by Steven G. Farrell
A new Beatles museum opened this summer in Liverpool. The Magical History Museum is located on Mathew Street and was opened by Roag Best, son of Neil Aspinall and Mona Best, and brother to original Beatles drummer, Pete Best.
by Steven G. Farrell
A new Beatles museum opened this summer in Liverpool. The Magical History Museum is located on Mathew Street and was opened by Roag Best, son of Neil Aspinall and Mona Best, and brother to original Beatles drummer, Pete Best.
It was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt Pepper and Beyond is a new documentary film celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. It serves as a complement to the Making of Sgt. Pepper documentary from 1992 and also the recent PBS documentary, Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution. While those films offer more of a focus on The Beatles’ recording process, It was Fifty Years Ago Today gives a more cultural context to the Sgt Pepper album.
This film was not officially sanctioned by The Beatles, and therefore no Beatles music was included. Instead it offers interviews with many people who were in the Beatles inner circle and also famous Beatle biographers. They all have some great insider stories and details to share.
Another plus is all of the rare historical footage of The Beatles that you don’t often see in “official” documentaries. However, the flow of the film is at times disjointed with one interview popping up in-between two other unrelated segments.
Also, the film title and DVD cover text leads you to believe that the focus is mainly on Sgt. Pepper. The film starts in August 1966 giving the background of why The Beatles stopped touring which led to their unlimited time in the recording studio. However, the film goes on for 2 hours, and covers material way past the release of Sgt Pepper in June 1967 to include the Beatles trip to India in 1968.
In this reviewer’s opinion, the film was about 30-40 minutes too long and all of the information about what happened after the death of Brian Epstein in August 1967 should have been omitted. The fact that it continues through 1968 leaves you to wonder where this “Sgt. Pepper” documentary is headed and wondering when it will end.
With that said, the interviews are very intelligent and interesting. There is also a second DVD of bonus extra footage of extended interviews with a few people featured in the original film. Highlights are the in-depth interviews with former BBC radio host, Andy Peebles, who interviewed John Lennon two days before he died, and Pete Best. Also included is a brief visual tour of Beatle-related sites in Liverpool and London, with a special stop at 34 Montagu Square, which has a special connection to John, Paul and Ringo.
For Beatles fans who like to get their hands on rare footage and interviews of The Beatles, then this DVD is for you. – T.Y.
To promote the album, George Martin did an extensive interview with Beatles historian, Martin Lewis in 1998. The audio interview and transcript was released to the media to help publicize the In My Life album in 1999. This interview with Sir George provides great insight into his work with The Beatles.
Here is a brief excerpt:
Q: So there you are in 1962, something happened then that changed everything for you – you met Brian Epstein, who managed The Beatles. Tell me about that.
George Martin: Brian Epstein brought along a tape of a group that he called the most unlikely name of The Beatles, a very corny name I thought, and [the tape] was not very good, in fact it was awful. But it did have something, it had a sound that was very rough and raw. The songs weren’t anything to write home about. My reaction to him – he was very persuasive, he was convinced “this is going to be the best group ever. They’d been in Germany, they’re turning people away when they’re doing gigs.”
He didn’t tell me that he’d been to every other record company in the country, and been turned down by every record company. If I had known that, I would have chucked him out the door, but I listened very politely to him, he was a very nice man, very persuasive. And I said, “If you want me to judge it on this I would have to say never, but if you like I will give these characters some time. If you bring them down from Liverpool, I will take them into the studio and I will see what we can do with them, and then I’ll tell you if they’re any good or not.”
But when The Beatles came down, we spent an afternoon in the studio together and that was quite different.
Q: In what way was it different when they actually came into the studio in June 1962?
George Martin: They had tremendous charisma, these four boys. At least three of them did. The guy who played drums [Pete Best] was very good-looking but he didn’t say much and just kept very quiet in the background. But the other three were full of life and joking around with each other…
When Paul first brought me the song, he started it off [imitates music] ba-da-da-da-da at the beginning of the song, and I said we need something more hooky than that, something to grab your attention. Which is why I took out “Can’t Buy Me Love” and constructed a beginning by repeating the hook into an introduction which seized upon your mind. You had to sell things quickly in those days.
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by Marshall Terrill
(all photos courtesy Ken Mansfield)
Ken Mansfield has worked with some of the biggest giants in the rock ‘n’ roll and country music industries. As the former U.S. Manager of Apple Records, he was invited by his bosses, The Beatles, to run their record label. He was a loyal employee and companion to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr both during the band years and well after their 1970 breakup. As a record label executive and Grammy Award-winning producer, he also worked on the marketing, promotion and production of dozens of albums by top-selling artists, such as the Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, and The Band, and was a major player in the 1970s as producer of the groundbreaking Outlaw movement in country music, whose impact is still felt in the genre to this very day.
In his new book Stumbling On Open Ground: Love, God, Cancer and Rock ‘n’ Roll (Thomas Nelson), Mansfield reveals ongoing trials with two bouts of cancer and thoughtfully frames his spiritual struggle and physical pain in the light of ultimate healing and triumph. Today he is an ordained minister and sought-after speaker. He appears at churches, special events and colleges across the nation and has authored The Beatles, The Bible and Bodega Bay (B & H, 2000); The White Book: The Beatles, the Bands, the Biz (Thomas Nelson, 2007); and Between Wyomings (Thomas Nelson, 2009).
Mansfield kindly gave Daytrippin’ his memories of The Beatles as a true member of the group’s inner sanctum.
Q: Let’s start at the beginning with your association with The Beatles. When did you meet them and how did that grow into becoming the U.S. Manager of Apple Records?
KM: Mainly I was in the right place at the right time. I was in charge of promotion and artist relations for the western states at Capitol Records when they came to California on their 1965 tour so it was my official job to work with them – press conferences, etc. I was in my twenties and the resident hip young guy on the label and we simply hit it off. Because of their exaggerated fame, their relationships with record company executives was at the highest levels, you know –a “Lord” of EMI, a “Chairman of the Board” of Capitol Industries, all older “suits”. We worked together one day and the next day they had the day off and invited me up to their house to hang out. I was the tan California guy and we were equally fascinated with each other’s cultures. I worked with them the following year when they came to America and when they decided to set up Apple, I was their man in America so they sent for me to set up the US launch and to run the label in the world’s most important market.
Q: Give a brief thumbnail sketch of each Beatle as you perceived him.
KM: Paul was the energetic one, the one that seemed like the popular kid in high school. He was the one whom you would cruise main street with your arms hanging over the car door edge, pressing tight to make your muscles look bigger. He would be the guy who would wave at the girls and slow down so they could jump in the back. I never felt a strong personal agenda coming from Paul, and by that I mean that it didn’t feel like you had to figure out who he was or where he was coming from. He was always presenting the next project or place to go. It was the sheer impetus of purpose that put things in motion so what you saw was an idea and a goal, and none of it needed complicated examination. “Here’s what we are about to do and that was exactly what we were about to do.”
To me, Paul was the unabashed leader of the group, the hard-charging one with the ideas and the one that on the surface seemed to be less troubled about things in general. I’ve said it before that he was like a hyper-kinetic kid that never slowed down – the difference being that he was able to harness this energy into his God-given musical talent and just let ‘er rip. In all honesty, he wore me out. It was fun, the times I got to hang with him or work with him, but his tempo was maddening and his energy pool bottomless. I did have an underlying pressure as the US manager of their company so that I couldn’t just totally go with the flow and hang out and party. My responsibilities were always looming in the back of my mind. If we had been high school buddies and there had been no fame, I think Paul would be the kind of person who would be great to hook up with again at class reunions. It would always be good to see him again. He, like the other Beatles, had an admirable sense of loyalty to their old mates. I was with Paul when he brought Ivan Vaughn, an old friend from his Liverpool school days to LA with him to just hang out. Ivan was certainly no one famous or even in the business – just an old friend hanging out with a mate who just happened to be the “cute Beatle.”
George was the one you would have seen in the cafeteria keeping to himself. But he would also be the one to move things aside in order to make room for you when you sat down in the seat next to him. He would welcome the company and share in the moment in an easy manner. He was the kind of guy that a slow, easy friendship would develop with over time and without the fame an everyday George would have probably been the perfect neighbor. He was so gentle and easy to be with. There was thoughtfulness in his responses to things as they were happening whether it was the conversation or the next move. He was the model of a man at peace with what was going on inside and his serenity spilled out into his surroundings. I could talk with him about simple things and was able to forget the Apple stuff because I could tell that the world didn’t begin and end with that for him. He would be more concerned about how I was doing rather than what I was doing. We shared some very personal times together because we were young, happening dudes with new wives who liked each other. I got to be the LA guy with him during his frequent and extended stays. Just because we were in Hollywood didn’t mean we had to be crazy. It was simple and easy being with George – we would go buy jeans together or sit around the house late at night and not say much.
John was the different one. He was the kid who also might be eating his lunch alone but would probably be standing up, leaning against the soda machine looking out across the lunchroom like it was another planet. There was always this sense that he was a bit unapproachable and he would be the one to do the approaching if anything was going to come down on a personal level. I spent less time with him than the others with the main difference being that I never had that alone time away from the band or Yoko – except for the day over at Ringo’s LA home in 1976. That particular event was an accidental encounter and definitely not a bonding moment.
I have written a lot about John over the years and it surprised me how many pages I spent on him after having had so little contact. I believe it was because of the complexity of his nature that it took more words to describe him. He was a brooder. There seemed a distance in place that made me always wonder how our exchanges were being digested and assimilated. I found in time this had more to do with my insecurities than his inaccessibility. He was very focused and intent at times and didn’t have time for niceties. When I finally understood him better I found this to be because he was very straight ahead and honest when it was one on one time. John cared about issues of importance and would get very frustrated when he couldn’t make matters better. He was like many of the great artists I worked with who had the odd ability to be in the extreme corners of life, jumping back and forth from altruism to self-centered madness without ever spending much time in the middle. Gee, I wonder why he was the one everyone was so fascinated with?
