FAIRFIELD — By day, Axel Clarke is a high school and college music instructor.
On nights and weekends, he puts on a wig and adopts the persona of Ringo Starr as a member of the Beatles tribute band Abbey Road.
On May 3, Clarke and his fellow “Beatles,” Chris Paul Overall (Paul McCartney), Gregory Wilmot (John Lennon) and Jesse Wilder (George Harrison), will perform at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre.
The show, “In My Life,” is a musical theater tribute to the Fab Four. It’s told through the eyes of their manager, Brian Epstein.
While it’s nearing 50 years since The Beatles’ final concert, their music is always being discovered by a new generation, Clarke said.
“They recognize a great thing,” Clarke added.
It took Clarke about a year-and-a-half to feel comfortable in his role as Starr. Their drum styles are very different, he said.
“Ringo was self-taught,” he said. “He never took lessons. He figured out what made sense to him.”
Clarke earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree in percussion.
To play Starr, Clarke said he had to undo years of training.
“I have to play like him to sound like him,” he said.
Key to being a realistic Starr is the way he looked behind the drums.
“He had a specific way of moving his body,” Clarke said. “His torso was bopping up and down. His head went to the side. Even though he only did that in the early days, we keep it throughout the show.”
Clarke’s favorite Beatles song to play is “A Day in the Life,” because it’s melodic and plays off well with the other instruments, he said. His favorite to listen to changes with the day. On Tuesday it was “Hello Goodbye.”
“It’s a well-crafted song. It makes me happy,” Clarke said.
The show is about 70 percent music and the remaining is dialogue. It’s narrated by an actor who plays Epstein. Clarke’s high school students – more than the college students – seem to appreciate his work in the Beatles show.
“They can go on Facebook and see pictures of Mr. Clarke dressed up,” he said of the high schoolers.
The college students tend to roll their eyes, he said.
“At the same time they are getting ready to be professional musicians themselves,” Clarke said.
He’s been working with the show for about four years. Teaching part-time helps when it comes to playing five or six shows a month.
“Since I teach at a performing arts school, they can’t really hold it against me if I have a gig,” he said.
Clarke grew up listening to his parents’ Beatles records and became immersed in Beatles music at an early age. As he started learning the drums, he ventured into hard rock and heavy metal. But he never forgot The Beatles.
“It’s enjoyable to be part of this show, to reproduce this music,” he said. “We illuminate some facts the casual fan may not be aware of.”
Audiences are welcome to sing along. In fact, it’s encouraged.
“It helps us remember the words,” Clarke said, in jest.
He thinks there are about 10 top-quality, touring Beatles tribute bands and, he said, “I’d like to think we are one of them.” There are “at least a couple of hundred others” who put out some impressive promotional material but only play a gig a few times a year, he said.
When he’s not teaching, or playing Beatles music, Clarke has recorded with musicians such as the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra. If there’s any time left after that, he plays in Dead Man’s Party, a Oingo Boingo tribute band.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.