In the music business there are many factors that define the razor edge between the "'Legends' and the Lost". The right sound, at the right time, in the right place are foremost on the list, but are not the only factors that will determine the placement of any musician in the history books. The pages are also subject to edit by record companies and producers, the fickle nature of fans, the general acceptance and understanding of your work by other musicians, and, of course, "Luck".
The Musicians profiled in "On The Boards" are those who, having reached the pinnacle of their particular music genre, gave us a sound that is uniquely definable as belonging to the individual musician(s). Feel free to add, correct, or debate the contents herein. Submission/comment
The Beatles pre 1963
The Magical Mystery Tour of the Beatles began with their evolution in England in 1957 as a "skiffle" band under the name of the "Quarrymen". Skiffle is a style of folk music that makes use of traditional instruments, guitar, percussion, etc, along with more primitive forms of instrumentation, washboards, spoons, tea chest bass, and any variety of homemade gadget that could be used to create sound. If not for the later rise to fame of the Beatles, the Quarrymen, along with the many skiffle bands that popped up during the '50s, would have been consigned to obscurity decades ago.
The Quarrymen were formed by John Lennon, soon joined by Paul McCartney, followed by George Harrison, with Colin Hanton on drums. At this point in time Lennon and McCartney were both playing rhythm guitar, so Lennon's friend Stuart Sutcliffe was recruited to play bass. Because the skiffle style of music could be performed by unskilled musicians, (turnover in these bands was usually high), it is somewhat surprising that John, Paul, and George remained together, with the only revolving door being the drummer. Within the year Hanton left and the band went through a series of drummers as well as a progression of names including; Johnny and the Moondogs" , "Long John and The Beetles" , Long John and The Silver Beetles" and the "Silver Beetles", until Sutcliffe suggested the name "The Beatals or Beetles" " as a tribute to Buddy Holly and The Crickets, with the eventual spelling change to Beatles. The change made an interesting, though entirely co-incidental combination of Beetles and Beat Brothers, (Beat Brothers being the name they used as backing band on the Tony Sheridan recordings in 1961).
The band's lack of a drummer at this point posed a serious problem, Allan Williams (acting manager at the time), had made arrangements for performances in clubs on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, West Germany, and Best was the solution. Williams wanting to get the group to Hamburg, took a trip to see Bruno Koschmider, bringing along a tape of the Beatles. Unfortunately, Bruno could not speak any English, and Alan no German, so the conversation was difficult! To complicate matters, when Alan tried to play the tape, it broke! So Williams left Germany frustrated, feeling that the trip had failed.
Later, in desperation and under pressure from one of his other groups to get work, he went to the 2i's coffee bar in Soho, London to try and drum up some big town gigs. As he walked in, who was sitting in the bar, but Bruno Koschmider - he had been impressed with William's enthusiasm, (even if he couldn't understand exactly what he was saying!), and had gone to England to see what the fuss was about. Of course, he didn't go to Liverpool, but to the hub of happening, London. This remarkable coincidence set up the Hamburg gigs for the Beatles. Pete Best was added on drums in August ’60, just four days before the group left for Germany where “The Beatles” were to begin a 48-night residency in Hamburg at Bruno Koschmider's Indra Club, and Der Kaisereller, both located in the infamous red light district of Saint Pauli in Hamburg, an area that was the epitome of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll at the time. The lineup at this time was John, Paul, George, Best, and Stu.
This initial trip to Hamburg's St. Pauli district resulted in a fiasco for the group, a fiasco that more or less came about over a contract dispute. The Beatles had been watching Tony Sheridan perform at the Top Ten Club, owned by Peter Eckhorn, and before long found themselves on stage with Tony for impromptu jams, which violated their contract with Koschmider. Add to this, that
Eckhorn had a reputation for stealing bands away from the other clubs, and the results were more or less inevitable.
Bruno had scouted in London for bands to play his clubs, had paid the fees to bring the bands to Germany, and of course had an exclusive contract to boot, so he was not about to let Eckhorn get away with anything.
The Beatles soon found themselves without a band. George was deported for being underage, (17), Best and Paul were both deported on an arson charge which stemmed from their attempt to gain some lighting while in their somewhat squalid accommodations behind the Bambi Kino, (cinema), Lennon's work permit was revoked a few days later and he went home by train. Stu, however, stayed behind a while longer at the home of his fiancé Astrid Kirchher, whom he had met just weeks before at the Der Kaiserkeller, and only returned, at Astrid’s insistence, to finish art school. While there are many versions of what happened at the time ranging from banal to bizarre the above seems to be the most logically succinct interpretation of events.
Back again in England the band played an engagement in December 1960 at the Casbah Club, with Chas Newby substituting for Sutcliffe, who had not arrived home yet. Newby had been with The Blackjacks (Pete Best's former group), and was now attending college, but was on vacation and so agreed to play with The Beatles. He appeared with them for three engagements in December 1960. Lennon asked him to go to Germany, for the Beatles' second trip, but he chose to return to college. The Beatles’ return to Hamburg occurred in April 1961, for a stint at the Top Ten Club, where they were recruited by singer Tony Sheridan to act as his backing band on a series of recordings for the German Polydor Records label. Orchestra band leader Bert Kaempfert signed the unknown “Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers” to Polydor. The Beat Brothers , (Beatles), signed their own contract at the first session on June 22, 1961. On October 31, Polydor released the recording "My Bonnie (Mein Herz ist bei dir nur)", with the Beatles backing Sheridan. When the group returned to Liverpool, Sutcliffe stayed in Hamburg with Kirchher and McCartney permanently assumed the roll of bass player. At this time the line up became John, Paul, George, Best.
