Gregory Wilmot (John), Axel Clarke (Ringo), Jesse Wilder (George) and Chris Paul Overall (Paul) are Abbey Road.
On February 9, 1964, four shaggy-haired Brits made their stateside debut on the Ed Sullivan show while 73 million Americans looked on. The Beatles had first gained attention in the states just six weeks earlier when a Maryland disc jockey got a hold of a British copy of a Beatles album and played “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the airwaves. Beatlemania erupted across the country, and the Ed Sullivan show received 50,000 requests for tickets for the boys’ premier. A lucky 700 were granted seats. The rest of the country watched from their living rooms.
Now, 50 years later, the Beatles’ profound effect on America, culturally and musically, still rings. And for those who want to relieve the magic of Beatlemania, a group of local musicians is ready to oblige.
Abbey Road, a nationally touring Beatles tribute, resurrects the sound and the spirit of the Liverpool foursome with spot-on vocals, tight instrumentals and uncanny impressions of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Their show includes three costume changes, taking the audience on the journey from Ed Sullivan black suits to Sergeant Pepper rainbow regalia to Abbey Road Bohemia.
Andy Nagle, Abbey Road’s manager, is the man behind the successful tribute band. Nagle was practicing law in Long Beach when he decided to write a script about the journey of the Beatles through the eyes of their manager Brian Epstein. The play, “In My Life,” ran at a community theater in Orange County.
“I wrote this script and used a local Beatles cover band,” said Nagle. “I just had a three week run planned with about 16 shows, and they all sold out before we opened,”
“In My Life” drew overwhelmingly positive reviews, and Nagle soon ditched his law career to capitalize on the show’s success. He decided to create his own Beatles’ cover band, Abbey Road, to become the cast of the traveling show.
“I knew about theater,” Nagle said. “But I didn’t know anything about bands or touring so I called my old friend Tom Maher who manages Motorhead and Anthrax.”
Nagle and Maher held auditions for Abbey Road. Over 200 hopeful musicians showed up, many in costume, and vied for the roles of John, Paul, George and Ringo. The original foursome enjoyed sweeping success and have gone on to tour billed as the original cast of In My Life.
The current Abbey Road lineup is the second incarnation, with the exception of Alex Clarke, who has remained as Ringo though both casts. Gregory Wilmot plays John, Chris Paul Overall plays Paul and Jesse Wilder plays George.
“The guys now do a three month residency at Harrah’s in Reno,” Nagle said. “And we also do a show called “Beatles vs. Stones” where Abbey Road competes against our Stones cover band Jumpin’ Jack Flash. That draws really well. The guys do about 150 shows per year now.”
Abbey Road’s setlist runs the gamut from “Penny Lane” to “A Day in the Life” to “Twist and Shout” and allows Beatles fans, young and old, to relive the magic of Britain’s greatest band.
Abbey Road plays Saint Rocke, 142 Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach, on Sunday, November 17. Doors open at 6 pm. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased online at www.saintrocke.com or by calling the box office at (310)371-0035.