Gary James' Interview With Beatles Promoter
He was a concert promoter in Liverpool, England when groups like The Beatles were up and coming. He experienced first hand what the rest of the world would later term The British Invasion. Sam Leach is his name and the stories he has to tell!
Q - I was surprised to discover how much of a role you played in The Beatles development. We always hear about Bill Harry, Bob Wooler or Allan Williams, but never about Sam Leach.
A - I'll tell you why that is; Brian Epstein was very jealous of me. Although when he first came in the business, he picked my brain a lot, he instructed his press office never to mention me, mainly because I wasn't just a promoter, I was a good friend of The Beatles as well. It was a personal thing between us, Epstein was jealous about. It's unfortunate, but it's hung on ever since. Allan Williams got them to Hamburg and that was good. That was a good move. But he wanted a promoter. Bob Wooler was very important. He liked The Beatles as well. He was a good friend as well, but he was only a DJ. I was promoting the band and working hard. I was getting four and a half thousand people at shows in New Brighton there in Liverpool, which is still one of The Beatles' records for highest attendance. Epstein was jealous of that, you know.
Q - You're the second guy I've interviewed of late who has been critical of Brian Epstein.
A - He did a good job. I'm not saying for a second.
Q - How did you get to be a promoter?
A - Well, I was a Rock and Roll fan. I was born in the business. As a result, I'd be putting six bands on whereas common sense would have said put two or three or even four to save money. But, I just wanted to put big shows on all the time. Every show I did, I always had more bands than most promoters would have used. The Cavern was a Jazz club. On March 11th, 1961, I put an all night session on at The Iron Door around the corner from The Cavern. They got 800 people in on that night. That night the Cavern had 50 people, because it was sticking to the Jazz only policy. Ten days later, Ray McFall, the new owner, realized Rock 'n' Roll. So, you could say I changed The Cavern.
Q - Doesn't it take a lot of money to start off as a promoter?
A - No. My very first show was April 1st, 1960. Sometimes I think it was an appropriate date, but I made £1,000 that first night. I probably lost £400 a month later on a show, but that's the way it was, up and down. You made money. You lose money. I only got into the business because of a magazine. He wanted me to back his magazine. It was gonna be a Jazz magazine. I said "Jazz is all over now. Gone. Let's do Rock 'n' Roll." So I turned him (Bill Harry) into doing The Mersey Beat. I lost one of my clubs to The Casanova Club. I got my friends Dick Matthers and Jim Anderson to put the money up instead. The magazine carried on and that was important.
Q - Did you ever in you wildest dreams think the music the Liverpool bands were making would have such an impact on the world?
A - The very first night I met The Beatles, January 25th, 1961, when they came back from Hamburg, I went to see them and I immediately realized how big they were. I followed 'em into the dressing room, which is really a ladies toilet converted. The first thing I said to Paul and John, "You know what lads? One of these days you're gonna be as big as Elvis." John looked at me like I was mental. Paul laughed because he knew I had a new club opening, The Casanova Club. He said "We'll go work for you Mr. Leach." Very respectful. It is amazing to me that I'm still going over forty years later, but the fact remains I'd be the first person to tell 'em how big they were gonna get. It's just incredible isn't it? Thanks to America by the way. America took The Beatles to their hearts on February 9th, 1964 and they never let go. To The Beatles' credibility, I'm saying they owe much to America.
Q - How good of a band were The Beatles in the early 1960s?
A - They were the best Rock 'n' Roll band on the planet at that very moment Brian Epstein came along and groomed them. He turned them into the suits. He smartened them up. But as an actual fact, they were doing Rock 'n' Roll covers. They weren't writing their own music. It was a surprise to everybody when they came out with their own stuff. But they were absolutely incredible. You couldn't believe how good they were. Anybody who wasn't in Liverpool in '61 has really not seen The Beatles the way I saw them. They were the best Rock band on the planet.
Q - How about this group, The Big Three?
A - They were fantastic. They were great. Brian Epstein sacked them as well. They were a really great band. Johnny Hutch and I are still good friends. The Big Three were phenomenal. In fact, the bands in those days grew on trees. You couldn't believe it. The strange thing was, they were all different. There were twenty top bands. Every one had their own style and own way of playing. They weren't copying each other.
