Gary James' Interview With Former Apple Records Manager
As a young record label executive at Capitol Records, The Beatles were Ken Mansfield's clients and his friends. Ken was hand-picked to be the first U.S. manager of The Beatles' Apple Records and was the group's personal liaison between the U.S. and the U.K.
A Grammy award winning producer, Ken Mansfield has produced recording artists such as Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Nick Gilder, David Cassidy, Don Ho, The Imperials and The Gaither Vocal Band. Ken is the author of the book The Beatles, The Bible And Bodega Bay. (Broadman And Holmes Publishers)
Q - Ken, before you were the West Coast District Promotion Manager for Capitol Records, what did you do?
A - Well, oddly enough, I was in the space program. I worked on the Saturn Surveyor Space Program. I was a programmer in terms of cost, time and budget analysis. Really something quite opposite than the music business. One of the first computerized jobs in the space industry. We had computers that filled auditoriums. (laughs) So, my hobby was playing in a band called The Town Criers. We became rather popular in California. I opened up a nightclub for evenings while I was still working in the space program and just met some people from Capitol Records. They eventually suggested I come to work for them.
Q - Executives at Capitol Records suggested that to you?
A - Yeah. Actually, it was the fellow who was the head of the Artist Relations Department at Capitol Records was out looking at bands one night at the club. I was out looking for bands. We just met and hit it off and kept running into each other. One day he told me there was this job opening and I got it.
Q - So, you didn't have to work your way up from the mailroom?
A - No, I didn't. I really talked my way into a position that was really over my head. But, it worked out great. When I got the job it was the single most kind of cherry job in the business, to be with Capitol Records, head of promotion in Hollywood. You just had all these great artists there and it was the center of the whole thing. I went from there to working with The Beatles six months later. It was pretty amazing.
Q - Before I ask about The Beatles, you also worked with The Beach Boys?
A - Well, yeah. They were on the roster and of course they lived right there. One of my favorite stories is, there was kind of a competition between Brian Wilson, in production, between him and The Beatles. Brian finally nailed "Good Vibrations", which made his statement as a producer. Then he comes in with this record he produced at a party called "Barbara Ann". It was really a bad sounding record. I said "Brian, I think this is a mistake. You know, you've really established yourself. I don't think this is a hit. I don't think we should release this." He picked up the tape, looked at me and said "This is our next record" and walked out. Of course it went to number one in three weeks. So, that was kind of the end of my having anything to say about Beach Boys records after that. (laughs)
Q - You write in your book: "I had no idea that The Beatles would be an eternal force in Rock 'n' Roll." Tell me why you thought that. You'd worked with other groups. You must've seen that The Beatles really stood out.
A - You know they did, but when you've gone through some bands breaking and reaching stardom, it's really exciting. In the beginning, even though it was extra special, it was still that typical thing to where it would be like that and then it would die down eventually and then it would go away. The Beatles just didn't do that. What I meant by that comment is, how many years later, almost forty years and they just had the number one record and book in the nation. Some of these other stars I had worked with; The Four Freshmen, George Shearing and Stan Kenton, after a while they were forgotten.
Q - John said: "If The Beatles or the '60s had a message, it was learn to swim." What does that mean?
A - (laughs) I questioned him on things like that once. He just used to throw things out and let everybody do what they want with them. He was making the questions worth almost nothing by giving that kind of answer. It was so much in his nature. I don't know. It was a deflection I guess in something else. Basically John was saying we don't have a message. We're a Rock 'n' Roll band. I don't think they meant to be taken so seriously beyond their music.
Q - Did you encounter Brian Epstein?
A - Just worked with him on the first trip and you know he died after that. Other than doing the one gig with him, no.
Q - What do you mean by "the first trip"?
A - Well, not their first trip, but the first time I worked with him in '65 when we did the press conference and they were doing the tour then. We did the two Hollywood Bowl concerts. It was too quick and he wasn't around the day I spent with them at the house.
Q - When John made the famous remark "The Beatles are popular than Jesus", how much damage control did you have to exact? Did Capitol (Records) think The Beatles career was over?
A - No. I don't think we did. I think we felt it was too big and in some ways just got more publicity. We didn't feel bumps in any direction as to whether sales jumped or dropped or that we lost segments of people in the South. It was just another thing. They (The Beatles) took care of it themselves. John actually meant something very good by that. Basically he was saying this is a problem with America's youth. They're making us bigger than Jesus. They're really putting their attention in the wrong place.
