Music, Sports, The Beatles

Muhammad Ali Meets The Beatles.

Ali-Beatles

Original publish date:  February 21, 2019

Its February in Indianapolis. As I sit at my keyboard in 10 below zero weather, my power is out, the candles are lit and my compy is running on battery power. So…time for a happy warm memory. 55 years ago, on February 18, 1964 The Beatles met a young Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali at his training camp in Miami Beach, Florida. The Fab Four were wrapping up their whirlwind tour of America (including two shows at the Fairgrounds in Indianapolis) and Clay / Ali was prepping for his February 25 fight against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Although both events would change history, for that brief moment in time, they were just five kids goofing around and mugging for the camera.

beatles-sullivan
The Beatles and Ed Sullivan.

In the previous nine days, the lads from Liverpool had performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York before a record television audience (and taped another program for later broadcast), played concerts at Washington, D.C.’s Coliseum and New York’s Carnegie Hall, then traveled south for their second Sullivan Show appearance at Miami’s Deauville Hotel. Their Meet the Beatles album was dominating the U.S. Billboard charts and their single “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was blasting out of every transistor radio in the country. Beatlemania, which had already swept Britain for a year, was exploding worldwide. America hadn’t seen anything like this since Elvis Presley the previous decade. The band’s Svengali manager, Brian Epstein, decided the boys needed a rest and what better place to take a break than in Miami Beach?

Postcard Collection
The Deauville Hotel. Miami Beach.

The Beatles arrival in Miami is legendary and offers a great snapshot on the innocence of “Beatlemania” in South Florida. Some 7,000 screaming teenagers greeted the Beatles at Miami International Airport. The Fab Four were thrown in a limousine, raced across town, and rushed into the Deauville Hotel. The Deauville hotel was built in the mid-1920s, and was transformed into the Deauville Beach Resort in the mid-1950s. Towering over Miami Beach, the Deauville featured 500 rooms, on-site restaurants, nightclubs, boutiques, a beauty salon, swimming pool, an ice skating rink and it’s own radio station that routinely hosted Frank Sinatra and his rat pack. The Beatles stayed on the 12th floor, which has become a shrine to Beatlemania festooned with memorabilia and photographs on the hallway walls around the actual rooms where the Beatles stayed for those eight days in February 1964. There is a guard posted by the elevator and a sign that requests: “Silence.”. John and then-wife Cynthia Lennon stayed in room 1211. Paul, George, Ringo, manager Brian Epstein and others in their entourage shared rooms. There was no backstage in the Napoleon Ballroom. The band traveled from their hotel rooms, down the elevator, across a lobby packed with screaming girls to make their way into the ballroom and through the room filled with thousands of adoring female fans waiting to see them perform for millions more watching them on TV.

world-heavyweight-championship-bout-charles-sonny-liston-vs-cassius-clay_a-G-14163168-4985790

On the other hand, Cassius Clay was training hard in the ring and talking smack outside of it to anyone within earshot. The brash 1960 Olympic champion had earned his shot, raising steadily through the heavyweight ranks while racking up a 19-0 record including 15 knockouts. His 1963 victory over Doug Jones and subsequent drubbing of Englishman Henry Cooper rounded out his “Bum of the month” schedule and set up his shot at the title shot at the menacing Sonny Liston. While Clay / Ali was an intelligent technical fighter, Liston was a brute whose appearance, like Mike Tyson afterwards, screamed pain. Liston had won the championship in 1962 by flooring Floyd Patterson in the first round of their title bout. Ring experts proclaimed the lithe and lean Clay / Ali didn’t have a ghost of a chance against the mammoth brawler Liston.

35852_01_lg
Problem was, like a scene straight out of “Rocky”, while “the champ” Liston was training in the relative splendor of the North Beach community center, “the upstart” Clay / Ali was sparring hard at the decrepit Fifth Street Gym in what is now South Beach. Despite its run-down appearance, the 5th Street Gym was a boxing mecca visited by the likes of Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and Burt Lancaster during its heyday of the 1950-60s. The gym opened in 1950 on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach by Chris Dundee brother of Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Angelo Dundee. The rings were located on the second floor of the building and besides Clay / Ali, the gym was used for training by other champion boxers including Joe Louis, Carmen Basilio, Jake LaMotta, Willie Pastrano, and Sugar Ray Leonard.

cassius-clay-sonny-liston-stare-weigh-in
In shades of taunts to come, 22-year-old Cassius was unmercifully needling his opponent, going so far as to take his entourage by bus to Liston’s training headquarters to heckle the champion in front of the media gathered outside. Clay quickly branded Liston as the “big, ugly bear.” For his part, Liston, who was 35-1 when he met Clay / Ali, remained relatively silent, furrowed his brow, bowed his back and brushed the loudmouth youngster’s taunts off summarily. Liston was known for his toughness, formidable punching power, long reach, and intimidating appearance and was widely regarded as unbeatable.Cassius Clay at the 5th Street Gym (with Angelo Dundee) Miami Beach, FL 1961
The Beatles-or more likely someone in their entourage-requested a photo-op with heavyweight champion Liston. Fleet street photographer Harry Benson, traveling with the band on their first American trip, tried to set it up. But the grim Liston, made even grumpier from the constant harassment by Clay, had had enough youthful enthusiasm and decided he wanted no part of Beatlemania. 25-year-old New York Times reporter Robert Lipsyte, in town covering the lead up to the big fight, said Liston rebuffed the request by asking, “Who are these little sissies?”

