I met Dennis online while researching to start this blog 5 years ago. He has an immense knowledge of songwriting and musicology, and he is indeed a pianist, guitarist, and singing-bassist. He has just finished his debut book entitled “The Beatles And Their Revolutionary Bass Player” and it was my pleasure to interview him once more.
SB: When did you start writing the book?
Dennis Alstrand: Will, I wish I could remember when the point in time was that you marshalled your energies and convinced me to turn my website into a book. I think it was 2009. I looked at my website and realized that I could not in good conscience just convert that text into a book. So it became a whole new project.
SB: What was your writing schedule?
DA: I didnâ€™t have a set schedule for times, but the effort was nearly constant. Writing, rewriting, seeing what people thought, writing some more. I always knew that this might be frustrating for you, Will, because I know you felt it was best to just convert the website. It is my sincere hope that when you read the book, youâ€™ll think â€œahhh, it was worth itâ€.
SB: I am sure that will be the case. How did you decide it was ready for showtime?
DA: That is the big question, isnâ€™t it. I suspect that every author/artist/musician goes through the difficult question: is it ready yet? I thought it was â€œreadyâ€ many times. Itâ€™s a big book (350 pages) but I would feel it was ready, slog through it again, realize that there were big things I wanted to change, make the changes, think it was â€œreadyâ€, slog through it again, realize…..Iâ€™d read it and could not believe that I had left something so amateurishly written in there. Finally, I just decided to lay down the law and claim that it was done. And off to the publisher/editor it went. And even then, when I re-read it, I felt I should have fixed some things. They seemed major at the time, but I donâ€™t even remember what they are any more. The book is good. It has a LOT of information. Iâ€™m told by almost everyone that it is conversational in nature and that there are nuggets of information on every page. So maybe it is only right NOW that I think its ready for showtime.
SB: What would have happened if Paul didn’t take on the bass after Stu’s departure?
DA: Thereâ€™s a discussion about that moment of time in that book. I think it was one of the biggest decisions the Beatles ever made. Who would have played bass? They realized that with â€“ now â€“ four musicians, they would each make more money at every gig (this is all speculation on my part). So, most likely, bringing a fifth member in as a replacement was probably out of the question. Plus, anyone who has been in a band knows how difficult it is to teach a newcomer the ropes, the politics and the songs.
George and Paul, in separate interviews, have said that neither George or John would switch to bass, so Paul was â€œlumberedâ€ with it. These accounts seem strange to me.
When did Paul ever let George override him? You could almost develop a conspiracy theory about this decision.
Hereâ€™s my direct answer: the Beatles might have been better musically if George had gone to bass and Paul stayed on guitar. Woah!! Put your weapons down! I submit that Paul was a better guitarist than George especially in those early days and in fact maybe right on through to the end. Certainly a better lead guitarist. Listen to the solos on Taxman, Drive My Car, Good Morning Good Morning, etc. George became a very good guitarist but was not so much in the early days.
SB: What surprised you the most while researching for this book?
DA: Here are a few:
Iâ€™m not sure the Beatles ever actually say the words â€œshe loves youâ€ in the song
Breaking down songs and listening very closely to prepare for writing about a song, I was surprised at how slick the Beatles were at adding instruments and abruptly changing things midsong. Youâ€™d hardly notice that theyâ€™ve gone from 4/4 to 3/4 or have a whole new rhythm suddenly going. When you listen to Hey Jude for example, you now Paul starts off with vocal and piano only. And casually, youâ€™re vaguely aware that stuff is happening. But if you listen with the desire to explain the recording to someone else, you hear so much. The section on that song alone is extensive. Taxman similarly.
As mentioned, I was REALLY listening to everything. I had to. So I was surprised to realize that I have no idea who is singing the â€œahhh ah ah ahâ€ part just after â€œsomebody spoke and I went into a dreamâ€ in A Day In The Life. I always thought it was John. Then I heard a twist of voice that sounded like Paul. Someone suggested the first part is John but the second part is Paul.