Ringo was the long-term guy. He’s the one you would meet the first day at school and just because you ended up in the cloak room at the same time going for the same coat hook, you became friends for the rest of your school years and never really thought much about why. He was the most natural, most accessible and the most down to earth. I remember when I was in London it was his house that I was invited out to for a holiday feast. When we were in LA it was gatherings at our homes that were of the norm. We shared a lot of our lives over the years and it was usually the simple things that stand out when I think back. He was the one I got to know best and the easiest to describe. I never liked the fact that he was relegated to the fourth man down on their totem pole when it came to the band’s pecking order. Besides being the best absolute drummer they could have chosen, he is an exceptional actor in my opinion. It is hard to find someone sharper or funnier in head-to-head dialogue. He brought “Starr” power to the band.
Q: I’ve always seen Apple as a multi-media company that was 30 years ahead of its time. Great concept, but somewhere the execution went awry. What, in your opinion, went wrong?
KM: I understood Apple to be based on a “conglomerate” approach. There were five divisions I believe. To my mind Ron Kass (Apple’s chief executive) was the consummate class executive and knew how to think corporate. I remember sitting in meetings with him when he would be negotiating major deals for the Beatles and Apple and I felt like a child watching a master. As I have said before the two men I respected the most and learned the most from in the entertainment business were he and Stanley Gortikov who was president of Capitol during my time there. The working structure felt more like Apple was a record company with four subsidiaries because the record division is where the energy and emphasis seemed to be.
You are right that the concept was very innovative but there was one big problem (among many others) and that was within the multi media concept there were multiple bosses – four to be exact. Each one had a position of legitimate and complete authority and the four horses would not always pull the Apple cart in the same direction. It was very hard for the day-to-day underlings at the label to stay focused. Another problem was in the altruistic approach to the world, musical youth and the fact that Apple was to have an open door policy for aspiring artists. It became very hard separating the legitimate artists from the loonies due to the masses that descended on 3 Savile Row almost around the clock. As I mentioned before there were five divisions so that means four (Beatles) times five (divisions) equals twenty possible complications — right?
Q: I imagine there was great pressure on The Beatles to make a spectacular debut regarding the launch of Apple. Did you feel the pressure and did you know you had the goods with “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” and later, with The White Album?
KM: At the time of the Apple launch we felt that one of the single most critical decisions we would be making was selecting the Beatles first single on the new label. “Hey Jude” was an obvious masterpiece but there was great concern, especially from McCartney that it could be rejected because of its length. Those were the days (!) of tight play lists and extreme competition between the top 40 (rock) stations – the way to gain listeners was to play the most hits in an hour. This created the two-and-a-half minute standard for single record lengths. The stations would then take it one step further and in many cases would actually speed the records up very slightly in order to squeeze one more record in during the hour and then the station could make the claim that their station was the one to listen to because they played the most hits. We sat on the floor of the Apple building for what seemed like hours listening to “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” over and over again trying to decide which one should be the “A” side. It felt like Paul was the head of A&R in this matter so I suggested that the Beatles trust me with an advanced copy of the record and I would fly back to the US from London and hopscotch my way across the country back to LA, stopping off along the way at major radio stations where I would get the opinions of major music directors across the nation. It was unanimous that “Hey Jude” was the hit no matter what its length. I called Paul when I got back to LA to let him know what I had found out and the rest is history.
Q: Brian Epstein, The Beatles’ manager, died as Apple was being set up. If Brian had lived, what role do you think he would have taken at Apple, if any?
KM: I have no idea. This is an area that I have very little insight into because I only worked with Brian once and that was briefly during the 1965 tour. If I had to guess I believe he would have had less influence over their careers but at the same time I felt they were fiercely loyal to him and he would definitely have retained his title as manager. Hard to project how that would have played out in the long run.
Q: You have described Apple in the past as a place teeming with excitement on a daily basis. What made it such a great place to work?
KM: Gee – how about there was never a dull moment and you never knew what the next moment was going to bring. The building vibrated and the level of vibration was relative to how many Beatles were in there at one time and the nature of the world outside. You had the most famous and infamous people that were haunting the halls on any particular day. Hells Angels, Hare Krishnas, famous movie stars – you name it – you never knew. There was also this incredible buzz coming up out of the basement recording studio with little records like “Let It Be” being made.
Q: You were also in charge of Zapple Records, the experimental arm of the record division. What was the expectation of this subsidiary?
KM: This was John’s baby and I felt honored to be included in his dream. If I had to guess, I don’t think he cared if the projects he was bringing on board this label sold 10 copies or 10 million. He mainly wanted them to be made because he saw great intellectual and literary value in them and felt they needed to be immortalized via recordings. I mean a Richard Brautigan recital is not actually a Shea Stadium concert event.
Q: One recording that didn’t get distributed by Zapple was John & Yoko’s Two Virgins. Can you please tell the story of how he approached you for this project?
KM: I cover this in detail in The White Book – the incident that took place concerning me and that album cover was one of my most confusing and scary moments in the music business. The four Beatles, myself, Stan Gortikov, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, Larry Delaney (Capitol’s head of press and relations ) and Peter Asher were in all-day meetings in a hotel suite on Hyde Park in London. We took a small break and Mal had taken a room next to our suite and suggested I join him and Neil there. I hadn’t done much in the way of drugs in those days and Mal handed me a filtered English cigarette that had the tobacco dumped out and then mixed with some hash and returned to the cigarette. I took a couple of hits because I wanted them to think I was cool and we kicked back for a while which made me late in returning to our meeting. I went back to the suite and sat down on the couch with John and Yoko. The minute I sat down I realized how stoned I was and I became very paranoid because across the room was the president of the company I worked for staring at me. Here’s where things got real squirrelly – John leaned over, pulled a bunch of pictures out of a manila envelope and began slowly laying them on my lap one by one. They were nude pictures of he and Yoko. I thought he was suggesting something that I was very unprepared to consider and my head started spinning and I started sweating. After what seemed an eternity I looked up and saw Paul laughing at me. While I was out of the room John had presented his cover idea for the Two Virgins album to everyone, in my absence, and when I returned to the meeting he was simply bringing me up to speed. He neglected to give me the reason for the pictures though! Paul realized what was happening and decided to let me squirm for a while. When he felt I was nearing panic stage he kindly explained what the pictures were about.
Q: When the Beatles played the legendary rooftop concert on top of Apple headquarters at 3 Saville Row, you were one of the few people to watch it in person. What are your recollections of that day?
KM: The John Lennon/Two Virgins incident was my most uncomfortable event in my recording industry career and the day on the roof watching the Beatles play together in concert for the last time is by far my most exciting – I like it that both had to do with the Fab Four. The feeling the few of us up there that cold January day experienced was something magical. We all knew something special was going down but it couldn’t be defined at that time. I saw the Beatles from a few feet away being the band they started out to be – ironic that it was also the beginning of the end.
Q: You still retained a relationship with all four Beatles when Apple went south. Tell me about your last encounters with John, Paul, George and Ringo.
KM: PAUL: We chatted outside in the parking lot after a Grammy awards show on March 1, 1975 and made plans to get together the next day while he was in LA. He gave me a private number and told me when to call. My call was intercepted by a young assistant who decided I was another bothersome fan and would neither put me through or take a message for Paul. (He passed a hello on to me a couple years ago during a book signing when the person getting the autograph told him they knew me but that was it).
GEORGE: We spent a lot of time together after Apple – our wives had also become friends and he and Pattie were spending a lot of time in LA. But the last time I talked to him was after he and Olivia were together and we ran into each other in a narrow alley that separates Dan Tana’s restaurant and the Troubador nightclub in Hollywood. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and we had a mini-reunion in a dark alley. It was very pleasant and normal, just like running into an old high school classmate. (Ken is pictured below with George in 1973)
RINGO: Our relationship continued on for many years as he lived a great deal of the time in LA and there was a small group of us old friends who hung out together. I even represented him in his record deal with Private Music/BMG in the early ’90s. The last time we saw each other was in Santa Rosa, California, when he was on tour with his All Starr Band. It had been a while since we had seen each other or hung out and it was oddly strange when we got together after such a long break. We had gone in different directions with our lives and it was honestly a bit awkward. Not that we weren’t friends but it was simply hard keeping a relevant conversation going. We had our history together but after the hellos and “How’s Barbara?” etc. were done, we struggled to find things to talk about.
JOHN: It was an unusual last meeting with John. It was during the crazy years when he and Harry Nilsson were hanging out when Yoko had sent him off on his own for a while. I was producing Waylon Jennings at the time and Ringo had asked me to come over and play the finished master on the Are You Ready for the Country? album I had just finished for RCA Records. When I walked into the living room at Ringo’s house John was sitting on the couch and he was in an obvious bad mood. He had just shown up out of the blue and wanted to be alone with Ringo. Ringo asked me to put the tape on anyway – John became more anxious as the music played on wishing the album would end and I sensed for me to go away. The day had an interesting ending but I wish it could have been a more pleasant last time with John Lennon.
Q: According to you, Apple was going to reform again in 1986 with Ron Kass at the helm and all the original players coming back to their original positions. What happened?