DzE8byZX4AIffOA
So Benson made a detour to the dingy Fifth Street Gym with the Beatles in tow for a hastily arranged session with Clay, whose own press agent welcomed the publicity. Because of dire predictions by experts promising a short, unmemorable contest, ticket sales were slow, even though it was title fight. Clay / Ali was a 7-1 underdog and aside from his antics outside the ring, he was still relatively unknown. While fight fans found Clay’s smack-talk amusing, they also believed the increasingly irritated Liston would quickly dispatch the braggart and shut the upstart’s mouth for good. Even the Beatles weren’t exactly thrilled at the proposed meeting. beatlesclay2406
The optics of the trip did little to encourage the Fab Four’s hope as they rambled up the gym’s decaying steps. Even John Lennon referred to the young challenger at one point as “that loudmouth who’s going to lose.” The lads were ushered into the dark and dank warehouse where they waited in the stale air for Clay / Ali to arrive. The fighter was late and the boys clowned around the rings, bouncing on and off the ropes like subjects in a Charlie Chaplin film. Photographer Benson busied himself by scouting out the best angles in the gym for his photos. The lads were tired and ready to hit the beach and chase chicks. As the time ticked away, the band became increasingly impatient and annoyed. “Where is he?!” Ringo Starr angrily asked. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” Lennon muttered as he headed for the door. Instead, Clay’s promoter had a couple security guards herd the band into a dressing room, where reporter Lipsyte found the boys fuming and cursing Harry Benson’s name.38129e97264397a786bd0a5734d8a149
Suddenly the door swung open and the startled band-mates looked up to see the biggest man any of them had ever seen framing the doorway. “Hello there, Beatles!,” Clay exclaimed. “We oughta do some roadshows together. We’ll get rich!” The Beatles were instantly mesmerized. Amid laughter, playful nudges and jostling, the five young men who would come to define their generation, headed into the gym. There they posed, mugged and improvised slapstick situations for the cameras like old time vaudevillians. The media image-savvy young boxer at first posed in his street clothes and then changed into his white trunks. Clay characteristically bit his upper lip and posed knocking the Beatles down like dominoes. The Fab Four dutifully lay on the canvas in mock defeat before as the young fighter towered over them. Clay suddenly picked the diminutive Ringo up off the floor and effortlessly cradled him in his arms like an infant. “Man, you guys are the greatest!” Cassius enthused. “The whole world is shook up about you!” One UPI reporter said Clay ad-libbed a little verse for the occasion: “When Liston reads about the Beatles visiting me / He’ll get so mad I’ll knock him out in three!”
tumblr_ozb3eploXt1rldhmro3_1280The exhausted Beatles were thunderstruck by the encounter. As the dunned Fab Four fled the gym and piled back into their limo, they swore oaths to photographer Benson that they’d never speak to him again, with one unidentified Beatle carping that the whole experience had been “degrading. You made a fool of us!” The feeling was apparently mutual. Back at the gym, Clay completed his workout, then hit the dressing room for a rubdown as the press prodded him for details. Cassius turned to Lipsyte with a puzzled look and asked about the four long-haired young Englishmen he’d spent the morning clowning with earlier by asking, “Who were those little sissies?”
ct-prj-phantom-punch-muhammad-ali-sonny-liston-20151203A week later Sonny Liston threw in the towel by refusing to come out of his corner for the seventh round of the title fight. Of the encounter, reporter Robert Lipsyte later wrote, “In 1964 my time was not very valuable. I was a utility night rewrite writer and speechwriter at the Times when Sonny Liston fought Cassius Clay for the first time. The Times, in its wisdom, did not feel it was worth the time to send the real boxing writer. So they sent me down to Miami Beach and my instructions were, as soon as I got there, to rent a car and drive back and forth a couple of times between the arena, where the fight was going to be held in a week, and the nearest hospital. They did not want me wasting any deadline time following Cassius Clay into intensive care.”
“As I walked up the stairs to the gym there was a kind of hubbub behind me. There were these four little guys in terrycloth cabana suits who were being pushed up the stairs by two big security guards. As I found out later, it was a British rock group in America. They had been taken to Sonny Liston for a photo op. He had taken one look at them and said “I’m not posing with those sissies.” Desperately, they brought the group over to Cassius Clay—to at least get a shot with him. They were cursing. They were angry. They were absolutely furious. I introduced myself. John said, “Hi, I’m Ringo.” Ringo said, “Hi, I’m George.” I asked how they thought the fight was going to go. “Oh, he’s going to kill the little wanker,” they said. Then they were cursing, stamping their feet, banging on the door. Suddenly the door bursts open and there is the most beautiful creature any of us had ever seen. He leaned in, looked at them and said, “C’mon, let’s go make some money.” He turned and the Beatles followed him out to the ring. They lined up. He tapped Ringo. They all went down like dominoes. It was a marvelous, antic set piece. And then it was over and they left.”
The Ottawa Journal newspaper of February 19, 1964 ran an article titled, “BRITAIN’S BUSH-HAIRED BEATLES MEET BOXING’S BARON OF BRAY” which reported, “Britain’s bush-haired Beatles met boxing’s Baron of Bray, Cassius Clay, Tuesday and it ended up in clowning, off-key pandemonium. Boxing and singing probably were set back 100 years when Gaseous Cassius teamed up with.. the four mop-haired singers during a break in training at the Fifth Street gym. “Man, you guys are the greatest. The whole world is shook up about you,” said Clay, apparently a longtime Beatle fan. The raucous meeting represented two firsts: Clay admitted that someone other than himself is “great,” for the first time, and he predicted that he will flatten Liston in three rounds, even though the brash 22-year-old contender is a 6-1 underdog at the moment. The Beatles, dressed in flashy sport shirts, snow-white vests and beach shoes, enjoyed the meeting as much as Clay. They entered the training ring with a “yeah, yeah, yeah” and pretended to attack Clay en masse. Clay shouted “no, no, no” and feigned horror. It was about what you’d expect from Clay – Beatle meeting: noise, poems and more noise. Photographers had a field day during the clowning, which didn’t end until trainer Angelo Dundee reminded Clay that he had a date in exactly one week. Before they left, Clay lifted Beatle drummer Ringo Starr two feet off the floor, tossed him up and wished him good luck.The other three Beatles, George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, watched laughing. For the Beatles, the confrontation with Clay was the kickoff of a leisurely day on the beach. They have no more appearances to make and are vacationing until Friday when they return to London. For Clay, it was a respite from the serious business of hard training. Loudmouth or not, Clay apparently realizes what he is here for. He snapped back into the routine as soon as the Beatles left.”

