When Paul McCartney sang "And Georgia's always on my mind" in 1968's "Back in the U.S.S.R.," he could have no idea that a fab foursome from Georgia would make a living paying tribute to The Beatles 45 years later.
Four high school friends from Griffin, Ga., make up The Return and have re-created the live thrill of the Beatles all over the world. They return to Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island, next week -- where they last performed in 2005.
"For people who saw the Beatles, they say 'You brought back the best memories,'" Michael Fulop, 35, who plays guitarist George Harrison, recently said. "For people who never got to see them, or were too young, they say 'I always regret that I didn't grow up in the '60s. You took me to a little dream world for a little bit."
"They were a tight, cohesive group.It's unbelievable," he said of the staggering volume and stylistic diversity of music that John, Paul, George and Ringo produced in just eight years. "When you look at most bands, bands do it over 30 years."
Mr. Fulop's favorite Beatles record is"Abbey Road," and to him, George's "Something" is a perfect song. "John and Paul definitely were powerhouses when it came to songwriting," he said, noting George got one in here and there. Mr. Fulop has seen Paul in concert many times, most recently four years ago in Atlanta.
ADelaware native, Mr. Fulop moved to Griffin, Ga., at the age of 8. His mom was a piano teacher, and he began taking lessons from her at 6. He later played the drums and began playing guitar at age 13, deciding this would be the instrument with which he would spend the most time working. He played guitar and wrote songs for several groups in high school.
It was during this time he caught the "Beatlemania" bug, noting "A Hard Day's Night" was his first purchase. In 1995, at the age of 17, Mr. Fulop and some friends put together a band that would eventually evolve into The Return. He earned a music degree from Gordon College, as well as an automotive technology degree from Griffin Technical College.
Word of mouth fueled the tribute band's local popularity, and they lent authenticity by wearing matching black suits and using vintage instruments. "We had a blast, our audience had a blast," Mr. Fulop said. In 2000, the bandgot a left-handed bass player, to truly reflect the Beatles' look. Their original bass player was right-handed.
They have sought the highest level of authenticity possible. They want to recreate the early '60s Beatles concert experience from the tiniest detail (John Lennon's on-stage gum-chewing) to the biggest, most expensive details (using exact replicas of the instruments and gear the Beatles used), Mr. Fulop said. While they were learning to comb their moptops just right and finding Beatle boots and black suits to wear, they also were learning each song note for note, rhythm for rhythm -- getting the signature moves of the Fab Four down pat.
Jim Weiss, senior vice president of public relations for Turner Broadcasting, has said: "Seeing The Return is like traveling in a time tunnel back to Liverpool in the early 1960's... It's the next best thing to having been there. The Beatles live, thanks to The Return."
The band does about 100 shows a year and has performed all over the world -- including the famed Abbey Road Studios in London, where the Beatles made some of the most memorable albums of all time. They performed at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England (where the Beatles and many other bands of their time got their big break) and headlined Tokyo's 40th-anniversary celebration of the Beatles' only visit to Japan, summer 1966 concerts at the Budokan arena.
"Abbey Road Studios was crazy," Mr. Fulop said of playing there in 2003. "When we started off I couldn't even swallow, I was so nervous.You realize this is actually where the Beatles recorded those classic songs. It was crazy."
"Another turning point for us was playing in Liverpool," he said. "I thought they'd tear us apart, but everyone was so receptive. Beatles fans are the best."
When The Return played Japan in 2006, they also got an intense reception. "The Beatles are huge over there," Mr. Fulop said. Theysaw Japanese Beatles cover bands who couldn't speak English, but got every word of the songs right."It was great; we had a great time," he said.
The Return's song selections vary from night to night, but they always make it a point to play a mixture of chart hits such as "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "A Hard Day's Night" and "Day Tripper," in addition to songs that the Beatles covered in homage to their musical idols such as "Roll Over Beethoven," "Long Tall Sally" and "Twist and Shout." They have a show that covers the entire output, but the Circa concert will just go up to 1966.
That excludes some of George's biggest hits, such as "Here Comes the Sun, "Something" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
"George was a really good guitar player," Mr. Fulop said, amazed that he was just 21 in 1964; Mr. Harrison died of cancer at age 58 in 2001. Mr. Fulop and his wife have threechildren, ages 11, 7 and 6, and they love music, he said.
For more information about the band, visit thereturnonline.com.
If you go
-- What: "The Return: The Best of The Beatles – Live"
-- When: 6 p.m. Thursday, April 18.
-- Where: Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, 1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island.
-- Tickets: $27.50 in advance and $32.50 at the door. These are show-only performances; however, the theater will offer selected sandwiches and appetizers for purchase. Bar service also will be available throughout the evening. Tickets are available at Circa, or by calling 309-786-7733, ext. 2.
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