KM: In the summer of 1986 very unexpectedly, I received a call from Ron Kass. I was in my Main Mansfield Associates office on Nashville’s Music Row. It was so good to hear from Ron as it had been a while. I knew he was in LA producing films as well as other music industry ventures but when I moved to Nashville we had drifted apart. After catching up on old times he told me why he was calling. He had just returned from London and had had some preliminary meetings with a couple of the Beatles and Neil Aspinall. The discussions concerned starting up Apple again. There were two caveats: a) the Beatles would not be putting up the money this time so it would have to be funded by someone else and b) it would not be the typical restart of an old company because the feeling was that the company was more than a name — that it was most of all a special group of people – therefore the only way it would be done is if it was staffed by the original gang. He wanted to know if I was in – would I return as the US Manager of the company? I said yes of course and it took us about ten minutes to get a $10 million dollar start up backing commitment from one person. We flew to London within weeks and began having meetings with Neil Aspinall, Tony Bramwell, myself and the investor. The first day we took it easy, walked familiar streets and stood outside 3 Savile Row on the sidewalk talking for about an hour and imagining ourselves back inside those windows again. Kass was acting strangely on this trip. He was constantly excusing himself from our activities and also leaving the table at restaurants for long periods during the whole time we were in London. His demeanor was different from what I remembered, and there was a moodiness that I had never witnessed. He was also moving funny. (Ken pictured with Ron Kass (on left))
The meetings went well as this was a mere fact-finding mission, and everyone left with things to think about and assignments to fulfill before we could proceed further. I couldn’t reach Kass after we returned to the States. He wasn’t answering or returning his phone calls. Even his partner at his movie company couldn’t find him. I had his sister’s phone number and had conversed with her over the years, and she couldn’t help me either. Time was running out on the assignment of our due dates as part of the preparation needed for the next meeting. Kass had dropped out of sight. As Kass was the starting point of our efforts, this made zero sense until one day his sister called and gave me the phone number where he was staying in Arizona with his fiancée, Anne. I called the number, and Ron answered the phone. He spoke in a soft, level tone as he quietly explained what had transpired since we hugged goodbye in London. Upon returning to L.A., Ron went to see a doctor because he hadn’t felt well during the London trip and was uncomfortable the whole time. They discovered a cancerous tumor in his gut the size of a grapefruit. Ron was given six months to live.
He died October 17, 1986 – eight months after London. I didn’t go to the funeral. I couldn’t think of him that way.
Q: Ron Kass was the first of many people at Apple and the Beatles inner circle who died young. In fact, one of the chapters in Stumbling On Open Ground, you provide a list of casualties. What moved you to do this?
KM: When I was in the throes of going through a heavy cancer battle myself, I began thinking back on those days when we were all vital and I found myself understanding their pain better and in a way escaping mine by going back and reliving the incredible time we all knew and worked with each other. You know I can go back on top of that five-story building in London’s downtown business district and still visualize that historical day. Of course, we all know that John and George are now gone. I also remembered sitting by the chimney stack with Maureen Starkey, Ringo’s first wife, and she is gone. Ron Kass, Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, and Derek Taylor, who ran things for the Beatles and were the innermost of the inner circle back then, were all there that day, are all gone. Billy Preston, who sat quietly behind the band at his keyboards that day, is also gone. There was enough energy and enough exciting people on that freezing roof that day to light London nights for months. Now those of us who are left have a hard time getting the coffee pot running in the mornings.
Using the Beatles as a base point in all this led me to discover that there are probably less than half of us alive today. The Apple Corps are just like the picture on the record label—only half an apple.
Q: Where were you when John Lennon and George Harrison passed away and what are your reflections of them today?
KM: I was sitting on the floor of my new Hometown Productions Inc. offices in Hollywood deciding which pictures of my Beatle/Apple days I was going to put on the walls when I got a call from rocker Nick Gilder (“Hot Child in the City”), who I was producing at the time for Casablanca Records, telling me that John had just been shot. I hung up the phone and looked at a picture of John in my hand staring up at me. He had written me a note that accompanied the picture. I wept. That picture and note are in The White Book.
Ironically, the morning I found out George had just died of cancer I was in the doctor’s (oncologist) office being given bad news about the status of my own incurable cancer. Fox News was calling every five minutes trying to get me to drive to San Francisco for a live feed interview with different anchors to talk about George. Out of respect for our long friendship I finally agreed to set my emotions aside and allowed them to send a car for me. I spent the day appearing on three or four different Fox shows and completed the day with a CBS interview reflecting on my impressions of the ‘Quiet Beatle.’ It did take my mind off my situation and I felt as if I had helped him say goodbye.
In Kass’s case, because I was so young and had no experience with cancer I could only imagine what he was going through. So my real reaction was patterned more after what a person is supposed to feel because I couldn’t comprehend what it is actually like. Also in those days I still had my invincibility wrapped around me. In John’s situation it was so off the wall, so unexplainable, so appalling that to this day I can’t find a logic slot to put it or my emotions into concerning that horrible tragedy. As I have written before, I was surprised that I felt no right to feel a personal sadness even though I knew him and worked for him – instead I immediately dropped back into the universal fabric of shared sadness.
In George’s situation my feelings went so much deeper because I understood the emotional and physical process that led up to the day the cancer finally had its final say. It was easy for me because I was going through the same process at the time. I am sure if he were here to describe the overall experience to us he would really talk about the grinding battle, the loneliness, the pain, the degradation, and a certain hopelessness that cannot be denied no matter how pretty of a spiritual face you paint on it. I will further guess that the letting go and leaving all the struggles behind was probably the easy part for him. George was a quiet man and I think that is the place he went to when dealing with it. I spend so much time in Stumbling On Open Ground with that very aspect of the battle and I can almost see George nodding his head and hear him saying in that soft voice I had heard so many times, “yeah that’s it” as he reads my descriptions.
Q: What’s the main thing you want to convey about your life with The Beatles?
KM: There were only a few people who were actually there during certain times when the Beatle phenomenon was happening and I had a special place because I was the guy who may have come the furthest to join in the fray. They treated me special and I became a part of the musical bridge that eventually connected the UK and the US. It was a special time in the music industry – a time that will never be repeated.
Note: Watch the official video for Ken’s latest book, Stumbling On Open Ground here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPgeoiFfEKI
Marshall Terrill is the author of 15 books. His next literary endeavor will be a photo/passage book with guitarist Laurence Juber called “Fifty Years on Six Strings.” It will be published in November 2013 by Dalton Watson Fine Books.
by Marshall Terrill
Turn on any classic rock station and you’ll soon hear a song that Ken Scott has worked on. As one of the preeminent recording engineers and producers of the 20th century, Ken has garnered Gold, Platinum and Diamond record sales awards: multiple Grammy nominations; and even a Clio (for his recording of the classic Coke ad “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing”).
His new book, Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off-the-Record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton and so much more (Alfred Music Publishing Co., Inc., 2012, 414 pages) shares Scott’s intimate memories of working with some of the most important artists of the 20th century, while crafting a sound that influenced generations of music makers.
Scott’s work has left an indelible mark on hundreds of millions of fans with his skilled contributions to The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album, and as a producer and/or engineer of six David Bowie albums (including the groundbreaking Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars), as well as other timeless classics from a who’s-who of classic rock and jazz acts, including Elton John, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Duran Duran, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, America, Devo, Kansas, The Tubes, Missing Persons, Dixie Dregs, and Stanley Clarke.
In this exclusive interview with Daytrippin’, Scott recounts funny, provocative, and oh-so-honest tales of being in the studio with The Beatles, working his way up the ladder at EMI and his individual relationships with the Fab Four.
Q: You were 16 when you started work at EMI Recording Studios (later renamed Abbey Road Studios). What was your interest in music before getting the job and how did you ultimately end up working there in January 1964?
KS: I had an old windup record player and I used to listen to 78s of Presley, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and I just loved the music. I remember getting a tape recorder for Christmas when I was around twelve-and-a-half. I used to record stuff all the time. On Saturday night there was a program hosted by a big English DJ named David Jacobs and the show was called “Pick of the Pops.” I’d record all the new releases played on there or I’d have friends come over and we’d record radio plays and then play them for the English class at school. So, I was totally into the whole recording thing. Then I happened to see a TV program when I was around 14 or 15. It took place at EMI and I saw this guy sitting up behind the glass, way up high, and I knew I wanted to be him. I found out that he was a recording engineer and as it turned out, his name was Malcolm Addey. Malcolm actually became a friend and a mentor when I started to work there. So, I reached the point where I checked up on what’s needed to become a recording engineer. Everywhere I’d check it seemed I would have to go to university, which I didn’t want to do. I hated school.
One week I was taking several exams and I knew I couldn’t take any more exams so one evening I sent out letters asking if anyone might need someone called a recording engineer. The letters were mailed out on a Saturday, I heard from EMI on the Tuesday, had an interview on the Wednesday, I got a letter from them on the Friday giving me the job starting off in the tape library. I left school that day and started the following Monday, so it all happened to me within nine days!
Q: I love this book’s honesty. What really struck me more than any other book on the Beatles were the working conditions at EMI Recording. It almost sounds as if the place was run by bookkeepers and had the personality of an Army bunker…
KS: And that was kind of what it really was. As I’ve gotten older I realized that there is something very, very special about that place. I go back there as often as I can and every time I go back there, I will stand at the top of the stairs at Number 2 Studio and look down and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. It’s just such an amazing place; it has such an incredible feeling to it just knowing its history. It’s just absolutely phenomenal. But yes, EMI was drab but you have to remember they made more money from building radar and electronic systems for the defense department than they did from any Beatles recordings, so it had that sort of almost governmental feeling. It was the suit and tie and all of that kind of thing and it was still the old-timers from the start of the recording industry that ran it. They had been used to a whole different sort of setup than what it was changing into by the mid-to-late sixties. When I started there I was one of the early baby boomers and that’s when the changes started to come much more rapidly and became much more important. We started to change things, but up to that point, it was very, very typical of that time period.
