Andy Timmons Band Remakes 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' as an All-Instrumental Celebration
"Each Beatles album is great in its own unique way, but there's something about 'Sgt. Pepper's' that makes it stand alone," says guitarist Andy Timmons.
"To call it a masterpiece is kind of a given. Of course it's a work of art, but what's amazing is the vivid feelings it evokes. Every time I hear it, I'm transported to being a kid again."
Now Timmons -- who played guitar in the late-Eighties glam-metal band Danger Danger -- is paying tribute to the iconic 1967 release with Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper (Favored Nations). Recorded with bassist Mike Daane and drummer Mitch Marine, the album is a rousing, all-instrumental affair that's heavy on guitar razzle-dazzle but never veers from the instantly recognizable melodies that comprise the original disc.
Timmons says the 2011 album came about almost by accident. His band had been playing a medley of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" in its live show for a few years. Eventually, a promoter in Italy asked if they could work up an entire set of Beatles songs.
"I thought, A whole Beatles set as an instrumental power trio?" Timmons says, incredulously. "But it became something of a hobby."
Timmons began tracking a number of Fab Four selections, but he soon realized that he was on "a Pepper path -- the album just called out to me one day."
Once the concept of an all-instrumental tribute to Sgt. Pepper's took hold, the guitarist ran with it. While making the album, Timmons held true to a couple of self-imposed rules. One, no outside musicians. And two, no listening back to the original album.
"I didn't want to be one of these guys who kept playing the record over and over going, 'Oh, wait, there's a tambourine buried here!' I wanted to make it as alive as possible."
While Timmons hopes that his own reading of Sgt. Pepper's will bring him some new fans, he stresses that the project has been a labor of love, one that he felt compelled to see through. "Playing the record as a trio, without the vocals, has been a real treat," Timmons says. "It really tested our mettle as a band."
Below, Timmons talks about making some of the key tracks from the album.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
"To me, the song encapsulates everything else you're about to hear. What I tried to do, with one guitar pass, was combine the heavy rhythms, the solo and the melodies. Then I had to approximate the background harmonies, as well. There's a warbly sound to some of the original vocals that were the result of tape manipulation. I was really set on getting those from my guitar, so my chorus pedals got quite a workout."
With a Little Help from My Friends
"This one was tough. There were so many counterpoint vocal lines. When John and Paul were singing the 'What do you see when you turn out the light?' part, I decided to play that as octaves. I put in some cool lead guitar lines between the sections, which was a lot of fun. And, of course, we have that big, powerful ending. I had to figure out how to hold that high note on the guitar."
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
"That opening is so beautiful, and it presented itself in such a wonderful way for the guitar. All I had to do was play the parts, and there it was. The song is written so well, you really can't kill it. When the big D chord before the chorus kicks in, that's when I spread out the sounds. I put a Big Muff through two Mega/Boogie Stiletto amps and two Lonestar amps and got a great sound."
She's Leaving Home
"People don't talk about this one a lot, but it's the only Beatles song that ever made me cry. The almost matter-of-fact sound of Paul 's voice mixed with the heartbreaking lyrical content really got to me. Plus, it really shows what a Brian Wilson fan Paul was. Those falsetto harmonies are so Beach Boys! Those violin stabs are incredible, and then you have John Lennon's unbelievable vocal harmonies. These are things I really paid attention to."
Within You Without You
"This was George Harrison's first masterpiece. What a heavy tune! When recording my version, I cheated a little bit and took some cues from the  Love album. I had Mitch wail away on the 'Tomorrow Never Knows' beat and placed it underneath. This was especially helpful, since I didn't have all the Indian percussion. The middle section was very tricky because of the time signatures. Recording this was a huge challenge but a lot of fun, too."
"When I mentioned this project to Paul Gilbert a couple of years ago, the first thing he asked me was, 'What key are you playing 'Lovely Rita' in?' There was a lot of varispeeding being done with the Beatles' recordings in those days. My ears say this one is in B flat, so that's where I played it. The fun part was working out the piano solo, which George Martin played on the original. I got as close as one can get on the guitar."
Good Morning Good Morning
"One of my favorite rock and roll tunes ever. Mike Daane really approached this with such reverence to what Paul did. He even played the sax lines on bass. The guitar solo was a blast, of course. The real challenge of this song was the animal noises at the end. Lions, tigers, horses, chickens -- those I could figure out how to do on the guitar. Trying to get dogs barking was hard. I cheated a bit with some chords."
A Day in the Life
"This is clearly the most daunting song from the album, because Jeff Beck had already recorded perhaps the definitive instrumental version [on 1998's George Martin In My Life]. Realizing that I had to go up against him, I tried to get what he did out of my head as much as possible and focused on John Lennon's vocal. Ultimately, I wound up with a combination of the two recordings."
Keep up with Andy Timmons at his official Facebook page.