Q&A with Mark Lewis: Founding Member of RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles
RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles, coming to the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden May 3-6, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. While this is the first time RAIN will bring the historic Beatles album to life in its entirety, Mark Lewis (one of the founding members of this tribute band) has been performing in RAIN since the mid-seventies.
Below, he explains how the concept of RAIN came about, the challenges he had along the way, and how the Beatles continue to inspire him—and will inspire you in this show.
How did you get the idea of RAIN?
Rain actually started as an ‘original band’. Our goal was to write and record our own music, and to hopefully become a hit band doing our own songs. We happened to be huge Beatles fans, and, because we needed to work, and we didn’t want to play Top 40 hits, we decided to put together a few sets of
music that we really enjoyed playing. Of course this included a lot of Beatles songs.
Rather than just including Beatles songs in the set we decided to separate it, and do some exclusively Beatles ‘sets’. Eventually, we separated it into an early Beatles set, Sgt. Pepper, and late Beatles segment. Mind you, at this time, there was no such thing as a ‘tribute’ band, nor had there been any other show such as ‘Beatlemania’ for us to copy.
At one point we just decided to approach a local club in L.A. to let us play what we would call a Beatles night on one of the club’s slower nights, eg. a Monday or Tuesday night, which are usually empty nights anyway. The club agreed and promoted it ‘in house’, and we invited our friends, because we wanted be assured an audience to play for.
It turned out that the club was packed, the club owner was happy and asked us to return, and eventually we met agents that booked us as Rain (which was previously Reign) doing the tribute to the Beatles.
Explain the reason behind the name RAIN.
Reign was a name that we picked out because we liked the name. Try to get 5 guys together to agree on a name. It’s not easy. “Rain” also happens to be the name of a Beatles song. As the band became a popular Beatles show it was assumed that the name was taken from the Beatles song. It was so common to see our name misspelled in ads and on marquees as “Rain” instead of “Reign” that we eventually just gave in and left it as “Rain.”
What has been the most difficult part of gathering musicians that sound and look like The Beatles?
Everything about it is hard. First and foremost, you have to find great musicians. They have to play great, and have the ability (in the case of John Lennon & Paul McCartney) to play multiple instruments, eg. bass, guitar, piano, and to play these instruments at a very high level of perfection. They have to have great ears to figure out the parts correctly, they have to be great singers that can sound like the voices of the Beatles rather than just sounding good, or unique. This in itself is a very specialized talent. They have to have a great ability to harmonize and blend well with other singers. They have to look somewhat like the characters they portray. They have to have the confidence to front a band, and with an English accent. You can go on and on. It’s an extremely difficult job for a musician, and to find people that can do this at the level of the guys in Rain was extremely demanding. Keep in mind this is the Beatles—if you don’t do it to perfection people will not only walk out on you, they will be angry at you. You will be laughed at. Remember—you don’t just want a great bass player, and you don’t just want a great bass player that can sing, you want a great bass player that can sing and sound like Paul McCartney, and play piano, and have his persona. Then you have to do it for the other 3 Beatles. This was not easy.
Are your audiences mostly old-school Beatles’ fans?
Our audiences are very diverse. We get a lot of ‘baby boomers’, ex-hippies, etc. BUT, we also get parents that love to bring their kids. A lot of teenagers and young children. I think parents take a certain pride in turning their children on to the music of the Beatles. They want their kids to ‘get’ the Beatles. And the kids do. They leave our show wanting to listen to more Beatles records, watch Beatles movies, play Beatles ‘Rockband’, etc.
What has been the biggest struggle in creating and producing RAIN?
First, it was convincing people to hire a band that just did Beatles music back in the 1970’s. This was the ‘Disco’ era.
Then once we started to gain some momentum, we had to separate ourselves from a lot of the other ‘inferior’ Beatles groups that undercut our price and put out an inferior product. They tried to copy what Rain did, only without the talent. It made it quite difficult once buyers bought an inferior Beatles show, and then would tell me that they ‘tried the Beatles thing, and it didn’t work’.
What was the moment that you knew you had created a hit?
I knew I had created something very unique and special from the very beginning. I also knew that Rain brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. So in that I felt satisfied. But when did it become a ‘hit’? I had a lot of doubt as to where this was going until we started to pack major Broadway-type theaters about 8 years ago. That was when we started to reap the reward of all of our hard work, and get some recognition for what we had created.
How has RAIN evolved over the years?
We’ve evolved on many levels. We’ve become better and better musically. Technology has allowed us to become much more authentic at duplicating the sound of The Beatles live. We’ve also evolved to being a much ‘bigger’ show production-wise. Our success has allowed us to have the funds to reinvest
in ourselves, and bring to the show a lot of ‘bells & whistles’ that we used to only dream about. We’ve always prided ourselves on being a great concert, but now we are not just a concert, we’re more of an event. There’s a lot of great video, lighting, props, etc. that really bring the show to life.
What are some of the highlights of the show? (Your favorites, audience favorites)
There are a lot of highlights. The Beatles music/career had so much depth, as does our show. The Ed Sullivan era, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, etc. It was all a wonderful time in history, and I believe our show does a great job of capturing those times and bringing them to life on stage.
The show is performed like a concert but is everything scripted or do the performers improvise?
A little of both. With all of our lighting and production you can’t just ‘wing it’ every night. It is scripted, but within that script there is certain amount of spontaneity. Songs can be pulled out of hat unexpectedly, and it is live, so anything can happen, and it often does.
What’s your favorite Beatles song and is it in the show?
I like the one that starts with ‘Please Please Me’ and ends with side 2 of Abbey Road. In other words, no favorites—I like them all.
Do audiences scream and yell as if they’re seeing a concert or do they react as if they’re seeing a Broadway show?
It usually starts like a Broadway show, and ends like a rock concert with people standing, singing, and swaying with the music.
Why did you choose the music of The Beatles to create a show around?
I chose the Beatles because of love for the music. The Beatles were in a class by themselves. They changed the world. I don’t really know if I chose the Beatles, or just followed my passion.
When Rain started in the mid-seventies I was just a musician that was playing music that I loved playing. It was fun. I really didn’t know where it was going. If you’re doing something that you love doing, and you’re fortunate enough to be able to make a living at it, and you happen to be good at it, what would be the reason to stop. Although I’ve been doing this for decades it seems as if just
yesterday I was playing in bars in L.A., then the next thing I know we’re starring on Broadway. Pretty amazing.
Has this experience inspired you to possibly create other shows based on other bands?
Only if another “Beatles” comes along. Until then Rain is it.
Describe the appeal of RAIN.
The appeal of Rain is the appeal of, in my opinion, the greatest music ever written and recorded, and the greatest band in history—The Beatles.
RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles is coming to the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden May 3-6, 2018. Tickets are on sale now!