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'It just kept going'
Founder of Beatles tribute band recalls more than 3 decades of playing the Fab Four's music

 

 


   
By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut 

March 27, 2014

   
       

WAUKESHA - Clothed and coiffed like the Beatles, The Britins originated in Milwaukee in 1977 and became nationally known as a tribute band. They’re still entertaining, albeit with just one original member, Rick Bertoni of Sussex. Bertoni, 61, a husband, father, grandfather and owner of the landscaping concern Bertoni Enterprises, talked by telephone with TimeOut as he and his bandmates Jeff Gish, Mike Shumway and fellow Sussex citizen Mike Truttschel prepared to be showcased at the 11th annual WRIT Beatle Bash at the Waukesha Expo Center on Friday.

“No, no,” Bertoni insisted when asked if he’d had so much as an inkling at the outset that the group he founded would exist for more than 35 years. “All we were doing is playing the music we like,” he said. “It just kept going.”

Bertoni himself intends to keep going “as long as I’m still having fun and there’s some income to be made by it,” he said. “When it’s time to quit, I’ll know.”

TIMEOUT: What should one expect at a concert featuring The Britins? What do audience members commonly tell you?

RICK BERTONI: Well, they can look at what the Beatles might’ve brought to the stage, actually see what it might’ve been like to have been to a Beatles concert. We try harder than I think even the Beatles did to duplicate the sound of the record; we’re trying to do note for note. I guess what we try to do is make the song as close as we can to the original (and also to replicate the Fab Four in) the dress, including Sgt. Pepper suits, and the guitars. The authenticity of trying to get it right is what people appreciate.

A lot of (fans say) that, if they close their eyes (as The Britins perform), they feel they’re listening to the Beatles, which is really an honor to us. Nobody can be as good as the Beatles.You can never replace an original.

TIMEOUT: What do you sing for your audiences these days? And how often do you perform?

BERTONI: We do about 140 songs right now; we try to learn at least a few new songs every year. It’s only Beatles songs - they have to have played (the song) and put it on (an) album. No post-Beatles songs, no Paul McCartney with Wings. We used to play 250 to 260 dates a year, (and) now we play 40 to 50. They’re all over (geographically, but) it’s been a real pleasure playing in Milwaukee.

TIMEOUT: What are a few of your band’s more unusual venues and who are some of the celebrities with whom you’ve shared a stage?

BERTONI: We did a TV 6 special on the order of (the Beatles movie) “A Hard Day’s Night.” We used to travel to Mexico and do tours. One place, we did a 75-minute show for 5,000 people. When those people cleared out, another 5,000 came in and we did another 75-minute show. They spoke Spanish but they sang along in English and knew every word. We performed at the (Hotel) Pfister Crown Room. That was a really prestigious kind of atmosphere for young guys starting out. We played with Dolly Parton at the Pabst Theater; she was as nice as they get. The Turtles - we backed them up a couple of times. Ricky Nelson - we played up in Waupaca with him. The Britins have played with Herman’s Hermits, the Grass Roots (and) the Who.

TIMEOUT: Haven’t you guys cut records, as well?

BERTONI: Actually, only one original record, a song called “She Knows.” It did really well. It sold quite a few thousand copies.

TIMEOUT: It would probably be impossible for you to single out a favorite Beatles song, but ...

BERTONI: I can narrow it down to one: “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The iconic impact it had on my life! Two weeks (after seeing the Beatles sing it on TV) I was taking guitar lessons and combing my hair down. “This Boy” is one of my all-time favorite songs, also. I thank the Beatles for enriching our lives with all the music. That music is lasting. It’s still a joy just to get on stage and play that music so loved by so many.”

What: WRIT Beatle Bash

When: Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday

Where: Waukesha County Expo Center, 1000 Northview Road

Cost: Advanced general admission tickets are $15. Tickets are $20 at the door, cash only.

Website: www.milwaukeeoldies.com