The fourth Beatle People Interview features Doctor Robert, a fantastic Beatles tribute band based in Crested Butte, Colorado. The quartet features four musicians, all second-generation Beatles fans: Casey Falter (Lead and Rhythm Guitar, Bass, Keys, Vocals), Karen Janssen (Rhythm Guitar, Bass, Keys, Mandolin, Percussion, Vocals), Ben Wright (Drums, Keys, Vocals), and Kevin Reinert (Bass, Rhythm Guitar, Keys, Vocals).
Doctor Robert tells AWLT about how they got together, what makes them unique (like having a female Beatle!), and the Kickstarter campaign that will help them reach even more audiences.
AWLT: How and when did you become Beatles fans?
Casey: My appreciation probably originally came from my mom—she was a big Beatles fan when they first came out. Their music has always been everywhere, and they’ve influenced so many musicians that I was definitely impacted.
Karen: I think it came from my brother. I distinctly remember sitting in our living room, listening to his records, checking out the album covers. I never could have imagined how great it’s been to deeply delve into the incredible variety of music the Beatles produced.
Kevin: I had a lot of friends whose parents had the Beatles around all the time, their music was everywhere. In college I really dove into all of it, and really started to hear what they were saying. Now that we’ve dissected over 100 of their songs, I have another level of appreciation for the complexity and genius of their songwriting.
Ben: For me, it was this band. I grew up with country music from my dad, Christian music from my mom, and heavy metal in high school. So really I hadn’t spent any time with the music until this project.
AWLT: What inspired you to become musicians, and how long have each of you been playing/singing?
Kevin: My mom was a music teacher and the organ player/choir director at church, my dad also played saxophone in college band, and both of my sisters were talented on the piano, trumpet, and saxophone. I tried a few different instruments without much interest in practicing, including piano at age 6 and french horn at age 11. Both teachers were friends of my mom’s, and both pulled her aside to express their concern that I had a good ear and some natural talent, but didn’t practice enough for their liking. There can’t be a french horn player in a concert band that can’t read music! I started into guitar lessons at about 12 years old and everything changed. I found an instructor that could teach to my style of playing by ear, and finally dove head-first into the world of music. Since then I’ve played everything from bluegrass to funk to heavy metal to jazz, and have played mandolin, bass, guitar, and keys in a number of different bands since about age 16. I still don’t know how to read music and play solely by ear, just like Paul McCartney.
Karen: I don’t come from a musical family at all (though they are appreciators!) but I’ve always loved to sing, and did so through high school. I didn’t pick up any instruments until I became a pre-school teacher and thought the guitar would be an excellent addition to the classroom. I later learned the mandolin, and soon started playing americana and bluegrass music with local musicians. After Doctor Robert’s original keyboard player left the band to start a family, I became inspired to re-enter the world of 88 keys, which has been a really fun journey! Journey is the key word…there’s always more to learn and share, which is what inspires me to be a musician.
Casey: I was born a musician, and I have played and sang for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, my parents always listened to records, 8 tracks, cassettes, then CDs. They got together with friends and jammed acoustic guitars and mandolins a lot. This turned me on to all kinds of music, especially bluegrass and the greats of Rock and Roll, and inspired me to try and imitate the musicians I was exposed to. As a youngster, I sang and mirrored the string players I saw and heard—encouraged all the way by the older people around me. I started going to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival as an infant in the 1970’s. I think that may have engrained my love of live music forever. My parents continued to take my brother and I to see live music throughout our childhood, further reinforcing a love of the live show. My dad played in bands, and the musicians would rehearse and play at our house a lot. My brother and I began taking formal guitar lessons when I was 13, and continued studying theory and jazz through college.
Ben: My mother played piano in Church, but I was never interested in music until college. My sister consistently came home crying after piano lessons so I opted to play sports instead. I went to school at Western State Colorado University and took a music class for a general education requirement. At the time there was no drummer and I was recruited to give it a shot, so I did. The faculty of Western took me in and had the patience to teach a complete beginner at the college level. For that I am forever thankful and after 5 hard years of study, I graduated with a degree in music. My teachers at Western were amazing and I give them all of the credit for my day to day inspiration to keep playing music and work at getting better.
