Following last year’s 50th anniversary events for The Beatles’ debut appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the group’s first U.S. concert tour, this month’s 50th anniversaries of The Beatles’ second feature film, “Help!”, its soundtrack album and the group’s record-breaking 1965 concert in New York’s Shea Stadium aren’t getting as much attention.
A group of Baton Rouge musicians, however, is marking both the Shea Stadium concert and “Help!” anniversaries. Sunday at the Manship Theatre, multi-instrumentalist Ben Herrington will lead a performance featuring every song The Beatles performed at Shea Stadium and every track on the original British LP version of the “Help!” soundtrack.
The concert is a benefit for the nondenominational Christ in the City ministry in downtown Baton Rouge. Beatles items will also be auctioned.
The Rev. David Melville, director and founding pastor of Christ in the City, met Herrington last year during a performance by local musicians of The Beatles’ 1968 album, “The Beatles,” which is better known as “The White Album.” He invited Herrington to stage a concert of the “Help!” and Shea Stadium songs.
Melville has a personal 1965 connection to The Beatles. He was living in Shreveport when his family went to see the group perform in Houston that year on Aug. 19.
“We basically saw the Shea set,” Melville said. “It was 30 minutes, $5.50, at the Sam Houston Coliseum. It’s a memory I’ll never forget.”
Days later the family attended a screening of the newly released Beatles movie, “Help!”
On Sunday, Herrington (keyboards, vocals, trombone), Chris Hochkeppel (bass, guitar, vocals, trumpet), Matthew Schwartz (guitar, vocals, keyboard), Denton Hatcher (guitar, vocals) and Micah Blouin (drums, percussion, vocals) will perform 22 songs in all. The musicians range from the mid-30s to the early 20s.
Herrington made singing the first priority in choosing performers for the show.
“The crux of a lot of The Beatles’ iconic songs from that time was the three-part vocal harmonies,” he said. Re-creating the harmonies has been one of the bigger challenges.
“The ‘Help!’ album’s vocal harmonies are surprisingly intricate,” Herrington explained. “Some of the middle and lower harmony parts are very strange and carefully designed.”
Herrington also wanted the songs to sound fresh.
“I didn’t want this to be a museum re-creation,” he said. “I want to breathe new life into this 50-year-old music, bring youthful energy similar to what The Beatles had in 1965. So these guys, they are songwriters themselves, active young musicians performing their own music around south Louisiana.”
Herrington has been listening to “Help!” since he was child. That album and its highly regarded follow-up, “Rubber Soul,” released in December 1965, were among his parents’ favorite Beatles albums.
“In ‘Help!’ you hear glimpses of more innovative recordings which were to come,” Herrington said. “Prior to ‘Help!’, The Beatles were mostly emulating American R&B with a twist. Micah, our drummer, pointed out how innovative the ‘Ticket to Ride’ arrangement is, rather than just straight ahead rock ’n’ roll.”
The Beatles’ love for American rhythm-and-blues helped the Baton Rouge musicians learn The Fab Four’s music. In fact, the highlight of the group’s 1964 stop in New Orleans was their backstage visit with Fats Domino.
“Bringing out the bluesy element of The Beatles’ music came easy to us,” Herrington said. “Here in south Louisiana, we’re fully emerged in that.”