A few weeks back I wrote a review of Brian Hebert's new book Blue Notes and Sad Chords: Color Coded Harmony in The Beatles 27 Number 1 Hits.
Shortly thereafter I asked Brian if he'd be interested in a brief interview to help promote the book. That conversation is below.
Aaron: Hi Brian! Thanks for taking the time to discuss your new book!
Brian: Thanks Aaron for the opportunity to answer questions about the book.
Is this your first book?
It’s actually my second book, the first one is a technical book about Data Profiling, but that’s neither here no there for this chat.
You're a first-generation fan, who grew up listening to Beatles music. Do you have a particular memory or pivotal moment from your formative years that The Beatles helped articulate?
Yes, I have dozens of memories about the Beatles and the time period. The first is of course Ed Sullivan’s show, but after that, I’d have to say seeing A Hard Day’s Night at a local drive-in, hearing their first US album Introducing the Beatles, learning the riff to I Feel Fine on my canary yellow Epiphone Cornet - my first electric guitar - and many other memories that are described in the book.
What's your musical background? I understand you're a performing musician, as well as an analytic one and an author? You're also an expert on Celtic music. How does that expertise inform or influence your understanding of The Beatles? Is there any cross-over between those styles?
I’ve played the guitar since I was 8 years old, so that’s quite a while ago. I’ve also played lots of other instruments and musical styles, blues guitar and harmonica, Appalachian fiddle and clawhammer banjo, classical guitar, keyboards - obsessions with Couperin and Satie - Strumstick, and a whole lot of Irish Session tunes, on fiddle, bouzouki, and tenor banjo, and most recently, acoustic and electric tenor guitar, with arrangements for cello thrown in. And I’ve learned the chords to many a Beatle song, so it’s all mixed in together, and many years of playing music does really help you appreciate how very special the Beatles were. One thing I enjoy doing that brings it all together is arranging what I call ‘morphs’, which are instrumental renditions of Beatles and other rock/pop music, in a Celtic or Americana style, and often with changes in time signature. I’ve put a few CDs of these types of things out over the past 10 years.
What did you find most surprising/enlightening/rewarding as you worked on this book?
I was always so taken with the Beatles’ vocal harmonies – I think combined with their special energy it’s such a defining characteristic of their music – so the book started as totally focused on that, but after a few years, the whole idea of Blue Notes and Sad Chords, the mixing of genres within the same song, and particularly bluesy rock n roll with emotional pop, really became so much clearer. It was always something you’re sort of aware of in the background, but after detailed study, it really stands out. You can hear this style mixing very definitely in early hits like 'Can’t Buy Me Love', 'A Hard Day’s Night', and 'I Feel Fine'. And then it just feels so good to feel like you’ve answered such a basic question – namely What makes the Beatles’ music so incredibly popular and lasting? This contrast between parts of the same song has also been pointed out by Beatles musicologists like O’Grady, but maybe not given a specific name, as I’ve done in the book.
You told me music is your hobby and passion, but not your profession. What's your day job? How does that professional experience inform your musical experiences?
I’m a computer programmer, databases and GIS (computer mapping), by day, with lots of visualization thrown in. It involves a lot of abstract thinking that doesn’t map perfectly to the world of music, but I’m sure I’m influenced by some of those things, in both directions.
It’s also why I really tried to balance the highly simplified color-coded music theory in the book with lots of nostalgic, memory-laden passages – like what else was charting at the time, and my Proustian boyhood memories of being a young guitar player, or for example, recalling my boyhood idol, a rhythm guitar player for a great local band, who had this incredibly beautiful yellow-to-red sunburst Rickenbacker guitar, and lots of things like that.
This book just came out a few months ago. What's next for you? Any more books under construction?
I’m working on a late 60’s coming of age novel – it will be far less filtered then my reminiscing in the Beatles book, but similar in tone, except in third person – with plenty of sex, drugs, and rock n roll – it certainly won’t be allowed on high school reading lists - lots of song descriptions of the Beatles’ music, but also lots of other artists, and it will have many more pages, to describe growing up in those crazy times. I went to high school in a college town, Northampton, Mass., and there was a lot going on in the 1968-70 time period. That book won’t be done for a couple more years. I’ll keep the title under wraps for the time being.
Where can people buy the book?
It’s up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and quite a few other websites.
Great! I hope the book goes platinum!
Thanks again Aaron and hats off to you for all your great work.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.