Tag Archives: john lennon

"Be-Bop-A-Newhall," Part 2

Rock and roll pioneer and “permanent” Newhall resident Gene Vincent was instrumental in bringing the nucleus of the Beatles together.

As the story goes, in July 1957, 15-year-old McCartney was talked into visiting a church festival to audition for the band The Quarrymen, which was led by 16-year-old John Lennon. McCartney reportedly played a 10-minute medley of songs by Gene, Eddie Cochran, and Little Richard. Lennon was so impressed with the younger McCartney that he asked him to join the band. Later, just before “Beatlemania” was to wash over the world, the Beatles met and befriended their idol in Hamburg where Gene helped them craft their sound.

Gene still had lots of fans stateside as well, including Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek of the Doors.

Gene was on tour in England in April 1960 when a taxi he was riding in hit a cement post. The crash seriously injured Gene and killed his cab-mate Eddie Cochran, who had made a name for himself with Summertime Blues.

Gene spent most of the next decade flitting between London and Hollywood, while recording and touring sporadically. Years of heavy drinking, bad relationships, and poor management compromised his finances and wrecked his health. He was with his parents in Saugus in 1971 when he was rushed to what was later called the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where a bleeding ulcer took him away from a world that had largely forgotten him.

But Gene could never be completely forgotten. Be-Bop-A-Lula, which was released 55 years ago this week, still garners airplay – either in its original version, or as covered by such performers as Gary Glitter, Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Stray Cats, Queen, and not surprisingly, both Lennon and McCartney.

Gene has won some posthumous acclaim as well. Rolling Stone magazine once called Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps “the first rock ‘n’ roll band in the world,” and Be-Bop-A-Lula was listed as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland where Gene was inducted in 1998. More recently, Guitar Edge magazine voted Gene onto its list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time,” (although, in all fairness it should have been Cliff Gallup being honored, as he was the true master guitarist of the Blue Caps).

Gene was laid to rest at Newhall’s Eternal Valley Cemetery. French-born fan and Newhall resident Chris Bouyer hopes to see the city where Gene is buried to pay tribute to their permanent resident with an annual music festival.

“I would love to see the city of Newhall host a yearly rockabilly festival in February around Gene’s birthday,” says Bouyer. “There is a huge rockabilly underground, and I know that a festival like that could draw thousands of fans from all around the world. I imagine the festival as something that would start small and then grow big,” says Bouyer. “All it will take will be work, dedication, and passion. But that’s the story of everything worthwhile. That’s the story of rock and roll. And that’s the story of Gene.”

“Be-Bop-a-Lula … She-e-e’s my baby doll, my baby doll, my baby doll.”

 

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Sam and Otis

Sam Cooke

Any way you slice it, the first two weeks of December were historically tragic ones for popular music. Already this week we have chronicled the anniversaries of the dark days of Altamont and the death of John Lennon. There were two other significant passings that occurred during this time in the 1960s. Rock and roll and soul pioneers Sam Cooke and Otis Redding both died violently at young ages during early December only three years apart.

The first to go was Sam Cooke, who was gunned down under mysterious circumstances on December 11, 1964. Cooke was born in 1931 in the hotbed of the blues, Clarksdale, Mississippi, but grew up in Chicago where his father was a respected minister. He first got notice as the vocalist for the legendary gospel group The Soul Stirrers, who had several hits during the early 50s. Later that decade he broke with his gospel roots to become a secular singer. Over the next seven years he had nearly 30 hits, including Another Saturday Night, Cupid, Chain Gang, Twistin’ the Night Away, You Send Me, and A Change Is Gonna Come, which became a soulful anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

Cooke was shot and killed in a South L.A. motel by the establishment’s female manager who claimed he was threatening her life. A coroner’s inquest later ruled that the killing was justified. He was only 33.

Sam’s widow Barbara created a scandal by marrying soul artist Bobby Womack only three months after his death, thereby becoming one of a select group of women (Patty Boyd is another) who married two men that are today in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cooke’s daughter later married Womack’s brother, making the family tree a bit more interesting.

With Sam Cooke’s talent and good looks, I am stunned that his story has never been brought to the screen in a major way. Hollywood, get on this.

Three years and one day later, twenty-six-year-old soul singer Otis Redding perished, along with most of his backup band, when the plane they were flying in crashed into a lake in Wisconsin.

Redding spent most of the 60’s building a fan base through electric performances of his hits Try a Little Tenderness, Mr. Pitiful, and I Can’t Turn You Loose.

Today he is best remembered for the single, (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, which he recorded only three days before his death. It was Redding’s only number one hit, becoming the first posthumous chart topper in American history.

Incidentally, the whistling that you hear in The Dock of the Bay was never meant to stay. Redding used it as a place holder for more lyrics that he intended to insert later.

 


Our Moment

Every generation seems to have one: that traumatic frozen moment of shock and disbelief that is branded into their age group’s collective unconscious. For my father’s generation, the moment came on December 7, 1941. For millions my age, John Lennon’s murder in Manhattan on December 8, 1980 became ours.

The attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center were truly “generational moments” that brought about policy change at the national level and sent previous eras scrambling for sanctuary in the history books. The death of John Lennon was different. Despite worldwide calls for peace, there was no overnight institutional change that stopped murders from happening in New York. His death was more personal, affecting millions who had grown up with the Beatles, and those who looked on him as a brother from a different mother.

I remember the moment well. I had only recently arrived in California from Indiana, having migrated west to study at a college that specialized in its own brand of old-time religion. I wasn’t much of a believer, and had used my mother’s religion to get out of the Midwest. Soon, the inherent need inside all of us to have friends and to fit in to one’s surroundings was causing me to – outwardly at least – parrot the party line.

The news about John’s murder was delivered to me by a Scandinavian student. I didn’t believe him at first, but others who had heard the reports confirmed the story. My response was to knock out every tooth in the Swede’s head. This wasn’t a reaction bred by the violence that had just happened on the opposite side of the country. It was because the student, who knew of my interest in the satanic symphony of rock and roll in general – and the Beatles in particular – had rushed to give me the news with such self-righteous glee. In his skewed worldview, the Devil had simply called one of his own home.

I made up the part about knocking out the kid’s teeth. I only did that mentally. My restraint had nothing to do with “turning the other cheek” or “giving peace a chance.” It was shock and the fear of expulsion that kept my reaction in check.    

While I would like to say that his view was that of an extremist and not the prevailing sentiment of the college, this was not the case. Those of us who were fans had to grieve alone, far from the all-seeing eye of the faculty.

It was only later that I realized that his appalling need to joyfully rush to report that a man had been murdered in front of his wife led me to take my first step away from organized religion. I’ve been walking ever since.

A lot can change in a single moment.


Britain’s “Soul”

This time of year is always a somber one for Beatles fans. With the anniversary of George Harrison’s passing on Monday, followed by next week’s 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, millions of people around the world are especially aware of their own mortality during these two weeks.

Today marks another milestone in Beatles history that’s also bound to make fans feel their age. It was on this date in 1965 – 45 years ago today – that the Beatles released their epic Rubber Soul album in England.

Rubber Soul, which got its title from an expression Paul McCartney used to describe English soul music, was the band’s sixth English album. The record reflects the group’s growing sophistication, marking a clear departure from their earlier Merseyside sound. It was recorded all at once during the months of October and November 1965, rather than in fits and starts between other commitments, like their previous records. This schedule gave them the freedom to experiment with new subjects and sounds, heard most notably in George Harrison’s use of the sitar in Norwegian Wood, and producer George Martin’s harpsichord-sounding piano in In My Life. This record set the stage for how the Beatles would function for the remainder of the 1960s, with the group becoming more of a studio band, and soon discontinuing touring altogether.

When you look at the lineup of the fourteen songs on the record, it’s hard to believe this isn’t a greatest hits album:

Side 1

Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood, You Won’t See Me, Nowhere Man, Think For Yourself, The Word, Michelle

Side 2

What Goes On, Girl, I’m Looking Through You, In My Life, Wait, If I Needed Someone, Run For Your Life

Couple this with the fact that Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out were released at the same time as a double-sided single, and left off the record, and you realize that December 1965 was a great month for popular music indeed.

The album was a huge success, hitting the top of the charts on Christmas Day in England, knocking the groups’ previous record, Help!, out of the top spot. The American version of the album came out three days after the British record with a different lineup of songs, and sold over a million copies in the states in only nine days.

Nowhere on the cover of the album was the group mentioned by name. Yes, they were that big.


It’s Johnny’s Birthday

My earliest memory involves the Beatles.

I remember a babysitter (it may have been my cousin) singing I Want To Hold Your Hand to me when I was no more than three.

Since that early age, the Beatles were responsible for many significant milestones that occurred throughout my life. The first album I ever owned was Revolver  when I was nine. I vividly remember Lennon’s assassination just four months after I moved to California, as well as the pilgrimages I made to Manhattan to see Lennon’s memorial, “Strawberry Fields,” on my 30th and 40th birthdays.

John Lennon's "Strawberry Fields" memorial, in Manhattan's Central Park.

We have been reminded everywhere (and rightly so) that tomorrow should have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday. What may be lost in the sad remembrances over the weekend are the other Lennon anniversaries that will also be occurring.

At the time of his 30th birthday in 1970, John was finishing up his first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, when his old Beatles bandmates, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, showed up to present him with a gift in the form of a song they had recorded. The song was called It’s Johnny’s Birthday, which later appeared on George’s All Things Must Pass album.

On this date in 1975, on what was John’s 35th birthday, John and Yoko’s son Sean was born. Ten years to the day later, Strawberry Fields was dedicated, which is located in Central Park, just across the street from the Dakota, where he lived and died.

In 1990, I got up early on his 50th birthday to be one of the estimated 50 million people around the world to hear Imagine broadcast simultaneously from 1,000 radio stations. (Speaking of Imagine, Lennon’s most famous solo recording turns 39 over the weekend.)

When John Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, few took notice. But tomorrow, thanks to the lasting legacy of his music, charisma, and personal philosophy, millions (perhaps billions) will be celebrating the day.


