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Mellow Yellow rides the '60s groove



Last modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011
Think back to every random line of a classic song you've had stuck in your head. You know, that song that goes "And Saffron's mad about me" that you found yourself humming last month. That groovy chorus of "It's all too beautiful" that was running in your head while you were vacuuming. That hippie dippy song you're embarrassed to admit you are singing to yourself about how it's so groovy now that people are finally getting together.

Thanks to the Mellow Yellow Experience, happening this Saturday night at The Middle in Franklin, there will be ample opportunity to let out that inner pop-music-geek and, well, reach out of the darkness, so to speak.

The Mellow Yellow Experience is a five-piece, happily stuck-in-the-'60s band, mixing unbridled affection for the psychedelic era with all the best of modern technology, all combining to create a fun, all-senses-awake musical ride in the wayback machine.

Founding Mellow Yellow member David Cooper (stage name: Brad Daddy O) was raised firmly on a diet of '60s classic tunage, although, technically, he may not have been alive for all of the first go-round of some of the music he celebrates now.

"In the band we're a mix of older and younger - some were little babies in the '60s, some not here at all - but this was music that all of our parents played," Cooper said. "Our drummer (Franco Sunshine) missed the era, but his folks educated him in Beatles and all of the other important music." Cooper is a vocalist (he shares lead duties with female vocalist Dusty Love, known in her other life as Linda Bassick) and plays mellotron.

The Vermont-based Mellow Yellow has been around in its current incarnation for about three years. The band offers two versions of its songs-you-can't-get-out-of-your-head show, based on what you were hearing on FM radio in the '60s versus what you were hearing on AM radio at the same time. Saturday's show focuses on the FM radio songs, but whether AM or FM, the songs the band re-creates are songs designed to instantly fire up your memory banks and make you sing along, no matter how much you think you don't want to.

"These songs have lasted because they come from an era when the music was not just wallpaper," Cooper said. "Music mattered; it was a huge part of your life."

Using the fruits of modern technology and fandom, Mellow Yellow works to deconstruct and then reconstruct all those classic songs, studying fan sites and YouTube videos to isolate the essential harmonies and beats of each song so that they can offer a version that sounds just like the one that is already playing in the soundtrack in your head.

The band doesn't take shortcuts in reconstructing the music - Cooper estimates that they may spend 30 hours or more just working out the initial track of a song before they begin formally rehearsing - and the affection and attention to detail is evident. Cooper said the band can also resort to low-fi techniques - such as playing with the speaker output on mono or early stereo recordings - to get the sound.

The result is a night of complete audio and video retro candy, with Mellow Yellow offering perfect versions of songs from Donovan (from whom, of course, the band takes its name), The Supremes, The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Jefferson Airplane, all performed in fun familiarity. The band wears appropriately groovy '60s gear and offers a video component, mixing news clips and groovy, sock-it-to-ya, '60s visuals.

In addition to the established and still-cherished acts of the era such as The Beatles and the Moody Blues, this was an era of the one-hit-wonder, and Mellow Yellow brings back a ton of those fantastic singles. For the record, two of the songs referenced way back in the first paragraph were one-hit wonders covered by Mellow Yellow: "Itchycoo Park" by the Small Faces, and "Reach Out of the Darkness" by Friend and Lover. If those titles don't ring an immediate bell, don't be alarmed - the songs themselves will.

Mellow Yellow's appeal isn't limited to the baby boomer generation, a fact that was made clear to Cooper again recently by a fan.

"We played at St. Johnsbury's First Night and this guy came up and told me it was the fourth time he'd been to see us, and that he was bringing along more friends each time," Cooper said. "College kids come to a show, and they tell us this is music they were raised on, even though they weren't here for it the first time around. It feels really good to hear those stories, to see people coming back over and over."

Mellow Yellow changes up its set every night so that the show remains fresh for both those repeat fans and the band members themselves. Cooper was raised in a household where the classics were king, and he fondly remembers that his first genuine musical connection was with The Beatles.

"I wasn't old enough to have been into them their first time around, but they were played in the house and every note went into my head and stayed there - I became a huge fan long after they'd broken up," he said.

Music was so much a part of his family life that, perhaps Cooper's most important source of support, authenticity and reference is a member of his family.

"We develop the set lists then I go by my mom's house and we talkabout what was on in the '60s, and the AM and FM dials," Cooper said. "Ultimately, I go with what my mom says."