Beatles scholar... "You have to do more than just study the notes. I've been through every one of those Beatles songbooks, and they're full of errors," says Darin Murphy, who's best known locally for his years as half of the popular collegiate pop duo Trish and Darin. "To get it just right, you have to look at the live footage -- how they strum the chords, where their hands are on the necks of the guitars...."
Suffice it to say, Murphy is a Fab Four fanatic -- no, strike that, he's a Fab Four freak, which, of course, makes him the harshest critic of any Beatles cover outfit, living or dead. "I certainly wouldn't want me in the audience at any Beatles tribute," he chuckles in a mildly sinister tone.
And that would include Pop Goes the Beatles, Murphy's own frighteningly meticulous troupe of Fab Four sound-alikes, which performs at Rockefeller's Halloween night. If the quintet's last show at Rock's is any gauge, expect the sort of painstaking accuracy reserved for only the most unbalanced Lennon/McCartney devotees. You may be familiar with the species: They're the sort who would invest in a laser disc player just so they could own the entire Beatles Anthology in all its digital glory; the type who have been known to drift off to sleep nightly humming the chorus to "I'm So Tired" and would stop just short of major plastic surgery to emulate their favorite Beatle.
As it happens, Murphy's cast would have to endure some serious procedures under the knife to come even close to resembling their counterparts -- with the exception of Murphy himself, that is, who with the right glasses does a passable John Lennon. Still, even a hard squint can't disguise the fact that drummer Conrad Choucroun's schnoz is way too small -- and his Afro way too large -- to do Ringo's likeness any justice. But that hardly matters when the longtime Banana Blender Surprise stick man ambles amicably into his version of "With a Little Help from My Friends." Not only does he have the licks down, but in simply being himself Choucroun captures Starr's ingratiating "what, me worry?" persona perfectly.
The same pretty much goes for the rest of the band, which includes bassist Jamie Ashby and guitarist Steve Wilson (both veterans of the Richmond Strip club wars) and keyboardist Mike Rosenbaum, whose small bag of sampled and prerecorded tricks enhances the more experimental Beatles numbers of the middle and late 1960s. Let's just say Ashby and Wilson will never be mistaken for McCartney and Harrison in the street, and it goes without saying that integral fifth link Rosenbaum is no, um, Billy Preston. But looks don't mean squat if you don't have the juice. And aside from knowing their subjects inside and out, Murphy and company have the energy, the enthusiasm and -- perhaps most crucial -- the youth often lacking in the (slightly) more cosmetically elaborate, potbellied "Beatlemania" tributes crisscrossing the country.
"We like to keep an emphasis on the early stuff. It's the most fun to do and it's the most rockin'," says Murphy. "We'll be doing a lot of the more obscure early B-sides, as well as songs from the Cavern Club like 'Kansas City' and 'Some Other Guy.' There's also a lot of Revolver stuff in the set -- there's just such an edge to it."
The son of an aspiring singer/songwriter, Murphy claims to have been a Beatles fan almost from the womb. "I was born the year the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show," he says. "Some things really affect you to the bone, and other things don't. [The Beatles] compelled me to sit there right at the edge of the [stereo] speaker -- [I wanted to] actually crawl into the speaker. I sat there picking [the music] apart, piece by piece."
As he got older and more skilled on drums and guitar, Murphy found himself acting on his Beatles infatuation more and more, perfecting his reedy, Lennonesque vocals and concocting demos of vintage Fab Four cuts in his spare time. In fact, his versions were often so true to the originals that intense study was often required to tell the difference between them.
"Of course, I could never pretend to be John Lennon," says Murphy. "He was such a multifaceted individual, and he had more balls than I think I'll ever have."
Since moving to Austin from his hometown of Houston a few years back, Murphy has found a surprising number of like-minded addicts to help inch his Beatlesque passions toward something more closely resembling an original vision. He's already made admirable attempts at finding his own voice with the short-lived trio Grover Dill, and a new project, simply called Darin, ought to further those experiments -- experiments in which he depends on his own, not others', songwriting.
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Murphy has also done some work behind the scenes with confessed Beatles bum Robert Harrison, whose critically heralded Austin group Cotton Mather recently came out of semiretirement to deliver Kontiki -- its most sonically ambitious effort yet -- on Houston's Copper Records. When needed, Murphy contributed drums and inspiration to Kontiki, which gurgles and swoons with cut-and-paste ingenuity, remarkable hooksmanship and Harrison's striking nasal croon (which is so close to Lennon's at times that it's downright eerie).
"Robert would call and say, 'Hey, why don't you just come down and bring your drums and your vibe?' " recalls Murphy. "There's a lot of really cool energy there. It's derivative -- you can't argue with that. But as far as derivative goes, Cotton Mather succeeds where Oasis fails."
Well, I couldn't have said it any better myself.
-- Hobart Rowland