AWLT: Why did you form a Beatles tribute band?
Karen: It was Kevin, our bass player’s idea…he’d seen a Beatles Tribute band at a wedding eight years ago in Illinois and was amazed at how much fun everyone was having. Every song was fun and familiar, and put into a live setting it really brought the energy of each song to life. A few years later he put some feelers out to different musicians in Crested Butte, and eventually we all came together. The first notes were in August of 2010 with Casey and Kevin, but we all joined up by October of that year. Our first gig together was an outside party that month that we now call Doctoberfest…we only knew about 15 songs and probably played each song twice, definitely having some fun with it all.
Why The Beatles? There aren’t many bands out there that have such an extensive catalog that touches on so many musical styles, and with their song list we’ll probably never run out of songs to learn.
AWLT: Do you have a favorite/least favorite Beatle period?
Kevin: We joke that whatever song we’re currently playing is our favorite song to play, though there is quite a bit of truth to that. The Beatles played around with so many musical genres and sounds that we never get tired of playing any period. We know 115 songs that span their entire career, and every show we play has a different set list based on the venue, the crowd, and the event. Some shows are geared more towards dancing, so we’ll focus more on earlier songs like “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Feel Fine,” and “She Loves You.” Other shows may have more of a “listening” audience where we can showcase the diversity of the catalog, so we’ll work more of the psychedelic era into the set. Songs like “Revolution,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “A Day in the Life,” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” are some really fun songs that get great reactions from listeners.
AWLT: Some of the songs you perform differ from the original arrangements (for example, the amazing guitar solo in “Revolution” in the video below). How do you go about re-arranging Beatles songs?
Kevin: Most of what you’ll hear at a Doctor Robert show is what you know from the albums, though we do extend certain parts of some songs, depending on the show. It’s not our intention to re-arrange the songs, since messing with perfection isn’t usually a good thing. There are just so many incredible grooves and solo sections in Beatles songs that we felt it would be natural to keep some of those moments going for a little longer. Some good examples of this would be at the end of “Come Together” or “The Word.” The album versions fade out with such a great feel that we thought it might be fun to use that musical space to create a few minutes of improvisation. Other ways that we’ve added improv is on the solo sections of songs like “One After 909” or “Back in the USSR.” Casey is such a great guitar player, and those songs really pop during the solo section, so we started making the solos longer.
We all have a bit of jam band in our musical backgrounds. Bands like The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Phish, and Cream didn’t always have a set arrangement for their songs and live performances, and often created new musical spaces “in the moment.” The Beatles didn’t perform live long enough to open up some of these musical spaces, so we envision this is what the Beatles may have done with their live shows if they took their entire catalog on tour in the 1970’s.
Adding improv or extending solos feels natural, and it’s a way for us to infuse our own musical ideas into a show. I think it gives the listener something more to appreciate, and keeps everyone guessing on what we’ll do next . As much as we appreciate the tribute bands that impersonate the Beatles, it’s nice to hear something original during a concert, and this is a way for us to add our own chops to a show. It’s very exciting to find songs that can be extended tastefully, but it can be a bit daunting at the same time. We understand how much people love and appreciate the music, so we try to keep any extended arrangements respectful. We’re overwhelmed by the reaction we get from fans when we take songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to a different level.
AWLT: What makes Doctor Robert different from other Beatles tribute bands?
Kevin: We’re probably younger than most other Beatles tribute bands, and we have a woman in the band. We never were interested in the idea of trying to impersonate the Beatles; rather we just wanted to bring this music alive so that anyone and everyone could enjoy it. The [60’s-inspired] suits and dress came a bit later into the project…that’s about as far as we’ve taken the impersonation thing. It’s actually been pretty cool having a minimal ‘costume’, we feel it brings a level of respect to the songs and people seem to enjoy the effect it has. The focus for us is the music, cause honestly, who can BE the Beatles?
