Gary James' Interview With Ed Freeman
on The Beatles last tour of America in 1966
Ed Freeman is a guitarist, an arranger and producer. He's worked with Don McClean, Carly Simon and Cher. But the focus of this interview is the time Ed spent with The Beatles on their last tour of America in 1966.
Q - Ed, were you a Road Manager or a roadie on this Beatles tour?
A - Well, in those days there wasn't that much of a difference. So, I was actually a roadie. I was handling the equipment, but I was also in effect road managing
The Remains. The Beatles actually had a Road Manager, Neil Aspinall, and a roadie who was Mal Evans. But very often in those days it was the same thing.
A - I have to say I was like the lowest person on the totem pole on that whole tour, so I don't even know if there was a tour manager. I wouldn't even have had any cause to speak to him. I was a very small fish in a very big pond.
Q - You were a musician, correct?
A - I was a musician. I was a Folk singer in Boston at the time when Barry (Tashian) and The Remains were a band in Boston.
Q - So, when this opportunity came up to be a roadie for The Beatles and The Remains...
A - For Barry really. There were only three roadies on the tour for five acts. So, everybody did everybody's job. We didn't make any distinctions. I set up The Beatles equipment. Mal Evans set up The Remains equipment. Everybody shared the total burden. So there wasn't a distinction. I guess I set up the drums more than Mal, but I took care of The Beatles' guitars and I tuned them. It was very shared work.
Q - Being a musician, did you view this work as a come down or did you view it as a once in a lifetime opportunity?
A - Well, it was both things. I had just a few months before finally when "Rubber Soul" came out I went from being "Who are these ass holes in England?", 'cause I was totally not interested in Rock 'n' Roll and then "Rubber Soul" came out and I converted to being their biggest fan in one record. In a way, when I went on the tour it was very exciting because I was a huge fan. As the same time, I used to be a big fish in a small pond. In Boston I was a Folk singer and everybody knew me and then all of a sudden I was the smallest fish in the biggest pond on the tour, but also after the tour I came back to Boston and I said this place is small potatoes and I went to New York. I immediately moved to New York after the tour. I ended up putting my own band together. I ended up getting signed to Capitol Records and then I ended up being a producer. Three weeks with The Beatles really sort of kick started my whole next chapter of my career. So, I'm very grateful for that.
Q - Did you ever talk to any of The Beatles?
A - Oh, yeah. Sure. Just casually. I think a lot of us, even Barry initially, and many of the people in other groups, were trying to be sort of be cool and not, "Can I touch the end of your garment?" We were being a little bit standoffish and The Beatles kept sending Neil and Mal out in front of the airplane when we were flying places, saying "You're welcome to come back and talk if you want." They were a little bit lonely I think. Barry got to be friends with George. At one point I remember sitting in a hotel room with Barry and George talking and playing guitars.
Q - So, you flew on the same plane as The Beatles did?
A - Oh, sure.
Q - Someone told me you couldn't just invade the space of The Beatles on the plane. If they wanted to speak with you they would let you know.
A - They did. Maybe they weren't quite so outgoing to the support crew, but they certainly were to The Remains, the band. I think Barry and George got along really well. I had a very kind of strange rapport with George. Very strange. When you're on the stage like that you can't see anything. All the lights are on you. The audience is dark. You can't see anything. All you can hear is just screaming. And so I would stand in front of the stage, like two feet in front of the stage and George would just stare at me for the entire set. We'd just literally stare at each other for seventeen concerts in a row, or however many concerts it was. It was just that's kind of a strange connection. We never spoke about it and I think a couple of years later I ran into him in an elevator in New York and we just stared at each other again for ten floors or however many floors we were going up together, and never spoke a word. We just stared at each other for the ten floors and then I walked out and that was it. (laughs)
Q - I don't understand. What was he looking for?
A - On stage I think he was looking for a human connection. On stage it's a weird experience. If it's at night, you can't see a damn thing.
Q - Were John and Paul looking at you too?
