Maybe Jon Walmsley can solve the pothole problem in Long Beach with a song.
Walmsley was born in Blackburn, Lancashire, a town made famous by John Lennon in the Beatles song "A Day in the Life." The lyrics were partly inspired by some newspaper stories Lennon had read, one of them about "four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire."
"The article was about the state of the roads," said Walmsley in a phone interview last week. "They were potholes. The story and the song so embarrassed the town council of Blackburn that they had the roads fixed."
Walmsley and his parents moved from England to California when he was 2 1/2, and he's written a lot of songs since then, but none about potholes - yet. He is most famous for portraying Jason Walton on the television show "The Waltons" for nine seasons, but his first love has always been music, and that became his career when the "The Waltons" ended while he was in his mid-20s.
In 2002, Walmsley and three other veteran Los Angeles musicians formed The U.K. Beat, which is performing Saturday night at the Whale & Ale pub in San Pedro. The band plays the music that inspired Walmsley and his friends when they were children during the 1960s British rock invasion.
When it takes the stage, judging by recent shows at the Huntington Beach Hyatt Hotel and at a Newport Beach summer park concert, The U.K. Beat looks like four nicely dressed geezers.
But as soon as the group starts playing
the classic songs of such bands as the Kinks, the Who, the Yardbirds, the Searchers, the Spencer Davis Group, the Troggs, the Animals, Herman's Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers and, of course, the Beatles, the ages are irrelevant. They perform the songs as freshly as if they were playing them 45 years ago.
"We don't think of ourselves as a tribute band," said Walmsley in a phone interview from Carson, as he and his wife (and group manager), Marion, were driving past the Goodyear blimp.
"Tribute bands will dress like a particular act," he said. "Obviously, the Beatles bands will wear the suits and the wigs and all of that. There are a lot of great Beatle tribute bands, and we didn't want to be another one. So we decided to pay homage to this entire genre and play all the songs by all the groups. We also didn't want to be a copy band and play the arrangements note for note. Although we incorporate many of the ideas, we just try to play the music of that era faithfully."
The U.K. Beat takes arrangement ideas from the original, he said, and embellishes them.
"Or we may do a totally original arrangement of an old song," he said. "For example, on the CD (the band is hoping to release its first CD this month), we do the Dave Clark Five song `Can't You See That She's Mine,' which is one of their lesser-known hits. But we play it more in the style of the Rolling Stones, sort of a late '60s-era Stones, because it's a very bluesy song anyway. And then we take Peter and Gordon's song `A World Without Love,' and we kind of change the instrumentation slightly on the CD. There's a 12-string electric, which is prominent on the original, and the organ. But we changed the organ solo to a solo for the 12-string, and and we added some mandolin that doesn't exist on the original at all.
"Live, we'll do a Yardbirds song, but we'll stretch out and add a jam solo section, which doesn't exist on any Yardbirds record, but it's kind of how we imagine what the Yardbirds would have done if they had jammed on the tune live."
Walmsley was living in Long Beach with his family and attending Mark Twain Elementary School during some crucial years of his life, when two failed auditions largely determined the direction his life would take.
The first was for "Cal's Corral."
"Cal Worthington had a TV show on Channel 13 on the weekend, and it went on for hours, because Channel 13 was kind of a mom-and-pop station," said Walmsley. "And you could audition at this country bar on Cherry Avenue in Signal Hill."
Walmsley was 8 and had been playing guitar for only a few months - after he saw the Beatles on TV. He played the Beatles' "And I Love Her" for his audition, but it was a disaster because the club's house band didn't know the song.
"I didn't win, but that was my first gig and the start of my performing career," he said.
He performed wherever his parents could find a private function, a Kiwanis meeting or a grandmother's club that was looking for entertainment. And he got on another Channel 13 show, "Fun for All," three times.
"It was a kid's show on Saturday morning and featured kids providing the entertainment," he said. "Some of them sang, they tap danced, they juggled. The last time, I was seen by a producer who was looking for child actors for the movie `Goodbye, Mr. Chips,' with Petula Clark and Peter O'Toole. So I was invited to audition, and again I didn't get it."
But through the audition process he did get an agent, and he began auditioning for other TV shows. He appeared on "Daniel Boone," "My Three Sons" and "The Bill Cosby Show" and got his big break being cast as Jason Walton in "The Homecoming," a Christmas special starring Patricia Neal and Richard Thomas that was turned into "The Waltons" series.
Once the show was over, Walmsley was back into music, performing mainly as a studio musician - he's been a guitarist on the soundtracks of shows including "Roseanne," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Home Improvement," "Eight Simple Rules" and "Secret Life of the American Teenager."
He also performed in bands and backing up other performers. For 2 1/2 years, he toured the world in pop star Richard Marx's band.
The U.K. Beat came about in 2002 when Walmsley realized he was playing mostly guitar and hardly any bass and thought he'd like to be in a band where he played bass. Then he thought of three other journeyman musician friends who also loved 1960s rock and called up Jeff Stillman, Howie Anderson and Todd Tatum.
"We started rehearsing and got a bunch of songs together, and Jeff said, `Hey, why don't we play for my birthday party - he had rented a small auditorium for the party," Walmsley said.
"And we got up on the stage and played, and have been playing ever since."
The U.K. Beat
What: Rock quartet playing music of the 1960s British invasion.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Whale & Ale, 327 W. Seventh St., San Pedro.
Admission: $10 cover charge.
Information: 310-832-0363 or www.whaleandale.com