Gary James' Interview With
Roy Young

Roy Young first performed in Hamburg, Germany at The Top Ten Club. There he performed with Tony Sheridan. In the Spring of 1962 he moved over to The Star Club where he met and began performing with The Beatles. Brian Epstein told Roy once The Beatles had secured a record deal, he would join the group. Roy turned him down because of a contract he already had to perform at The Star Club. Roy, returning to England in 1964 with Beatlemanina in full swing, joined Cliff Bennett And The Rebel Rousers who were managed by Brian Epstein. Cliff Bennett And The Rebel Rousers toured with The Beatles in 1966. Roy even played on The Beatles' "Got To Get You Into My Life". Roy Young has led a very interesting life to say the least.

Q - Roy, for a man who was so close to The Beatles in the beginning days, why is it that I never heard of you until I read an online interview with you? Have you deliberately kept a low profile?

A - Kind of, yeah, because I wasn't really sure because the way it was back a few years ago there was a confusion of where everyone wanted to go or planning where they wanted to go. I just went along for the ride and carried on with my career, but it was a bit of a jungle. It wasn't quite clear what to do and what way I should go. You couldn't find management to spot you so you could say I've got a manager now and take it down the road and everything is Kosher. It wasn't like that. You couldn't find those guys anymore. I didn't ride on The Beatles' tail. I went and did my own thing. There was a certain thing about The Beatles. I looked directly through the whole thing when they were performing. And of course I performed a lot with them and felt this sort of magical thing about them, but at the same time nobody really knew where they were going to actually go, you know? It wasn't like an open picture book where you can turn the page and come to the end and this all made sense. Nobody knew. You didn't know. It was just one of those things.

Q - I guess what I'm trying to get at is, people over the years have interviewed Pete Best, myself included, and session drummer Andy White about the group's early days. Have you ever been approached by anyone about writing a book?

A - Well, yeah. I've never got 'round to it yet, but I'm working on stories. I'm starting to put the individual stories down. I've got a couple of books all written now on the way it is and the way it was. I haven't really thought who it should go through because it's quite a big piece of the history of Rock 'n' roll and the way it was all happening and who was who and what was what. I was right in the middle of it all, doing my business and managing a lot, guiding people through the business and showing them what they didn't know, and at the same time I'm learning all through my career. It was a piece of magical tour really from my career, from the beginning to the end. Well, I can't say the end.

Q - You've been called "The Shadowy Figure Of Rock 'n' Roll." Where did that come from?

A - I did a Canadian interview once and the interviewer said, "You're the shadowy figure of Rock 'n' Roll," because I showed up everywhere. I played with all sorts of people.

Q - What brought you to Hamburg? Were you a solo artist? Where you in a band? What instrument did you play?

A - I was on my own and touring around the country, rather England and Europe. There was a promoter, Reg Calvert, who was very interested in me. He just put out an invitation to go to his property up in Rugby, in England. It was quite a beautiful spread and we talked business and go over things. His daughter has put out a few books on me and people he managed. He was the first one that introduced me to Hamburg. He heard about Hamburg from the German companies around, musical companies. They were getting interested in Rock 'n' Roll. They were showing so much interest they got ahold of Reg Calvert. I was at his house. We all stayed there and sort of mingled around and he came out and said, "How do you feel about going over to Germany?" I said, "Sure." It was exciting for me. He said, "I got a good offer here to talk business with this company. They're really interested in you and the Rock 'n' Roll business." And that's how it went. I put a band together and went over.

Q - And you were calling yourself what?

A - I was just Roy Young. I didn't have a band as such like Roy Young And The Two Buddy Buddies. I didn't have anything like that. And I didn't want anything like that. They were just players that I actually picked 'cause I've always been very cautious and very keen to keep high profile players and I've been able to do that through my career and have the best musicians you could ever want. In a way it had a lot to do with me I suppose. You never realize who you are and what you do do, only people who see you from the outside. It was great because it opened up quite a few doors and it opened up a whole sort of new world really in Hamburg.