A - No. Not at all. Maybe they had each other and George was out on the side a little bit. So, he wanted somebody to connect to. My sense is that he just wanted a human connection and we had that. Somehow we had this strange rapport. But we never spoke about it. Not one word, ever.
Q - Did you ever speak with John, Paul and Ringo?
A - Yeah, a little bit. "How's it going?" Nothing memorable. Just casual.
Q - What was their attitude like on that last tour? Did they ever give you a reason to believe this was the last tour they would ever be on?
A - No clue about that. As a matter of fact, my one regret of the tour was the last night in San Francisco we were packing up the drums and I finished packing up The Beatles' drums and I looked on the floor and that drum head, The Beatles, was lying on the floor. I thought Christ's sake. I don't want to unpack the whole God damn kit and stick it in there. I thought I could just take that home as a souvenir, but then I thought they have other tours, other concerts and they're going to need it. So I unpacked the whole drum kit and stuck it in there. I should've kept it. (laughs) They never used it again. John had just made that "We're more popular than Jesus," remark and there was a bomb scare in Atlanta and I think he was a little edgier. He was a little bit guarded, but George was totally friendly. When we got to Boston, Barry and I said, "Why don't you come over?" We both lived in Boston. I think he was going to come to my place to hang out for the afternoon and he literally couldn't get out of the hotel because the hotel was surrounded by screaming teenagers. So he couldn't do it. But he was very, very outgoing and totally just a regular guy just stuck in this crazy world. Ringo was sort of that way too. I think he was more amused by it than George was. George was like, "We never asked for this! What is this shit?" Paul was sort of neutral. I don't have any sense of what his attitude was.
Q - Did you ever run into Brian Epstein?
A - Quite a bit, yeah. Again, he was at the top of the totem pole and I was at the bottom of the totem pole. The only time I would ever have to talk to him was "Do you want this over here or over there?" kind of questions.
Q - Would he bark orders?
A - He was very nice, but he was the boss, so he didn't have to bark. He was the big dog. He didn't have to bark.
Q - Since you're a photographer, did you take any photos of the tour?
A - I think I took; there are twelve pictures on a roll and I think I took ten. The reason I didn't take more was because film was $1.75 a roll and then I had to develop it all myself. In those days I just didn't take pictures willy-nilly. I took a couple. I think it was a total of ten. Some of those are with Getty Images now. I think there are some pictures of The Remains and a few of The Beatles on stage. I didn't want to look like a fan, so I didn't take any snapshots.
Q - Did they have any tour photographers with them or that was something that came along later in Rock 'n' Roll?
A - Not really, no. I think there were people occasionally who took pictures. I didn't really know much about stage photography. I took these pictures and they were okay, but I wasn't that much into it and I don't remember any other photographers.
Q - I am surprised that you haven't written anything about your time on that tour, but according to Ron Howard's film, of which you were a part, you can't remember anything.
A - I remember stuff, but what I remember is often not very noteworthy. I just remember waking up in the morning and going into the place and schlepping equipment and setting up the drums, tuning up the guitars, putting the guitars back, unpacking the drums, packing the drums, putting it back into the van. It was hard physical labor for three weeks. Barry and the band got to be what they should be doing, which was Rock 'n' Roll stars, and I was doing drudge work. There's just not a whole lot to say about that.
Q - I recall Barry telling me that The Remains split up because the music was changing and The Remains could not make that change. So, for those three weeks I guess they were Rock 'n' Roll stars.
A - Well, they were and they could have gone on to be much bigger, but I think Barry had sort of an epiphany that this just wasn't his thing. Chip didn't want to be on the tour 'cause he thought it was beneath him because there was some lack of musical integrity involved in it. Barry, to this day, and I don't know if you know this, but to this day I think he's the best straight up Rock 'n' Roll guitarist I ever heard. He was just right down the middle of the road, Chuck-Berry-style, Rock guitarist. He's great. But he ended up being a wonderful Country musician too. So he's an enormously talented guy. He had that kind of epiphany and the band broke up. I had an epiphany too. I said, "Wow! This is what the big time looks like! What am I doing in Boston? I'm out of here." So it was very influential for all of us.
