MEET…AND GREET…THE WEEKLINGS

L-R: John “Rocky Weekling” Merjave, Glen “Lefty Weekling” Burtnik, Joe “Smokestack Weekling” Bellio and Bob “Zeek Weekling” Burger ARE The Weeklings, kicking off a Summer of (Labors of) Love with a Friday night show at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club.

Expanded from an article published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, May 17 2018

To dispense with the walrus in the room, right from the get-go: The Weeklings are nobody’s “Beatlemania” act. Their brand has nothing to do with brushing/ pressing/ shining their wigs and suits and boots — and everything to do with channeling the musically adventurous spirit of the original Fab Four. Their sonic signature isn’t so much a “greatest hits” gurgitation, but an exploration of the intriguing “inner groove” between the best-known works of Lennon and McCartney. And their canvas isn’t the county fair circuit, but the bigger wider world that extends from the premier clubs of Asbury Park, to the biggest international fan fests, symphony stages, and even the sacred soundboards of the one and only Abbey Road Studios.

Besides, when it comes to Beatle-booted bona fides, the Weeklings’ co-frontman Glen Burtnik has been there first, and done that finest; having played countless performances as Paul McCartney in the original Broadway production of Beatlemania. It’s a credit that the gold record recipient singer-songwriter-guitarist, who performs under the stage name Lefty Weekling, might be able to hold over his bandmate Bob (“Zeek Weekling”) Burger — were it not for the fact that attorney-by-day Bob can boast of having shared the stage with Sir Paul himself (as well as Jon Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters) during a very memorable impromptu concert in 2007.

Having collaborated in years past on various tribute projects — and on several original songs that Burtnik brought to his two tenures in the platinum-plated classic rock band Styx — the two members in good standing of the Shore music scene entered into an official musical marriage in 2015; the same year that Glen married Christina Shafer on the stage of Asbury’s Paramount Theater in the middle of a marathon “Love Concert” benefit show (the newly minted spouses reportedly “walked the boardwalk in their suit and gown, and got boardwalk food” following the very public ceremony).

Completing their fab foursome with the addition of rhythm section aces John “Rocky Weekling” Merjave and Joe “Smokestack Weekling” Bellia — all veterans of Burtnik-organized Beatle Bash events at New Brunswick’s State Theater — the guys made their debut in a novel setting: performing on a moving trailer during the Asbury Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade. From there, the road would find the enthusiastic young band of seasoned cats appearing everywhere from outdoor summer freebies, to venerable theater-sized venues, to the Abbey Road on the River Festival in Jeffersonville, Indiana — an annual high-profile “Beatles-inspired five day music festival” to which the Weeklings return once more on May 25.

The injection of original material into the Beatle-centric repertoire is a big part of what sets The Weeklings apart from the pack — that, and the fact that the band’s core mission was to explore the largely uncharted territory beyond the more obvious signature songs of John, Paul and George; both the “songs they gave away” to other artists, and the “lost” compositions that they never got around to recording in the first place.

Along the way, the savvy songsmiths deduced that theirs was an ideal framework in which to cultivate a set of new (or newly re-imagined) originals; this in a music-biz landscape that isn’t always accommodating to songwriterly singers — even one like Burtnik,

Before all that, however, the brothers Weekling play one for the hometown fans, when they take it topside to Tim McLoone’s Supper Club this Friday, May 18. Scheduled for 8:15 pm, it’s a classy affair — complete with VIP meet-and-greet option — that’s being pitched by Lefty as something of a summer kickoff event. And what a summer it promises to be, too; one that, among many other things,  finds the core four backed by the Nashville Symphony at that city’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center on July 22 (they’ll also be playing for fabulously FREE in the Downtown Freehold music series on June 7, and at Sayreville’s Independence Day celebration on June 30).

And then there’s The Orchestra, the tirelessly touring juggernaut assembled by Electric Light Orchestra violinist Mik Kaminski, and dedicated to lushly live recreations of classic ELO hits. Burtnik sees a lot of the world as bass player and co-lead vocalist of the big band — that is, when he’s not performing as a member of the Weeklings, the Beatles tribute Liverpool, or with Burger and Merjave in Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, the fun E Street sidebar that hitches up to the Stone Pony on June 16.

While he understandably spends a good deal of his year in have-guitar-will-travel mode, the composer (whose most recent drops include the Weeklings single “In the Moment,” and the band’s full lengther Live at Daryl’s House Club, Volume 1) brings it on home these days to Asbury Park; the musically minded town to which the celebrated and self-styled “Slave of New Brunswick” relocated about a decade ago.

