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It began for the six musicians during coffee breaks while rehearsing with their rock band, Today.
Singer Marcos Viana, a Beatles fan who loves to play and sing their songs, would pick up an acoustic guitar and play the Beatles. Being blues players, the rest of the band soon started adding their own elements.
“It didn’t take so long until we decided to play along with him and the blues came naturally,” said Fred Barley, the group’s drummer. “Then we all realized it was a really nice mix and fun to play. But it was only for fun.”
Yeah, just for fun.
Before long, Today was yesterday and the Blues Beatles were born.
For the past five years, the Blues Beatles – which performs Thursday night at the Geneseo Riviera, 4 Center St., Geneseo – has been transforming Beatles classics into blues versions of the popular songs.
The group now includes leader singer Viana, Barley, keyboardist Flavio Naves, bass Brunco Falcao, saxophonist Denilson Martins and guitarist Fred Sunwalk, the group’s newest member.
The Blues Beatles’ first Beatles song to garner attention was “Ticket to Ride.”
“After some time playing many songs with our arrangements we decided to shoot a video of ‘Ticket to Ride.’ The feedback was unbelievable,” Barley said of the video that garnered millions of views after being posted to Facebook.
“We decided to play live ‘cause we though other people would also like to listen to these version. And it seems they really want it,” Barley said in an exchange of emails as the Brazilian-based group toured downstate last weekend.
Consider: “A Hard Day’s Night” begins with a boogie-woogie piano before building into a full-on romp; “Eleanor Rigby” is peppered with grooving drums and funky keyboards.
Barley’s own favorites are “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Yesterday.”
The contrasting songs are “really fun to play,” he said.
“Can’t Buy Me Love” is “an upbeat swing shuffle with a hi vibe feeling. It makes me happy when I play it,” he said.
And “Yesterday” is “a slow blues, very emotional,” he said, adding that he also likes the solos on the song.
Another favorite song for him is “Help” – “when I do a drum solo,” he said.
The Blues Beatles plays the classics, but they’ll also throw in deeper tracks. A recent show included “The Word” and “One After 909,” which the original Beatles had released as B-sides.
The Blues Beatles will try many different arrangements to find the right one, but only the ones that sound natural stay in their repertoire, Barley said.
“It is always happening naturally and simple,” Barley said. “Sometimes Flavio is playing blues on the Hammond and Marcos, who knows all the Beatles songs, says, for example, ‘Hey, we can play ‘One after 909’ with this groove you are playing!” And then they keep testing until we are all satisfied with the arrangement.
“If we all like it,” he said, “then it’s done.”
In most cases, the original vocal melody is kept. But instrumental solos and improvisation – common elements of the blues – also play an integral part in the style of the Blues Beatles, which is characterized by driving blues rhythms and solos that extend their versions to lengths two to three times beyond the original songs’ arrangements that were often around two-and-a-half-minutes or less. “Yesterday,” when originally released on The Beatles’ album “Help” clocks in at just more than two minutes, but in a live video by The Blues Beatles it runs to 7 minutes, 30 seconds.
“We would always play some blues themes for improvising,” Barley said. “During the whole month in a country side, it was part of the daily routine.”
While the Blues Beatles offer a tribute to the Fab Four, this outfit doesn’t try to imitate John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison or Ringo Star. After all, there are six members of the Blues Beatles.
So, don’t expect Barley – who provides backing vocals on some songs – to transform into drummer Ringo Starr.
“We just love blues, The Beatles and playing live with each other,” Barley said.
In concert, the Blues Beatles do dress in a coordinated style. Though, they prefer black suits with red neckties and red Converse sneakers.
Reworking the music of the Beatles may seem sacrilege to some, especially those songs that fans may have considered “perfect” upon their initial release.
The Blues Beatles have become accustomed to a variety of reactions.
“Many people come talk to us after the concerts saying things like ‘I don’t like changes in Beatles’ songs but you do it very well!,’ and they really like it. This always surprises us,” Barley said. “And also there are other people that don’t like The Beatles but love blues, and after seeing our concert send us messages telling they are starting to likes Beatles’ songs!”
A Quick Look
WHAT: The Blues Beatles, in concert.
WHERE: The Geneseo Riviera, 4 Center St., Geneseo.
WHEN: 8 p.m. June 7; doors open 7 p.m.
TICKETS: $25 in advance, $29 at the door. Available online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3386789?cookie_header=1
INFORMATION: Call the box office at (585) 481-0036 or http://geneseoriviera.com.