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Covering the Beatles Songbook

By Fredric Dannen

In the annals of popular music, the Beatles hold a distinctive place in terms of both the quality and originality of their songwriting. Apart from their consistently above-average lyrics, the Beatles experimented with musical forms well outside the confines of traditional rock and roll. While most rock songsmiths were composing in straight four-quarter time, with few chords beside the tonic, dominant, and subdominant, John Lennon and Paul McCartney produced songs in swing rhythm (With A Little Help From My Friends), with insistent dissonance (I Want To Tell You), and in parallel major and minor keys (Michelle). Even some composers of classical music were impressed. Leonard Bernstein once demonstrated how Lennon used the Mixolydian mode, rather than the traditional major scale, to create his song Norwegian Wood; and the American-born Ned Rorem, himself a distinguished composer of art songs, pronounced McCartney’s She’s Leaving Home to be “a mazurka equal in melancholy and melodic distinction to those of Chopin.”

David Garza (Lynx Bigtooth Maple) plays the Beatles
Benefit Concert for RURALMEX
Tue, Oct 8, 7:30pm
Teatro Angela Peralta
Tickets from 100 pesos

It is no wonder, then, that a wide range of artists, from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa, have performed Beatles songs. There is, however, a challenge one faces when covering a Beatles tune that one does not face when performing, say, a Rodgers & Hart song – namely, the band’s albums are so iconic and familiar that the listener has a distinct expectation of how the song should be interpreted. The best cover versions take a fresh, new approach to the Beatles canon, without sacrificing the qualities that made the songs so memorable in the first place.

David Garza, the much-admired singer-songwriter who lives in San Miguel, has become known for his inventive and appealing cover versions of Beatles songs. His Beatles interpretations will be a principle feature of his solo concert at the Teatro Ángela Peralta this coming October 8, a Tuesday evening. Garza, who will also be playing a number of his self-penned songs, and who will feature a few guest artists (to be announced), is presenting the concert as a benefit for the Rural Education Institute of Mexico, Inc. (El Instituto de Educación en el Campo Mexicano, AC), a nonprofit organization that strives to reduce the alarming dropout rate among non-urban Mexican schoolchildren. RURALMEX, as the association is known, holds classes in rural communities, builds libraries and computer labs, and provides high school (preparatoria) scholarships. Fifty percent of all proceeds of the October 8 concert will be donated to RURALMEX. (For more information on the organization, go to RURALMEX.ORG.)

Because he lived and performed for many years in Texas, where there are two other singers of the same name, David Garza uses the stage name Lynx Bigtooth Maple. He has become particularly well-known in San Miguel as the lead singer for the band Vudu Chile, but he is equally at home accompanying himself on guitar. Garza recalls that early in his musical life, when he was trying to master the guitar, he bought a Beatles songbook from a music store. “For awhile,” he recalls, “I played those songs like the original versions. But then I noticed I was trying to find changes in the phrasing that resonated with me, and I thought maybe I could make people hear these familiar songs in a new way.”

Garza says he takes particular pleasure “when people say – ‘Wait, I know this song’ – but it isn’t until halfway through that they realize it’s a Beatles song.” The results can be extremely gratifying. “One time I was performing at a bar in Texas,” Garza recalls, “and a guy came up to me and said, ‘Man, that was the best version of Across the Universe I’ve ever heard, outside the Beatles themselves.’” Garza will perform Across the Universe at the Peralta concert, along with Dear Prudence, Something, Blackbird, Two Of Us, Mother Nature’s Son, and Get Back, among others.

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