Joe Stefanelli as John Lennon

Joe Stefanelli as John Lennon

Joe Stefanelli, who has made a career of impersonating the Beatles leader, performs in The Moptops during a Flight Path Museum gala honoring longtime docent Ethel Pattison

By Michael Aushenker

Call him a living tribute to John Lennon.

Playa del Rey’s Joe Stefanelli has forged a career impersonating the late singer-songwriter as one-quarter of Beatles tribute band The Moptops, even playing Lennon in the movie “Forrest Gump.”

On Wednesday, The Moptops — with Frank Mendonca as Paul McCartney, David Brighton as George Harrison and David Gunderloy as Ringo Starr — recreate a Beatles concert circa 1965 as part of the 18th annual Flight Path Museum Gala Dinner, themed “Yesterday: A Salute to the ‘60s.”

Appropriately enough, the event honors longtime aviation docent Ethel Pattison for nearly 60 years of service with the Flight Path Museum’s Guiding Light Award, presented by museum President Nancy Niles.

Pattison, who began giving tours of LAX in 1956, “has a unique has a unique knowledge of Southern California aviation history and a special gift for communicating her enthusiasm to others,” Niles said.

It’s only fitting “the Beatles” play on Pattison’s big night. Her career goes back so far, “I was here when they came here 50 years ago,” Pattison said of the Fab Four landing at LAX during the height of Beatlemania. “I have some pictures. I would never have dreamed that they’d still be so popular today.”

Come Wednesday, expect Stefanelli to sing the Lennon-led smash singles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Yet Stefanelli prefers performing less-celebrated album tracks “Rain,” “Run for Your Life,” “Baby, It’s You,” “It’s Only Love” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

“We may throw in a later song we haven’t written yet, ha-ha, hee-hee,” said Stefanelli of his plans to anachronistically indulge in some late-Beatles favorites.

Life on the Beatles tribute band circuit “is very incestuous,” said Stefanelli, who plays with a number of Fab Four re-incarnations.

“When a Lennon goes down in a band,” he said, “I’ll get a call.”

In fact, Stefanelli’s regular Wednesday night gig with Number 9, an early-Beatles cover band playing twice weekly at Britannia Pub in Santa Monica, is not his regular group, nor is the version of the Moptops playing the gala.
Stefanelli’s main version of his act is the one he formed in 1992, featuring a Paul impersonator from Tucson, a Missouri-based Ringo, and a George in Manchester, England.

The Moptops have toured Europe and played Japan and Taiwan, finding their most enthusiastic fans in Asia. The band opened for Joe Walsh at Dodger Stadium and performed at a 30th anniversary Candlestick Park show celebrating the Beatles performance at the recently shuttered San Francisco stadium.

However, Stefanelli‘s most intriguing turn as Lennon was recreating the late singer’s ‘70s appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” within “Forrest Gump,” alongside Tom Hanks and the real Cavett.

Born in 1960, it was only after Lennon’s death that Stefanelli, then 20 and weaned on Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Van Halen, began listening to the Beatles. Then he moved from San Francisco to Redondo Beach, catching Duncan Faure of Bay City Rollers performing at Hennessey’s in Hermosa Beach.

“I would sit in the audience. He’d play Elton John. He said, ‘Wow, what a voice! Come on up and sing with me!” Stefanelli recalled.

That led to Stefanelli joining a reconstituted Bay City Rollers. Once that dissolved, then-wife Mara Fox, founding member of the all-girl metal group Precious Metal, pushed Stefanelli to find his Paul, George and Ringo. With Tim McDougal (Paul), Danny Lopez (George) and Mike Melair (Ringo), the Moptops was formed, debuting at the LAX Marriott.

After years residing in Venice, Stefanelli relocated to Playa del Rey and became a fixture at Mo’s Tavern and the Elks Lodge.

The Moptops and Number 9 notwithstanding, Stefanelli appears in “Starting Over: The John Lennon Experience,” a solo show positing what if the icon had lived, in which Stefanelli performs Lennon’s Beatles and solo output as well as son Julian Lennon’s “Valotte.”

Stefanelli never tires of being John Lennon.

“I approach it as a pure actor,” he said. “I’m happy to be able to still do it.”

Likewise, Pattison’s love for LAX and dedication never waned. Post 9/11 security concerns ended airport tours, but she picked right up where that left off as a valuable supporter of the Flight Path Museum.

“We have a great airport that’s survived 50 years of design,” Pattison said.

The Flight Path Museum Gala Dinner starts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, at Proud Bird Restaurant, 11022 Aviation Blvd., Westchester. Tickets are $100, with proceeds going to support Flight Path’s aviation education programs. To RSVP, call (424) 646-7284 or visit flightpathmuseum.com.

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