Interpreting one of rock’s sacred texts, armed with  experience, reverence and blazing guitar   

Guitarist Andy Timmons is well aware that it takes a lot of nerve to approach the crown jewel of the Beatles catalog. Nonetheless he and his longtime backing group—bass player Mike Daane and drummer Mitch Marine—summoned up the courage to offer their new rocked-up instrumental rendition of the Beatles’ landmark Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Timmons admits he was hesitant to tamper with a work many consider untouchable. “I’m not the biggest fan of Beatles covers myself,” he says. “So I decided to do this in a way that was reverential and respectful. I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. But if it’s fun and it feels right, then maybe it makes sense.” He approached it so carefully, in fact, that Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper was two years in the making. “I was always writing, arranging, touring,” he says. “So it became kind of a hobby I’d work on in my spare time. I just kept picking at it.” Even with a résumé that includes everything from several years with the metal band Danger Danger to playing behind mainstream pop acts, this project proved his most challenging yet.

It originated during an Italian tour that found Timmons working a cover of the Fab Four’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” into his set list. The concert promoter was so impressed that he encouraged the group to include more Beatles tunes in their shows, leading Timmons to wonder just how far he could take the idea. “I never thought of doing this as a commercial project,” insists Timmons, who included the non-Pepper “Strawberry Fields” as a bonus cut. “In fact, I didn’t even think I could pull it off. I thought at best it would be something exclusively for the fans. But when I sat down in my studio and played Sgt. Pepper completely from memory, from start to finish, it seemed so much fun. Capturing the essence of that music became such a wonderful process.

It provided an emotional connection that felt really great.”

Timmons has been making an emotional connection to music for a long time. He learned guitar at 5, and by 13 was steadily gigging with a group called Taylor Bay in his hometown of Evansville, Ind. “I was with them for eight years, and we became fairly successful,” says Timmons, who now makes his home outside Dallas. “But I knew that making a living with a band was a long shot.” His passion for playing continued unabated, and he expanded his horizons by studying classical and jazz guitar (the latter at the University of Miami). “I figured that the more styles I learned, the more well-rounded I’d be and the better chance I’d have to make a living,” he says.

His big break came when he met noted drummer Simon Phillips at a NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention—he was there as an endorser of Ibanez guitars, while Phillips was representing Tama drums. The two began collaborating, which led indirectly to Timmons becoming musical director for singer Olivia Newton-John. He went on to tour with acts like Eric Johnson, Steve Morse and the Beach Boys; record with the likes of Paula Abdul, Kip Winger and Paul Stanley; and release a series of well-received solo albums. Now all those experiences have culminated in Pepper, released on his own label and distributed through fellow guitarist Steve Vai’s Favored Nations Entertainment. “This project is the culmination of my love for the Beatles and an expression of my love for guitar,” says Timmons, 48. “Nothing else I’ve done has felt so easy or so right.”

Lee Zimmerman

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