Balls-out Beatles & Beyond

Balls-out Beatles & Beyond

Balls-out Beatles & Beyond

A Q&A with Glen Burtnik

Of The Weeklings

 

By Geoff Gehman

 

The Weeklings are four cool cats. They specialize in splashy, dashing power pop made and inspired by the Beatles, whose 1964 Ed Sullivan summit willed three of them to be musicians. Their repertoire ranges from a slightly psychedelic version of “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” the star of their latest video, to a swinging take on “You Must Write [Every Day],” an unreleased tune written and recorded by Paul McCartney in 1960, to the original “Little Elvis,” a ringing rave picked as a “Coolest Song in the World” on the Sirius-XM show “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.” The last two tracks appear on the Weeklings’ second album, “Studio 2” (JEM, 2016), which they cut live and vintage in two days in Abbey Road Studio 2, Laboratory No. 1 for the Beatles’ magical mystery tour.

The Weeklings’ front-and-center man is Glen Burtnik (aka Lefty Weekling), who composes, sings and plays a Hofner bass left handed just like Sir McCartney, his onetime character in a touring “Beatlemania.” The former member of Styx shares studio and stage with Zeek Weekling (rhythm guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Bob Burger), Rocky Weekling (lead guitarist/vocalist/songwriter John Merjave) and Smokestack Weekling (drummer/vocalist Joe Bellia). With deft zest they mix Beatle-esque elements—streamlined, stinging vocals; turn-on-a-dime chord and rhythm changes; back-door buildups; call-and-response pleas (i.e., “come on, come on”) with refreshing loyalty, clarity and spontaneity.

The Weeklings will return to the Mauch Chunk Opera House for an Oct. 5 gig that should include “Paperback Writer,” “Getting Better” and the new original “Three.”  Below is an email exchange with Burtnik as peppy and as packed as a Weeklings performance.

 

YOU [GG]: Can you remember the first song you couldn’t forget, that wormed its way into your ears, mind and soul?

ME [GB]: Wow. Probably “True Love” by Bing Crosby. According to my family, it caused me to cry before I could speak. Slightly later I remember discovering [Percy Mayfield’s] “Hit the Road Jack” [a smash hit for Ray Charles] on my Dad’s ham radio as well as hearing [“Little” Stevie Wonder’s] “Fingertips Part 2” in my folks’ VW bug. Both riveting experiences.

 

YOU: What was the first Beatles song that hooked, lined and sunk you?

ME: I can’t speak for the rest of the band (Smokestack, Zeek and Rocky) but for me I can tell you I bought the single “She Loves You” first–and buying a record at the age of 9 was a big deal. So I guess that’s an indication of the effective first Beatles song. Although the flip side, “I’ll Get You,” ultimately fascinated me more. Yes, I’m one of the “Saw them on Ed Sullivan alumni,” as are Smokestack and Zeek (Rocky’s too young). I was glued and inspired, like so many others, and started learning drums soon thereafter.

 

YOU: What was the first song that made you notice its craft, that made you want to write songs?

ME: Probably early Dylan, which led me to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. At least, lyrically. I know I began making songs up at 12 years old. Overall the Beatles pretty much set the template for how Zeek & I base our songwriting.

 

YOU: What early surprises/revelations did you have playing Mr. McCartney in “Beatlemania”?

ME: First, there was Paul’s bass playing; Wonderfully melodic. Then there was his vocal range; Amazing. Then there was the putting of the two together. Singing these stratospheric melodies while thumping all this low-end movement. Exhilarating.

 

YOU: Did you have any significant learning curves playing Sir Paul in “Beatlemania”?

ME: Coordinating some of his physical wiggles into the mix took a little concentration initially.

 

YOU: What are your three favorite McCartney bass lines, and why? I’m partial to the patterns in “Drive My Car,” “Paperback Writer” and, for some crazy reason, “Fixing a Hole.”

ME: I’ve always considered “Nowhere Man” Paul’s jumping-off point. From there he was fearless. “Rain” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” come to mind.

 

YOU: What didn’t you want to do when you launched the Weeklings (i.e., play Beatles standards in Beatles costumes etc. etc.)?

ME:  The Weeklings have a policy of No wigs, No girdles and No fake British accents, just balls-out, inspired and passionate performances.

