsch Tennessean across the stage at SIR. So, they
fired him and Sandy called me. But according to Reed, I was not the guy
Sandy had meant to call. Considering the whole deal with the bleeding
finger and my 8 x 10 glossy photo, I found that kinda hard to believe,
but then again, knowing Sandy, it's possible. I wonder who that other
guy was and what he'd say if he ever found out.
About 3 weeks later I got an
emergency call from my wife, Diana. She and Dylan were going to get evicted
if I didn't send a chunk of money to pay the back rent. I went to
Sandy and asked him if I had the gig or not. He said “Yeah” I was
hired and then he went to Leber to authorize an advance. So, to get back
to your question, that was when I was officially “IN” and it was kind of
* What was your
first experience on stage as George in front of an audience
Was it the first for your other band members as well? Tell us
moment right before you hit that first note on IWHYH!
Apparently we did 4 shows in
Boston during the last week of previews. I have only the vaguest of memories
of this. The reason for putting us on was because Mitch was having vocal
problems. Ten shows a week was killing him because he sang on every song.
They tried having Reed sing off-stage while Mitch lip-synched. That only
happened a few times before Reed put his foot down and demanded to be put
on stage, if he was going to sing. So, they plugged him into Bunk 1 in
various shows in Boston and then in New York, as well. The reason Sandy
called us Bunk 1 and Bunk 2 was that there was a serious rivalry between
the two bands and Sandy said he felt like he was a camp counselor, keeping
the two “Bunks” from going at each other. To start with, you had the whole
New York vs. LA thing. And to be honest, Bunk 2 wasn't exactly short on
ego, but it seemed like we had to fight for any and every scrap of respect
we could get.
The first time I did the show
at the Winter Garden, I was subbing for Leslie who was sick. I had very
little notice, so I felt rushed and unprepared. To be perfectly honest,
I was pretty nervous and I remember my hands shaking as I got ready to
hit those first 3 notes of IWHYH. But once we got going, I was fine. But,
the long, hot, humid “Summer of Sam” dragged on and we were sitting around
doing hand claps in the pit and lip-synching “Can't Buy Me Love” from behind
the scrim. The tension was getting worse.
The night that Bunk 2 debuted
was the day Elvis died. Apparently someone in Bunk 1 was too distraught
to go on that night, so they finally put us on. And in fact, when the producers
realized that we were more than ready to do the show, they instituted a
new policy of splitting the week between the 2 Bunks. It was usually 6
shows and 4 shows each. (At Christmas and Easter, we did 12 shows per week!)
How did I feel at the kick-off of this show? It felt great to play with
Reed, Randy & Bobby for the first time on Broadway. We definitely felt
like we had something to prove and we really kicked butt that night. If
there was a somber note, it was that it had taken the death of the King
of Rock'n'Roll, to get us onstage
* How many years were
you with the show?
I had my 28th birthday after
I'd been in rehearsal for a few weeks and I turned 30 the day after we
were given one week's notice, that the West Coast company was being disbanded
- so, 2 years.
* The show was very
PAUL song "heavy". Did it bother you that there was no featured George
songs on the playlist originally?
Yes, Paul sang on every song,
which was one of the reasons for having 2 bands. And actually, originally
there were 2 George songs - “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something.” Unfortunately
the show's creators had pretty much screwed up both songs, by shortening
them and I think one of them went into another song - like a medley! They
both got cut from the show while we were still in previews at the Colonial
Theatre in Boston and yes, I remember being very upset at the time. The
producers hadn't realized that they were only getting the performing rights
to the Lennon-McCartney catalog and that George held the performance rights
to his own songs - and he wasn't about to give those rights to some Beatle
* Where there ever
any accidents on stage say during costume changes? eg:
and falls, etc.
The one that comes to mind was
the Great Blackout of '77. It was hot and muggy that summer (the Summer
of Sam) and everybody had their air conditioners on full blast - all the
time. So, it was no surprise that there was a huge Blackout one evening
in the middle of the show. If memory serves, I believe it was during “A
Little Help …” right after the line “What do you see when you turn out
the lights?” Bunk 1 was on that night (I believe it was before we got in
rotation) and so they sat at the front of the stage with the “Yesterday”
guitar and did a little sing-along until Management realized that the lights
were not going to come back on.
Speaking of the “Yesterday” guitar,
there was one show where it got tuned incorrectly. “Yesterday” is in the
key of F major, but Paul tuned the guitar down a whole tone and played
in G major, because it's so much easier to play in that key.
In the summer of '78 we were
back in LA at the Pantages. Gary Schnell was our guitar tech in New
York and he had moved west with the show. He had made plans to go
back to New York for a week to get married to his girlfriend, Linda. The
only problem was that he didn't tell anybody but me and the only reason
I knew about it was because I hung out in the guitar room for most of my
free time and Gary and I had become good friends.
I kept telling him to tell the
production staff, but he was afraid they would say no. So,
I guess he figured it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission,
because come Tuesday night - no Gary!
