'A crowd of people stood and stared'
Lease has sold his clothing to tribute bands in the United States, Japan, England, France, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands and other countries.
The band RAIN is performing its A Tribute to the Beatles show on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre through Jan. 9, and will be wearing Lease's "Sullivan Show" suits and "Shea Stadium" jackets on stage. Steve Landes, who portrays John Lennon, admires "Russ's never-ending search for perfecting his reproduction pieces.” “That love for what he does is why the finished product is so spot-on. ... I appreciate that eye for detail," Landes says.
Ardy Sarraf portrays McCartney in The Fab Four:The Ultimate Tribute, a California-based band. His bandmates and he have bought the "Sullivan Show" and "Budokan" suits and the "Shea Stadium" and "crosswalk" jackets. For Lennon's 70th birthday on Oct. 9, the band performed a special show of Lennon songs at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles. "The suits help me get into character," Sarraf says. "Part of what we do is acting, and Russ's Beatles clothing takes you back to the time period and gets you motivated to go out and play."
"As it's turned out, only about 35 percent of my business today is tribute bands, and the other 65 percent are regular people,” Lease says.
Mark Lindamood, 55, of Washington, D.C., wore the "crosswalk" jacket during his wedding to his wife, Iris, on May 8. "It's a smart-looking and comfortable frock coat," he says. The gray-haired Lindamood, an editor for a Defense Department think tank, is the drummer for a local tribute band called The Apple Core. "We don't try to look like the Beatles did in their 20s. I can't imagine myself in a black mop-top wig at my age," he says, laughing. "It's all about paying homage to their music."
Lease attends about six trade shows and conventions each year, such as the annual Fest for Beatles Fans in New York in March/April, Beatle Week in Liverpool in August, and the first annual Abbey Road on the River festival in Washington, D.C., this past Labor Day weekend. In addition, he has written several articles for music trade publications, such as the Toronto-based Beatlology magazine. Since the mid-1990s, he's worked as a consultant for several auction houses, including Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonham's.
‘Keeps calling me back again'
"Although I was only 7, I remember that first Ed Sullivan Show like it was yesterday," Lease says. Every Sunday, he watched the popular variety program with his family — mom Peggy, dad Ben and sister Peg — in the living room of their Linthicum, Md., home. "I didn't know who the Beatles were, but Peg, who's 10 years older, told me about them beforehand. Immediately, I was mesmerized."
His family today includes his wife, Becky, and sons Charlie, 24, Ben, 20, and James, 17. He says his three sons are only casual Beatles fans, but they know a lot of the tunes and lyrics from his playing their music in the car and around the house.
"Every time I replay those Sullivan Show episodes on my DVD player, it's just as exciting for me. I think you had to have lived through Beatlemania the first time around to understand the passion and fervor," he says. "I had no idea this hobby of mine would turn into a full-time business when I got that initial autograph. The fact that I can make a living at something I love is icing on the cake.
"I can't imagine a world without the Beatles."