The way I describe it in the book was the way it really was in regards to the rules, the dress code and that kind of thing. It was very typical. But, if you compared it to other recording studios at that time, it wasn’t much different. If you go and see some of RCA Studio B in Nashville where Elvis used to record it is drab and dreary. Remember, psychedelia hadn’t hit at that point in ’64 when I first started, so the people weren’t into sort of colored lights and just happy places of work. It wasn’t that way at that particular time. There were still bombsites around all over London, because it hadn’t been completely rebuilt since World War II, so the entire atmosphere was really sort of drab.
Q: Despite the working conditions, you do seem to be thankful for the “old school” training you received there.
KS: Absolutely! There’s nothing like it today, unfortunately, and, to me it shows. It was really based on merit where they started you off in the tape library to see more than anything how the studio runs. Then you become a second engineer, as they call it today, but back then they were called ‘button pushers,’ and that’s really what it was. We would work on the sessions, learning from everything that went on. All we really had to do was look after the tape machines because we weren’t allowed to do anything other than that. Then when they allowed you to master a recording it was because they knew that you could. It was easier to put stuff onto tape than it was onto vinyl. So, they wanted you to learn the worse scenario which was going onto vinyl before they’d allow to you master tapes. So, you did mastering, learn what works, what you could put on record, then if you were lucky you got promoted to engineer. So many people are going to schools to do it today and it’s not the same.
One of the other great things about EMI and a lot of the other big studios at that time was that it wasn’t just one genre of music; as a second engineer you could work in the morning on a large two hundred piece classical session. Then in the afternoon you could be working on a dance band, and then in the evening you might get to work on a pop group. So you got to see so many different forms of recording, how classical engineers worked, the mics they used, where they placed them, etc. You’d see how the engineers recorded differently for each category of music. You’d get this complete all around training, whereas today everything is just different. If a studio happens to have a hit with a heavy metal act, from then on all they would do are heavy metal acts. Or if it was a rap artist, suddenly it would just be doing nothing but rap. So, anyone that actually goes and starts in a studio, they only ever really see one genre of music, which I feel is very limiting.
Q: There seemed to be a certain amount of fear on your part in working with The Beatles?
KS: There was. I guess I was doing more work with them than I was anyone else, and their sessions tended to go on longer than anyone else. So in that respect there was more time for me to screw up basically.
Q: But, it also seems, without it being said, they must have wanted you around because you were doing so much for them. Would that be a fair assessment of you?
KS: I guess in some respects, yes, because of the fact that I continued working with them after I left EMI/Abbey Road. For the very first session that I ever did as an engineer, which happened to be “Your Mother Should Know,” I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I’d never sat behind the board and pushed up a fader before. Because we had a relationship going, they allowed me to learn and gave me the time just to figure out what I was doing without giving me a hard time or having me kicked off, which was quite amazing. That within itself was, I guess, one of the biggest compliments they could pay me – to allow me to learn what I was doing.
Q: Popularity-wise, the Beatles were at their peak when you started working with them on the second side of a Hard Days Night. Was the studio their refuge because they had all this craziness going on around them?
KS: To a point I guess. I think they were such a close-knit community, the four guys and Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall. They were all so close, I think anywhere that all of them were away from the crowds was a refuge for them. I don’t know how much pressure they actually felt to have to keep on coming up with hit records, but they were fearless. They didn’t mind change –every record changed slightly. Obviously as it went along it changed more and more, and faster and faster. More often than not when someone is worried about getting the next hit they keep on exactly the same formula. They didn’t; they changed. So, to me that shows how fearless they were. They were making records they wanted to make and they enjoyed themselves.
Q: That leads to the central theme of your time with them, which is, they were the most experimental band that you had ever worked with.
KS: Yes. I think it’s said very well in Geoff Emerick’s book (Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles) that they never wanted anything to sound the same way twice. Within that context they had no fear of even using sort of bad sounds. If it fitted in with what they were doing, they kept it in. One of the great things for me as a trainee engineer was their patience, and they allowed me to learn what I was doing. Part of that was that I could have put out completely the wrong mic, in completely the wrong place on the piano and totally screwed with the sound and it sounded atrocious. But there was just as much chance of them saying, “That’s great! It sounds nothing like a piano. We’ll keep it!” So it gave me a tremendous amount of freedom to experiment with mics and placements and all that kind of thing. I didn’t have to worry too much about making a piano sound like the best piano sound in the world. I could experiment a bit and also because of the amount of time they spent in the studio. It gave you a tremendous amount of time to experiment.
So many of the sessions at EMI were three-to-four hour sessions that you’d have to get it right from the downbeat because you didn’t have time to mess around. Whereas with The Beatles we were spending 12, 14, 16 hours a day in the studio and so had plenty of time. You’d try a mic. “Nah, that’s not working.” Then try something else until you got what you were after. So, it was great in that respect. But, sometimes their experimenting went to the point where Paul came to the mic cabinet and would just say, “Oh, that mic looks good. Let’s try it out on the piano” or drums or something like that. Even if it only looked good, they’d try it. There were no rules. They came in originally in my estimation not knowing any of the rules. And then by the time they started to know the rules it was, “Well, we don’t need them anyway. We’re just gonna break them all!” And it led to experimentation.
Q: At the time, how did you view The Beatles? As recording artists or as a popular music group?
KS: Oh, absolutely recording artists…without a shadow of a doubt. But that we’d be talking about them 50 years on, no, absolutely not. Rock and roll wasn’t even that old at that point, so we had absolutely no concept that their name, their music would actually last this long. But as recording artists in their time, they were absolutely legit.
Q: Okay. Let’s talk about some of the Beatles engineers. Norman Smith, it appears, was the engineer that took you under his wing. Can you tell me about his particular brilliance and then how he helped you in your career?
KS: Well, I learned mostly by watching Norman work. So much of what we do as engineers and producers is being with people, and learning how to deal with them. I watched how the engineers and producers worked with the artists and learned from them that way. Of course, I got to see how they placed mics and all that kind of thing, but working with the Beatles allowed me the freedom to find my own way. As far as Norman’s brilliance, he was the instigator of every album being slightly different because sound-wise that’s what he wanted to attempt. And much of it was small changes. A lot of people would never even realize that it had changed. But within the confines of the studio, seeing how we did things, and hearing it there, you could see how he was changing things all along. I think it’s more than likely the Beatles picked up on that, and so I took it and ran with that. When Geoff Emerick took over he took it a lot further than Norman would ever have done, but in saying that, the first band that he [Smith] signed after moving from engineering the Beatles was Pink Floyd. Obviously he saw what was coming and he did some great stuff with Floyd. So, Norman had that within him, but whether as an engineer he would have continued the way…it completely changed when Geoff took over.
Q: And speaking of Geoff Emerick, let’s talk about him. In what way was he brilliant or talented?
KS: From an engineering standpoint, he really took the experimentation that much further for The Beatles. It was everything happening at the same time. It was a perfect storm. The whole psychedelia thing had really sort of taken off by Revolver and the band just continued the advances they had started on Rubber Soul. Because that album was so successful, they felt they could take it that much further. With a young engineer like Geoff coming on board, who had six months experience, he hadn’t set the rules within his own mind at that point. He was flexible. So, he could go along with it and take ideas and run with them. He was brilliant in that way. He had a great ear…an incredible ear! And stacks of patience – that was one of the things at this time that you needed with the Beatles – a hell of a lot of patience because they would take a long time.
Q: In what way? Just trying to experiment and develop a sound?
KS: Well, yes. Whatever. I believe it was “Sexy Sadie” that we took three days just to get the basic track down. Because of that, we had to make sure tape was running all the time. The thing that got me through all of the boring parts was the knowledge of how great it was going to be in the end.
Q: I have heard the demos, the alternate takes and they are night and day from the finished product. So, how much credit should the Beatles engineers’ get for this?
KS: Impossible to quantify. I’m a firm believer in teams. It’s a team that does things well much more than individuals. I think you get much more out of a team, and every team worked really well for The Beatles. It all worked. It’s impossible to say how different things would have been with other engineers. You can sort of work out certain things. For example, Norman would not have experimented quite as much as Geoff did, but then when I came in, I was much more of a basic rock and roll type engineer than Geoff was. For the White Album they wanted more of a rock and roll album. With me coming in at that point, it worked out perfectly. As I say in the book, one of the things for me, certainly when I was working with them, yes, there were moments of tension, but the majority of the time we had a blast. It was such good fun! So, maybe my coming into it…it gave them what they were looking for at that point, so they could relax and have more fun.
Q: The Beatles seemed to expect miracles from their five engineers, and it appears as if you always came through in the end. Yet, I don’t think that they thought that they were asking for the impossible…
KS: I think that maybe early on they would ask that something get done and it just became common place. Very much so later on, they would ask for miracles and yet, they would definitely just expect it. The whole story about “Strawberry Fields Forever” is so absolutely phenomenal, putting the two takes together and there were different keys and different speeds. You could hardly plan it to work out as well as it did. That really is expecting miracles and it came through. So, once that kind of thing happens a few times, you come to expect it. I think that certainly became the case with them.
Q: You say in the book that the old timers hated working with the Beatles? I can’t imagine passing up the opportunity to work with them…
KS: You have to remember we just basically sat there with the tape machine running. It became boring, but they demanded you to do that. There were times they were very uncaring, unthinking of people in the booth. I tell the story of when they had food delivered in. This was very early on. I think it was during the recording of “I Am the Walrus.” It was a long session and they had food brought in and they were sitting there eating it. I am in the control room with my second engineer, Richard Lush, and we were both starving. I turned to him and said, “What the hell do you do?” I hadn’t yet learned how you deal with them from the engineering standpoint and the control you had as an engineer at that point, and Richard said that was easy. He just walks over, pushes the button, and says, “Okay guys, we are going out for a bite to eat. We’ll be back in about an hour, okay?” “Oh yeah sure, Richard, okay.” The old-timers liked it very structured. They liked to know that when work was finished they could go to the pub and get a beer and sausage roll. You couldn’t do that with the Beatles; it was very unstructured, very long hours and totally upside down.
