The Beatles’ epic influence on stalwart Collective Soul bassist Will Turpin

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“Everything sort of starts and stops with the Beatles.” Melodic ‘90s rock quartet Collective Soul‘s appreciation for the Fab Four is addressed full throttle by bassist Will Turpin in an exclusive chat. Seen here unleashed in glorious Technicolor, drummer Ringo Starr, bassist Paul McCartney, lead guitarist George Harrison, and rhythm guitarist John Lennon circa April 1966 when the double whammy rock collision of “Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain” was being tracked inside Abbey Road Studios. Image Credit: The Roger Viollet Collection

Arguably the most underrated American band of the 1990s, Collective Soul has sold 12.5 million albums starting with Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid and encompassing such mainstream rock nuggets as “Shine,” “December,” “The World I Know,” and “Precious Declaration.” Backwoods Barbie doll impresario Dolly Parton even covered “Shine” in a left field bluegrass arrangement and landed a Grammy.

Will Turpin, founding bassist for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductees, grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Stockbridge nearly obsessed with the Beatles. The musician spent hours dissecting Paul McCartney’s melodic bass playing and John Lennon’s diametrically opposed songwriting technique — nonsensical and confessional lyrics. Decades later Turpin and songwriter-frontman Ed Roland convinced the rest of the band to tackle Lennon’s “Revolution” every night on their Disciplined Breakdown world tour. Incidentally, Roland’s son is named Lennon.

Turpin waited until now to divulge his admiration for the erstwhile lads from Liverpool in an exclusive interview distributed below. Anecdotes you won’t wanna miss include learning the proto-newgrass “I’ve Just Seen a Face” from his recording studio-owning father, his essential Beatle records, whether he’s picked up a Hofner bass, if Lennon and McCartney’s solo output suffered when the band imploded, does Collective Soul think cutting a Beatles tribute album holds merit, and the baroque pop tune that teenage son Tristan absolutely nails.

The Will Turpin / Beatles Interview

Who are some of your musical influences?

I always tell people the Beatles, since I probably listened to them the most in my life, especially Paul McCartney. I’m steeped in the classics — Queen, Led Zeppelin, and Elton John.

As for modern-day guys, Foo Fighters are killing it. I started listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers when people didn’t know what an Uplift Mofo Party Plan [1987] was. They’re still putting out great music. Manchester Orchestra is a pretty good Atlanta, Ga., band that I like.

How did you stumble upon the Beatles?

The first song I learned was “I’ve Just Seen a Face” from Rubber Soul. My dad was a musician in a country rock band in the days of Alabama and Pure Prairie League, and they did a version of the song.

My dad, who was my earliest musical influence, told me about the Beatles and actually saw them live at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium in August 1965. It was their one and only appearance ever in Atlanta. I basically grew up listening to them, Elton John, U2, R.E.M. and INXS.

Which Beatle records do you prefer?

That’s tough because they’re all so good but that period from Rubber Soul [1965] to Magical Mystery Tour [1967] is my favorite. To watch them take that first step from being experimental or ambitious with Rubber Soul and watch them progress on each rung of the ladder to Revolver to Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, and all within a three-year period.

You go from Rubber Soul to Revolver to Sgt. Pepper to Magical Mystery Tour — that’s just an amazing progression. I like The White Album as a whole but there are some tracks I feel were a little too experimental. It’s still a classic. Abbey Road is a masterpiece and probably my favorite album, but that three-year period where they recorded those four records is truly amazing.

There’s so many Beatle songs — “Let It Be”, “Yesterday,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Hey Jude” — you can’t underestimate the greatness of those songs or take them for granted. Those are epic. I’m finding I like a lot of George’s material, too. “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are cool.

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In a clever tip of the cap to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Will Turpin greets dedicated fan Tabatha Brown Gerhardt after a Halloween 2011 solo show in Locust Grove, Georgia. Photography by Allie Elizabeth Gerhardt

Any admiration for their lesser-known, undiscovered gems?

