Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington. Part I

Original publish date:  May 6, 2021

Last Winter, I was contacted by Irvingtonian Bill Price with a story idea. Bill is journalist Nelson Price’s cousin. Nelson is a good friend and host of the Hoosier History Live radio show that airs live from noon to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. I have been on Nelson’s show many times over the years as have several Irvingtonians active in the literary and history communities. So I was happy to learn of our shared connection and even happier to find an Irvington connection to this story.
Bil Price lives on Graham Avenue right in the heart of Irvington, just back of the Methodist church and behind Jockomo’s. Price relates, “I was born at 16th and Ritter, but really grew up on the westside. Nelson and my grandparents lived on 9th Street over by Ellenberger Park. I moved over here after college in the late 80s. Lived by Howe for 14 years and then bought this house on Graham around 18 or 19 years ago.”

Price reveals, “In the John Lennon film “Imagine” from quite a few years back, and the documentary about him recording the Imagine album, there’s a scene where a young hippie / vagabond type of man who is apparently a shell-shocked Vietnam vet shows up at Lennon’s house. Lennon is patient and talks with him and even invites him in to eat some food. Recently, another film “Above Us Only Sky” has been released about Lennon and has the same footage. While watching this clip, I noticed something peculiar. There is a car parked outside Lennon’s house that has a WIFE Good Guys radio sticker on the back window! I am wondering how in the world did a sticker from a local Indianapolis radio station end up on a car in John Lennon’s driveway in England? I’ve asked a couple local musician buddies of mine who seem to know a lot about local music / radio and The Beatles, etc., but they have no idea of any Indianapolis connection to John Lennon at that time.”
Well, Bill, you are absolutely correct, that sticker is most certainly from Indianapolis. The sticker, which features a bearded B&W beatnik smiley faced character holding up a bright yellow sign reading “WIFE Good Guy”, appears on the left side of the rear window of Lennon’s Circa-1971 Mini Cooper. Indeed, the clip from the documentary features a scene in which a young man named Curt Claudio shows up at Lennon’s house “just to see him.” The house, actually an estate mansion known as Tittenhurst Park, is located in Berkshire, near the town Ascot in England.


In the scene, which can be easily found on Netflix, John is leaning against the pillars of the mansion that date back to 1830, Yoko stands nearby her husband. The disheveled young man, his long hair flowing over the Shearling fur collar of a ragged sheepskin coat, carries on a lengthy, disjointed conversation with his hero from just a few feet away. Given that the scene was filmed mere months after the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and several others under supposed orders from The Beatles White Album and knowing the way Lennon’s life ended less than a decade later, the scene is eerie to behold.
The young man had written several letters, one of which apparently stated, “I’m coming and I just need to look into your eyes and I’ll know.” Apparently Claudio had been secretly living in the rough on Lennon’s 72 acre estate for days. London police wanted to arrest the troubled fan but Lennon wouldn’t allow it, instead opting to gently talk to him face-to-face. Claudio apparently believed that some songs were speaking directly to him. Lennon does his best to dissuade that notion by asking how that could be possible since the two were strangers and stressing, “I’m just a guy who writes songs. Don’t confuse the songs with your own life. I mean, they might have relevance to your own life, but a lot of things do. So we met, you know, I’m just a guy. I write songs.”

Curt Claudio


As Claudio starts to quote the star’s lyrics, determined that the words were about him, John gently counters: “I was just having fun with words. It was literally a nonsense song. I mean Dylan does that… you just take words and you stick them together and you see if they have any meaning. Some of them do, some of them don’t.” Claudio replies: “You weren’t thinking of anyone in particular when you were singing that song?” To which Lennon replies, “How could I be? How could I be thinking of you, man? I’m thinking of me, and at best Yoko if it’s a love song. I’m singing about me and my life, and if it’s relevant about other people’s lives, then yeah, that’s alright.” Claudio looks devastated and his eyes drop to the ground. John then says: “Are you hungry?” gesturing to his friends he adds: “Let’s give him something to eat.” At which point Claudio is invited into the house and is seated at the dining room table with John and Yoko and they all eat a meal together.
For years, there was some confusion as to exactly who Curt Claudio was. Most accounts pegged him as a Vietnam War Vet. Others a hippy strung out on heroin. Still others claimed he was a deranged patient from a San Francisco mental hospital. According to the website “thedailybeatles”, Curt Claudio was born Cesare Curtis Claudio in Alameda, California on August 28, 1948. He graduated with the class of 1966 at Kennedy High School in Richmond, CA. He died in a plane crash in Fremont, CA. on December 22, 1981, a year and two weeks after Lennon’s murder. Part of Claudio’s legend states that he was so devastated by Lennon’s death that he deliberately crashed his own plane to end the pain.

Curt Claudio and Yoko Ono


Curt’s older brother Ernie cleared up the mystery, “Curt was never in the military. He was a straight “A” student in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of California in Davis, CA. Then he started using drugs and dropped out of school. He spent most of his life working on farms. We worked at Ford Motors in Milpitas, California until they closed the factory. Ford gave their employees $12,000 so they could re-train for another job. I asked Curt,” What are you going to do with your $12,000?” Curt said, “I’m either going to buy a Harley or an ultra-light airplane.” He bought the ultra-light, and that’s what killed him. He was flying too low and too slow and the plane stalled. The plane came down, bounced off a carport roof, and landed in a tree, six feet off the ground. The high impact caused his aorta to separate from the heart. Death was instantaneous.”
In 1973, John Lennon sold Tittenhurst Park to his former bandmate Ringo Starr, since Lennon had decided to live long-term in the United States and move to the Dakota (where he died). In 1988, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – President of the United Arab Emirates and former ruler of Abu Dhabi – purchased Tittenhurst Park from Ringo Starr for 5 million pounds. Renovations took place in 1989-1990, during which many elements pertaining to Lennon’s, Ono’s and Starr’s time still on the property were removed. Astonishingly, during those renovations, wall paintings by Lennon were destroyed.


But what about that sticker? The one from the WIFE Good Guys in Indianapolis? Where on earth did that thing come from? Well, I found the just the guy to solve the mystery. And he lives right here in Irvington.

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.