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100 Things Beatles Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Gillian G. Gaar
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Gillian G. Gaar
All rights reserved.
In Which WeMeet the Leading Players of Our Story
So, who were the Beatles? Even newbies most likely know the names of the band members: John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They probably also know that the Beatles were from Liverpool, England. But a Beatle fan should know a little more background info about who the band members were before they became the Fab Four.
John Winston Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, at Liverpool's Oxford Street Maternity Hospital to Alfred and Julia Lennon. Alf was a merchant seaman, and his frequent absences meant that the couple's marriage eventually foundered. In 1945, Julia gave birth to another man's child (the baby, a girl, was put up for adoption), and by 1946 she'd moved in with John "Bobby" Dykins, with whom she had two more daughters, Julia and Jacqui. At age five, John was asked who he wished to live with, his father or his mother, an agonizing choice no child should be forced to make. John chose to stay with his mother. But Julia was unable to get a divorce from Alf and legally marry Bobby. So her sister Mary Smith, known as Mimi, was able to wrest John away, insisting that he live with her and her husband, George, to spare John the indignity of being raised by a woman "living in sin."
Julia was forced to agree, but was able to see John on a regular basis as he grew up (though he would not see his father again until 1964). When John was bitten by the rock 'n' roll bug in 1956, it was Julia who bought him his first guitar. Julia also taught him to play the instrument, teaching him banjo chords, as that was the instrument she knew how to play. John then started his own group, the Quarrymen. Unlike his aunt Mimi, Julia encouraged John's interest in music. He was devastated by her death on July 15, 1958, when she was hit by a car while walking to the bus stop, after a visit with Mimi.
James Paul McCartney was born on June 18, 1942, at Walton Hospital in Liverpool to James and Mary McCartney; he would always be known by his middle name, Paul. James was a cotton salesman, while Mary worked as a nurse and midwife. James also had a keen interest in music, playing piano and trumpet, and had been the leader of a semi-pro dance band, initially called the Masked Melody Makers and later Jim Mac's Jazz Band. When Paul became interested in music, his father first gave him a trumpet, but as rock 'n' roll became a greater interest, Paul traded it in for a guitar.
The family grew to four when Peter Michael McCartney (like Paul, known by his middle name, Mike) was born in 1944. But the happy home was shattered when Mary died of breast cancer on October 31, 1956. Paul worked out his grief by spending more time practicing guitar. The following July he was taken to a church fair by his friend Ivan Vaughan to see a band whose members Ivan was friendly with — the Quarrymen.
George Harrison was born to Harold and Louise Harrison at the family's home, 12 Arnold Grove, in Liverpool, on February 25, 1944 (there's some confusion over the date of his birth; a report later stated that "family records" indicated he was born on February 24, but his birth certificate, as well as the recollections of family members and his second wife, Olivia, confirm that it was the 25). George was the youngest of four siblings: Louise, Harry, and Peter. His father worked as a ship's steward, but gave up life at sea to become a bus driver; his mother worked as a shop assistant. The family was close; of the four Beatles, George family's was the only one to have no disruptions. Like John and Paul, when he discovered rock 'n' roll he was anxious to get a guitar. His mother gave him the money to buy his first guitar, and later helped him buy his first electric guitar. His first (short-lived) band was the Rebels, who only played a single show. He soon found another position with the Les Stewart Quartet, and regularly played with other musicians as well. One of those other musicians was Paul, who attended the same school as George. In 1958, Paul, now a member of the Quarrymen, started bringing George to the band's shows, and George eventually became a member of the band himself.
Ringo Starr was born Richard "Ritchie" Starkey on July 7, 1940, at the home of his parents, Richard and Elsie Starkey, at 9 Madryn Street, in the Dingle, one of Liverpool's poorest neighborhoods. Richard worked as a baker, and after the couple's divorce (when Ritchie was three), Elsie returned to her former occupation, tending bar in neighborhood pubs. When he was six, a burst appendix sent Ritchie to the hospital for several months; at age 13 he developed pleurisy and spent a further two years in the hospital. His education suffered, but it was during his second stay in the hospital that he first played drums, as part of a hospital band organized to occupy the young patients.
Ritchie's mother married Harry Graves in 1953, and he helped Ritchie get a job as an apprentice at a company that made gymnasium equipment. When rock 'n' roll hit the UK, Ritchie and a fellow apprentice founded the Eddie Miles Band, later renamed the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, in 1957. His stepfather bought him his first (secondhand) drum kit; when his paternal grandfather helped him buy a brand new kit in 1959, he moved into one of Liverpool's top acts, the Raving Texans, soon renamed Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Ritchie's penchant for wearing jewelry led to the nickname "Rings," which then became "Ringo" — and then "Ringo Starr," so that his solo spots during the Hurricanes' sets could be called "Ringo Starr-time." Ringo was still playing with Rory Storm in 1962 when he was asked to join the band the Quarrymen had become: the Beatles.CHAPTER 2
The Band That Became The Beatles
The Beatles had their roots in John Lennon's skiffle group the Quarrymen, "skiffle" being a lively blend of jazz, blues, and American folk music. It was George Lee, a fellow student with John at Quarry Bank High School, who first suggested they start a skiffle group with another student, Eric Griffiths, who, like John, played guitar. John liked the idea, but decided to form his group with Griffiths, not Lee, later inviting Quarry Bank students Rod Davis and Bill Smith to join on banjo and washtub bass, respectively. John's best friend, Pete Shotton, was drafted in to play washboard (an "instrument" played by strumming the washboard with thimble-capped fingers).
