Sure, James Arness and Kelsey Grammer are in the record books for playing the same characters – Marshal Matt Dillon and Dr. Frasier Crane – for 20 years.
Joe Bithorn has them both beat.
The guitarist is starting his 30th year playing Beatle George Harrison.
Bithorn is the guitarist for Rain, the long-running Beatles tribute band that’s coming to the INB Performing Arts Center on Tuesday as part of the Best of Broadway series.
Bithorn, speaking by phone from San Francisco, said he never expected the gig to last so long.
“I feel pretty fortunate,” he said. “Because if you think about it in the business, it’s not an easy thing to stay employed for so long.”
The troupe has a couple of different casts that tour constantly, Bithorn said, bringing the music of the Beatles to life to fans of all ages – ages 6 to 60, he said.
“We run the whole gambit. We go from the early all the way to the later years,” he said. “Wow, that’s a lot of fun.”
Part of the fun, of course, is getting to portray Harrison who, while known as “the quiet Beatle,” was an unbelievable guitarist.
“He was much better than most of the people who were around at that time,” Bithorn said. “Some of the things he played were very interesting. As a guitarist, I look at that and think, ‘Wow, how did he come up with that?’ ”
As Harrison, he finds great things to do throughout the group’s entire two-hour show.
“To me, there are interesting little parts within the entire show,” he said. “I get to really stretch out a little bit on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ but to me that’s more or less along the lines of me being the (Eric) Clapton fan that I am. I really like all of it so much.”
To keep fresh and to stay creatively energized, Bithorn plays around with different kinds of music on the side. He has a sitar and some other interesting instruments. He plays a lot of piano – “because I’m a big fan of harmony, and you’ve got it all at your fingertips at that point.” He listens to and plays jazz. He loves to break down solos and interesting bits from songs he’s heard.
But it all comes back to the Beatles, a group that continues to draw fans more than 40 years after they split up. The key, Bithorn said, is the music.
“It sounds like it could have been written today,” he said. “It’s a gift to be able to use that as a vehicle, as your platform to be able to perform for people. It’s almost like you’re a modern-day classical musician.”
Of course it’s not lost on Bithorn that Rain, as a group, has outlasted the Beatles in terms of longevity by a couple of decades. Part of what has kept Rain going and bringing in the audiences is the group’s attention to detail, he said.
“I tried to make sure that as we did what we did that we were very, very accurate about the music,” he said. “We had fun. We took the music very seriously but we really didn’t take ourselves very seriously. So that was the fun thing about it.
“It’s been a great ride.”
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