Q - Did they all wear their hair long?
A - No. The Beatles I wouldn't say were unkempt, I would just say they were wild. They were untamed. They were incredible. They wore black leather, the trousers and the jackets and black shirts. They looked fantastic. The charisma just looked out at you from the stage. And the sound they got. And it has to be said, Pete Best's drumming was good. He probably wasn't as good of a Beatle as Ringo in personality. But either drummer, there was little to choose between them.
Q - Are you saying that Pete Best was a better drummer?
A - I didn't say that. I said there's little to choose between them. Ringo might've been slightly better technically, but Pete Best was very exciting and could really pound those drums with real venom. A lot of effort went into it. So, Pete Best, in my opinion was as good as Ringo. Whereas Ringo was a Beatle before he became one, personality wise. Pete was a little bit too shy. A little bit of an introvert.
Q - When I interviewed Pete Best, he admitted that to this day, he has no idea why he was thrown out of the group. Do you know why?
A - At that time, Brian Epstein didn't want anyone who knew The Beatles before him. I was one of the ones he more or less barred from press releases. Mrs. Best, Pete's mother was another one. We were both big fans of the band. We did a lot for the group. We did a lot of promotion, a lot of work, a lot of writing to television and radio people. Epstein didn't like that. So, by getting rid of Peter, he also got rid of Mrs. Best, who was a thorn in his side. And that is the reason. When my editor said this to Pete, he agreed. That was in 1999. Epstein wanted people to think that he'd taken the band out of the gutter and took them into the monster act they became. The Beatles were a going concern long before Brian Epstein had them. Although he did a fantastic job. I'm not saying he didn't for a second. I was getting 4,600 people at The Tower in New Brighton before Brian Epstein met them.
Q - You could've been their manager!
A - I was hoping to be the manager. I wanted to get my own record label. Then, Summer of '61, June I think it was, I recorded Gerry Marsden And The Pacemakers' "You'll Never Walk Alone", which years later became a big hit. At the end of the year, The Beatles were back in Hamburg...well in August and John said "We'll do a record with you as well when our deal with Polydor runs out." They'd done that thing with Tony Sheridan. Anyway, they were gonna do "Twist And Shout". "Slow Down" would have been the B side. So, I just say I was pretty close. So, I was trying to be the manager. I took them to Aldershot, that's near London, the idea being to get London agents to come see them. One of the agents, Tito Burns said to me "Sam, they've got 5,000 groups in London. Who needs a group with a stupid name like The Beatles?" That was his comment. I reminded him of that many, many times in the years to come. Anyway, in the end, at Aldershot, the advert didn't go in the paper. We had to go around the pub scene and we managed to get eighteen people to come watch them. The night before they played to over four thousand. Aldershot, eighteen people. So, I had the highest in the North anyway. The following day, on the road back to Liverpool, I went back in a different car. They went back in a van. That's when they decided to go with Epstein as a manager rather than me. Now, you mentioned Bob Wooler. In Bob Wooler's own book, The Best Of Cellars, he admits that the only other person that was viable to be The Beatles' manager was Sam Leach. He admits that. Bob was a little bit of a rival of mine. We respected each other, but we were rivals as well.
Q - Your wife said "Brian Epstein doesn't have a clue about Rock 'n' Roll."
A - Yeah. (laughs) It's true. He went down to the Decca recording sessions and had them record "Sheik Of Araby". Now, for a Rock band to be doing "Sheik Of Araby", what do you think? What does that tell you? He doesn't know anything about Rock 'n' Roll. (laughs)
Q - If he didn't know anything about Rock 'n' Roll, why then did he want to be the manager of The Beatles?
