|Author Dave Schwensen|
RNRChemist: Dave, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your great new Beatles book!
Could you describe how you got into the Beatles a little bit? Were you alive in 1965 and if so, were you old enough to be aware of what was going on during Beatlemania in general and the Shea Stadium gig in '65 in particular?
DS: Great - right from the beginning I have to come clean about my age… ha! I'm proud to be a first generation Beatles fan and was glued to the television on February 9th, 1964. I stood in line that summer to see "A Hard Day's Night" but my parents thought I was too young to see them on their 1964 tour. They made up for it by taking me to see them in 1966.
RNRChemist: I've always been interested in their return visit to Shea in '66...the empty seats, the bad vibes surrounding that last tour...I was hoping you'd have a little bit more about it in your book at the end. Any plans to investigate that a bit further?
(Also, have you seen the footage of that rather belligerent reporter interviewing fans at the '66 Shea concert and trying to goad them into saying bad things about the Beatles?)
DS: I wanted to keep "The Beatles At Shea Stadium" about the 1965 show. That was the ground breaking one and what I consider to be the birth of stadium rock. In fact that was almost the subtitle, but we changed it to "The Story Behind Their Greatest Concert" because that's really what it is. I know some people might disagree and try to make cases for other shows, but this was New York. It's still the media capital of the world and if it happens in New York, the world knows about it.
So there was never any intent to write about the '66 Shea concert. The focus is solely on August 15, 1965 including the events leading up to it and making the television special.
I wrote about the 1966 tour in my book "The Beatles In Cleveland." The innocence of "A Hard Day's Night" was absent only two years later and if you're old enough to remember, there was a major media backlash in the U.S. over their "Butcher" album cover for "Yesterday… And Today" and John Lennon's remarks about Christianity. I talked with the concert promoter for that book and he said tickets were selling up to that point, and then dropped off almost over night.
And yeah, I've seen the footage of the "belligerent" reporter. To me it's an example of the generation gap. Kids like something and the "more mature" adults, for lack of a better term, can't wait to knock them from their pedestal. The old footage shows just how wrong they were since the Beatles are still a major force in the music industry fifty years later. It's still like that. A lot of my generation seems to take pleasure in knocking the music today by saying it's not as good as it used to be. Well I've got kids and listen to their radio stations. A lot of it is pretty good. But then again, letting my age show a bit, it's not as good as The Beatles… ha!
Go to the 6:20 mark to see the footage Dave and I refer to at the 1966 Shea Stadium concert
RHRChemist: Looking back on the concert, it's amazing how tiny and alone and isolated the Beatles looked on that little stage in the middle of the empty field...can you imagine what it would've been like if they'd allowed general admission ON the field? There would've been 75,000+ people there, I'm guessing!
DS: I'm convinced Sid Bernstein could have sold out Shea Stadium three or four times during the summer of 1965. It was really the pinnacle of Beatlemania when they were still looked upon as The Fab Four. They were not only the world's most popular musicians and teen idols, but also movie stars thanks to "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" Sid was not allowed to sell seats on the playing field, unlike the year before when he put 300 extra seats on the stage next to and behind the Beatles during their concerts at Carnegie Hall.
It really would've been uncontrollable chaos if they had allowed fans on the field close to the Beatles. Remember, this was the first time this had been done on such a big scale. No one including Sid, Brian and the police knew what to expect. It was also during the days before the big-armed security guards and barricades that are used now to keep fans away from stages. It was a learning process and I think if 75,000+ people had been there it could have been dangerous for the fans and the Beatles. There were a lot of disappointed fans that didn't get to see them, but it worked out perfect the way it was handled.
There was a major concern for their safety. At Shea Stadium in '65 no one had ever attempted a concert of that size. The biggest worry for Brian Epstein was how to get them out of there alive. In the book I detail how scared and nervous they really were. In the dugout before running onto the field, that was Lennon's conversation with Cousin Brucie and Peter Bennett. He was worried they could get hurt. Again, even the Beatles with all their worldly experience had never seen anything like Shea Stadium before.
RNRChemist: I was surprised while reading the fan recollections in your book at how young some of the crowd were...kids as young as 7 or 8! What was the youngest someone you interviewed was when they attended the concert and can you imagine kids that young being at a massive show these days?
