He was the only daily news reporter on The Beatles 1964 North American tour from start to finish. His name is Ivor Davis. As a member of The Beatles' traveling entourage, he had unparalleled access to all their comings and goings. And now, some fifty years later, he's telling the world what that experience was like in his new book, The Beatles And Me On Tour.
Q - Mr. Davis, The Beatles were four of the most fascinating guys that have ever walked on the planet Earth.
A - Yeah.
Q - That you had the opportunity to get such an inside look at their world is nothing short of amazing.
A - It's interesting you should say that Gary, because part of my job over the last fifty years when I joined The Beatles on that tour, I used to interview the movie stars and the sporting figures and big names. A lot of them weren't that terrific to talk to, but The Beatles all had their own personalities even at that young age when I knew them well and of course they evolved into incredible people. They were remarkable. There's no doubt that I would say John was a bit of a genius as you know. They evolved. I went to see Ringo two nights ago and he's still doing his thing. (Laughs) He's packing 'em in, 3,500 people, and Paul, wow! Paul is just unbelievable. He does three hours. Of course in the old days The Beatles did twenty-seven, twenty-eight minutes.
Q - And Ringo turned into quite the front man, didn't he?
A - Well, the amazing thing is, and I think is more power to him, Paul when he does his show is Paul. He is the star. Ringo does the show. He uses his name. He comes on. Everybody comes to see him and he's clever enough to realize that he can't maintain a two and a half hour show by himself and he allows these other guys, those terrific musicians, to have their moment in the sun and that is very admirable. So, the ego is there, but it's not overwhelming.
Q - You were not in England in the early 1960s. You were in Los Angeles.
A - Yeah. I was working for Reuters News Agency covering Hollywood and some of my stories caught the eye of the fine editor of the London Daily Express in the days Gary when people actually read newspapers. The Daily Express had four million readers a day, which was quite big and the fine editor said, "Hey, we want to open a bureau on the West Coast, would you like to head the bureau?" I said, "Sounds like a good idea." So, I said yes. So, I started doing big stories in the movie business. Then he called me one day and said, "You're off to San Francisco as soon as you can. Get on a fast plane because The Beatles are getting in today." They had actually just arrived. He said, "Go up there and join them and travel with them, eat with them and drink with them and write George Harrison's column for our newspaper." So, I took off not really knowing what was gonna happen and of course what happened was history.
Q - Let's back up for a minute. When you came to the U.S. you still had relatives in England, didn't you?
A - Oh, my whole family was there. I mean, I just decided; I was a young man, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I had been working as a reporter in England and as a result of working as a reporter in England I felt the future wasn't that bright. So I thought I'm gonna go to America. I mean, I was kind of a bit naive because I thought I'd walk into L.A. where the sun shines every day and go to The Los Angeles Times and say, "Hi! I'm here from England. I'd like a job." (Laughs) I did do that and they said, "Why don't you go down to our employment office and fill out a form." (Laughs) Of course I never got a job with The L.A. Times.
Q - Here's what I'm getting at: You missed all the early years of British Rock 'n' Roll in clubs like The Cavern and The Marquee Club. Did any of your family, mother, father, sister, brother, say, "Ivor, do you know what's going on here in England? We have all these bands with long hair, wearing collarless jackets and high heel Cuban boots." Did you hear anything about that?
A - Well, what would happen was, I got my newspaper. They used to send me the newspaper and in those days my parents, my father was a European immigrant. He wasn't really into Rock 'n' Roll music. He was into Opera. (Laughs) My brother, who was a couple of years younger than me, said, "Things are happening on the music front." But again, he was not into the music scene. What would happen was I would read the newspaper, but read about these photographers, David Bailey and the beautiful people, Twiggy and people like that and hear a little about the music scene, but not that much. Don't forget the reason, living in America in the early '60s we didn't have the internet. We didn't have the ability to know exactly what was going on. We had television. A few TV networks. We had radio. My background in music wasn't very vast. I was a novice. I loved Elvis. I loved Bill Haley And His Comets. I loved the American influence of Rock 'n' Roll and then when I met The Beatles they too had grown up with the kind of music I had. There was a channel, I'm sure you heard of Radio Luxembourg, a channel from Europe that you could listen to with better reception later at night. John told me that he used to listen to all his Rock 'n' Roll on Radio Luxembourg as I did growing up. I was two, three years older than The Beatles. So, the answer to your question is, my knowledge of Rock 'n' Roll was limited to what I had seen. Guys like Frankie Laine and Johnny Ray were the Americans we were bowled over by. They were the ones that we thought, "Wow! What an incredible music scene." Frank Sinatra was there, but he didn't quite appeal to me then.
