Sid Bernstein is one of America's best known promoters. He's the man who brought The Beatles to Carnegie Hall and later Shea Stadium.
In his book It's Sid Bernstein Calling (Jonathan David Publishers), Sid Bernstein chronicles his life in the music business. And what a life it's been! Sid Bernstein promoted concerts for legendary singers like Tony Bennett and Judy Garland. Along the way, he turned down offers to manage Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon and Pat Benatar. And it's only fitting that Sid Bernstein is the first ever Ambassador from the city of Liverpool, England to the United States.
Sid Bernstein spoke with us about the legends he's promoted.
Q - Mr. Bernstein, the title of your book was originally Not Just The Beatles. Now it's titled It's Sid Bernstein Calling. Whose idea was it to change the title?
A - It was the publishers idea. I put the name out with my partner whose name you'll see on the front cover, Arthur Aaron. We put it ourselves. I just didn't want to be in the retail business and worry about billing and selling three books or five books. We got lucky. Along came this wonderful, independent publishing company here in Queens. They took the book off our hands. They're distributing it around the world. We're now getting two more languages on it. The Japanese bought it and they're translating it right now. I went down to Mexico and the publisher there wants it for the Latin speaking world. So, it's out of our hands now. We have a publisher now and distribution. And we're doing well.
Q - What I find so hard to believe as I read through your book, is that no one else ever thought of the idea to promote the acts in the venues you did. No one else thought of promoting Judy Garland, Tony Bennett or The Beatles in Carnegie Hall. Don't you find that incredible as you look back on it?
A - I hadn't thought of it that way. It's just New York. My home. Born and raised in Manhattan. I just felt that this is the place for me to work and live and continue to work. I find Carnegie to be the finest venue in the world. That's my opinion of Carnegie Hall.
Q - Don't you think the venues themselves should have gotten into the business of promoting those acts?
A - Yeah, but obviously they didn't, and so I had that privilege. And I'm happy about it.
Q - In February of 1964, would The Beatles have only performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and not performed in a concert hall had you not contacted their manager about Carnegie Hall?
A - That's my hunch. When I made the deal with Brian Epstein, it was a telephone deal by the way, all three deals, Carnegie Hall, a year later Shea Stadium and the year after that, Shea Stadium again. No contract. Just an agreement made on the phone. Brian Epstein was one of the few people with an act of that importance that you could do that with three times in a row. He was just a treasure of a man. He told me I was the first caller from America. At the time I called him, there was no airplay which I knew. I'd be reading about them. I brought them on what I was reading about them. Are you aware of that?
Q - Absolutely.
A - I was happy to be one of the few Americans reading English newspapers at that time, that was in the entertainment business in promotion. I brought them purely on what I read about them and what they were accomplishing in Liverpool and cities out of Liverpool. I said the language is the same. I'm gonna take a chance with it. I did...and it paid off.
Q - When you were reading about The Beatles in the British press, and they were writing about their long hair, did you wonder what that was all about?
A - No. I didn't question that. I saw it after my third or fourth newspaper, a picture of them with the long hair. They looked like nice-looking kids.
Q - It didn't look strange to you?
A - No, not really. I thought it was a gimmick and looked OK to me. It wasn't getting the publicity in England and I thought it wasn't going to help or hinder me. I was interested in the results at the box office that they were getting. I said maybe it can happen here. I liked being first with things and so I finally got him (Brian Epstein) on the phone where he was still living with his mother in this lovely little home in Liverpool which I visited with my son and spent a week there in that same house. I became very friendly with his brother Clive.
Q - We've got some controversy here about the pronunciation of Brian Epstein's last name. You write that his name is pronounced "Epstyne"...
A - Well, I remember when I called him the first time and before I started calling him Brian, I called him Mr. Epstein and he said "it's Epstyne, Mr. Bernstyne." (laughs) I said "I don't mean to be funny Mr. Epstyne, but my name is pronounced Bernstein here in America" and that was during our first conversation.
Q - In the re-release of A Cellarful Of Noise, Martin Lewis writes: "There has always been confusion about the pronunciation of Brian Epstein's family name. Brian Epstein mad it clear that he preferred Epstein, rhyme with "teen", not with "fine". In your book, you say just the opposite.
A - Maybe he knows better. I know the guy Martin you're talking about. But this was during our first conversation, unless I heard it wrong, you follow? And it's possible. But, from then on it was always Brian.
Q - I met you years ago and I held out my hand and said "Mr. Bernstein, I envy you because you knew Brian Epstein."
A - Well, I can see that making sense because he was so special. I remember once I'm with Gene Cornish of The Rascals. Anyway, we're on Park Avenue walking. I manage The Rascals and there's Brian Epstein on the street coming from some office somewhere I guess, or maybe from the Waldorf itself. It was Park Avenue and that's where he used to check in, The Waldorf Towers. When we left him, Gene said "You know Sid, I had goose bumps. This man is more than human." I'll never forget that. He was so taken with him.
Q - When you were finally able to reach Brian Epstein you write: "Somehow I knew that this was the most important phone call of my professional life." How did you know that? Everyone around you was telling you to forget The Beatles...they were nothing.
A - Well, because I was ahead of those guys, because I was reading about them. Not just the daily English newspapers, once, twice a week, but now Melody Maker, the leading music paper in England at the time and New Musical Express picked up the story I saw how they were being treated by the local press and then the national press and so it wasn't very hard for me to get to that conclusion.
Q - You write "Brian was a great manager." Tell me why you think that.
