Oh what a lucky man he was, and still is. Lon Van Eaton — musician, singer-songwriter, recording artist, music/video producer, artistic manager and developer, and philanthropist — has come a long way from his childhood on Hermitage Avenue in Trenton. Along the long and winding road, he has worked with and/or rubbed elbows with at least three of the Beatles, as well as Harry Nilsson, Carly Simon, Art Garfunkel, Eric Clapton, Ben Vereen, and many more luminaries.
His creative imagination is still fruitful and the ideas keep coming. Van Eaton’s latest creation is the “beyond 3D” concept of LIVIES, which stands for Live Interactive Visual Immersion Entertainment Shows. More immediately, Van Eaton will return to New Jersey to perform at the Record Collector in Bordentown on Sunday, December 12, to benefit the David Lynch Foundation.
“I’m kind of nervous, because I’ve never really done a lot of solo shows or work by myself, but the Record Collector called me when the Apple recordings were re-released, so I promised I would come,” he says in a phone interview from his home in Denver, Colorado, where he lives with his wife, singer Constance Blaine.
Van Eaton is talking about the release of “Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records,” just out as of late October. This is a compilation of songs and music from the early days of Apple Records, the label launched by the Beatles in 1968. In the utopian spirit of the times, Apple artists represented a diverse spectrum of sounds, from the power pop of Badfinger to the sophisticated Modern Jazz Quartet and even British contemporary classical composer John Tavener.
In 1971 Van Eaton and his brother, Derrek, were one of the last acts to sign to Apple and were fortunate to record in Apple’s state-of-the-art studios. John Lennon had taken a liking to their song “Sweet Music,” and the brothers were swiftly flown to London to sign their contract, and then record, with George Harrison producing and Ringo Starr on drums. Those sessions would culminate in the acclaimed album “Brother.”
“We had been in a band called Jacob’s Creek, which was signed to CBS Records, but was breaking up,” Van Eaton says. “My brother and I were left as a duo and decided to write enough material to make a demo, which our manager Robin Garb sent out to three or four labels, including Apple. We got word that Apple liked our music, and the next thing you know, we were flying over there.
“You can imagine the shock,” he continues. “We took a limo and visited John and Yoko’s house and saw his smashed up Mercedes. Then we went to visit George’s place, Friar Park. As we got out of the car, there was George sitting on the lawn with his wife Patti (Boyd Harrison), sipping tea and strumming our songs from the demo. We loved them all, and we really clicked. All the energy at Apple, in London, was magical, beyond magical in fact.”
Even before Van Eaton signed with Apple, his life as a recording artist for CBS brought him close to some of the superstars of the ’60s. “We were in the same hotel in Greenwich Village as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan,” he says.
He and Derrek had been learning and practicing transcendental meditation, and Van Eaton attributes the connection with the Beatles (especially Harrison) to his practice. “I’ve been practicing TM now for 40 years — in fact, that’s what the David Lynch Foundation is largely about,” Van Eaton says. “It opens you up to the fourth level of consciousness, elevates and changes your perception, makes you grow. The Beatles did it, and that’s how it got to be so well-known here. No matter what kind of meditation you do, though, it’s all good, in fact, it’s brilliant.”
Raised by musically inclined parents (his Italian-born mother had aspired to be an opera singer), Van Eaton began his musical odyssey with the clarinet, which he picked up at age five, then the saxophone a few years later.
His father was an engineer and entrepreneur, and in the early ’60s became involved in oil exploration in Kentucky and West Virginia. There, in the heart of country and bluegrass music, the saxophone wasn’t too cool, so Van Eaton took up the guitar. More luck followed: he was invited and sponsored by Vox (makers of guitars and sound equipment) to play at the 1964 World’s Fair.
He briefly attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but returned to this area to study biology at Mercer County Community College, earning an associate’s degree in 1968.
He moved to California to attend Fresno State College, with the goal of becoming a doctor. But music and a couple of amazing strokes of luck would derail that career path. Moving to New York City in 1969, Van Eaton studied at the New School, focusing on composition and arrangement. It was onward and upward from there, next to Apple Records, then, with a move to Los Angeles, signing with A & M records in 1973, recording the album “Who Do You Outdo,” produced by Richard Perry.
Working as a studio musician, Van Eaton played on numerous solo Beatles albums, notably on Starr’s release “Ringo,” where the Van Eaton brothers share credits with Paul and Linda McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, the entire line-up of the Band, Martha Reeves, and saxophonist/arranger Tom Scott. Playing with Harrison on the album “Dark Horse” gave Van Eaton a glimpse into the human side of the Fab Four.
He tells a story in which he and Harrison were trying to get onto the sprawling property where A&M Records was located, but the guard at the front gate didn’t recognize the former Beatle. “George and I were riding around in his fancy cool car, and he was in a bad mood,” Van Eaton says. “The guard was being a (martinet) and George kinda lost it, yelling ‘have you ever heard of the Beatles?’ They were heroes, but you have to realize that they’re human.”
After Lennon’s death on December 8, 1980, Van Eaton dedicated his life to non-profit work, notably KIDS Inc. (Kindness Is Doing Something), musical projects geared to inner-city youth. In 1985 founded and remains president of Imagine a Better World, Inc., a Denver-based entertainment production company with the heart of a philanthropy. Among other works, he created the environmentally themed “Pulse of the Planet” for the Turner Network and CNN, featuring appearances by Ben Vereen, Robert Redford, and Carl Sagan.
And now, about “LIVIES.” His latest work is the environmentally themed “The Dance of Life,” which started as a musical theater production. But Van Eaton wanted to take it way beyond that concept, and, through LIVIES, has transported the live theater experience into a geodesic dome, where performances are projected onto high-definition virtual realities, and the audience is immersed in surround sound. Steve Wynn, Las Vegas hotelier extraordinaire, has shown interest.
“When I go to do something, I try to keep as many of the things I learned from the Beatles in mind, remember their greatness, and (apply this) in these efforts, because the Beatles are my inspiration,” Van Eaton says. “We need more Beatle love and understanding.”
Lon Van Eaton and Friends, The Record Collector Store, 358 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown. Sunday, December 12, 7:30 p.m. Register. $20. Benefit performance for the David Lynch Foundation. Sponsored by E.Y. Staats & Co. Haircutters of Princeton. On the Web: www.lonvaneaton.com. 609-324-0880 or www.the-record-collector.com.
Van Eaton will be interviewed by Randy Ellis, who books music for the Record Collector, on his radio show on WTSR-FM, 91.3, Wednesday December 8, 8 to 10 p.m.