Q - You were performing in The Top Hat Club and The Star Club?

A - Yeah. I put that together. I started at The Top Ten Club with Peter Eckhorn and when I went to Germany I actually went to The Top Ten Club with a band that I put together and I can't remember the times I played and all that. But I played and played until such times I got offers, people knocking on my door. "Do you want to come over to my club?" It was all like that. They were all getting ready to open up clubs everywhere. Of course I was the target to get out there. I was approached by Manfred Weisssleder and Horst Fascher. They converted a film house into a Rock 'n' Roll club. We just went over there and put our ten cents together. I did the bookings and of course because of my knowledge of the people I know and got to know that I'd seen. I got things rolling. They wanted sort of my insight to pick 'em out and bring 'em over to Germany. I felt comfortable with that. The fortunate thing was I was quite well known in England from doing my own shows, television shows and things like that, touring all over England. I sort of got that name back in there. A lot of these guys were all jumping on the bandwagon because of my knowledge of Rock 'n' Roll.

Q - How good of a band were The Beatles in Hamburg? Did you have enough time to sit back and listen to them?

A - Oh, yeah. We played a lot together. It wasn't just like a band that played on their own. John, Paul, George and Pete Best were searching their way through and picking up ideas as they were going along, but there definitely was a sort of feeling of some magical playing there. It intrigued me a lot. Here I was sitting on the outside and these four guys were looking at me going, "Right. Come over here and play with us." (laughs) And that was it. I was doing these TV shows and they would watch. I was on every Saturday night. They would watch the way I performed. Of course, I was known as "England's Little Richard" 'cause I sound like Richard. I was doing all that Rock 'n' Roll long before a lot of people ever knew about it. It sort of intrigued a lot of people, especially musicians and bands. They were all getting off on me, but I wasn't really aware of that. I just knew it was quite easy to get a clap, an audience's response, because that's what I would do.

Q - The German club owners were hiring all these British bands to play their clubs. Weren't there any German bands around at the time?

A - The thing was that in Germany they weren't really knowledgeable about what was going on in the Rock 'n' Roll world. They were kind of a little nervous about putting their own ten cents worth in because they didn't really have the confidence to do it and they weren't knowledgeable enough in the English market especially. Then of course you had the American market and they were not even close to being involved in that. They had their own style of music. Rock 'n' Roll started getting big and so these guys were putting it together as much as they could, but they didn't quite have all the knowledge and it opened up a lot of doors for me because I was the one who had all the keys to the doors over there. A beautiful guy Tony Sheridan, him and I got together and played together as a unit. We were called The Beat Brothers and The Star Combo. We just got a drummer and a bass player and that was it. There was four of us. We went all around Europe and some sort of boat trips where we would perform, which was quite interesting actually 'cause we were all sort of white around the collar. We hadn't really done that much. It was exciting for us. It was great. It was a great way to get into the Rock 'n' Roll business.

Q - You say that The Beatles were playing a lot of cover songs in Hamburg.

A - Yeah.

Q - At what point did they introduce original material into their act, or didn't they?

A - When I joined The Beatles we were playing all the stuff that they had been playing for a few years. I didn't mind that because I quite actually liked the stuff that they played. But then I think they knew that deep down they were going to have to come up with their own ideas, otherwise it wasn't going to happen. And they did. They were so talented. There was no question or doubt about it, they just had that knack and that way of doing things. It was great to be around them and be a part of it.

Q - How close was John to Stu Sutcliffe? Was he better friends with Stu than he was with Paul McCartney?

