“Rain” brings Beatles to Milwaukee

March 12, 2010 at 3:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

By Michael Ray

The Beatles arrival into musical history began nearly 50 years ago as four kids from Liverpool leaving rock ‘n’ roll repercussions that can still be felt today. Their music is a testament of social change, lyrical brilliance and the true nature of celebrity.

Rain-A Tribute to the Beatles arrives at the Milwaukee Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn, on Sunday for a one-night-only, one-of-a-kind revue that traces the history of The Beatles with spot-on musical performances. For generations that never had the chance to see the band live, Rain is hailed by many as the next best thing. Joe Bithorn, who plays George Harrison, talks to the Post.

UWM Post: Tell me a little about your musical background, what you learned growing up in New York.

Bithorn: My mom had worked for a fellow by the name of Alexander who was one of the world’s greatest violinists at the time. Out of that office, there were all these incredible musicians coming in and out. As a kid this was the norm to me. I was like 3 or 4 years old and this was before it was politically incorrect to bring your children to work
And I just remember these people as, they were just wonderful, great, you know, people that were just very very nice to my mom. And every once in a while we’d go to this place called Carnegie Hall and see them work. And I was blown away.
As a kid I could go there and be very well behaved and just, you know, just zone out into the music.

Post: So a lot of your musical tastes came from these musicians that worked in the office with your mother. Was your father an influence as well?

Bithorn: My father was a fan of classical music and opera, and jazz as well. And all this is coming at me in New York City in a very concentrated way, along with my little AM radio that I used to keep under my pillow to hear pop music which was pretty much, at that point, well integrated.
So we didn’t call it race music or whatever, you know it was all the same. It’s hard to believe sometimes that that actually was different way back when. But, you know, I got to listen to a lot of R&B, a lot of early Rock ‘n’ Roll that was coming through.

Post: And then of course, The Beatles appear on the scene.

Bithorn: Suddenly here I am living in Manhattan and a whole bunch of blocks away at the Ed Sullivan Theater, The Beatles appear. This is 1964 and I’m just, you know, there, a little kid in front of the television just looking at this going “oh my, this is quite good, this would be an interesting line of work to have at some point.” And I had already been doing harmonies at that point. I eventually started playing guitar around the age of eight.

Post: So then of course, you did enter that line of work.

Bithorn: I would’ve been a black sheep in my family had I not been a musician. At the time I was listening to the Beatles stuff and the early rock ‘n roll stuff. People were playing and telling me about Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, who actually lived in my neighborhood. We were pretty scared of him because he was a pretty strange guy, but an incredible jazz composer.

I learned about all that stuff, about Dizzy [Gillespie] who actually recruited my cousins to be in his band when they were in college. I remember Dizzy being at my uncle’s house for dinner, talking to my cousin’s parents about bringing them on the road. And John Coltrane of course, Miles Davis and all of that just kind of crept in, all seeping in everything.

Post: So it became a part of your show, a part of your music at the time. And you were working all this time?

Bithorn: I had been working at that time. I had learned a song by a group called Cream and had learned the solo and all the guitar stuff. I had a good dosage of Eric [Clapton], Jimmy Page and the American of the bunch, Jimi Hendrix.

Post: And from there you moved from solo work into more collaborative work.

Bithorn: All of a sudden I’m being recruited by older kids to play in their bands. At the time the technology was 16 track, two inch tape. We were like 16 tracks, whooo! It was a great experience. It taught me a lot about how I had to come up with things. Playing clubs and doing my thing, I kind of came into my own.

Post: And how did that lead into your work with Rain?

Bithorn: I tried out for a show called “Beatlemania” [on Broadway] which I had never seen. A friend of mine was recruited and he asked me to come along because he thought I’d be a good fit. I ended up with “Beatlemania” and did that for about two years. Since I’d never seen it, they gave me the crash course.

Post: That one audition then opened the door for something bigger.

Bithorn: Well little did I know that the audition was ongoing, so to speak. I worked through my trial by fire, got through it and then I heard about auditions for Rain. And I found out that Joey Curatolo was going to be the Paul and I had always wanted to work with him.
I thought you know, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna check this out. So I was in L.A. with the Beatlemania show and I went over to Mark Lewis’ house, he was one of the founding members. I took my guitar and he had his piano and I played both parts of the “And Your Bird Can Sing” and he was like “Ok, what else can you do?” and he had me sing. And that was it, and I got into the band at that point and I’ve been in since 1983.

Post: From those early days, how did the band turn into the phenomenon it is today?

Bithorn: Rain had started off in the bars, doing county fairs and eventually we worked our way into cruise ships. Eventually we got into the casinos. One casino in Lake Tahoe came to us and wanted to replace one of the revue shows with our show. They wanted to know what we could come up with.

Post: So you designed the show.

Bithorn: So we designed the show, similar to the one that people will see in Milwaukee. It was the beginnings of that show with video clips, similar to what we were doing with the Beatlemania show but in our own way.
Post: And the show explores the many phases of The Beatles’ music and style right?

Bithorn: It’s a history lesson, so to speak, set in chronological order. The pieces of history you see are timed to what period of music we are portraying on stage as the Beatles. The music is the star and all the technology is a dressing.

Post: The picture in many people’s head of a Beatles’ concert is the crazy, screaming fandom ala Shea Stadium. Does Rain get that type of response?

Bithorn: We sort of project into that experience. We have a segment of our show where we go through the Shea Stadium period and we show some of the shots of that, but we also do shots of the audience as well. It’s kind of a funny thing. They can be watching it and all of a sudden they might see themselves up on the big screen. It’s kind of a cool way to bring them into it.

Post: As Beatles music moves into a new century, Rain is obviously still doing great and Beatles music is still a huge part of culture. How do you feel about movies like Across the Universe reinterpreting that music for a new generation?

Bithorn: Anytime I hear that [Beatles] music, I’m thrilled to see that it’s still in the media somehow, even if it’s done by other people. People have to take care with it though. The Beatles themselves cared an awful lot about their product. They were Liverpool guys who didn’t have a lot of money and when they did, they wanted to go to the record store. Sometimes they’d buy something and then take it home to find it’s some cheap imitation.
Their experiences taught them that they wanted to make sure that when somebody gets a Beatles product that it’s quality.

Post: If you could speak to someone considering going to the show, what would you say?

Bithorn: If you’re a Beatles fan and you miss this, you’re going to be really sorry. Our show is really becoming more of a soundtrack of a whole generation, of people from six to sixty. Come on down and enjoy it.

For more information about Rain‘s Milwaukee appearance or to buy tickets, visit http://www.milwaukeetheatre.com/categories/4-milwaukeetheatre .


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