IN COURT ONE DAY, PAYING TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES THE NEXT, By Kelton Lee Gibson

If my partner Dennis Jones had a dollar for every time someone asked him if he’d rather be a lawyer or a musician, he probably would have been able to retire long ago.

He chose the right vocation because, he’s told me, if he had to choose one, he would rather be a lawyer. He also chose the right avocation because he loves pumping up crowds of up to 5,000 people with “Hey Jude,” especially now that the 50th  anniversary of Beatle Mania – when the Beatles first came to the United States in February 1964 – is upon us.

Jones, a partner at Myers, Widders, Gibson, Jones & Feingold, LLP in Ventura, has practiced civil litigation, primarily insurance claims, for 30 years. He graduated with honors from the University of Southern California in 1976, then went directly into  a master’s program and worked in court administration before going back to the University of San Diego School of Law to earn his J.D. Since then, he has been named a Southern California “Super Lawyer” by Law & Politics in the field of insurance law for the sixth time in seven years.

At the end of 1999, he moved north from Manhattan Beach to join our firm. About seven years later, he formed Sgt. Pepper, a Beatles tribute band that plays about 40 gigs a year. Jones’s love of music started long ago. He started playing piano when he was five years old, but rebelled against practicing three years later and stopped. In high school, he re-taught himself to play by ear. In the meantime, he attempted saxophone for a semester, but it wasn’t until he picked up a guitar at twelve that an instrument stuck. Jones describes the 1960s music scene as phenomenal.  “Those were the glory years of both rock and soul music,” he said.

Jones, like many others, fell in love with The Beatles the first time he saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show. He was nine years old at the time. The melodies and harmonies in early Beatles music, and how the band pushed the limits of music technology by using synthesizers in their later music, captivated him. Singers like Aretha Franklin and Motown artists also enthralled him. Still, the Beatles remain his undisputed favorite.

In sixth grade, Jones joined his first band – the Perpendicular Triangles – playing acoustic guitar. But it wasn’t until college that he got his first shot at playing Beatles music. His band at the time, Home Cooking, played an 11-song Beatles medley.   After he graduated from law school in 1983, he auditioned for Tom Thumb and the Hitchikers (the singular “h” in the middle is intentional). The now-eleven-person rock and soul show band already had a guitar player, but needed a bass player. Jones could be in the band, provided he transitioned to bass, which he did. He never looked back. Tom Thumb and the Hitchikers will celebrate its 30th anniversary in July and still plays three to four gigs a year.

Right about the time Jones moved to Ventura to join the law firm, the depressed economy started making it hard for bands to book gigs as frequently. However, Jones realized demand for tribute bands remained fairly consistent. He also knew no Beatles tribute bands yet existed in the Tri-Counties area. He decided to capitalize on the open market, and his conjecture proved true – Sgt. Pepper has never had a problem booking gigs.

Sgt. Pepper’s gigs – which range from appearances at a British pub in Ojai, to concerts in Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara for 5,000 people, to the Reagan Presidential Library’s Summer Concert Series – and the associated practice time are worth every minute Jones spends away from the office and his cases.

Not only are concerts a way for Jones to get out of the office, but being part of a performance and helping the audience have a good time is very rewarding for him.  Just making music is enjoyable. While not everyone may have musical talent, “any avocation – whether music, surfing, or hiking – is helpful because it helps balance practicing law, which can be stressful and all consuming, especially when it involves litigation.” When Jones is on stage, he never thinks about his cases, whereas he might think about them driving in the car or taking a shower. This is a good thing. Business people, perhaps especially attorneys, need an outlet to clear their minds.

Playing bass helps clear Jones’s mind in part because, as the only non-full-time professional musician in the band, he has to concentrate during performances – playing Paul McCartney’s bass lines and singing at the same time is no easy task. The intricate Beatles melodies means Jones sings more in Sgt. Pepper than he has since seventh grade, and the complicated, melodic, flowing bass lines keep him focused.

The other three musicians are world-class professionals, which makes scheduling practice times and gigs difficult sometimes, but Jones sticks with it, practicing on his own to stay sharp and sometimes playing concerts with substitute musicians. These substitutes, though, are usually professional Beatles impersonators, and no one in the audience can tell the difference. Since Jones joined fourteen years ago, his expertise in liability claims and representing policy holders has undoubtedly enhanced our firm. His ability to help defend people and companies against insurance companies, including fire, mold, water and wind damage claims, is unparalleled. He also certainly adds to Ventura County’s legal quality and collegiality.

However, his side “job” providing musical tribute to The Beatles also adds to the firm and to his skill as a lawyer, because it helps keeps him alert, excited and balanced. While being an attorney can easily become all-consuming, making time for an avocation is undoubtedly worth the time.

Kelton Lee Gibson is managing partner at Myers, Widders, Gibson, Jones & Feingold, LLP, one of Ventura County’s oldest law firms. His areas of expertise include construction defect litigation, community association

law, civil litigation and real estate. The firm’s headquarters are in Ventura, with other offices in Thousand Oaks, Valencia, Las Vegas, Reno and Mammoth Lakes. For more information call (805)644-7188 or visit www.mwgjlaw.com.

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