Gary James' Interview With The Author Of The Book
The Beatles In Canada: The Origin Of Beatlemania!
Piers Hemmingsen has written a book that tells the story of The Beatles rise to fame in Canada in 1963, months ahead of their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964. Canada's part in The Beatles' rise to fame in North America has never been documented until now. The Beatles In Canada: The Origin Of Beatlemania! tells how The Beatles topped the Canadian charts in 1963 by the people who were there and by the people who made it happen.
Q - Mr. Hemmingsen, I have to confess I haven't read your book, but from what I gather you're saying that when The Beatles broke in North America, it wasn't the U.S. that broke them, it was Canada. Is that the main point you're trying to make in The Beatles In Canada: The Origin Of Beatlemania!?
A - Yes. It's a very interesting story. It's sort of a bit ironic because Canada had Capitol Records as a subsidiary of Capitol Records in Los Angeles. But of course Capitol Records in the '50s had been bought by E.M.I. over in England. So it was a very sort of interesting dilemma for the people who ran Capitol Records in Toronto because they could see music coming out of the United Kingdom that would be appropriate for the Canadian market. In early 1963, Paul White was the A&R man, the equivalent of Dave Dexter Jr., was listening to what was coming out of England and Paul would get the same sample records that Dave Dexter Jr. got down in Los Angeles. Paul decided to issue "Love Me Do", the very first record by The Beatles, and that took him a little while before he put it out, but it came out in Canada in February of 1963. That version of course had Ringo on drums. It would be a year before "Love Me Do" was issued on a 45 in the States. I guess Canada had about a year of Beatles' records, if you will, before The Ed Sullivan Show appearance. If fact, by the time the Beatles came to perform on Ed Sullivan February 9th, 1964, Canada had already two albums out by The Beatles and a whole bunch of singles. They issued all the singles that had come out in England by that time. When The Beatles came to play for the American audience on Ed Sullivan, there was no U.S. fan club, but we had one up here. (Canada) As a thank-you, The Beatles flew them down to the Plaza Hotel. They didn't stay at The Plaza. They stayed at a cheaper hotel down the street called The Sheraton. The Beatles were photographed with their Canadian fan club organizers, Trudy Metcalf and Don Hester. They were photographed by Dezo Hoffman sorting mail in The Beatles' hotel. So, Canada had a jump on the United States in terms of The Beatles' popularity. Canada charted The Beatles at number one with "She Loves You" in late 1963. I guess if you did look back on how Dave Dexter Jr. had passed on "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" and "From Me To You" and "She Love's You", was he right or was he wrong? I don't know if those records would have sold in the United States in any great numbers. They didn't do much in the beginning in Canada, but by the time "She Loves You" came along they certainly took off here. London, Ontario was the first to chart The Beatles at number one in late 1963 and as I mentioned before, a fan club had been started, one in Toronto, one in Montreal in sort of mid-1963. They were actually mentioned in The Beatles Monthly book that came out in August of that year that there would be a Canadian fan club chapter. It was quite interesting Beatles fans in Canada couldn't see The Beatles on television, but they read about them. They were featured in the Canadian press starting in the Fall of 1963 and there were some pictures of The Beatles, but you couldn't see them on television and it was in fact The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964 that so many Beatles fans in Canada finally got to see the group with the hair that had gone all the way to number one with "She Loves You".
Q - In 1963, were you living in England or were you living in Canada?
A - The answer is both. In 1963 we were living in England and we saw The Beatles performing "Please Please Me" on television. I think the show was called Thank Your Lucky Stars, and we moved back to Canada in August, 1963 just as "She Loves You" was being issued over there. We, being of course my brothers and I, had the first album, "Please Please Me", the stereo copy of that, plus the singles. So we kind of heard The Beatles' music in the order that it was issued, if you will. And of course in late '63 Canada issued the first Beatles album, which was of course "The Beatles Second Album" in Britain. Capitol and Canada added the big word Beatlemania to the top of it, the album "With The Beatles", but essentially it was the same album as "With The Beatles. All the way through 1963, yes I did live in England. Then I moved back to Canada, but we were able to hear The Beatles' music as it was being released chronologically.
Q - What was your first impression of The Beatles when you saw them on TV back in 1963? What went through your mind?
A - Well, we, and when I say we, our household had a stereo record player, we were generally listening to a mix of American and British Pop music. So, we were listening to things like Elvis Presley's "Return To Sender", "Telstar" by The Tornados, The Shadows of course. Cliff Richard, Bobby Vee. I could go on. My brothers would be reading the press, New Musical Express or Melody Maker, and we would listen to Radio Luxembourg and the BBC. We were just engrossed with Pop music. The difference was The Beatles looked different. They were somewhat quirky. They weren't dressed in the sharp evening suits that they would wear later on Ed Sullivan. They were sort of a scruffy looking band. They had an interesting sound. Of course it was dominated by the harmonica of John Lennon. I felt when I saw them that here was a group that just seemed to be different. They seemed to have a different take on Pop music. They seemed to be really enjoying it. There weren't overly serious about how they looked or how they presented themselves. They seemed quirky. A year later when I did see them perform 'live' on Ed Sullivan they were much more polished and much more ofay with the establishment in television. They seemed to have changed a lot in one year. But my first impression to answer you question was that I felt they had rough edges. They weren't polished, but they were interesting. That was my first impression.
