Gary James' Interview With The Beatles' Hairstylist
Sometimes people get to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff. Leslie Cavendish just happens to be one of those people. He started an apprenticeship at Vidal Sassoon's with Vidal himself at his salon on Bond Street. He then moved on to a new salon at Grosvenor Hotel, completing a three year apprenticeship in two years. One day, Jane Asher, Paul McCartney's girlfriend at the time, walks in. And the rest, as they say, his history. Leslie Cavendish went on to cut not only The Beatles hair, but the hair of so many of the Pop stars of the day. He talked with us about The Beatles and what it was like to cut the hair of so many high profile entertainment personalities.
Q - Mr. Cavendish, you cut The Beatles' hair for their "Sgt. Pepper" album. I never realized they had their hair styled for that album. I thought they just let their hair grow out, grew their sideburns and grew moustaches.
A - OK, basically this goes from "Sgt. Pepper" all the way through to "Let It Be", "Abbey Road", throughout the time I was with them. When I used to cut their hair, it was a situation of how they were feeling at the time. They would have me either trim their hair or they never would say "Right, you ought to do this" or "do that" Obviously there's four individuals there. Three of them I was really sort of with them most of the time. The only one who was occasionally, except for going on a film set, was Ringo. Ringo's first wife, Maureen, late wife I should say, was a hairdresser. So, Maureen used to sort of cut Ringo's hair. I would also trim his hair. They basically decided. I went 'round to McCartney's house one day when he sort of split from Jane Asher, his long-time fiancÚ, and he had a moustache. He was being a bit of a recluse. He wouldn't shave for days and days. He had a beard. The he probably would go down to Abbey Road. He doesn't need one of them to do a moustache. Mostly the others would copy. There was a trend to it. No one said "This is the way we should look." I would always say Paul was the conductor of The Beatles, especially when Brian Epstein died. They had left it to Epstein and he was the master showman himself. He may have said in the early days, building up to "Sgt. Pepper", "Maybe you should look like this." Brian Epstein was gay. He wasn't open gay at the time. It wasn't really the thing to admit in England, or in Europe. Look at the Village People. (laughs) Whether Brian Epstein got involved with that or "you look lovely in a leather jacket", it's a good image... But I noticed a lot of the fashion changed. If you look at the early pictures of The Beatles up to '65, even The Stones, they were wearing shirts with ties. After that, '65, you notice that. I'm sure drugs played a part in it, suddenly they're wearing flamboyant clothes, lovely colors, no ties, hair was looking a bit, sort of freaky. Jimi Hendrix was on the scene. Freaky, curly hair, which became a fashion for people. Generally they just sort of improvised. That's not to say that maybe one of them didn't say "We all ought to have moustaches on "Sgt. Pepper".
Q - Who was cutting The Beatles' hair before you? Any idea?
A - Besides in Germany in the early days with Astrid, I would say Maureen was the hairdresser and I know Maureen may have trimmed certainly George's hair at the time. But there was a hairdresser up in Liverpool before they actually came to London that they played around with. But I'm not sure it was a regular "let's go down to the barber shop and have it cut." I obviously looked at the early style of their hair in that era and it all was a bit sort of factory looking. One came in and the next one came in they were churning them out with this pudin' basin look. It's not a hard cut to do. That's where I think Brian Epstein was an influence. Knowing the guys later on, they were all individuals. I think at the time, he molded them into a very slick sort of four guys against the horrible, horrible Stones' image. The Stones had sort of the long hair. There was a very famous newspaper headline on the front cover, I think it was the Sun newspaper, and it said, and I can see it now, "Would You Let Your Daughter Marry A Rolling Stone?" There was a picture of Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger and they were like Wanted posters. I looked at the pictures recently and they were good looking guys at the time. Compared to The Beatles they were the ruffians. The Beatles were slick.
Q - If they only knew back then that The Stones would gross 500 million dollars on a world tour, the answer would most certainly have been "yes!"
A - Sure. Mick Jagger is now Sir Mick Jagger. (laughs) Knighted. Who would have thought that in a million years?