Q - He probably should have left out the word "Beatles" in that sentence.
A - When John would say things, sometimes it's almost like he would leave out maybe a couple of key words in a sentence just getting to what he was saying. So, it was easy to mis-interpret.
Q - Was it Paul McCartney who tapped you for the job of Manager of Apple Records?
A - The thing in those days was, America was basically the whole ball of wax. You had to have America for real fame. So, that was the concentration market and that was the most important thing to accomplish.
Q - Were there other people in the running for that job?
A - Not really. One other person would've been considered. That was Larry DeLaney. He was the head of the press division of Capitol Records in America. Larry and I had worked together when they were setting up the Apple thing when we were first putting it together in America. He went over to England with me, with Stanley Gordikov when we were setting it up in Europe. They wanted us as the two main guys, for me to set up the promotion and merchandising campaigns and Larry to set up the publishing campaign. We were the first two guys who were really working with them on this thing. And then they chose me out of the two for whatever reason, and that was Paul. I just spent a lot of time with Paul, hanging out and doing things. Just being with him while he was here (in the U.S.).
Q - Have you kept up the friendship over the years?
A - Well, yeah. We spent a lot of time together here and over there. They were all so easy to be with all the time. It wasn't like, oh my gosh, I'm with somebody famous. They just had this natural thing. And there was a calm inside the storm. Once you were away from everything, it was very normal. Very personal.
Q - Why didn't Apple Records last? What was the problem?
A - Well, it was good intentions and a bad idea. (laughs) Their whole idea of making a record label open to basically everybody in the world... they were going to be able to come to Apple and be heard. You had four bosses. It was just doomed from the start I think. They put a lot of money and a lot of effort into it and a lot of heart, but just by its structure (it was doomed). Where there's four of them basically being four presidents, things started getting strained. A lot of money was going out and not a lot was coming in.
Q - You were on top of the roof with The Beatles when they performed for the last time as a group. What was that like?
A - There was only about twelve of us up there that day, counting The Beatles. It was so amazing. We knew something special was happening, but I don't think we realized how special. It was just something we sensed. I think in our hearts we knew it was the end. That was gonna be it. But nobody said "this is where we're gonna say good-bye." You just had the sense that we were there...it was special. It was a strange feeling in a very wonderful kind of way. You knew something was coming down. You don't realize when these things are happening that they're gonna live on forever. For all we were concerned, it was just a special moment. It was the most special time I've ever had in the music business, being there that day.
Q - Where were you when the Paul Is Dead rumor swept America?
A - (laughs) In L.A. It basically shut me down for about a month. It was bizarre. I was the only contact for The Beatles in America. All we did for days and days is field this thing and kind of feel it out. I solved it from this end without help from Apple in England. I had signed things from Paul, either letters or whatever, from the time period before he was supposed to have been dead and the time after he was supposed to have been dead. So, we sent them to this leading criminologist in Chicago for handwriting analysis. He ascertained all the signatures were from the same person. And, the dates of the signatures were from before and after. I just took that information and when the calls came into the (Capitol) tower, we just explained to them that we had it verified through this method and that stopped it at our end. I always teased 'em about how they left me hangin' high and dry with this thing. There's the suggestion that they started this whole thing as a publicity stunt. I honesty don't think they did. Nobody really started it. It just got started. What Paul did is, he just let it have it's own life and kind of just laughed at the whole thing.
Q - You write "Only George, Paul, Ringo and Neil Aspinall could write The Beatles' story, but I honesty doubt that any of them would be moved to do so." Well, George did write his autobiography. Ringo was supposed to be writing his. What happened with that? Do you know?
A - No, I don't. I don't think George's was really about The Beatles as much as it was about himself. And, the Anthology, even though they claim that's what it was, Neil Aspinall was working on that for years and years. When the publicity came out on it, they were saying this is The Beatles writing their own story, but it was really an anthology and they added something to it. It's not like they sat down and said OK, we're gonna write our story. Of course now we have even fewer people to write the story.
Q - If, as you suggest, that the record business is now being run by accountants, investors, agencies, powerful management teams and lawyers instead of creative people, what does that say about the future of Rock 'n' Roll?
A - As we see the Rock 'n' Roll thing progressing right now, it's almost like the Beatles lasted for forty years and The Beach Boys and The Stones. If you keep going on, the life of the bands keeps getting shorter and shorter. Right now, you're having the superstar of the month almost. It's not the heart and creativity. It's a financial thing. It's all big business now, practically from the start. It's not the same.