I’m frequently asked, “Who is your favorite Beatle?”
My answer is always, “John Lennon.”
I say that because I believe that if it wasn’t for John, there would be no Beatles. He was determined to start a band, and had some fortunate happenings. Isn’t it ironic that Paul lived within blocks of him, and that Paul was friends with George and brought him to John?
I don’t think there is another group that wrote as many hit songs as the Beatles. And, if John and Paul would have invited George to write songs with them, there would have been even more hits by this prolific group. Unfortunately, John and Paul made George feel inferior, as a songwriter. But, he became a great songwriter in his own right.
Music entrepreneur Brian Epstein and Producer George Martin were the two best things to happen to the Beatles. Although, the group had talent from the start, they needed Brian’s keen eye to mold them, along George’s musicianship and ear for production, before they became the great recording artists that listeners know and still love.
When the Beatles released Meet The Beatles on December 27, 1963, via Capital Records, Americans largely believed that British musicians were corny, and failed to take British rock and roll seriously. In spite of this, when “I Want To Hold Your Hand” premiered on the Ed Sullivan Show, in February of 1964, 72 million viewers tuned in to watch.
Attracting some 72 million viewers didn’t happen overnight. In fact, before The Beatles began working with Brian Epstein and George Martin, every English record label the group had approached turned them down.
George Martin started working with the Beatles, when his own career was in a lull. He went on to produce “Love Me Do,”, “I Saw Her Standing There,” “PS I Love You” and “She Loves You.” But, it wasn’t until he finished working on “Please, Please Me,” that he told the boys, “You just recorded your number one record.” All of these songs became big hits in the UK, but Brian could not find an American label, since none of them believed in – or wanted – British rock.
The Beatles’ attorney Nat Weiss just so happened to be the attorney for VJ Records, a small black label started by Vivian Carter and her husband, James Bracken, of Gary, IN. As he was anxious and determined to get the Beatles a record deal in America, Brian told Nat to approach his clients at Vee Jay and offer them the master tapes at no charge for a 5 year period.
Brian wanted Vee Jay to release the Beatles’ albums that were already out in England, in the U.S., and he was also asking for 8¢ for every copy sold.
Royalties were paid every 6 months, but when the money was due Brian did not receive a check from Vee Jay. He contacted his attorney, who contacted Vivian, and she could not believe that the Beatles hadn’t been paid their $800 in Royalties, yet. So, Vivian went to Ewart Abner, Vee Jay’s flamboyant-yet-very-effective national promotion man. In addition to being in charge of the record promotion, Ewart also handled the books, and he kept all of the financial records in his head.
Ewart sent Brian the belated $800 Royalty check, but it bounced. After he did a little investigation, Brian discerned that the small label was facing large financial troubles. Ewart was a well-known figure in Las Vegas gambling circles, and he allegedly had blown $350,000 that Vivian believed was in Vee Jay’s checking account.
Brian pulled the group from Vee Jay and moved them to Capital Records. Within a few months, Capital released the LP that would rock the world, Meet The Beatles. The first song on side one was “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” It skyrocketed. The song’s success led to their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. And, the rest, as they say, is history.
My partner Tim Tormey and I were fortunate enough to have brought the Beatles to Pittsburgh, PA, for a concert on September 14, 1964. But, even though I promoted the show, I didn’t get to see it.
In 1964, the U.S. was at war in Vietnam, and being drafted was every young man’s nightmare. I booked the September show in February 1964. But, on May 29, I got drafted and went into the Army. So, on the day of the show, I was in Fort Sill, OK. And, I have to admit I was more concerned about staying alive, than I was about a concert thousands of miles away with a group called The Beatles.
After my stint in the Army, I came home and continued my efforts to become a concert promoter. I went on to do quite well promoting every major act.
Oh yes, I promoted, Paul, George and Ringo.
Horrifically, just as we were getting into discussions for a concert with John, his life was tragically cut short when Mark David Chapman waited outside the Dakota Apartments in New York on December 8, 1980.
For my readers, my question is: do you remember where you were when you heard the news about John, and how did it affect you? Or, on a lighter note, what is your favorite memory of John?