Beatles tribute band works hard to play charity dance

[published on Mon, Jan 30, 2006]

They say Paul McCartney's "Martha My Dear" was a love song, not to a girl, but to his English sheepdog.

George Harrison, with his peace-loving philosophy, believed no creature should be harmed.

Not that we need an excuse to appreciate the Beatles and love animals at the same time. But we've got one anyway.

On Saturday, Beatles tribute band American English will play a concert at the Helping Paws Animal Shelter Have A Heart benefit dinner and dance.

Though American English does plenty of benefit concerts, this one is special, said Eric Michaels, who plays the part of Paul McCartney in the band. Michaels, a pet owner himself, said he was touched by images from Hurricane Katrina of people refusing to leave their waterlogged homes without their pets.

Young Hines, who plays the part of John Lennon, has a sheepdog.

Doug Couture plays the part of George Harrison, and Tom Gable is Ringo Starr.

"When I was a kid, I was a big Beatles fan," Michaels said. "My voice fit songs like 'She's a Woman' and 'Long Tall Sally.'"

Michaels learned bass, organ and piano – also Paul's instruments – and was frequently given the higher-pitched singing part in bands when colleagues heard his vocal range.

When Michaels got called for the American English auditions, in the late 1980s, he knew 15 songs and passed the audition.

It's evident band members are dedicated to making the concert experience authentic.

"It's like any other band that takes this thing seriously. You have to be a musician and a singer first, and then you have to learn how to be an actor," Michaels said.

Band members have studied Beatles film and video footage, taking close note of their mannerisms and quips.

The goal is to completely recreate a Beatles concert performance for audiences. That means authentic hair cuts, Liverpool accents, costumes and even the correct rhythmic head-bop.

"We have fun with it, but we keep it on a level where it's respectable," Michaels said. "We take the stuff seriously."

With the help of Ken Zemanek, an expert keyboardist with a keen ear, the quality of background instruments – the horns in "Lady Madonna," for instance – is replicated with care.

For many audience members, the shows are a trip back in time. For the kids they bring, it's just a riot.

"It builds, and by the end of the night, by 'Hey Jude,' everyone's standing up and singing," Michaels said.



What: Have a Heart Dinner Dance, featuring American English, benefiting Helping Paws Animal Shelter

When: 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday

Where: Crystal Lake Holiday Inn, 800 S. Route 31

Cost: $85 includes four hours of open bar, choice of three entrées, silent auction, dancing and entertainment; cost is tax-deductible

Information: (815) 459-2641