Honoring the British Invasion heyday - Albuquerque Journal

Honoring the British Invasion heyday

Like many Americans, Mark Benson heard the Beatles for the first time on Feb. 9, 1964.

The 11-year-old from Akron, Ohio, was sitting at home watching the Ed Sullivan Show when the Liverpool foursome made its U.S. television debut. He was one of an estimated 73 million Americans doing exactly the same.

But it was Sunday, a school night. Benson was able to watch the group’s first set, which included hits like “All My Loving” and “She Loves You,” but his 8:30 p.m. bedtime made him miss the second half of the show.

“I thought, ‘Wow, these four guys didn’t go to college, are probably the most popular entertainment show in the world, all these girls are screaming at them; that looks like a pretty good job,’ ” he said with a laugh.

Today, Benson is also known as John Lennon in 1964 The Tribute, a cover band that for the past 30 years has paid homage to The Beatles’ early years, when the Fab Four played live concerts.

The act, which Rolling Stone once called the “Best Beatles tribute on Earth,” will be performing at Camel Rock Casino this weekend. Alongside Benson is Mac Ruffing as Paul McCartney, Tom Work as George Harrison and Robert Potter as Ringo Starr.

From the look to the witty banter between songs, down to the guitar picks and drumheads, “1964” is trying to emulate what a Beatles concert looked and sounded like. Most Beatles fans, including Benson, were never able to see the group before they stopped performing live in 1966 (except for a single, surprise rooftop performance in London in 1969).

“As much as you can delve in what made the sound coming off their stage unique, we wanted to get that,” Benson says.

To keep their recreation accurate, the group only plays songs from 1962-66. Hits like the ones Benson heard on Ed Sullivan, as well as others like “Twist and Shout,” “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night” all make the cut.

Mac Ruffing (left) and Mark Benson perform as Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Benson started the Beatles tribute act in the early ’80s. (Courtesy of James Korenchen Public Relations)

“We wanted to show people what a concert was like rather than a story (of the Beatles’ career),” said Benson.

Though Benson believes the Beatles had a number of “legendary” periods, the 1964 show views the early, British Invasion era as the most impactful. It’s the time period that produced the most film footage of group – mostly as “20-year-olds jumping around,” Benson noted. He said the image of John, Paul, George and Ringo with their mop-top haircuts and matching suits remains likely the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of the Beatles.

“Still, what they did was iconic,” he said about their post-’66 work, “but you didn’t see them as much. They weren’t in the news every day like they were when they first came over here.”

Benson noted that his group does deviate from The Beatles in a few areas. Their shows are longer – The Beatles famously played 30-minute concerts and never an encore – and 1964 uses modern-day sound systems so, unlike back in the old days of live rock ‘n’ roll, crowds can actually hear the music.

“All of a sudden, you have these four guys with an amp and a drum set playing to 40,000 screaming girls,” he said about the Beatles’ concerts. “You can’t hear anything. You have to credit The Beatles and the British Invasion for the need for sound systems.”

Benson said the members of 1964 never imagined they would be playing more than a couple of class reunions or oldies-themed parties. But as the cross-generational appeal of The Beatles stuck around, so did they. Benson said that these days it isn’t uncommon to see three generations of a family sitting in the audience together. And all of them know every word.

“The thing we’ve noticed over the years is this show, this music, this phenomenon of The Beatles unites everyone,” said Benson. “There’s no rich or poor, gender, racial (divides), none. They’re just Beatles fans.”


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