Q - What's strange is nobody in the circle of friends and people you were interviewing in show business ever brought up The Beatles. Now, that's odd.
A - Yeah. It's a good point. Nobody's ever picked that one up. I interviewed a lot of British celebrities, comedians, actors, and they never talked about it. But you could still see what was going on. Being a correspondent, I would go back to London every year, once or twice sometimes to the London office and I would see what was getting people excited on the entertainment front, but I was pretty ignorant in Southern California about what was going on in the music world in England. We started hearing "The Swinging Sixties," that phrase and the mini-skirts, the dolly birds and stiff like that. I knew it was going on, but I didn't have much insight or knowledge. As I said, I was fairly ignorant really about what was happening.
Q - So, you got to fly around North America with The Beatles. You were on their plane.
A - Correct.
Q - When I interviewed Curt Gunther, he told me Brian Epstein charged reporters $1,000 a week to be on the plane and in return they had access to all four Beatles and the inside stories. Did The Daily Express pay Brian Epstein's $1,000 a week for you to be on that plane?
A - I think they were paying something for the plane. Here's an interesting thing, you're the only guy who brought up Curt. Curt was a brilliant photographer. Curt was a freelance photographer. Curt worked for himself and Curt got an assignment from The Daily Mirror to cover it as a freelancer. They were going to pay him for his pictures. So, Curt was going to come up with the money himself. I don't think he paid, I think he got The Daily Mirror to cough up the money. What the other DJs did, there was Larry Kane, guys like Art Schreiber who worked for Westinghouse. It's an interesting thing. I know that whatever the cost of the plane was; I know the cost of the hotels. I put my expenses in. I was a staff guy on the newspaper. Curt wasn't. So maybe Curt had to cough up the money. It's unfortunate as you know, Curt died some time ago, but he was a freelancer. So he obviously went to Brian and said, "I want to cover this. You've got to give me access to The Beatles. I want to take their pictures. I will get your publicity." Then maybe Brian said, "Well look, you've got to cough up a percentage," but nobody ever said to me, "Ivor Davis," interestingly enough and nobody's ever discussed this with me in all the interviews Gary, except you. It's very interesting. It's made me think again. When I traveled with The Beatles it didn't cost me a penny. I was being paid by my newspaper. I sent them expenses for all the hotels. The airfare, I think you're right, I think there was kind of a pro-rated amount. Curt said it was $1,000. I think it was probably less. We stayed at the Plaza Hotel in New York and I remember seeing the bill that I submitted to my newspaper of about $16.00 a night. But somebody had to pay for the plane and I'm sure Epstein said to some of the DJs and I talk often to Art Schreiber who now lives in Albuquerque, he's still an old pal of mine, I'll ask him. But I'm sure his company, Westinghouse, paid because us young journalists, there's no way I could've come up with $1,000 or $500 in those days. We didn't earn that kind of money, but I think Brian did pro-rate it. As I said, in the interviews I've done, you are the first guy to ask me about that.
Q - Curt Gunther was an interesting guy to talk to.
A - We wake up and Curt would say, "Ivor, I've got to make a picture." That was his line. He drove me crazy because he came up with all these ideas, (laughs) to travel everywhere. Curt knew he had to push to get exclusive pictures, which he did do. Curt was the one that got The Beatles to go to Reed Pigman's ranch and Curt went with them and took the pictures, which you've seen I'm sure, with Brian and his birthday telephone and The Beatles on horseback.
Q - Some of them ended up in Life magazine.
A - Yeah, probably. Curt did an interesting book with all his pictures in, oh, I don't know, twenty years ago.
Q - There was a Syracuse disc jockey by the name of Bud Ballou who traveled with The Beatles on two or three of their 1964 gigs. Do you have any recollection of him?