Of course, it’s all in a hard day’s night for the rhythm ringmaster, whose catalog includes the chart-topping “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (a Grammy-nominated record by Patty Smyth and Don Henley), the Randy Travis country hit “Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man,” the regional breakout “Here Comes Sally” (introduced by Burtnik as a member of Richie Rosenberg’s big-band brouhaha La Bamba and the Hubcaps), and the top-ten Styx hit “Love is the Ritual.”  And who, on May 6, returned to the Paramount stage for the fourth time as musical director of the annual New Jersey Hall of Fame Gala — an awesomely star-studded occasion that found Burtnik breathing the same air as Bruce, Steven, moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, NASA twins Mark and Scott Kelly, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Whoopi Goldberg, Debbie Harry, Gloria Gaynor, Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, and our own Village Person Felipe Rose.

Your upperWETside Control Voice managed to get marvelously musical moving-target Glen Burtnik to sit still for a few Q’s ‘n A’s, on the eve of what promises to be another Summer of (Labors of) Love. Here’s how THAT played out…

upperWETside: It’s nice to see that you continue to do the free outdoor shows, but the upcoming McLoone’s gig looks like something a little special…would you consider it a summer kickoff event, at least unofficially? 

GLEN BURTNIK: The upcoming Weeklings show at McLoone’s is something of a summer kickoff event for the band and the Jersey Shore, and we can’t wait!

And from there it’s on to the Abbey Road thing in Indiana…interested in your impressions of that event…have you guys played there each year since the inception of the Weeklings project?

I’ve performed at both the BeatleFest and Abbey Road On The River festivals for years now, with various acts and I love them both.

And THEN you’ve got the thing with the Nashville Symphony in July! Of course I’ve seen you stand in front of bands of all shapes and sizes through the years, but does this show represent a “first” for the Weeklings? Given the symphonic setting, what sort of things might you be featuring in that particular show, that you wouldn’t normally  include in your four-piece sets?

In October of 2015 The Weeklings performed with an extended cast on stage at the Pollak Theater on the Monmouth University Campus. We were accompanied by a string quartet and a brass section as well as a few keyboardists. It was fun and very successful.So, it’s been a while, but since Nashville reached out to us to do it again, we figured it’d be an enjoyable experience. So we are in the process of assembling the music we’ll play which will include symphonic arrangements. For that configuration, we’ll probably mostly be featuring the music of The Beatles and the George Martin arrangements.

Oh, and you’re also hitting the road, and rounding back to Asbury in June, with Max Weinberg in the Jukebox project…something that sounds made-to-order for you! You’re one of those guys who’s pretty much an encyclopedic walking pop music jukebox yourself…maybe Bobby Bandiera gives you a run for the money in that department as well…and if we’re to take Max at his word, then you’ll be called upon to field musical requests every which way but loose. Not sure how the process works, but how does one prep for such a gig?

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox is a blast. He’s come up with a long list…about 300 to 400 pop songs…which the audience selects from. For the most part, we…Max, John Merjave, Biob Burger and myself…play what the audience wants us to play (although we have taken to playing “Little Elvis”, since Max is such a big proponent of The Weeklings).

All this, plus new (or at least newish) music to promote! I recall an interview you did a few years back, where you offered to the effect that even a well-established musician would still have a hard time getting his new music featured in the clubs of our region…this was, I think, right around (or just prior to) the time you formed the Weeklings, and I look at the band project as being a very smart and savvy way to get your new songs out in front of live audiences, by integrating them into what’s proven to be a successful homage to the Fabs legacy (I don’t wanna say “Beatles tribute;” you’ve moved well beyond that, and the Weeklings are something far different from another Beatle-suited and -booted impersonator act at the county fair). Was this always part of the intention in forming the band, or did the original stuff just kind of happen organically as you continued working together?

The successful concept and trajectory of The Weeklings was completely unplanned. As much as I’d love to take credit for designing this process of riding the coattails of the Tribute Band scene to create our own, successful, original project, we honestly can’t.

Four of us had been a part of my Beatles Bash and felt we gelled in a fun way, so we started taking odd gigs as a quartet, playing Beatles gigs. As we grew in following, we figured we’d make a CD to sell at shows. Once we began recording, we thought it might be hipper to record our arrangements of rare, unknown Beatles songs. Now, Bob “Zeek” Burger and I had been successfully collaborating on song writing for years, so it was natural to expand The Weeklings’ reperatoire into including a few of our own tunes, written specifically with 60s power pop in mind…as if the 80s and 90s never happened. A year or two later, The Weeklings have original music being played on the radio everywhere.

It turns out we’ve become, to my knowledge, the only Beatles-inspired original act who’s busy playing and releasing records…all serendipitously. Go figure.

I will say, along with the success comes increased responsibility. It’s not always fun being in a group with a bunch of grown men, although one would think it should be. It’s a serious business at this point.

