Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours' gets Black Jacket treatment

By Casey Phillips Article posted on Thu. Jan. 17th, 2013
Black Jacket Symphony
Black Jacket Symphony
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Black Jacket Symphony presents Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours."

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18

Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.

Admission: $25-$30, plus convenience fees

Phone: 642-8497

Venue website: www.chattanoogaonstage.com

Band website: www.blackjacketsymphony.com

LINEUP

Aaron Branson -- bass

Alice Bargeron -- vocals, guitar

Allen Barlow -- guitar

Brad Wolfe -- guitar

Britt Hendrix -- vocals

Buck Johnson -- vocals, piano, guitar

J. Willoughby -- vocals, guitar

Jeni Wiley -- vocals

Mark Lanter -- drums, vocals

Matt Wiley -- keys

Will Cash -- guitar

THE SET LIST

1. "Second Hand News"

2. "Dreams"

3. "Never Going Back Again"

4. "Don't Stop"

5. "Go Your Own Way"

6. "Songbird"

7. "The Chain"

8. "You Make Loving Fun"

9. "I Don't Want To Know"

10. "Oh Daddy"

11. "Gold Dust Woman"

Since November 2011, Black Jacket Symphony has taken Chattanoogans to the dark side of the moon, escorted them up the stairway to heaven, introduced them to Sgt. Pepper and checked them into Hotel California.

Friday, the Birmingham, Ala.-based album tribute ensemble will encourage guests at the Tivoli Theatre to keep thinking about tomorrow with a rendition of Fleetwood Mac's landmark 1977 release, "Rumours."

Since a debut rendition of The Beatles' "Abbey Road" in 2009, Black Jacket has tackled many complex albums, but "Rumours" has presented plenty of unique challenges, said founder/music director J. Willoughby.

"Vocally, it's a bear," WIlloughby said during a phone interview. "The guitar player had to be about as good as you can find because Lindsey Buckingham is maybe the most underrated guitar player of all time."

Willoughby came up with the concept of BJS after hearing a radio story about the 40th anniversary of "Abbey Road" and an announcement of a performance of a Mozart symphony.

Why, he wondered, were no artists treating modern compositions such as The Beatles' opus with the same exacting attention to detail with which symphonies performed classical music?

He set out to fix that discrepancy by founding a group that uses hand-selected ensembles to perform recording-perfect renditions of modern rock albums down to every missed cymbal crash and flubbed note.

Even the artists who recorded these works didn't expect their live shows to mirror the complexity of the studio, but what orchestras can do with Beethoven, they should be able to do with artists such as Led Zeppelin and The Eagles, said Jason Rogoff, Willoughby's managing partner.

"It makes it logistical hell, but it's about re-creating it live, and having four or five people onstage doesn't allow you to," Rogoff said. "We have people who leave these shows saying that, if they close their eyes, they would have thought ... that the record was playing onstage."

The first half of Friday's performance will be a complete performance of "Rumours," whose four singles -- "Go Your Own Way," "Don't Stop," "Dreams" and "You Make Loving Fun" -- all broke the Top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

After a 15-minute intermission, the band will return to perform a second set of Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits. During this set, Rogoff promised to reprise BJS' pattern of rewarding audiences with a special treat that tops the group's previous efforts.

"This show, in particular, has one of the largest surprises that the Black Jacket Symphony does," he said.

Chattanooga Times Free Press entertainment reporter Casey Phillips spoke with J. Willoughby and Jason Rogoff, founder/musical director and managing partner of rock album homage artists Black Jacket Symphony, about the upcoming performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours.”

CP: How many albums has Black Jacket Symphony done shows for so far?

JR: 14. We're on our 15th.

CP: How did this concept come into being?

JW: It came to me several years back. I'm a big Beatles fanatic and classic rock fan. It started with The Beatles, and I heard that “Abbey Road' had turned 40 years old on a radio station in 2009. Then, later on, I heard an advertisement for a Mozart symphony; they were going to play a particular piece.

It came to me that these are the classics of our generation; this is the classic music of our generation. You have some cover bands out there who do silly stuff like dressing up like them, but no one comes out like a symphony and performs a piece that is a classic piece now.

That's why we did “Abbey Road” as the first one. We came out to do it as a piece. If you go to a Mozart concert, they don't wear powdered wigs and speak in an Austrian accent; they just come out and play the piece. So that's what we do. We come out and play these albums in their entirety as a piece of work, which for good or bad, is kind of a long lost art because albums are done.

CP: Do you think the artists who created the works you honor had any expectation that their work would be so reverenced so many years after its release?

JW: No, I don't. I think they did it just like everyone is doing it now. There was a little luck involved of timing because there was a sweet spot of it not becoming such a business, when artists were able to go in and create an album, instead of having nothing but singles, like they do now. It was a magic time.

No, I don't think they knew it. Every generation says this, that their music was better than the last, but we happened to be right. [Laughs.] They just did something that happened to last. “Sgt. Pepper” will be studied after I am dead and gone. They were the Beethovens over their time. Whether they knew it or not, I don't know. If they did know it, they probably wouldn't have been able to do it because it would have put too much pressure on them.

CP: Who do you see creating music now that will be performed by The Black Jacket Symphony of the future?

JR: I'll say that there's probably not anyone in today's pop culture and music world. People will still be clinging to these records that are just so good.

JW: It's not their fault. It's just where we are. We've gotten into a syndrome of disposable stuff. What's created now is gone pretty quickly. Everything moves so fast, and these albums were events when they came out. I remember knowing that “The White Album” was coming out for weeks and weeks beforehand. Now, it's on YouTube, and you can download a couple of songs, if you want to.

