By John Benson
The use of hyperbole in the music business can’t be overstated. Every 10 minutes there’s a next big thing that will change the world. However, fate on a rare occasion does provide such moments where hype and exaggeration are not only bona fide but life-changing.
For gen Xers, that moment was probably in the fall of 1991 when Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana single-handedly killed ’80s hair metal and started grunge. As real as that experience was, it exponentially pales in comparison to what the Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star — did to Western civilization Feb. 9, 1964, with a single performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Local musician Frank Muratore, who plays McCartney in internationally renowned Beatles tribute band Hard Days Night, gives perspective.
“The Beatles changed everything in music up to that point,” Muratore said. “Before that, the artists didn’t write their own songs. Before that, the artists didn’t generally play their own instruments. The Beatles were a change that brought back more of the roots of rock ’n’ roll, which was invented in America by Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.
“Remember, the No. 1 record when the Beatles released ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ was Bobby Vinton. It was like a throwback to the ’40s. So when they went on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ the timing was perfect for them to recapture the rock ’n’ roll flavor that the kids were missing. It just took off, and the British Invasion groups followed. It changed everything.”
Marking that fateful Sunday night almost to the day when America met the Beatles for the first time is the Rubber City BeatleFest 2014, which marks the 50th anniversary. The local Fab Four-friendly event takes place Saturday at Akron Civic Theatre.
The evening includes live performances by Hard Days Night, The ReBeats and Jim Bonfanti (founding member of The Raspberries) with the Fantom 4. Also on hand will be memorabilia exhibitors Steve Madonna, Jim Hoffert and Lawrence Puljic, as well as a photo exhibit by George Shuba, Cleveland’s first and foremost rock photographer.
Someone who witnessed Beatlemania at its height in 1964 was Shuba, who unknowingly took the gig to shoot this band he had never heard of when it came to Cleveland for a Sept. 15 show at Public Hall.
“I said, ‘Why are we shooting bugs?’” Shuba laughed. “I didn’t even know who the hell the Beatles were. When I did this, I didn’t realize what I was going into.”
What Shuba was getting into was witnessing history. This fleeting experience with the Beatles began a day earlier when the group arrived by plane on a flight from Pittsburgh.
“I was the first photographer to meet the Beatles as they came to Cleveland,” Shuba said. “They were supposed to land at Cleveland International Airport but it was a propeller-driven aircraft so they changed the venue from meeting at the gate to near the I-X center. That was in case the kids would have rushed the aircraft.”
Shuba was also present at the concert, which included 10,000 screaming fans. He said the police stopped the concert because of “riotous” conditions.” Hopefully that won’t be the case at The Rubber City BeatleFest 2014, where visitors can look at Shuba’s iconic photos from the Public Hall show.