The other thing was that the engineers that had gone before wanted to make the instruments sound as close to the natural sound as possible. The Beatles wanted it to sound different every time. The old-timers could not understand it. They would record perfectly what they’d been given in the studio. The Beatles didn’t really want it that way. They wanted you to mess with it. They wanted it to be different. That mindset, the old timers couldn’t quite get into. Like Malcolm Addey, the guy I mentioned earlier, he had this ability that, because he had done so many sessions with orchestras, he would set the mics up, the EQ levels and get everything ready in the booth. The orchestra would then come in and sit down. It would be perfect straight off the bat, he didn’t have to change anything. But it was always the same.
Q: Most of the recording done with the Beatles, they did it on four- and eight-track recorders. If the 16- or 24-track machines existed then, would the group have been as creative?
KS: It’s impossible to tell. The struggle to be different to come up with effects was a very organic thing. I feel that these days it’s a little too easy because there’s no struggle. It becomes automatic. It becomes soulless. With regard to the late move to 8-track, you have to sort of put a certain amount of responsibility onto George Martin for this as Abbey Road did actually have 8-track tape machines much earlier than we started to use them. George was offered the use of 8-track for the Beatles and he turned it down. The reason he did that was that there were certain things that the Beatles and us as engineers had gotten used to that we could do with the four-track tape machines – things like being able to change the tape speed, ADT, and phasing, all of that kind of thing, we could do on the four-tracks, but the eight-tracks when they came in, you couldn’t do that on them. They needed to be modified. So, George preferred to hold back on the 8-track until they’d all been modified.
[Note: Ken Scott appears in an orange shirt in this footage during The Beatles’ White Album sessions]
Q: The White Album was truly your baby but before we get into the songs, let’s address the fact that this time period has been labeled with much tumult and has been categorized as four individuals singing their own songs, calling themselves The Beatles. However, you go to great lengths in the book to dispel that myth.
KS: There were certainly times of tension, but mostly it was fun. We all know Ringo quit for a period of time, but it wasn’t through animosity. He just felt unloved. We all knew he was great, one of the best rock and roll drummers ever, but we took it for granted. Paul being one of the best bass players ever; it was taken for granted. And that’s the kind of situation it was. Once Ringo left, suddenly they realized that they couldn’t quite take this all so much for granted. When he returned, that was really the sort of high spot when they became a band again. All four would be down in the studio working hard. We got more done during that period of time when George Martin was on holiday and Chris Thomas took over for him. During that period, we got more work done than we had the rest of the time leading up to that point. It was phenomenal. It was really a lot of work and it was great fun. And yes, there had always been a certain amount of each individual songs being their own. For whatever reason, it was a little more obvious on the White Album than had been before. Probably because it was a double album, you could see the differences that much more because there was so much more material, especially with John. Things like “Revolution No. 9”. You really saw how his musical tastes had changed.
Q: In your opinion, what are the standout tracks on the White Album?
KS: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” because of George and “Yer Blues.” I love that one just because of all that we went through to record it doing it in a small room by the side of the Number Two control room. It started off as a joke, but you often had to be careful what you said to them because they would take it and go with it, so I learned my lesson with that one! But, yes, there are obviously some on there that I am less keen on. I’m not a big fan of “Good Night.” It just doesn’t do it for me. But I know a lot of people do like that song. It’s all a matter of personal taste. I also like “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” That’s one that seems to be sort of forgotten, but I love that it’s three completely different sections and they all work so perfectly together.
Q: “Not Guilty” seems like it was the hardest track to record because George just wasn’t feeling it.
KS: That’s true…George wasn’t feeling it. It was his song and he wasn’t feeling it. He could not get a vocal that he was happy with. He couldn’t get even into sort of the mood of singing it, that’s why we tried different ways of him singing it, in different places within the studio. That’s when the “Yer Blues”joke came up, whilst we were trying to do the vocal. George wanted to try it in the control room with everything coming back through the speakers to give it more of a live theater-type feel or club feel. It was during one of the playbacks I turned to John and said, “God, the way you guys are going, you are going to want to record in there next” and I pointed to this little room by the side of Number Two control room. Of course, a couple days later he said, “Let’s record in there!” Silly, yes. Difficult, yes. But we always did whatever it took.
[Editor’s Note: “Not Guilty” was not included on The White Album, but was released in 1979 on George Harrison’s self-titled solo album]
There was another occasion, which I don’t think I mentioned in the book where John came in and we were trying to put something down. John said after he listened back to it, “Why is it always easier at home when I am sitting in my armchair? I want to make it more like that.” And so we set up an armchair in studio, put this lamp over him and made it as close to a living room as we could. We then put mics up and did some takes like that. The funny thing is, he came up to listen to it and said, “It’s no different, it’s just as bad.” We said, “Yes, because you’re listening to it for different reasons in the studio than you do at home. You can allow the mistakes at home, but you won’t here.”
Q: Was “What’s the New Mary Jane” an unreleased track from that session?
KS: From what I remember it was from those sessions. Look my memory is, as I say in the book, not the greatest because we never expected to be talking about these things 50 years later. I even point out in the book that the one question I’m always asked about the White Album is what was it like recording Eric Clapton on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I have absolutely no recollection of that whatsoever. I’ve spoken to other people that were on the session and they don’t remember either. It wasn’t that important at the time; it’s only over time that it’s become very important, Beatles history. I even tried hypnotherapy, regression therapy, so that I might be able to get back into that place and remember more of the details of it, but unfortunately it did not work. And speaking of no recollection, I don’t even remember the 26-minute version of “Helter Skelter,” but it’s written about in the Abbey Road session book by Mark Lewisohn. If Mark’s gone in the vaults and looked at the tapes and paperwork, then I guess it did actually happen, but I just can’t remember it.
Q: Some of the songs on the White Album were recorded at Trident, which had an eight-track machine. Despite differences in ambiance and how the studios were run, was there a lick of difference when it came to capturing the sound?
KS: Well, I didn’t do the sessions at Trident, Barry Sheffield did, one of the owners, so just how he actually recorded them, I don’t know. The first thing they recorded there was “Hey Jude” and we had a hell of a lot of problems with that recording once we got it back to EMI, it didn’t sound anywhere near as good as it did at Trident. But the later recordings for the album sounded much better. As far as any differences in sound, I think the White Album was such a varied album anyway, it didn’t matter because we were trying to make every track sound different so it worked in the album’s favor.
Q: Does it surprise you that Revolver and the White Album and not Sgt. Pepper, are the two albums that have emerged as The Beatles’ best works. Why do you think that is?
KS: Pepper is sort of poppy– not as deep as the other two. I also think that people held it in such high esteem that I don’t know if anything can live up to that kind of reputation for so long without people starting to criticize it. We as humans love to build something up and then pull it down, so, I guess Pepper sort of fell into that category a little.
Q: Can you recall the very last session you did with the Beatles as an entire group?
KS: The last session was the one I wrote about in the book, which literally lasted about 24 hours. We had to finish the White Album because George was leaving to go to LA. And because it was the first release on Apple, it had to be delivered on time. There was a deadline and we had to get it completed. It was ultimate mayhem. We were using every studio, every room we possibly could; everyone was doing different things from John Smith in one room putting the album in order. Then in another room there’d be, say Chris Thomas and John, I think it was, listening to the running order and passing comment. Then it would go back to John and he’d say, “No, change it this way.” I was in another studio mixing something with Paul. Just all over the place like that. That was the last session I did with all four.
Q: In the book, you give a brief thumbnail sketch of each Beatle in terms of their musical ability and their personalities. Can you do that just real quickly starting with Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr?
KS: Lennon was everything you’ve ever read about him. He could be a sweetheart or he could be the most malicious bastard ever! And the problem was he could change at the flip of a coin. You never quite knew how he was going to react to things. As a musician, he’d get bored easily. He certainly wasn’t a perfectionist. He wanted it the way he wanted it, but that wasn’t always sort of perfection. Paul, remember how he started off, he was a guitarist in the band – he wasn’t the bass player. Very quickly he became one of the greatest bass players ever. His musical growth was phenomenal. Then the way he got into piano, it just was incredible! To add to that, it was all over such a short period of time. Personality-wise, he has this need to be loved. He is a perfectionist. He will keep going on something and will belabor a point quite often, whereas John would be, “Yea, that’s good enough, let’s move on.”
George was the most spiritual one. Anyone who goes through what the Beatles did is going to change. He is the one that came out the other end of it the most normal human being. As a guitarist, once again, the same as Paul, considering where he started, he became a brilliant guitarist. And the same with his songwriting, probably thanks to being around Lennon/McCartney– that has to rub off when you are in competition with them the whole time. It certainly rubbed off on him. I’ve always loved him lyrically because of his spirituality. It was all brought out in the recent Martin Scorsese documentary– the sort of yin and yang of him, the good side vs. the bad side. So many of his songs you could take from the perspective of God love or the love of a woman. He was so clever in that regard but he could also be so very pointed with some of his lyrics. Ringo, as I said earlier, is one of the greatest rock and roll drummers ever. I don’t care what anybody says. Ringo did it all. Of course, he had his problems during that period of time– the use of booze basically. He could be nasty when he was drinking; he wasn’t a happy drunk, let’s put it that way. So, now clean and sober and is a different person.
Q: The Beatles seem to be the ultimate example of chemistry. When they all entered the room, there was something magical that happened. Could you sense that when you were with them?
