Imagine you’re a Louisville/Lexington folk-and-more troupe and you’ve just been invited to Ringo Starr’s birthday party. Pretty sweet, right?
Now picture a second invite — to cut a pair of vintage Ringo tunes for possible inclusion on his next solo album. How overwhelming is that? Finally, dwell on the fact that it has become reality: that your band is backing up a Beatle and that there will be recorded evidence to prove it.
That is the seemingly unfathomable state of bliss Vandaveer finds itself in this week. When Starr’s new album, “Give More Love,” is released Friday, Kentucky fans — fans everywhere, for that matter — will get to hear band chieftain Mark Charles Heidinger, co-vocalist Rose Guerin and longtime bandmates J. Tom Hnatow (on guitar) and Robby Cosenza (on drums) refashioning two of the Beatles alum’s best-known songs: “Photograph” (the 1973 single that became Starr’s biggest non-Beatles hit) and “Don’t Pass Me By” (from the Beatles’ 1968 self-titled “White Album”).
“I didn’t find out about the official release of the record until I started getting text messages from people who read about it in Rolling Stone,” Heidinger said. “I was overseas most of the summer with my family, so we were nine hours ahead of Kentucky. My phone was dinging off the shelf one night. I kept thinking, ‘Oh my God, what just happened?’”
This happened. Vandaveer and Starr share the same publicist, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Elizabeth Freund, who helped arrange for Heidinger and company to perform at Starr’s annual Peace and Love event, held on his birthday outside the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood.
Vandaveer played “Photograph” and “Don’t Pass Me By.” Heidinger met Starr only briefly, but the band had made an impression. The invite to record both songs came a few weeks later, with the unusual but welcome instructions to cut both with the same stripped-down and largely acoustic arrangements used for the Hollywood show.
“We tracked the songs with Mark and Rose as if there would be no Ringo,” said longtime Vandaveer producer and cohort Duane Lundy, who oversaw the recordings in Lexington at his Shangri-La studio. “Then, if he wanted to take it a step further and do what we were told he might potentially do, then they would have the multi-tracks out in L.A. and would be able to figure out the best way to include Ringo’s vocals and still use what we had given them.”
“The Ringo camp said the recordings would be for possible inclusion on a future project,” Heidinger said. “It was essentially that open-ended. But we jumped at the chance. So last August, we went into Duane’s place, spent about four days and then sent the tracks along to see what happened.
“I think at this point, in all our respective careers, we’ve gradually become realists. We tried to keep from getting too hopeful.”
On July 7, Starr’s 77th birthday and one year to the day after Vandaveer was part of the Peace and Love celebration, a release date for “Give More Love” was announced, along with a finalized track list confirming that both tunes the band had cut with Lundy were to be included.
Vandaveer also found itself part of an extensive guest list. The Anglo-Swedish rock band Alberta Cross, another invitee to the Hollywood show, is featured on a remake of the 1981 Starr song “You Can’t Fight Lightning,” while Eagles mainstay Joe Walsh and Electric Light Orchestra chieftain Jeff Lynne add guitar to a remake of the 1972 single “Back Off Boogaloo.” The rest of the album consists of new Starr songs cut with Peter Frampton, Don Was, Benmont Tench and, perhaps fittingly, Paul McCartney.
“This was a very kind gesture on Ringo’s behalf,” Lundy said. “A lot of times, what happens on projects like this is you end up with a legacy artist inviting a pop star in. So often, that becomes a blown-out mess. With Ringo extending this invitation to a band like Vandaveer was saying there was a particular vibe between these two camps. It was a brave move to have someone come in and look at those songs in a different way and then include them on an album. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
“The Beatles have always been the cream of the crop for me, the most seminal and important band in my personal experience,” Heidinger said. “I’m obviously not alone. That truly makes Ringo my favorite drummer in my favorite band. So this is all just very, very surreal, and I know everyone in Vandaveer feels the same way. We’re just ecstatic.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com