DS: I always hate calling The Beatles teen idols, as I just did above. That image reminds me of the clean cut, sweater-wearing, parental approved male pop singers that were on the charts before the Beatles arrived. Right away the Beatles seemed more sophisticated and mature than that. But something else that really influenced me when I was researching the book was how young they were at that time. Nedra Talley-Ross from The Ronettes talks about playing the game Tag with the Beatles on her eighteenth birthday while they were touring England a couple weeks before they did "The Ed Sullivan Show." George Harrison was only twenty and Ringo was the oldest at twenty-three.
So taking that into consideration you would expect their fans to also be quite young - and for the most part, they were. First generation Beatles fans are now in their sixties - or getting close to that magic number. Take away half a century and you're looking at kids that were around ten years old when the Beatles first hit. Plus it was a different time. A lot of parents wouldn't let their kids go to Beatles concerts because they considered them to be a bad influence with long hair and sarcastic attitudes. That's what made them so attractive to young baby boomers in "A Hard Day's Night." George's line "Sorry we hurt your field, mister" from that film is a great example. Unless you were marked as a juvenile delinquent, kids weren't supposed to talk like that to adults.
But again, it was a different time. The parents that were more lenient and city-wise, as in New York, allowed their younger kids to take trains and buses to school and events, and Shea Stadium was no different. Some dropped off their kids and went to the World's Fair, which was happening next to the stadium. They didn't have to pay for baby sitting!
For the book I interviewed a fan who was about five years old when his dad took him and his sister to the concert. There are also some great memories from other fans that were too young to be there without their parents. Mom and Dad may not have been fans, but they knew how much it meant to their kids and they wanted them to be safe. I can relate because that's how I got to see the Beatles. My mom and dad took me because they felt I was too young to go without them. My mom and I still talk about it. The cool part is that she and my dad also liked them and I was just a good excuse for them to go, too.
RNRChemist: You uncovered quite a bit of new information in your book, including the fact that Allen Klein was at the show and briefly met the Beatles years before he became involved in their split. Mick and Keith were there, too...is there anything else you discovered that you can share with us that didn't make it into the book?
DS: I didn't leave anything out of the book. As I said in the introduction, there were a lot of "Hey, I didn't know that!" moments and I was anxious to share it all. I also was fascinated that Allen Klein was backstage, considering everything that came down later with his involvement with the Beatles and Apple. Brian Epstein was still in control, but here was this guy almost shadowing him. There's a photo in the book taken right before the Beatles ran onto the field and Klein's in the shot. I sent it to his nephew Ron Schneider to be sure and he said it was. Ron's also in the book because he worked with The Stones and brought Mick and Keith to the concert. He was with them backstage and in the dugout.
RNRChemist: What were some of the craziest things about the concert that you learned when working on the book?
DS: Everything was crazy. I'll emphasize again that nothing like this had been attempted before. It was all new territory. A great example is that Sid Bernstein wasn't allowed to advertise the concert until he paid a deposit. And he didn't have it. But Brian said he could "talk about it." So just by word of mouth Sid sold out 55,600 seats. There were no posters or flyers and all the tickets were sold by mail sent to his post office box. There was no Ticketmaster or computers or anything like that. Each letter was opened by hand.
But what will drive fans crazy is learning that it wasn't only the concert that was filmed for the television special. The Beatles were pretty much followed by a camera crew from the time they landed in New York on Friday to when they left on Tuesday. Where's that film? You have to read the book to find out!
RNRChemist: It's amazing how smoothly the planning seemed to go given the technology and communication methods of the day...can you imagine trying to stage something like that today?
DS: Thanks to how they did it at Shea in 1965 it's progressed into the large stadium shows you see today. The Beatles were a compact touring group. Four musicians, two roadies and assistants, Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, Brian and his assistant, and press agent Tony Barrow. The opening acts also traveled with them on planes and buses. Today it would include a fleet of trucks, tons of sound equipment and staging, and large crews to move it, set it up and tear it down for the next show. For examples of what it's like today, just look at how Paul McCartney or The Rolling Stones tour. It's massive in comparison.
RNRChemist: One thing that struck me was how much simpler and innocent things were in 1965 compared to even later in the decade, let alone 2014. Any reflections on that?