KS: Absolutely! Yes. It’s totally the whole being greater than the sum of the individual parts. That’s a classic description of the Beatles. Put them all together in one room and they were amazing.
Q: You worked with all four Beatles on various solo projects. How were they different in their approach to the music as solo artists rather than as a Beatle?
KS: Yes. I suppose I did actually work with all four on projects outside of the Beatles. With Paul it was working on the Mary Hopkin album that he produced called Postcard. He played acoustic guitar on it but no bass or anything like that, so yeah I worked with him on that; George with several things; John with a couple of things, and then Ringo with one thing.
Q: So, my question is, how were they different in the studio as solo artists in the approach to the music, say as when they were the Beatles as a group?
KS: Number 1, they didn’t have to worry about anyone else, but other than that much the same. With Ringo, his whole thing was that he was a great drummer, anything beyond that he needed help with. He needed it as a singer/songwriter within the Beatles. He needed that outside as well. “It Don’t Come Easy”, which George produced and co-wrote with Ringo was the perfect example. Same way with a track like “Good Night.” I seem to remember that we had to put down a guide vocal for Ringo to learn how to sing “Goodnight” the way it was written. Had to do much the same with “It Don’t Come Easy.” George put down a vocal, which there is a bootleg of out there, recorded solely to give Ringo an idea of the phrasing of the song so he could sing it better. So Ringo was much the same outside of the Beatles as he was within the Beatles.
Because of the success of George’s tracks on Abbey Road, he had this confidence on All Things Must Pass that he hadn’t necessarily had before. He knew exactly what he wanted and we just got down to it. It was great seeing him as both the writer and working with other artists.
Working with Paul on the Mary Hopkin album was very much like working with him when he was with The Beatles. There was a certain amount of controlling. He could do it easier on the Mary Hopkin album than he could within the Beatles. It was kind of strange because he was pushing Mary in a direction that she didn’t necessarily want to go. The most comfortable sessions for her were the ones we did with Donovan. She recorded two of his songs, both of which were very folky. And it was just Paul and Donovan playing guitar and her singing live. She was really comfortable in that setting. But, then when you came to the big show tunes and that kind of thing, she was very uncomfortable. But that’s what Paul wanted, so that’s what Paul got.
John was very similar. He could get very impatient. He wanted things different. There’s a thing that occurred when we were mixing “Give Peace A Chance.” There’s this repeat echo on the thumping that’s going on in the background, and as the record goes on, the repeat gets louder and louder and that was John just wanting to change it constantly. It was sort of, “Push it up, push it up, push it up, push it up all the time.” With “Cold Turkey” he knew what he wanted, he knew how he wanted that vocal to be and he just did it. From what I remember, it was a very quick session.
Q: Do you think he did that because he wanted everything to sound fresh? That’s just kind of my theory.
KS: Yes, and just getting bored. I went through the same thing with David Bowie later. He didn’t like being in the studio. He got bored easily and we knew we had two or three takes to get it, and if we didn’t, then it would be all over. It was that kind of thing. That was Bowie. With Lennon with “Sexy Sadie,” which was his song, we took three nights to get the basic track. So, there were times when as long as it was heading in a way he liked it, he could have that patience so he would see it through. But only if it was going the way he liked it. If he wasn’t feeling it, he would lose patience very quickly.
Q: You write about your last encounter with him in 1971 during the Imagine sessions, which is very sad.
KS: I went down to John’s studio in Tittenhurst and we started off in the afternoon recording a Yoko track, which went quite well. Then in the evening it was onto a John track and it was, “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier.” He taught the song to the session musicians that were there and once they’d learned it, the arrangement got sorted out. So they all came into the control room, laid out lines of coke, and snorted it. Then they went back into the studio and tried a take and it wasn’t very good. They came in and heard it and realized it wasn’t very good, so John said, “I know what this needs.” He put out more lines of coke and they snorted some more, went in, and the take was even worse. They came in, listened, unhappy again. They laid down more blow and after about the third or fourth time, I could see that nothing was really gonna happen that night. So I just said, “Okay guys, I’m sorry, I gotta leave. I’ve got an early session tomorrow morning at Trident and it’s a long drive home. It’s all set up. You can continue and I will see you another time,” and then I left. That was the last time I ever saw John.
Q: Your last encounter with George was also bittersweet…
KS: I actually got to spend quite a bit of time with George on and off for a couple of years before he passed. He wanted to start getting everything in order. He wanted to arrange for the re-mastering of all of his Dark Horse records. I went over there to Friar Park and realized when trying to sort out his material that all the tapes were sort of everywhere. There was no rhyme or reason to how the tapes were stored. So I said, “Look, if we are going to find everything, I’ve got to rearrange the tape library because this is just going to be ridiculous.” So, I started off doing that at the same time as working on additional tracks and all of that for the re-mastering of All Things Must Pass. Within doing all of that we were talking a lot about bootlegs and George had a typical attitude about bootlegs. He could not understand why anyone would be interested in other versions or especially what he considered poorer versions of his original material. But through discussion, he could see the sort of relevance if it’s out there, which it all was, it should be out there in the best quality possible for the consumer because most of what they buy on bootlegs is crap. It sounds atrocious. And so at least give them the best possible quality. So he had me sort of going around buying as many different bootlegs as I could find.
My first Beatles Fest was to find bootlegs and I also looked around in Pasadena, California. I went around all the stores looking for any bootlegs that I hadn’t already found. Then once I got the bootlegs, then it was a question of trying to track down the originals so that we had the highest quality. I think we finished up finding all but two, one being Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy.” We never found the original of that. I think it was just destroyed almost immediately because it was so bad. I spent a lot of time on and off over at his place in England.
Q: So, is the end result the Early Takes Vol. 1 album that was just released?
KS: It’s quite possible. I’m sure that’s some of what we got, that we found then was used for that release. I don’t know. I haven’t been a part of it for a couple of years now, so I’m not sure how it finished up. Some of it may have been used on the Scorsese documentary. I really got it started for The Dark Horse Years 1976-1992 and maybe you’re starting to see some of it come out again.
Q: How was George different or the same as a mature man than he was as a Beatle?
KS: Oh, he was exactly the same. He was as funny as ever; he was as down to earth as ever. He was wonderful. My wife got to meet he and Olivia and hang out a bit. Both he and Olivia and Dhani were all sweethearts to her. They didn’t have to be. Olivia took my wife, Cheryl, out with her to find furniture and just bits and pieces for the house. They were wonderful and so down to earth. It was great. Then George had a “stomach ailment” for a little while. We never discussed it any further than that. My feeling is that it wasn’t a stomach ailment at all, but…
The last time I saw him at Friar Park happened to be the last time he was ever there. He was walking around the grounds and looking at everything, just taking it all in. Thinking back, the impression I get is that he knew it was the last time he would ever be there, and he was just taking it in. And that was very moving. Now, I do have to say that when I started back working with George again, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement, which typically anyone that goes to work with any of those guys has to because there have been so many malicious stories that got out there from people supposedly close to them. I wanted to write about my last experiences with George and put it in the book. So I went ahead and wrote it, and because of the confidentiality agreement, I couldn’t allow it to go out without the blessing of Olivia. So, I sent the finished version to Olivia. She said, “It’s not exactly as I remember it, but if that’s the way you remember it, it’s your story, I love it, it’s great, go ahead,” which was amazing. That meant so much to me.
Q: It seems like music is no longer as important to society or made as well as when the Beatles and the Stones and so many other groups you produced who emerged from that time period. Why do you think that is?
KS: I think it probably has a lot to do with the fact that attorneys and accountants took over the music business. Record companies used to be run by music people. George Martin was a classically trained musician. He could play oboe, piano, anything, and he had a musician’s temperament. He understood totally what talent had to do, that talent is there to create and you have to allow talent to create. These days it’s not allowed to. It’s all the record companies saying, “We want this and we want that, and we want it immediately,” and so it’s lost all sort of character. Acts these days can do very little of what they want to do. My feeling is it’s gonna turn around. The majors are slowly but surely killing themselves. And once they’re gone, talent will win out again; it always has done, it always will do. With that said, there’s never going to be another Beatles. It’s gonna be different. We just need to get rid of the accountants and the attorneys and then musicians can start doing what they are supposed to do, and that is, to create.
Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust is available at most bookstores and through Amazon.com.
Marshall Terrill is a veteran journalist and the author of 15 books.
Paul McCartney’s new album of standards, Kisses on the Bottom, will be released on February 7. Paul has apparently had some fun with his choice of album title—the phrase ‘Kisses On The Bottom,’ comes from the album’s opener ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter’.
Originally made a big hit by Fats Waller in 1935, the song opens with the lines ‘I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter and make believe it came from you. I’m gonna write words oh so sweet. They’re gonna knock me off of my feet. A lot of kisses on the bottom, I’ll be glad I got ‘em’.
(All photos courtesy MPL)
‘Kisses On The Bottom’ is a collection of standards Paul grew up listening to in his childhood as well as the two new McCartney compositions ‘My Valentine’ and ‘Only Our Hearts’.
With the help of Grammy Award-winning producer Tommy LiPuma and Diana Krall and her band—as well as guest appearances from Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, McCartney’s new album is a deeply personal journey through classic American compositions that, in some cases, a young Paul first heard his father perform on piano at home.
Watch an exclusive interview with McCartney and Award-winning producer Tommy LiPuma discussing the new album:
The album was recorded at the legendary Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, New York and London throughout 2011. It also features guest musicians Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, respectively, on the original compositions ‘My Valentine’ and ‘Only Our Hearts’. Eric also appears on the track ‘Get Yourself Another Fool’. Paul was photographed by his daughter Mary McCartney for the album sleeve.