Q - Was the Beatle haircut firmly in place at the time?
A - The hair wasn't as long in early 1963 as it was a year later when they were on Ed Sullivan. I don't think it was the hair that made it so exciting for me. It was more of their quirky look and the music. It was the music that really interested me because there was something called a Mersey sound and it was being billed as the Mersey sound. So within weeks of seeing The Beatles, all of a sudden there were records hitting the charts by Gerry And The Pacemakers, and Billy J. Kramer, and even The Swinging Blue Jeans. They all had that Mersey sound. That was what grabbed my attention. It wasn't so much the hair, but the long hair, the look was something else I was interested in, but it wasn't the main thing.
Q - Were you living in Liverpool, England in 1963?
A - No. I was living in Salisbury, which is southwest of London. My father was a military man and we were there for a couple of years while he worked in the military in Salisbury. The Beatles did come to our town in June of '63. June 15th is the date I believe they played at the City Hall. My eldest brother wanted to go, but my parents were pretty strict about going to see a group on a school night. It was a bit of a drive into town. We didn't live right in Salisbury. We lived outside. So much to my brother's regret, he didn't get to see The Beatles, but he heard all about it the next day. Somebody gave him pictures that they'd taken at the show. We were hooked on The Beatles. We knew they were coming. They were everywhere in the press by that time.
Q - Would you see other musicians on the street?
A - No. We lived on an Army base. We were expatriates who had come from Canada to live on the base. We all went to the same school in Salisbury, so we did hear about The Beatles at school. The odds of us seeing a musician were nil. It was a country town. The best way we heard about The Beatles, and the only way, was through radio and television and of course the newspapers.
Q - How much research went into this book of yours? How much time did you put into it?
A - This is my fourth book about The Beatles in Canada. The three earlier books were about their records and tapes and recordings that were issued here, but this is the first history book. This book took me about five years to research and that's on top of all the lifetime of interest and the research that I'd done before the other books.
Q - One of The Beatles acquired one of your reference books? Who would that be?
A - Yeah. Paul McCartney has the earlier books. He acquired those some years ago. I know Apple has my reference books and Universal Music has 'em. They're for people who want to do archival research. What happened on this day? How many records were pressed? Who pressed them? That type of thing. I covered every Beatles record from Decca, "My Bonnie" in April of '62, that was issued in Canada, right up until the "Let It Be" box set and the last two Apple singles in 1970. So, I covered it all and I covered every format, 8 track, tape, open reels, cassettes, 45s, one EP, all the albums, where they were sold, when they charted in Canada, what cities. Very detailed types of books. For anybody who would want to really get into the grainiest of details. That's what I did. This new book, The Beatles In Canada Red book, I call it the Red book because the Blue book will cover the years '65 to '70 and the Red book really goes up until the end of the first Canadian tour in September of '64. These are history books. They were niche books, but I was very pleased about that.
Q - You knew Paul McCartney has your book because he dropped you a line?
A - Yeah. I got a letter back from his office. He didn't sign it directly. They just said that he really enjoyed it and thank-you very much. It's on the MPL letterhead, McCartney Productions Limited.
Q - Have you, after all this time, ever met one of The Beatles or seen one of them in concert?
A - I can't say that I've ever met one of The Beatles. I've certainly come into contact with George Martin and Yoko Ono and Patti Boyd and of course
Cynthia Lennon, who helped with the book, Louise Harrison, George's sister who lived up here in Canada. So, I've had lots of contact with various people who were connected with the story. I think my greatest achievement in my opinion with this book is that I had access to people who made Beatlemania happen in Canada. Paul White at Capitol Records gave me all kinds of his time and his memories and his recollections. Trudy Metcalf, who started the first fan club, who went down to meet The Beatles at the Plaza Hotel, Trudy was very generous with her time. All the people who were involved with this story. Sandy Gardner, whose name appears on the front of the "Beatlemania!" album in late '63, his quote about Beatlemania spreading like a disease. All these people were very helpful with the story in Canada and I think that's what makes the book so interesting. I wanted to write a book that I felt needed to be written and that people down the line would be able to say, "Yeah. Those people made it happen. They're the ones who are telling the story," if you will.
Q - I've heard it said that Capitol Records spent $50,000 to promote The Beatles. When I interviewed Alan Livingston, the former President of Capitol Records, he said he, or Capitol Records, didn't spent that much money. In your research did you ever come across a true figure?
