by Daniel Warren Hill
May 2021 marks the 54th Anniversary of The Beatles’ eighth full-length studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, produced by the legendary George Martin and engineered by engineer extraordinaire Geoff Emerick in London’s historic Abbey Road Studios. The album pushed the technological limits of the era from a recording standpoint, which is apt as The Beatles themselves pushed their own creative limits by writing and arranging in a way that included a plethora of various musical styles and influences. The fact that the songs have such a cohesive feel is something of a miracle given that Martin is reported to have told NPR in 1980, “”Really, the songs don’t link up very well. I mean, there’s no real reason why we should have such diverse songs on it.”
Often, the reason why any great work of art simply must exist as it is, may not reveal itself for some time. Cut to October 2020 where Washington D.C. rock band Black Dog Prowl would perform at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD with Seattle rock band Candlebox. It would be BDP’s last live show before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold on the global music scene, and required taking a new look at their idea of performing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band live in its entirety.
“It’s a project that has been brewing since 2019. Last year I was listening to the record, again, and then it just clicked,” says Black Dog Prowl drummer Enzo Ferroggiaro. “The original idea was to do it live.”
BDP guitarist Josh Finver says, “The idea was to have BDP be sort of like the house band and have our friends come up and join us over the course of the evening. Then live music ceased to exist and Enzo had the bright idea to pitch this to Crossover.TV, see what Avik [Ray] has to say, and then go from there.”
Enzo notes, “The scariest part was after Avik said, ‘Yeah I’m in.’”
“I think they were expecting me to say no,” says Avik. “When they came to me with the idea, I was kind of like ‘Wow this is a lot of work.’”
Collaborations like this are what Avik and his team (Chris Whitmore and Richard Russman) at Crossover.TV thrive on. They themselves had to adapt their filming techniques from more of a live performance experience into the Lockdown Sessions, a series of ‘stay at home’ recordings which musicians and artists record from home or in recording studios offering a safe social distancing option for recording their parts. This is how Josh and Avik would originally come together, along with Mike Jones, Don Zientara, Jon Tyler Wiley, and Gary Michael Smith to record a tribute to the late John Prine with a cover of “Lonesome Friends of Science.”
It wasn’t the collaboration itself that was daunting for Avik and his team, but rather in achieving the vision Enzo had for reimagining Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety and releasing it as one congruent video.
“The best way to understand that record is, you’ve gotta listen to it from beginning to end,” says Enzo. However, Enzo recognized what The Beatles producer George Martin had also recognized, commenting, “Each song on the album has its own concept. Even though it’s all put together, every song is different from the other.”
Which, as it turns out, was a blessing in disguise while selecting appropriate collaborators once the project was given the green light.
“You look at the album, and then you think what band would do each tune justice,” says Enzo. “Let’s give the songs to these particular bands so they can have creative freedom with them, and that’s how it turned out.” Though Josh and Enzo readily admit that there was one person outside the band that BDP could not do this project without:
“Maryjo [Mattea] has the most appearances throughout this entire record…She is our 5th Beatle.”
Black Dog Prowl and Maryjo Mattea have come together in the past for their love of bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. You may remember their performance together at events like the 2018 DC Music Rocks Festival at 9:30 Club or Ben Tufts Tribute to 1969 at Gypsy Sally’s (R.I.P.). Ben Tufts also makes his guest appearance on the very fitting track, “With a Little Help from my Friends.”
Maryjo performs vocals, piano, or synth on multiple songs, and her band, Dear Daria, performs their unique rendition of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”
Other bands/artists that make their mark on this massive reimagined undertaking include Color Palette, Nah., The Creaky Bones, Mystery Friends, Eric Scott, Jonny Grave, as well as Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir. The list of musicians making their contributions as part of this project are all worth highlighting individually, but Kevin Martin’s (Candlebox) vocal presence on “A Day in the Life” stands out as one of the surprise guest appearances.
The Black Dog Prowl and Friends version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band pays homage to the source material (which spent 15 weeks at number one on the Billboard charts in the U.S. in 1967) and the musicians (Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Harrison) that spent the better part of four months recording what some consider to be the legitimization of pop music as an artform. While BDP, CrossoverTV, and all parties involved certainly have more than four tracks to record to, they did push the boundaries of what is possible with presently available technology and stayed true to the original work’s intent. By collaborating with more than forty individuals from the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area they formed something of their own Lonely Hearts Club Band, sent high fidelity audio and video through fiber optic wiring to be mixed, mastered, and released onto the modern day vinyl equivalent – a web-based short film.
“There must be between 2,000 and 3,000 man-hours that’s gone into doing this,” Avik told me. “It’s really a masterpiece. I know I’ve been involved in it, but I don’t use the word lightly.”
When asked if Enzo’s dream of seeing the reimagining come to life on a stage, he responded optimistically: “Yeah, we hope so! Hopefully a local venue, and in support of a local venue as well, and try to make the most of it too. Of course, there are different types of logistics to do a live version, that may end up putting the Lockdown Sessions process as an easier concept. We’ll see. The original idea was to do it live, and now that we did it under this approach it gains more steam for that to actually happen when we can be all together now.”
You can find The Lockdown Sessions: Black Dog Prowl & Friends performing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles on the Crossover.TV YouTube Channel.
Daniel Warren Hill is an American musician, writer, and motivational speaker. He is best known as the frontman for Washington DC area Alternative Rock band YellowTieGuy, as co-founder of Capitol Groove Collective, and increasing the exposure of artists on a global scale through his work with Alchemical Records.
As the leader of nineties pop rockers 4 Non Blondes Linda Perry broke down barriers in the male dominates music business and created one of the decade’s most catchy songs: “What’s Up?” Perry released one stellar album with the band before going out on her own.
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