Would you agree that pretty much anyone of “a certain age” here in the NY/NJ metro area feels kind of proprietary about The Beatles…like, from the moment they touched down at JFK, they belonged to “us” to a greater degree than any other place in America? You can certainly hear it in several generations of Jersey bands (hey, we gifted the world with The Knickerbockers)…

I dunno about us New Jerseyans feeling proprietary about The Beatles, but we have reason to be proud of that one amazing song by The Knickerbockers…not to mention The Four Seasons, Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Smithereens, Dionne Warwick, The Rascals, Whitney Houston, Kool & The Gang, Donald Fagen, The Shirelles, The Bouncing Souls, PM Dawn, Patti Smith, Fountains of Wayne, Bon Jovi, Blues Traveller…and my personal guilty pleasure, The Looking Glass!

Looking at my Facebook feed in recent times…especially during those times when everybody feels compelled to weigh in with their “Ten Albums That Changed My Life”…I find it interesting how often ABBEY ROAD comes up in the mix. Not that it’s all that much of a surprise, but my un-scientific study indicates that it’s THE Beatles album for a great many people, whereas the exalted SGT. PEPPER barely gets a mention these days. What’s your take on all that; has the center of the Beatleverse shifted that way or is it just my imagination?

I personally don’t think Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band is standing up as well in the test of time. It seems a little gimmicky to me at times – although it does include a number of game changing moments. Abbey Road is a clean, fairly well balanced production. Most of it holds up amazingly well so many years later.

Since we’re now a few years removed from that aforementioned interview, what’s your take on the state of the Asbury Park music scene here in 2018? We’ve seen some spiffy new venues opening up, old standbys soldiering on, festivals of various sizes come and go…do you have a good feeling in general about where things are headed here in the musically minded place where you made your home? Any acts on the local scene that have caught your interest?

The Asbury Park music scene in 2018 is beautiful, healthy, vibrant and impressive. Unlike most towns in the United States to my knowledge, there are tons of great bands and artists. It’s kind of a baby Brooklyn here.

I’d imagine it’s difficult for venues (not to mention how it’s tough on new, original acts) in this age of tribute bands. I should point out the best sounding room in Asbury Park is The Saint. I can’t say enough about how together the sound is there.

There are many young acts on the local scene that blow me away. Too many to name, but I’ll try to mention a few. I love the Shady Street Show Band, Matt Wade and Dez & The Swagmatics, for starters. Those are great bands. And always the amazing singing of Emily Grove, Lindsey DeSen and Eryn O’Ree as well as Remember Jones, Matt O’Ree, Stringbean, Williams Honor and of course Nicole Atkins…and lots more. Rick Barry and George Wirth are great songwriters and Bone and Marrow recently ripped my head off. They are amazing.

Let’s walk it back to a week ago and your participation in the NJ Hall of Fame ceremony, which certainly delivered the goods in the star-studded department…I wonder if you could share a few thoughts as to your role in the proceedings; how you came to be involved, how you settled upon what material to perform…and which person or persons you were most excited to be sharing the stage with?

I was asked by Gary Mottola, Caroline O’Toole and Jason Dermer to be the show’s Musical Director in 2014 and have been doing it ever since, assembling and leading a great band of dedicated professional NJ musicians – many from the Jersey Shore area. It is an honor choosing and performing the musical backdrop of the night (in the Paramount Theater – where I got married during one of my own shows!).

It’s just a super honor to work with all the people involved. My life in music has been unbelievable. When this ride is over, I’ll have nothing but happiness to look back on.

And now, if you’re game, take on a few LIGHTNING ROUND questions! Favorite NYC area kiddie show host from your childhood?

My favorite kiddie show host from childhood would have to be the great Chuck McCann.

Favorite discount store chain in back-in-the-day Jersey?

My favorite discount store chain in the 60’s was EJ Korvettes, where I bought replacement Black Diamond Strings and my favorite album, Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold As Love.

The one indispensable DJ on your old transistor radio?

The one indispensable DJ on my transistor radio in 60’s would be “Scottso” Muni (who I had the honor of hanging with when he’d play my music on WNEW-FM in the 80’s).

A lot of people might be surprised/ shocked/ disappointed that Glen Burtnik likes listening to…?

I enjoy listening to classical music and Pop music from the 40’s & 50’s as much as anything. George Gershwin, and Fats Waller are as important to me as anything.

Joe Pepitone…or Ron Swoboda?

I’m sports illiterate.

DC or Marvel?

I was more a DC kid than Marvel.

Taylor Ham or…nah, we’re not going there. See you around!

Available tickets for Friday’s show by The Weeklings at McLoone’s can be reserved at timmcloonessupperclub.com