Standard CD – 14 tracks
01. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter 02:36
02. Home (When Shadows Fall) 04:04
03. It’s Only A Paper Moon 02:35
04. More I Cannot Wish You 03:04
05. The Glory Of Love 03:46
06. We Three (My Echo, My Shadow And Me) 03:22
07. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive 02:32
08. My Valentine 03:14
09. Always 03:50
10. My Very Good Friend The Milkman 03:04
11. Bye Bye Blackbird 04:26
12. Get Yourself Another Fool 04:42
13. The Inch Worm 03:43
14. Only Our Hearts 04:21
Deluxe CD Album will feature two bonus tracks plus access to a download of the Capitol Studios show (available from Tuesday 14th February via paulmccartney.com), plus longer liner notes and expanded packaging featuring three postcards)
15. Baby’s Request 03:30
16. My One And Only Love 03:50
The album will also be available digitally.
You can listen to the album in its entirety streaming for free at NPR.org.
[Source: Official Press release]
Writer/director John Scheinfeld wrote, directed and produced the acclaimed documentaries The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?.
RLF Victor Productions Ltd. recently pegged the Emmy and Grammy nominee to direct Fame & Fortune, an adaptation of the 2007 best-selling book Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business written by Sonny West, (Elvis’s bodyguard and confidant) with biographer Marshall Terrill. Fame & Fortune is slated for theatrical release in 2012 to coincide with the 35th anniversary of Presley’s death.
In this exclusive interview with Daytrippin’, Scheinfeld discusses working on the John Lennon and Harry Nilsson films, his dealings with Yoko Ono and how the greatest rock ‘n’ roll summit in history between Elvis and the Beates will be the centerpiece of his new feature film.
Q: What made you want to do The U.S. vs. John Lennon and why did you zero in on that one aspect of Lennon’s life?
JS: It is very rare to find a largely unknown story about someone as famous as John Lennon. When the information was de-classified in 1997 I remember thinking, “I had no idea.” The reason, of course, is that what the US government tried to do to John Lennon was done in secret. Due to the efforts of Jonathan Weiner, a professor at the University of California – Irvine, we have a very full picture of what happened. I was totally fascinated as was my colleague David Leaf. We did a treatment and for seven years we tried to sell this as a theatrical documentary and got a lot of “Who cares?” That surprised us and then we put it on a shelf for a while. Then it turned out that in a post 9/11, post-Iraq world, people began to see the relevance of a story which, at its heart, had an unpopular war…a president who lied to the country…and that if you protested the government came after you. Does that sound familiar?! Although ours was a story rooted in the past, it had a great many parallels to what was going on in the new Millennium. We had meetings set up at numerous studios to start pitching it again. Our very first one was with Lionsgate and, literally, they did not let us out of the room. They said, “We want to make this.” We were an example of good things come to those who wait. The working experience with Lionsgate was tremendous and we got to make the movie we wanted to make. It’s a project of which I am really proud.
Q: How were your dealings with Yoko Ono?
JS: We first reached out to her attorney, Jonas Herbsman, and told him what we’d like to do and this is how we’d like to do it. He liked the idea and set up a meeting with Yoko. She gave us her blessing after that initial meeting, but not her complete participation. I think she needed to see from us that we had integrity and that we were going to do what we said we were going to do. I believe she’s had some experiences where that was not the case. I knew that she had an archive of very rare material, including film and photographs, and I wanted access to it. In all of my documentaries I want to present the most rare and little-seen audio-visual material possible, not just the stuff you’ve seen in dozens of other documentaries.
So we went to see her at The Dakota and showed her more of a rough cut than we ordinarily would have. It was running obscenely long, close to three hours, and there were lots of holes in it where it said, “Photo here” or “Film clip here.” As you know, when you walk in, you have to step over the place where John Lennon was shot and killed, which is a bit creepy Then we were ushered up to the apartment, had to take our shoes off when we got inside and went into the kitchen. There was a big 50-inch TV up on the wall and Jonas Herbsman is there, who is a great guy. We were chatting and then Yoko walks in. She doesn’t really say hello or good morning, or offers us any coffee or tea and sort of says, “Lets go.” We put in the DVD and it plays. All the way through, she’s taking notes on a little pad. My heart is dropping into my stomach and I’m convinced she hates it. When it finishes, nobody says a word. Then she turned to me and said what she later said publicly, “Of all the documentaries made about John, this is the one he would have loved.” From that moment, the doors opened and we were given access to the archive. I don’t think a day or two would go by where Yoko or one of her staff would call and say, “You need to see this” or “Yoko wants you to have that.” There was so much cool stuff in the archive that really helped make the film special. Also, it was really gratifying to have earned her trust.
Q: What are some of the materials you are referring to?
JS: Well, from 1969 to 1972 it was, in effect, the John and Yoko Reality Show. They had a camera crew following them around capturing their various activities, concerts, meetings, protests, even just walking around New York City. That provided a wealth of great material for us. There’s also a wonderful moment in an interview segment in which Yoko describes her favorite moment during the Bed-In. She recalled that it was late at night, all their handlers had gone, the press had gone, it was just John and Yoko alone in the hotel room together. It was a beautiful night, there was a full moon in the sky and John turns to her and says, “Isn’t this great? Here we are promoting world peace and love and we have both.” And I turned to Jonas and said, “That’s in the movie!” and we all laughed. The reason I’m telling you this is that we needed some footage to illustrate the story. John and Yoko had their own camera crew at the Bed-In and they shot some lovely, lovely footage of them in bed together. It was tender and so sweet and showed that the love affair between them was so strong. But it was in that archive that we found that footage to illustrate that moment.
There was some also some footage of them dancing alone on a street in lower Manhattan and we found a way to use it creatively. There are many similar moments in the film, but it could not have happened without Yoko opening up her archive to me. She also had dozens and dozens of rare photographs that had never been seen before. We augmented all of this with our own treasure trove that found by casting a wide net around the world.
There are two pieces of film we found that I’m really proud of: one is from Vienna in 1969 when John and Yoko came there to do an event. The press turned out in full force and entered a room to find John and Yoko in a white cloth bag. We read about this but had never seen it. An Austrian TV network found a roll of footage that had never been developed in their vault. I think we showed it for the first time. Then there was a piece of footage that eluded us for a very long time. After John won his case against the U.S. government, he was interviewed on the steps of the New York courthouse in July of 1976. I knew what he said because the New York Times quoted him, but we couldn’t find film or video anywhere. All the archivists at various news organizations told us that it didn’t either exist or had been destroyed a long time ago. I’m fairly relentless when it comes to tracking down material and wouldn’t accept no for an answer. I knew what day the immigration case ended, so we went back to the archive and asked what footage they had shot that day. Bingo! In a far corner of the CBS archive was a 20-minute roll of film that had been developed, but was never used. There was John receiving his green card in an office and then there was footage of him being interviewed outside the court. In answer to a question he offered up a typical Lennon witticism that ended up getting one of the biggest laughs in the movie (I won’t tell you what it was – go see the movie!). Lennon knows he’s saying something funny and he winked at the camera, so I froze on the wink. Our film wouldn’t have been the same without that moment. It’s these little pieces of footage that you don’t expect to find that make all the difference in the world.
Q: What were on Yoko’s notes?
JS: Funny you should ask – she never shared them with me. She could have been making up a grocery list for all I know (laughs). Over time she had a few notes, but nothing major. She was extremely supportive of our vision. I remember at one point she said, “I think you have too much of me in the film.” This was great – she wasn’t your typical Hollywood star who would say, “There needs to be more of me.” I do remember, sometime later, that I was struggling with how to end the film. I was talking to Yoko about something unrelated, when she started to speak about how it felt to have her husband there one minute, she turns, and then he’s gone. His murder was so sad and unexpected – they never had a chance to say “Goodbye.” I thought it was a very poignant and emotional thing for her to share. This was a very profound moment for me…and gave me the idea for a new ending that would be emotional and yet inspire.
Q: Yoko has historically been a closed off person who rarely shows any emotion, but you could see in the clips of her and John, there was a great affection for one another.
JS: It’s interesting you say that because, when we started, we didn’t intend the John and Yoko love story to be a significant part of the film. However, the more time I spent with her and with people in her world, it became so clear that this was truly an extraordinary love story. You can see it, hear it, you can feel it and it was very clear it needed to be a more important part of the movie. It added so much emotion and heart to the film…and touched me deeply…to see just how much they really and truly loved each other.
Q: To me, the real star of the film was Lennon’s immigration attorney, Leon Wildes. He was so poignant and told the best anecdote in the film. Tell me about him.
JS: I conducted the interview in New York where Leon still practices. Here’s what I found most interesting – John and Yoko didn’t go to a radical left-wing lawyer – they went to a very conservative attorney whose specialty was immigration matters. The U.S. government wanted to deport him and they went with the attorney who they felt best could deal with that situation. At the time, Leon only vaguely knew who John Lennon was, but as things progressed, he developed great respect and a special relationship with John and Yoko. Early on John asked Leon, “So what do you think? Can we win?” Leon told him, “I think this case is a loser.” John asked why and Leon said his opinion was based on his prior experience in similar cases. But Leon had found some interesting wrinkles in the case and in the law that enabled him to formulate a creative strategy. Eventually, he filed suit against the government and, amazingly, won. I think it was his brilliance as an attorney that took what should have been a routine case and found a way to score a big win for his clients. Nice man and a very good memory for the atmosphere of the times.
Q: What kind of reaction did the film receive?