A - To be perfectly honest with you, no. I remember Long John Wade and of course the guy who called himself The Fifth Beatle, Murray The K. I'm sure Bud Ballou joined the tour for two or three days as you said and that would be the way it worked. Most of those guys would come on not for the whole trip, but join us for two or three stops before their hometown and then they would get to know The Beatles and get stuff on tape. I'm sure he (Bud Ballou) did and then they would say "I traveled with The Beatles and here's my interviews with them," and it was an inside track.
Q - At the time you were on the plane with The Beatles, and I mentioned this to Larry Kane, what you knew and what the DJs knew about The Beatles' backgrounds was probably next to nothing.
A - That is absolutely correct. In fact, when I think of it, now that you mention it, most of us were pretty ignorant. I'd seen them on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were guys from my home country so I was a little bet more interested, but most of the people that joined them on the plane didn't know anything about them.
Q - Did any of The Beatles talk about their days in Hamburg, Germany?
A - No. To my knowledge nobody talked to them about that. The interesting thing is I'm sure the Red Light District days weren't discussed by the DJs because they didn't have the frame of reference. The only reason I knew a little bit more about them was I grew up in England around the same time as they did. I was a young kid at the break of World War II and lived through the bombings of Liverpool and London as a kid. That was a sort of frame of reference that we all had. But the other interesting thing was I had before I came to America, I had been a publicist for a famous British holiday resort called Butlin's Holiday Camp. The Beatles knew Butlin's Holiday Camp. Ringo played there. Paul told me he went there with his brother as a kid and took part in their talent contest. So, in a way, those were some of the root connections we had whereas there was no way the American DJs or newspaper men would hook up with them on that basis. The funny thing is, I've covered newspapers for a long time. When you go and interview somebody they often give you their biography ahead of time. Nobody ever sent me a biography of The Beatles. I don't think they ever came up with biographies of The Beatles. If anybody who was on that wonderful trip in '64 could tell me that they got a sheet that told them all about The Beatles in Hamburg and The Cavern, I'd love to see that! (Laughs) The only thing that Brian gave us, and Derek (Taylor - Beatles' publicist) gave us after each show was the play list. It was a one sheet play list. And again, this is an area that you're mining that I haven't talked about until you brought it up, so you're doing well. (Laughs)
Q - In your book you have a chapter Talkin' 'Bout Girls, devoted to the girls and women who were trying to get next to The Beatles. Over the years I've interviewed several people about The Beatles and just how close the girls or "groupies" got to them. John Lennon reportedly told his first wife Cynthia that he had bedded three hundred women.
Alf Bicknell, The Beatles chauffeur told me Brian Epstein had staffed the hotel elevators where the group was staying with ex-F.B.I. agents so women could not get up to any of The Beatles' rooms. Bob Bonis, The Beatles' American Tour Manager told me DJs in Atlantic City brought in "hookers" for The Beatles and they wouldn't touch them. The DJs split them up. Larry Kane, who traveled with The Beatles for all three tours told me that's not true.
A - That's not true. Larry was right.
Q - The Beatles certainly did use the "services" of those hookers.
A - They did.
Q - And then you have David Cassidy saying, and I can't remember where I read it, saying John Lennon told him he would either throw out tied bed sheets from his hotel room window or a rope and if a girl could climb up that sheet or rope, she got to spend the night with him.
A - Who said that?
Q - David Cassidy.
A - Okay, yeah.
Q - So, Ivor, what is the real story about The Beatles and "groupies"?
A - Here's what I can tell you: First of all the David Cassidy story sounds fantastic, but it never happened. First of all we were staying on the fifteenth floor. We did stay in a few lower down motels. So, I never saw a bed sheet out the window, okay? I'm sorry to shoot that one down and not on my watch. Not on my trip. The idea of hiring ex-F.B.I. agents, I think that is wishful thinking. What Brian did do was he did talk, and Road Manager Mal Evans, did talk to hotel security and tried to have the elevators manned by hotel cops, hotel security. They were concerned about young women, but a lot of young women did get up to, not necessarily the rooms, but the floors. On one occasion I opened the door after I checked in and there were two girls in my room, (Laughs) hiding out.
Q - How did they get in your room?
