Most musicians are fortunate to have one steady gig. Bassist Will Lee has two — and if you count the high-profile sideman work (both in the studio and on the road) that he fits in between his regular band jobs, then he has three.
Along with keyboardist Paul Shaffer, Lee has been part of David Letterman’s late-night TV house band since 1982.
Then in 1998, Lee and guitarist Jimmy Vivino (a longtime member of Conan O’Brien’s TV show band and its current leader) came up with the idea to form a Beatles tribute band, bringing in guitarist Frank Agnello, keyboardist-guitarist Jack Petruzzelli and drummer Rich Pagano and dubbing themselves The Fab Faux. What matters most to these guys is the sound, not the look. They don’t bother with period-appropriate clothing or hairstyles, like other Beatles-themed acts. Instead, The Fab Faux specializes in performing faithful, precise versions of Beatles music from all eras, as well as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr solo material.
Lee recently carved out some time from his busy schedule to talk about playing with The Fab Faux, his long Letterman run and future plans.
Medleyville.us: The Fab Faux has been around for more than 15 years. At this point, are there any songs from the Beatles’ official catalog — meaning the band’s main studio albums as well as non-bootleg collections of pre-fame sessions, live recordings and outtakes — that you guys haven’t performed at least once in concert?
Will Lee: “We have focused only on Parlophone/Capitol/Apple Records tracks from all the main albums, and from that catalog, there are maybe five we haven’t tackled. It’s somewhere around 212 songs so far!”
Do you think there are aspects to Paul McCartney’s bass lines that tend to be overlooked or misunderstood by other bassists who play the band’s songs or are taken for granted by the average listener?
Lee: “Paul blew the doors open so long ago that a lot of what he did has influenced many and by now can easily be taken for granted at this point. At the time those bass lines were created, however, everybody noticed! It was especially helpful that the bass was mixed so nice and loud on many of those records.”
You move around the stage — and sometimes stray from it — quite a bit during Fab Faux shows. Have you ever gotten carried away and crashed into one of the other guys in the band, tripped over the equipment or become tangled up with a member of the audience?
Lee: “Everything has happened to me, except for falling down a hole! I have many bruises. Just because I’m excited doesn’t mean that I’m coordinated!”
Let’s talk about your longtime gig with the CBS Orchestra. As David Letterman’s Late Show tenure winds down, have your conversations with musical director Paul Shaffer been extra nostalgic lately? And what are some your favorite musical on-air moments?
Lee: “I’m not one for getting nostalgic, but I have to say that seeing a finite end to this 33-year run makes me remember some great moments. Playing behind the Tokyo Shock Boys as they ate scorpions and blew up firecrackers in their pants was memorable! Shaffer has the whole world in front of him, but says he doesn’t know what he’ll do. If I were him, I’d do nothing for a while and weigh out all the options. If he were me, he’d do the same. But I think that neither of us will take a minute. We’ll probably jump right in to everything we haven’t had time for all these years.”
After the final Letterman-hosted Late Show, is there anything from the set or backstage area that you hope to take home with you?
Lee: “No, I just hope I’m able to keep in touch with all the people that I love there.”
Is there a chance you’ll be part of a different Late Show band when the Stephen Colbert era begins in September? And if not, do you plan on filling your calendar with more Fab Faux shows and session work, or do you have any solo projects or new band ideas in mind?
Lee: “Stephen Colbert will no doubt do his own thing with a new flavor. I have records to produce and songs to write, in addition to all the studio and live work I’m always doing anyway. The Fab Faux continues to rock all across the U.S. and elsewhere. I’d love to take the time for some long journeys with my beautiful wife, Sandrine.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
The Fab Faux on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Feb. 20: The Palladium — St. Petersburg, Fla.
* Feb 21: Parker Playhouse — Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
* Feb. 28: Wellmont Theater — Montclair, N.J.
* March 14: State Theatre — Easton, Pa.
* March 21: Keswick Theatre — Glenside, Pa.
* March 27: Levon Helm Studios — Woodstock, N.Y.
* March 28: The Egg — Albany, N.Y.
* April 18: Michigan Theater — Ann Arbor, Mich.
* April 24: Lupos Heartbreak Hotel — Providence, R.I.
* April 25: Fine Arts Centre — Amherst, Mass.
* May 2: The Space at Westbury — Westbury, N.Y.
* June 6: Wilbur Theatre — Boston
* June 13: Count Basie Theatre — Red Bank, N.J.
* June 20: Capitol Theatre — Port Chester, N.Y.