pr_60s_Newman_CC_Resting_5th_a_07572_l
As for Liston, rumors circulated that the champ had been drinking heavily the night before the fight. Liston was still a world-ranked boxer when he died under mysterious circumstances at the estimated age of 39 (Sonny’s birth certificate has never been found). Almost a year after defeating Chuck Wepner on January 29, 1970, whose 1975 title fight with Muhammad Ali was the model for the “Rocky” films, Liston was found dead by his wife, Geraldine, in their Las Vegas home on January 5, 1971. Upon returning home from a two-week trip, Geraldine smelled a foul odor coming from the main bedroom. There she found her husband slumped up against the bed atop a broken foot bench. It was believed the champ was undressing for bed when he fell backward breaking the bench. Geraldine called Sonny’s attorney and his doctor, but did not notify the police until two to three hours later. Police found a quarter-ounce of heroin in a balloon in the kitchen and a half-ounce of marijuana in Liston’s pants pocket. 300px-Liston_BE055243
Following an investigation, Las Vegas police concluded that there were no signs of foul play and declared Liston’s death a heroin overdose. The coroner said Sonny’s body was too decomposed to be conclusive and officially declared the cause of death to be “lung congestion and heart failure” to save embarrassment for the family. The date of death listed on his death certificate is December 30, 1970, which police estimated by judging the number of milk bottles and newspapers around the front door of the property. Many people who knew Liston insisted that he was afraid of needles and never would have used heroin. Some claim Liston was murdered by the mob and a loan-sharking ring in Las Vegas. Others said Liston was murdered by drug dealers with whom he’d become involved. Underworld connections and his unrecorded date of birth added to the enigma.
For their part, that evening The Beatles went to a drive-in movie, where they watched Elvis Presley in Fun In Acapulco. Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, “THE” heavyweight champion of a generation. It was a title he’d retain on and off for the next 15 years, twice as long as The Beatles lasted as a group. That hastily-arranged photo op of greatness from 55 years ago has become an iconic mixed-metaphor snapshot of the sixties. The participants are all shown smiling, jostling and cajoling each other in the ring, betraying no trace of the resentment being felt on all sides. Three of the five subjects are gone from this earth, but those images have achieved pop culture immortality.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Quiet Ronette and the Quiet Beatle.

article-1144822-005E950700000258-621_468x621

Original publish date:  February 14, 2019

Ten years ago, the dead body of a 67-year old woman was discovered in Engkewood, New Jersey. Her death came sometime that week and, for the most part, her passing went unnoticed. It remains so a decade later. But, in the weeks and months before the British invasion hit our shores, she was the hottest third of a fairy-tale girl group featured on magazine covers, 45 sleeves and album covers all over the world. She dated George Harrison, Mick Jagger, George Hamilton and Johnny Mathis. Her name was Estelle Bennett and together with her sister Veronica and cousin Nedra Talley, they were known the world over as The Ronettes.

