Sports and Entertainment Nashville is proud to welcome back Nashville’s own Steve Morley as a guest writer for our website. We hope you enjoy this great story on Nashville’s leading BeatleMania Favorites, The WannaBeatles!
Most civilized places on the planet have felt the influence of The Beatles. Nashville, though, being a major music mecca, can boast numerous direct links to the Liverpool lads. Just ask Charlie Daniels, who played on Ringo’s Nashville-made Beaucoups of Blues album, or Barry Tashian, whose band Barry and the Remains opened shows for the Fabs in 1966. Talk to one of the waitresses who was slinging ham and biscuits when Paul McCartney stopped by the Loveless Cafe for jams of the non-musical variety, or, for that matter, any one of perhaps thousands who can claim a first-person connection to the world’s most enduring pop band.
Then, there are the near-misses, which can make for good stories all the same.
Local band The WannaBeatles made the regional media rounds last year after receiving a Grammy nomination for Fab Fan Memories: The Beatles Bond, featuring personal fan testimonials mostly obtained here in Nashville. The group solicited Grammy ground support and media attention with an original song and video, “We Wanna Meet Paul.” It was a canny way to acknowledge the band’s Beatle fandom and let folks know they were Grammy-town bound—and hoping to rub elbows with the Cute Beatle while in his preeminent proximity.
Fab Fan Memories was nominated in the Best Spoken Word Album category—a slot traditionally containing less formidable competition than that faced by Springsteen, Adele and their platinum ilk, though the faux-Fab Four were up against the daunting likes of Val Kilmer, Tina Fey and beloved actress/author Betty White, who ended up taking the little gold gramophone home. To add insult to injury, the hoped-for McCartney Moment failed to materialize.
In an imaginative twist some months later, the local foursome took a sad song and made it better, celebrating the very woman who intercepted their collective grasp at a Grammy. A new original number, “Oh Betty! (The Betty White Song),” was conceived to anchor a second video, a madcap romp shot at Gallatin’s historic Palace Theatre. The clip doubles as a classic compensatory fantasy, giving the band last-minute top billing when Betty cancels her appearance. Freud would no doubt have something to say about this. So does bandleader/founder Dennis Scott, who genially pitches the project with the silver tongue of a natural-born PR man: “Yes, we have hitched our star to a [nearly] 91-year-old showbiz veteran. If you love Betty, you’ll love the song we wrote for her.”
Continuing with a variation on that theme, The WannaBeatles are hosting Betty White’s 91st Birthday Bash on Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7:00 p.m., marking their first appearance at 3rd and Lindsley. They’ll bring along the dancers from their video—Susannah White and Nashville theatre-stage favorite Brooke Bryant—plus newfound Betty White lookalike Evelyn Ford, who the band discovered locally by launching a contest when the real Betty declined to star in the video. (Speaking of contests, go to the band’s website—thewannabeatles.com—for details on how you can win dinner and tickets to the band’s Puckett’s Grocery show in Franklin on the following night, Friday, Jan. 18, by submitting a happy-birthday video for White.)
Clearly, The WannaBeatles don’t march to a typical tribute-band drumbeat. The original lineup first joined forces in 2007 to entertain diners at Cool Springs’ Mexicali Grill, where consumer response sealed their destiny. As lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bryan Cumming explains, “We played some Beatles songs, from memory, for the fun of it, and enjoyed it. Even more importantly, the crowd enjoyed it. The restaurant owner thought it would be a good idea for us to come back as a band doing Beatles songs,” says Cumming, “so we did.”
After learning to play a Beatles repertoire with a more musically detailed and harmony-rich approach, the band found its name by—what else?—holding a contest. True to their tongue-in-cheek moniker, they’re hardly a stock tribute band. They may, in fact, be one of the least likely amalgams to ever blast out “Twist and Shout,” comprised of Cuban-born drummer David Toledo, classically trained church pipe-organist-by-day Nathan Burbank, the graying, gregarious and ever-kinetic Cumming and frontman Scott, de facto band chief and funnyman. He’s the group’s wild card and joker, offering the odd song parody, aping famed Fab-Four foil Ed Sullivan and generally gunning for laughs when he’s not busy replicating Beatles music.
Being funny is one thing; looking silly is another. David Toledo, describing the band’s personality-based approach, says, “I, personally, was not prepared at the age of 53 to wear those silly mop-top wigs. It’s just silly for older men to try to look so young. The silver lining,” he notes, “is that [not attempting an impersonation] freed us from having to represent the specific musical roles of each Beatle. It works perfectly and we don’t have to force it,” says Toledo, who can be heard singing high-register McCartney lead vocals from behind his kit.
“By not being a lookalike band,” concurs Scott, “we are able to play to our strengths as musicians and entertainers. It is what sets us apart.”
Another defining aspect of The WannaBeatles is the band’s identification with the Beatlemaniacs who crowd their shows. Their unabashed Beatle-love creates a palpable connection between performers and listeners. “The audience is crucial to our shows. We feed off their energy,” confirms Scott. “The highlights of a given performance often include the moments where we bring people on stage. When we play ‘When I’m 64,’ we have someone come up and blow bubbles and sing the hook line.”
No word on whether they’ll change the hook to “When I’m 91” at Betty’s birthday celebration, but the band and its fans will no doubt be bringing the love—which, as they say, is all you need. If you haven’t experienced the community spirit of a WannaBeatles show, you might want to attend Thursday’s bash, which doubles as a benefit—not for Mr. Kite, but for the Nashville Humane Association. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
Sports and Entertainment Nashville’s “Coolest Comment” Contest: Simply post a comment to this article. We’ll pick the comment we think is the cleverest (and perhaps even tweet it) and send the lucky submitter and a guest to Thursday’s Betty White’s 91st Birthday Bash at 3rd and Lindsley. The winner will be posted on the site on Wednesday!
Editor’s Note: Congratulations to our “Coolest Comment” contest winner, Mary Boggs! We here at Sports and Entertainment Nashville got a kick out of Mary’s assertion that The WannaBeatles are so entertaining that they can be seen in the dictionary under “entertainment.” If you don’t find them there, though, you will find the band at Nashville’s 3rd and Lindsley on Thursday night (Jan. 17) — and we’re sending Mary and a friend FREE, courtesy of The WannaBeatles. Thanks to all of our readers who participated! Let’s all go see The WannaBeatles this Thursday! See you there!