Q - I thought Ron Howard's film Eight Days A Week: The Beatles Touring Years pretty well captured what it was like to be in The Beatles on the road. He sort of glossed over the Hamburg years, but from 1964 on he did a great job.
A - Yeah. There's more documentation of that because they were so famous at that point.
Q - If you're a Beatle fan, the film was too short. You just have to wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor.
A - Well, they interviewed me for an hour and they used ten seconds. A lot ended up on the cutting room floor.
Q - You had a group called Joyful Noise that was signed to Capitol Records and you were produced by Nick Venet who was a big producer.
A - He was a very, very big guy, but there was a guy in my band, Peter Childs, who knew Nick. Originally we were brought out to L.A. by a guy who wanted to sign us to Elektra I think, but he turned out to be sort of fly-by-night. Peter called up Venet and said "I got this band." We went to Nick's house and I played him one song on an acoustic guitar and he said, "That's it!" and signed us immediately on the basis of one song. He had never heard the band as we had never actually played together. (laughs) We were just sort of a band in concept. Nick thought I was going to be the new Bob Dylan. So that's how that happened.
Q - Did he know about your background?
A - He just listened to me sing and play guitar. I sort of had become a songwriter because of Phil Ochs. I was on the road with Phil for, I don't know, a few months. I came back and said if he can do it so can I. So, I sat down and wrote a bunch of songs. I ended up working with Nick a lot after the band disintegrated. That's really how I got into arranging and so I'm sure at some point I told him about The Beatles. I don't remember exactly when.
Q - Capitol Records was the label to be on in the 1960s. How much promotion did they give you?
A - They didn't do any because no record ever came out. We recorded one song, we recorded two songs, an A-side an a B-side for a 45. Then the band broke up. We never were a complete band 'cause we never had a drummer. Peter and I had a contentious relationship. We didn't get along very well. So, we broke up and Nick Venet tried to record me as a solo act. I think I did one session as a solo act and I wrote an arrangement for like a twelve piece orchestral ensemble and Nick realized I was going to be a very expensive act to produce. He decided, "I'm not going to produce you. I want you to write arrangements for me." So, he sort of hired me as an arranger and I ended up arranging a couple of acts. He moved to New York and said, "Come with me to New York and be my arranger in New York," and so I did.
Q - How did you learn to be an arranger? Are you a graduate of Julliard School Of Music?
A - (laughs) Oh, God no. I remember Nick said to me, and I can't remember if it was before or after I did my own solo thing; I remember sitting in his office and he said, "I need an arranger." And this was after the band had broken up. I had no money. I had like twenty bucks to my name. I couldn't pay the rent. He said, "I need an arranger," and I said, "I can do that." He said, "Well, what have you done?" I said, "I've written a bunch of Chamber music, a couple of symphonies. Orchestral music? No problem." He said, "Oh, great. I need two Black trumpets and a string quartet tomorrow, 7PM. Here's the tape." At that point I had played violin. I had played Classical guitar. I could barely read music and I had never arranged anything. So I sort of casually walked out of his office and literally ran down Hollywood Boulevard to the nearest book store, bought a book on arranging, read it that afternoon, wrote the arrangement that night, copied it the next day, walked into the studio with this arrangement. God, I'd be embarrassed to hear it now, but it somehow worked and that's the basis of which I became an arranger. I had no training at all. I had zero training.
Q - It must've worked because you did arranging work for Cher and Carly Simon.
A - Yeah, later on. A month after that first thing we were back in New York. I think it was maybe two months or three months later. He said, "I got this idea. I want to do Ruby Tuesday and Mister Bojangles for a sixty piece orchestra. Get it ready for next week." I had no idea what a sixty piece orchestra was. If you have enough chutzpa you can pull off almost anything. I did it.
Q - Did you assist Don McLean on the album "American Pie" was on? What did you do for him?