A - First of all, I think he did fall in love with John Lennon. Straight-away. He (Epstein) was gay, as you know. Having said that, at my engagement party, Brian Epstein was necking with my sister-in-law all night long. He wrote my mother-in-law three letters begging her to get her to go out with him, but she wouldn't 'cause she was married. So, he was actually bi-sexual without knowing it at the time, obviously before it was invented, being bi-sexual. Anyway, he fell in love with John. That was part of it. He was excited by the charisma. The Beatles were an exciting band to watch. The sound they threw out just didn't go over your head, it went through you. They were a fantastic band even then. Brian obviously got carried away. In actual fact, Brian always claimed that a fella named Raymond Jones went into his shop to buy a record that they (The Beatles) recorded with Tony Sheridan in Hamburg called "My Bonnie". Now, this Raymond Jones has never come forward. Now, I'm quite sure that had it been genuine, he'd been one of the biggest stars at any Beatle convention, wouldn't he? He would've been one of the ones that started it. At the time, I was doing Operation Big Beat. One of Brian's shops, I didn't know him at the time, my agent would sell tickets for the show. When I went in to the White Chapel shop, the girl said "Oh, we're opening another shop the other side of Liverpool. Take some tickets up there. They'll sell them." When I went in, Brian didn't look at me right away. I don't know why. No reason. He probably thought I looked a bit rough to him. But I'd been fly posting around town, so maybe I looked a little bit scruffy. Their name as a ticket agency was on the posters. He said "What is our trade name doing on this poster?" I said "When you sell tickets for me as an agency," he said "we won't be doing that in the future." Now, why he took that attitude, I don't know. But I panicked a little bit because NEMS was a good agency...Brian's shops. So I started telling him all about the bands, The Beatles, how many posters were going out, all about the Rock scene in Liverpool. At the end of it all, he saw my point that I was making, that he was taking free publicity as well with being on the poster. So, he looked at me and said "Alright, we'll leave it as it is. But I'll monitor the situation." A week later he's ringin' me for another fifty tickets. and in the end, his agency sold four hundred of the tickets. And that is where Brian Epstein found out about The Beatles. Plus, at that time, Merseybeat sold 250 copies in Brian's shop alone. So I think 650 instances of people being Beatles crazy was more likely than one fella comin' into a shop asking for a record. But Brian being the person he was, he always wanted to make how clever he was, what a smart detective he was by finding out who The Beatles were. He well knew who The Beatles were. The whole city knew. In The Beatles Anthology, I think it's on page 57 or 63, Brian admits the first time he ever saw The Beatles name in print was on a Tower poster. That was my show in New Brighton Tower, the show I told you about. I have no reason to lie. I don't have to. I don't need to make things up.
Q - Brian Epstein was always fond of saying how he got The Beatles to stop swearing, smoking and eating on stage.
A - Yes. He smartened 'em up in that way. In actual fact, they used to do an hour and a quarter and a lot of it would be wasted having a laugh with the people, smoking and taking the time between numbers. I said to Brian, "What you should do is just have them do three quarters of an hour, 45 minutes and don't have any stop. Don't stop at all. Completely ongoing show without a break. Don't give the fans time to breathe. It's more exciting." I even put a wooden plank underneath the microphone at the cellar so as they were rockin', the plank was moving and the three mics were moving and it looked really powerful. A lot of tips I gave Brian. Bob Wooler gave him a lot of tips as well. Give him his credit, in the end he used them. He was eager to learn. He was very naive when it came to Rock 'n' Roll. He just wasn't into Rock 'n' Roll. He was an actor. A different scene altogether. But the band excited him. Obviously, when he saw my shows, 4,000 people, well, that excited him as well. He realized the potential.
Q - John told you he only had three heroes, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Stu Sutcliffe?
A - That's right. Stuart Sutcliffe was very artistic and as you know, John was as well. Stuart was quite brilliant, actual fact, but couldn't play the guitar to save his life. He only got into the band because he won a check from an art competition for 60 pounds and Paul and John persuaded him to buy an amp for the band. And that's why he was in it. He couldn't play the guitar at all.
Q - One more question about Pete Best. You said he refused to wear the Beatle hairstyle and if The Beatles were invited to a party, he wouldn't go. Why would that have been?
A - That's not quite true. He was at my engagement. He was very shy. He liked to go his own way. All that rubbish about saying that Peter was sacked because the fans liked him better than Paul and John wasn't true. Paul McCartney got the most fans. He got at least 60% of them. George got quite a few who wanted to mother him. Pete got his fans and John got the young men. He was a real Rock 'n' Roller. Kind of a Teddy Boy that a lot of the young men looked up to at that time.