I had spent so much time around
Gary that I had his routine down. Fortunately, Bunk 2 wasn't
on that night, so I played roadie.
Management was all in a dither
about what were we going to do for the rest of the week. I told them
my friend Dave Draper was in town at that time and I was sure he would
jump in, as a favor to me. One night during that week, Bunk 2 was on and
when Reed hit the opening chord of “Yesterday” on the guitar, all of our
heads snapped around, because we all knew that the guitar was tuned too
When I asked Dave later, what
had happened, he said he had just forgotten about it and had tuned it like
any other guitar. Conductor/keyboard player Andy Dorfman and the violin
and cello players had it tough, because they had to transpose their charts
up a whole tone - on the spot - and they did a perfect job. But really,
it was Reed who had it worst, because he had to actually sing the song
a whole tone higher (no easy feat) and he pulled it off flawlessly. I don't
know too many people who could have done that as seemingly effortlessly.
Reed really did have an amazing set of pipes.
* If you had any,
what was the most embarrassing moment on stage? Power
Flubbed lyrics? Sneezes? etc.
See previous answer.
* What was your
favorite part of the show?
I really liked “Nowhere Man.”
George's lower harmony fit me perfectly and the 3 vocal parts just sounded
great together, especially the acapella opening. Then George plays that
great lick and one of my favorite solos, topped off with the high E harmonic.
I also loved the guitar tone.
Playing “Day Tripper” was fun.
I loved the guitar part and popping the balloons was always a blast. Randy
usually went postal with the balloons and then of course Bobby got the
big weather balloon at the end.
But to tell you the truth, the
entire show was always enjoyable and fulfilling. I've done plenty of plays
over the years and sometimes after 3 weeks, you're ready to move on. When
I tell people that I was with the show for 2 years, a lot of them ask me
if I ever got tired of doing it. I tell them in all honesty that I never
got tired of doing the show. How could you, when you were playing some
of the greatest songs of all time, every night and the best people on Broadway
like Jules Fisher, had put together such a great vehicle for us to perform
* What was your
I don't think I ever played the
triplets in the solo to “A Hard Day's Night” correctly.
There really wasn't anything
in the show that I disliked, especially after I grew my hair long enough
to get a “Hard Day's Night” look for the early years and then restyle it
for the 2nd Act with a “Let It Be” look. From that time on, I refused to
wear a wig or beard and just went with the mustache. The hair department
wasn't too happy with me, but I was enough of a prima donna to pull it
off. Those wigs and beards were horrible!
I guess the worst moment was
being canned. It was the night before my 30th birthday. We had been told
that we were going on an extensive tour of the show that would take up
the summer and everyone had spent considerable time, effort and money in
getting ready to go. Then, 1 week before closing in San Diego, we were
told that the tour was cancelled and the West Coast Company was being disbanded.
Bobby and I were let go because we were making more money than everyone
else. I think Marshall and Glenn went back to New York. Later, Bobby went
to London with the show. I was pretty bitter at the time about the way
it came down and that last week was very difficult for me.
* Who did you enjoy
working with the most?
Although we never played together
(both being Georges), I really enjoyed being around and working with Tom
Teeley. He was probably the best George of all and was always willing and
eager to share any little tricks or licks. He figured out a really cool
way to play the “harpsichord” lick in “Strawberry Fields” and spent several
minutes with me, making sure I got it right. His audition was very memorable.
He played “I Need You” perfectly, while using his guitar volume knob instead
of a volume pedal. That's pretty tricky. Sandy looked at me and I nodded
and said, “That's the guy.” Then I pointed out that he was wearing a wig
(the actor in me at work again) and speculated that maybe he was bald!
Sandy had no idea that it was a wig and later on, Tom told me he had even
done something to make his ears stick out. It was that Go the Extra Mile
attitude that I really admired about Tom.
I only ever subbed with Bunk
1 once, so my choices are Bunk 2 and what I called Bunk 2A .
Bobby was and is as solid as
a rock. He has impeccable taste and is a very musical drummer. He
wrote the drum book for all other Ringos who followed. Randy and Reed were
the best Lennon/McCartney team I've ever seen. They had the sound, the
look, the musicianship and the attitude. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful
to have been a part of the original Bunk 2.
When we got back to LA (where
we had all been hired) Randy got hit by a drunk driver, totaling his brand
new car, and breaking a few bones which would take him out of the show
for several weeks.
The producers brought in Marshall
Crenshaw (for the John spot) and I think Reed was just really burned out,
so he took a sabbatical until Randy would return (which never happened).
So, they brought up Glenn Burtnick to fill the Paul role.
What can you say about Marshall?
He's had, by far, the biggest post-Beatlemania career of any of us - and
for good reason. He's one of the best musicians I've ever worked with and
he has an incredible memory for songs. Every night during sound check,
we could play whatever we wanted. It was a lot of fun and kept us fresh.
