Ramblin' Rhodes: Beatles tribute band to bring show to Waynesboro

Mike Fulop portrays the late Beatle George Harrison in a Beatles tribute band called The Return, but he treasures the memory of former Beatle Paul McCartney noticing him at one of McCartney’s sound checks.


“One day several years ago, I got a call from a friend who told me, ‘I remember you are a huge Beatles fan, and I’m working for Paul McCartney as a light technician, and I can get you into the sound check in Phillips Arena when he plays Atlanta.’

“I thought he was kidding, but it proved to be true,” Fulop continued in a call last week. “I thought there would be at least about 200 people there for the sound check but there were only about six of us other than Paul and his crew.”

Fulop said McCartney ended up rehearsing about seven or eight songs and between them began noticing the people watching him in the near-empty arena.

“He looked at the others and nodded like he knew them, but looked at me with a quizzical facial expression like, ‘Who are you?’ I just shrugged my shoulders, and he smiled and shrugged his shoulders in return and kind of made fun of me. It was just a special moment that I’ll always remember.”

Fulop and his other band mates in The Return will perform their Beatles’ tribute show at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, in the Burke Office Park Auditorium, 715 West 6th St., in Waynesboro, Ga., as part of the Waynesboro-Burke Concert Series.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $5 for students. Students 17 and younger get in free with an adult season ticket holder. Call (706) 437-0070 or visit burkeconcert.org.

The Beatles tribute show comes almost exactly 50 years from when the real Fab Four from Liverpool, England, made their American TV debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964.

Joining Fulop in The Return are Richard Stelling as John Lennon, Shane Landers as McCartney and Adam Thurston as Ringo Starr.

Fulop, who was born in Delaware, is the only one of the foursome not born and reared in Griffin, Ga., which is where The Return continues to be based.

Fulop’s family moved to Griffin when he was 8, and that’s where he came to know Stelling and Landers. They all sang in the school chorus that was led by Stelling’s mother.

Stelling’s family, incidentally, came from Augusta.

“Richard’s grandfather was a good friend with (baseball legend and Augusta resident) Ty Cobb,” Fulop related. “When his grandfather passed away, his family found several Christmas cards from Cobb.”

Fulop’s love of Beatles’ music growing up led him to form a band called The Roaches in 1995 when he was 17.

“We did it just for fun and didn’t expect to play any gigs,” Fulop said.

“We practiced in an old grocery store that was by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It was a nasty old building with no insulation. Our drummer’s joke was that we were so bad even the roaches wouldn’t stick around to hear us play.”

But, as it happened, The Roaches played one show, which led to playing in a bar, which led to playing a fraternity party and then a small theater and then to shows in Florida, South Carolina and Alabama and beyond.

“We began playing nicer events on cruise ships and corporate events,” Fulop said. “We changed from being The Roaches to The Return when we were playing the opening of a restaurant and the management said, ‘Can’t you do anything about the name? We can’t have a band called The Roaches playing our restaurant.”

The band tossed around names like Return to 1964, Return To Beatlemania, Return to the ’60s and finally settled on The Return.

Their performances have taken them to some great places, including the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles got their start and in the Abbey Road Studio in London where the Beatles recorded many of their hits.

“We thought we had pretty much lost our stage jitters in the early 1990s,” Fulop recalled, “but when it came time to actually play in the Abbey Road Studio, I really was shivering.

“I couldn’t swallow and was actually shaking thinking, ‘This is where it really happened.’ I thought it was just me, but all four of us hooked up in a bathroom after the show. It turned out all of us felt the same thing and were all in the same boat with our feelings.”

For more detailed information about the band and its members visit thereturnonline.com.

The next concert in the Waynesboro-Burke Concert Series will be Today, Tomorrow and Forever: A Tribute to Patsy Cline at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 22. The late country music superstar will be portrayed by singer/actress Katie Deal, who is the daughter of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

VISITING ATHENS PERFORMER: Matt Hudgins, who describes himself as a “country folk singer and songwriter, will perform at the Soul Bar on Tuesday night, Feb. 4. You can learn more about this Athens, Ga., resident at hudginscountry.com. He fronted a 10-piece band up until recently. He also sings with the Athens Cowboy Choir.


GOODBYE, JAMES CRAWFORD: Many of you came to know James Crawford through my column about him in July 2013.

The information specialist at the Georgia Visitor Information Center on Interstate 20 at the Savannah River had a fascinating life including being James Brown’s road manager from about 1963 to 1967 when Brown was exploding on the worldwide music scene.

“Every time you would see Mr. Brown in that period, you’d also see me, because I had the briefcase with all the money,” Crawford told me.

“Mr. Brown taught me everything I knew about booking travel arrangements, dealing with the public and handling the money on the road. He ran a really strict ship.”

Crawford also said that he was an opening act singing with Brown’s backup group The Jewels and was the one who introduced JB to his second wife, Deidre (“Dee Dee”) Jenkins, at a show in Baltimore, Md.

Crawford died unexpectedly on Jan. 12 at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. His funeral was held Jan. 18 in Augusta’s Beulah Grove Baptist Church with his burial in Mt. Olive Memorial Garden. Among those present at his funeral were James Brown’s former wife Deidre, his cape man and show emcee Danny Ray and some of his musicians and business associates who had worked with Crawford.

“He had been having liver issues and was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday (Jan. 7),” said Keri Ogletree, manager of the Georgia Visitor Information Center. “He was such a fine man, and we will miss him dearly.”

Crawford moved to Augusta in 2007 to be closer to his oldest sister, Helen Smith. He had grown up in Toccoa, Ga., where he had come to know both Brown and Famous Flames co-founder Bobby Byrd. Crawford even sang lead vocals with Byrd in another group that Byrd had called The Drops of Joy.

Crawford was selling classical music in a record shop in Washington, D.C., when he hooked up with Byrd and Brown at a show and Brown offered him the opportunity to join his touring revue. Brown eventually put Crawford in charge of collecting payment from show promoters and handling other financial and touring arrangements.

“I was there in the lean years before the superstar James Brown came about,” Crawford told me. “He was making about $750 on a regular night and had to pay the band and travel expenses out of that.

“But when (his hit single) Cold Sweat came out, his price literally jumped overnight to $5,000 to $6,000. Then he decided if a promoter could make that kind of money, we should book our own shows, and we did.”

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