The group was initially known as the Blackjacks for about a week; some accounts say there was already a band in Liverpool with the same name, while the book John Lennon: The Life says John's friend Pete Shotton suggested a name change to something "more in tune with the skiffling ethos of hoboes and chain gangs." Either way, the Quarrymen was a reasonable choice, given that the band's founding members all attended Quarry Bank; the school anthem, "Song of the Quarry," also features the lines "Quarrymen, old before our birth/straining muscle and sinew."
As is typical of many bands, there were various lineup changes during the early days. Smith soon stopped showing up for rehearsals, so John simply took the washtub bass from Smith's garage one day, and the role of bassist passed between Quarry Bank student Nigel Whalley (who later took over as the group's manager), Ivan Vaughan, and eventually Len Garry, both of whom attended another local high school, the Liverpool Institute. Rod and Eric also managed to rustle up a drummer, asking a friend of theirs, Colin Hanton, if he'd join the band. Hanton was the oldest member of the group, having already left school and working as an apprentice upholsterer. His presence gave the Quarrymen a real boost, as there weren't many people who could afford an entire drum kit.
There's some uncertainty as to when the group actually formed. Rod Davis told me he thinks the group got together in early 1956; Colin Hanton has said it was the summer of that year, while Pete Shotton told Rod Davis it must've been later, as "That was the summer John and I discovered girls." Early shows were mostly at local parties, and no one bothered to keep a record of the dates. "It's so long ago," Rod says. "And it was obviously totally unimportant to us then."
The Quarrymen's early repertoire featured "just about every skiffle number Lonnie Donegan had ever recorded," says Rod, who recalls songs like "Rock Island Line," "John Henry," and "Bring a Little Water, Sylvie" in the band's setlist, adding there were also "quite a few old Carter Family numbers which had been recycled by Lonnie Donegan, such as 'My Dixie Darling,' and 'Worried Man Blues.' And then gradually people realized that the same chords that worked for skiffle also worked for rock 'n' roll. And whilst Donegan was pretty good, he wasn't anything like as sexy and glamorous as Elvis. So most people were knocked sideways by Elvis, and wanted to be Elvis and play rock 'n' roll."
Certainly that was John's ambition. But the Quarrymen's career progressed in fits and starts. On June 9, 1957, the group boldly entered the Liverpool heat for the talent contest show TV Star Search, but failed to qualify. Nigel Whalley managed to get the group booked at a new club in Liverpool's city center, the Cavern, but the band's tendency to veer from straight skiffle into rock 'n' roll brought complaints from the management; on one occasion, the band received a note from owner Alan Sytner saying, "Cut out the bloody rock 'n' roll!"
The band's most important show, though no one knew it at the time, was undoubtedly July 6, 1957, the legendary day John Met Paul. By the fall of 1957, Paul had joined the band, making his debut at a show at the New Clubmoor Hall on October 18, 1957. By then, Rod Davis and Pete Shotton had both left. Neither was replaced; without a banjo and washboard, the Quarrymen could now leave skiffle behind for good and become a full-fledged rock 'n' roll group. In 1958, Paul introduced George, another student at the Liverpool Institute, to the band. George was only 14 and John was hesitant about having such a youngster in his group, but, according to legend, George impressed John with a skillful performance of the classic rock instrumental "Raunchy," and he was in.
There was no need for three guitarists in the band, and Eric Griffiths was summarily dropped. Len Garry left the group when he contracted meningitis the same year. The Quarrymen were occasionally joined by another school friend of Paul's, John "Duff" Lowe, who played piano when the band had a gig at a venue that actually had a piano. It was this lineup — John, Paul, George, John Lowe, and Colin Hanton — that made one of the first known recordings of the nascent Beatles at a private studio in Liverpool.
Colin Hanton left the band in 1959, due to an argument that followed a less than impressive club date, which the band members had ruined by drinking too much during their break. Gigs petered out at this point, until August 29, 1959, when John, Paul, and George joined guitarist Ken Brown in a reformed Quarrymen that played a few dates at Liverpool's Casbah Club. But this lineup had split up by the end of October, and when John, Paul, and George entered another TV Star Search contest at the end of the month, they did so under the name Johnny and the Moondogs. The trio made it to the finals in Manchester on November 15, but had no money to stay overnight and thus missed appearing at the end of the show, when the winners were chosen.