Q - He probably didn't realize there was that much money in Rock 'n' Roll and that he would've lasted this long as an entertainer, singer, songwriter.
A - It's a bit like The Who song; "I Want To Die Before I Get Old." I think 25, 30, maybe 35 years old was probably it, and for a lot of bands it was.
Q - The bands weren't as clever as The Beatles and The Stones.
A - Very clever management. Very clever individuals as well.
Q - I should also point out that I like the way The Beatles' hair looked in '64, '65.
A - Yeah. Very uniform.
Q - How much would you charge a Beatle to get his hair cut in American dollars in 1967 when you started cutting their hair?
A - I used to ring up Derek Taylor, who was really the fifth Beatle. He used to run the Apple offices. He was the press officer. I would either get a call from Neil Aspinall or Mal Evans or Derek Taylor to say "Can you be at Abbey Road?" "Can you go out to Paul?" In the early days this is, I would say "Five is good" and went down to Paul a few times. The equivalent today would be about 500 pounds, 500 dollars.
Q - For all four Beatles?
A - Well, I didn't overcharge, but if I did, it wouldn't have made a difference. I would say over a month's time, I was charging 50 Pounds, whatever pounds is in dollars. So, it's more than $50.
Q - So, $50 per haircut, per Beatle?
A - I would be, yeah.
Q - So, every time they came in, it would be $50 a haircut?
A - Well, it didn't quite work like that. What happened was, they never knew anything about the money side of life, right? I was just there to do it. There are two things one has to look at. When I first started I was actually working for a top hairdresser in London called Vidal Sassoon. I used to work for him personally. Then I became a stylist and worked in a salon. When I used to cut their hair I would say to Vidal, "I'm not going to charge them because I'm getting publicity for myself and I'm getting publicity for Sassoon's. So let me see how it works." As it happens, I didn't stay at Sassoon's too much after I cut their hair because Paul McCartney offered to open a hairdresser salon for me where all The Beatles could have their hair cut, which is on King's Road. He didn't ask (for) any money, so I get this shop. I got it all fitted out. So, I had to weigh up when I was asked to cut their hair. I couldn't come in with a big, heavy bill. So, it was a reasonable thing. No one ever, ever questioned it. I could've charged much more, but in-between my philosophy was I was also a Beatles fan. (laughs) So, I suddenly thought "I'm not going to out-price myself here." I didn't want anyone ever to say "you're charging too much" and it never came to that. Boy, doing it that way where I was not sort of doing advantage, I was being invited to places where the general public or anybody wasn't allowed. So I became part of that inner circle, which meant you keep your mouth shut when the press asks you anything at the time. There were certain guys around that they trusted. I got their trust and I charged them, not over-charged them. I would have paid them. (laughs)
Q - Isn't it always the case that when you're famous you can get everything for free! When you're coming up, you're struggling.
A - Exactly.
Q - Did you include in the cost of the haircut a tip for yourself?
A - Never tipped myself. There's an old saying that the boss of a salon, like myself, never takes a tip. I never even thought about it. I used to go into Apple offices on Saville Row and say to them, "I want this for the salon." No one asked me any questions. Indirectly that is The Beatles' money. It was only until Allen Klein came along that they stopped all that. There were people taking advantage of it.
Q - Besides cutting their hair, did you ever color their hair or give one of them a body wave?
A - I never, ever had any of The Beatles any of the time that I cut their hair ever use anything except cutter scissors. First of all, they had bloody good hair, thick hair. There was never a problem with that. Ringo always had a little grey streak in his hair so there was never any thought about covering that up. It didn't crop up at all. These guys at the time were Rock / Pop stars, but they weren't out setting a fashion. If they wore a pair of whatever, pink trousers to go down to the shops, someone would have taken a photograph and then everyone would have been wearing pink trousers. They were in a very fortunate position to do what they wanted to do. Their music was enough to make them. There's very few people at the time who were writing their own songs and creating hysteria, not only in America, but around the world. It was a fortunate position.
Q - They were true creative geniuses.
A - Yeah.
Q - They had the complete package deal and no one has ever been able to touch them.
