A Beatles Cover Band From Griffin? Why Yes, It's The Return
Gallery: The Return [9 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Allison Smyly
Four young men all grow up in the same city. All have a natural talent and love for music and performing. These guys form a band and become an international sensation, playing all around the world to wildly enthusiastic crowds. The Beatles? Yes, but the same is also true of The Return, a Beatles tribute band described by Pete Beaudrault, the President/CEO of Hard Rock Cafe, as “Absolutely the next best thing to the originals.” One small difference between The Beatles and The Return – instead of Liverpool, the city in which the guys grew up, and in which all four still live, is Griffin.
The Return differs from the many Beatles tribute bands in existence today. The successful ones usually have older members who were handpicked from all over the place. Rarely does a Beatles tribute band include two guys from the same town, let alone four guys who grew up in the same town, are close in age, and are good friends apart from what they do musically as a band. These differences, which make The Return unlike other tribute bands, make them more like The Beatles, who grew up together in the same city (Liverpool, England) and were friends first. The Return's band members Richard Stelling (as John Lennon), Shane Landers (as Paul McCartney), Michael Fulop (as George Harrison), and Adam Thurston (as Ringo Starr) began playing together in their late teens and early twenties, as did The Beatles. Though they have been performing together for years, the men in The Return still enjoy spending time together outside of their work. If real-life camaraderie translates into special energy and charisma on stage, then The Return may have an edge over “manufactured” bands.
The Return aims for authenticity in everything they do. Many of the factors that make The Return so strikingly similar to The Beatles take quite a bit of work. Band members constantly strive to emulate the Fab Four in hairstyles, costumes, gear/instruments, and even accent and mannerisms on stage. They try to play and sing each song note for note, rhythm for rhythm, drum fill for drum fill. The effort put into the nitty-gritty details makes for an experience close to the real thing. Jim Weiss, senior VP of Public Relations for Turner Broadcasting, said, “Seeing The Return is like traveling back to Liverpool in the early 1960s. The Beatles live, thanks to The Return.”
As did The Beatles, The Return has evolved over the years. In 1995, as a high-schooler, Michael Fulop got together with three musician friends, Mike Williamson, Young Hines, and Jerry Walker, to learn and play Beatles songs together, strictly for fun. Some friends caught wind of their new hobby and asked them to open for their band. They reluctantly agreed to “go public,” but before they did, they decided to imitate The Beatles as best they could in appearance, with thrift store black suits and combed down “mop tops.” The guys were pleasantly surprised by the crowd's enthusiastic response. They were asked to play again that night, and slowly, they agreed to play more and more. It was fun. Audiences liked it. The group called themselves The Roaches. (Get it?)
When the guys realized that they could make money AND have fun, they decided to take it to the next level, hiring a manager/agent and researching The Beatles more in depth. Adam Thurston (“Ringo”) joined the band in 1996, left in 2002, and came back in 2007. Shane Landers joined the band in 2000 as the new “Paul,” Richard Stelling in 2001 as the new “John.” Michael Fulop (“George”) helped start the band and never left. As time went on, the band decided that their entire performance would be as authentic to an early 1960s Beatles concert as possible. They began to acquire more and more of the same type of instruments and gear that The Beatles used. They practiced more. They played bigger and better gigs and ventured farther from home. In 2000, the band renamed themselves The Return.
The Return now enjoys international success. They have played in classic Beatles venues such as Abbey Road Studios in London and the Cavern Club in Liverpool, which even today survives and thrives as a contemporary music venue. The Return headlined an event in Tokyo commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' playing there. They have played at many Braves games and were named the #1 Braves band in 2009. In July 2012 they played at the US Swimming Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska. They've performed at private parties and events for Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, media mogul Ted Turner, the CEO of Coca-Cola, and others. Two years ago, they debuted their “Sgt. Pepper's and Beyond” show in front of 10,000 people in Hermosillo, Mexico. Shane Landers says, “The band has given me a chance to not only play music for a living, which is something I wanted from an early age, but it's allowed me to travel all over the world, as well as leading me to my wife...The past twelve years have been a blast of going to interesting places with the best of friends.”
Although they travel around the world, The Return's band members remain firmly rooted in Griffin, Georgia. Three of the four were born in Griffin; Michael moved to Griffin at age 8. They were all in junior high and high school chorus in the Griffin schools. All four men live in Griffin with their wives and children (nine among them) and remain close friends as well as band mates. According to Richard Stelling, the large amounts of time that the band members and their “awesome” two-man crew, David Kaufman (Sound Engineer) and Dennis Bradley (Stage Manager) have spent together have drawn them all closer: “Some people might think that with spending so much time on the road...things might grow a bit stale; for me, it's quite the opposite.” Michael Fulop says, “It's really a family in every sense possible...The majority of the guys in the band, past and present, have met our wives through the band...The guys are like my brothers and their kids are like my nieces and nephews.”
The band relies as much as possible on local people and businesses to keep functioning and growing. Wayne and Gloria Goodman of Record Heaven have supplied the band with countless pieces of musical equipment. Local guitar luthier/repairman Tom Dodson has been indispensable in repairing the slew of guitars used by the band. A local photography business, One Six Photography, has done professional photos and a promotional video for the group. Local musician and artist Mike Williamson, who was also a founding band member, and Chad Baker of Armchair Studios, have worked on set and logo design for The Return. The band has received help with graphic design from Trent Shiflett, who works at local printing shop J-Max, which is where the band buys the t-shirts they sell at shows.
The band members have been profoundly impacted by their experiences over the years, as have their audiences. Says Adam Thurston: “We are truly blessed to be able to do what we do. When this whole thing started 17 years ago, it was four guys learning Beatles songs just for fun. Since then, we've been able to travel all across the U.S. and to other countries, making a living playing the music we love, and still having fun.” Richard Stelling says, “We're doing what we think is important in this world: spreading around the best music out there, showing people where so many musical ideas came from, showing people that there can still be a good message in music.” He adds, “I love to hear from the Baby Boomers who say we've helped them re-live some great times in their lives. Just as rewarding is hearing from kids who love the Beatles, kids that were born twenty years after John Lennon died, kids that truly get it. It gives us hope that this message will continue on for years, no matter what you hear on the radio.”