Jerry Dawson isn’t human.
Standing in the spotlight inches from the edge of the stage, Dawson kicked the solo into overdrive.
“That’s not how it is sounds on the record.” I thought to myself. “This is…explosive.”
Falling into a fury of notes, Dawson pushed his guitar and the audience over the edge. This wasn’t Pink Floyd anymore, this was the White Tie Rock Ensemble.
It was supposed to be a re-creation of a rock classic, but this encore performance became much more. From their final preparations before showtime, to the last (and surprise) encore of Mark Ellis leading the group through Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, the cast of local musicians and students rocked the Pensacola Little Theatre.
One week before the White Tie Ensemble’s encore performance of Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, I interviewed Jonathan Clark for the weekly Music Matters column of the Pensacola News Journal.
“Why attempt the performance again?” I wondered. It would be difficult nearly impossible to match the group’s first performance. There were so many questions to be asked and Clark was willing to answer them all.
There was only one caveat for my column in the PNJ; keep the surprise ending a secret.
Here is a link to my Pensacola News Journal Music Matters column “White Tie Rock Ensemble revisits “The Dark Side”.
The full interview with Jonathan Clark follows below.
JONATHAN CLARK INTERVIEW
MS: The first White Tie Rock Ensemble was amazing, how do you plan on topping the previous Pink Floyd performance with the encore performance?
JC: We all felt that it actually went much better than any of us had hoped and we just sat down and made a list of things that we could have done better. One was the video; the actual projector was locked in a position and we did not have the tool to get it fixed and that now has been fixed. So the video will play a much larger part this time. Some people missed what was going on, because some people said, “I looked up halfway through and was like ‘Oh! Wizard of Oz was on.’ We want it to be more of a focal point to be part of the show. The lights are going to be set up so that the video can be more of a focal point. We’re going to bring the orchestra closer in and use some risers to get the band sort of on the backline and have the orchestra more of another focal point when we’re there to have the orchestra a little more present in what we’re doing. It is a lot of work, I’ll tell you that much. It’s a little easier the second time around here.
We’ve been going through rehearsals, we’ve got a new singer, Jocelyn moved to Philadelphia. We have Charlyne Kilpatrick singing with us this time. She’s an old-school Pensacola rockstar in her genre. My father and she played together way back in the 70’s and 80’s. That should bring some more experience to what we’re doing here and some more soul.
We had some sound issues that we plan to take care of. We’ve got a new sound system that we’re going to use also, so we’ve got new towers on both sides. There’s a VIP section, where we’re going to rope that off and have it where you have to have the VIP tickets to get in there and I think I’m going to put a couple of “Hammer” bouncers at the front of that, rag on the people as they walk by and yell at them to sit down. We want to get some more of the theatre aspect involved.
MS: The first time, what was going through your mind on that stage in May?
JC: I told one of my students today-I teach 10 years olds how to play violin-one of my students asked if I got nervous when I play anymore and I said, “Truthfully, I’m very nervous until the downbeat.” And I said, “Once the show starts, my mind just goes into performance mode; it’s just always the way that I’ve done it. The jitters keep me focused, but once we start, a lot of it, you could say, moves very slowly, almost slow motion. But at the same time, it’s over before you know it and you can’t remember what happened. (laughs)
In my life, I’ve been with my wife for 21 years (and) more often than not, I come off and I say, “How was it?” That’ the best I can get. I know she’s going to be honest with me. Or my dad, my dad was in the audience, so you know, I can go up to somebody and ask. Really, a lot of it is the equivalent of me jumping out of an airplane and hoping everything works on the way down. I was lucky enough that we had a fantastic crew. It’s all the same guys coming back to work the crew stuff. And when you put people in place, in positions that you know they can succeed in, then you don’t really have to worry about a lot of stuff. I told one of the guys that was back, Dana Daniels, “You know, those guys have been doing it for so long that, I need somebody to where, if a fire breaks out, normally everybody runs the opposite direction. I need guys that run toward it. And Dana’s that type of guy. I don’t have to really worry about things going wrong and that type of stuff.
What was going through my mind? “Be as defected as Roger Waters sounds on the CD.” (laughs) Try to sound as something really bad has happened in your life. Which if anybody knows me, I probably have the easiest life in the world, so it’s kind of hard for me to dig up that stuff you know, you’ve got to play the part.
MS: I know that the last time we talked, you mentioned doing other albums. What made you decide to do an encore as opposed to doing another album?
JC: We had so many people afterwards, like apparently I was inside all day setting up gear, apparently there was a big storm that came through while we were playing. We had some people, even some kids in the back, playing in the orchestra that said they were getting dripped on. So it was bad enough to be coming through the ceiling of the Little Theatre. They were getting mists and all that kind of stuff in the back. But we had so many people that didn’t come and immediately afterward, “We missed this.”, “We want to come to this.”, “When are you going to do it again?” That was the biggest question I had. “When are you going to do it again?” So we thought about trying to get a different venue and do it pretty quickly, like say June or July, but it was very difficult to find a place that would be open that short of a notice, so I got this thing, my ECHO orchestra, Emerald Coast Honors Orchestra starts rehearsals back in September, so it just worked out well that we can use this as one of our concerts at the end of September. The band knows it.
