By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Learning to play and sound like Ringo Starr is a "much more difficult" process than Beatles tribute performer Axel Clarke ever thought.
Clarke is the longest-tenured cast member of In My Life — A Musical Theatre Tribute to the Beatles, coming to Amarillo for a 7:30 p.m. Saturday performance in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Buchanan St. Tickets are $30 to $55, plus fees.
In his seven years with the show, Clarke has learned that Starr — often the most-overlooked, occasionally most teased member of the Fab Four — has hidden depths.
His playing style "is very, very unique to him — in a good way," Clarke said. "It's not the kind of thing that you can go at halfway. Either you fully embrace the way he plays, or it doesn't sound or look right."
That's the result, at least in part, of Starr's place in history, Clarke said.
"He was at a point where music was moving into a more modern version of rock," Clarke said. "His style and approach to rock was very much a ... link to where music as in the '50s and where it would go in the '60s and '70s."
Starr is overdue for respect, music critic Greg Kot argued in 2013.
"Starr gave each song exactly what it needed, but he didn’t call attention to himself while doing it," Kot wrote. "The only thing flash about Ringo were the rings on his fingers, which inspired his nickname, and the mega-watt grin he wore on stage."
Since he began channeling Starr seven years ago, Clarke has realized what an effect the Beatles drummer had on his own playing.
"I've found a couple of things I didn't realize ... were drawn directly from Ringo — certain patterns, certain ways to approach things," Clarke said. "I just learned them by osmosis."
That's because Clarke's father, a part-time musician himself, was a "huge Beatles fan."
"He was more into the earlier stuff, pre-Revolver," Clarke said. "When I got older, I discovered Sgt. Pepper, the White Album, and got my eyes open."
Now, Clarke relives the entirety of Starr's career with the Beatles in In My Life.
"We go chronologically through the Beatles' career, starting in the Cavern Club in London and traveling through ... the pivotal moments of the Beatles' career," Clarke said. " From the first singles in Abbey Road to the Shea Stadium concert to the fighting period towards the end."
The show is told through the eyes of the Beatles' longtime manager, Brian Epstein, and is "probably 70 percent music," Clarke said.
Clarke, a part-time high school music teacher in California, didn't plan to find a career emulating an icon.
"The pragmatic, cynical viewpoint is that we make more money doing this than in any gig we've ever done," Clarke said. "But actually, we love the Beatles. Everyone does.
"Once you get into it, it becomes very much like acting. ... You put yourself out of it so much, but you still know that some ofyou is going to come through," he said. "You find connections between you and your character and their playing style — which is a lot of fun."
So why have the Beatles — whose career launched more than 50 years ago and lasted, as a band, only 10 years — remained so popular?
"I hate to be so blunt," Clarke said, "but they were just so damn good. You can do all kinds of deep and metaphysical discussion about it, but they were just good.
"They're going to be around as long as any great artist we remember," he continued. "Three hundred, 400 years from now, people will be talking about them and playing Beatles music."