DS: The 1960s changed for everyone because of the Beatles. Even if you didn't like them, you couldn't ignore them. As the Beatles grew up and became more sophisticated musically and started voicing their opinions, so did the young baby boomers. They were still The Fab Four mop-tops in 1965, but less than a year later Lennon had "gone off the script" by talking about the Vietnam War and Christianity. A year after that there was "Sgt. Pepper" and references to drugs. Everything changed very quickly between 1964 and 1970. I do a program for colleges and Beatles festivals about this. In six short years we went from Baby Boomers to The Flower Power Generation to The Woodstock Generation. I doubt it would've happened that fast if we didn't want to be "fab" in 1964 and '65.
RNRChemist: What is your opinion of the concert itself? What did you like/dislike about the set list? Favorite/least favorite songs they played?
DS: It was total excitement and as far as I'm concerned, the height of Beatlemania during their touring years. Watching the film today is like a shot of adrenaline. It was really a happening; an event. I compare it to the ending of "A Hard Day's Night." That film was an extremely entertaining build-up to the finale, which was a live television appearance in front of screaming fans. Shea Stadium had a similar plot. The fans knew the Beatles would be there and the anticipation was building for months. Then the fans arrived at the stadium, sat through all the opening acts - and again, the anticipation and excitement level kept building. Then John, Paul, George and Ringo ran onto the field and the place pretty much exploded with energy. And the deal is that it never let up. There was never a lull where they grabbed acoustic guitars, sat on stools and mellowed out the crowd - like most concerts today. This was just in your face rock'n roll Beatles style.
So just on the energy and excitement level alone, this was a great concert. There were no down moments or anything not to like about this concert. They only played for a little over half an hour, but that was standard for that era with all the groups. And of course the kids in the upper decks and the ones who screamed the entire time couldn't hear much because the sound system was so small. The Beatles didn't even have stage monitors to hear themselves. But again, no one had ever done this before and the equipment was the best they had in 1965.
I was also able to listen to the unedited audio tapes of the concert thanks to Michael Adams, whose dad M. Clay Adams from Clayco Films filmed the television special. Michael was on the field with his dad and the crew and is also a contributor to the book. When you watch the concert film you'll see small audio microphones under the sound system microphones the Beatles are singing into. These went direct to the recording equipment. And a cool note is that Michael still has these microphones.
Of course the concert was exciting just seeing the Beatles playing on that small stage. But I think the performance itself sounds very good despite the equipment and everything that was going on around them. I explain in the book what the Beatles didn't like about the sound, but listening to the audio it's obvious they knew by instinct what they were playing. That was the result of all the years they spent paying their dues with all night shows in small clubs. They could just look at each other and feed off of that. Ringo has said in interviews he couldn't hear much and just played along to their heads bopping, their feet tapping and their butts shaking. Maybe those weren't his exact words, but you get the idea.
I wrote about each song in the book, but I'll point out one good example. On "She's A Woman," which was cut from the television special, the song goes along like the studio recording until close to the end. Then it just turns into a classic three-chord rocker like they must have played thousands of times in Hamburg and Liverpool. It has a real Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones feel to it, which I find very exciting to hear. With all the screams and noise raining down on them they turned into what they really were - rock'n rollers.
I couldn't pick favorite or least favorite song. They were all great. A lot of fans point to "I'm Down" because of John acting crazy while playing the organ and laughing hysterically with George. I personally haven't stopped listening to the Shea recordings of "She's A Woman" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" since writing the book. I guess the one surprise for the fans at the concert was Ringo singing "Act Naturally." Of course we all know the song now, but at that time it hadn't been released in the U.S. yet. It wouldn't come out until as the B-side of "Yesterday" a month later, so fans didn't know what he was singing.
RNRChemist: Have any of the Wells Fargo badges ever been found and authenticated?
DS: No. That's also discussed in the book. They've disappeared and even if someone said they found one, there would be no way to authenticate it unless it came from Paul or Ringo or a close family member. There's a photo of John Lennon from around the "Magical Mystery Tour" days playing with his son Julian, who is wearing his dad's Wells Fargo Badge. Maybe he still has it.