A - A really good mate of mine was Keith Moon of The Who. I used to see Keith. I used to socialize with him. And suddenly he got into the drinking and the drugs. Terrific guy, but just went OTT, Over The Top. Unfortunately that's what happens when you play around too much.
Q - To me anyway, John's hair appeared to get thinner over time. Would that have been because of the drugs he was taking?
A - No. I wouldn't say that. When I said I went 'round to Paul's one day, he had a moustache and beard. He used to live in London, well, he still lives in London. He was the one I used to see a lot. I used to socialize with him. He used to play me some music. I'd go down to the studio. I'd go to a few clubs with him when he split up with his girlfriend. And that was that. John, George and Ringo were living in the country, which meant they would go down to the country and drive up to town. They would then go into the offices at Apple. So, I'd get a phone call and do John's hair. Very occasionally. I did John's hair at Paul's house when he was around there. I remember doing it, but mostly it was at the Apple offices. George used to have his hair done at the salon on Kings Road. He would come up once a week. I would make sure there was no one around. I would do his hair and he'd be listening to music. He'd have a manicure there by one of the girls that worked with me. I said to John, "John, you're letting your hair grow quite long." He said "Oh, yes." I used to just trim it. John had good hair. He didn't have the thickest hair. Now if you just let it go and go and go, the ends will just get thinner and thinner and thinner. So, when I got to cut it, I'd take the ends off, the hair is still going to be thin. When he met Yoko, there was no contest 'cause he ended up looking like Yoko. Yoko, when he first me her, only wore black. Next thing they're both wearing white, but they got the same haircuts. Take a look at the "Two Virgins" cover. Who's who? So, his hair got thinner as it got on. Later on when he moved to New York, whoever cut his hair was great. His hair started looking good.
Q - Did you ever use gel on one of The Beatles hair?
A - Nothing. The only thing I would use at the time would be a conditioner. Just a little conditioner cream after you washed their hair. You just put a little softener on so you literally could put a comb through their hair. Paul and George had terrific hair. I'd just put a little conditioner on the ends. In fact, I'd rub it on my hands and I would touch the very ends of it. They probably didn't even know I was doing it. But it was just a tiny little thing. They never complained, which was good. (laughs)
Q - You've been called a Hairdresser. I call you a Hairstylist. Is that alright by you?
A - Yeah. I always recognize my hairstyle. It all fitted in at the same time, which was good for me. But if you look at the cover of "Let It Be", that's what I used to do week in and week out with them. That look. They kept that look. This was a haircut and I had the same haircut and so did millions of other people. But you know it was a good look. When you say you like the look of their hair in A Hard Day's Night and Help!, I like the "Let It Be" look.
Q - Did you make appointments with them?
A - No.
Q - They came in to see you whenever they felt like it?
A - George would come up once a week, every couple of weeks, just to have his hair washed. He used to like to sort of just chill out. He'd come up in the car. He would stop and shop on the Kings Road. He would spend an hour there. There was a clothes shop upstairs. The guy I was in partnership with, John Crittle, used to make his clothes anyway. He made clothes for Brian Jones, Hendrix, Rod Stewart. He was a good tailor. He was an Australian guy. But I would get a phone call from Paul. He'd say "Can you come 'round? We're going into the studio tonight. Can you come up?" Derek Taylor would say "John wants his hair cut." Ringo did a film called The Magic Christian, which he asked me to go down and do his hair. So I spent a week with him on the set. So it was all a bit loose, but between the four of them there would always be someone wanting something. It wasn't John that week, it would be Paul. If it wasn't Paul, it would be Ringo. If it wasn't them it would be some of the Apple artists, Jackie Lomax and James Taylor and Peter Asher. There would always be someone, somewhere along the line.
Q - So, you really were on call, weren't you?
A - Yeah.
Q - Did you have regular hours?
A - I had regular hours at the shop, but I was on call when they wanted me to do anything. But in between that, I'd have people at the salon, Dave Clark, The Who would come down, Bob Weir from The Grateful Dead.
Q - Did you cut any guys from The Stones?
