By the time “Let It Be,” the documentary detailing the demise of The Beatles, came to Maryville, the Fab Four already had gone their separate ways.
Bill Cabage still left the theater inspired.
“I walked out of that movie just pumped,” Cabage told me this week.
The film — particularly the climactic rooftop concert, which would be the final public performance by the four men (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, joined on keyboards by Billy Preston) — has stayed with him all these years, and with the 50th anniversary of the impromptu concert taking place late last month, he began planning in 2018 to commemorate it.
The members of his longtime rock band, Capt. Suck and the Mediocre Band, were agreeable (to varying degrees, in much the same way The Beatles were to playing on a London rooftop under gray January skies), and over the holidays, the guys put the plan into motion.
“I’ve been saying for a year that I wanted to do this, and originally, we wanted to go up on a roof and do it like they did,” Cabage said. “But when it got down to brass tacks, we’re all in our 60s, so we’re not going to carry that stuff up on a roof and play. So over the holidays, my son (Ian) was in town, and one Saturday the weather was kind of decent, so we said, ‘Let’s just go down and set up in Founders Lot, where they have the Farmers’ Market, and play all the songs and tape it.”
And so on the Saturday after Christmas, Capt. Suck and the Mediocre Band plugged in and ran through The Beatles’ five-song rooftop set: “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony.” Cabage’s sons filmed it, and the first video (for “Get Back”) went up on YouTube last weekend, a few days after the 50th anniversary of that Jan. 30, 1969, final show by the legendary band.
“I told him I wanted him to get the look that they had, like we’re up on a roof, even though we were on the ground, and I think he did a great job,” Cabage said. “It was a gray wintery day, and about 50 degrees — I think it was 45 when they did it, so we had a little bit warmer weather, but it was almost the same kind. I don’t think we had as much wind as they did.”
Fifty years ago, the performance gave fans a glimpse of the unparalleled magic that made The Beatles one of the defining groups in all of popular music. While much of “Let It Be” focuses on the band’s attempts to record an album during a time when tensions were tearing the band apart, whatever resentments they had toward one another seemed to melt away on that dreary studio rooftop.
“I remember one part of the movie where Paul is talking to John, and I think he was complaining about George, and John’s just sitting there, staring at him,” Cabage said. “To me, that scene is just riveting to watch how intently John is listening to Paul go on about this stuff. The whole thing was just depressing, but then they go out on the roof. When they opened the door, Ringo walks out and complains about where his drums are nailed down, but then they start playing, and it’s great.
“It was a 20-minute concert on the roof, and everybody in town was coming out, wondering what was going on. At first, they didn’t want to do it, and I think some of them — George, maybe — thought it was a stupid idea. They had talked about doing something at the Pyramids or wherever; they had all of these great ideas, but in the end, they just went up on the roof.”
“Let It Be” was a posthumous release in May 1970, a month after McCartney announced that The Beatles were no more. Incidentally, it was recorded prior to “Abbey Road,” which was released first, but for the group of young men who started Capt. Suck not long after that, the entire Beatles catalog provided something of a blueprint.
Back then, Capt. Suck and the Mediocre Band — Cabage, guitarist Scott Bell, bassist David Smelcer, drummer Steve Trent and pianist/vocalist George Cabage, Bill’s brother — drew equally on The Band, Neil Young, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and the Stones; they still cover them all, along with a healthy dose of originals, but this year, they’ll likely include the entire rooftop setlist into their own when they play around Blount County. (Next up: a March 22 date at Brackins Blues Club in downtown Maryville.)
“They were a good band, and when they got out there on the roof, it just started cooking for them,” Cabage said. “I think it was Ringo that said all the troubles went away when they got on a good track. And I think what they produced then was a lot better than what they ever thought it would be.”