Jim Owen of Classical Mystery Tour
by Noel Pollard
Classical Mystery Tour will make their way to the Wasatch Mountains on Saturday July 18th. Performing at the Deer Valley® Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater, Classical Mystery Tour will be presenting all of your favorite Beatles’ songs accompanied with a live orchestra, faithfully recreating what it would be like to see the Beatles perform today.
Jim Owen, aka the group’s John Lennon, was able to talk to us about all things Beatles, especially his personal relationship with the music and the legend that is John Lennon.
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera: You’re the mastermind behind Classical Mystery Tour– how did you come up with the idea?
Jim: When I was young I was taking classical piano at home when I was 6, and I didn’t know anything about The Beatles at that time, I was just into classical. When I was 7 or 8 I heard The Beatles for the first time- in the ’70s.. I thought that was really amazing music and even at that young age I wanted to play that music. My dad showed me some chords on the guitar and I learned from there. I had friends in school who were into The Beatles as well, and I had a couple of guys who would play The Beatles with me when I was 11. In the late ’70s, “Beatlemania” came out and I got to go see it here in LA and that is what I had in mind– hearing the songs as they were originally intended. Each performer in the show could play the instruments and sing the songs, so people in the audience felt that it was real. As I got into my teens I got to know a few people who had done that show and I was a fill-in in the early ’80s. In the mid-’90s I decided to do Classical Mystery Tour. A lot of The Beatles’ songs use orchestral instruments on their studio album. In order to do that we needed to use keyboard sounds or backing tracks- but that wasn’t satisfactory. In the early ’90s, I had a friend who played saxophone and it got me thinking about something small like a string quartet to do “Yesterday.” And that little tiny idea turned into “may as well get the whole orchestra going!” and it was a good thing I was young because I didn’t know what I was getting into! I found Martin [Herman], someone referred him to me, because I couldn’t get the original transcriptions from England, when I met Martin I found out he was not only a composer and conductor and arranger, but also a huge Beatles fan. So he was the perfect one to recreate the charts. We did our first show in 1996, and it turned into something we have been loving to do for 19 years.
USUO: What’s your favorite part about performing with the orchestra?
Jim: The Beatles’ music that we are doing is something I’m very familiar with, listening to the records over and over, and to get to play that music live with all the original instruments, it is really exciting for songs like “I Am the Walrus” or “The Long and Winding Road,” any of those famous Beatles songs. Once we started doing it, we met people in the orchestra who also said it was so fun to do because they can imagine they are in the Abbey Road Studio, as well. It is really a concert that The Beatles themselves didn’t do- they never performed live with an orchestra. Even Paul McCartney uses a keyboard to this day to play the orchestra.
USUO: Is that something that sets you apart from other tribute bands?
Jim: Definitely, it is the element of the live orchestra that makes the difference.
USUO: Do you ever to try to bring some of yourself into the performance?
Jim: If we do it is more by accident. We try to be as much like the original characters as possible by using the costumes and taking on the persona as each individual. But there is no way of getting your own personality completely out of your performance, but hopefully it is a good thing.
USUO: What originally drew you to John Lennon?
Jim: The original draw to me was the guitar. My first interest was the George Harrison guitar, I didn’t know or think anything about singing. Then as I got older and realized I had to sing too, and people who would come to see us as the tribute group would tell me “Why George?– you look more like John Lennon.” I was reluctant for quite a while, but I’m glad I gave it a try because it is a very rewarding role as a group.
USUO: What is your favorite Beatles’ song?
Jim: “A Day in the Life” is my favorite song. I enjoy singing it and it is such an interesting orchestra.
USUO: Have you ever had the opportunity to visit Strawberry Fields in New York?
Jim: Yeah, I’ve gone to a couple of Beatles shrines in Liver Pool and Central Park. The are very nice.
USUO: Do you remember when John Lennon was assassinated?
Jim: I’ll never forget that day. A friend called me on the phone and said John Lennon had been shot and I didn’t realize that it would be a fatal shot.
USUO: As a group, do you do anything to prepare before a performance?
Jim: Nothing in particular. Set up the stage and do our soundcheck, rehearse with the orchestra, everyone is surprised to hear we only have one rehearsal with the orchestra. Before the show, the mere matter or putting on the costume and tuning up is enough to get you in the mindset of “here is our recreation.”
USUO: Do you have any rituals or superstitions?
Jim: No, no rituals or superstitions
USUO: If you could have seen any performance of The Beatles which would it have been?
Jim: I’ve never thought about that- that’s interesting because you could go back to Cavern Club or Hamburg or see them doing their hits on one of their tours in ‘64 or ‘65… I’d want to see one where I could hear what they are playing, not one where you could only see them but not hear them.
USUO: What is something that you’re listening to outside of The Beatles?
Jim: I always have the classical music station on, and once in a while the jazz stations. Oh, and with the girls– Disney music.
USUO: What do your kids do when you have to travel?
Jim: They stay home with mom. Sometimes we travel together, but not this time. I wish they could come, but they take their ballet classes and stuff here. We just miss each other when I’m gone.
USUO: What are your kid’s favorite Beatles songs?
Jim: They always would sing “Let it Be” and now it’s “Yellow Submarine.”
USUO: Do you have any plans while you’re in Utah?
Jim: We’re glad we get to go up in the mountains and get nice fresh air.
USUO: Have you ever been to Utah before?
Jim: Oh yeah, a couple of times. Our guitarist who plays George Harrison, David John, he settled in Salt Lake City quite some years ago. He is in Sandy now.
Join Classical Mystery Tour along with the Utah Symphony at the Deer Valley Outdoor Amphitheater on Saturday, July 18th. Take a step back in time to see John, Paul, George, and Ringo perform alongside a live orchestra. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to be reminded that all you need is love and some symphonic euphony to make a memory that will last a lifetime.