A - The only person I cut for The Stones was
Mick Taylor. I went to visit him at his home and started cutting his hair. The guy that used to live around the comer from me, Barry Gibb (The Bee Gees), Robin (Gibb) and Maurice (Gibb). I used to cut all their hair.
Q - Now, in order to get a guy like you to cut someone's hair, it was a referral? In other words, I couldn't walk in off the street and get you to cut my hair back then, could I?
A - Well, I would do it. But the thing is when we decided to open up the shop for The Beatles, it was called Apple Tailoring. One of the only things they said is "we don't want you to have Apple Tailoring and Apple Hair Salon or Leslie Cavendish's Apple Hair Salon" because in that case, Beatles fans knew I cut The Beatles' hair. So if they actually knew I was there, they'd be standing outside the shop all day. That would defeat the whole purpose. It was word of mouth. People would ask if I'm at 161 Kings Road and it was by appointment. If I wasn't busy, I'd cut some people's hair. A lot of it was by appointment. I would always have to give an hour to George Harrison. I'd just chill out and that would be for him. In the evening I would go down to Abbey Road or over to Olympic Studios or the Trident Studio. There were only three studios.
Q - What would you do to George Harrison's hair for an hour?
A - I'd wash it, cut it, blow dry it. The actual physical time is about an hour.
Q - In 1966, it was rumored that Paul was in an auto accident that left a scar above his lip. That's why he grew a moustache. Did he ever mention that accident to you?
A - Never. I was in the States when somebody called me and I didn't really know what it was about and said "We're calling you because you cut his hair and we're checking his dentist out and his tailor." I said "What for?" "There's this thing that Paul McCartney is dead and he's wearing sandals over Abbey Road." I said "I really don't know what you're talking about." He was going on about all this. I said "no." He said "How can you be so sure?" I said "Well, everybody's got a hairline. If you push the hairline back of the head, you know where the hair parts." It just so happens when they were talking about it, I cut Paul's hair about two or three weeks before. I said "As it happens, I can assure you it fell in the same spot." The funny thing is, when I came back to London, I was doing Paul's hair and I pushed it back. I was curious just in case I made a mistake. (laughs) I pulled his hair back and said "Paul, you know what I'm doing? I'm just checking out it's really you." (laughs) So he said "What?" "I could be cutting an imposter here. What's this nonsense about you being dead?" He said "That's a joke. That's what they're talking about." I said "That's really funny. This guy rang me up and I had to check to see if it's really you." (laughs) He said "Well, it is."
Q - People to this day are still saying Paul is dead.
A - I'm sure John must have laughed his head off. That kind of humor would appeal to them, especially John. He probably said "Paul, tell them you're dead." I can see it happening.
Q - And don't forget the supposed message songs.
A - People just want to analyze everything. The myth can grow and go on and on. I can certainly say that it was Paul McCartney that I cut from the moment I met him to the time I stopped doing his hair.
Q - Do you cut his hair today?
A - No. I don't cut his hair today. Obviously my connection with him was through Jane Asher. That's how I got to do his hair, 'cause she was my client. Then when he met Linda, there was a lot of animosity, blaming Linda, jealous that Paul was with Linda. He had a lot of negative hanging around people at the time. Don't forget, from the top of the relationship with Jan Asher, he's met a lovely lady who's got a daughter Heather, a step-daughter. So suddenly he was a family man, like it or not. He must've known what he was doing and that's what she created. She created... he liked to be mothered, I'm sure. He always liked strong women around him. Jane Asher didn't want to be known as Mrs. McCartney, she didn't want to be known as The Beatle's girlfriend I should say. She wanted to be Jan Asher. That caused a lot of problems in their relationship. She was an up and coming actress and to this day she's gorgeous looking. I see her on TV now. She's a very good actress. Linda sort of got rid of a lot of people there.
Q - Do you keep in contact with Paul or Ringo? Have you talked to them lately?
