Sunday, October 30, 2011

Raymond Jones, Where Are You?

October 30, 1961

Well, Bob Wooler has been loaned the only pressing the Beatles had of their newly released 45 (sent to them by Stuart Sutcliffe from Germany) and has been playing it at all of the jive shows that he MCs around Liverpool.  It must have been pretty exciting for everyone that one of the local Liverpool bands had achieved this milestone.  So it was inevitable that one of the listeners would make his way to North End Music Stores in hopes of buying his own copy.  According to legend, his name was Raymond Jones and he spoke directly to the proprietor, Mr Brian Epstein.  Mr Epstein assured him that, although he did not have the disk on hand (in fact he had never even heard of it) he would bring all of his considerable talents to bear to obtain a copy.

At first Epstein thought these "Beatles" must be a German band.  Soon enough, he had discovered that that particular group was playing almost every day just a short distance away from the door of  his shop.  In his most proper English way, Epstein pulled a few strings and arranged a visit for himself to the Cavern through Bill Harry, publisher of Mersey Beat Magazine.  Who were these musicians, performing under such an unlikely name so near to this own store?

Beat Brothers = Beatles :-)
I love how the label tells you what dance you can to to this recording - the Twist!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Paul's Coffin

October 1961
A Barber "Coffin"

Nobody know exactly when, but sometime around now Paul McCartney made another improvement to the Beatles sound that is echoing down to us even today, 50 years later.  He obtained a custom made "reflex" bass speaker cabinet with a 15" speaker inside.  At the time, based on its size and shape, it was called "the Coffin".

Paul had it made by a fellow Liverpool musician from a group called the Big Three named Adrian Barber.  (Note the intro from Bob Wooler on that recording.  Cool!)  Barber is an unsung hero of the history of rock and roll because in addition to his interest in music, he also had some experience in the new technology of "electronics".  The Big Three boasted the loudest drummer on the Mersey Beat scene, Johnny Hutchison.  In order to be heard over the drums, Barber had to figure out how to build bigger and better amplification for himself and his bass player partner, Johnny Gustafson.

When Paul saw the huge new cabinet, he knew he had to have one, so he went to the source and asked Barber to make one for him.  For amplification, he just unhooked the speaker wires from his 30 watt Selmer TruVoice amp and connected them to the new cabinet.  Paul said later "Adrian made me a great bass amp that he called the Coffin.  And man!  Suddenly that was a total other world.  That was bass as we know it now."  Pete Best just remembers what a job it was to get it down the narrow stairway to the Cavern cellar!

Cavern 1961 - McCartney and band mates play off the "Coffin" nickname     (c) Apple - Peter Kaye

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Ringo Kid

October 24, 1961

Richard Starkey (aka Ringo) is entertaining thoughts of his future.  Right now, he's is drumming for one of the most popular of the Mersey side bands, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.  (Some great reminiscences from Johhny "Guitar" Bryne of the Hurricanes here.)  Like John Lennon, Ringo is 21 years old and is wondering how long this music lark can last. 

The Ringo nickname is a result of the English craze for anything American and in those days "American" was represented in the popular imagination as "Western", as in "cowboy". (John Wayne played the Ringo Kid in the 1939 movie "Stagecoach".  Maybe Ritchie should have been more realistic about the whole idea, like Kris Kristofferson in a later version of the same story.  Yeah, that's Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, not to mention cowboy movie standby Andy Devine, on board.)

As he ponders what the future might bring, a natural attraction would be the wide open spaces of the American West.  Who can know what images ran through his head of maybe signing on to a cattle drive from Laredo to Kansas City with a couple of thousand head of Texas longhorn.  In any case, Ringo writes to the Houston, Texas Chamber of Commerce for information on immigration to the states.  Today, the chamber sends off a reply to Ringo, complete with a list of employment agencies.  For whatever reason, he decides against making the move across the Atlantic just yet.  But he's keeping his options open.

Imagine how different the history of music would have been if he had decided differently.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bonnie and the Saints

October 23, 1961

The single version of "My Bonnie" with "The Saints" on the flip side by Tony Sheridan (backed up by the "Beat Brothers") is released in Germany.  In a few days, the Beatles good friend Stuart Sutcliffe, who is studying art in Hamburg, will obtain a copy and send it to his friend George Harrison at home in Liverpool.  George in turn will loan it to Liverpool compere and Mersey Beat mover and shaker Bob Wooler.  Mr Wooler will play the single at some of his beat music dances and begin to talk it up in his inimitable style.  The appearance of one of their own bands on a commercial record is a very big event.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Karl and the Beatmakers

October 19, 1961

Yet another very big event in the story of the Beatles demonstrates vividly, 50 years later, the camaraderie and pure joy that the Merseyside musicians are enjoying.  Again, the event is promoted by Brian Kelly's BeKay Productions and takes place at Litherland Town Hall.