A - I don't know. That was the incredible thing. I opened the door and these girls took one look at me and ran down the hallway. (Laughs) First I thought they might be the cleaning staff, but they were too young for cleaning staff. We were told about some of the novel ways that the girls tried to get smuggled into the rooms with The Beatles. When girls came along they knew under-age girls. Everybody knew that. When you get a young woman who is a gook looking chick, it's very hard to say, "Show me your driver's licence." Well, they never did that. Or, "Show me some proof of your age." I know Larry was there at The Sahara Hotel when there was a problem with a mother and an underage girl. That happened. That was a bit of an emergency and almost a near scandal. Fortunately they managed to dissuade anybody from filing any actions. But jumping to Atlantic City, and just my version of Atlantic City, was we had finished a good concert. We went up for a party to the penthouse suite. I forget the floor now and there was wonderful food and they said they were gonna show us a movie. We guessed it was A Hard Day's Night. However, just before the lights went down and the movie came on, the promoter walked in with three "hookers", good-looking "hookers". He picked the best. He said to The Beatles, "Boys, take your pick." and The Beatles had never had this before. They'd never had it so blatantly done and they looked at these rather good-looking chicks and they all paired off with a girl and off the went. (Laughs) The left over girls stayed to watch the movie. (Laughs) Then when the lights came on again they were all back. They'd seen the movie a few months earlier in London when it opened, but you knew they'd gone off with the girls and done whatever they wanted to do with the girls and we knew they were not fans. I was there for that little shenanigan. There used to be women with daughters who'd mingle outside the hotel. If they heard an English accent they'd say, "We can help you. What can I do? I want to get my daughter to meet The Beatles." They wanted whatever the connection was going to be. The girls wanted to meet The Beatles. Many a time the mothers said they were fairly open. They said, "I would do anything to get my daughter upstairs." But I'll tell you what did happen, which is interesting. Again, nobody has kind of asked me about this. It's interesting if you're talking about the women. In Dallas we stayed in the hotel and right next door there was kind of a fake Playboy Club. They had Bunny-type women who were gorgeous. I was twenty-five. They were stacked. They were gorgeous women. A woman in the bar came up to me and she was all about twenty-six, twenty-seven, and she said, "I am the den mother of the girls who work this bar. Some of the girls want to meet The Beatles. Can you do anything for me?" I got friendly with her and so I introduced her to Mal and I think Mal was able to get an audience with The Beatles for the girls. I know the den mother was very grateful to me and she took me out for dinner and as I always say, one of the benefits of this thing is you were able to get some pretty good left-overs. And that's a true story. I was a young guy and I had this gorgeous chick who was a den mother. You think den mother, you think aged... she was not aged. She was gorgeous.
Q - I remember one stop The Beatles made, the local sheriff was quoted as saying, "If The Beatles never returned, it would be too soon." Some under-age girls might have gotten through on whatever city that was.
A - It's possible. I remember for example in Seattle, what would happen would be that the girls, and some of them were Miss Seattle or Miss Cincinnati or Miss whatever, and they'd come up. Also, there were Presidents of fan clubs and they would come up for a photo-op and Derek and Bess Coleman, who was kind of a working secretary to Derek, she had connections and was on the trip with us. Bess was a very beautiful English woman who had worked for one of the record companies in New York. A very pretty young woman. She was certainly number two or three to Derek. So, Bess dealt with the fan clubs in the cities and Bess's job to some extent was to bring the Teen Magazine winner of the Beatle contest or whatever it was, up to meet The Beatles. So, it was not uncommon for me to walk into The Beatles' suite and there would be four or five young women there, maybe sitting on the bed just chatting. Nothing nefarious was going on as far as I could see when I walked into the rooms. They were just there. They were kind of like window dressing (Laughs) if you like. Some very pretty young women. Then of course there were the parties. I remember going to a party in Hollywood, in Beverly Hills, and getting friendly with Peggy Lipton, who was a gorgeous girl. She was late teens. She told me about her family background. She said she was going to marry Paul. She was madly in love with Paul. She did go out with Paul and she did meet Paul and I think wrote a book in which Paul was mentioned. I forget what it was. So, young starlets, and I guess she was a starlet, wanted to get close to the boys and Peggy certainly got close to Paul because the night we went out with Jayne Mansfield and The Beatles, Paul never showed up. I was told he was off having a date with Peggy. So, the girls were there. There were a lot of them. Whether sexual encounters took place, I don't know. I never saw them. They were there as adornments to The Beatles' rooms. You know, who knows? But to jump back to what you said, there was hotel security. The F.B.I. story sounds wonderful. It's the first time I've heard it. It sounds somewhat embellished, but who knows? Maybe retired F.B.I. guys do get work as hotel directors. So, there's a certain truth there. I don't think Brian Epstein, in the first year, would know, would say, "Let's get retired F.B.I. guys." I'm a journalist and I always try to deal with the facts and that doesn't quite gel with anything, but at any rate, maybe he did.
