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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Beatles myths

John Lennon in "the spider room" at the Casbah Club
Myths are often better than the real story. Here are some of the myths that has been debunked, but will remain "truths" to the majority of people.

Pete Best got fired from the Beatles because he was better looking than the others and Paul was jealous.

That may actually be one of the reasons why Pete Best was fired, but if so, it's a minor one. Far better reasons were:

- He didn't play so well (as evidenced by the songs Best played on, see the "Anthology Vol. 1" album).

- As far as the monicker "the quiet Beatle" goes, Best would certainly have qualified a lot more than George Harrison. Best just wasn't as outgoing as the other lads, he was the outsider in the group.

- When they got a recording contract and were going to start recording their songs, John, George and Paul wanted Ringo to be their drummer. They regarded him as the best drummer in Liverpool, plus he was a mate and had a star personality.

- George Martin was not impressed with Pete's drumming and had hired in a studio session drummer, Andy White, for the group's second recording session at EMI. He was surprised when the group arrived sans Best but with Ringo. Ringo's version of "Love Me Do" was eventually chosen for the single release of the song.

- Mona Best, Pete's mother, had a big hand in the promotion of The Beatles in Liverpool. Brian Epstein didn't want her to take part when their career skyrocketed. The way to keep her off the back of the group was to fire her son.

Stuart Sutcliffe was a lousy bass player who turned his back on the audience, so they wouldn't see that he didn't play the chords. McCartney often unplugged Stuart's bass guitar during concerts to prevent him from ruining the songs.

This story seems to have started when Allen Williams, early booking manager for The Beatles published his 1977 book, "The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away". It looks as if Paul McCartney then followed suit with negative critisism made in hindsight, even though back in 1964, Paul said that "(Stuart) was a great bass man".

- Bill Harry, art school classmate of Sutcliffe and Lennon and creator of Mersey Beat magazine: “Allan Williams always comes out with the story that Stuart Sutcliffe played with his back to Larry Parnes at the Wyvern Club audition because he couldn’t play the bass, and that Parnes said he would take the group as Billy Fury’s backing group if they got rid of Stuart. This story first appeared in Williams’ book, ‘The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away’. Williams’ allegation is untrue. Parnes himself was to say that he had no problem with Stuart, that his objection was to drummer Tommy Moore, who turned up late for the audition, was dressed differently than the other members and was a lot older than them. When we used to book the group for the art school dances there seemed to be no problem with Stuart’s performance. In fact I never heard any criticism of Stuart as a musician until the publication of Williams’ book.”

- Stuart himself wrote in a letter from their first stint as professional musicians in Hamburg: “We have improved a thousand-fold since our arrival.”

- “Backbeat” director Ian Softley, after researching extensively and talking to bands and others who attended the German clubs, told the Los Angeles Times: “he (Stu) was very punk, very insistent.  He would turn up his bass really loud… it was dominant and driving.”

- At this time, one of Liverpool’s best, established groups was Derry and the Seniors, featuring Howie Casey. Howie Casey (later a member of the horn section at Wings concerts) said in the same LA Times piece that Stu “had a great live style”.  While the recently-arrived Beatles were still playing the Indra, Bruno Koschmider (who owned both the Indra and the Kaiserkeller clubs) wanted continual music at the Kaiserkeller.  So he split up the Seniors and the Beatles–in effect, creating a third band.  Says Casey, “I was given Stuart Sutcliffe along with Derry and Stan Foster and we had a German drummer.”   If Stuart couldn’t play, a professional like Casey certainly wouldn’t have tolerated him very long. Casey never complained about Stu’s ability.  And this temporary split actually made Sutcliffe the first Beatle to play the sought-after Kaiserkeller gig.

- Rick Hardy of the Jets: “Stu never turned his back on stage. He certainly played to the audience and he certainly played bass."

- Klaus Voorman (friendly with The Beatles in Hamburg, cover illustrator of The Beatles "Revolver" album and bass player for Manfred Mann, before becoming a session musician) says, “Stu was a really good rock and roll bass player, a very basic bass player, completely different. He was, at the time, my favorite bass player…and he had that cool look.”
Excerpted from Daytrippin'

Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1966 and was replaced by a double.

The mother of all Beatles-related conspiracy theories.

- I once did a lecture on the "Paul-is-dead-theory", where I not only laid out the various "clues", I also debunked them, one by one. For instance, the walrus was never a symbol of death anywhere in the world, and certainly not among the eskomos etc. But I found out that the people who had attended the lecture disregarded or shrugged off the arguements against the theory, the theory itself was more fascinating than the truth, so most of them chose to believe the theory.

