“You never know who’s going to steal the show,” says Paul Rock, talking about the Wild Honey Orchestra & Special Guests perform the Beatles’ “White Album” concert that’s set to take place at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Saturday, Feb. 28.
Those special guests will range from locally based indie pop stars Vicki and Debbi Peterson of the Bangles, the Muffs, the Three O’ Clock, Dramarama frontman John Easdale, and Cindy Lee Berryhill to Keith Allison of Paul Revere & the Raiders fame, ex-Records member John Wicks, and San Francisco’s Translator, for openers.
Rock’s nonprofit Wild Honey Foundation has been putting on similar all-star events to benefit the Autism Think Tank — which is also a nonprofit and enables parents of autistic children to teleconference with medical specialists from all across America — for several years. It’s a cause that’s particularly close to Rock’s heart, because his autistic son, Jake, who’s soon to be 11, has benefited from the program.
“We wanted to highlight the medical issues that come with autism that people don’t know about,” Rock explains. “Many of them are digestive-related, which we discovered was one of the biggest problems with Jake, and enabled us to get him operating on a better level.
“Because we found it so helpful — but it costs about $5,000 to put a child through the program and we realized people would need help paying for that — we decided to raise money for that. So far, we’ve helped a dozen kids all over the country.”
While many of the evening’s performers — including a North Carolina contingent led by Mitch Easter of Let’s Active — have appeared at previous Wild Honey benefits, many of the scheduled guests are newcomers, notably ’70s hit-maker Gary Wright, ex-Fairport Convention member Iain Matthews, former XTC guitarist Dave Gregory, Thomas Walsh of Pugwash, and Chris Collingwood from Fountains Of Wayne. (Chris Carter of KLOS-FM's “Breakfast with the Beatles” will be the MC.)
Others making their debut include Alain Johannes (Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross, OFF!), Anna Waronker and Rachel Haden (That Dog), Dirk Hamilton, John and Vicki Cowsill, and Nick Guzman, who Rock says, “is actually the only performer on the autistic spectrum.”
All these people and about a dozen more, individually and in various combinations, will be doing versions of the 30 songs found on the 1968 double-LP that’s commonly known as the Beatles’ “White Album” plus “Lady Madonna,” “Revolution,” “Hey Jude,” and George Harrison’s “Not Guilty,” all of which were originally recorded that same year.
When it comes to deciding which musicians will be part of an event, Rock explains that he and fellow Wild Honey principals — musician /bassist David Jenkins and musician/producer Andrew Sandoval — “try to pick people we like and who are available. We’ve gotten a little more aggressive at raising money to bring people in from out of town, but basically we come up with a wish list, then see who’s not going to be around because they’re touring.
“Another factor,” Rock continues, “is how big a fan they are. Most musicians are Beatles’ fans, but sometimes you’re surprised to find that some aren’t. But the thing that’s great for the show, is that the Beatles’ songs lend themselves to different interpretations and people feel comfortable with that, so we’re not so dependent on exact copies.”
As far as which artist is performing which song, Rock says, “That’s always in flux. We want to give people their first choice, but we ask them to pick two or three alternates so we can avoid duplication and enable them to get the song they want.”
For example, Mitch Easter says, “I’m doing the single version of ‘Revolution,’ which I’ve always loved for its supremely distorted guitars and fantastically compressed drums. It’s a great, catchy, perfect song. And I love John Lennon’s slightly ambivalent, ‘I’m pro-revolution, but with caveats’ lyrics. He’s really hitting the right note, and I think he got some of the social purists of the day annoyed with those words.”
On the other hand, Iain Matthews says, “I wanted to choose songs that suited my vocal range. Plus, I wanted to represent both Lennon and McCartney. So I plumped for ‘Martha My Dear’ — my favorite Paul song on the album — and John’s ‘Cry Baby Cry.’ But it’s kind of irrelevant which songs I do. I’m just happy to be part of this. It’s a wonderful cause.”
Victoria Cowsill — who says she’ll be singing “Dear Prudence” with her husband John Cowsill and their friend Bill Mumy — echoes Matthews’ sentiments: “I’ve done four of these Wild Honey shows. And I know we’re doing some good by raising awareness and funds for autism research, but I always feel a little sad when they’re over. ’Cause it’s just so much fun to perform with these musicians and singers.”
Same goes for Dave Gregory, who says, “I don’t sing, so musical director Rob Laufer has generously allowed me to remain on stage, playing guitar for most of the evening. I’m thrilled to have been invited to take part in what promises to be an amazing show with so many top-class musicians. Could there be a more enjoyable way of raising funds?”
Chris Collingwood also cites the backing band as influencing his choice: “To me, the ‘White Album’ is a lot of great songs that sound like they belong on other Beatles’ records, and some that sound like leftovers from abandoned side projects. It’s the only Beatles album I never play from start to finish, and the only one whose sequence I don’t know by heart.
“I’ll be doing ‘Back in the U.S.S.R,’ which musically at least could’ve been the Beatles from 1965. But — for obvious reasons — it’s probably the best Beatles’ song to do with Brian Wilson’s band.” (Several members of the Wild Honey Orchestra are longtime veterans of the Beach Boys leader’s touring band.)
“The broad range of styles found on the ‘White Album’ is a good thing for us,” says Rock. “We can have a wide variety of people doing a wide variety of things. And not only do we have all these great keyboard players in the Wild Honey Orchestra, but we can do all those interesting, very subtle horn parts and string arrangements that you’ve never really heard played live before.
“The main thing for me,” Rock continues, “is that I’m not a musician. I’m a fan. So I have no agenda. I’m the voice of neutrality. We do these shows as huge community effort with everybody going the extra mile to make it outstanding. That’s the atmosphere I like to foster. I just want to keep everybody focused on the mission, which is trying to put on a great show.”