Q - You bring out something in your book that I'm not sure many people are aware of. The autographed photos of The Beatles that people are paying $1,500 - $2,000 for may in fact have been signed by one of The Beatles' crew members. Tony Barrow brought the subject up in his book, but you just have to ask yourself, are you getting the real signatures? Probably not.
A - Yeah. You just answered the question. There's no doubt that I used to sit around having a drink with Derek and Derek was fantastic in being able to talk to me and have a stack of Beatles pictures and a felt-tip pen and sign the pictures with different styles for each of the boys. I mean, he could do it while he did something else. So, he did a lot of stuff. And a lot of the Beatle autographs were forgeries. Derek was phenomenal at it. He did it without thinking and I'm sure so did Mel and so did Neil. Maybe in the old days when good ol' Freda ran the fan club she made sure The Beatles actually signed the pictures. Freda would never forge an autograph. She's not that kind of woman.
Q - So, what is a person to do? They've spent thousands on what they think is a genuine autographed Beatles photo and it's not.
A - It's quite likely. There must be some experts around who've seen the genuine Beatles signature to be able to differentiate. All the autographs I got, I gave away to people I met. I didn't have the sense to realize I should have kept them. Then one day, maybe twenty-five years later, somebody tracked me down and said, "Remember we met in Vegas and you gave me an autograph for my daughter of The Beatles?" I said, "Well, vaguely." He said, "I'm sending it to an autograph expert to see if they really were The Beatles'." So I said, "If you do know, if you do find out when I gave your daughter that picture, let me know." He wanted to sell it for big money. I think he finally came back to me with great disappointment and said, "The picture you gave my daughter was not The Beatles' signatures." And it's quite likely. I had twenty autographs I just gave to people. When I got back from the first tour, I just gave them to friends who maybe gave them (away) or kept them or lost them. But this guy was very upset at me because he said, "I've had it checked out and it's not The Beatles' signatures." And again, nobody's ever asked me that question except you.
Q - If there's anything that's crystal clear in your book it's that Brian Epstein is the unsung hero in The Beatles' story.
A - Yeah.
Q - The public has no idea what he had to contend with. John Lennon must have been a handful.
A - Yeah. Oh, you know he was. John Lennon, as you know because you've become an expert, John Lennon loved to provoke people. He loved to take the piss out of 'em. He loved to needle them. That's the way he got his kicks, whereas Paul certainly wasn't that way. Ringo was not and George was a different kettle of fish. So, dealing with John was very difficult. But, the interesting thing about Brian was of course sadly he died in '67, but he was able to take them, as you know, from the greasy stuff they were in Hamburg to these guys. Brian was brilliant from that point of view. He had great faith in their ability, but in a way he wasn't a good businessman because he gave away the merchandising. When he discovered he'd been taken to the cleaners on the merchandising, he was very, very upset, so much so that in America they sued. I'm sure you know the story. He gave it away for 10%. He didn't know anything about it.
Q - He delegated that job to his lawyer, David Jacobs.
A - Yeah. David Jacobs was obviously a bit of a snob. I didn't know him. He said, "I can't give out merchandising. That's kind of tacky." David Jacobs then met a guy at a party in London. I mentioned his name in the book. I can't remember it. But this guy took off to New York and set up Seltaeb, Beatles spelled backwards, set up the company and started selling stuff. He sold a huge amount of stuff, but nobody knew about merchandising. David Jacobs said it was beneath him to handle it. That's why he off-loaded it to anybody who came by. Brian didn't show up at the civil trial in New York because it would've made him look like an idiot. So as a result, not only did it take an emotional stress on Brian, but Brian never went to the trial. He never testified because he knew it would make him look like an idiot. They finally settled for something, but Brian never came to America for it even though his lawyers said "It would be good if you came to testify." Then there was all this stuff, selling the music and getting it back. But Brian was the guy who did what he did and turned them into the image that America fell in love with, that the world fell in love with.
