At a very young age, Sarraf was a fan of the make-up-wearing rock band Kiss. Then, on Dec. 8, 1980, the man who said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus was shot and the news gave Sarraf a new musical faith.
“When John Lennon was murdered the whole world was shocked and I wondered why everybody was so sad this guy was gone now,” Sarraf told the Sparks Tribune in a phone interview.
From that moment, his life was permanently changed. Now, more than 20 years later, Sarraf is among the ultimate Beatle disciples, playing an uncanny Paul McCartney lookalike in the tribute band The Fab Four. Sarraf and bandmates Gavin Pring as George Harrison, Ron McNeil as John Lennon and Rolo Sandoval as Ringo Starr, will perform Friday night at the Knitting Factory in Reno.
Though it was Lennon’s death that introduced him to the lads from Liverpool, while growing up Sarraf got comments about how he resembled McCartney — even occasionally combing his hair in their mop-top style. He played in some bands as a teen and learned to play a few Beatles songs, though at the time he didn’t attempt to mimic McCartney’s look or mannerisms.
Sarraf’s band won Beatles competitions four years in a row, but it wasn’t until about 14 years ago — when he was approached by Ron McNeil at Beatlefest in Los Angeles — that Sarraf
had thoughts of actually being one of the Liverpudlian lads.
Sarraf, a right-handed guitarist, had to learn to play guitar left handed when he took on the role of McCartney for The Fab Four. Most of his 50 guitars are for right handers, and Sarraf said it took a lot of work to relearn his instrument. It was difficult to become ambidextrous, he said, and master the little things like putting the guitar on the opposite knee and hold the pick differently.
“It took quite a few months to get each song under my belt,” Sarraf said. “Any new song I was able to pull off left-handed we would do in the show.”
Sarraf said he particularly likes to play “Yesterday” because it is his “little spotlight” in which he plays acoustic guitar.
In addition to the songs, The Fab Four members go through three or four costume changes in each show to encompass the various stages of The Beatles’ music. They have the black suits that are well known from the band’s inaugural U.S. appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February 1964, followed by a quick change into the colorful garb of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band era of 1967 and then to the hippie attire and long hair of The Beatles’ later days before their breakup in 1970. All the outfits are custom-made, Sarraf said, coming from a few different designers such as Russ Lease of www.beatlesuits.com, headquartered in Maryland.
The band members also spend countless hours mastering The Beatles’ mannerisms. For Sarraf, this means watching Paul’s head bob, the way he stands when playing guitar and the way his glance goes skyward while he plays. This means a lot of watching “The Beatles Anthology” documentary from 1995 and movies like “A Hard Day’s Night” from 1964. Sarraf said getting it right means never being satisfied that he’s got it all down.
“The trick is to not settle and have the status quo be acceptable,” Sarraf said.
The Fab Four’s ability to move and act like The Beatles has landed them a unique part in the project to remake the 1968 animated film “Yellow Submarine,” in which John, Paul, George and Ringo help Captain Fred free Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. They won’t actually be in the film, but The Fab Four’s years of practice will be. They are contributing themselves for “mocap,” which is industry-speak for motion capture. The four men will be hooked up to machines and their movements recorded and translated to 3-D animated cartoon characters for the film, which is being produced by Robert Zemeckis, Disney and the two living Beatles, Starr and McCartney. Zemeckis is known for such films as “Back to the Future” and won an Academy Award for “Forrest Gump.”
Saffar said he and his bandmates auditioned to work on the film, but it wasn’t until the producers saw clips of The Fab Four on YouTube that they were asked to be The Beatles for a new generation. The film is scheduled for release in 2012.
“It’s almost like a dream really,” Saffar said. “It really is.”
The Fab Four perform Friday night at the Knitting Factory, 411 N. Virginia St., in Reno. Tickets range from $25 to $40 and are available online at http://re.knittingfactory.com. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., the show starts at 8:30 p.m. The band’s Saturday show in Reno was canceled, but tickets for that show will be honored Friday night.
To see photos and videos of The Fab Four, go to www.thefabfour.com.