The first one felt so much just like, not an experiment. That’s the best word I could come up with. Can we do this? Will it work? Will it be successful? We went into this and it came off so well, to where I think now, we kind of feel like that was preseason and now the season’s starting. We all wanted one more shot at it and the next one is going to be a different album.
We’re going to do Led Zeppelin IV, which, I don’t know if you want to put it out there yet because we’re going to do “Kashmir” as the encore-encore. We’re going to take our armbands off and say, “February, Led Zeppelin IV, here’s a taste of it.” I don’t want people to know that beforehand. We’re going to try to do that in February.
MS: Which one is more pressure to you; the first time or the second.
JC: I was just talking to somebody right before I called you…the first time, it was like waterskiing. You’re being pulled behind this boat and it’s going very fast. You have to really think and concentrate. This time, it’s more like we’re driving the boat. So you have a little less of that adrenaline, that total rush of excitement and that kind of stuff. We’re more in control. With this show, it will be more steady.
We’ve added two songs. We’ve added “Is There Anybody Out There” which has a beautiful acoustic guitar solo and a violin that plays. And we incorporate that with the orchestra and we’re also adding “Nobody Home” which is a huge staple from “The Wall”.
Down the road, we’re planning on doing “The Wall”, so we’re sort of preparing ourselves now by getting-I think I did the math the other day- We’re about 40% of this side of “The Wall”. We’ve learned enough about that now where we can put that together, and it repeats itself a little bit. That’s on the horizon, but I’m trying to get my friend Billy to figure out how we can build a wall on that stage. Roger Waters is out there doing it right now with a ten million dollar production. We’re certainly up against somebody that’s had a little more funding than we do, but it’s still fun and it’s just exciting trying to do this on a local scale.
MS: As far as supporting the White Tie Rock Ensemble, what can readers and fans do, aside from buying tickets to support your organization?
JC: We would love to get to the point where-what would be fantastic would be to do a Friday and a Saturday night at these things. We’ve got a pretty good Facebook page up and people come on there and send messages and stuff. A lot like that, we still have to figure out how we can market the whole Album Preservation Society thing. If we can turn this into a four or five concerts a year event, then we can do these different albums because you can do Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin IV, like I said, I want to do The Police. You could do “The Wall”, “The Darkside of the Moon.”
The other day, I said, “What Pink Floyd songs would you like to hear?” on the Facebook page and people came back with all kinds of great suggestions. We could put up a poll and say, “What album do you really want to hear?” We were probably 80 seats away from a sell-out last time, and that was just fantastic, so I really hope everything works well this time. The Seafood Fest is going on that weekend, but I think a lot of people will go to the Seafood Fest and then come over to see a show, so it works out pretty well that way.
MS: This is my last question for you, Jonathan; is there anything else you would like the readers to know?
JC: Probably the number one thing-I’ve been in coverbands nearly all my life, I’ve also played in original bands with WAVE and all that kind of stuff-before we started doing this, I always thought how difficult it was to come up with quality, original music and that a lot of times it was easier to pick out these other tunes, but when you start really looking at recreating an album and doing all the little things that are in that, the nuances and the tones even-I got to have a bass this time, Michael, the black bass with the maple neck just like Roger Waters plays. In trying to find all the tones and all these sound effects that we had to locate for Pink Floyd, that was one thing, I looked up other bands that do tributes to Pink Floyd and a lot of them leave out these sound effects and that was the number one thing I wanted to do.
I went back and found some of the original interviews that Roger Waters did on “The Dark Side of the Moon” where he took the vocals from and used it, where the guys would say, “I’ve been mad for years.” or those types of things. I found entire interviews and I’d have to find where he said that, cut it out and put it in, because there was no music behind it.
The scope of what Jerry’s done to learn all the guitar parts and Joel’s learned all the keyboards and even the inflection that Mark Ellis has to use to sound like David Gilmour and we discussed “Well, are we going to sound like a 1971 David Gilmour or are we doing the 1994 David Gilmour?” and the differences between that kind of stuff. I would hope that that is what is appreciated. And when we did the first one, I’d have to say that it was, because when the kids did their part when we did “They Don’t Need No Education” or the sound effects that happened here or there, you heard the crowd response and that’s when you go, “Ok, these people know this album as well as I do. And you asked me earlier, “What can people do to support what we do?”… listen to these albums and come and put us up to that threshold of what you know in your head and see how well we do. And that’s when somebody really knows their stuff and says, “Man, I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd for 30 years and you guys nailed it.” That’s what really makes it worth the time that we put into it.
-Michael L. Smith