As someone who makes his musical living impersonating Paul McCartney, Jed Duvall is keenly aware that, while he isn’t the true article, what he can deliver to those who attend his shows is perhaps more important: memories.
“The way the Beatles and Wings and Paul McCartney kind of built into people’s childhood and the way they grew up, I hope to touch the audience with some of that,” Duvall said recently over Zoom. “I hope the audience says, ‘Yeah, I remember this’ or ‘Wow, I haven’t heard this song in a long time.’
“And if they walk out of the space humming or singing one of the songs, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
After all, very few of us can afford to see McCartney in a small venue, but that’s precisely the show the McCartney Experience will put on at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis Jan. 24. It’ll be the type of evening that fans of Macca and his various bands have come to love, filled with interpretations of Beatles, Wings and solo performances by the one and only McCartney.
“I read somewhere that Pollstar actually rated it as the number one venue for music under 500 seats in the world,” Duvall said of Rams Head On Stage. “One of our guitarists goes there at least once a month, and he’s told me it was his all-time dream to play this thing.”
It’s been quite the journey for Duvall, who joined the Army as a teenager—not long after seeing an Elvis impersonator at his high school. Duvall was absolutely captivated by the performing arts life, even if his parents exhibited some initial concern.
“When I was in the Army, I had an Elvis act,” he shares, “and I [later] had an Elvis act when I was going to acting school in New York.”
After being discharged from the military, Duvall’s parents slowly came around to the notion of him chasing an artistic career. He got married and continued refining his Elvis act.
“The big rule in Elvis World is you never ever refer to yourself as ‘Elvis,’” he said. “You do a song and say, ‘That was a song that Elvis did back in’ whatever it was. To me, it just seemed sort of silly wearing a $3,000 outfit, you got a thousand-dollar hair product going, and you’re talking in a Memphis accent—but you’re making sure no one thinks you think you’re Elvis Presley.”
Furthermore, the market was rather glutted with Elvis impersonators. While staring down the barrel at that uncomfortable realization, Duvall relates that people continually told him he bore an uncanny resemblance to one Paul McCartney. A trip to see the former Beatle perform at FedEx Field in 2009 cemented the idea that maybe, just maybe, there was room for perhaps at least one McCartney tribute act out there.
“I didn’t know anyone doing a McCartney show, so I built it from scratch,” Duvall said. “These were the songs that I liked in the concert [and] the songs I like that he didn’t sing. Maybe I can combine songs that people really love with songs that he just doesn’t do anymore. At least it would be fulfilling to me, and maybe the audience would like to see it too.”
When he kicked off the McCartney Experience, Duvall could certainly sing, but in order to inhabit his hero fully, he needed to learn to play left-handed bass.
“I took bass lessons from a guy for three years. And meanwhile, I’m going to have to tell my friend he doesn’t have a job anymore,” Duvall said, adding that his bassist friend was surprisingly open to stepping away from the tribute band—even though their families had all traveled to Liverpool together in 2017. “It’s a difficult thing to get rid of a player, especially when he’s doing a great job, especially when he’s a friend.”
Granted, there can be a “burnout factor” only performing someone else’s songs, but the remainder of Duvall’s band—all of whom have their own ensembles—has been with him for a half-decade.
“It’s all part of the wonderful road,” he said.
Duvall says his job is to inhabit McCartney without literally saying “I am Paul McCartney.” He puts on the Liverpuddlian accent and tells stories, as McCartney, about those familiar songs’ gestation. This goes back to Duvall’s training and the so-called “theater contract,” wherein the audience acknowledges that what they are seeing is a character, not the real thing.
“You have people who say things like, ‘There must be something wrong with you if you feel like your act is pretending to be someone else,’” Duvall said. “I’m performing to sort of reinterpret a famous person that you may not be able to see anywhere else. Austin Butler is up for all these major awards for pretending to be Elvis Presley, so I don’t really see a difference.”
Nevertheless, he shares that one fan actually came up to him after a show to shake his hand and quip, “Just in case you really are him.” Duvall hasn’t yet met the one and only McCartney, but Duvall says the music legend “knows” about him: Duvall also has another gig performing with a John Lennon impersonator who happens to be friends with McCartney’s next-door neighbor in Scotland. When introduced to the Lennon wannabe, and told of his work with Duvall as McCartney, the real McCoy is said to have…nodded.
“A friend of mine is a cheesemonger in Manhattan [where] Paul and Nancy [Shevell once] came in,” Duvall said of another third-degree “meeting” with his hero. “She blurted out, ‘I have a friend in Maryland who impersonates you.’”
Sir Paul’s reaction to the news? Yet another understated nod.
Unlike his work standing in for Elvis, Duvall’s McCartney job doesn’t require the expensive wardrobe or hairpiece. He’s fond of scoping out Goodwill shops for stage threads, and says he once found a “late era” McCartney-style, black collarless blazer for all of $9.
“Luckily, for McCartney, you can get away with wearing a vest and a dress shirt and a pair of black pants,” Duvall said. “I know some Beatle groups that will get an exact match of jackets they wore at Shea Stadium—and they’ll each pay about $500 for that. It’s all about what you feel is more authentic.”
No matter the exactitude of his wardrobe, the McCartney Experience was sidelined by covid, and Duvall took a job photographing real estate to make ends meet. The pandemic has been tough on all musicians, he said, though he’s grateful to once again be able to step back into McCartney’s familiar shoes.
“More people are open to the idea of tribute bands, tribute artists, tribute acts,” he said. “It seems that since covid the field has really opened up a lot. I don’t know [why] covid affected that, but I’m OK with it.”
Duvall said it’s his wish that people who come to the Rams Head On Stage Jan. 24 to see the McCartney Experience will enjoy reliving memories of their favorite Sir Paul solo and ensemble songs. And take in that type of experience at such a close-in, intimate venue.
“We hope they are ready to take a trip back to some place in their memory that is a good place,” Duvall said. “When I was four years old, [I stood] in front of a mirror playing a tennis racket; this is something I always wanted to do.”
The McCartney Experience rolls into Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis Jan. 24. Tickets are available at RamsHeadOnStage.com.
A native of New Jersey, Eric Althoff has published articles in “The Washington Post,” “Los Angeles Times,” “Napa Valley Register,” “Black Belt,” DCist, ScreenComment.com and Luxe Getaways. He produced the Emmy-winning documentary, “The Town That Disappeared Overnight,” and has covered the Oscars live at the Dolby Theater. He lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Victoria.