Jim Owen wanted to create a new twist on a tribute band to The Beatles.
He wanted to back The Beatles’ music by an orchestra.
“Long story short, I made it happen,” said the 54-year-old Owen, who started Classical Mystery Tour in 1996.
Classical Mystery Tour will be joined by Carmel Symphony Orchestra at 7 p.m. Sept. 5 at Coxhall Gardens in Carmel.
This is the group’s first time playing with CSO. However, CSO Artistic Director Janna Hymes has worked with the Classical Mystery Tour previously with another orchestra.
Hymes described the group as the most high-quality tribute band because, in her view, the “guys look and sound like The Beatles.”
Originally playing George Harrison when the group launched, Owen moved to the John Lennon role a few years later and remained there.
Tony Kishman, who plays Paul McCartney, has been in the role since the start. Chris Camilleri, who plays Ringo Starr, has been with the group since its second show, which was in 1997.
Playing with an orchestra sets Classical Mystery Tour apart from other Beatles tribute groups.
“We generally play with 20 or 30 orchestras a year,” Owen said. “Sometimes, it’s just a one-night show, and sometimes it’s two, three or four nights.”
Owen said Classical Mystery Tour has played at Conner Prairie several times, with and without the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
“They told us they like the energy without the orchestra, but what makes us special is the orchestra,” he said. “I always prefer and love playing with an orchestra.”
Owen said both indoor and outdoor concerts have their strengths and weaknesses.
“Outdoor is really great for that kind of festival atmosphere,” Owen said.
The concert will open with an orchestra overture.
“The rest of the concert is us with the orchestra together,” Owen said. “It’s a re-creation of the original Beatles recordings. We play whatever The Beatles played, guitar, bass and drums, vocals. The orchestra plays at the same time whatever was done on the original recordings.”
For example, Kishman, as McCartney, plays acoustic guitar on “Yesterday,” backed up by a string quartet.
“It’s done exactly like the original,” Owen said. “Then there are more full songs. Like “I Am the Walrus” had more strings and French horns.”
Owen said the early Beatles hits didn’t use any orchestra.
“As they got into the middle ‘60s and late ‘60s, you’d be surprised how many of their songs used full or partial orchestra,” Owen said. “Our opener song (‘Got to Get You into My Life’) is from the ‘Revolver’ album in 1966, and it is has saxophones and trumpets, kind of like a Motown sound to it. That’s what we use is four trumpets and four saxophones to recreate the sound.”
Early on, Classical Mystery Tour didn’t play early Beatles songs because it didn’t want to create an orchestral arrangement.
“Fans appreciate the respect we put into it,” Owen said of the music.
Owen said fans said they missed the early Beatles songs.
“We started adding early songs like ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ and maybe something like ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’” Owen said.
Owen said he is contemplating doing a similar idea with all different songs from the 1960s.
“There are a lot of really neat songs with orchestral arrangements,” he said. “That’s something we have in the works to do in the next year or two.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting in mid-March of 2020, the group played only two shows, including one in Terre Haute, in the summer last year. Owen said since April, the schedule has been closer to normal.
For more, visit carmelsymphony.org and classicalmysterytour.com.
For more, visit classicalmysterytour.com/js_artist/chris-camilleri/