The_Ronettes L-R Nedra Talley, Veronica Bennett (Ronnie Spector), Estelle Bennett
The Ronettes. L.to R. Nedra, Ronnie and Estelle

One of the most popular groups (male or female) from the 1960s, they charted nine songs on the Billboard Hot 100, five of which became Top 40 hits. The trio came from Washington Heights in New York City, and took their name from lead singer Veronica; better known as Ronnie Spector. The Ronettes’ most famous songs were “Be My Baby”, “Baby, I Love You”, “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up”, and “Walking in the Rain”. The later won a Grammy Award in 1965, and “Be My Baby” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, just a couple years before Estelle’s death, officially from colon cancer, but those who knew her said she died of a broken heart.
The girls had been singing together since they were teenagers in Spanish Harlem. In 1959, they entered a talent show at the Apollo Theater and won as “The Darling Sisters.” Ronnie was then 16, Estelle 17, and Nedra 13. Soon they were appearing at local sock hops and charity shows. By 1961 they were dancing and singing at New York’s Peppermint Lounge during the Chubby Checker “twist” dance-craze. They were featured in “Twist-A-Rama” shows and toured with Joey Dee and the Starlighters, whose song “Peppermint Twist” was a standard of the era. In time, they were discovered by New York city’s famous disc jockey “Murray the K,” who had them appear in his “rock ‘n roll revues” held at the Brooklyn Fox Theater. In March of 1963, they moved to Phil Spector’s Philles Records and changed their name to “The Ronettes”.

z 200px-The_Ronettes_1966_(cropped)
Estelle

The Ronettes were an exotic contradiction, singing songs in flirting tones about puppy love like edgy big apple street sirens while still looking somehow lonesome and vulnerable. Their heavy mascara framed Cleopatra eyes, their tight slit skirts exposed shapely legs and their tall, jet-black beehive hairdos screamed sex appeal… and danger. All three girls were of mixed-race decent and all three were undeniable young beauties. Ronnie and Estelle had a white father and a mother of African-American and Cherokee descent. Nedra Talley was black, Indian and Puerto Rican. Despite their vampish appearance, the girls were kept off the street by their parents and led tame, sheltered lives. Sometimes at school, they were bullied for their mixed-race looks. Hard to imagine from the girls who Darlene Love (He’s a Rebel) described as “the bad girls of the ’60s.”
Estelle Bennett (July 22, 1941 – February 11, 2009) was the quieter of the two Bennett sisters. When they were in school, Estelle concentrated on her homework and brought home good grades. Ronnie, more of an extrovert, spent her time singing and cultivating her “look”. Estelle was thr fashionista of the two, always reading Glamour, Vogue, and other fashion magazines. Estelle was valedictorian of her class at George Washington High School in Manhattan and went on to study at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Estelle worked at Macy’s durig the day, attended fashion school at night, and sang with The Ronettes on the weekends. And above all, Estelle loved singing and the recognition that came with it. She was the “pretty” Ronette, the one whose dance card was always the fullest. Although content to remain in the shadow of her younger sister, Estelle always soaked up her fair share of the spotlight. Those who knew Estelle described her as gentle and intelligent, and the driving force behind the Ronettes’ style. As cousin Nedra recalled: “She was not pretentious at all, but she carried herself with a sophistication that a lot of guys thought was really sexy. And she had a very, very good heart.”
z 61GlwzA3WkLBy the time the girls signed with Phil Spector in 1963, thanks mostly to Estelle, the Ronettes had their look precisely calibrated. In August of 1963 “Be My Baby” was released and by October, it had shot to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart, making the Ronettes instant stars. The girls embarked on a tour of Britain in December of 1963 into early 1964. The Ronettes were the only girl group to tour with the Beatles. The Rolling Stiones were their opening act. When they toured, the Ronettes always traveled with at least one family member. In late 1964, the group released their only studio album, Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica, which entered the Billboard charts at number 96.

 

 

It was during that tour of ’63-’64 when The Beatles George Harrison, the “quiet Beatle”, began dating Estelle Bennett. The two hit it off immediately. According to Estelle, “We kept running into each other at parties and gatherings and always found our eyes meeting no matter how many other people were in the room. George and I talked whenever we’d see each other. We found we liked the same things, long walks while wearing comfortable clothes and being with sincere people who liked us for ourselves and not because we were in show business. I think I was the happiest when I was talking with George. There was something about him that made me open up and spill out anything that was on my mind. I think he felt the same way, for he’d often call late in the evening and talk on the phone for hours.”

z download 1
Estelle Bennett and Paul McCartney

z EstThe duo were inseperable for the remainder of the English tour until The Beatles left for Paris. When The Beatles came to America, the Ronettes met them at their hotel in New York City. The Ronettes, in fact, were on hand February 8, 1964 to welcome the Beatles as they arrived in New York for their first U.S. visit and Ed Sullivan Show appearance. But the relationship fizzled out, Estelle saying, “We saw each other many times. I was with him at the party after their concert and on other evenings when we just sat around the hotel with the rest of the group. But somehow things weren’t the same. We couldn’t recreate the same relationship we had when I was in London…Over there he’s at his best, he’s relaxed, he’s George Harrison, Englishman and not George Harrison, Beatle.”
During that same tour, Estelle was also romantically linked with Mick Jagger.