A - Yeah. John was pretty close with Stu. There was a lot of things that went on there. We all sort of lived together in Hamburg. The day I met The Beatles, Stu was leaving the band. Stu was getting out of The Beatles and I think they wanted to break it down to four people anyway. They had Pete Best on drums, which wasn't really what they were interested in. I felt sorry for Pete. He was quite a good drummer and he fit well into that band, but for some reason they just wanted to look for this guy on the ropes, Ringo Starr. Ringo was our drummer when we were playing with Tony Sheridan. Ringo joined up with us. I didn't know Stu as much as say I knew the other guys, but that was only because he didn't put himself out as much to be involved in where we were all going. So therefore there wasn't really the interest in Stu as much as say there would be for John and Paul and Ringo.

Q - Okay, so you say Pete Best was a good drummer.

A - Yeah.

Q - Pete Best told me when interviewed him back in 2006 that he had no idea why he was kicked out of The Beatles. Was it because he was too good looking?

A - That is one thing a lot of people have come up with. John was such a comedian and a free-for-all, an easy going guy. Well, he really was a Jekyll and Hyde. Paul McCartney, as far as I'm concerned, has never really changed. The obvious thing that was going to happen was The Beatles were going to go in and record. George Martin and a few other people around in the record business felt that The Beatles should be going on record.

Q - And here's the strange thing, when Ringo is finally brought into the band, what does George Martin do? He brings in Alan White, a session drummer for "Love Me Do".

A - That's right.

Q - So, the idea that Ringo was a better drummer than Pete Best sort of falls by the wayside doesn't it with that story?

A - Ringo had a style of playing and so did Pete. They had two different styles of playing. In fact, I quite liked the way Pete played with The Beatles in the early days, but it was definitely in the cards that he was going to have to go because he wasn't as knowledgeable as say Ringo was of playing various sort of styles, various sort of feels because of the different songs, different music. What was going to happen is they were going to bring The Beatles into recording and they had to make sure they had the right guy. I think they definitely did make the right move with Ringo. He was great, but I thought Pete was great too.

Q - I never realized until I read that online interview with you that John copied Tony Sheridan with his onstage stance. That was the first time I heard of that.

A - Yeah. (laughs)

Q - The girls who would come to the stage in Hamburg, waiting for The Beatles to come off the stage, they weren't groupies were they? Groupies didn't exist back then. These girls were prostitutes who offered their services free of charge to musicians. The question is, why?

A - No. It wasn't really like that. There were groupies. They'd follow all of us, all the the guys playing around. They were all like guys and girls. One guy would be with a girl for a couple of nights and then another guy would be with a girl. You couldn't have it any better if you were into girls. (laughs) It's just amazing what it was like, but that's all it was.

Q - So, the clubs didn't employ prostitutes?

A - There were girls who were doing their thing. Some of them were prostitutes, but at the time they became friends because in Hamburg it was a Red Light area and a lot of that was going down. The girls had their sort of way of doing things. They'd sort of make it like a hard target where you'd go off and take 'em out and wine and dine 'em and go to a hotel. It was such an easy thing to do because we all did that. We had the best of both worlds really.

Q - There were girls who were groupies and there were prostitutes.

A - There were a lot of German girls who were groupies. Very pretty girls. There's something about, I don't know what it is, prostitutes that I got to know in Germany, especially Hamburg. You could tell. There's certain features about a prostitute. There were very pretty girls there that liked the music and liked to be around musicians. So obviously they would be interested in the guys if they hadn't offered their bodies to the guys. It was just the way it was. It was such an easy target for guys who wanted to go and take a girl to a hotel.

Q - Were there any girls around who weren't groupies? Girls who might have approached the guys and said, "I like your music."

A - Yeah. That's what I was going to say. There were a lot of girls who were really beautiful girls that were clean, but if they liked a guy they would go with that guy, or if the guy liked that girl and she was very pretty, which a lot of them were, the guy would take the girl out for dinner and you'd see 'em around quite a bit together and they would break up and go off with someone else. That's how it was. There was such an abundance of different girls around because of the musical background that interested the young girls.

