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The Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper' gets a shiny metal makeover

Just when you thought there could be no further interpretations of any Beatles album, along comes rock guitarist Andy Timmons to give it a respectable ride.

By Patrick Prince

Just when you thought there could be no further interpretations of any Beatles album, along comes rock guitarist Andy Timmons to give it a respectable ride.

Timmons has recorded an instrumental version of the iconic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (mostly from memory, mind you) called “Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper” — and it’s probably like nothing you’ve heard before.

Timmons is known for his sparkling electric guitar sound. As a member of heavy metal hair band Danger Danger in the 1980s, Timmons added bite to the musical fluff. He solidified two of Kip Winger’s solo albums (after the tween metal band Winger

Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper

imploded). And he has done recording sessions with artists as vast as Paula Abdul and Paul Stanley. He also has been Olivia Newton-John’s insightful music director/guitarist for several U.S. tours. Otherwise, Timmons is busy producing albums of his own work as the Andy Timmons Band. His take on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” seems to be the pinnacle of his solo career, for its creativity and ingenuity alone. So what was behind his effort to reinterpret such a revered record?

Goldmine: As a listener — and a Beatles fan — I was skeptical of the record “Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper” at first. But I was pleasantly surprised due to the guitar-driven take of such a classic album. If there were vocals, it could have ruined it for me — since John and Paul’s vocals are so iconic. Do you think recording it as an instrumental helps its reinterpretation?

Andy Timmons: Well, I have to admit that I’m not necessarily a big fan of Beatles covers. I do like the Smithereens’ recent CDs, however.
I did realize going into this project that I was treading on hallowed ground, but once I had the confidence that my arrangements were working, it all just felt right. My hope was that if I were enjoying it, then maybe my Beatle friends would dig it, too. My goal was to ‘sing the songs’ as best I could through the guitar. It’s very challenging to try and capture all the vocal inflections. The process is certainly helping my level of expression on my instrument.

Andy Timmons photo by Simone Cecchetti

Andy Timmons arranged most of his Sgt. Pepper's covers album from memory. Photo by Simone Cecchetti.

GM: Is it true that you arranged most of the record from memory?
AT: Yes, indeed. I think that actually made the whole thing easier. If I had referenced the record and tried to perfectly transcribe the parts, it may not have the same personal feel that I think the record has. As the record plays in my head, different elements come to the fore: the vocal melody, a guitar chord, orchestrations and sound effects. It was so much fun to try and capture the essence of each song with just my guitar, since I made the decision to only use one guitar performance on each song with no overdubs. I’ll never forget the first time I was able to sit in my studio and play the whole Pepper record start to finish. Very emotional! Though I have one confession: When I did the arrangement for “Within You, Without You,” I couldn’t recall the Indian middle section so we recorded a version where I had Mitch just carry on the “Tomorrow Never Knows” drum part — thank you “Love” — and played a psychedelic Octavia solo. Upon listening to the playback, I knew it was a cop-out, so I went back to the drawing board and referenced the CD and figured out it was in 5/8 time. It took a while to learn all the sitar vs. orchestra parts, but I finally got it. I’m really proud of how that one turned out. I just wish George (Harrison) could have heard it.

GM: Have you received reaction from Paul or Ringo? Yoko? The Harrisons?
AT: Well, it would certainly be a dream come true. You can’t help thinking about that at some point. ‘Wow, I wonder if Paul would dig this version of “She’s Leaving Home.”
I realize that there is so m

uch Beatle cover material out there, but maybe if the record continues to get positive reviews, who knows. You have to dream it, right?

GM: What has been the reaction from Beatles fans?
AT: Overwhelmingly positive. I’m sure there will be those who don’t care for it, and I completely understand that. I do think that the Beatle people are really picking up on the love and sincerity that went into the record. I’m not trying to re-invent what’s already great. I’m just trying to capture the essence of the songs through my guitar.

GM: Did you come up with the idea to record this album due to the positive feedback you received from playing these Beatles songs live in your own set?

Danger Danger courtesy Imagine Records

Andy Timmons (second from right) had bigger hair back in 1989 when Danger Danger hit the scene. Timmons' bandmates were (from left) drummer Steve West, bass player Bruno Ravel, lead vocalist Ted Poley and keyboardist Kasey Smith. Imagine Records/Epic publicity photo.

AT: The whole thing started with a medley arrangement I did of the songs “Sgt. Pepper/Strawberry Fields Forever.” The Andy Timmons Band began including this in our set list every night, and it always got a great response. While we were on tour in Italy, my good friend and promoter Riccardo Cappelli suggested, ‘Hey, next time you come back, why not play a whole set of Beatles songs?’ My initial thought was ‘No way.’ I couldn’t possibly play a whole set of Beatles material instrumentally and make it interesting.
However, it got my curiosity going... ‘What if I played “Lucy In The Sky...” how would I do that?’ I just started playing around with different Beatles songs. It was so much fun. Before I knew it, I was working on all the Sgt. Pepper songs, not a conscious thought; I just kind of went down that path.

GM: Are the Beatles your favorite band? Biggest influence?
AT: Certainly. I was born in 1963 and have three older brothers. My oldest brother, Mark, was 12 at the time and bought every new Beatles record as they were released, which eventually became the start of my record collection — yep, still got ’em. So literally, from Day One, I was a fan. My earliest musical memory is loving the instrumental section of “I Saw Her Standing There” ... before I even knew what a guitar solo was. I think it’s why I love an echo or reverb-drenched guitar sound to this day. A lot of fans comment that they like my sense of melody, and I’m sure it’s largely due to my love for this music. They’ve profoundly infl

uenced me and millions of others. Who wouldn’t want to try to bring that level of love, joy and wisdom into the world? I recently read a quote from someone who called The Beatles “the best friends the world ever had.” I think that’s pretty spot-on!

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

GM: Do you think 'Sgt. Pepper’s' is the most iconic influential rock record ever?
AT: Yes. It’s easy to argue that “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” are candidates as well, but iconic is the operative word here. The sound was revolutionary, as were the songs and performances. And the artwork matched the music so perfectly. When I hear the tambouras, I see the color red that’s on the back cover of the Pepper LP. That’s why I chose the color red for our CD cover. I’m also a huge Brian Wilson fan, and “Pet Sounds” and “Smile” are masterpieces on another level, but I wouldn’t call them rock records.

GM: Do you collect Beatles albums? Memorabilia? Vinyl?
AT: Yes, yes and yes!
I have to confess that I’m a longtime fan of Goldmine! I still have my “Badfinger/No Dice” LP that I got through an auction when I was a kid! I focus mainly on vinyl but love anything Beatles/’60s related. I spent many hours growing up scouring the local Goodwills, Salvation Armys and used record shops. It actually was a great music lesson, and I’m still quite good at telling you what label many ’60s/’70s singles were on. Still haven’t run across a Butcher Cover yet. Someday!

GM: Besides this classic Beatles album, will you try a similar attempt on other classic albums?
AT: That’s a good question, and I must admit to that being a concern with releasing a record like this. I don’t want to become known as a guy who only does cover material. I do have other cover material in mind, but I also have another record of original material waiting in the wings, so I’m really looking forward to finishing that and getting it out there, as I’m quite proud of the compositions. As to what the cover material might be, I’m hesitant to reveal that until I’m confident it will work, kind of like when I was working on the Pepper tunes. We’ll see how it goes. If it feels right — and not forced or expected — then I’ll do it. It won’t be done for commercial reasons.