Q - And what is so hard to understand is merchandising wasn't new. Look what Colonel Parker did for Elvis.
A - Yeah. Colonel Parker did it for Elvis, but don't forget Brian's attitude to some extent was why should we bother with mop-top wigs and all the paraphernalia? Why should I get a bigger piece of the action? It's good for The Beatles image if all this stuff goes out. It's gonna be P.R. for us. He didn't realize it was going to be profits for them. It was going to be publicity for The Beatles. Parker for Elvis finally got 'round to doing it, but only I think, and you could correct me Gary, only discovered this when he got his suite at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas and signed Elvis up to do sixty concerts and started peddling some Elvis stuff. Before that, I don't think there was much Elvis paraphernalia.
Q - There are groups that had Brian Epstein as a manager and then left because he didn't devote enough time to them. They now believe they made a mistake and should've stayed.
A - Look Gary, all of us can be wise after the event. These guys were saying look at the things that Brian is doing with The Beatles. We are also-rans. He's spending too much time with them. We've got to get somebody who's gonna give us the limelight. I can understand them doing that because history it taking place and unfolding there and then and you just don't appreciate the history until afterwards. So if they kick themselves for not wanting Brian to handle them anymore, it's not unusual. I mean, it's just one of those quirks in life.
Q - Did Brian Epstein understand just how good The Beatles were musically? Nobody was writing those kinds of songs.
A - Well you know, Brian was also part businessman. He would crack the whip and tell John and Paul that they had to have another fifteen songs for the Christmas album, "So get something done, boys." Their music evolved incredibly from the early lollipop music, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" to "Eleanor Rigby" to the "Sgt Pepper" stuff. You just see the incredible ascension, improvement in their music and of course everybody gives credit where credit is due to George Martin and Geoff Emerick for doing such incredible things in the studio with them. The Beatles were prepared to experiment with their music, weren't they?
Q - And don't forget their appearance also changed over the years as well.
A - Yeah.
Q - After your time with The Beatles, did you get access to other groups?
A - Well, interestingly enough I did interview some of the other Pop stars. I would go to Vegas and interview Sinatra and Eddie Fisher. Those kind of mainstream Pop singers. Robert Goulet. Occasionally I'd interview the guy from The Who, but I was not a musicologist. I was not a music expert. I spent a lot of time hanging around with Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. I used to go to Vegas for their openings and interview them. Tom Jones is fantastic. So, I used to spend a lot of time in Vegas with those three. I went to see Elvis in Vegas and spoke to Colonel Parker and interviewed him and interviewed Elvis, but Elvis was not a good interview. Elvis was terrible. Colonel Parker was a better interview because he wanted to blow his own trumpet.
Q - I never knew that Frank Sinatra gave interviews.
A - My newspaper promoted Sinatra's concerts. One day they said to me, "Ivor, we want you to bring a dozen people over from England and you are going to take them to Sinatra and have their pictures taken with him." To be honest with you, it was Sinatra Farewell Concert number 32. I exaggerate. Maybe it was Sinatra's Farewell Concert number 3. So, I ended up with eight couples that had come over from England and I had to take them down to Vegas and I had to take them backstage. Sinatra was terrific. He posed for pictures with them. Part of the contest was they would come over and they would get put up in a hotel, which I had to set up, and then I had to take them to Vegas for this Farewell Concert of Sinatra, which was kind of fun. Sinatra was absolutely charming. There was a club in Beverly Hills called The Daisy, run by Jack Hanson. Frank Sinatra used to hang out at The Daisy. It was the time he was with Mia Farrow. So, I used to see Sinatra at The Daisy with Jilly Rizzo. If anybody came close to Sinatra at The Daisy, Jilly Rizzo would glare. (Laughs) But when we went to see Sinatra in Vegas, Sinatra was charming because he'd known these people had flown six thousand miles to see his final concert, which turned out not to be his final concert. Anyway, we'll talk about that another time.