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Q & A: Journalist Ivor Davis talks about touring with the Beatles in the summer of 1964

By Marshall Terrill

The Beatles and Me on TourIn the summer of 1964, The Beatles embarked on a record-breaking pandemonium-inducing tour of America and Canada. Ivor Davis’ new book, The Beatles and Me On Tour, presents an insider’s chronicle of that tour and a peek into a beloved era with the world’s most famous band. Davis, who was then a young reporter for the London Daily Express, traveled with The Beatles as the only British writer on the entire tour.

Through 34 days and 24 cities, Davis traveled with The Beatles watching them make rock and roll history. He enjoyed unrestricted access to the Fab Four – from their hotel suites to backstage concert areas to their private jet. He fended off excited girls, played all night games of Monopoly with John Lennon, became the ghostwriter of a newspaper column for George Harrison and witnessed the night Bob Dylan turned The Beatles onto marijuana.

In The Beatles and Me On Tour, Davis recounts in frank and amusing fashion, the rip-roaring adventures of The Beatles at a critical moment in rock history.

 

Q: Your book, The Beatles and Me On Tour marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first tour of the U.S. What took you so long to sit down and write this book?

Davis: I was getting on with my life. Newspaper reporters do a story and then move onto the next and seldom look back. I got married, had a family and covered some terrific stories in half a century – but I finally decided to look back. I’m glad I did.

Q: Tell us briefly where you were in your career at this point, who you were working for, and how you got the assignment to cover the Beatles first U.S. Tour?

George Harrison and Ivor Davis

George Harrison and his newspaper column ghostwriter, Ivor Davis, in 1964; Credit: Express Newspapers

Davis: I was newly appointed West Coast correspondent for the London Daily Express, circulation four million daily. My editor called and said, “The Beatles are coming to America and I want you to fly to San Francisco where they’ve just arrived. Cover them, eat, drink and hang out with them – and, oh yes, we have signed George Harrison to write a column. He’s a musician and can’t write so you’ll have to make what he has to say palatable reading.”

Q: You did a great job of covering a day in the life of Beatlemania experienced from the inside of the fishbowl, but it didn’t always sound so wonderful or cute. Looking back, can you talk about the stress and strain of that tour and how they handled everything?

Davis: Strangely enough The Beatles were like kids in the candy story; the prisoner effect was a strain. They were unable to leave their hotel rooms for fear of being torn from limb to limb by ecstatic fans. And they were upset about the lousy sound systems in nearly all of the venues. I couldn’t hear what they were singing. We were all drowned out by the screeching, wailing fans and so were The Beatles. Ringo often didn’t know what song they were singing and told me he had to lip-read to catch up!!!

Q: You came from an era of journalists where they flipped their notebook shut on the personal indiscretions of celebrities and politicians, and certainly, there’s still an element of that with this book. What was the informal agreement, or not-stated but implicitly-understood agreement with The Beatles in this particular case?

No one ever said, “Don’t write negative stories” … but we knew being allowed into The Beatles inner sanctum came with unwritten rules.

Davis: No one ever said, “Don’t write negative stories” … but we knew being allowed into The Beatles inner sanctum came with unwritten rules. The Beatles co-opted us onto their team, their entourage. We sympathized with their prisoner status. We could go anywhere and so we treated them kindly.

Q: Given what you just said, you don’t seem to defend John Lennon regarding an incident with a teen in Las Vegas.

Davis: The Vegas incident was a harsh wake-up call. We knew that when girls were ushered into meet The Beatles, they didn’t ask for their birth certificates. But as Paul said, “We were aware of underage girls hanging around, but there were lots of over-age girls – and this was at the start of birth control pills. And we were healthy young lads.” With, of course, lively libidos.

The Beatles at Hollywood Garden Party, September 1964;  Credit: Express Newspapers

The Beatles at Hollywood Garden Party, September 1964;
Credit: Express Newspapers

Q: Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley never experienced the kind of frenzy and mania The Beatles did. Can you give a perspective on why The Beatles seemed to evoke such feelings from the teens of that era?

Davis: Lots of older women I spoke to in the last couple of years told me that honestly they were in love with John, Paul, George and Ringo. In their own (fantasizing) minds, when they looked at each individual member, they winked, waved and smiled back … and it was true love.

Q: The Beatles’ side trip to Alton, Missouri for a few days of relaxation seemed unnecessary and dangerous. What do you recall of that stay?

Davis: It was a great break. What was dangerous was the late night flight in a rinky-dink plane with the owner of the charter jet company in the cockpit. And their landings in Missouri were runways with virtually no lights. It wasn’t until they were well into this flight that The Beatles realized danger threatened. Once on the ground they had a wonderful break – celebrating Brian’s birthday and getting nicely inebriated.

Q: Can you give me a brief thumbnail sketch of each Beatle, starting with John Lennon, who seemed to be a real pisser.