Somethin’ Else

Rock and roll fans are being hit with a host of sad milestones these days. For instance, today marks the 40th anniversary of Janis Joplin’s drug overdose death in a Hollywood motel in 1970, which comes just two weeks after the anniversary of the passing of guitar god Jimi Hendrix that same year. And last week saw the 55th anniversary of the death of actor James Dean, who, though not a musician, greatly influenced the look and spirit of early rock and roll.

I may as well add another grim rock reminder to today’s post since I’ve brought us all down already anyway.

Yesterday would have been Eddie Cochran’s 72nd birthday had his short but influential career not been halted prematurely in a car crash just over 50 years ago. A gifted singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Cochran left us with a host of great songs, like Somethin’ Else, Twenty Flight Rock, and his biggest hit, Summertime Blues.

Cochran was born in Minnesota on October 3, 1938, to Okie parents who had moved north to find work. He was something of a musical prodigy, able to master guitar songs after a single listen. While Eddie was in his teens, his family moved briefly to Oklahoma City where they lived in an apartment building that was later the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that Timothy McVeigh would bomb in 1995. The family then settled near Los Angeles, where Cochran decided to drop out of high school to pursue a career in music, even though he was an honor student.

Success came quickly after Cochran performed Twenty Flight Rock in 1956 in one of the first great rock and roll films, The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. Another rocker who performed in the film was Gene Vincent, who sang his early rockabilly anthem Be-Bop-a-Lula. The two would become fast friends.

Cochran would string together several hits over the next few years, led by Summertime Blues, which peaked at #8 on the charts during the summer of 1958. The song has since been covered by seemingly everyone, including The Who, who performed it at Woodstock.

On April 16, 1960, Eddie was in England on tour with Gene Vincent. The taxi they were riding in skidded into a lamp post around midnight, and Cochran was thrown through the windshield. He died in a hospital in Bath later that night. He was only 21.

(Vincent had a history of bad luck with moving vehicles, beginning as a young man, when he had permanently injured his leg in a motorcycle crash – an injury that led him to a life of strong drink. He never recovered from the death of his friend, and died prematurely only eleven years later.)

Although Cochran’s career was short, his feverish guitar and singing style influenced many later rockers, including a young Paul McCartney, who played Twenty Flight Rock when trying out for a Liverpool group known as the Quarrymen. The group was led by a young man named John Lennon, who provides us with another sad rock milestone next week with what should have been his 70th birthday had he not stopped two bullets from the gun of a psychotic fan in 1980.

In the recent re-release of his Double Fantasy album, Lennon is heard paying tribute to his main American musical influences when he whispers, “This is for Gene and Eddie and Elvis and Buddy” at the beginning of a stripped-down version of (Just Like) Starting Over.

Plaque in England where Eddie Cochran died.

 


John, Paul, George … and Andy?

In mid-August 1962, the three senior Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison – fired drummer Pete Best and replaced him with a chap they knew from their Hamburg days named Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey).

On September 4, 1962 – forty-eight years ago tomorrow – that new lineup went to EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London and recorded together for the first time.

The Beatles were initially signed to a record contract by legendary producer George Martin on the strength of their personalities rather than on the quality of their original songs. He intended for the group to record a song called How Do You Do It?  by songwriters Adam Faith and Mitch Murray as the band’s first single. The Beatles had other ideas, and chose to record an original McCartney composition, which Paul wrote as a sixteen-year-old while playing hooky from school.

Their song was called Love Me Do, which was an Everly Brothers-influenced, three-chord Bluesy number that featured Paul on lead vocals, and John mouthing a harmonica that he had swiped from a music shop in the Netherlands. (The band did record a version of How Do You Do It?  that day which can be found on their Anthology I album. Gerry & the Pacemakers took the record to number one the following year.)

Martin didn’t much like what he heard that day out of the new drummer and called the group back into the studio a week later. This time, Ringo was relegated to playing the tambourine while session drummer Andy White laid down the beat. Both versions of the song were eventually released, with the White version rising to number 17 on the UK singles charts. (Ringo’s version can be heard on the Past Masters, Volume One album.)

There was actually a third version of the song recorded three months earlier as part of the Beatles’ audition at EMI, which featured Pete Best on drums. For years this version was thought lost, but reappeared, and can be heard on Anthology I.

Best was devastated by the firing, which depressed him to the point of a suicide attempt. He later became a civil servant in Liverpool and eventually formed a series of bands that capitalized on his association with the Fab Four. He was finally able to earn some royalties from his days with the Beatles (somewhere in the range of £1-4 million) from the sales of Anthology 1.  

Andy White was paid £57 for his session with the Beatles. He later played for several acts, including Chuck Berry, Bill Haley & the Comets, Herman’s Hermits, Rod Stewart, and Marlene Dietrich. He moved to New Jersey in the 1980s, where he still teaches Scottish pipe band drumming at the age of 80. His car sports a bumper sticker that reads, “5th Beatle,” which was given to him by one of his students, in reference to his one-and-only recording session with the band.   

Ringo recovered from the slight (but resented George Martin for years because of it) and ended up manning the skins for the Beatles until their breakup in 1970.