Gary James' Interview with
the reporter who traveled with The Beatles
on their '64 and '65 North American tour
Larry Kane holds the distinction of being the only American journalist to travel with The Beatles on their 1964 and 1965 North American tours. As a radio news reporter, he had exclusive access to interview all four of The Beatles on a daily basis.
Larry Kane is the author of the book Ticket To Ride: Inside The Beatles' 1964 Tour That Changed The World. (Running Press)
Q - Larry, you and I have something in common. There's a book out called The Lost Photographs Of The Beatles, featuring the photos of Bob Bonis.
A - Where am I in that book? I mean writing for it. There's no pictures of me. I wrote the forward for it.
Q - Right. There you go.
A - He was a nice man. I had no idea by the way when that thing was going on that he was taking all those pictures. (laughs) I saw him a few times with a camera, OK? But most of the pictures, if you see 'em, were taken of the stage. He didn't do a lot of stuff behind the scenes. But he was a very nice man.
Q - He probably did a lot more behind the scenes photos of The Stones.
A - Yes, more behind the scenes. But he didn't do a lot with The Beatles.
Q - I think guys like you were at a disadvantage. I say that because in '64 and '65, not much was really known about The Beatles' background. For example, their time in Hamburg, Germany. Did any of The Beatles talk to you about their time in Hamburg?
A - A little bit. Here's the deal: I'm writing a book that's tentatively titled When They Were Boys: The Beatles' Dangerous, Treacherous Road To Success. It covers the period from the mid '50s through the year that I met them, 1963, 1964. There was a disadvantage because basically until they did their biography with Hunter Davis, which is basically their story of their life, their version of it, nobody really knew about that stuff. But I did have some time to inquire about the beginnings. At the time, I wish I'd done more because it would have helped me now. But basically they did discuss Hamburg with me. But they didn't discuss it in the way you would view it today. History is always much different when you're living it than it is portrayed. Totally. OK? So for example, I did talk with John about the Germany business and we talked about where they lived and how they lived. I did talk to George about it. It was basically the first time I found out he was kicked out of the country because he was under-age. And I talked to them a lot about their beginnings. But in those days, in 1964, you're absolutely right, nobody really knew how it all began. There are so many different versions of it that I think the book I'm working on right now will give you a very clear vision of what happened. There was a lot of betrayal. There was a tremendous amount of acquisition, acquisition of other groups' styles. The Beatles, unlike other groups, really studied other groups. For example, there was a tremendous impact of Rory Storm And The Hurricanes, who was somebody we didn't even know about in 1964, although Ringo occasionally mentioned him. This was before Rory died. They had a tremendous influence by the group The Chants and a fellow by the name Joe Ankrah. The Chants were the very first Black group in England. They had tremendous influence from the other Merseyside bands that we didn't even know about at the time, bands like
Kingsize Taylor And The Dominoes. They also had a tremendous influence from American music. The fact is, there's no question now that as you look back, that what they became, like anyone in life, a carpenter, a lawyer, a doctor, a writer like yourself, a broadcaster, we're all affected by the people we're around. We all grow in life by the people we're around. There's no doubt that when I go back to this history and to the information and talk to all of the people who are still alive and were there, that The Beatles were great learners. They were like sponges. They took in what they saw. They studied. The fact is that in The Beatles' time, in the early years, The Big Three were gigantic. And
Pete Best, who has still not been given his place in history, was the most popular Beatle up through the summer of 1962. He was the most popular Beatle without question, and I say that in this book. So basically, as you look back at the beginning, I didn't know in 1964 or 1965, what their history was. It would've been great. I did get some wonderful quotes from them about places like the Jacaranda and The Tower Ballroom, places that eventually became historic, but that I didn't know much about. They even talked to me about Litherland Town Hall. One of the professors I talked to, Mike Brockin, he's the only guy who teaches a Masters course in Beatles, in the world. He's at Liverpool Hope University. He's a fantastic guy. He basically points out that all those concerts everybody talks about that are historic, were really "small bears" as he calls them in those times, but the fact is they were very influential because when they got kicked out of Hamburg, they got this gig at Litherland, which was a small town hall. There were a couple a hundred people there. It gave them the impetus and motivation to go on. Just the feeling of people loving their work. So, that played a role and so did The Tower Ballroom, which was very, very significant. But in 1964 I had very limited knowledge of that. All that I knew from them was about a year's worth of history. Maybe two. They did tell me about the Jacaranda and they did tell me about Alan Williams. That was the first time I ever heard his name, and about people like Sam Leach. I do have a lot of wonderful quotes from that era, but if I had known more, I would've been able to do a better job and I wouldn't have had to do as much research as I have to for this upcoming book. I, by the way, must tell you that there's always a lot of negatives about history, but as far as people, I've never in all my life, and this is with Presidents, and I've interviewed every President since L.B.J., I've never been treated in those years as well as I was treated by those guys. They were just really lovely people, with their own agendas. There were a lot of agendas there. Their original appeal by the way was really not as an expert harmonica band. Their original appeal was their rawness and their wildness. Then it sort of morphed into, as '61, '62 came along, more into a sophisticated band, cleaned up. The great make-over took place and their music started to overwhelm their actual personalities.