 

z 5cfd590d9e5c6daab40ff8efa903f79e
The Rolling Stones and The Ronettes.

z esIn Keith Richards autobiography “Life” he admitted that he was dating Ronnie when the Stones toured with the Ronettes in 1963. He recalled there that Mick Jagger got with Estelle because she was less “chaperoned” than Ronnie. The pairings were viewed as controversial for a couple of reasons. One was that management, particularly The Beatles’ Brian Epstein, wanted “the boys” to remain single for fans’ sake. And two, interracial pairings were taboo back in those days. Frowned upon in the U.K. and nearly suicidal in parts of the U.S.A.
z 1012_large_1In 1965, the Ronettes continued to record and tour while making a few appearances on television, including a CBS special and the NBC pop music show, Hullabaloo. However by this time, Phil Spector was busy with other artists. The 1965 song “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” produced and co-written by Spector for The Righteous Brothers, became a No. 1 hit. And by early 1966, he was preoccupied with Ike & Tina Turner. By now, The Ronettes were being moved to the back burner by Spector and some of their songs, such as “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine”, and two songs co-written by Harry Nilsson, “Paradise” and “Here I Sit,” were held back for decades. They had one last hurrah in August 1966 when the Ronettes (minus Ronnie) joined the Beatles on their 14-city U.S./Canada tour as one of the opening acts. As for the Rolling Stones, during one visit they made to New York in the 1960s, Ronnie’s mother ended up cooking for them at her Gotham City home.

Z ronette
John Lennon and Estelle Bennett

In late 1966, after several singles failed to make the charts, Phil Spector stopped releasing new records, the Philles label shut down and the Ronettes disbanded. Nedra Talley married New York radio station programming director Scott Ross. Estelle Bennett married road manager Joe Dong and the couple had a daughter, Toyin. After the Ronettes’ break-up, Estelle took it hard. Her cousin, Nedra said “Estelle did not want the Ronettes to end.” Estelle recorded one single for Laurie Records, “The Year 2000/The Naked Boy.” It didn’t do well and she quit the music business. After she left music, her life began a descent into another world.
By 1968, Estelle seemed to lose her moorings. At one point, she was hospitalized with anorexia. Not long after her grip on reality began to loosen considerably. Estelle was often seen wandering the streets of New York, telling people she would be performing with the Ronettes at a particular jazz nightclub. Estelle’s daughter Toyin explained she had never really known who her mother was. “From the time I was born she suffered with mental illness. I never really got to know Estelle in a good mental state.” Cousin Nedra Talley Ross, reported that Estelle had led a hard life, struggling with schizophrenia and anorexia.
z 5001334_wenn1183096Fellow 1960s singer Darlene Love, who once described The Ronettes as Rock’s tough girls, said the last time she saw Estelle, “She didn’t remember me.” By the early 2000s, Estelle Bennett was homeless. In 2007, The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Love recalled seeing Estelle at the induction ceremony. “They cleaned her up and made her look as well as possible…She looked the best she could for somebody who lived on the street. It broke my heart.” It was decided that she was too fragile to perform. A back-up singer with Ronnie Specter’s new group stood in for an encore performance of “Be My Baby”.

 

“Be My Baby” sold millions of copies, both in the 1960s and since then, having been used in the opening segments of films such as Martin Scorsese’s 1973 film Mean Streets and 1987’s Dirty Dancing. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song at No. 22 on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has called “Be My Baby” one of the greatest pop records ever made and is his “all-time favorite song.” Wilson was in his car when he first heard the tune on the radio, and being the composer and arranger that he was, stopped the car to give the song a closer listen. “I had to pull off the road,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. The choruses blew me away.” Wilson, in fact, wrote a famous Beach Boys song, “Don’t Worry Baby,” initially as a follow-up intended for the Ronettes, but it was turned down for that purpose.

z article-1144822-0381ED77000005DC-704_468x523
Estelle Bennett of The Ronettes with daughter Toyin March 2007

When Estelle was found dead in her apartment by police, after relatives had been unable to contact her, Kevin Dilworth, a friend and former Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper reporter said, “I think she really just died of a broken heart. After the Ronettes disbanded in 1966, I don’t think she was ever right again…” Dillworth added that the only time he really saw her come to life was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of March 2007: “When they came out of the main ceremony… when she walked down the hallway, and the paparazzi … all the flashing cameras, and the people asking for autographs … her eyes just lit up. She was so excited, and she was back on top of the world again. But she went right back to anonymity.”
z 33775602_130379126909Posthumously, all agreed that growing up, Estelle had been a force in creating the Ronettes’ style and act – and that she had a heart of gold. “Estelle had such an extraordinary life,” said her cousin, Nedra. “To have the fame, and all that she had at an early age, and for it all to come to an end abruptly. Not everybody can let that go and then go on with life.” “Not a bad bone in her body,” said her sister Ronnie in a press statement. “Just kindness.” At that 2007 Hall of Fame ceremony, Estelle spoke only two sentences during her acceptance speech, “I would just like to say, thank you very much for giving us this award. I’m Estelle of the Ronettes, thank you.” No, Estelle, we thank you.