Davis: JOHN: wickedly funny, who spoke his mind and it often came back to bite him. Witness that Jesus statement that landed him in hot water. But brilliant and like Robin Williams a bit of a genius.

PAUL: Very PR-oriented. The most approachable of The Beatles, who knew the value of hobnobbing with the media and being nice.

GEORGE: Really uncomfortable with strangers at first. He was a bit sullen at first and the kind of guy who warmed to you later – once he felt more relaxed and got used to you.

RINGO: The newbie in The Beatles pack. Definitely the fourth banana. But as Brian Epstein said later, America made Ringo. By the time they flew home in September 1964, Ringo had become the most popular Beatle.

By the time they flew home in September 1964, Ringo had become the most popular Beatle.

Q: The Brian Epstein you painted was a man who seemed a harsh taskmaster who was volatile, vulnerable and emotionally fragile at times.

Davis: Brian lived a secret life. He was a closet gay, who took terrible risks in his personal life and had terrible experiences as a result. He tried to give off the cool, imperious front but beneath he was terrified that his sexual preferences would come out and destroy The Beatles who he had worked so hard to build up.

Q: John Lennon’s fascination with President Kennedy assassination and insisting on a tour of the book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald made the deadly shots seems almost fateful or ironic?

Davis: It was. But John was always pushing and prodding more than any of the other Beatles and at an early age was more concerned about politics and events outside the music biz. He was the political/social conscience of The Beatles.

Q: Lennon specifically commented to you about America being the Wild West when it came to guns. What would he have thought of today’s America with random shootings at malls, colleges and military bases on such a regular basis?

Davis: John would still be campaigning, using his fame to right terrible wrongs – in Iraq, Afghanistan and the plight of the have-nots in third-world countries.

Q: You were covering the Watts riots in Los Angeles when you received a phone call that The Beatles and Elvis were about to meet at his home on Perugia Way. Given that no photos or recordings were made of that night, why were you, a journalist, invited to come in the first place and what was your take on if they got along or not?

Davis: Elvis did not have a great time. It’s funny, everyone there, including the Memphis Mafia and those in The Beatles’ inner circle, said the ice thawed eventually and they began to communicate. That’s what I saw. Awkward beginning and a lightening of the atmosphere and mood once they started jamming. Don’t forget Elvis was the King of his castle and The Beatles had invaded his home terrain and taken over the No. 1 spot. Elvis was not a happy camper making those repeat movies (three a year!) and The Beatles’ first movie was a home run!

Q: You write at the end of the tour, it was fun, but that you didn’t expect it to be historical or the Beatles to become legends. What’s your outlook today?

Davis: Back then I was around the same age as The Beatles and none of us had the vision. Who in their early twenties has great vision … that comes with age. Today I am still astonished that people come up to me as if I’ve been sprinkled with invisible Beatle magic dust. I was just a lucky guy at the right place and right time – and who could have predicted it? No one. I was just doing a nice job when by happenstance The Beatles rode into town…

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The Beatles and Me On Tour is available in hardback and Kindle on www.amazon.com

Ivor Davis will be signing copies of The Beatles and Me On Tour at the Los Angeles Fest for Beatles Fans Oct. 10-12. For more information about Ivor Davis, visit https://www.facebook.com/ivor.davis.395

For more Beatles news, follow Daytrippin’ on Twitter and Facebook

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Exclusive Interview: Laurence Juber: A Guitarist with Wings (and fingers)

GuitarWithWingsCoverCIn 1978, Laurence Juber was plucked from the London studio world by Paul McCartney, who asked him to play lead guitar in what was to become the final incarnation of Paul’s post-Beatles group, Wings. He recorded and toured with the band for three years, during which time they won a GRAMMY and scored numerous chart hits.

When Wings folded in 1981, the guitarist relocated to the U.S. and settled in Los Angeles to raise a family. Since then he has become one of Hollywood’s most in-demand studio players and has gained worldwide recognition as an innovative fingerstyle guitar composer, performer and recording artist.

Looking back, Wings has enjoyed a popularity that goes beyond simply that of Paul McCartney’s 70s era backing group. In his new book Guitar With Wings: A Photographic Memoir, Laurence Juber brings the final chapter of Wings to life with a unique collection of unseen photographs, stories and memorabilia that show the band at work and play.

In an exclusive interview with Daytrippin’, Laurence Juber talks about the writing of his new book, his relatively unknown past and all things Wings.

Q: Why did you decide to write Guitar With Wings at this point in your life and career?

LJ: You can thank my co-author Marshall Terrill for that. Without his prompting, the photos would still be in the closet.  Once he proposed the book, my reaction was “if not now, then when?”

The timing was somewhat auspicious, coinciding with my ’50 Years on Six Strings’ anniversary and the book’s release coming 33 years after Wings folded – a number that has spiritual import.

The ancient Greeks referred to 60 as the ‘age of philosophy.’ I turned that milestone as I was starting to work on the book, so I suppose thanks can also go to the cosmos.