A - Well, I don't know if I have this in the book; when we did Carnegie Hall, I learned there were enough people turned away by the head of the box office, who was considered the Dean of box office men in New York, a man by the name of Matt Posnak. He was an elderly gentleman who said "Sid, after the box office opened the next morning after the first ad, you could've done thirty days, not one day, at two shows a day. I estimate we've turned away about 100,000 kids." So I went by this man's experience. After all, it was Carnegie Hall and they were presenting the great artists of the world. I figured if he said 100,000 kids...and this is the point I really wanted to make: I had called Brian when I learned this and when I saw what was happening at the box office all night long. Kids were in blankets. This was the first time anything like this had happened. All this was conclusive that there was a phenomenon that we had never seen in show business. Carnegie didn't have another date, that they were booked following my date of February 12th. So, I called the Garden (Madison Square Garden) and John Goldner, who was the booker for the Garden...17,000 seats. I figured I can't get Carnegie, it's booked. Let me call John Goldner and see if the Garden was available and it was, just prior to and after Ed Sullivan, which was February 16th. I took Brian to the Garden and I remember my cousin, who was a very well known detective coming with us. We went over to the Garden and he wanted to see the arena. It was 17,000 seats. That's the old Garden at 50th Street and 8th Avenue, which is now the current Garden which is 20,000 seats, over Penn Station. He looked around and my cousin Leo said "I think he's gonna accept it." I offered him one night. I said "Brian, I don't even want the money. I just want to make 17,000 kids happy. You've got it all." He looked around and said "You know Sid, let's leave them wanting. We'll be back." This is part of his brightness, you know? He could've picked up $50,000. He later told me "whenever they play New York, they're yours." I won't forget that. But that was Brian.
Q - I'd like to read you something John said about Brian: "Epstein fronted for The Beatles and he played a great part of whatever he did. He was theatrical and he believed. But, you have to look at this, if he was such a great packager, so clever at packaging products, whatever happened to Gerry And The Pacemakers, Cilla Black and all the other packages? Where are they? Where are those packages? Only one survived. The original package. It was a mutual deal."
A - John Lennon said that?
Q - Yes, he did.
A - Well, I can understand that. You can't hit a homerun with bases loaded every time you're at bat. That's my only answer to that. And then again, the people he mentioned weren't the writers, didn't have the charisma, the chemistry that the four boys did.
Q - Did you manage Janis Joplin at one point?
A - No. Albert Grossman managed her.
Q - Do you think a promoter makes a good manager? Bill Graham did it. John Scher did it, or still does it. You did it. Is it a natural fit?
A - Not necessarily. It's a different style that's required. A different kind of thinking. But, you mentioned two guys who were unique. Graham was one of the few greats. Al Grossman, who nobody mentions except you right now, was one of the greats. They were talented people. They took people and did beautiful things with them.
Q - You write: "I believe that the good Lord granted those four boys (The Beatles) something special and that they never really understood the influence they had, how beloved they were and the full extent of responsibility that went with it." What responsibility would you be talking about?
A - Well, it's true. The responsibility meaning the crowds they were drawing, the things they were saying. These were like almost four holy characters. If they weren't , we looked at them as if they were. They carried a lot of responsibility. They were listened to. They were so followed. They were worshiped and still are.
Q - You talk about having lunch with Brian Jones. (The Rolling Stones) What kind of guy was he?
A - A lovely young kid. Really a lovely young kid. Beautiful looking kid with silver hair and a very nice gentleman. This was after my bringing them to Carnegie Hall.
Q - After promoting The Beatles at Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium, why weren't you involved with the other major events of the day...like the Monterey Pop Festival, the concert for Bangladesh, Woodstock '69. Is that because you wouldn't or couldn't leave New York City?
A - You got it. I was having kids every year. I had six kids in nine years. I was and still am the craziest father in New York. In fact one of the newspapers, I think it was the Daily News named me Father Of The Year. I just didn't like leaving my city home. Proof of that is, Brian called me just before our date at Carnegie Hall. I don't know if I put this in my book. My wife was pregnant then with baby one or two. He said "Sid, I'd love to have a break-in date. New York is so overwhelming. I'd like to have one date before we get to Carnegie Hall. Close to New York, but just a day or two before." I said "Brian, I can't leave town." And so he took this date in Washington, DC. I think it was a roller rink or a wrestling arena. I think it was called the Capitol something. He took it just before he came into Carnegie Hall. But, I turned it down. I just loved doing things in my own city, being with my family and I haven't changed that much even today.
Q - What do you do today?
A - Let me put it to you this way, when I meet people, and I meet new people every day in restaurants, theatre lobbies, people will say "wait a minute, are you Sid Bernstein, the music man?" No, I'm Sid Bernstein the author. And now that I'm doing a talk show...are you aware that I'm doing a talk show?
Q - I was not aware of that.
A - I'm the host of a talk show in one of the restaurants in New York.
Q - You mean a radio show?
A - Yeah, one night a week. I'm doing it out of the 2nd Avenue Delicatessen, which is a landmark place in New York City.
Q - And you interview people walking in?
A - Yeah. I've had Dick Cavett as a guest. I'm only in my 4th week. We do it on Tuesday nights for one hour. We have a tie-in with radio station WPIT, which is a prominent AM station in Jersey. It hits about three or four states.
Q - Do you believe that if Robert Stigwood, Brian Epstein and yourself had all collaborated to form a company, that you somehow could've created another group that would've equaled or surpassed the success of The Beatles?
A - I never thought of it that way. I just thought that I made a mistake. My wife adored Brian. She met him on one or two occasions. She said "Your silly to have turned it down Sid." What would've happened? I wasn't thinking in terms of another group, just doing some enormous things which I still want to do. Doing charity things. The three of us were in such a position to do more than just make bucks. Yeah, the bucks were there for us. But, to do something meaningful that would live after us... I hope to be working on such a project soon. There's more to life than just the bottom line and the box office.