Meet Doctor Robert

By Elliot Jackson

For most of us, our first memory of “The Music” was mediated through the miracle of electronics, whether through the radio:

12 years old, rushing around getting ready for school, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” plays on the AM radio, stops me in my tracks, and I’m instantly in love – Lynn Wetherell, Paonia, Colorado

Ancient technologies like the record player:

 Had the 45 of “Yesterday” (still remember, the flip was “Act Naturally”). Summer of 65, I was four. Maybe the first record I ever owned. Played it over and over and over and over … Adam Davis, Kirksville, Missouri

Or tape players:

I am the Walrus – on reel to reel, age six … and ever more … I loved it … Cara Barone, Salida, Colorado

Eight track tape, White Album, my dad and me driving to the mountains in Arizona to go fishing and light bonfires. Every time the lyric “damn good whacking” in Piggies came up he’d reach across the bench seat and whack me. – Craig Childs, Crawford, Colorado

Or TV – specifically, that moment on February 9, 1964 when the host of a popular evening variety show, looking slightly bemused, announces, “Ladies and gentlemen … The Beatles!” – his last words, “let’s bring them on” drowned in the tsunami of sound, a roar made of shrieks, that would come to characterize the holy hysteria known as Beatlemania:

Watching them play Love Me Do and I Want to Hold Your Hand on Ed Sullivan at my cousin’s house on Long Island – the “old” Italian parents were not impressed (the Beatles weren’t Sinatra), as all of us kids were going wild … Phil Egidi, Vienna, Virginia

Jumping up and down on the couch and screaming along with the audience when they played on the Ed Sullivan Show. – Stuart Rosenberg, Skokie, Illinois

 

Dr. Robert. Photo by Mike Rosso

None of the members of the Crested Butte Beatle tribute band, Doctor Robert, is really old enough to have seen the Beatles on that Ed Sullivan broadcast. In fact, drummer Ben Wright, the youngest member of the group, confesses that he hadn’t been that familiar with Beatles music before being roped into playing with the band by Amanda Cook, one of his instructors at Western State College: “My dad was into country music,” he says about his childhood influences, “and my mom played in the church.”

The other members of the band – Kevin Reinert, Casey Falter, and Karen Janssen – all had different influences and have played in different styles, both together and separately. Kevin and Casey, who trade off most of the guitar and bass duties, have been playing together in the Crested Butte area for about ten years, everything from acoustic jazz and bluegrass to a funk jam band. When they brainstormed an idea for a new band, they originally had in mind something quite different from Doctor Robert: “Tower of Power,” says Kevin, referring to the mighty and long-lived California horn band.

What changed Kevin’s mind about the direction for the new band was the recollection of a wedding he had attended: Specifically, the wedding band, a Beatle tribute band called the Cavern Beat. What struck him the most? “Everybody danced.” As he realized from watching the reaction to that band, the material alone practically guaranteed gigs; in fact, Kevin recalls talking to the former manager of the Cavern Beat, who also managed a lot of other bands, tributes to other bands like the Rolling Stones among them, and, “he said, ‘the Beatles bands are the ones that are working.’”

The idea for a band based on Beatles music began to take shape, and Kevin and Casey put feelers out to a lot of Crested Butte-area musicians. Among the musicians who heeded the call was Karen Janssen, who with Kevin and Casey trades off on guitar, bass, mandolin, piano or percussion as needed, and who had played and taught music locally for a number of years before getting involved with Doctor Robert. She remembers running into Kevin and Casey and hearing about the project, and thinking it sounded like fun. Next thing she knew, she was being handed music, and the project began around August 2010.

In the meantime, while the membership of the band was coalescing (Amanda Cook, the fifth original member, is on indefinite maternity leave), Casey and Kevin put an acoustic act together for the Princess Wine Bar, as they started learning new material: “Beatles and blues,” was the vibe, according to Casey. As they were learning the songs, their ideas on arrangement and instrumentation remained fluid – this was Crested Butte, after all, so Beatles music on fiddles and banjos, à la the Charles River Valley Boys, would not have been out of the question. But along the way, they made the decision to stick more or less closely to the original instrumentation and arrangements. As Casey puts it, “You’re either going to play the songs as they are or you’re going to ‘cover’ them. There are key elements that you have to have.”

In the almost two years since their beginnings “playing every Friday at the Firehouse [in Crested Butte],” remembers Ben, Doctor Robert (named after one of the more obscure Beatles tunes from the album “Revolver”) has logged a lot of miles and gigs, playing venues from the Gunnison Valley to the Front Range. Along the way, they have learned about 100 Beatles songs from all stages of the band’s evolution – from “Meet the Beatles” to “Abbey Road.” Along the way, they have developed a huge respect for the Beatles as musicians and craftsmen. “Straight song-writing genius,” says Casey. “They knew how to stop at the right time.” All the musicians say that working on the harmonies in the songs has made them better singers. But every song, even the most seemingly simple, presents challenges. However well they study the arrangements – Casey and Ben refer to themselves as “the notation people,” who study the written scores and transcriptions – “there’s always a nasty kick in each song for each of us,” says Karen.

All of the musicians in the band relish the contact with the audience members that the material inspires. “The people we meet during this journey – it’s insane,” says Ben. “We’ve met so many cool people in all age ranges.” And kids at the gigs are definitely into it – “it’s so cool to meet 10-year-old kids singing every word to ‘Drive My Car’.”

“I’ve never had so many conversations about music in my life!” says Kevin. “And every show there’s someone there from the time we start till the time we finish.

This music has 50 years of memories.”

Catch Doctor Robert on May 25 in Cañon City at 8 Mile Bar and Grill starting at 7:30 p.m.; June 10 in Gunnison (Legion Park) for the first Sundays @ 6 of the season from 6 to 8 p.m.; June 16 at The State Highway Theater in Buena Vista; and July 19 in Salida at Riverside Park for the Thursdays @ 6 concert from 6 to 8 p.m.

For more information or to contact the band, visit: www.doctorroberttribute.com

 

Elliot Jackson, rock and roll librarian and general provocateur, remembers running around the house singing “Penny Lane” at three years old.