RNRChemist: You had access to a lot of documents and memorabilia associated with the concert...what was the coolest bit you got to see?
DS: For me it was like viewing very rare and historical documents. Some of the documents were the originals and others were copies made in 1965 and 1966. A lot of this stuff, like telegrams and letters from Brian Epstein and Ed Sullivan Productions have never been seen by the public before. They had been stored away and forgotten after the television special was broadcast. There were in-house notes about the upcoming 1965 tour and because their entire visit to New York was to be filmed for the television special, their daily schedule was mapped out in advance. Also the editing notes from the different versions of the television special were there and could be placed in chronological order. I could see what cuts were being made to make the film ready for broadcast.
RNRChemist: Did you try to contact Paul or Ringo to get their memories of the concert for your book?
DS: I've tried to contact both in the past for interviews, but it's not easy to get in touch with a former Beatle. Besides "The Beatles Anthology" in 1995 and the "The Beatles: The Authorized Biography" by Hunter Davis back in 1968, which I always considered to be a watered down version of their story, I can't think of any books where they actually took time to sit down and contribute specific memories. Of course there are countless past interviews from all four that have been used in countless books to give added details and insights into what they were experiencing at a particular time. There are also a few where it's been "hinted" one or the other was involved or cooperated by making the author's research easier. But right now as we're doing this interview, I'm looking at my collection of books about the Beatles on my office shelf and what makes each one stand out is the author's research or personal experiences with the Beatles. I don't see any that list Paul or Ringo as contributors.
But getting back to your question, I tried to contact Paul through his U.S. office years ago for a newspaper article I had been assigned. I couldn't get an interview, but they gave me really great review seats for one of his concerts. Not the same, but not a bad trade-off and I sent him a copy of my first book as a thank you.
The same thing happened with Ringo during one of his All-Starr Band tours. His press agent said he was only doing one interview per city and since the paper I was writing for at the time wasn't the biggest, it wasn't going to happen. Instead they hooked me up to interview Eric Carmen, who was playing keyboards. I'm a big Raspberries fan and since I grew up in Cleveland, I had seen them play some of the local clubs before they hit it big. We ended up talking about that and had a fun conversation. The interview was posted on his website for years. It might still be there, I haven't checked in awhile. Anyway, Eric Carmen invited me backstage after the concert and I thought there would be a good chance to meet Ringo. But there was a big-armed security guard that wasn't going to let that happen, even though I had a press pass. Still, it was a great show and I'll always be a big Ringo and Eric Carmen fan. In fact, I'll say it right now. The Raspberries belong in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Am I opinionated about that? Don't get me started!
RNRChemist: Do you think the delay in showing the TV special (spring 1966 in the UK and early 1967 in the US) dulled the impact of the moment for those who weren't there? The Beatles in early 1967 were a universe removed from the band who played Shea in '65!
DS: That would be looking at it in hindsight. For those of us still teenagers at that time, we weren't aware these annual summer tours wouldn't continue. In "The Beatles In Cleveland" there's an eyewitness account of John and George telling deejay Ken Douglas they were never going to tour again. That happened on August 14, 1966 in their hotel suite and before they even told Brian Epstein. But it wasn't made public in 1966. In fact I have a newspaper clipping from May 1967 headlined "Beatles May Sing Swan Song" that's in the "Cleveland" book announcing no summer tour. I'm sure there were more than a few of us that had been psyched about seeing them again that summer.
Looking back we know the Beatles had changed. But the "The Beatles At Shea Stadium" television special aired in the U.S. before they released "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" and months before "Sgt. Pepper." We hadn't heard any of the new music yet. For the Christmas season they had released "A Collection of Oldies" with all the older fab tunes, so it could be perceived as "business as usual" in the world of Beatlemania. There had been a photo of them in Time Magazine after the holidays with mustaches and John with his granny glasses, or whatever they were called at the time. But I also remember seeing photos of Ringo with a beard while on vacation around 1965 and that didn't change our perception of them as The Beatles. So I don't really think young fans in early 1967 had any real clues of the major changes that were right around the corner.
When the television special aired in January, I don't think any of us looked at it as an historical documentary of "what once was" any more than when we watched their debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" three years earlier. For me it had been less than five months since I'd seen them in concert, so this was just a television special to watch them perform live at a major concert in New York. I really had no idea that evening it would never happen again.
