Doug Thompson: THE BEATLES: FROM CANADA WITH LOVE!

Doug Thompson headshotUsually, any 50th anniversary is a cause for celebration.  But the 50th anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV Show in New York was especially fun.  And if you’re not tired of all The Beatles coverage, here’s a little more for you to digest.  As most of the world knows by now, these four Liverpool lads – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – along with manager Brian Epstein and record producer George Martin, revolutionized music, fashion and merchandising from 1964 through to the end of the decade.  And Canada played a major part in much of it.

beatleswithgeorgemartin.The Beatles September 1962 recording session for EMI that saw them record “Love Me Do”,  got them on the British charts for the first time.  By then, they’d jettisoned former drummer Pete Best and brought in Richard Starkey aka Ringo Starr, formerly of the Liverpool band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

“Love Me Do” wasn’t the greatest record The Beatles ever made – those would come later, but it did make it to # 17 on the ‘Record Retailer’ chart.   Rumours still persist that Brian Epstein, who also managed his family’s NEMS (North End Music Stores) bought thousands of copies to get ‘his boys’ onto the charts.  George Martin meantime, used to the ‘old’ ways of A&R where the producer decided which songs would be recorded, wanted to record Mitch Murray’s “How Do You Do It” along with “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”.  George sent an acetate of the demo to The Beatles, who definitely did NOT feel the song was for them.  They’d been used to playing R&B hits like The Coasters’ “Three Cool Cats” and Little Willie John’s “Leave My Kitten Alone”, along with Motown songs like “Money” and “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” in their live sets for years and thought this one a bit too ‘poppy’.  Besides, they wanted to record their own material as much as possible.  Nonetheless, they dutifully recorded “How Do You Do It”, but without much enthusiasm.  At the end of the session, as George Martin related to me in a 1983 interview, The Beatles begged him not to release “How Do You Do It”.  Martin told them, “Well, if you can come up with a song that’s as good as that, then we’ll see.” 

John and Paul came back with “Please Please Me”, although initially, they’d conceived it at a much slower tempo than the final version.  It was more of a Roy Orbison style ballad.  Martin advised them to speed it up.  They recorded it in November of ’62 and at the end of that session, George Martin announced, “Gentlemen, you’ve got your first # 1”.

He was right (although in Britain only).

The Beatles again brought up nixing the release of “How Do You Do It”.  Martin agreed.  Of course, a hit song is a hit song and George Martin certainly knew a hit song when he heard one.  George recorded “How Do You Do It” with another one of Brian Epstein’s managed groups, Gerry & The Pacemakers.  It zoomed to # 1 on the U.K. charts in 1963 and climbed as high as # 9 on Billboards’ Hot 100 singles chart in 1964.  “How Do You Do It” writer Mitch Murray also wrote the Gerry & The Pacemakers Top Twenty hit, “I Like It”, Freddie and The Dreamers hits “I’m Telling You Now” and “You Were Made For Me” as well as co-writing (with Peter Callander) such hits as “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero”, “The Night Chicago Died”, “Hitchin’ A Ride” and “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde”.  Editor’s note – Ironically, Gerry and The Pacemakers version of “How Do You Do What You Do To Me” knocked The Beatles out of number one in England when it was released.            

IT’S ALL RELATIVE

John and CynthiaHere’s our first Canadian connection to The Beatles.  Cynthia Powell was John Lennon’s girlfriend at Liverpool College of Art.  Her father had died of lung cancer in 1956 and when her mother emigrated to Canada to help out a relative, Cynthia asked Lennon’s Aunt Mimi if she could rent a room in her house in exchange for doing chores around the house.  After The Beatles returned from Hamburg in ’62, Cynthia got her own tiny flat and in July that year discovered she was pregnant.  Stand up man that he was (and he definitely was), John reportedly told her, “There’s only one thing for it Cyn – we’ll have to get married.”  Aunt Mimi was furious, but the couple went ahead and were married on August 23, 1962.

Mimi eventually got over her anger.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PAUL WHITE

Paul WhiteWithout Paul White, The Beatles might have only been an afterthought in Capitol Records U.S. marketing plans.  But Paul White had ears.  Great ears, as it turned out.  A transplanted Brit, Paul was head of Artists & Repertoire at Capitol Records Canada and as such, was releasing many of British EMI’s artists, including such pre-Beatles singers as Frank Ifield, Cliff Richard, Matt Monroe and comedian Charlie Drake (Remember 1962’s “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back”?  George Martin produced that novelty hit).  Capitol Canada was quick off the mark to realize the early Beatles songs.  As Paul White related to Beatles historian and author Bruce Spizer: “In early 1963, I received a copy of The Beatles single, ”Love Me Do”.  I loved the group’s fresh new sound and released the single in February of ‘63 (catalogue # 72076).  I followed up with “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You”, but sales on all three 45’s were low and our Canadian President started to question The Beatles salability.  I persisted and the next single, “She Loves You” landed in every major Canadian radio chart, becoming a huge seller, Beatlemaniaand taking the previous three releases along with it, so all four hit the charts and justified my faith.” 

