Glen Burtnik: Channeling McCartney with the Weeklings

June 17, 2015

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.

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