Well, that looks fun, now doesn’t it? Gene Carl Feldman and Jed Duvall. Have you heard of them? Well, you should have by now because since February, they’ve been bringing the music of Paul McCartney and John Lennon to all the Fine Local Haunts this locality offers. They’ll be at The Hill Chapel in New Market at 7:30 p.m. Friday night and we recently caught up with them to talk about how the project came together, what it was like to actually meet John Lennon, and, of course, which Beatle is their least favorite. These dudes are good, man. If you dig the Fab Four, you ought to dig this. Ya dig?
Let’s start with some history of the project. How did you two get together? Who came up with the idea to do Lennon and McCartney like this?
JED: There have been many successful duos — the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel come to mind. But the most successful duo in the history of popular music never did a duo act. We thought it would be fun to try it.
GENE: There is a little known but true story about the night back in April 1976 when John Lennon and Paul McCartney almost reunited for their first performance together in nearly seven years. The entire story can be found at:
We said to ourselves, “What if they had decided to do it and just grabbed a guitar and bass and went down to the NBC studio and played?” They had not played together in nearly seven years and certainly not wanting to make fools of themselves in front of millions of people, they would probably have wanted to practice at least a few songs in Lennon’s living room before heading down. They’d probably sit across from each other as they did when they first started writing songs together and perhaps start off with a few of the songs that they learned as teenagers since it was the music that they grew up with. After getting a bit more comfortable, they then might try some of the early songs that they wrote together in John’s bedroom. Realizing that they each had written plenty of songs that they had done as solo artists after the breakup of the Beatles but had never played together, they’d probably try and figure out how those might sound together. With just one guitar and a bass and maybe a piano, it was clear to us that there was no way that as just the two of us, we could replicate the songs as they appeared on the records. What we try to convey is the joy of two very good friends getting together again after many years and playing the music that they created and changed the world.
Who was your least favorite Beatle and why?
JED: That’s a bit like asking a mother who’s her least favorite child. I do like Paul the most —always have. Yes, I realize that he can be a condescending control freak, but we all have our crosses to bear. I never cared much for George when I was child — seemed a little too closed off — but I think that what I thought was a dark side was simply a quiet man. Ringo always seemed fun-loving, even though that banal cartoon put him out to be a complete idiot. So that leaves John. John, from what I’ve read in articles and bios, always seemed a bit hurtful. I never got on well with that type. So, if I was having a dinner, and only had three chairs, John would go hungry.
GENE: I guess I could take offense at that, but truth be told, John was a very troubled soul. However, it did seem that as he got older and especially after his second son, Sean, was born, he found a kind of peace and happiness in his life that he had been searching for. I actually got to meet John Lennon once and here is the story about that encounter:
This goes back quite some time, in fact, all the way to December 1975. I had completed the first year-and-a-half of a three-and-a-half-year assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer in the tiny South Pacific island nation of Western Samoa, and had come home to New York City to visit my family. Being the Christmas season, I decided to head downtown to see the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center — a far cry from the palm trees of Western Samoa. As I walked under the base of the tree, gazing up at the basketball-sized ornaments and lights, I found myself standing alongside a man who wore a bulky, brown fur coat and hat. Standing near him was a woman who held a small child in her arms, wrapped in blankets to protect it from the cold, December wind. We must have stood there for a few minutes, both looking up at the tree before I happened to glance more closely at him. It was at that moment that I realized it was John Lennon. Not being one who feels that it is appropriate to bother folks just because they happen to be public figures, I didn’t say anything at that time. However, when John lowered his eyes from the tree, he looked over at the woman with the baby and smiled. Realizing that there was someone standing next to him, he turned towards me and caught my eye and we both just stared at each other for a second. Sensing that I was not going to make a scene or call attention to him in any way, he smiled and gently wished me a “Happy Christmas.” A few days later, I boarded a plane that carried me back to Western Samoa, but the memory of that Christmas has been with me ever since.
What are some of your favorite memories as a unit? Conversely, can you talk a little about some of the hardships you guys have a experienced through the years and what advice you’d give to someone looking to start a band for the first time?