 

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Close Encounters: The Beatles John Lennon and UFO’s.

lennonnyc-ufoOriginal publish date:                August 18, 2013

If you haven’t noticed, I like trivia. In my lifetime, I’ve watched as trivia has leapt from the pages of obscure library books to become popular board games and highly rated TV game shows. I try hard not to replace or confuse trivia for history, but I think trivia has a place in our history books nonetheless. Sometimes, trivia about a historical person or event helps rationalize or humanize that person, place or thing allowing us to relate to it in a more down-to-earth fashion. So, since I can’t find anything else to write about this week, I’ll share with you a trivial story that I’m betting you’ve never heard of before.
39 years ago this Friday (August 23, 1974) was a typical hot summer night in New York City. Beatle-gone-solo John Lennon was on what he would later call his “Lost Weekend”, an 18-month-long fling with former assistant May Pang during his break-up with Yoko Ono lasting from the summer of 1973 to the winter of 1975. John and May had just returned home to their East 52nd street apartment, after spending the day at the Record Plant East recording studio, where John was in the final stages of his Walls and Bridges album. Lennon loved the location of the 52nd street address as it was only one building away from the East River. The view from his top floor apartment, overlooking Brooklyn’s navy shipyard docks, reminded him of Liverpool. Another draw for Lennon was the fact that reclusive actress Greta Garbo also lived on the block and he counted himself among the legion of her fans who tried daily to catch glimpse of her.
Lennon-PangThat August night began no differently from any other evening for John and May. John made and received phone calls, watched TV and listened to the day’s recorded studio work while making notes. The 52nd Street apartment was hot that night, but by 8 O’ Clock the air had cooled off enough for May to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows to catch the breeze coming off the river. Just a few feet off the apartment’s living room was the building’s roof, accessible through a side window. This rooftop acted as the couple’s private observation deck, offering a million dollar view of New York’s Eastside. The haze had now cleared over the cityscape and around 8:30 p.m., May decided to take a shower, leaving Lennon alone in the living room reviewing mock-ups of his new record’s cover. The cover art on the final product would be a painting by a 12-year-old John Lennon.
As May was drying off, she heard John yell from the outside roof, “May come here right now!” Startled, she ran out to find him completely nude standing on the roof and pointing wildly at the southeastern sky. May wasn’t surprised by finding John naked on the roof, (John was a closet nudist: if you need proof, Google “Two Virgins” and you’ll understand), what surprised her was what he was pointing at. Just south of the building was a brightly lit “textbook” circular UFO, hovering silently less than 100 feet away from the couple.
As John Lennon would later describe, “I wasn’t surprised to see the UFO really, as it looked just like the spaceships we’ve all seen on the cinema growing up, but then I realized this thing was real and so close, that I could almost touch it!”. As they watched in astonishment, the UFO glided silently out of sight. May later told a reporter, “the lighting on the thing left us awe-struck, as it would change its configuration with every rotation”. According to May, the object made no sound and the main structure of the craft could be clearly seen for the duration of the event; lit by the dying rays of the setting sun. May ran back into the apartment and grabbed her ever-present 35mm camera (Her mountain of photos of John Lennon and their “lost weekend” are legendary).
Once back on the roof both she and John took numerous pictures of the craft. May recalls how John stood screaming at the UFO, arms outstretched, to come back and take him away. She said, “He was very serious and I believe he really wanted that thing to take him with it back to wherever it came from, but then that was John Lennon, always looking for the next big adventure”. The couple watched as the object glided past the United Nations building and slowly veered left, crossing over the East River, then over Brooklyn before simply blending in with the heavy commercial air traffic found over southern Long Island. The couple climbed back into the apartment and John picked up the phone to call his friend, noted rock photographer Bob Gruen. Lennon told Gruen to get over there as soon as possible as he had some film he needed developed immediately. As they waited for Gruen to arrive, John began drawing sketches of what he had seen, noting its size and distance. John then called Yoko Ono at the Dakota apartment to tell her about the UFO. May remembers that Yoko became upset at John because she hadn’t seen it too and felt that he had “left her out of all the excitement”.
1280x720-z7RBob Gruen arrived and John excitedly told the photographer what had transpired. Gruen later recalled “I took the film home and put John’s roll between two rolls of film I’d taken earlier that day and developed them”. “My two rolls of film came out perfectly but John’s roll was blank. Later I asked him ” did you call the newspaper?” and he said “I’m not going to call up the newspaper and say, This is John Lennon and I saw a flying saucer last night”… So Bob Gruen called up the local police precinct and asked if anyone had reported a UFO or flying saucer. The police responded with “Where? Up on the East Side? You’re the third call on it”. Then Bob called the Daily News and they said, “On the East Side? Five people reported it”. Finally, Gruen called the ultra-conservative New York Times and asked a reporter if anybody had reported a flying saucer? The reporter hung up on him.
Neither John Lennon nor May Pang would ever forget their UFO experience. John even mentions the encounter in the booklet that accompanied the Walls & Bridges album released in the autumn of 1974. On the bottom right of the back cover it reads “On 23 August 1974, I saw a UFO J.L.”. May Pang has an audio tape of John, recorded just a few weeks after their experience, where Lennon discusses his thoughts on UFO’s in general. Lennon states that he had “no doubt that the craft he saw was from another world” and nixed the idea that it could have been a “secret government test plane”. John Lennon believed the craft he saw was part of a much larger fleet stationed just north of New York City, near the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
In the tape, Lennon expressed his personal theory of how these craft use the earth’s gravitational field and take energy from our nuclear plants to counter the earth’s gravity. John also voiced his opinion and suspicion of a high level conspiracy to cover up verifiable UFO sightings and close encounters with aliens. He continued that “if the masses started to accept UFO’s, it would profoundly affect their attitudes towards life, politics, everything”. He added, “It would threaten the status quo…Whenever people come to realize that there are larger considerations than their own petty little lives, they are ripe to make radical changes on a personal level, which would eventually lead to a political revolution in society as a whole”.6-25-2015-4-15-07-PMHand drawn, autographed UFO sketch by John Lennon.