Upon returning to Liverpool, The band made its first of over 200 appearances at the cavern club in February of 1961 culminating in a final appearance there in August 1963. At the time the Beatles were playing the cavern, and had a local following, Brian Epstein managed the NEMS record store. A lad walked in and asked for a record by the Beatles. Epstein had never heard of them, and, as he prided himself on a tab system for every known band, he was extremely annoyed to find nothing on the Beatles. Who were they? One of his shop assistants pointed out to him that not only were they a Liverpool group, they played just down the road at the Cavern. It was here that Brian Epstein first saw the Beatles in November of ’61. The Beatles signed a five-year contract with Brian Epstein on January 24, 1962. He then formed the management company NEMS Enterprises, (North End Music Stores), with Kaempfert releasing The Beatles from their Polydor contract.
Originally Epstein approached Decca records in his search for a record label and after a fifteen song recorded auditioned, was turned down by their executives who felt that there was no future in “guitar groups”. While negotiating with Decca, he approached EMI, (Electric & Musical Industries Ltd.), marketing executive Ron White, who in turn contacted EMI producers Norrie Paramor, Walter Ridley, and Norman Newell; all of whom declined to record The Beatles.
Epstein tramped around every record company he could think of, with no joy, until someone pointed out to him that instead of taking a tape everywhere with him, he should have an acetate made of it. A typical acetate disc is an aluminum disc, 10 or 12 inches in diameter, that is covered with a thin coating of nitrocellulose lacquer in which the sound groove is cut, (basically an LP). He asked how could he do that? He was told to go to HMV in Oxford street, where they had a booth for that purpose. HMV, (His Master's Voice), is a famous trademark in the music business, and for many years was the name of a large record label. The name was coined in 1899 as the title of a painting of the dog Nipper, (now the RCA logo), listening to a wind-up gramophone. In the original painting the dog was listening to a cylinder phonograph.
The engineer who made the acetate for him at HMV couldn't help but hear the music he was transferring. "This isn't half bad", he said to Epstein, "Have you taken it anywhere yet?". Epstein confessed that he'd taken it everywhere, with no luck. "Have you tried George Martin upstairs?" said the engineer. It was George Martin, who signed the group to EMI's Parlophone label on a one-year renewable contract.
The Beatles returned to play in Hamburg from April to May 1962, where they performed at the opening of The Star Club. The Star-Club opened on Friday 13 April 1962 and was initially operated by Manfred Weissleder and Horst Fascher. In the sixties, all the big names of rock music played at the club, which became more famous as the Beatles career took off.
Upon arriving at the club to perform the band was informed of Sutcliffe's death from a brain haemorrhage. Stu had suffered from severe headaches for some time and the undiagnosed condition finally took its toll.
The addition of Richard Starkey to the band occurred at the insistence of George Martin who felt that Best was not a team player, and that his drumming ability was somewhat lacking. So on August 16 1962 Epstein fired Best and Richard Starkey, or “Ringo Starr” was asked to join the band. Ringo was at present drumming for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and had jammed occasionally with The Beatles in Hamburg. Starr played on The Beatles' second EMI recording session on September 4, 1962, but Martin hired session drummer Andy White for their next session on 11 September. White's only released performances were recordings of "Love Me Do" and "P.S. I Love You", found on The Beatles' first album.
EMI's American operation, Capitol Records, refused to issue the singles "Please Please Me" and "From Me to You” which were eventually issued by Vee-Jay, and given air time by Art Roberts, music director of WLS, who placed "Please Please Me" into the station’s music rotation in late February 1963. Vee-Jay's later lost it’s rights to The Beatles when their contract was cancelled for non-payment of royalties, talk about a major managerial screw up!
The initial response to The Beatles was under- whelming, and airplay was almost non-existent, in fact initial testing on Dick Clark's American Bandstand actually brought laughter from the audience over the hairstyle the band sported at Epstein's insistance, which curiosly enough was another reason for dumping Best, who refused the new look. But on December 10, 1963, a 5-minute story shot in England about the phenomenon of Beatlemania was shown on the CBS Evening News. This segment inspired a teenage girl named Marsha Albert living in Silver Spring, Maryland to write a letter to Carroll James, a disc jockey at Washington DC's WWDC radio station, requesting that he play records by The Beatles. James had a copy of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" shipped over to him in DC and the song debuted December 17, to an overwhelming positive audience reaction, with the station escalating airplay of the record.
In early November 1963, Brian Epstein persuaded Ed Sullivan to present The Beatles on three editions of his show in February, and parlayed this guaranteed exposure into a record deal with Capitol Records. Capitol had already committed to a mid-January release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand” but upon hearing of the overwhelming success of the songs airplay released it instead on December 26, three weeks ahead of schedule
Several New York radio stations began playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on its release day. The positive response to the record that had started in Washington was duplicated in New York and quickly spread to other markets. The record sold one million copies in just ten days, and by 16 January 1964, Cashbox magazine had certified the record number one, in the edition datelined 23 January. The rest is history, but the story behind that history is filled with the coincidences of "right place "right time, right sound" that can either make or break a band.
Best Interview - 5:30
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