Tag Archives: ed sullivan

What Do They Want Us For?

Did you know that the first stop for the Beatles in America was not the "Ed Sullivan Show" but actually this yellow house?

We’ve all seen the black-and-white footage of the Beatles arriving at the airport in New York to the accompanying screams of thousands of fans during this week 47 years ago. And if you didn’t happen to be one of the 73 million Americans who watched their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, you have undoubtedly caught the clip on YouTube. (BTW, was John’s mic working that night?)

But while the trip to New York was the group’s first official foray to America, a little known fact is that this was not the first time a Beatle had been to the States.

The scene was quite different a few months earlier when George Harrison became the first Beatle to ever step foot in America. There were no screaming fans, no police escorts, and no press conferences. And while the Beatles were feted at luxury hotels during their first stay in America, George spent most of his time in a small house in Southern Illinois.

In his book Before He Was Fab, George Harrison’s First American Visit, author Jim Kirkpatrick tells the story of the two-week vacation the young Beatles guitarist took with his brother Peter to the small town of Benton, Illinois, during mid-September to early-October, 1963.

At the time of the trip, She Loves You was firmly perched at number one in England. The Beatles were working on their second album, With The Beatles, at the time, and George had just completed recording the song Don’t Bother Me a few days earlier. The group decided to take a much-needed vacation, and Ringo and Paul took off to Greece, while John and his wife Cynthia accompanied the group’s manager, Brian Epstein, to Paris.

George used the break to come to southern Illinois to visit his sister Louise who had earlier moved to the coal mining town of Benton with her husband, who was a mining engineer.

George was said to have loved his time in the Midwest, and befriended some of the locals who accompanied him to record stores, where he was said to have purchased a copy of the single Got My Mind Set On You by James Ray. Harrison would later record a cover of the song in 1987, which went to number one.

George found time to sit in with a local band called the Blue Vests at a VFW Hall, where he wowed the crowd with his version of Roll Over Beethoven and a few other early Beatles standards. He even appeared on radio station WFRX, which had earlier become the first station in America to play a Beatles song when they aired a copy of From Me To You which had been given to them by Louise.

George ended his visit to America with a brief stop in St. Louis and a couple of days in New York, where a story persists that he actually saw JFK’s limousine go by.

The home where George stayed at 113 McCann Street was saved from demolition in 1995, and is today the Hard Day’s Nite Bed and Breakfast.

When the Beatles were flying to New York to appear on Ed Sullivan a few months later, George told the journalists on-board about his trip, and commented about America by saying, “They’ve got everything over there. What do they want us for?”

Benton has had other encounters with celebrities. Former NBA star Doug Collins is from the area, as is former game show host Gene Rayburn, and renowned actor John Malkovich.

The Beatles and JFK

There was quite a contrast between the overall mood of the citizens of the US and the UK during the latter part of November 1963. While America was dealing with the grim task of burying a popular young president, over in England, the Brits were rocking out to I Want to Hold Your Hand.

As I wrote yesterday, both C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley had the sad luck of dying on the day that JFK was assassinated, thereby having the news of their deaths missed by the general public. In England, another cultural coincidence took place on that day that had different results. November 22, 1963 was also the day that the Beatles released With The Beatles, their second studio album.

Perhaps because the release of the album took place in the UK and not in America (the US version, Meet The Beatles! wasn’t released until January 20, 1964), the album’s sales didn’t seem to suffer a bit from the grim date of its release. Over a half-million copies of the record were pre-ordered in England and sales  topped a million on the island during its first year of release.

With The Beatles was released only eight months after the group’s phenomenal debut album Please Please Me. Seven of the fourteen tracks on the record were Lennon/McCartney compositions, with covers and George Harrison’s songwriting debut, Don’t Bother Me filling out the rest of the record. Despite the fact that the album is arguably one of the group’s weakest releases, it still manages to contain some gems, most notably All My Loving, It Won’t Be Long, and the band’s version of Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven, with George handling the lead vocal duties.

I Want to Hold Your Hand didn’t appear on the With The Beatles album. It was released as a separate single on November 29, and the response was phenomenal. It would knock another Beatles’ single, She Loves You, off the top spot two weeks later, becoming the first time the same act had consecutive number one singles in British history.

With The Beatles edged the Please Please Me album from the number one spot in Britain, where it had been securely perched for 30 weeks. With The Beatles remained at number one for an additional twenty-one weeks, meaning that the Beatles just missed holding the top spot on the charts for an entire year. With The Beatles was eventually succeeded at number one by The Rolling Stones’ self-titled British debut record.

While all of this was taking place America mourned. The malaise didn’t seem to lift until Beatlemania hit the American shores the following year. It can be argued that the unofficial Kennedy mourning period ended the night the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964.

Buddy Holly: Rock’s First Martyr

For the want of clean underwear, rock and roll got a legend.

Legendary rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly boarded a small plane in Mason City, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, along with fellow rockers J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens. All three musicians were part of a rock and roll tour which some fool thought was a good idea to schedule  in the upper Midwest during the winter.

The musicians usually travelled in a bus with faulty heating, which resulted in one tour member being hospitalized with frostbite. Holly wanted to get to the tour’s next stop in Moorhead, Minnesota ahead of the bus so that he would have enough time to do his laundry, so he chartered a plane after the show in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Future country music superstar Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on the flight, but gave his seat to Richardson, who had the flu.

Holly kidded Jennings on departure by saying, “I hope your ‘ol bus freezes up.”

To which Jennings playfully replied, “Well, I hope your ‘ol plane crashes.”

Jennings would be haunted by his words for the rest of his life after learning that his friends had died minutes later in a crash eight miles north of the airport.

The wreckage of the plane that killed the pilot and rock and rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the “Big Bopper” on the “day the music died.”

Charles “Buddy” Holley, who would have turned 74 this week, was only 22 years old the night he died. Although his recording career lasted only 20 months, he has been called “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.”

Holly (he dropped the “e” in his stage name) began performing as a boy in Lubbock, Texas, and by the age of nineteen was opening with his band, the Crickets, for the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, and a newcomer to the scene named Elvis Presley. The multitalented Holly played several instruments and sang with a distinctive “hiccup” style that was his signature. He was a rarity among performers in the early days of rock in that he also wrote his own songs.

The groups he influenced are a veritable “who’s who” of rock and roll history, including the Beatles, who recorded Holly songs on their records, and actually took their name in tribute to the Crickets. Paul McCartney is such a fan of Holly’s music that he purchased the rights to his catalog of songs.

There are lots of sad stories in the rock and roll “what might have been” files – tales of performers whose lives were cut down before their time – but perhaps no entry is as tragic as Buddy Holly. We can only mourn the great future songs that were lost that night, and speculate on how history might have been different had Holly only packed an additional change of clothes.

Click here to see Buddy Holly perform Oh, Boy on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” (BTW, my beautiful wife Kimi was one day old when this was broadcast.)