 

YOU: Did you have an “ah-hah” epiphany when you decided to balance (relatively) obscure Beatles songs with Weeklings originals? Any role models for bands that mix originals with tunes minted by famous groups?

ME: I have to say we thought our digging up forgotten Lennon-McCartney-Harrison songs and polishing them up {for example, “If You’ve Got Trouble.” written for Ringo Starr for “Help!” and left off the soundtrack] could be our most attractive attribute. As it turned out, it’s our own songs that have accumulated more radio airplay. We’ve had a number of “Coolest Song in the World” designations on “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.”

 

YOU: What’s the most obscure Beatles tune in the Weeklings rotation and why do you think it doesn’t deserve to be obscure?

ME: The Weeklings are the first act to record and release “You Must Write [Every Day],” “Because I Know You Love Me So” and “Some Days”–at least to our knowledge.

 

YOU: Is the Weeklings original “Oh! Darla” inspired by the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling”?

ME: By title only. That song, on our debut album [“The Weeklings,” JEM, 2016], is about my daughter, Darla Rose. She’s the inspiration.

 

YOU: Why did you pick “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” as the star of the latest Weeklings video?

ME: It’s always been a favorite and it’s a somewhat rare Beatles track. Audiences seem to dig our funky arrangement.

 

YOU: Has the Weeklings repertoire/image/style been influenced at all by Beatles fan-fest fans? Do you play and do things for them that you don’t do and play elsewhere?

ME: We love the Fest for Beatles Fans. We know they may be a little more knowledgeable as to Beatles rarities than other audiences, but we mix well-known hits, obscurities and originals into all our performances.

 

YOU: What song of yours has had the most unusual afterlife, zagging when you expected it to zig, maybe even ending up as a staple of rituals (weddings, funerals, bar/bat mitzvahs)?

ME: I’m always amazed when I’m told about “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (recorded by Patty Smyth & Don Henley) being used as a wedding song. It was actually written  about a breakup.

 

YOU: What tops your Bucket List?. Musicians have told me everything from touring the world to world peace—quite a global spectrum

ME: Hard to beat my life so far. But since recording the second Weeklings album at Abbey Road Studio 2, where the Beatles recorded most of their records, was such a fun experience, I’d also like to record at Sun in Memphis, Chess in Chicago and Hitsville  USA in Detroit, even if that’s only used as a museum.

 

YOU: What tops your Fuck It List? Musicians have told me everything from crushing spirit-crushing religions to death to all snakes (courtesy of Suzy Bogguss–I told her to move to snakeless Ireland).

ME: Too many to list. Next question.

 

YOU: What’s your favorite memory of your two terms in Styx?

ME: One time I was singing lead on one of their biggest hits at a sold-out concert of theirs. I got stuck and started messing up the lyrics. I realized, at the moment, there were close to ten thousand people at that venue who knew every word of that song–except the guy singing lead. Oh well. I laughed.

 

YOU: What’s your favorite memory of gigging with Bruce Springsteen and your old house band Cats on a Hot Smooth Roof at the Stone Pony, the fabled rock club in Asbury Park, N.J.?

ME: I enjoyed when Bruce traded off singing verses of “Twist & Shout” with me.

 

YOU: Why do you like living in Asbury Park and what’s your biggest contribution to its resurrection as a residential/destination place?

ME: Not sure I have much to do with it, but the Weeklings appearing there has been so well received, the band likes to consider it home.

 

 

Glen Burtnik: The Scoop

 

His song “Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man” was a hit for Randy Travis.

He and Bob Burger, the singing rhythm guitarist in the Weeklings, wrote “Little Suzie” and “Killing the Thing That You Love” for the band Styx.

The title of his solo album, “Slaves of New Brunswick,” references his New Jersey hometown

He was the singing bassist in Hammer, led by keyboardist/composer Jan Hammer; and is the singing bassist in The Orchestra, which includes former Electric Light Orchestra musicians and associates playing ELO tunes.

He recorded “I Hate Disco Music” with Marshall Crenshaw, who played John Lennon to his Paul McCartney in “Beatlemania.”

His annual Xmas Xtravaganza charity concert has showcased the likes of Crenshaw, Patti Smith and Patty Smyth with husband John McEnroe.

 

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. He’s a 1964 Ed Sullivan Beatles acolyte, too. He can be reached at geogehman@verizon.net.