JR: To expound on that, when we do these shows and look into the crowd, you can see that sense of excitement and anticipation for those songs that people have known for 30 years. They're still on the edge of their seats waiting for that note that's about to be played. It's a testament to how great this music is.

JW: The coolest thing is to see kids, people in their teens and 20s, knowing every word to a Led Zeppelin album. It just blows you away that they're still listening to it. They know, too. There's still great music out here, but they know what the classics were and where this comes from. The age group we see is from teenagers to people who bought the records when they came out. That really does pull at my heart strings sometimes.

JR: We have so many people who tell us on Facebook and come up to us after a show and tell us it was their kids' first concert. To be able to give that experience with something that is wholesome, visually stimulating and acoustically pleasing is such a cool thing for J. and me and not something we anticipated when we started.

CP: Why go for note-for-note authenticity instead of just sticking with four or five people doing an almost-perfect recreation? Doesn't that make the logistics unnecessarily complicated?

JR: It makes it logistical hell, but it's about recreating it live and having four or five people on stage doesn't allow you to recreate it live. It allows you to sample a lot of it, but it's a different thing; it's not as authentic. Again, not to crack on anyone who's doing that, but for us, it's a tribute to the album. In order to fully pay homage to the album, we want to do it and recreate it live, note for note, sound for sound, exactly as it was recorded, whatever it takes.

One thing we add is the visual element. We bring in video screens and a massive amount of lighting. We really try to give people the best all-around experience that they can have. We have people who leave these shows saying that, if they close their eyes, they would have thought Led Zeppelin were playing on stage or that the record was playing on stage.

JW: Someone told me last week that they went and saw us, and a week or so later saw the band whose album we had performed, and they said we did a better job performing it than the band did. The reason is, they don't have to. They can change things and stretch it, but we do it like people remember hearing it on the headphones. We recreate it as if you were listening to it. We go to great lengths to sound more like them than they do, in a live setting.

CP: Is “The White Album” a project you'd like to tackle some day?

JR: J.? Would you like to try “The White Album.”

JW: Me? [Both laugh.] I would absolutely want to do “The White Album.” It is definitely on our list. We have a short list and long list of albums that we want to tackle, and that's leading the field.

JR: I would say that's one of the most fun things about this thing for J. and me. One, it's picking the albums, but two, it's picking the albums people want to hear. There's never a shortage of suggestions of what we should do next, and we listen to everyone, really. We want to play what people want to hear.

CP: Do you ever wish that people wanted to hear something a little less-complicated records?

JW: [Laughs.]

JR: We do records that we think are a little less complicate, and it always ends up surprising us how complex they are, always.

JW: We decided to do The Stones, and I was like, “Oh yeah, finally! Just a sloppy rock'n'roll record.” We did “Let It Bleed,” which has a choir, a French horn, choral singers, a mandolin - all sorts of stuff on there. I was like, “Oh god, we're back out there doing the same thing.”

JR: It's a testament to the caliber and quality of the musicians we work with. They hold themselves and each other to the highest standard. The drummer will say to the guitar player, “I think you're missing a note right there or it may just be a little bit off.” They'll go back and listen to it, and he'll say, “You know? You're right, but you're missing a cymbal crash right here.” It's funny.

JW: It's fun. I'm in some of them, but I'm not in most of them [the shows,] I'm like a football coach: I put these guys together and they really push each other a lot. We'll get to the point where we deal with things like on “Let It Bleed” where it's hard to be specifically sloppy. [Laughs.] There are several snare misses where they miss and don't hit the snare. Guess what? We do the same thing. If someone says something, we say, “Go back and listen to the album. It's not there.” It's funny to even do the little mistakes that are one the early records especially when it was recorded so organically.

CP: What special challenges, if any, did “Rumours” present?

JW: Vocally, it's a bear. It's a lot of great vocals. The guitar player had to be about as good as you can find because Lindsey Buckingham is maybe the most under-rated guitar players of all time, especially with the finger picking he has. Those are the hardest elements.

JR: We have one element of the show that is kind of tricky as well, and we won't give it away, but with every show, we have a surprise. When we were there for “Dark Side of the Moon,” we brought out a kids choir for the second set, the greatest hits set. We did “Another Brick in the Wall” and brought out an elementary school choir to sing with us. This show, in particular, has one of the largest surprises that the Black Jacket Symphony does. It may be one of the most challenging, logistically.

CP: Why do “Rumours” instead of “Tusk” or another album from the discography?

JW: We go through and try to find the seminal record that made the artist. “Rumours” is the one that catapulted them into the stratosphere. The one before that was when Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined, and it's a great record, but “Rumours” is one of top five best selling records of all time to this day. It's the one that sent them over the top. It's a great record, a hit-laden record. It was named the record of the year.

With The Beatles, they never hit one out of the park, but you go to The Who, and it's “Who's Next,” and if you go to the Stones, it's “Let It Bleed,” which is like saying “Good bye, '60s, hello, '70s.” They're records that changed something.

JR: When it comes down to one or two, J. and I will go and arm wrestle. [Laughs.]

CP: How long will the show last?

JR: Two hours. The first set is exactly the length of the record, probably 44-46 minutes. Then we'll take a 15-minute intermission and come back for the second greatest hits set. It's an experience, and that's what we pride ourselves in. You're going to come and hear the record exactly as you heard it.

JW: One reason we take the visuals and try to go as over the top as we can is because we're concentrating so much on doing the music exactly. We're not up there acting like Mick Jagger, so we need the visuals so you have something that's a total audio-visual feast.

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@times freepress.com or 423-757- 6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP

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