The Quarrymen name was then seemingly retired for good — until the Quarrymen decided to reform for a show commemorating the July 6, 1957, gig when John and Paul met, held on July 5, 1997, at the same location as the original show, St. Peter's Church in Liverpool. The lineup featured Eric Griffiths, Rod Davis, Len Garry, Pete Shotton, and Colin Hanton, and the show proved to be so successful, the group decided to stay together. They released their first album, Get Back — Together later that same year. Though Pete Shotton retired from the group in 2000, and Eric Griffiths died in 2005, the rest of the band, now joined by John Lowe, continue to play the occasional show. "We don't go out actively searching for gigs very much," Rod Davis admits. "We just wait for them to come to us on the Internet. And if they're interesting and they fit in with our otherwise hectic lifestyles then we do them." Rod also maintains the band's website www.originalquarrymen.co.uk. As the website states, though the band's name has sometimes been spelled as "Quarry Men," the proper spelling is as one word: Quarrymen.
Further reading: The Quarrymen (Hunter Davies), John Lennon: In My Life (Pete Shotton and Nicholas Schaffner), John, Paul and Me: Before The Beatles (Len Garry)CHAPTER 3
When John Met Paul
The Quarrymen, and John Lennon, might well have faded into obscurity if they hadn't agreed to play the Woolton Parish Church Garden Fête on July 6, 1957. For it was at this event that John met his future songwriting partner, Paul McCartney.
Woolton was the Liverpool neighborhood where John lived, and St. Peter's Church regularly hosted a garden fête (party) in the summer. The Quarrymen made their first appearance of the day playing on the back of a flatbed truck in the procession that led up to the church. The band played two sets in the afternoon, then shared the billing at the dance held that evening in the church hall with the George Edwards Band.
Paul had been brought to the Fête by his friend Ivan Vaughan, who had briefly played bass with the Quarrymen and went to school with Paul at the Liverpool Institute. Paul was especially impressed with the band's performance of the Del Vikings' "Come Go With Me," noting that John sang with confidence even though he didn't know all the words and was making up his own; "I just thought, 'Well, he looks good, he's singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me,'" Paul later recalled to Record Collector.
Before the evening performance, Ivan introduced Paul to the band. Paul was soon demonstrating his skill on the guitar; unlike the others, he actually knew how to tune the instrument. In short order, he ran through Eddie Cochran's "Twenty Flight Rock," Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop-A-Lula," and a medley of Little Richard songs, later graciously writing out the words to "Twenty Flight Rock" for the Quarrymen. A further bond was formed when John told Paul "Twenty Flight Rock" was one of his favorite songs; "That's when I knew he was a connoisseur," Paul told Beatles biographer Hunter Davies.
John didn't ask Paul to join the Quarrymen right away. He'd been the acknowledged leader of the band, and feared that getting a capable musician like Paul into the group might lead to Paul eventually challenging his authority. But he soon decided that it was better to let Paul in and make the group stronger, and about two weeks after the fête, when Pete Shotton ran into Paul cycling around the neighborhood, he asked him if he'd be interested in joining the Quarrymen. Paul said yes.
A fellow Quarry Bank student, Bob Molyneux, recorded part of the Quarrymen's evening performance on a Grundig TK8 portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. When the tape was up for auction in 1994, two short clips of Lonnie Donegan's "Puttin' on the Style" and Elvis Presley's "Baby Let's Play House" were made public; though the sound quality is poor, John's distinctive voice comes through, giving the listener some idea of what Paul experienced when he first saw the Quarrymen.
As John aptly put it, "That was the day, the day that I met Paul, that it started moving."CHAPTER 4
What's In a Name?
As 1960 began, the Quarrymen were down to three members: John, Paul, and George — who all played guitar. Not only did they need band members who played different instruments, they also decided they needed a new name.
John was by then attending the Liverpool College of Art, and had struck up a friendship with a fellow student, Stuart Sutcliffe. Though a promising painter, Stuart had an interest in rock 'n' roll as well, and eventually joined John's group. Stuart is credited with thinking up the name "Beetles," inspired by the name of Buddy Holly's group the Crickets. Some have noted that the name is the same one used by the female members of a motorcycle gang in the Marlon Brando film The Wild Ones (about motorcycle gangs wreaking havoc in a small town), though others have pointed out that the film was banned in Britain at the time. But in the 2005 edition of Philip Norman's Beatles biography Shout!, he confidently states that "pop culture-vultures like Stu and his circle would undoubtedly have known all about [the film]." In any case, Stu and John played around with the name, Stu spelling it "Beat-als" (as in "beat all the competition"), while John spelled it "Beatles," in reference to beat music. But none of their contemporaries liked the name, urging them to add something else to it. The group eventually agreed to amend the name to the Silver Beetles.
Excerpted from 100 Things Beatles Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Gillian G. Gaar. Copyright © 2013 Gillian G. Gaar. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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