The Grand Rapids trio channels The Cavern Club-era Beatles and early ’60s British beat bands with a critical rule of thumb: If it came after 1965, it doesn’t get played.
Picture “the Cavern Club ethos” of the early Beatles in Liverpool.
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The skinny ties. The leather jackets. The punk-styled, raucous energy.
Perhaps nothing describes The JetBeats’ musical mission better than that description offered up, in part, by guitarist, singer and frontman Morgan May Moallemian.
In fact, the Grand Rapids trio’s retro-rock approach – from that classic narrow-tie garb to the vintage gear – can be traced directly to the impact that the Fab Four has had on band members, who formed The JetBeats about a year ago after Moallemian put out a Craigslist call for musicians.
Bassist David Jimenez, 38, formerly of The Boss Mustangs, credits his musician father for introducing him to The Beatles at a young age while growing up in Muskegon.
“It was always around the house. When I started playing as a teenager, I gravitated toward this. This is how I learned how to play actually to Beatles records and things like that,” says Jimenez.
“Playing-wise, I wanted to be in a band that played specifically this music. I think it’s a small miracle that I found a couple of other guys that are close to my age that want to play this kind of music.”
Moallemian, originally from East Lansing and the senior member of the band at age 45, started his record collection with The Beatles’ “Rock ’n’ Roll Music, Vol. 2.”
A ‘LOST MUSICAL FORM’ REVISITED AND UNLEASHED
“I’ve always liked that kind of music,” he explains. “It just has really good energy and despite being so big for so long, it’s kind of a lost musical form. We’ll play shows now where people will ask, ‘What kind of music is that?’ Well, that’s just rock ’n’ roll.”
For The JetBeats, that rock ’n’ roll specifically gets defined as ’60s beat music, British Invasion gems and ’50s classics by Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, aka “a lot of covers that the Beatles used to cover back in the early days. We kind of mined all that.”
The band also writes its own songs that reflect the sound of that era, and is recording its debut album at Grand Rapids’ Goon Lagoon studios with a possible March 2014 release. On Wednesday, the band – Moallemian, Jimenez and Justin “FatBody” Rutkauskas (formerly of The Northern Skies) – performed one of those originals, “Beat Girl,” on the air during Local Spins Live on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). Listen to a podcast of the show here.
A typical night with The JetBeats features “a pretty wide gamut of that early British beat music,” including The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Searchers, The Kinks, The Who, The Swinging Blue Jeans and The Hollies, as well as the ’50s music of America’s rock pioneers. Indeed, other than its originals, the band won’t play songs released after 1965, even though none of the members was even alive at that time.
“We chose the cutoff year of 1965 because that’s when popular music was sort of turning away from that primordial, raw beat music and the initial British Invasion sound to a more complex, textured and mature sound,” says Moallemian, who considers 1962 the “sweet spot” of this musical era.
CHANNELING THE EARLY DAYS OF THE FAB FOUR
Moallemian says part of the idea is to channel the early days of The Beatles when they played packed venues in Hamburg, Germany, and The Cavern Club in Liverpool, England, before becoming an international sensation.
“It’s just super high energy, raucous rock ’n’ roll,” he says. “That’s kind of what we want to capture, that Cavern Club ethos, all that stuff they used to do in Hamburg.”
As a result, offers Jimenez, The JetBeats invest “a lot of effort into putting forth the energy that we think these songs deserve. Some of it’s so old that it’s new. It’s definitely the precursor to your garage rock, your punk rock. The Beatles were a punk band when they were playing at The Cavern. They wore leather jackets and leather suits, (playing) two-minute songs, fast, furious.”
That’s what piques the interest of younger audiences who find The JetBeats’ throwback music fresh and different, band members say. “We’ve gotten good feedback from the younger crowd all the way through the people that were teenagers when this stuff was happening,” Jimenez adds.
All of that keeps The JetBeats digging for old nuggets from that era to dust off and reintroduce to audiences in the New Millennium.
“The research is never done. You always find something else that you’d never heard that’s just a great song,” Moallemian insists. “The main thing is the energy of that kind of music. It really is kind of punk rock. I think that’s what appeals to younger people.”
REVVING UP THE TIP TOP DELUXE WITH NIKKI HILL AND WHITE RABBIT
It’s also the kind of music that inspires fans to join Moallemian on vocals, with The JetBeats often setting up a second microphone on stage just for that reason. “We encourage people if they know the songs … to hop up and do the harmonies with us,” Jimenez says. “We definitely have fun with it. We’re out there to have a good time.”
That’s what comes of playing simple, lively, straightforward, catchy vintage rock. Or, as Jimenez puts it, a perfect way to “jump around, and get nice and sweaty, and have fun with it.”
On Thursday night, The JetBeats play Grand Rapids’ Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill, 760 Butterworth Ave. SW, opening for soulful roots rock ’n’ roller Nikki Hill, a fast-emerging fireball of a singer from St. Louis. Tickets are $10 for the 8 p.m. show, with details online here. The first person to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org@gmail.com with “NIKKI HILL AND THE JETBEATS” in the subject field wins a pair of tickets to the show.
The JetBeats return to the Tip Top on Jan. 17 with another Grand Rapids’ fave, White Rabbit (a band that plays songs from the late ’60s and ’70s), for a show that encourages fans to get into the spirit by dressing in ’60s- and ’70s-style attire.
Get more information about The JetBeats on their Facebook page.
Email John Sinkevics at email@example.com.
Copyright 2013, Spins on Music