CONCORD — “Revolution 1.” “Back In The U.S.S.R.” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” “Blackbird.” “Dear Prudence.” The Beatles never released a single from “The White Album,” but it still reached No. 1 on the U.K. and U.S. charts. More than 50 years after its release, it’s still considered one of the best rock albums of all time.
To commemorate the anniversary, Jason Scheff, former lead vocalist for Chicago, singer-songwriter Christopher Cross, Joey Molland of Badfinger, Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz and Todd Rundgren have banded together to perform much of “The White Album” as part of “Fifty Years Ago Today,” a musical tribute that comes to the Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Scheff talked with NHWeekend about the impact of The Beatles’ 1968 album, and performing on stage with his musical heroes.
How does the group perform “The White Album?”
Since there are five artists on this, each of us has roughly about five songs that we do from “The White Album” ... and then we go into a set of our hits.
It’s pretty fun to hear all these other artists and the songs that you grew up with. We’ve done one show so far, and it was really fun, really fun.Which Beatles songs will you perform?
I’m doing “Dear Prudence” and “Julia” and “Glass Onion.” I got a lot of John Lennon stuff, which is pretty interesting. If anybody knows what I do, they’d probably associate me more with the softer Paul McCartney stuff, (but) that really lends itself so beautifully to Christopher Cross. So I’ve ended up with a lot of John Lennon material, which I love because it’s unexpected from me. I love the songs that came my way. I would’ve never chosen them for myself, but just love doing them.
Do you remember the first time you heard “The White Album?”
I’m 57 years old, so I was too young when it came out to really have it impact me like it did (the others). So my “Beatles” was Elton John. Elton John was what made me want to play music and inspired me. Dee Murray was his bass player on all those early records. I was learning Elton John’s music, and to play bass inspired by (Murray).
Now that I got into dissecting “The White Album” to learn it, it was really amazing to see what my DNA is made of, because Dee Murray’s obviously a huge Paul McCartney fan, as well as of Peter Cetera.
Of course, Peter Cetera was the vocalist and bassist for Chicago before you joined in 1985.
The guys in Chicago have made no secret of the fact that they were huge Beatles fans. (I was) really digging into Peter Cetera bass work between those two players, Cetera and Dee Murray. It’s second-generation Paul McCartney.
I’m actually having my discovery of “The White Album” now. So it’s almost as if I’m 13, 14 years old right now, discovering this for the first time, and it’s just really fun. Fantastic.
It’s hard to put into words how much of an impact the Beatles have had.
I agree with you. For the most part across the board it was all great. Sometimes somebody will have an album, and they just kinda missed the mark. The quality (on “The White Album”) has just really stayed so high.
Another thing I love about them in particular — there’s so much tongue-in-cheek and comedy in it. And I love that. I’ve never taken myself seriously, or overly serious. I take very seriously what I do, but not me personally. I’m also doing “Piggies,” which is just hilarious.
When you see Todd Rundgren and what he does with this material, it’s perfect for him and us. If you have a good sense of humor, this music will take you everywhere, from the most heart-wrenching stuff like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to the comedy stuff, but it’s also still crafted with such brilliance. It’s completely up my alley. I’m really glad I’m here doing this.
Is there a lot of mutual admiration between the guys on the stage?
I’m pinching myself at times. I was completely into (“The Monkees”), so when that TV show was on, I was in, 100 percent. To actually have experienced it and then be on stage with this guy … Same thing with Todd Rundgren.
When I really started getting into music and the radio was probably around 1971, where I was 10 years old, 11 years old, when you really start changing and are getting ready to become a teenager. I just became such a radio freak. Well, guess who was on the radio: Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me.” So when we perform that song, it completely takes me back to that moment (when) your life is just changing radically. You’re ready to go to the next level, and you’re not a kid anymore.
So having one of the Monkees on stage … Todd Rundgren... I tell this to my kids and to anybody: Pay attention to the signs that you’re seeing along the way because it’s amazing how the dots will be connected someday.
What about Cross?
I woke up one morning, and the bed stand radio was on very faintly. You could barely hear it, but “Sailing” was on the radio. And it was another life-changing moment where I thought, “That is Mozart. I am hearing something that is just so otherworldly.”
Now I’m on stage with this guy, and we’re thick as thieves. I show up up, and Christopher Cross is just saying, “Jason, you’re like one of the greatest voices in the world, and it’s just so fun to be playing and singing with you.”
And, of course, Badfinger, that was definitely right when I was starting to get into radio. Being in the club is just an incredible thing.
What a lucky thing to have been asked to join Chicago and become part of the legacy and the future of the franchise. So I’m super happy.