Q - Or, as one person told me, The Beatles were actually the bad boys made into the good guys and The Stones were good guys made into bad boys.
A - Well, I don't know about that. It's kind of general, but I can tell you right now, The Beatles were bad boys (laughs). Ringo was kicked off his gig, a ferry cross the Mersey, for stealing liquor. He was waiter there. George was rough and tough. George, when you think about it, had the best, wholesome family life because he had a mother and a father. Paul's mother died when he was a teenager. John's mother died from an accident. Paul had a great dad. Ringo had a loving, loving mother who was so concerned about him that even after they made it, she kept a piggy bank in her living room just in case. Ringo's really one of the luckiest people in the world. There's no question about it. Maybe not in his adult life, where he accomplished a lot, but in the early days. John, as you probably figured out, was my favorite.
Q - Mine too.
A - Only because he was so honest. He was a tough guy. Paul was a man who wants to please today just like he wanted to do yesterday.
Q - Mr. P.R.
A - Yeah, OK. He knows how to promote. There's some interesting material coming out right now about the relationships. There was something I noticed, by the way, that probably very few people picked up on. Some friends of mine got it too. I thought the Scorsese documentary on George was really fantastic. But there was one thing missing from it, and that was time, datelines. For example, they had Ringo, but you never knew in what time he was talking. In other words, was it recent? Was it before? They had interviews with Eric Clapton, but these interviews were kind of old. A couple of interviews with McCartney that I thought were very nice. But there was one interview that really surprised me. There was never any date on it. A documentary film maker does not have to put dates on anything, but the fact is this was a very significant interview. He was talking about songwriting and he said, and I do not remember the exact quote, "Even our guitarist George Harrison is now writing songs." Now the fact is George Harrison was writing songs back in the 1960s and early '70s. The way he described him as "our guitarist" showed me, he, Paul, but mostly John, looked at George as not a particularly talented person. He was just "our guitarist." That's a very interesting thing. It's sort of like me saying "You're my production assistant. You're just the guitarist." I think you're starting to see an emergence now that George was much more significant in that band and in many, many ways.
Q - John would always say that John and Paul started the group.
A - That's true, but George was there very early. In the teenage years, when you're 15 and somebody was 17, the person who was 17 was decades older than you. (laughs) When you're 42 and somebody's 45, it's no big deal. But when you're 15 and somebody's 17, my God, they're the big guys. I think there's that thing that has always been an issue. But I do think there's a lot of warts. There's a lot of pot holes on their road to victory. I'm going to tell you something that nobody quite understands. The Beatles, in 1964, 1965 and 1966, never knew they were The Beatles. I'll explain to you what I mean. There was The Beatles in the beginning, which was the craziness. Then there was The Beatles that emerged in '64, '65 as the great songwriters. Then there were The Beatles in 1968 through 1970 when they broke up, who were into the acid age and the Sgt. Pepper Beatles. Then they broke up. So, in the period from 1970 to 1980, there was a very anti-Beatle movement around the world. They never stopped liking their music, but there wasn't a realization of what they were. After the murder of John Lennon in 1980. I'd say about five or six years later, The Beatles became iconic. When you become iconic is when people appreciate the impact of your contribution. So basically, Elvis died in 1977 at the age of 42. He didn't become iconic 'til later. The Beatles in 1964 were the mop tops and by 1966 all the adults were listening to them. You could see the difference in the crowds from 1964 to 1965. All these adults were there. People in their 20s and 30s were beginning to enjoy and appreciate them. Now they have spanned fifty plus years in England and fifty years in the United States. So basically they are truly iconic in the sense of legend because of their musical legacy. So really, if you were traveling with them in 1964, the big question is: when is the bubble going to burst? I would say all the time to them, "When is the bubble going to burst?" and we'd have a laugh. The fact is, the bubble burst in terms of them breaking up, but they really didn't become "The Beatles" until much later on. And this is what people don't realize when they write history. They believe The Beatles in 1969 or 1970 were as great as they are today, but they really weren't in the eyes of people. It took generations of people to listen to their music to declare them as probably the best band that we've ever known.