However, John Lennon was not a newcomer to the “UFO Phenomenon”. He was a known subscriber to the British UFO journal “Flying Saucer Review”, aka “FSR”, as far back as his years with The Beatles in the late 1960s. Several copies of “FSR” have been found, and subsequently auctioned off, addressed to John Lennon. May Pang reports, “Oh no, 74 wasn’t John’s first sighting… In fact he told me that more than once he suspected he had been “abducted” as a child back in Liverpool!…She continues, “And he felt that experience was responsible for making him feel different from other people for the rest of his life”. Yes, according to May Pang, John Lennon believed he had been “Abducted” by aliens as a lad in Liverpool, but he didn’t like to talk about it.
The more you know about John Lennon, the less you understand. He was a walking contradiction. He was fiercely anti-Capitalism but lorded over nearly every “Beatle” mass marketing scheme during his early days with the Fab Four. He was deeply spiritual, but averse to organized religion. He was an intensely private person, yet readily greeted and signed autographs for fans outside his Dakota apartment. Those last two contradictions contributed to his untimely assassination by a crazed, mentally disturbed fan in December of 1980. Knowing this, can it come as any real surprise that John Lennon believed he had seen a UFO 39 years ago? I suspect not. When dealing with John Lennon, one need only refer to John’s own words, spoken only hours before his death, to San Francisco DJ David Sholin of RKO radio, “Who knows what’s going to happen next?”

o-LENNONFULLUFOALBUMSLEEVE-570

A drawing of that 1974 sighting, sketched for his “Walls and Bridges” album, depicts what appears to be a classic flying saucer with the word “UFOer” written on the bottom of the object. On the album’s liner notes, the famed musician wrote: “On the 23rd Aug. 1974 at 9 o’clock I saw a U.F.O. J.L.” Drawing was auctioned on March 21, 2017 by CooperOwen Auctions of London. The album sleeve was originally expected to bring in between $1600 to $2500, but ended up selling for just over $16,600.

Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

Genesis: John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s First Meting.