Q: Reading about your family history and early life was especially interesting given that fans didn’t know much about your past. What did you learn about your family history in your research that you didn’t know before?

LJ: Having to put it into words gave me a different perspective on my experiences. In revisiting my European roots, I learned some interesting things about my family tree, mostly about creatively-inclined relatives that I didn’t know I had.

Laurence Juber at age 13

Laurence Juber at age 13; Photo courtesy Laurence Juber

Q: Your ‘studio years’ prior to joining Wings was also educational reading. Looking back, how did those years prepare you for Wings and your subsequent career?

LJ: It was all about making a living by playing guitar and being versatile enough to walk into any musical situation. London was an exciting place to grow up musically in the 60’s and 70’s. I studied classical, played in jazz bands, blues bands, top 40 groups – you name it.

Paul was looking for someone who could handle a lot of different styles and Denny Laine recognized that when he recommended me. At that point, the McCartneys needed a stable professional to carry the lead guitar role and I ‘fit the suit.’

Q: You joined Wings at the tail end of the band, or as you call it, ‘The Indian Summer.’ What do you feel was particularly special about Wings from 1978-1981?

PaulSqueezebox

Paul McCartney; Photo courtesy Laurence Juber

LJ: Any period in Macca’s career is special – he’s not an artist that stands still. There were a lot of factors at play. For one, other than Paul himself, Steve Holley was the first English drummer in the band (discounting Geoff Britton, who was only there briefly). Denny Seiwell has a jazz drummer’s approach to orchestrating his parts. His work on Ram should be essential study for drum students. Joe English played with an American rock swing. Steve has that ‘Big Backbeat’ that is characteristic of the best British rock drummers.

Wings was, at least commercially, a pop group. Having Chris Thomas as co-producer brought out a level of rock sensibility that perhaps went deeper than the earlier incarnations of the band. Back to the Egg wasn’t a concept album, but Chris tends to bring that consciousness to his projects. His Beatles credentials are impeccable and I think he opened up some fresh creative space for Paul.

Even though Paul was the major creative force, Back to the Egg evolved as a band album, with a batch of material that lent itself to a ‘group mind’ in the studio with Chris as the ‘real 6th Wing.’

Q: Your recollection of your time in Wings is near encyclopedic. Can you explain why you remember those years so well?

LJ: I was substantially sober and doing a fair amount of meditation too, which seems to focus the mind. In writing the book, I had to dig deep to get the timeline right. I only kept a diary sporadically, so there was a lot of Googling in the process. Mostly it was the photos themselves that brought back the memories and documents too, like my old passports.

backtotheegg

‘Back to the Egg’ album cover

These are my recollections and the others could no doubt tell things from a different perspective. I appreciate the opportunity to tell my side of the story.

Q: You wrote extensively about the recording of Back to the Egg, which seems to draw extreme reactions from fans. How should music historians view this work?

LJ: Always in the context of Paul McCartney, artist. I’ve talked to many musicians that came of age with this album, as well as many fans for whom Egg was a conduit to discovering the Beatles. The critics didn’t like it at the time, but it seems to be better appreciated today.

In the digital era, albums in general have fragmented into their constituent tracks, so it’s reasonable to look at the individual songs and gain a fresh appreciation for the writing and performance aspects, regardless of the stylistic context.

Q: The picture you paint of Paul McCartney is not only a family man but as someone who encouraged collaboration and fraternization of his band members, which was not always the case with earlier incarnations of Wings. Do you think he loosened up by the time you and Steve Holley joined the group?

PaulandLinda

Paul and Linda McCartney; Photo courtesy Laurence Juber

LJ: Regarding the previous line-ups, I don’t have anything to compare it to. We were certainly collaborative creatively and the period we spent in Scotland and at the castle was great for developing the band sensibility. Paul and Linda still valued their family privacy, but when we were in the studio, it felt like a band.

Q: What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing Guitar With Wings?

LJ: I didn’t know I could write that much! Also, that I enjoy the process of archiving the material.

Q: As you recently stated at your appearance at The Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago, Guitar With Wings only covers the first half of your life. Will there potentially be a second book one day to cover the second portion of your career?

LJ: I’m more inclined to let my music tell the story, so a subsequent book will likely focus on my compositions and be a music folio with stories, a few photos and glimpses of my solo career.

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Guitar With Wings is available at www.guitarwithwings.com and www.daltonwatson.com.

Laurence Juber will be signing copies of Guitar With Wings at the Los Angeles Fest for Beatles Fans Oct. 10-12. For more information about Laurence Juber, visit www.laurencejuber.com

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Want more Laurence Juber? Read our in-depth interview with him from 2010:
Ex-Wings guitarist, Laurence Juber, talks about attending ‘Paul McCartney University’

For more Beatles news, follow Daytrippin’ on Twitter and Facebook