A - I believe they did spend a lot of money on the stickers they sent out, the newspapers, Beatles USA newspapers in late '63. I think they really, really especially when The Beatles came to New York, hosted a couple of receptions for The Beatles. I think if you added it all up they sure spent a lot of money. They got it all back. I wasn't able to interview Dave Dexter Jr. because he had passed away. Paul White gave me a lot of information about Dave Dexter Jr. Dave Dexter Jr. was somebody who had been in his job for some time at Capitol doing A&R and it just so happened during 1963, during that very period when Brian Epstein was trying to get Capitol in the States to release The Beatles' records, Dave Dexter Jr. was busy working on a book called The Jazz Story. That book literally was published just as The Beatles were coming to New York. So, I think Dave Dexter really probably just didn't have the time in his spare hours to wrap his mind around Mersey Beat and Beatlemania and Swinging Blue Jeans and anything he could've released, Billy J. Krammer. He probably just didn't have the time. He was busy getting his book together. So whether he (Alan Livingston) is right or wrong, it was Alan Livingston as I understand it from speaking with people like Bruce Spizer in the States who put the pressure to bear to get "I Want To Hold Your Hand" released, but once they made their decision they put money behind it. So if Alan told you that he didn't spend $50,000 maybe it was $10,000. I don't know. $10,000 was still a lot of money back in late 1963 to spend on promoting a band that hadn't done much commercially with Vee-Jay or Swan Records. I think $10,000 could be more the number. I don't know about $50,000.
Q - Before the Sullivan appearance you'd walk past a Woolworth's store and in the window you'd see a cardboard display of The Beatles and their heads would be going back and forth. It was an electric display. Do you remember that?
A - We didn't have that display up here.
Q - And that cardboard display was surrounded by the "Meet The Beatles" album.
A - We had stores up here that would have the "Beatlemania!" album and the "Twist And Shout" album in the window. There was some excitement. When Paul White went down to meet The Beatles at the very same time they were doing Carnegie Hall in New York, he brought down the Canadian albums and he got to meet Brian Epstein and George Martin. He had his picture taken with George and The Beatles at The Plaza. So, The Beatles were kind of aware of course that Canada had played a part. Alan Livingston and his team and all the other people on the East Coast with Capitol, they certainly wanted to, if you will, own and control what was taking place in New York because it was absolutely pandemonium. The Canadian story is interesting. I'll be the first to admit it's not as big as story as what happened in the States, but this particular chapter, when you look at 1963 and what was happening in Canada, it is very interesting and it dose have a lot of tie-in with what happened in the States. When I did the research into this I did find there was a lot of correspondence between Brown Meggs and Paul White, and Dave Dexter and Paul White in Toronto. There were things happening for sure. When Brian Epstein came to New York with Billy J. Krammer in November of '63 he brought an acetate of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" with him. He played that for Brown Meggs. Brown Meggs got very excited about the commercial potential of that record. It did get their attention. I don't know who was responsible within Capitol Records, but ultimately it was Alan Livingston I believe that agreed to spend some money, whether it was $50,000 or $10,000. I would say back then you could say $50,000 even though you didn't spend the $50,000. I'm sure it was a lot less.
Q - In order to write a book about The Beatles you almost have to have been alive pre-Beatles to fully understand what their impact was.
A - Yes, I believe you're right. You raise a good point. When I started looking at how would I write this, I thought I have to go back to the start of Rock 'n' Roll. Rock 'n' Roll was something that was invented, started and created in the United States. How did Rock 'n' Roll get to Canada? I had to back and document it and that's in the book, the entire first chapter. How did Rock 'n' Roll get into Canada? It came through the airwaves. Stations like WKBW in Buffalo (New York), the big station, Dick Biondi in Chicago, WLF. These stations had 50,000 watts of transmitting power when an average station in Canada had 1,000 watts. So, as a child I remember sharing a room with my brother in the '50s where he had a transistor radio and he could pick up those stations from the northern states and they were playing different music. By and large that is how Canadian teens heard about Rock 'n' Roll. They heard it over the radio, broadcast through the airwaves across the border. Now, Canada had a slightly different take on Rock 'n' Roll. Yes, we had Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Elvis. All of them. But Skiffle music was something that was more popular here than it ever was in the United States. So that's really down to Canada's status as a colony of the United Kingdom in the '50s in that a lot of English music was more accessible to Canadian teens than it would've been in the United States. So, Lonnie Donegans's "Rock Island Line" had some chart success in Canada, which led to other Skiffle groups having records issued in Canada. So, I have part of a chapter devoted to what happened in Canada with Skiffle music. Some of the music magazines here equivalent to your Billboard and Cashbox wrote feature articles about how big Skiffle was in Canada. So, around the time The Quarrymen were doing Skiffle music in Liverpool, Skiffle records were in fact selling in Canada. So that was part of the story. As you say, you have to go back before The Beatles. What was happening? Well, Rock pioneers had faded away a little bit. Elvis had joined the Army. Chuck Berry had disappeared for whatever reason. The Beatles re-interpreted Rock 'n' Roll and brought it back to North America. The Beatles, I knew right from the beginning were purists. They loved the early Rock 'n' Roll and they wanted to present it the way they felt it had to be heard. So, the Canada story is a little bit different from the U.S. story, but so much of it overlaps that you really have to look at it and say, "This chapter, what happened in Canada, does have a lot of relevance to what eventually happened in the United States."