The Beatles-2-small


According to Jeff Alan Ross

It was one of those truly bizarre moments.

I’d gone over to the Grand Hyatt Hotel to see if I could get into The Fest for Beatles Fans with the wristband a friend of mine, from my hometown of Madison, Wis., had handed me the night before. I figured they’d change the color the next day, and I was right.

I wanted to catch Peter Asher’s wonderful show Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir Of The ’60s and Beyond, Featuring the Music of Peter and Gordon, and reconnect with his bandleader/guitarist/keyboardist Jeff Alan Ross. I’d promised to write about Jeff the last time I saw the show: He’d been in Badfinger, and was now doing “Baby Blue” in the show instead of “Day After Day,” thanks to the rediscovery of the song—and band—from the song’s play at the end of the series finale of Breaking Bad.

I was about to message him on Facebook when I saw that not only had he listed his cell number, but that he was from Madison! He was a few blocks away when I called him, and when he arrived at the hotel, I told him I, too, was from the Madcity.

It only got weirder. We went to the same Junior High (Charles R. Van Hise—I was a year ahead). I mentioned I was going to see a James Madison Memorial High School buddy play that night in the Village—Joseph Waters, now professor of electronic music at San Diego State and leader of the band Swarmius; Jeff was in a band with Joe! I asked if he knew of Dr. Bop & The Headliners and my friend Beefy, a.k.a. Troy Charmel, a.k.a. Bob Kenison, and he idolized Beefy, from when he was a kid watching Beefy’s Beatles-influenced 1960s band The Gentlemen and learning how to play “Blackbird” and “Martha My Dear” from him.

Jeff Alan Ross with BadfingerIt was so ridiculous that Jeff could hardly talk straight when Peter’s manager brought over Erica Jong to meet him. So I told him about my recent conversation with Beefy about The Beatles, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in particular.

“Everybody sort of has their own personal vibration,” said Jeff, picking up where Beefy left off.

“‘Inner music,’ is what I call it. If you’re a music fan, certain things pluck your strings. For example, there’s a Billy Joel song, ‘All About Soul,’ that every time, at one point in the song—every time it goes to the bridge—I cry. It’s just so powerful! As a musician, the only way I can describe it is, the chord structure and melody and way the whole thing sounds. For some reason, it just works for me.”

I kind of know what he meant. Every time I listen to Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” when he gets to the end and his voice rises on “I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome/Swooping down from heaven to carry me home,” I inevitably start crying as well.

“Not everyone gets that,” Jeff continued, meaning that kind of emotional impact from a song. “Ultimately, what most people are looking for when they’re writing songs is a hit song—‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ basically.”

But he, too, remembered going “Oh, my God! What is that?” when he first heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” just as Beefy and I had.

“I’ve heard innumerable people say the same thing: ‘What is it about the song?’ It was unlike anything anybody had ever heard—the way the voices and guitars sounded. But also, it was the song itself—and Peter Asher is the proof!”

Indeed, Asher tells a wonderful story in his show, about how Paul, who was dating Asher’s sister Jane and was living with the Asher family, called out to Asher from the family’s music room, where he and John had been working on a song. Paul then played “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the piano, which Jeff then sings in the show.

“They asked me what I thought,” Asher relates. “`It’s very good,’ I said. But it was such a great pop song, and there was something about being there at the point of creation. A magical moment.”

Jeff Alan Ross“It wasn’t just the guitars,” added Jeff, “but the chords and musical structure. And when those voices start singing! That’s what we heard that first time, and didn’t know what to say. That and the musical structure and the way they worked together.”

And it was a universal response from those who were there.

“Everyone heard it and went, ‘Oh, my God!’ And if they knew exactly what it was, there would be a formula—but nobody else did it.”

To paraphrase Beefy, then, The Beatles did it all, and that’s why they’re The Beatles.

Speaking now as a songwriter, Jeff concluded: “Everybody searches for those things, and hopes they come up with the elements that drive people. We have our own musical beings: That’s why some people love classical music and jazz, and others can’t listen to it. Not everything works for everybody, but that being said, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ is probably as universally loved as anything that was ever written.” 

Jim Bessman


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