Black Jacket Symphony2-bc.jpg
Bob Crisp/The Daily Home

TALLADEGA -- For J. Willoughby, it was another performance and another album for the 58-year-old songwriter, musician and founder of The Black Jacket Symphony.

Willoughby and about 15 other musicians hit The Ritz Stage this weekend to pay tribute to the iconic Beatles album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and they “hope you have enjoyed the show.”

“It’s a lot of fun and satisfaction,” Willoughby said. The Black Jack Symphony performs each show with different musicians, depending on the album selection.  

The Black Jacket Symphony has performed about 50 albums ranging from the Beatles, to the Rolling Stones, to the “Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin.

“Game changers. Always, a game changer.”  

Willoughby said that’s the common bond between the albums selected for The Black Jacket Symphony performances.

Albums are selected from the works of musicians who have made a mark in the music industry. And Saturday night at The Ritz, it was the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

“I’m a big Beatles fan,” Willoughby said. “We did the ‘White Album’ a couple of years ago.”

He said every album The Black Jacket Symphony performs on the stage offers its own fun and challenges, and the number of musicians vary with each performance. A performance of AC DC only took five musicians, but 16 musicians were on stage for Friday and Saturday night’s performances of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. When the group was at a larger venue, bigger city, with more stage room, an orchestra joined the performance.

“This is our streamline version tonight,” he said.

Willoughby, who lives in Birmingham, said they have a wealth of musicians to select from for the many varied musical album performances. Those who were on stage this week may not be on stage with him next week, performing songs by Tom Petty or Pink Floyd.

“It’s like a football team,” he said. “You have to recruit the right players for the right schemes … We do whatever it takes to replicate the album.”

Next week, The Black Jacket Symphony will perform albums by Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin.

“It’s a whole lot of homework involved, and then everyone gets together,” he said.

Next week’s performances will be performed by two separate groups, making it easier and more manageable.

“The key is finding the right vocalist,” Willoughby said. “We are lucky enough to know so many great musicians, but we are always looking for front-line folks.”

Willoughby said he has never heard any feedback from any of the musicians they replicate, but a producer for Pearl Jam once thought the recording of The Black Jacket Symphony was an actual live performance of Pearl Jam.

As for Willoughby, he enjoys having a guitar in his hand and feeling the stage underneath his feet. He has no grandiose plans, except for selecting new game-changing albums and trying to reproduce the greatest songs of the past and present.  

“I don’t need world domination at my age,” he said.