The Beatles’ musical influence has been
felt far and wide by many a musician. For Glen Burtnik, however,
the mop-top magic has figured more prominently than for
most: Since Burtnik landed his first big gig—portraying Paul
McCartney in the Broadway musical Beatlemania, in 1978—his
Fab forays have included Beatlefest appearances, an annual “Beatles
Bash,” and note-perfect theatrical performances of 1967’s
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and 1968’s “White Album.”
His band, the Weeklings, have released an eponymous debut
album that offers up a half-dozen unreleased Beatles tunes and
as many sound-alike originals, all supported by Burtnik’s custom
Hofner bass and sweetened with vintage gear and mono mixes.
Of course, it’s been more than Macca-mania for the New
Jersey native in a career that began over four decades ago. Originally
a drummer, Burtnik got into solo recording early on. “I was
a singing, songwriting guitarist,” he explains. “My home demos
needed bottom, so I picked up the electric bass.” He followed his
inner prog pointer, stepping up his low-end game with inspiration
from Yes’ Chris Squire and lending lead vocals to former
Mahavishnu keyboardist Jan Hammer. After a brief solo record
deal with A&M, Burtnik was invited by Dennis DeYoung to join
Styx as Tommy Shaw’s guitar replacement. His initial tenure
was short-lived, but after racking up credits with Celine Dion,
John Waite, Marshall Crenshaw, and others—and writing chart-toppers
for Patty Smyth, Don Henley, and Randy Travis—Burtnik
returned to Styx, this time on bass, in 1999. Now, with the Weeklings,
Burtnik is back to where he once belonged, albeit a bit grayer.
How did you come up with the McCartney-style bass parts
on the Weeklings album?
I was just playing the songs the way I heard them. In one
song, I do recall going for a little Colin Moulding of XTC, not
McCartney! So I guess I just followed my instincts. The Beatles
assignment was in the songwriting approach, and the material
dictated the bass parts.
How did the album come about?
The whole thing was kind of an accident. Before the band
even had a name, we had occasional gigs and noticed how much
fun it was playing this music together. By the time we agreed on
a band name, someone suggested making a little extra scratch
by selling merch at shows. I thought recording a CD of Beatles
songs was an awful idea, but it evolved into recording lesser-known
chestnuts instead of well-known covers, and writing a
few of our own. What began as a homegrown little merch CD
has become something they’re playing on Sirius XM.
How did you record your bass?
I played a 1978 Hofner into a late-’60s Vox AC-100 head and
a Vox T-60 cabinet. I’m pretty sure it was a large-diaphragm Neumann
microphone picking it up, the signal flowing into an old
tube mic pre of some sort. When I suggested we employ an old
Altec limiter, our engineer, Erik Romero, pointed out that EMI
Studios didn’t start using those until 1965 or ’66. We were on
a mission: It was time-travel for us, and everyone involved in
the recording was committed to period accuracy.
We decided to record the album quickly—live, with little
fixing, few overdubs, and minor editing, the way records used
to be made. There was some fear and exhilaration involved.
Being left-handed, you flipped a righty bass over
and learned to play upside down, with the low string on
bottom. Perhaps the rest of us have it wrong?
I often say it’s the way God intended man to play bass. I recognize
there are advantages to playing like everyone else, but
I don’t see the need to play in an “orthodox” style, particularly
within the confines of rock, pop, R&B, country, and folk
music. Slapping and popping was simply not the way you were
“supposed to” play the instrument until Larry Graham came
along and invented it. Who’s to say what’s the “right” way to
play? For me, playing backwards and upside-down doesn’t seem
like much of an issue. Short answer: Jimmy Haslip and I have
it left, the rest of you all have it wrong.