RNRChemist: What are your thoughts on the overdubbing they did for the film? While I understand why they did it, I'm a purist and prefer artists to release live albums/films warts and all...to me, that's what makes live albums and videos so special...they're not perfect and capture a moment in time, preserved forever. What is your opinion on this?
DS: I've always loved live albums. But I remember being surprised when I learned how many were "sweetened" later on in the studio. You know what I'm talking about; missing background vocals, bum notes, sound system problems, weather - whatever it might have been, the artists could fix it. I have a decent collection of live bootlegs from my favorite bands that also have "official" live albums and you can hear the differences when it comes to the production. I've never followed any bands that wanted to release something that made them sound bad. Today a lot of acts perform to prerecorded vocal tracks so they don't sound bad while dancing on stage.
In my opinion, the Beatles' performance at Shea Stadium was not bad. Especially when you consider the equipment they had in 1965. Again, they didn't even have stage monitors to hear themselves sing - and they were still doing great harmonies! While writing the book I had access to the raw audio recordings, which I talked about earlier. There were sound problems and John's organ on "I'm Down" was more a mix of Jerry Lee Lewis and Liberace than what you hear on the studio recording. But it certainly didn't lack any excitement.
It's documented through letters and telegrams in the book that Ed Sullivan Productions and Brian Epstein had approved the original concert recordings for the television show. Brian even says the Beatles were for it, but then after input from the producer George Martin they changed their minds. The Beatles' studio records had a lot of "bottom" as they called it. That means Ringo's drums and Paul's bass. Those elements and some of the vocals were missing or muddied-up during parts of the live recording at Shea. The Beatles knew they wouldn't duplicate the studio versions, but they also knew it didn't represent how good they really were as a band. Exactly what they did to sweeten the soundtrack during the secret recording session is detailed in the book. In some cases they just played the song live in the studio, which is how they would've sounded at Shea with the proper equipment. Some of the songs were left alone. The audio used for the first song, "Twist and Shout," was actually a live recording from The Hollywood Bowl. It's still the Beatles live in front of a screaming audience, but sounds better because it was recorded in a venue built for concerts rather than in a massive open-air baseball stadium.
RNRChemist: It boggles the mind how much film footage was lost...do you think any of it still exists and is there any hope of recovering it?
DS: People have to read the book to find out! Enough said!
RNRChemist: What do you make of the good relationship the rather inflexible and square Ed Sullivan had with Brian Epstein and the Beatles? Seems there was mutual respect and admiration there.
DS: I would think so and you can never underestimate the importance Ed Sullivan had in breaking the Beatles in the U.S. But the real story behind Shea Stadium was the relationship, meaning mutual respect and admiration, between Sid Bernstein and Brian Epstein. There's a reason this book had to start in early 1963. That's when the groundwork was laid for the Shea concert more than two years later. Ed Sullivan had never even heard of The Beatles, but Sid Bernstein had already booked them for two shows at Carnegie Hall. Ed Sullivan was a minor player at Shea Stadium. Yes, he had the television clout to introduce them and it's a very exciting and historic moment during the show and the film, but it wouldn't have happened if Sid Bernstein hadn't earned Brian Epstein's trust and loyalty in the first place. Sid Bernstein is the guy who was sticking his neck out. It was his gamble and it paid off.
But getting back to Ed Sullivan, there's a story in the book told by Cousin Brucie that gives pretty good insight into his character. It happens just as they're climbing up the stairs together and onto the stage to introduce The Beatles. When I read that part I still think it's very funny, while at the same time describing the excitement these guys had to be feeling at that exact moment. My wife thinks I'm nuts, but I tell her I still get chills when I think about it.
RNRChemist: I feel sorry for the opening acts...no one remembers them now and no one wanted them then! I can see why they were necessary, though, as the Beatles were only to play for half an hour. What do you think about how the show was put together and the overall presentation?
DS: That's how it was done at the time. There were all these "caravan" shows. You know, like "Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars" or "The Motown Review." They'd load all these different acts together on a bus and hit the road. If you didn't like one act, you might like the next. The popular television shows at the time, like "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Hollywood Palace" were variety shows. You'd watch to see The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but have to sit through dog acts, jugglers, acrobats, plate spinners and others that obviously had to attract other viewers otherwise they wouldn't have been included. So as kids, we were programmed to accept that. It was showbiz.