JED: Since we’ve only been doing this since February, it’s difficult to have a lot of memories. Our first show was opening for an Elvis impersonator, and that was weird and fun all at once. If I were to give advice on starting a band, it would be to make sure you can work with the prospective members. Mediocre musicians can often improve, but bad personalities usually don’t change. Also, good sound technicians are worth their weight in gold. In fact, anyone working to make sure your show goes well is invaluable, so make sure you let them know that. In other words, be certain that the bad personality in your act isn’t you.
This seems like it would be quite the undertaking – what are some difficulties you guys have experienced while trying to perfect this idea?
JED: If I were doing a “Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show” tribute, I’d have lots of documentation, video, set lists, etc., to work with. I’d know exactly who’s playing what. But since John and Paul never really did a show with just the two of them, we have to figure it out as we go along. Some really great songs sound lousy with just two instruments, while some B-sides really work well with just a guitar and bass. Sometimes we’ll hang onto songs because we love them so, even though instinctually, we know they don’t work.
Outside of Lennon and McCartney, who are some of your major influences and why?
GENE: Aside from the Beatles, the three major influences that motivated me to learn the guitar and whose songs I have continued to play to this day are Josh White for his ability to make the guitar sing in ways that nobody else has ever done, Peter Paul and Mary for their amazing harmonies and intricate two-part guitar work, and Simon and Garfunkel for capturing in words and melodies, the feelings that I, as another boy from New York City, felt.
JED: I grew up on a small farm, where my father listened to “classic” country music (Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, George Jones, etc.). My mother listened to a lot of Broadway show tunes and music which would probably be categorized today as “adult contemporary.” The Beatles were always a mainstay, as my parents lived in England in the ’50s and loved all things English. I also heard a lot of soul/R&B from the workers on the farm — Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Motown, Stax, etc.
Can you give us names of some artists we need to check out that we maybe haven’t seen yet? Who are you listening to the most these days?
JED: I listen to a lot of “alternate folk” — Feist, Brandi Carlisle, Ray LaMontagne, Regina Spektor, A Fine Frenzy. LaMontagne’s use of peddle steel brings me back to my dad in his pickup truck. I would venture that it’s much more country than what is called country these days. I like it simple — acoustic guitars, pianos, little percussion — so that you can hear the words and round out the entire recording.
Where are some of your favorite places to play and why?
JED: I’ve done a lot of shows at the Carroll County Arts Center, a renovated movie theater that now features local acts. In fact, we really enjoy performing at arts centers instead of bars. There are just so many distractions at the local watering hole — TVs, pool tables, video games, and it seems like very few actually want to hear the music.
GENE: We’ve played two shows at the New Deal Café in Old Greenbelt and it is a wonderful place to play. The audience is so supportive of all the performers that play there and they really get into the music. We love it when people sing along and as has happened both times we played the New Deal, people get up and dance. There is a special kind of energy that can be shared between the performers and the audience and I have to say that when you feel it, it is like nothing else.
What do you think is the most perfect song ever written and why?
JED: My knee-jerk reaction is “Yesterday,” of course. But when you really listen to the song and ignore the “most covered song ever” moniker, the lyrics are slightly — slightly — sophomoric. Still, it was a great achievement by a 21-year-old! I’m trying to think of a non-Beatle song, but “Eleanor Rigby” is quite a tune. When I was in college, it was included in a collection of classic literature. I always liked a song called “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.” And “Lucky Ol’ Sun” is great. But these aren’t “perfect” songs — they’re just songs I like for no particular reason.
GENE: Although I have many favorites for many reasons, I find it impossible to pick just one.
And finally, what can we expect from your set at The Hill Chapel?
JED: A lot of fun songs that, for the most part, are familiar enough for the audience to sing along with. To sit and watch two musicians do their thing without any real connection to it — sounds dull to me. We like to add in a few anecdotes about John and Paul, but not so much that one would expect to be tested at the end.
GENE: Our hope is to try and recreate what an intimate evening together with Lennon and McCartney might have sounded like before events made such a thing impossible. Sharing the music that has become the soundtrack of the lives for generations of fans with many songs that will feel like old friends and perhaps some that will be discovered anew.