One night Marshall started to play “Runaway” by Del Shannon (a fellow Detroiter)
and we all joined in, wondering how he was going to play the solo. As he
was singing, he reached over and flipped on the Gibson organ next to him,
selected the sound he wanted and cool as cool can be, without missing a
nano-beat, he played the (very tricky) solo, note perfect. Burt and I looked
at each other and started laughing so hard we fell to the floor, still
playing the song.
Glenn Burtnick is another incredible
musician and singer - plus he's a true leftie. He too has had a great career
and it was very cool to turn on the Tonight show one night and see him.
Which band did I like better?
They were both great bands with incredible talent. I liked and respected
the guys I was working with. So, I guess I'd say that I loved both bands
for different reasons.
* Where did you
enjoy performing the most? (What city, country, theatre, etc.)
The Winter Garden is a theatre
of epically mythic stature. It was built for Al Jolson at the height of
his career and was the biggest house on Broadway for many years. (In “Rhapsody
In Blue” the biopic of George Gershwin, someone says “Get me Al Jolson
at the Winter Garden.” The next shot is of Jolson himself on the “same”
pay phone that we used every night.) A little over a year before
joining Beatlemania, I had stayed at the Abbey Victoria Hotel across the
street, for about a week while doing a show at the Brooklyn Academy of
Music. The Winter Garden was dark at the time (musicians' strike) but I
would walk by it every day and think how great it would be to do a show
The Pantages is at Hollywood
and Vine and for me, it is the most beautiful theatre I have ever seen
- the lobby and especially the theatre, with an incredible chandelier.
It's an Art Deco dream. When I first moved to LA, I would walk by it almost
every day. It had been converted into a movie theatre many years before
and right after moving to Hollywood, it was re-converted back to a “legit”
theatre. I remember thinking it would be great to do a show there “someday.”
San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre
was nice, but what was great about Frisco was that I found a little 4 track
demo studio that was very inexpensive and started recording a bunch of
songs. Naturally I asked the other guys to play on my tunes and the next
thing you know, everybody's booked into this studio and we're all working
on each other's tracks and it was just an explosion of creativity. It was
a lot of fun!
* Did you play vintage
instruments and use vintage equipment for the show?
Some were, but I think most were
* We know that supposedly
none of the original Beatles ever saw the show live, but some people from
the Beatles camp (other than atturnies) did see it. Do you recall
Haven't a clue.
o What famous
heroes of yours came to see the show?
None that I'm aware of. I remember
meeting one of the guys from KISS and I saw Paul Simon there one day. The
Producers - Leber & Krebs - were managers of Rock'n'Roll acts and probably
their biggest band was Aerosmith. I was at the office one day when Steven
Tyler came in. I was introduced to him and he was very down to earth and
genuinely friendly. When I told him we had a mutual friend back in Toronto,
he sat down and we chatted for about 5 minutes and I found him to be a
really nice guy.
* Did you ever meet
any of the Beatles?
No. The closest I would have
come was one night when Bobby called me at about 1:30 AM. I am now and
have always been a night owl, (its 3:30 AM as I write this) but for some
strange reason, I was already asleep that night when he called. He told
me he was down the street at Trax (trendy Upper West Side night spot that
we all lived near) and that he and Randy were sitting at the table next
to George Harrison. I said I'd be right there. The next day I showed up
at the theatre and Bobby said, “What happened to you?” “What do you
mean?” “I called you last night and told you we were sitting next to George
at Trax.” “You did?” I had no memory of him calling and slept through my
big chance to see George close up.
Mitch has a great story about
meeting John and Yoko. I hope you get him to share it. It is hilarious.
Someday I'll tell you about me
* Do you still perform
with other alumni?
I have never played a “Beatle”
gig since leaving in April of '79. I really never had the desire and to
be brutally honest about myself, I was able to do an adequate, professional
job of it, but it really wasn't my forte. My skills and talents were better
applied to other things and there were a lot of other things I wanted to
* All-in-all, looking
back, how was the Beatlemania experience for you?
I used to say it was a dream
come true that sometimes turned into a nightmare. But time passes by and
fortunately we remember the good stuff, mostly.
I look at it like it was my post
grad classes in Show Biz - and it is a business. I learned a lot just by
being around some of the top people in their fields like Jules Fisher,
Bob Strauss, David Wyler, Marvin Krauss and the crew & pit musicians.
It was an incredible learning experience.
I got to star on Broadway (the
pinnacle for any stage actor) and “be” my favorite Beatle. I got to play
some of my favorite music and I got paid pretty well for it. I got to hang
and work with some really great guys. It doesn't get much better than that.
I've always been and always will
be enormously proud and grateful to have been one of the 8 original “Originals”
who got to be there from the beginning and see the birth of a new genre
of Theatre, as well as the spawning of an entire industry of Beatle bands.
I've really appreciated this
opportunity to re-visit memories from over 30 years ago and I apologize
if I've seemingly rambled on in my answers. I just wanted to get it down
the way I remembered it.
Beatlemania was a once in a lifetime
opportunity and I will always cherish my memories of that time.
Lake Forest, CA