Strawberry Fields Forever
Writers: John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Mark Bittner: vocal, electric rhythm guitar, keyboard
Katelyn Lawson: vocal
Bruce Kaphan: pedal steel guitar, percussion, glockenspiel, cello score
Paul Olguin: bass
John Hanes: drums
Terry Adams: cello
Hearing “Strawberry Fields Forever” for the first time was a pivotal moment for me. It was the most beautiful piece of music I’d ever heard and sounded profound. I’d been highly skeptical of the hippies and their claims that psychedelics could expand one’s consciousness. But the Beatles, whom I already loved, had clearly entered the hippie fold, and it was obvious that the song had much to do with the psychedelic experience. I still felt some resistance, but began looking to the counterculture as my new path.
Just prior to the beginning of the recording sessions, I’d developed a quiet, ethereal version of “Strawberry Fields” while sitting in the garden with my acoustic guitar. But I couldn’t recreate that mood in the studio, so we sped it up a little and changed the key. Bruce added pedal steel and some light percussion, and I added a keyboard part. That was going to be it—acoustic guitar, pedal steel, keyboard, and percussion—until Paul Olguin and John Hanes (bass and drums respectively) were brought into the project.
I’d provided Paul and John with the basic tracks prior to the session—sometimes just my guitar and a guide vocal—but they heard what I was aiming for and delivered. Playing together on five tracks, and Paul playing alone on two, they completed their work in one long session. That was, for me, a lesson in real musicianship. On “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Paul’s lyrical bass playing and John’s steady beat and offbeat fills evoke the original recording, but they add their own sensibility.
Like a lot of acoustic guitarists who play alone, the accents within my strum patterns were erratic and clashed with the foundation laid down by the bass and drums. Bruce heard an electric guitar with heavy tremolo as fitting in with the atmosphere of the song. I worked up a part that replaced the acoustic guitar. Then Bruce started hearing cellos. I was in contact with a cellist, Terry Adams, and Bruce wrote a three-cello arrangement for her to play. Terry is mentioned in my book as the cellist at a Van Morrison gig I attended, which made a nice synchronicity. Finally, I wanted harmony vocals on the refrains and brought in Katelyn Lawson.
What began as something ethereal, ended up stately and, at times, a little dramatic.