Q - Really, we didn't have anything to compare them to.
A - Of course. You have two Beatles alive and two of them are dead and they may as well be alive because although they don't physically exist, they're there every day. This is the magic of music and i-Tunes and digital and everything that's happening. I just put out a little vinyl collection of my interviews. Somebody talked me into doing it. I think vinyl is very big these days. What I'm saying about The Beatles is, the history will tell you in 1964 they were somewhat of a fad. In 1965 they emerged as real music makers. Really great music makers. In 1966 they quit touring and they went into this hole. They finally emerged from the hole in 1967, 1968, with some extraordinary music that showed their range and then they called it quits. One wonders what would have happened if they hadn't called it quits. Or maybe they wouldn't have been able to sustain it. But we're only talking about a period, their real success point was 1962, so you're talking about 1962 when they got the contract with George Martin. You're talking about seven and a half years until they broke up.
Q - There's been some controversy over the years about the access "groupies" had to The Beatles. I've been told it was nearly impossible to get next to The Beatles. In your book, you say The Beatles road managers brought girls to The Beatles hotel rooms?
A - No, no. They brought up the ones they thought were "safe," by "safe" meaning over 18. And generally most of the women they did associate with were in their 20s. They never, ever brought teenagers there. None of those guys would ever get involved with a teenager, ever. But there were episodes where Mal (Evans) and Neil (Aspinall - road managers) found people and there are also prostitutes.
Q - Bob Bonis told me that prostitutes were offered to The Beatles in Atlantic City, but they wouldn't touch them.
A - Not true.
Q - There was actually a disc jockey from Syracuse, N.Y. on The Beatles' tour, a guy name of Bud Ballou.
A - Yeah, I know Bud. He was on for a couple of days.
Q - So, The Beatles wouldn't be playing Monopoly in their hotel rooms?
A - They did play a lot of Monopoly. And they did read a lot of books. They were very trapped in many, many ways. Compared to the modern way of touring, there was nothing going on. They didn't do anything in their dressing rooms. I would say the greatest risk taker at the time was John. But he didn't mess around with anybody he wasn't supposed to mess around with.
Q - Were you on tour with The Beatles when they played Minneapolis and stayed at a place called The Leamington Motor Inn?
A - Oh my God, that place was infested. I remember that place so well because I got a lot of visitors. The hallways and the fire staircases were filled with kids. There was no security there. They were all over the building. I had so many people knock on my door. I had housekeepers. The housekeepers were trying to get away from the kids. I had situations there that were unbelievable. That was maybe the worst hotel. (laughs) This was Minneapolis. The concert there was in '65 and it was at Metropolitan Stadium, which is where the Twins played. I remember one thing about that trip, I sat at Harmon Killebrew's locker and I certainly got a big kick out of that. But that was also the place that when they left the stadium to fly to Portland, it was insanity there. Cars almost ran over people. But the Leamington was insane.
Q - I recall the Sheriff saying "If The Beatles never came back to Minneapolis, it would be too soon."
A - Well, the Sheriff was nuts there. The Sheriff was also crazy in Cleveland. I have a great piece of video from the Public Safety Director saying, these girls were screaming, "they were out of control." Can you believe it? They were just yelling! That was the place they left to go back to the locker room and they wouldn't come out 'til this guy got his act together. The worst concrete in terms of security were in Minnesota in 1965 and without question Vancouver, British Columbia in 1964. There were 7,000 kids who rushed the stage. The thing is, nobody had ever really experienced anything like this before. So frankly, the sense was "are these kids going to do anything?" No. The Vancouver police were very nice, but they were totally caught by surprise. I mean, they were really, really clobbered by this. It was just unfortunate.
Q - Didn't I read somewhere that before The Beatles toured, there was six months of planning that went into it?
A - No. There was no six months of planning. They entertained right up 'til the end of '63 and if you look at their performing schedule, you will find they had a tremendous schedule that went right up to January and February of 1964. They were in Paris. They were in Sweden. They were really very ill-prepared for the United States. You put them in a turbo-prop, OK? Which is slow. The security in each city was cheap and it wasn't really well done. Finally they learned. I have to tell you, they used our press car as a decoy and we almost got killed. It was really bad. I loved being with them, but it wasn't the kind of thing I particularly enjoyed in terms of what was going on.
Q - Do you remember the first time you saw a picture of The Beatles?
A - Yeah, it was 1963.
Q - Where were you when you saw that picture?
A - I was in Miami. Actually St. Louis going back to Miami. I saw some newspaper shots of the people screaming.