The Nights the Lynnes Go On
The Nights the Lynnes Go On
A Q&A with Mick Bodine
Of the Electric Lynne Orchestra
By Geoff Gehman
The Electric Light Orchestra lit up my ‘70s like no other band. Jeff Lynne and his mates switched me on, turned me on and plugged me in with their infectiously crafty, creative, crazily ambitious miniature pop symphonies and rock operas.
I dug the Little Richard-whoops-Chuck Berry-swagger of “Roll Over Beethoven,” the satisfying stomp of “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle,” the majestic thunder of “Laredo Tornado,” the cleansing melancholy of “Summer and Lightning.” I was enthralled by the Galahad-in-Oz fable of the concept album “Eldorado”; amped up by the live LP “The Night the Light Went On in Long Beach,” which features a terrific mash-up of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”; bowled over by an “Out of the Blue” concert that opened with the opening of a spaceship. When I need a jolt of my old ELO jones I tune into a wild ’73 BBC live version of “Kuiama,” an 11-minute Wild West shoot-out.
A surge of my sweet obsession returned during a recent email conversation with Mick Bodine, who performs Jeff Lynne’s vocal and guitar parts in the Electric Lynne Orchestra, which tracks tunes that Lynne wrote and produced for ELO and his fellow Traveling Wilburys (George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty). Bodine, who grew up and lives in New Jersey, and his Philadelphia region comrades, who have played in Get the Led Out and the Broadway production of the musical “Rock of Ages,” offer meticulous yet spontaneous renditions of ELO hits “(Do Ya”), deep cuts (“Fire on High”) and deeper cuts (“Poker”). They sound fresher, more playful, than Jeff Lynne’s ELO, which recently ramped up its popularity with a North American tour and its second record, “From Out of Nowhere.”
On Nov. 9 the Electric Lynne Orchestra will take over the Mauch Chunk Opera House with a rollicking gig embellished by elaborate lights and videos. In the interview below, Bodine, who supervises computers for a school district, discusses falling for ELO as an elementary schooler; his admiration for Lynne’s wizardly arrangements and Lynne’s admiration for the Beatles’ wizardy, and his politically incorrect stand on puritanical correctness.
Q: Can you remember the first song you couldn’t forget, the one that knocked you out for the count?
A: The first song I remember really hitting me in the “feels” was “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” by George Harrison. The slide guitar parts just really gave me chills, even as a small kid. I was probably five when I first heard it back in ’75. It stuck with me. I remember hearing it late late at night through a little transistor radio I had next to my bed.
Q: What was the first ELO song that put Jeff Lynne and his mates on your radar for good?
A: Definitely “Livin’ Thing.” I remember being really struck by the opening strings, followed by the way Jeff sings the verses. So much emotion. And again I was young when I first heard it in probably ’76 or ’77.
Q: What was going on in your musical life when you decided to launch a band specializing in ELO tunes? Why did the Electric Lynne Orchestra seem such a good idea with other ELO tribute groups with ELO alums already quite prominent and popular?
A: Paul Piccari, our band leader [and bassist], approached me with the project a few years ago. Besides the fact that we all really liked the music, we actually noticed that, at least in our area, there wasn’t really a saturation of tributes. There are many ELO tributes across the pond in England and Europe, but around here there seemed almost a perfect need for it, especially since it seemed Jeff was maybe slowing down. But even when it turned out he was gonna keep going strong, it seemed like a great way to get his music out along with a great show to those who can’t really afford to attend his shows.
Q: Lynne’s songs are quite fluid and quite tricky. The range of instruments and effects on original ELO recordings, especially “A New World Record” and “Out of the Blue,” is pretty mind boggling. What was the hardest part about making these tunes sound authentic and still fresh? What was your biggest learning curve?
A: The arrangements!!! LOL. From an instrumental standpoint, chords, solos, skill level. The songs are actually pretty simple. Where Jeff gets you are the arrangements, the depth of the instrumentation and the vocal harmonies. So we had to make sure we could cover most if not all of that as best we could. Luckily we found some great players, especially Chris McCoy on keys, who is a wizard at duplicating the sounds we need.
Q: What do you understand and/or appreciate about Lynne as a musician that you didn’t when you launched the Electric Lynne Orchestra? He’s obviously a first-rate songwriter, arranger, producer, singer and guitarist.
A: Being a huge Beatles fan, as you learn his songs you can see and feel how much the Beatles influenced him. The chords he uses, the harmonies, the song structures. The little variations he uses from verse to verse, chorus to chorus. I always find myself saying “Oh, George used this chord progression in this song, or “Paul used this chord progression in this song”. It’s almost comforting in a way. Because that common influence helps me to get into his mindset.
