A Harmonious Blend: Accomplished trio that mixes the Beatles with bluegrass to play free concert Thursday

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Sept. 2, 2007 - If you've ever wondered what the Beatles would've sounded like if John Lennon had mastered the mandolin or Paul McCartney had played the stand-up bass instead of the electric version, Dave Wasler might be a good person to ask.

Beatlegras, made up of (clockwise from top left) George Anderson, Milo Deering and Dave Wasler, will perform Thursday at a free concert downtown.

Wasler is accustomed to answering questions about his musical choices. Wasler, an acoustic guitarist, is the spokesman for Beatlegras, the Dallas-based trio who are headlining a free concert on the downtown square Thursday, Sept. 6, and he takes all inquiries in stride.

�I'm used to the question,� Wasler said when asked how they blend the best of bluegrass music with the tunes of John, Paul, George and Ringo. �When I was in the second grade, I started playing the guitar and fell in love with the theme song from the Beverly Hillbillies. I thought it was the greatest sound I'd ever heard. Then, I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and thought, 'Oh, my gosh! That is the best sound I've ever heard.' I always wanted to combine the two styles.�

While Wasler loved the Beatles, he spent most of his formative years playing the bluegrass music of Lester  Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The opportunity to realize his dream of blending bluegrass and the Beatles finally presented itself about three years ago. 

�Milo Deering and George Anderson were in my recording studio working on another project,� Wasler said in a telephone interview recently. �Milo plays anything with strings, and George is one of the finest bass players around. I thought they would be the perfect guys.�

Deering was a natural for the group. His ability to play anything with strings has made him a studio musician who is much in demand. He has toured with Lee Ann Rimes and he penned the familiar Motel 6 theme music, “We'll Leave a Light on for You.”

Originally from Little Rock, Ark., Deering's mother taught him to play the ukulele and guitar when he was 8. He, too, was influenced by Flatt and Scruggs, mastering the mandolin, pedal steel guitar and fiddle. He studied music at Southern Methodist University and taught private music lessons for 15 years.

Deering has performed with Jack Ingram and Slim Whitman and has appeared on “The Tonight Show,” The Today Show,” the Grammy awards, “David Letterman,” and “The View.” 

Anderson, however, was tougher sell, being more comfortable playing jazz or performing with the Fort Worth Symphony. 

�When I asked him to play with us, George looked at me like, 'Do I look like a bluegrass bass player?'� Wasler remembered.�

Anderson, who graduated from Grand Prairie High School, studied music at the University of North Texas, playing the upright bass in the world-famous UNT One O'Clock Lab Band. He began his professional career as the bassist with the famed Woody Herman Big Band and has played with Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Marvin Hamlisch, Chuck Berry, Joe Williams, The Coasters, Brook Benton, The Fifth Dimension and Doc Severensen. His 2003 CD “Faces” was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Jazz category. 

Even though Anderson had an extensive musical background, he had never played bluegrass and didn't even know one Beatles song. Perfect, Wasler told him.

"I wanted us to bring our own fresh ideas to the project,” Wasler said. 

Wasler admits to telling a small fib to Deering and Anderson to secure their participation.

�I told both of them that the other was going to do it,� Wasler said.�

The rest, as they say, is history. The group has cut two CDs and is now in the studio working on a new release. Last Christmas, they served as the orchestra for “Turtles and Tuna,” the holiday show mounted at Dallas' Majestic Theater by the Turtle Creek Chorale and the Greater Tuna guys.

�We had a blast,� Wasler said of the "Turtles and Tuna" experience. �It was a great experience for us.�

Deering agrees that the three enjoy what they do. 

�We are all long-time friends and we really enjoy having the opportunity to share our music,� Deering said.�

Joey Baker, tourism director for the city of Sulphur Springs, is responsible for getting Beatlegras to the square. Baker, who has managed events for many of the top names in the music industry, from Willie Nelson to Garth Brooks and others, saw the group during the State Fair of Texas and persuaded them to play here before the Fall Festival.

�These are three of the best musicians in the Dallas area,� Baker said. �When I first heard the concept (of the band), I was skeptical. But, when I heard them play, I was awestruck. They have monster talents. We're lucky to have them here.�

Rita Edwards, president of the Downtown Business Alliance, which is helping sponsore the concert, echoes Baker's enthusiasm.

�We are really excited about Beatlegras coming to town. We thought their unique sound would be a great way to kick off the Fall Festival,� Edwards said.� �The Blue Fountain Caf�, Judy's Kitchen and Plan 'n' Fancy are staying open for dinner. Several of the downtown stores will be open, too.�

Edwards said the business alliance will also have a concession stand, selling cotton candy, cookies and cold drinks for the audience to snack on during the show.

On Saturday, the business alliance will have a market on the square.

�We're going to have a market from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m, with street vendors.� Edwards said.� �The merchants will also be open, and we'll have concessions again, too.�

Vendors can call Becky Flippin at 903-885-3633 for more information. 

Beatlegras will perform on the courthouse square in Sulphur Springs, Thursday, Sept.  6, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Come downtown early, have dinner and bring your lawn chairs over to the stage and enjoy an evening of exceptional entertainment.

Samples of Beatlegras music can be found on their website:

www.beatlegras.com

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