“It was 20 years ago today, Jim Owen taught the band to play.”
Were it not for the fact his father was a vinyl record collector and that he started playing the piano at age eight, Jim Owen, founder of the Beatles tribute band Classical Mystery Tour, may have gone in another career direction.
“I played piano as a child, and when I first heard the Beatles music I was hooked!” said the Huntington Beach native during a recent interview. “My dad and my aunt were major collectors of albums, and my father was a pianist himself. We went to a lot of classical concerts, but I started playing Beatles music and never stopped.”
Classical Mystery Tour is no stranger to Segerstrom Center: this is the venue that launched the group’s career 20 years ago, in 1996. They have returned several times since then, and will be back for two nights June 17-18 to perform with Pacific Symphony in the final concerts of the 2015-2016 Pops series.
“I played in a Beatles cover band when I was a teen, but as a classical musician I was drawn to the orchestral side of their music, which was difficult to reproduce,” Owen shared. “Trying to create the psychedelic sound with just a keyboard didn’t seem to cut it.”
When the renowned Broadway show “Beatlemania” toured nationally and visited Los Angeles, Owen – then age 11 – saw the show and made the decision to pursue a professional music career.
After playing in several Beatles bands, Owen formed Classical Mystery Tour with the primary goal of playing a concert the way the Beatles never did: with a live orchestra. He gathered several fellow Beatles tribute musicians, hired a small orchestra, rented the 3,000 seat Segerstrom Hall, and had a musicologist create the scores by transcribing the original Beatles recordings note for note.
The concert was a success. Now, 20 years later, the group performs 30 or more concerts every year with orchestras around the United States, and they’ve toured Australia. They’ve become one of the most popular Pops acts in the country, and are frequently asked back for repeat engagements.
Looking at Owen it only seems fitting that he plays the part of John Lennon. In person the physical resemblance is uncanny, and watching Owen on stage brings a feeling of déjà vu.
“We have the sheet music for about 40 songs and do about half at every concert. We’re always changing things up but stay pretty consistent with the chronology,” he said. “We start off with the suited Ed Sullivan group, and after a few songs and costume changes we evolve into the Beatles the audience wants to see.”
Among the songs audiences can expect to hear: “Yesterday,” “Come Together,” “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” and many more.
Classical Mystery Tour features Owen as John Lennon, Paul McCartney lookalike Tony Kishman, Chris Camilleri as Ringo, and David John as George Harrison.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit PacificSymphony.org.