In 1965 the opening acts at Shea Stadium can probably be called "fillers." They filled in time to make it a real show. Otherwise everyone would've been in and out within an hour considering the length of time the Beatles actually performed.
Of course the industry has changed since then. Promoters are more aware of their audiences and even the headlining bands bring in their own opening acts that will enhance the entire show. But 1965 Sid Bernstein wasn't a teenager and neither was anyone else that might have helped him put together the opening acts. I can see some kids' parents at the time thinking the "teenagers" would enjoy The Discotheque Dancers demonstrating the "latest fad" dances so they can all do them later at a junior high school dance. They must have also felt The King Curtis Band would give them needed variety. Sounds Inc. was an instrumental group managed by Brian Epstein, so he knew this would give them exposure in front of a lot of potential fans. They played "The William Tell Overture." I doubt there were many fans there that night that would've paid to see that. Also despite rumors that have persisted over the decades, The Young Rascals were not one of the opening acts.
But the Beatles were so popular it was difficult for anyone to open for them. I saw a more supportive lineup in 1966 when they toured with The Ronettes, The Cyrcle, Bobby Hebb and The Remains. Bobby Hebb actually had the number one song at that time with "Sunny," but the fans continued to scream for The Beatles during all their sets. I remember enjoying them, but the real anticipation was for The Beatles.
RNRChemist: The jackets the Beatles wore have become so iconic and are associated solely with that show...however, it's unbelievable they wore those heavy jackets and suit pants in the middle of August! I can't think of any other artist off the top of my head who has one stage outfit so associated with only one concert...can you?
DS: Well, I've always wanted an Elvis jumpsuit, but that's another story… ha! The jackets they wore that night will always be associated with the 1965 Shea concert. There are a lot of details in the book about the jackets from Russ Lease, who owns Paul's and specializes in reproducing Beatles stage outfits. In fact they were originally described as "military tunics" because of the design, but I'm sure Russ had a lot of influence in making them widely famous as "Shea Jackets."
Actually the Beatles wore them for other shows that year with dress shirts and ties. In the videos for "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out" you can see them wearing the jackets over turtle neck sweaters. So they weren't designed specifically for Shea Stadium. They had other suit choices to wear that night, but Paul, who came up with the look based on what he saw police wearing when they were in the Bahamas shooting "Help!" was very influential in the decision to wear them. It was very hot that night at Shea and these were not light jackets. They were soaking wet after the first couple songs. Russ said you can still see the sweat stains on Paul's jacket, even though it had been dry cleaned a few times before he bought it.
RNRChemist: Some personal questions:
Favorite band(s) (besides the Beatles, of course!)
DS: Other than The Beatles I'd have to say The Rolling Stones. I consider myself to be a classic rocker, but thanks to my kids I keep up with many of today's artists. My iPod can bounce from AC/DC to Broadway show tunes (seriously), but the Beatles and Stones have always been the two constants and have withstood the test of time. I'm also partial to music from The British Invasion.
RNRChemist: Best concert you've been to?
DS: The Beatles - of course! The Rolling Stones at Shea Stadium in 1989 runs a close second.
RNRChemist: Worst concert you've been to?
DS: Led Zeppelin at Cleveland Public Hall in 1970. I know that's going to tick off a lot of Zep fans, and I'm still a big fan, but it wasn't happening for them at that show. They were pretty much booed off the stage. Huge disappointment.
RNRChemist: Favorite album(s) of all time?
DS: Getting back to my love of live albums I'd have to say The Rolling Stones "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out." It's from the 1969 shows at Madison Square Garden and first with Mick Taylor. Not a dull moment from beginning to end. It's impossible to choose between Beatles albums, but as a fan that could only get the U.S. versions of their albums I look at "Beatles VI" and "Yesterday… And Today" as being very special. They were released at the beginning of summer in 1965 and 1966 and remind me of kicking-off the excitement for their tours.
RNRChemist: You've written two books about the Beatles...any plans for another one?
DS: I'm still trying to recover from this one! But thanks for asking because you never know…