JS: When you make a film, you spend far too many hours in a small dark editing room hoping you’re doing good work, but you never really know until it’s released and people see it. From the premiere at the Venice Film Festival, to debut screenings at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals there was a buzz about the film. People were responding to it and it was resonating with them in a powerful way. It wasn’t just a story about a rock ‘n’ roller – the issues we were dealing with – freedom of speech, government abuse of power, the futility of some wars – plus the courage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono to stand up to the government as a true life David and Goliath story — all of these things hit a chord with people. And not just in the United States. The movie played in theatres all over the world and it has proven to have a strong afterlife on DVD. To this day, I still get emails and Facebook messages from people who are just now discovering the film, which I find very gratifying.
Q: Let’s discuss your follow-up film, Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everyone Talkin’ About Him…)? How did that idea come about?
JS: The attorney for the Nilsson estate, Lee Blackman, had seen some of my work and asked if I’d be interested in doing a documentary about Harry. Now, I’d known Harry’s music since my college days — I’d play his records on my morning radio show at Oberlin College. The interesting thing is that the first song I’d heard of Harry’s was “You Can’t Do That.” It took me by surprise because I was expecting just another bad cover of a Beatles song. I was wrong! It turned out to be Harry’s brilliant creation – a song of his own that wove together the titles of many songs by the Fab Four. On his early albums, you can hear a very strong Beatles influence. In fact, as far as Harry was concerned, the Beatles were the only band of consequence. So imagine Harry’s delight when his heroes bring his music to the attention of the world and, later, become his friends.
So…after doing a considerable amount of research I felt that Harry’s was a compelling story that needed to be told. Lee found independent financing for the film and went on to become our Executive Producer. We made it betwixt and between other projects. There was a rough cut ready around Christmas 2005 and the head of the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Roger Durling, heard about it and after seeing it said, “I’ve just gotta have this and show it at our film festival.” We liked the idea as a way to test the film in front of an audience and to build some buzz. So my editor, Peter Lynch, and I finished a cut just for the festival. It turned out to be a wonderful night. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was there as was Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night, Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, and May Pang, who hung out with Harry and John Lennon during “The Lost Weekend” period, flew in from New York. We got great reviews in Daily Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Leonard Maltin loved it, and all of a sudden, people were talking about our little movie.
We planned to release it theatrically in late 2006/early 2007, but we ran into some unexpected issues regarding the master recordings in the film. There are bits and pieces of 60 songs in the movie – a lot for any film much less a documentary. As a result, the film was in limbo for a few years. Eventually, everything was resolved and Pete and I went back into the editing room and properly finished the film. The world premiere was at the Cinema Village Theater in New York in September 2010 and we played there for three weeks, which for a documentary is amazing. Even more exciting, we got seriously great reviews from most major publications and influential critics. Icing on the review cake was a full-page column in Entertainment Weekly by Stephen King. What an honor that he would pay attention to our “little film that could,” not to mention rave about it!
Q: You’ve got some big names for Who Is Harry Nilsson? but Ringo Starr’s absence is felt. Why did he not grant you an interview?
JS: We tried every which way to get Ringo to talk on camera. What came back to us each time was that there are three people he just does not feel comfortable talking about in person: John Lennon, George Harrison and Harry Nilsson. It’s just too emotional for him and I totally respect his feelings on the matter. Ringo was, however, tremendously supportive of the film including providing us with photos and making it possible to use Son of Drac, a film that Ringo and Harry made in the early 1970s but has been locked away in a London vault since 1974. At the end of the day, we were happy to have his support and understood the decision he made. Sometime later we had heard that he saw the film and liked it but thought some things were missing from the story. And I said to myself, “Yeah, Ringo, you were missing…” (laughs).
Q: Fame & Fortune, the first ever big screen biopic on Elvis Presley, will be your foray into features and continues your examination of pop culture icons. What drew you to this particular project?
JS: I had been approached by the producers, Ricki and Cindy Friedlander of RLF Victor Productions. They had optioned the 2007 book called Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business written by Sonny West and Marshall Terrill. I saw it as a “buddy movie” – about the extraordinary friendship between two guys that played out over a 16 year-period and how that friendship was impacted by fame and fortune. This was of great interest to me. I like to use the analogy of “The King’s Speech” – a film that was about many things, but at its heart is about a journey taken together by two friends. In addition, I really liked the idea that this would not be an Elvis biopic – that’s been done many times on television – but, rather, was a unique window into the world of Elvis Presley as experienced by someone who was there. The Friedlanders had developed a script and were looking to bring on a director to bring a filmic vision to the material and to rewrite the script to match that vision. I understand that they talked to a lot of directors, most of whom had far more feature film experience than I did. But, as Ricki says, they kept coming back to me because they believed that I had a real affinity for rock icons and everything that comes with it, that I really understood the rock and roll experience, the pressures and temptations affecting a young man eager to express himself creatively, the roller coaster ride of fame and fortune and personal excess that can overwhelm an artist. And I do. I feel very comfortable with that world and so began many long conversations during which Ricki, Cindy and I discussed the changes I wanted make in the script, how I saw the film, how I saw casting, how I saw the story playing out and how I would treat the characters and character arcs. Happily, we were on the same page creatively. I believe they also made a lot of calls to all kinds of people asking what it was like to work with me and finally they took a leap of faith and brought me onboard. I couldn’t be more excited and appreciative.
Q: You said something very profound in an earlier interview that summed up Presley in a sentence, and that was, “What do you do when all of your dreams come true by the age of 20?” Is that the premise of the film?
JS: I don’t think that’s the actual premise of the film, although it will be an aspect of Elvis’ character that will be portrayed. I’ve seen a number of the made-for-television movies about Elvis, going back to the Kurt Russell miniseries in 1979. In my opinion, they have tended to concentrate on the more sensationalistic aspect of Elvis’ life and, more often than not, he comes off as a caricature. I think that does a real disservice to a great artist. What I want to do with this film is take Elvis out of the tabloids where he’s been for far too long and show him as a fully-realized, complex, three-dimensional human being. I want to recognize the remarkable achievements without apologizing for the man. Sonny’s experience with Elvis allows us a very unique window into that world and enables us to present stories that are largely unknown to the average person. To be sure, it was a roller-coaster journey for Elvis, personally and professionally. There were demons he was battling his entire life as well as a streak of self-destructive behavior that eventually contributed to his untimely passing. But none of that should undercut the remarkable achievements of the man, and that’s what we will show in our film.
Q: Will you chronicle when the Beatles met Elvis in August 1965?
JS: Absolutely! Many rock ‘n’ roll historians don’t even pay attention to this meeting, but to me, the night the Beatles came to meet Elvis, was a very significant event. And the reason why I believe it’s a significant event is that it was the past (Elvis) colliding head-on with the future (The Beatles). This to me was a pivotal moment in which he came face-to-face with the artists who had replaced him at the top of the rock ‘n’ roll ladder. That had to be an extremely humbling experience, not to mention causing him to do some serious self-examination. That, in my opinion, makes for great drama.
I have read at least six different accounts of what happened that night…and they don’t all agree. How could the people who claim to have been there remember things so differently? Some thought they jammed on rock oldies, others said they didn’t. Some remembered Elvis greeting the Beatles at the door, others say that never happened. So where did the truth lie? Then I came across an interview with John Lennon in which he described in some detail…and with great enthusiasm…what happened that night. Having spent so much time in the world of Lennon, I know that he had a tendency to pooh-pooh things, to downplay their significance. So, for him to speak of this event in such detail and with such excitement, I had no doubt his was the true account. Then I went back and read Sonny’s book and, what do you know, his account, while not identical, is very close to Lennon’s. So, to my way of thinking, this shows that Sonny has a great eye for detail, a good memory, and is a reliable teller of the truth. I am loving writing this scene. The result, I hope, will be truly magical and joyous moment in which the audience will be a fly on the way watching the interaction – personal and musical – between Elvis and the Beatles.
Q: Did you find it mildly amusing and ironic in your case, that it was John Lennon’s imitation of Peter Sellers, (Editor’s note: Scheinfeld directed The Unknown Peter Sellers in 2000) that eventually broke the ice with Elvis?
JS: You know, that was one of the great things that I had learned while doing the research. I had no idea! (laughs) I knew the Beatles loved Peter Sellers and listened religiously to his avant-garde radio show in England, The Goon Show. How cool, therefore, that Lennon and Elvis find common ground in one of Sellers greatest characterizations – Dr. Strangelove. And not just the unique voice, but the hysterical moment when the good doctor is strangled by his own gloved-hand. According to Lennon’s and Sonny’s account, once the ice was broken, these great artists appreciating each other, having a good time, sharing some stories of what it was like to be on the road, dealing with fans and a pressure-filled career to the point where they could relate to each other in a way that few others could. Some writers tell of mutual animosity as a result of this rock and roll summit meeting, but I do not believe that was the case. From my point of my view, Elvis was thinking more in terms of what was happening with his career and the choices he made…or the choices thrust upon him.
Q: What’s most interesting is that it’s taken almost 35 years for Elvis’ story to make it to the big screen. Why do you think it’s taken that long to get to this point?
JS: I think the first thing to make clear here is that we’re not doing The Elvis Presley Story. We are doing Fame & Fortune, which is the Sonny West story. In so many ways, that’s what really intrigued me because we have a very distinct point of view of Elvis. I like the notion of someone being off to the side and seeing everything through his eyes. That to me will make for very compelling drama. I don’t know why there hasn’t been a feature film about Elvis in the 34 years since his death. That’s a question that only Elvis Presley Enterprises can answer. At the end of the day, I want to make a powerful, emotional and highly entertaining film that transcends mere biography, one that celebrates one of the most important musical legacies in pop music while staying true to the spirit of a rock icon and the love his fans have for him.
For more information about the movie, check out the Fame & Fortune website at http://rlfvictorproductions.com/index.php?p=fame
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Fame & Fortune Twitter page: http://www.twitter.com/FameFortuneFilm