- In order to believe the Paul is dead theory - you would have to subsequently believe that all Paul McCartney work done after 1966 was done by the substitute for the real Paul. This would include all his Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band work, Magical Mystery Tour, White Album, Let It Be and Abbey Road and all his solo work. You would have to believe that John Lennon had a bitter feud with someone he knew was a stand in. In the end you would have to agree that the Paul replacement was actually more talented than the original Paul. I'm not going to go through all the various clues and disspell them, I'm more than happy to just wish you "Paul-is-dead"-believers all a wonderful life.

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" spells  L-S-D.

- No, actually it spells LITSWD.

- Lennon's inspiration for the song came when his son, Julian, showed him a nursery school drawing he called "Lucy - in the sky with diamonds", depicting his classmate, Lucy O'Donnell.

Julian's drawing

- John Lennon: "It was purely unconscious that it came out to be LSD. Until someone pointed it out, I never even thought of it. I mean, who would ever bother to look at initials of a title? It's not an acid song. The imagery was Alice in the boat."

The Abbey Road crossing was relocated from where it was on the album cover.

The rumour was possibly started by  Carol Ann Bedford in her book "Waiting For The Beatles". When she returned to Abbey Road after a number of years, the crossing looked different than when she used to hang around The Beatles there in the late sixties.
Here's a blog post I wrote about it.

The Cavern Club was caved in, has been rebuilt and is no longer where it used to be.

- Yes! It certainly was...but not as radical as most people seem to think. The Cavern club was caved in some time in the late seventies/early eighties because the city had plans for a branch of the underground trains to run where the Cavern used to be. Following the death of John Lennon in late 1980 and the publishing of a book called "The Beatles' England" (by David Bacon and Norman Maslov) in 1982, more and more Beatles fans started travelling to Liverpool to see the old Beatles haunts and when the underground train plans were scrapped, an entrepreneur wanted to rebuild the Cavern. The original plan was to rebuild the old Cavern as it was thought that the underground club would still be intact below the hastily-built car park above it. Unfortunately, on careful examination by structural engineers, it was discovered that the club's ceilings and general fabric had collapsed so the original Cavern could never be resurrected.

This is all that remained of the Cavern Club when I visited Liverpool in 1982

-  The new Cavern is a mock-up of the old, smaller than the original, although it does occupy 50 per cent of the same underground space, it retains its original postal address and more than 15,000 of the original bricks from the old Cavern were used in the reconstruction.

- What used to be the main entrance to the club is now the fire exit (the current management of the club has no idea why the people who restored the club chose to do this, they would have much preferred to have the main entrance remain the main entrance).

- Other differences are that it is deeper set than the original and the stage is placed to the left as you enter down the stairs (it was facing you in the original) and the original band room is placed at the back of the stage as opposed to the side in the original. The new Cavern also contains a bar area with a new room to one side that contains a large purpose-built stage where many local and international acts have performed, most notable being Paul McCartney's triumphant return to the site of The Cavern in 1999.

The name of the man in the background on the Abbey Road cover is Paul Cole.

Paul Cole's story

Possibly. But probably not, based on what he said in an interview.


Stephane said...

Excellent! Thank you for this useful post. Really, you taught me something new ( and great ) about Sutcliffe.

Unknown said...

Sigh. Yet again here's an article blaming McCartney as the only one who said critical things about Stuart's bass playing. Now there's a myth that needs to be debunked. Both George Harrison and John Lennon ALSO said critical things about Stuart's bass playing. George Harrison said it was “better to have a bass player that couldn’t play than to not have a bass player at all.” That's George saying Stu "couldn't play."'

Why is McCartney always portrayed as the bad guy when it comes to articles about Stuart? Please debunk that myth, too.

-- Drew.

wogew said...

Well, Drew, I'm not blaming Paul...although I think he displays a poor memory occasionally. Memory almost full? I'm sure 1964 Paul remembered things more clearly. I deliberately kept George's remark out because he was referring to when Stuart first bought the bass guitar, by which time he hadn't yet taught himself how to play it.

Unknown said...

"I'm sure 1964 Paul remembered things more clearly." Or else Paul praising Stuart's playing in 1964 was just Paul promoting the band. It's not like he's going to tell everyone that their bass player is weak -- at a point when they're just up and coming.

John and George both gave quotes later in their lives saying that Stuart wasn't much of a bass player. In fact, I recall reading John repeating that comment about Stu playing with his back to the audience. My point: It wasn't just Paul saying that.

Unknown said...

Actually I think having listened to George Martins accounts of meeting and hearing The Beatles for the first time, that Best was sacked because he didn't have the right personality for the band which Martin envisioned.

Remember at that time Martin ran EMIs comedy label paralophone.

He is on record as saying he didn't think their material was that impressive at that time but was impressed by their quick wittedness and affable personalities.

He always recounts Georges joke about his tie which I think reading between the lines was the clincher which convinced Martin to sign them.

I repeat they were not signed because of their original material or playing abilities, the plan was to have them perform other peoples songs as was the custom of the day
whilst their personalities would be their major selling point.

Pete Best did not share the correct personality whereas Ringo Starr did in spades.