Lennon-McCartney 1st meetingOriginal publish date:  June 29, 2015

58 years ago this Monday, the headline on the front-page of the July 6, 1957 Liverpool Evening Express read “MERSEYSIDE SIZZLES.” England was in the 10th day of a heat wave that had enveloped all of Europe. The day before it reached 98 degrees in Vienna and a staggering 125 degrees in Prague. The headline proved prophetic because that day was the first meeting of two Liverpool teenagers who would change the world: John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
On that fateful Saturday afternoon John Lennon’s “skiffle” band, “The Quarrymen” performed at St Peter’s Church in Liverpool. The church fair featured booths selling crafts, cakes, carnival games, police dog demonstrations, and a parade culminating with the crowning of the Rose Queen. The first parade truck carried the Queen and her court. The second truck carried John Lennon and his Quarrymen.
The band was asked to play and sing while the truck slowly lurched its way down the street. When the bumpy ride prohibited the standing band’s ability to play coherently, Lennon sat on the edge of the truck, his legs dangling over the edge, as he dutifully played his guitar and sang for the curbside crowd.
Eventually the trucks came to a stop and the Quarrymen’s first set took place on a molten hot stage in a shadeless field behind the church. 16-year-old John Lennon was the undisputed leader of the band. Even though his guitar skills were rough and he often forgot the lyrics to the songs he was performing, he covered it well by ad-libbing his own lyrics. Midway through that first set, 15-year-old Paul McCartney arrived and watched, transfixed, as John held the crowd with his charm and swagger.
The band’s second set took place that evening inside the Grand Dance Hal at St. Peter’s church. Admission to the 8 p.m. show was two shillings (about 10 ¢). After setting up their equipment to play, bass player Ivan Vaughan introduced the band to one of his classmates, Paul McCartney. It was 6.48 pm on July 6 1957 and the older, cocksure Lennon sat slouched on a folding chair. When Ivan introduced Paul to John, the two didn’t shake hands, they just nodded warily at one another. Ivan arranged the meeting but recalled that Paul wasn’t going to go until he was informed that it was a good place to pick up girls. At first Ivan thought he’d made a mistake as the two hardly spoke to each another. But Paul, who Lennon himself often described as precocious and wise far beyond his years, was determined to make a good impression.
young_paul_mccartney_thumbPaul, sharply dressed in a white, silver flecked jacket and black stovepipe pants with a guitar strapped to his back, whipped out the guitar and began playing Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” followed by Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula” before launching into a medley of Little Richard songs. Lennon was floored by the demonstration. McCartney sealed the deal by tuning Lennon’s guitar and writing out the chords and lyrics to some of the songs he’d just played.
After the Quarrymen’s show the group invited McCartney to come along to a local pub where they lied about their ages to get served. For Lennon it must have been a dilemma to invite the talented youngster into the fold as a possible challenge to his own superiority within the group. Lennon, even then a savvy businessman, realized that McCartney’s addition might mean the difference between success and failure. Two weeks later Paul joined the band.
In a 1995 interview, McCartney recalled: “I remember coming into the fete and seeing all the sideshows. And also hearing all this great music wafting in from this little Tannoy system. It was John and the band. I remember I was amazed and thought, ‘Oh great’, because I was obviously into the music. I remember John singing a song called Come Go With Me. He’d heard it on the radio. He didn’t really know the verses, but he knew the chorus. The rest he just made up himself. I just thought, ‘Well, he looks good, he’s singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me.’ Of course, he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave. I remember John was good. He was really the only outstanding member, all the rest kind of slipped away.”
Lennon was equally impressed with McCartney’s instant ease in playing and singing songs that the Quarrymen worked long and hard to learn. McCartney remembered, “I also knocked around on the backstage piano and that would have been ‘A Whole Lot Of Shakin’ by Jerry Lee. That’s when I remember John leaning over, contributing a deft right hand in the upper octaves and surprising me with his beery breath. It’s not that I was shocked, it’s just that I remember this particular detail.” Yes, at that historic first meeting, 16-year-old John Lennon was drunk.
In his 1964 introduction to bandmate Lennon’s first book, “In His Own Write”, McCartney recalled: “At Woolton village fete I met him. I was a fat schoolboy and, as he leaned an arm on my shoulder, I realized he was drunk…We went on to become teenage pals.” More recently, Paul recalled: “There was a guy up on the stage wearing a checked shirt, looking pretty good singing a song I loved, the Del-Vikings’ Come Go With Me. He was filling in with blues lines, I thought that was good, and he was singing well. He was a little afternoon-pissed, leaning over my shoulder breathing boozily.”
Pessimists may assume that John and Paul would eventually have met on some other day had that hot and humid Saturday introduction 58 years ago never happened. But despite their mutual passion for music, the two lads lived in different neighborhoods, went to different schools and were nearly two years apart in age. All recalcitrant intentions aside, ‘Imagine’ if John Lennon had never become a Beatle. ‘Imagine’ if the band that changed pop culture forever had never existed. Fate is a funny thing. Encounters like this are often the stuff of legend; primarily unwitnessed, unobserved, and unrecorded thereby making them unprovable.
DYRYyu3X4AAEnC3But wait, there is proof. That July 6, 1957 Quarrymen’s set was recorded by a member of St Peter’s Youth Club, Bob Molyneux, on his portable Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder. Made just moments after that historic meeting, it remains the earliest known recording of Lennon. The three-inch reel includes Lennon’s performances of two songs; “Puttin’ on the Style,” a No. 1 hit at the time for Lonnie Donegan, and “Baby Let’s Play House,” an Arthur Gunter song made popular by Elvis Presley. In 1965 Lennon used a line from the Gunter song – “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man”- as the opening line of his own “Run for Your Life”. In 1963, Molyneux offered the tape to Lennon, through Ringo Starr. But Lennon never responded, so Molyneux put the tape in a vault.
In 1994 Molyneux, then a retired policeman, rediscovered the tape and contacted Sotheby’s auction house. The tape, along with the portable Grundig TK8 tape machine that made it, was sold on September 15, 1994 at Sotheby’s for £78,500 (Roughly $ 730,000 US) to EMI records. EMI considered using the recording as part of their Beatles Anthology project, but chose not to as the sound quality was substandard. It was recorded with a hand-held microphone in a cavernous church hall with a high, arched ceiling and a hard floor. EMI decided that although it was an incredibly important recording made on a historic day, the poor sound quality made it unsuitable for commercial release.
The two Beatles never forgot the friend who brought them together. Ivan had first met John when he was three and the two boy’s shared adjoining backyards. Years later, Ivan recalled, “One wet morning, John appeared on my doorstep clutching his Dinky toys, looking to make friends. And we did, going on to play cowboys and Indians in the fields and cricket in the park.” Paul and Ivan were born in the same city (Liverpool) on the same day (June 18, 1942).
For a time the Beatles put Ivan on the payroll of Apple records, in charge of a plan that never took off to set up a school with a Sixties, hippie-style education theme. Ivan’s wife Jan, a French teacher, was hired to sit down with Lennon and McCartney and help with the French lyrics to the 1965 classic “Michelle.” In 1977 Ivan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and spent the next 15 years working on a search for a cure. During those years Ivan and Jan often spent the evening’s out with Paul and his wife Linda in London restaurants. Ivan died in 1993. His death upset Paul so much that he started writing poetry again.
In 2002, Paul wrote the book “Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999″ in which he honored his old friend with a poem titled, Ivan: ” Two doors open, On the eighteenth of June, Two Babies born, On the same day, In Liverpool, One was Ivan, The other – me. We met in adolescence, And did the deeds, They dared us do, Jive with Ive, The ace on the bass, He introduced to me, At Woolton fete, A pal or two, And so we did, A classic scholar he, A rocking roller me, As firm as friends could be, Cranlock naval, Cranlock pie, A tear is rolling, Down my eye, On the sixteenth of August, Nineteen ninety-three, One door closed.” And it all started 58 years ago: July 6, 1957.