A - No. I haven't spoken to Paul for a long time. Before Ringo left for the States with Barbara, a good friend of mine, Patti Harrison Clapton Boyd, a mutual friend of ours, I used to go 'round there and Ringo used to be there. So I used to see Ringo and Barbara quite a bit before they left for the States. George was living on another road down in the country with a change of wife, everything really after he left Patti. Ringo was Ringo. John was in his other world with Yoko. So, there's only two left. That's what happens.
Q - As personalities go, what can you tell us about The Beatles?
A - They had a good sense of humor. I always had a laugh. They were always cracking jokes.
Q - Did one guy in the band stand out as giving you problems?
A - You could feel sometimes the tension in the band. The one I had problems with was Ringo because I think Ringo had a problem with the band. I'm not sure he realized how important he was in that band.
Q - Very important!
A - He was very important. At the time he didn't write. He was there to be told how to play the drums by Paul. Paul is a fantastic drummer. I saw him a few times take the drum sticks from Ringo's hand and tell him "That's not the way I want it played." Now, he would do that in the studio. I can remember being in the studio and Ringo didn't like the idea of just me being there when someone's doing that to other people and got quite aggressive.
Q - What song did that dispute happen with? Do you remember?
A - It was the "White Album". One of the songs. I never knew Paul could play drums. I knew he played piano and guitar. He's a fantastic drummer.
Q - Ringo's style of playing drums helped give The Beatles their unique sound.
A - Funny thing was, my uncle was a famous Jazz drummer called Tony Crombie. Tony Crombie used to back some of the greatest Jazz people. He had his own band. He had a few hit records. I asked him one day, "Tony, what do you reckon Ringo's drumming?" He said "Ringo's a unique drummer. He provides the beat and that's all he does." He provides The Beatles beat, whereas in Jazz, you improvise. You do drum solos. You do this. You do that. You listen to Keith Moon. You listen to John Bonham. You listen to Ginger Baker. You listen to Charlie Watts. These guys go into solos. You ever see Ringo go into a solo?
Q - I have not. I actually saw Ringo with his All Starr Band and there was another drummer with him.
A - Yeah. So as a drummer's drummer, maybe Ringo thought he wasn't, but he was a very important part of that band, for that band. Don't know what he would've been like with other people. For that band, he had a unique sound. You could always tell Ringo's sound. It was very important. But there was always a little bit of tension with Ringo. On "Magical Mystery Tour" obviously no instruments were being played and it was a fun time.
Q - What was John like in the studio?
A - He would sit in the studio and work on a song and Paul would write a song and they would come together and talk about it. There was a time, and it is noted that when Yoko started going into the studio; now they never took any of their girlfriends in the studio before or if they did, it was very rare, but John wouldn't leave Yoko anywhere. It meant her coming in the studio and she may have said something to someone. Suddenly, what's she interfering for? John obviously would have defended her. There was a little bit of tension there, but nothing too much. Later on they seemed to have worked it out. They seemed to gel. They seemed to be made for each other. Two opposites in a funny way. There's Mr. Rock 'n' Roll, John Lennon and there's Mr. Smoothie with a bite to it. Between the both of them, they could both come up with this little, tender touch.
Q - The Beatles must have really liked you to invite you to the studio to watch them record.
A - Someone says to me, "Cut The Beatles' hair?" "Yes." The second biggest honor, on par with that, is to actually go to the studio and watch them. That was an honor. I used to sit there until five o'clock in the morning, in the corner, keep my mouth shut. If somebody wanted their hair washed or blow-dried, I would do it. Most of the time I was sitting there with my mouth open, listening. There's one occasion I left four or five o'clock in the morning and Paul just happened to play a song. "We're trying to work on this song" and he played this song. When he played it, I said "that's a bloody good song." The reason I knew it was a bloody good song is I walked out the studio singing "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da". If you can remember a song that was played to you once, you think "God, that's catchy, isn't it?" I did remember that one very well.
Q - Did you have any music in your background? Did you sing? Did you play a musical instrument? Were you in a band?
A - No. Absolutely not. I was a good sportsman. Soccer and tennis, and I still play tennis to this day.
Q - You were on the Magical Mystery Tour bus. Does that mean I would've seen you in the movie?