Is there really such a term when it comes to the Beatles? [laughs]. I mean, all of their songs are so well known. It doesn’t matter if the song was a No. 1 hit or not, I think the public knows their entire music catalog equally.

But if you’re asking what are my favorite album tracks that were not singles, I’d have to go with “If I Needed Someone”, “A Day in the Life”, “Dear Prudence”, “The Fool on the Hill” and “For No One”, which my son Tristan sings very well. He just nails that song.

Sounds like you are impacted by Paul McCartney moreso than John Lennon.

I am and that’s probably because we’re both bass players. I am not ashamed to admit I want to play bass like McCartney. We both have the same approach to the bass, and that is, we approach it as an instrument rather than just laying down the track or keeping the rhythm section in line.

When I play the bass, I translate it in my mind as a keyboard, which means it’s more melodic rather than technical. I believe his style is the same approach.

Do you ever play a Hofner bass, the instrument McCartney used on a lot of the early Beatles tunes?

Yes, I have played the Hofner a few times but it felt too light to me, like I was playing the cello or violin. Now, the other bass McCartney uses is a Rickenbacker, which is totally kick ass. I used that on a song called “Understanding” on Collective Soul’s Rabbit [2009], and it sounded great.

But I usually play on a Stingray bass. I’ve also played on a Fender. Each instrument produces a certain sound.

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Paul McCartney, bearded peacenik John Lennon, an uncharacteristically smiling George Harrison, and Ringo Starr of the Beatles experience their penultimate photo session — nicknamed the “Voyage of the Fritz” — as a band on April 9, 1969, at London’s number 4 Ducks Walk where they later boarded a boat on the River Thames. Photography by Bruce McBroom / Apple Corps

As songwriters, do you feel Lennon and McCartney’s solo output suffered any after the break-up of the Beatles?

That’s a tough answer to give because when you look at it, they were both prolific writers and had amazing solo careers. I don’t like comparing or examining one era to another.

Good art is where you are at a certain moment in time in your life and that’s what you try and depict when you lay down the track. So it’s like comparing the Beatles in 1959 to 1969. It’s not a fair comparison because you’re not comparing apples to apples. Same when you compare Beatles with solo Beatles.

As solo artists Lennon and McCartney both got a little quirky at times — Lennon with Some Time in New York City [1972] and McCartney with Wild Life [1971] — but if I’m going to a desert island and had to take one artist, I’m taking the Beatles.

Collective Soul has a very similar approach to melody that the Beatles did. How much of an influence are they are on the entire group?

It’s just mainly Ed Roland and me that are the big Beatles fans in Collective Soul, but we all respect them immensely as artists and musicians. Everything sort of starts and stops with them. You can’t top the Beatles. All art forms mimic each other in one way or another but the Beatles are the start of the rock era.

Any chance Collective Soul might record a tribute album to the Beatles one day?

Collective Soul actually performed “Revolution” every night on the “Disciplined Breakdown” tour in 1997. We broke out an impromptu version of “Yellow Submarine” once in Naperville, Illinois, in 2005, and an acoustic, mandolin-led cover of “I’ve Just Seen a Face” with singer-songwriter Zachary Scot Johnson occurred in January 2017. I sang lead on the latter, too.

As to recording a full tribute album, that’s very doubtful but it’s not a bad idea. We’d just have to decide if we wanted to spend the time to do it. Personally, I’d love to do it because I cover them all the time [Author’s Note: Before leaving, consider checking out part two of the story, entitled “Collective Soul’s Will Turpin Lays Bare Admiration for John Lennon”].

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Bassist Will Turpin and rhythm guitarist Dean Roland let the good times roll during a Collective Soul concert, possibly in Canada, September 2010. Photography by Eileen Anderson
Hear the Beatles featuring John Lennon deliver the uplifting “Dear Prudence,” tracked in August 1968 for “The White Album.” That’s Paul McCartney on drums and Lennon supplying the hypnotic finger-picking acoustic chords gleaned from Donovan. Music Credit: Apple Corps; Video Credit: YouTube user Shadul

© Jeremy Roberts and Marshall Terrill, 2011, 2017. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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