Gary James' Interview With Richard Courtney, Author Of
The Business Wisdom Of The Beatles
Richard Courtney and co-author have taken a unique look at the story of The Beatles. They've examined both the success and failures of The Beatles and explained how you can apply what The Beatles experienced to everyday, common sense business solutions in your life. Titled Come Together. The Business Wisdom Of The Beatles (Turner Publishing), Richard Courtney spoke with us about his book.
Q - Richard, I have to tell you, I like this book!
A - Well, thank-you.
Q - But as I'm reading it, I'm thinking what would John Lennon think about the title of the book?
A - The Business Wisdom or the Come Together part?
Q - The Business Wisdom. John once said The Beatles didn't really know all that much about business.
A - We're using wisdom as the sum total of the results of their successes and failures, which what compromises wisdom anyway. We have the great fortune of having hindsight that of course he didn't have.
Q - I actually see a series of books you two guys could write. You want to talk business wisdom? You could write a sequel to this book of yours on Dave Clark of The Dave Clark Five.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - He was smart enough to own the masters of his recordings. He paid for the studio time and leased the master recordings to the record company. That was unheard of for anyone to be doing that in the 1960s. He was way ahead of his time.
A - I didn't know that. I know that even back when Betamaxes were around, I bought that show Ready, Steady, Go with The Beatles on it and noticed that Dave Clark Productions owned that one.
Q - But has that thought ever crossed your mind, to continue on with a series of books about The Business Wisdom of other Rock artists? Make it a series!
A - We are actually. We're working on The Stones right now. I'm more of a Beatles fanatic than George (Cassidy - co-author). He's more of a Stones person. So, we're teaming up in reverse to do The Stones version. My wife wants me to do Picasso. I still don't know where she's going with that. (laughs)
Q - I spoke with someone recently who told me The Stones did not make money on their first ten albums.
A - Yeah, (Joey) Mollend said the same thing happened to The Who. When it was all over, Badfinger didn't have any money either. Even Cream didn't make any money on the first few albums. So, someone made some money back then.
Q - Have any entrepreneurs approached you and said they picked up some tips from reading Come Together?
A - Oh yeah, quite a bit. As a matter of fact, a professor from Syracuse is adding it to his curriculum and buying 150 books next year for the Spring semester. They want us to come to Syracuse to be guest lecturers for the day. So, we've agreed to do that. Others have asked us to do the same thing. It really sounds great and wonderful. Then the University Of Georgia has a music program and have asked us to come down to the music program. Penn. State asked us to come over. So, we've only been out five weeks and we've already noticed the book has been added to curricula at several universities across the country. Then we started thinking, there's only so many days and there's many colleges, so we may have to split up some. That will be exciting because I think it is a book, as it develops, that I think young people in general could learn from.
Q - On page 71 you write "In The Beatles primary American merchandising deal, the principles were willing to take 10%, yet Brian (Epstein - Beatles' manager) made the proposal backward, giving The Beatles 10 and the merchandisers 90." Brian Epstein actually handed that deal off to his lawyer, who made the deal, but ultimately because he was their manager he gets the blame.
A - He went to court and had it reversed. He had a stay executed fairly shortly after he understood what the deal was. I didn't know the attorney had done it. I knew an attorney had reviewed it. He (Brian Espstein) made a few blunders in his day, but he did manage to correct all of them. Right before he died he re-negotiated their record deal where they were the highest paid act in the world at that time.
Q - "There are no accidents, only hard work and preparation meeting opportunity." You forgot to add "luck" in that quotation.
A - Well, you create your own luck, we think. Everything is a result of what people do. That's the thing that's overlooked. Besides the talent, which is sometimes overlooked, their work ethic was incredible. One year in '64 they made three movies, recorded three albums and toured the world a couple of times. They never stopped and their life long quest for learning was just incredible because even when they were off they were trying to learn things and then they'd take whatever they learned and bring it back into the studio. It was phenomenal.
Q - And yet Mick Jagger made some reference to the fact that The Beatles were not as much of a touring band as The Stones. But when you factor in all the countries these guys were performing in, they did tour a lot!
A - Oh, they were. Jagger was probably just having fun. They really liked each other. They probably just enjoyed giving each other a little dig, a little nudge every now and then.
Q - Page 216, "A strong organized crime presence has long been associated with the movie industry." Who are you talking about? Why would organized crime want to be in the music business? It's such a fickle business.
A - Well, in the music business there's quite a bit of money changing hands all the time, going from record labels. Some of that is a reference to manipulating the charts somewhat and manipulating radio to manipulate the charts to sell records. In the '50s and '60s with payola, there was quite a bit of cash exchanged for favors and preferential treatment.
Q - I think it's pretty clever how you told the story of The Beatles and added the common sense business advice. That is something different.
A - Thank you. We had the idea and then I took it and put the 100 chapters together. There were 112 to begin with, and started to write it. I've been a columnist here in Nashville for awhile and I kind of have a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic way of writing. I thought that's not going to play for this. I tried three or four times. I know George Cassidy to be a great writer, a great business writer here in town. I managed to convince him that he should jump onboard. It's really written in his voice. After I sent him the first seven or eight chapters, he re-wrote them and said "See, this is the way it needs to sound." So, that's how we ended up where we are.
Q - Your wife is a publicist? Does she handle music personalities?
A - Not so much musicians. She handles P.R. for corporate accounts. She and I own a building behind this one where we just decided to lease it. Then tenant who is leasing it is moving out, Steve Moore, who is a promoter who brought Paul McCartney to town. So, there's music all around us. I was able to meet him (Paul McCartney) by the way in July when he came through Nashville, which was a great treat.
Q - You got to shake his hand and talk with him?
A - Yeah. The mayor of Nashville was invited to sound check and down to meet him afterwards. I've done four Beatles festivals here and all the proceeds have gone to local charities, so he knows that I have been a fan, so he took me down to meet him. We spent about twenty-five minutes with him, just the mayor's wife, McCartney and me. It could not have been a better conversation. I was nervous because being in Nashville with all these music people, every now and then I've met someone from the old guard where at the end I wish I hadn't have met them. It's been disappointing. Plus, I've read everything there is to read about him. But he could have not been more charming and warm and grateful. It's exciting.
Q - You write: "It has been said that you write your own obituary. May your epitaph read Bigger Than The Beatles!" You mean more popular, don't you?
A - (laughs) Yeah. The working title for the book was actually "Be Bigger Than The Beatles" and as all books go, or most, I was having trouble getting it published, so I started a Facebook page called Be Bigger Than The Beatles. I thought I'd get ten thousand fans and go back to New York and demand a million dollars. When I put that site up, all these fans started bombarding it. "What do you mean be bigger than The Beatles? No one is bigger than The Beatles! This is sacrilegious. You can never be bigger than The Beatles." So we changed the title to what it is now and we did shy away from the more popular.
Q - What factors do you think The Beatles success was based on?
A - I think it's a combination of passion first and drive and determination. He (John Lennon) often said "We want to be the biggest Rock 'n' Roll band in the world", even though "the Toppermost to the Poppermost" was a juvenilish cheer. I think that they meant it. They wanted to go to the top. They wanted perfection and they strove for perfection and they strove for life-long learning and they worked hard and grew artistically throughout their whole career. So, it's a combination of all that, plus their imaging, their branding, their hair, their accents, their charm, their wit. It's just a combination of everything.