Q: How has the touring of Jeff Lynne’s ELO affected your touring?
A: If anything it has increased the interest. Especially since we don’t exactly travel in the same touring circles. LOL. I think people like the idea of seeing a high production show in a smaller venue for an affordable price. And we strive to sound as close to ELO as possible.
Q: Quote unquote tribute bands run the risk of being cheesy copycats. What won’t you do in the Electric Lynne Orchestra that could border on embarrassing—i.e., wear a wig imitating Lynne’s big mop of hair?
A: We have bounced around the idea of wearing the wig. and are still bouncing it around actually. I DO wear the aviator sunglasses and a suit–how can you NOT? But in our case, we believe that we would rather get the music as close as possible so that if people close their eyes they think: “Hey, this sounds pretty darned close to the actual ELO.” And if they open their eyes, they will see a great light show and the video we like to throw on every song. We created visuals for every single song in the set and are continually adding more lights and visuals as we move forward.
Q: Why did you decide to perform numbers that Lynne wrote and produced outside ELO instead of ELO-only material?
A: This is where we wanted to set ourselves apart and open up the show to an even wider audience. Jeff Lynne has produced so many great and famous acts, we saw it as a way to expand our set lists. We wanted to show people that we could be more versatile than your standard tribute, and have some fun playing different stuff from the Wilburys: George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison. And whenever anyone asks, we can point to the fact that Jeff is playing and singing over all of these songs as well. Hence the name Electric LYNNE Orchestra.
Q: Would you be tempted to devote shows to entire ELO albums? I’d pay good money to hear all of “Eldorado” live.
A: As time goes on and things expand, yes, we would be all over something like that.
Q: Any chance you and your comrades will sample “From Out of Nowhere,” the brand-new album from Jeff Lynne’s ELO?
A: In the upcoming shows we haven’t gotten to that yet. But in the new year we will be expanding the sets to include stuff from his newer records. I think we were as shocked and excited as anyone that he came out with new music! We actually have “When I Was a Boy” in the pipeline from [the 2015 album] “Alone in the Universe.” The song “From Out of Nowhere” is a great tune. Can’t wait to hear the whole record when it’s released in a few days [in November].
Q: Many thanks for playing “Fire on High,” “Nightrider” and other old-time ELO barnburners that Lynne doesn’t play for some reason beyond my comprehension. How about digging even deeper for “Laredo Tornado,” “One Summer Dream” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King/Great Balls of Fire”?
A: As we move forward we will be throwing in more deep tracks in the set. Understandably we wanted to get a good solid foundation by having all the “hits” in the sets. Last thing we want is for someone to leave disappointed because we didn’t play the stuff everyone has heard on the radio for years.
Q: Ever think you’ll ever perform “Kuiama,” the 11-minute Wild Western that ends ELO’s second album? And you have listened to the mesmerizing ‘70s live BBC version on YouTube? I love to link this performance to ELO neophytes to prove how the band really, truly kicked ass before Lynne unfortunately decided to pull in the reins and play it cooler.
A: Maybe a part of it. The whole thing might be too much for a few reasons. Mainly because we usually have a hard stop time, so we wouldn’t want one song to take up too much set time. I really like that crazy older stuff. Really shows [Lynne’s] personality and how great that band was/is.
Q: Is there a question you’re burning to ask Lynne given the chance?
A: I know he loves the Beatles. I would always want to know what it was like to be able to actually play in the same band and on the same stage as George Harrison. To be able to produce a Beatles song. I would love to hear about all that.
Q: So, Mick, what tops your Bucket List? Musicians have told me everything from touring the world to world peace.
A: I totally wish I could do this full time. To be able to support my family as a full-time player without having to have a day job. LOL. And I want to see the night sky in UTAH or Colorado. Too much light pollution here on the East Coast. LOL.
Q: And what tops your Fuckit List? Musicians have told me everything from ending oppressive religions to assassinating all snakes.
A: This may be controversial: I hate Political Correctness and people who are offended by everything, especially in comedy and entertainment. For me it should be a place where free expression rules the day. And if you don’t like it? Don’t watch, don’t listen, don’t read it. Don’t try to prevent them from doing it, or try to destroy them for doing it. To me it is the ultimate form of narcissism for someone to believe that their idea of what is acceptable overrules someone else’s idea of what is acceptable when it comes to music or comedy or art.
Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. His other ELO favorites include “10538 Overture,” “King of the Universe,” “Daybreaker,” “Illusions in G Major,” “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” “Evil Woman,” “Waterfall,” “Starlight,” “The Diary of Horace Wimp,” “Secret Messages” and all of “A New World Record,” especially “Above the Clouds.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.