A - Yup. I'm in the movie. I'm in the picture. I'm in the album magazine.
Q - Critics said The Beatles went around in this bus expecting things to happen and nothing happened.
A - Nothing happened, but stupid things happened because there were six midgets on the bus. There was some fan club members. There were some friends. There was a client of mine on there who played the accordion, Shirley, who recorded a song with John Lennon that didn't come out on Magical Mystery Tour. She looked glamorous and there were glamorous looking women on there. There were some actors. Something must have happened. There was no story to it, no story to it what-so-ever. We were on that bus and it kicked off from there. You had the camera there at the time. Paul was with the director. John, George and Ringo didn't have much influence in it. Brian Epstein had died three months before. So it was basically "C'mon Paul, you want to do this? Do it!" That's when Paul took over. All the songs that came out of it were beautiful. The actual film itself was wacky. You couldn't do that today. But then, it was The Beatles' money. Who's gonna do that today? They filmed it themselves. Believe it or not, it came out at Christmas time in black and white. No one had even thought of that. All this lovely color and it came out in black and white on TV. So, straight away it was lost. It was only until later on when it went into color that you appreciated it more.
Q - You were on the rooftop when The Beatles played together for the very last time. Did The Beatles have a sense they reached the end of the road with that performance?
A - They decided a long time ago not to perform in public. But having their own offices on a flat roof, they wanted to create publicity for the album. One of the things that cropped up is "Let's give a live performance." To do it on the roof means you don't have to drive to a studio. People would always find out if you booked studio time. It was probably Derek Taylor's idea, he was a great publicist, to create a public nuisance where you would play loud music. It was the days of "Where's the music coming from?" Don't forget, this is the day before mobile phones, i-phones, you name it. What would happen is they would come, and how fantastic is publicity like that? So, I found out about it a couple of days before. I wasn't actually told they were going to do this, but a friend of mine said "Are you coming up to the Apple offices today?" I said "I don't know. I don't think so." He said "Find an excuse to come up." I said "Why?" He said "There's something happening today." This was the day before. I said "OK. What?" "Something's happening. Just come along." So I said "OK" and got there and found all these speakers and wires had been taken up to the roof. I said "They're gonna play up on the roof?" It's amazing. I couldn't get up to the top of the roof. I was on the third floor. I heard this music blasting out. The funny thing is, they wanted to get arrested. The police came along and the policeman was a Beatles fan. He was young and said "Excuse me Mr. Beatles, how many songs are you going to play before I ask you to stop?" (laughs) So they finished up their set and he said "OK." He did an interview recently. He said "I'm a Beatle's fan. I just said could you please stop because the crowds are gathering outside Saville Road." Traffic came to a stand still. Unbelievable publicity. It was a cold day as well. If you look at that session you'll see Ringo wearing a coat, a scarf I think it was. It was a cold, windy day. I think they knew they were coming to an end.
Q - Do you still cut hair these days?
A - I did a little while ago, but I'm sort of semi-retired. I don't cut hair anymore. I found it a hassle. What ruined it for me was about eighteen months ago and someone rang me up and said "would I cut his hair." I said OK. He came with his girlfriend. This guy had the most magnificent head of hair. When I look at people even today I look at their hair. This guy had a really fabulous mane of hair. I thought OK, this is not going to take this long to do. Let's trim it up. In my head I was thinking this. So, we're talking about The Beatles and I said "It seems time we should cut your hair now. How do you want it cut?" He said "I want to look like John Lennon in Sgt. Pepper." That is a major haircut. That is a haircut, haircut. I said "Really? You want to look like that?" It took me over an hour to cut this guy's hair, the moustache, the sideburns, to cut it up short. I thought how sad in a way. This guy was 55 years old. I thought, I don't want to cut hair 'cause all they want to do is look like a Beatle. It didn't make sense to me. So I thought, I'm not going to cut hair anymore. I do tours. People really want to hear my story. I take them to places where The Beatles recorded or where John met Yoko. Abbey Road. I tell them a personal story. I'm not out to be a Beatle historian. I do it by appointment and I really enjoy doing that.