AWLT: One of those things that makes you different is that you have a female member. I think that’s incredibly cool—there aren’t nearly enough women playing Beatles songs! How does that change the experience of watching a Beatles band?
Kevin: We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from having a female in Doctor Robert. It’s not a typical Beatles tribute arrangement, and tends to catch peoples’ attention. We’ve had many Beatles “purists” express their doubt before they hear us perform, only to be pleasantly surprised by the sound and energy that we all bring equally to the stage.
Karen: It’s been interesting to be a woman in a band where a man is ‘expected’…but as Kevin said, all around it’s been a really positive experience. I think it reinforces what it is we’re trying to achieve: to bring this music to anyone and everyone, no matter their age, sex, or background. It’s both uniting and liberating!
AWLT: What/who are your musical influences besides the Beatles?
Ben: Runs the gamut! We’ve (separately) performed everything from bluegrass to jazz to classical to original funk compositions. Casey and I studied music in college; some of us had musical families…what’s cool is how this music has been a meeting place for the four of us. We all bring something different to the project. We have appreciated the learning curve too; the music is very complex and the songwriting was pure genius. It’s really inspiring. Casey jokes, “Now I know how to effectively use a C# minor chord.”
AWLT: Do you write original material? If you do, do you ever perform it, either with or outside of Doctor Robert?
Kevin: We’ve all written original music and played in bands that performed original compositions, but Doctor Robert is all about The Beatles! Occasionally we’ll hint at another artist’s music at special shows, but for the most part you’ll hear 100% Beatles music at a Doctor Robert show.
AWLT: Where and when do you usually perform?
Casey: Since 2010, we’ve performed over 250 shows at roughly 110 venues throughout Colorado and New Mexico. We try to put together small tours of 2-3 shows on weekends, usually twice every month. This past August we played six shows in nine days, but we typically play about six shows/month. A full Doctor Robert experience usually includes at least two 90-minute sets, and up to 50-60 songs. Though most of our shows have been in Colorado so far, we’re willing to go just about anywhere if the right opportunity presents itself.
AWLT: Tell me about your Kickstarter project to fund a van:
Casey: For just over four years, we’ve been using either Kevin or Ben’s personal vehicle to get us to shows. We’re incredibly lucky to live in the mountains in the small town of Crested Butte, but it means we have to drive long distances any time we leave home. On a typical weekend trip, we might drive 700 miles and cross 2-6 mountain passes that are anywhere from 8,000–12,000 feet high.
This has started to take a toll on our family vehicles, so we decided to give Kickstarter a try to help us fund a band vehicle. We make enough on the road to cover expenses and maintain our gear, but don’t foresee saving enough for a larger purchase like a vehicle.
The overwhelming support and feedback we’ve had in four years of The Doctor Robert project keeps us motivated to travel far and wide. We have met the most amazing people on the road, and have heard so many stories of what this music means to people. We’re hoping we’ve inspired enough fans to help us purchase a safe and reliable vehicle so we can continue our quest to perform Beatles music for everyone.
AWLT: If you get the funding, where do you plan to start touring?
We’re motivated to travel just about anywhere in the world to perform this timeless music, all we need is the right situation to get us there. Since we all have 2-3 other jobs, it’s hard to imagine just picking up and leaving home without a good plan. With any luck, our Kickstarter project will help expose us to a wider audience, and there will be more interest in our live show outside our home state of Colorado. If we get funded to purchase a new band vehicle, we’ll have the means to travel anywhere within reason.
AWLT: How do you feel new musicians (i.e., not the Beatles or those part of the original Beatles story) help keep the Beatles alive so many decades after their breakup, and what do we need to do to keep the fan base growing?
Kevin: It seems like every band and musician out there was influenced by The Beatles in some way. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Tom Petty, Jack White, and Dave Grohl have all openly talked about the impact The Beatles had on their songwriting, not to mention the great Beatles covers they all have done. Many bands play Beatles covers at their own shows, which often gets a bigger reaction from the audience than their original music does. I think the fan base will continue to evolve as long as musicians keep performing the music.
Are you an artist whose art has been influenced by the Beatles? If so, we want to hear your story!