Q - Brian Epstein asked you on behalf of The Beatles to join the group. You turned him down because you were under a three year contract with The Star Club. Had you wanted to, could you have gotten out of that contract?

A - To be honest, I think I had my mind made up deep down that I didn't want to move out of The Star Club because I had such an amazing deal. I had a contract for three years. It was fantastic money he was paying me, buy me a new car every year. It was something out of a comic strip. It just didn't feel real. That's the way Manfred Weissleder did well. He had all the money in the world. Anything he wanted he could buy and he literally bought me because of the cars and my salary that I would receive. I'd go back to England and Europe and look at bands and groups and musicians and bring them over to Hamburg. That was my job. Being paid for it, I loved it and playing it at the same time. It put me in touch with "stars" as you want to call them, because of my job. I had a pretty good job. It wasn't bad. It was probably because I was there at the beginning that I was of value to be put in that position.

Q - Did you have this feeling that Brian Epstein and The Beatles were going on to bigger and better things?

A - Yeah. They were something above what was going on at The Star Club. It was obvious in my mind there was going to be a breakaway. Something was going to happen to take them out of that club thing and take them up to a different altitude, up the ladder. And that's exactly what happened.

Q - Were they wearing the Beatle haircut when you saw them?

A - No, not exactly. I do remember when they came back to Hamburg, when they walked into the club it was quite noticeable that the four of them all had the same hairstyle. That was quite intriguing. That was quite funny. Not funny, but amazing, you know? It felt like they'd come out of a shower or a bath and you towel yourself off. You feel all clean and you put a clean shirt on. That's how it felt to me. They looked different.

Q - Besides yourself, did anyone else remark on their haircuts?

A - No. It was just in my mind that I could see there were definitely influences coming into the group that were taking them into that sort of image. It was okay. I thought it fitted well with what they were about to do. I thought they deserved that because The Beatles were definitely going to go somewhere. Many times I was sitting with Brian Epstein, talking over different things because he was a bit green around the collar too. Even though he had a record shop, he didn't really know about the club owners.

Q - What is so fascinating is when Brian Epstein saw The Beatles he said they're going to be bigger than Elvis. He was the only manager to make a statement like that and have it come true. The Beatles that he saw onstage at The Cavern and that you saw in Hamburg was not the same group America saw on The Ed Sullivan Show.

A - (laughs) Not at all. They put all these different clothes on them. It looked so sort of weird seeing these guys put together like that. What I know about the music, and I've been involved in music my whole life, is how people get accepted in the music business of being dressed up or whatever. There was definitely something going on and it was ready to explode, but God, nobody ever knew that was the way it was going to happen. Even though I knew them and they were a cut above most bands, you didn't know it was going to be that big. No matter what they did, it was magical. You couldn't take that away from them. They were doing the right thing no matter what they did.

Q - You are right about that. Everything they touched turned to gold.

A - It did. I was right in there, deeply involved in it and I could feel it too. It was so exciting to be around it. It was like magic. Being a part of John, Paul, George and Ringo... Pete Best as well. Pete Best was not quite up there with Ringo, but he was a part of it and you can't take that away.

Q - I know you recorded on George's and Ringo's solo albums, but after 1964 were you also in touch with John and Paul?

A - Oh, yeah. There were different sort of musical things you'd get involved in, even playing in the West End of London, which we did. I can't remember the name of the bloody theatre. We were there for quite awhile. Different artists came in, well-known people from America, and play for a week, but I was involved in that quite deep. It was an offer that was given to me and I thought it was a great offer, playing with a lot of great people that I know. Great musicians. I always took part in bringing them in and with my talent of knowing who's who and who could play. It was just amazing how you could walk down the street and that line you're walking down is paved in gold. Some people had that. We're very fortunate to be able to take life as it came. It came in bundles of power and magical talent coming out. It just amazed everyone that got involved.

Official Website:

© Gary James. All rights reserved.