Original vinyl pressings of The Beatles first two Canadian albums, “Beatlemania! With The Beatles” and “Twist and Shout”, had the credit “Canadian production by Paul White” at the bottom of the back covers.           

THE BEATLES VERSUS DEL SHANNON

My radio career started at CJCA in Edmonton, the number one top forty station in the city at the time.  Rival CHED was also playing rock and roll and would later dominate Edmonton radio ratings for decades – but not in ’64.  CJCA was numero uno.  Channel 93, or ‘Tiger Radio’ as it was known, was on the fourth floor of the Birks Building (a Canadian jewellery chain) at 104th Street and Jasper Avenue in the heart of downtown Edmonton.  In the fall of ’63, I was an unpaid intern (decades before that term came to be used outside hospitals).  My function was to help out where needed, get coffee for drive home DJ Barry Boyd and nightime DJ Lorne Thompson (no relation) as well as 1964-03-08 CJCA chart insideanswer the request lines.  One of the nightly features on Lorne’s show was ‘The Battle of the New Sounds’ where one song is pitted against another to see which one is more popular.  Many Top 40 stations had this feature.  One night in the summer of ’63, the songs featured were The Beatles original version of “From Me To You” on Capitol versus Del Shannon’s cover version on Quality Records (It was released on Bigtop in the U.S., but Quality was the largest independent record company in Canada and had deals with most of the American indy labels, including Bigtop).  This was two years after Del’s # 1 hit “Runaway”.

Shannon, who’d shared the bill with The Beatles at The Royal Albert Hall in London on April 18, 1963, quite liked “From Me To You”, and decided to record a cover version.  In an interview I did with Del in the 1980’s, he said that he told John Lennon that when he got back to the States, he was going to record “From Me To You”.  Lennon, who was about to go on stage, originally said “Great” and disappeared through the dressing room door.  A few seconds later, Del recalled, Lennon stuck his head back in the dressing room and yelled, ”Don’t Do It”.  Even at that early stage, Lennon must have known that a cover version would probably take sales away from The Beatles version.  He was wrong on that account.

So, back to CJCA and “The Battle of the News Sounds”.  That night, my high school pal Mike Grant and I were tallying the votes from listeners’ phone calls and Del Shannon’s version of “From Me To You” won by a country mile.  Listeners didn’t care if Lennon and McCartney had written the song, Del was the winner.

Del Shannon’s “From Me To You” debuted on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart on June 29, 1963 but only reached # 77, while The Beatles version, debuted in March of ’64, and even after Beatlemania had taken hold of the world, only climbed as high as # 41.

“THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON AROUND HERE!”

Red RobinsonFor The Beatles 1964 tour, only three Canadian cities were on the schedule – Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.  In Vancouver, The Beatles played Empire Stadium on August 22nd.  Vancouver DJ and broadcast legend Red Robinson emceed the show.  The Beatles had flown in earlier in the day from Seattle and landed at the RCAF station at Sea Island in Richmond, B.C.  They were driven to Empire Stadium, where the crowd was already beyond excited.  Vancouver’s CKWX radio was airing the concert and CJCA in Edmonton, as part of the same Selkirk Broadcast Group, was carrying it live.  CKWX had not been allowed to plug into the stage audio system so what the radio listener heard was the two announcers in the booth (far from the stage) talking about the concert (“Look at Ringo shaking his mop top” was one pithy statement that I still recall), plus a lot of extremely loud screaming.  At one point in the concert, the crowd was pushing closer and closer to the stage and the situation was getting extremely dangerous.  Standing in the wings, Brian Epstein was worried.  He told MC Red Robinson to go out and warn the crowd to stay back.  In an interview I conducted with Red a few years ago, he vividly recalled that day:  “Brian Epstein sent me up on the stage, I didn’t want to go and he said, ‘they’re getting out of control and it’s scaring me’.  I said, ‘OK’ and as I walked out on the stage, and just as I’m approaching the microphone, John Lennon says, ‘Get the Fuck off our stage.  No one interrupts a Beatles show.’  I had to yell because of the noise from the crowd.  I said, ‘Brian sent me up here to do this, I don’t want to do it.’  He says, ‘Oh, carry on mate.’  Then Brian comes up and he makes a little speech and they won’t listen to him, then Paul does, and they do one more number and they’re gone – 22 minute show.

John and Red       Red Steps Onstage

The Beatles never gave another concert in Vancouver.