A - Well, we rehearsed it I think for maybe a couple of weeks. Don was not used to working with studio musicians. I think he was leery about about very slick studio musicians. So I got him a bass player and a drummer who were much more sort of street players and we rehearsed the song in Matt Adderley's rehearsal studio. We rehearsed it there for a couple of weeks and then when we went in to record it, he added an electric guitar and a piano. The vocals took forever, but we did sixteen tracks of vocals on a sixteen track tape which was quite a feat because there's only sixteen tracks on the tape. Then we did the chorus or the last verses, a bunch of people singing. The bunch of people were some pretty notable names, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Livingston Taylor, Pete Seeger. They were all sort of Don's friends. Then there was a lot of splicing and a lot of editing and a lot of bouncing. There's a lot of studio manipulation going on in that record, but the rhythmic body is one, unbroken recording. The piano piece in the beginning, there's about twenty splices in that. It's pretty messy. The actual body of the song, they did play it in one piece.
Q - You have what people would call "marketable skills." You're a songwriter, an arranger, a producer, you write music for computers and synthesizers, you build recording studios and you're a photographer. Why did you pursue photography? It that your real passion?
A - There's about a hundred answers to that question, but I think what was upsetting or just didn't work for me in music is that I always ended up doing somebody else's stuff for them. When I was a producer I was doing Don McLean's music for him. I was making Gregg Allman's music for him. I was making Carly Simon's music for her. I wanted to do my own thing. I always thought that producing was just sort of a sideline. I wanted to learn how to produce so I could produce myself, but I never ended up producing myself. That dream faded into the background and I became this sort of producer/arranger, but it wasn't satisfying because it wasn't my own work. So I became increasingly unhappy about it. I probably did worse work because I wasn't happy about it. I sort of lost my way to tell you the truth. I didn't know why I was doing what I was doing and then I sort of stumbled into doing photography and it was just a revelation. I was so happy to be doing my own thing. I just fell in love with it and that's where I am now. I'm just totally into it. I'm happy as a pig in shit. (laughs)
Q - Did you discover photography later on in life?
A - No. I started taking pictures when I was about twelve and I had always treated it as sort of a hobby. I never studied that either. All the time I was growing up it was music and photography. I ended up majoring in French in college because it never crossed my mind that you could make a living as a musician or a photographer. But those were my two loves, always.
Q - No one knew in the mid-'60s that interest in Rock musicians would continue to grow.
A - Yeah. It was such a small thing back then. Even with The Beatles, which was obviously huge, it's bigger now than it was then. But I was doing other kinds of photography. I was interested in portrait photography when I was younger. I did some work for a newspaper. When I was in college I shot for the town newspaper. I even did a book when I was a junior in college. If you talk to photographers you can almost guarantee if you ask the question, "Oh, you're a photographer. What do you play?" Eighty percent of all photographers are musicians. I don't know why that is. It's a very common double. Music and photography just go together. Maybe it's because they're so mathematical. I don't know why exactly, but there's a lot of mathematics in both of them, or arithmetic I should say, not mathematics.
Q - How many albums have you produced in your career?
A - I think it's twenty-five. Something like that.
Q - You're now known for your underwater nude photography. How'd you come up with that concept and what's the marketplace for photos like that?
A - (laughs) Well, there's not a whole lot of market for people that want to pay for it. A lot of people want to look at them, but not a lot of people want to pay for them. I do sell prints. The way it came about is I've been very interested in photography nudes and I've photographed them in all sorts of environments. One day I just had this thought, maybe I should just photography them under water. I was thinking about that. If I remember correctly I was sitting in a Starbucks. I struck up a conversation with this guy. It came out in the interview that he was the Captain of his swim team in Hawaii, a professional dancer and a nude model and he owned a swimming pool (laughs) I thought the universe is telling me something. This was the first person I photographed and I ended up with as many as twenty people in the pool at the same time. It sort of got to be a big thing. I just won a nice little prize for one of these pictures, but I've done thousands of them.
Q - If there's one thing I want the reader of this interview to come away with is that Ed Freeman was one lucky guy.
A - You know what? I'm still a lucky guy. I'm neck deep in the luck. I'm endlessly grateful for my life. It's been amazing. Here I am, seventy-four years old, and except for four months of my life I've never had a job. Never. Not once. All I've ever done is screw around and get paid for it. (laughs)