On the bill tonight are The Beatles, Karl Terry and the Cruisers and Gerry and the Pacemakers, three of the biggest Merseyside bands.  Someone has the typically crazy idea that the three bands (with many of the same songs in their sets) should join forces for just one night.  The pick-up band called themselves the Beatmakers and they performed all the biggest rock standards, one imagines, in the most raucous manner possible.  The band members even went so far as to try out new stage personas.  Gerry Marsden wore George's leather get-up and George wore a hoodie (talk about being ahead of his time!)  The two drummers, Pete Best and Freddie Marsden shared one kit.  The group also included John Lennon on piano and Les McGuire on sax.  Bill Harry, publisher of Mersey Beat magazine, who is in a position to know, says that Paul McCartney, on rhythm guitar, appeared in a nightie!

Thank goodness that Brian Epstein (unbeknownst to him, yet) is on the way to bring some order to this happy chaos.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How Will You Keep Them Down on the Mersey

October 15, 1961

John and Paul, tired and broke, return to Liverpool and the old grind of gigs after their vacation in Paris.  The new hairstyle, inspired by the Paris scene, is here to stay.  John, Paul and George are all wearing it now.  Only Pete Best continues to go his own way, tonsorially speaking.  The Beatles, as a group, never made overt demands on the individual members, peer pressure was enough to keep the band moving in a common direction in matters of both music and fashion.

Alain Delon on set
Here's an interesting youtube clip that shows what was happening in French cinema at the time, which heavily influenced the Beatles' changing style.  It's from the 1960 movie Plein Soliel (Purple Noon) and stars Alain Delon, who sports a remarkably "fashion forward" hairstyle.(Of course, these are just the first rumblings of the nouveau style.  The Beatles and others will take it to further heights in years to come.  In matters of style, evolution is the watchword.)

Now that they are back, the Beatles jump into the deep end, playing two gigs today.  One is a rare benefit, organized by unsung hero Jim Gretty, a guitarist and salesman at Hetty's Music Store on Matthew Street where many of the Beatles' instruments came from.  The gig is held at Albany Cinema for the local ambulance company.  They play this evening at Hambleton Hall, one of the rougher of their regular venues.

They are back at the Cavern FIVE times this week, and they play on the 17th at a show organized by their very own month-old fan club at a one-off venue, David Lewis Club in central Liverpool.  There is also a legendary appearance at Litherland (more later) and one at Knotty Ash to round out the week.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy 21st, John

October 9, 1961

Today is John Lennon's milestone 21st Birthday.  I wonder exactly how he and Paul and Jurgen celebrated it on the streets and in the cafe's of Paris.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Meeting Jurgen in the Middle

October 8, 1961

Paul and John are in Paris where they run into Jurgen Vollmer, and are just taking it easy for a change.  It is hard to overestimate how important their German friends are the to the development of the Beatles.  While the music is central to the Beatles appeal, their lifestyle and personal charisma are just as important and those things are heavily influenced by the Germans and their continental outlook.

Why does it seem that everything that happens to the Beatles seems to be part of some preordained script?  They work their butts off, playing long stretches in Germany and schlepping equipment all over the Liverpool area, almost never missing a gig.  Honing and polishing the music and unifying the Beatles sound into an ever better and better live presentation.  And then something whispers to John, "It's time to sag off work for a couple of weeks and take in a bit of the good life in Paris."  (Interesting side note:  Cynthia Lennon says in her book "John" that he is beginning to wonder how long this music lark will last and what he will do when it's over.  You can't go on playing rock and roll to ballrooms full of teenagers when you're 30, can you?)

While he and Paul are in Paris, they must be taking in the fashions prevalent there which will later become part of their personnas (via Brian Epstein), fashions which are so out of step with their own cultural milieu of working class northern England.  Jurgen Vollmer, one of their very oldest German friends, is a very big influence.  There are lots of pictures taken by him here (including John's favorite of him standing in a Hamburg doorway).

This is a very important time for them, indeed.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Paris is Burning

September 30 - October 15, 1961

John Lennon receives a generous gift of 100 English pounds from his aunt Mater (sister of his mother Julia).  He decides immediately that he and his musical partner Paul McCartney should spend some time soaking up the romantic atmosphere in Paris, France.  Completely out of character, they run off to the continent and spend the money lounging in cafes and looking cool.  They connect with an old friend from Hamburg, one of the exis, Jurgen Vollmer, who is in Paris studying photography.  During this visit they are immersed in French youth culture.  One feature of French cool is the longer "continental" hairstyle they will permanently adopt while on this visit.  They have been leaning in that direction for months now.  On this visit they really commit to the nouveau style.  No more going back to the Elvis/Gene Vincent inspired pompadour or "waterfall" haircuts.

Paul and Jurgen Vollmer                  John in Paris looking cool