Prepping the release of his first book the Textbook Beatle Project, WXRT’s Professor Moptop hosts “The Dawn of The Beatles” Saturday at FitzGerald’s. Saturday’s lesson features a thorough dissection of the Beatle history that falls between the day John Lennon and Paul McCartney met and the end of 1963, with a performance of era appropriate selections by John San Juan and Tom Szidon…
Since 1999, Gregory Alexander, in his guise as Professor Moptop, has taught WXRT listeners about the Beatles.
Beginning as a contributor to Terri Hemmert’s annual “Rampant Beatlemania” broadcasts in 1999, Alexander’s role moved to weekly upon debut of the “Breakfast With The Beatles” program Sunday mornings in 2002.
Following a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the Textbook Beatle Project, Alexander recently completed the book’s final layout.
“The Kickstarter process was actually surprisingly easy,” said Alexander of his foray into crowdfunding. “That also helped me stay on task – knowing that you have to do it. The tough part is done now.”
As the tedious process of indexing and reformatting continues, Alexander has also added a new chapter to the book that examines the state of American music and culture in the late 50s and early 60s, explaining why the timing was right for a successful “British Invasion.”
“Little Richard went back to the monastery. Jerry Lee Lewis had that controversy with his cousin. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and Eddie Cochran all died. Gene Vincent was in a car accident around the same time. I mention all that,” said Alexander. “Americans were getting bored with American music. The stuff that was on the charts – there was a lot of novelty stuff. A lot of vocal groups like The Fleetwoods. A lot of doo-wop. But there was nothing that really rocked.”
As kids growing up in England began digesting American rhythm and blues music, the influence would eventually manifest itself in the music they’d go on to create. Ultimately, that music started making its way back to an America ready for something different.
“At the same time in England, it was a really exciting time in music. The post-war kids were just starting to come of age and everybody was joining a band. That’s what was missing. So I wrote about that period,” said Alexander of the deeper dive he takes with the addition of a new chapter to the Textbook Beatle Project.
With a lesson plan which caters to Beatle newbies and hardcore fans alike, Professor Moptop’s radio segments work because they’re accessible. It’s an approach Alexander takes to the stage as well, hosting live Beatle examinations at venues like libraries and college auditoriums throughout the city and suburbs. Saturday’s event at FitzGerald’s though is unique as it marks his first Beatle lesson to take place in an actual rock venue.
“These things are always a lot of fun when I do them at libraries. But people always seem to kind of have an attitude at libraries like it’s a school – like you have to behave yourself,” Alexander said. “Whereas, I think at a bar with music, people will have a lot more fun and learn a lot more.”
Saturday’s curriculum consists of a look into an often overlooked period of Fab Four fame: their earliest days. From the day John and Paul met in 1957 to the end of 1963, there’s a large amount of unreleased music. Professor Moptop will examine all of it Saturday on stage at FitzGerald’s.
“A lot of times I’ll focus on either an album or a movie or a specific broad topic like George Harrison songs,” Alexander explained. “But the FitzGerald’s show is specifically early, early Beatles – like before the first album. So the stuff that we’re talking about is mostly unreleased recordings.”
To help bring the Beatle deep cuts to life, Alexander recruited local musicians John San Juan and Tom Szidon to perform them live Saturday on stage at FitzGerald’s.
“I was born within the last weeks of the 1960s and, therefore, born into massive, peak Beatles nostalgia and ubiquity,” said San Juan. “They were everywhere. On the radio and on the lips of my parents’ generation… The first records I ever remember putting on were my parents’ Beatles albums.”
Alongside Jim Shapiro of Veruca Salt and Joe Camarillo of The Waco Brothers, San Juan handles guitar and vocals for Chicago rock trio Hushdrops.
“I think there’s an unusually high charisma content in those songs and performances,” San Juan said. “Look at any peak experience in your own life and you’ll often find it carries a certain unrepeatable improbability of circumstance. Their story seems like the product of a million accidents and their work may be evergreen for that very reason,” he noted of the unique Beatle appeal across generations.
“Last week was Paul’s birthday and then the week after that is Ringo’s birthday, so I’m doing something this week on songs that mention the Beatles’ hair,” said Alexander of this week’s Moptop segment. “There’s a lot of novelty songs specifically about their hair. Americans were fixated on it. They’re pretty rare songs.”
– Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
Professor Moptop: The Dawn Of The Beatles
Saturday, June 23, 2018
Doors open at 7PM
Show starts at 8PM
Also performing: John San Juan and Tom Szidon
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