Of course, John, Paul, George and Ringo did return to perform in Toronto and Montreal in ’65 and ’66.  In 1969, John and second wife Yoko Ono arrived from the john-yoko-peace-bed1Bahamas in early summer for their week long Montreal ‘Bed-In for Peace’ (even recording “Give Peace A Chance” in their Queen Elizabeth Hotel room on June 1st).  The Lennon’s were back in Canada in September for the Rock and Roll Revival festival at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, featuring a who’s who of future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, including Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent, The Doors, Alice Cooper, Chicago and Jerry Lee Lewis, plus many other performers.  Concert co-promoter John Brower called Lennon at the Apple offices in London that Friday night (the concert was the next day) and invited him to come over to possibly MC and visit with some of his early rock idols.  Lennon later said, “They really were inviting us as King and Queen to preside over the concert and not to play, but I didn’t hear that part and I said, ‘OK. OK.  Just give me time to get a band together.  So, I thought ‘who Plastic Ono Band Rehearsalcould I get to come and play with me?  We left the next morning.’  This instantly formed version of the Plastic Ono Band (Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann and Alan White) rehearsed at the back of the plane during the flight (although Clapton has said that it really wasn’t a rehearsal since “we had nowhere to plug in and of course, Alan (White) didn’t have his drums on the plane with him.”  When the entourage arrived at Toronto airport, they Biker Escortwere escorted to Varsity stadium by members of The Vagabonds motorcycle club who positioned 40 motorcycles in front and 40 motorcycles in back of John and Yoko’s stretch limo.

Despite the stellar talent line up, the concert had serious ticket sales issues (several financial backers pulled out as a result) until Lennon and his Plastic Ono Band were added.  Nobody actually believed Brower that Lennon was coming at first, but a Detroit radio DJ named Russ Gibb (he’s also the DJ who’s credited with starting the ‘Paul Is Dead’ rumour) got the Lennons’ assistant on the phone to confirm it.  As soon as John, Yoko, Eric, Klaus, Alan and Mal were on board the plane in London, 1050 Lennon Toronto 69CHUM and CHUM-FM in Toronto, also confirmed Lennon’s participation and the event quickly sold out.  When the Plastic Ono Band hit the stage very late Saturday night, Lennon (resplendent in white suit and black t-shirt and suffering severe stage fright) sang “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Money”, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, “Yer Blues” and the first ever performance of “Cold Turkey” (with Yoko holding a sheet of paper with the lyrics on it in front of John) before launching into ‘Give Peace A Chance”.  When the song finished, Lennon told the crowd, “Now Yoko is going to do her thing…all over you.”

And she did.

In December of ’69, John and Yoko were back.  They gave a press conference at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, then boarded a train to Ottawa (with fellow travellers Ronnie Hawkins, journalist Ritchie Yorke and Rock and Roll Revival co-promoter John Brower) for a personal meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on December 23rd.

Lennon train to ottawa

The Lennons’ had sent a bag of ‘acorns for peace’ to dozens of world leaders, but Trudeau was the only one to personally meet with them.  The encounter was scheduled Lennon and Pierrefor 15 minutes, but the couple remained in Trudeau’s closed door office for 51 minutes.  Lennon told the press after the meeting that, “If more politicians were like Mr. Trudeau, there would be world peace.”

The Lennons’ then met with Health Minister John Munroe and his staff for several hours before returning to Toronto that afternoon and a flight back to London that evening.

FORMER BEATLES CONTINUE THEIR TREK TO CANADA

During the past few years, Paul McCartney has played solo dates in various Canadian cities.  For his ‘On The Run’ tour, Paul played Montreal in 2011 and Edmonton the following year.  2013’s ’Out There’ tour saw Paul perform concerts in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Regina.  He’s played on the Plains of Abraham twice – once in July 2008 and again in July last year.  In fact in Quebec, Sir Paul had one of his largest audiences ever, estimated at over 250,000.

Ringo Starr calls Canada home when he’s launching his ‘Ringo’s All Starr Band’ tours.  Originally, rehearsals and the first gig happened at Casino Rama, near Orillia (about two hours north of Toronto), then for the past several years, he moved to Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario, but for 2014, Ringo’s back at Casino Rama.  The tour starts there on June 6th with the only other Canadian date (so far anyway) in Vancouver on July 15th.

Buy a ticket.  Support a Beatle.  Oh Canada.

=DT=

Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

DBAWIS_ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.

 

One Response to “Doug Thompson: THE BEATLES: FROM CANADA WITH LOVE!”

  1. I was there at the show at Varsity and I still remember the Vagabonds coming in and taking over a section of the seating behind me. When Yoko climbed into a laundry bag and started screaming (for what seemed like eternity) the bikers started heckling the stage, throwing beer bottles, garbage, maybe even a few hippies…
    Still, one of the most memorable concerts I ever saw!
    Years later I listened to the recording and I realized how unrehearsed it sounded. Nothing like what I recall.
    A magical night crowned by the Doors with Jim Morrison.
    What a memory!

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