Also, there is an owl like sound in that section that almost nobody can hear. But to me it is now blazingly loud.
I was also surprised that this book hadnâ€™t been written before. There are very scholarly books that discuss the Beatlesâ€™ music. There is a book devoted to Paulâ€™s bass playing. This was going to be the book I wrote, but after reading that one, I realized that you can not keep a book interesting when talking exclusively about one instrument. Because all of the instruments interact. There are technical books about the recording sessions. Books about what the Beatles were thinking when they wrote the songs. But I donâ€™t believe there has been a book that says â€œHey lay-listener, sit down and listen to this song again. You might be surprisedâ€. That, along with the Beatlesâ€™ story, makes the book unique.
SB: Do you have any further books in the pipeline?
DA: I sure do. I have a friend in his 70s. We sing together in a mens chorus. I knew he had a big life story and that he was inspirational to theater actors. But one evening at rehearsal I just followed an instinct, walked up to him and asked â€œhas anyone ever told your story?â€. His face became deadly serious. â€œNo! And I want someone toâ€. Well, I had an idea for my next book to be to work with musicians to tell the stories of bands that never made it. I dropped that idea then and there, told him Iâ€™d help him write his story if he wanted. We shook hands and have been working together ever since. Through questioning and discussions, I have come to know this guyâ€™s story more than anyone else who has ever known him. I keep getting calls and emails from him saying â€œyouâ€™re brining things out of me that even I didnâ€™t knowâ€. He calls me Dr. Freud now. Funny. So, Iâ€™m writing his autobiography with him. Iâ€™ll be the small â€œWith Dennis Alstrandâ€ circle in the book. Itâ€™s so interesting to try to learn to write in another personâ€™s voice. At first I was way off, but we started moving towards the target.
SB: What is the scoop and the user’s guide for your *new* blog?
DA: I asked the publisher â€œwhat can I do to sell this book?â€. He said that people want to know the author, if theyâ€™re going to buy more books by him/her. One of the best ways to do that, he says, is to have a blog. So he had his company set up a blog for me. I just went for it, decided I could write a lot about the Beatles and baseball. That became the subject. Should there be a userâ€™s guide? I think I need to learn where to go read up on running a blog. Sounds like its more than just writing something in it most days. Iâ€™ve never even read many blogs. Iâ€™m not blogiterate.
SB: How did you meet Larry Czerwonka?
DA: A friend of mine who is very well versed in publicity suggested I go to a workshop Larry was putting on, about book publishing. Until then I was going to self-publish. After meeting Larry and then having conversations with him about his business it became clear that his was THE way to go. He has made a good living and really does seem to be out to help people get their books out. As for pubishing, he does the editing, sets up the printing, does a lot of publicity, gives advice â€“ all for a rather small fee taken out when a book is ordered. He didnâ€™t even edit content, just grammar and things like that. He made a lot of good changes. For example, I had no idea I used the word â€œreallyâ€ a lot. â€œThis was a really good bass lineâ€. His edits came back with with suggested replacement words. I recommend Larry to authors around the world. Heâ€™s one of those guys who has a lot of great ideas.
SB: Will you give events based on the theme of the book too?
DA: Iâ€™m going through this process where Iâ€™m ordering as many books as I can afford, selling them, and then taking that money ordering more. Iâ€™m getting to where Iâ€™ll have about 35 books ready to sell at one time. Then, there will be book signings. My neighbor is setting up a big one. There will be signings in towns around here. Not in book stores though! Seems like that doesnâ€™t work around Hawaii. But in restaurants and things like that where I know the owner and they have a lot of customers/friends who are Beatlesâ€™ fans.
SB: Have I missed anything?
DA: Iâ€™m considering how to do a spoken word version of the book. If it turns out that would sell, it would be interesting to do. Itâ€™s taken years of practice but Iâ€™m finally getting where I can slow myself down enough to read things and make them at least somewhat interesting.
One last note from the interviewee is included in the section “sample resonance” of this page.