Posts Tagged ‘Beatles

Who’s Bigger?

- February 3rd, 2014

 

Whos-Bigger

 

No, this isn’t about you and me.

 

GAME ALERT: Yes, there’s an actual game a little further down.

 

Who’s Bigger? is the name of a book just published by two American computer scientists, Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward, certified geniuses who usually spend their time designing complex abstract algorithms for things like DNA sequencing and figuring out mathematical models to beat the odds in Vegas.

Read more…

50 Years Ago Today, Beatles Opened Hamburg’s Star-Club

- April 13th, 2012

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Two 19-year-olds on stage at the Star-Club in April 1962 

 

“We all got our education in Hamburg. It was quite something.”

                                                                                     — Paul McCartney

 

“I might have been born in Liverpool but I grew up in Hamburg.”

                                                                                     — John Lennon

 

 

HAMBURG — The most amazing thing about Leap Year 2012 is that the extra day — Feb. 29 — pushed the celestial clock into exact alignment with the year 1962 — exactly 50 years ago.

 

So every day after Feb. 29, 2012, falls on the exact day of the week it did in 1962. Friday the 13th (of April) 1962. And Friday the 13th (of April) 2012.

 

And exactly 50 years ago — on Friday the 13th (of April) 1962 — many things happened.

 

The New York Mets played their first, hapless game of Major League Baseball at the Polo Grounds — abandoned by the California-bound Giants at the end of the 1957 season — on Friday the 13th (of April) 1962.

 

1962mets

 

Of course the Mets lost. They lost 120 games in that inaugural season, a feat never again matched in baseball history. But on Friday the 13th (of April) 1962 they lost by only one run — 4-3 — to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They went on to lose another 38 games by one run — not hard, actually, when you you lose 120 in one 160-game season season.

taylor-burton--cleopatra-april-13-1962-Life

        Feb. 13, 1962 issue of Life magazine

Many, many other things happened on Friday the 13th (of April) 1962, but by far the most important of those many things was this — the Beatles from Liverpool were the opening act for the first night of Hamburg’s hot new rock venue, the Star-Club.

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The band that took the stage on Feb. 13, 1962

The Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best — were stars indeed when they walked on stage at 7 p.m. for the first of five one-hour shows that night. Over the next 48 nights the Beatles would play 172 hours at the Star-Club.

 

A grind, followed by two more grinds at the Star-club in 1962, but sheer luxury compared to the Beatles’ earlier stints in the sleazy, violent, sex-drugs-and-rock’n'roll world of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn red light district in the early 1960s.

 

The lads — as they were generically known at the time — first arrived in Hamburg as teenagers in August 1960, farmed out by their first, amateur manager Allan Williams to Hamburg club owner (and hard man) Bruno Koschmider.

Beatles1960

The Beatles 1960: Left to right, Pete Best, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Stu Sutcliffe

 

Koschmider started them out at his dreary Indra club (still in operation — still dreary), then moved them over in early October to his bigger Kaiserkeller club, both on Große Freiheit  straße (Big Freedom Street — a 17th-Century religious designation, nothing to do with sex-drugs-and rock’n'roll).

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Paul Smith, lead singer for the band Maximo Park,  stands in the entryway of the Indra club, where I bumped into him in October 2010 while he was checking out the historic site before performing there.

While indentured to Koschmider, the Beatles were billeted in a cold, dank storeroom at the back of a nearby movie theatre also owned by Koschmider. They had no heat or hot water during that fall of 1960 (Hamburg gets almost as cold as Toronto) and they woke up to the sound of the noon movie starting right beside their freezing, damp, dreary bunkbeds.

 

No wonder “the lads” (including Stu Sutcliffe at the time) were willing to jump ship when rival club owner Peter Eckhorn offered them a better-paying (and better-accommodated) gig at his Top Ten Club in late November.

 

Of course Koschmider — a mean, sleazy bugger if there ever was one — wouldn’t put up with that kind of “betrayal” so he promptly ratted out the 17-year-old old George Harrison as an underage foreign worker to German immigration authorities. George was sent packing back to Liverpool.

 

A few days later, McCartney and Best set a condom on fire (as a teenage act of defiance against Koschmider) while clearing their gear out of their former moviehouse digs. Koschmider accused them of attempted arson and McCartney and Best were deported as well.

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Part of John Lennon’s 1960 German work visa

Lennon hung on as a tourist for another week before heading back to Liverpool on Dec. 10, 1960, but Sutcliffe decided to leave the band and stay on in Hamburg with his love, Astrid Kirchherr, while studying art.

 

As soon as Harrison turned 18, the Beatles were back in Hamburg playing at Eckhorn’s Top Ten Club as the house band from April 1 to July 1, 1961. They were still grinding out four and five sets a night with hardly a day off and they were still living four-to-a-room over a bar, but they were (slightly) better paid and this was where the Beatles really became the Beatles.

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Above, the Beatles perform at the Top Ten Club in April 1961. Below, Große Freiheit these days (or nights)

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… and (apart from the cars) it doesn’t look that much different than it did in the early 1960s

reeperbahn

Night after night the crowd went wild while the Beatles became tighter and tighter — propelled, many said, by Pete Best’s driving drums — and “the lads” threw everything at the wall, including more and more Lennon-McCartney original compositions.

beatleshamburg

 

When they returned to Liverpool that summer — still kids aged 18-20 — they were hardened veterans of the rock wars and ready to step up to the next level.

 

Back in Liverpool, the Beatles (John, Paul, George and Pete Best) performed regularly at their old haunt, the Cavern Club, building their fan base and reputation as the most exciting band in the buzzing Mersey scene. Record store owner Brian Epstein had been sniffing around the band through the fall and in December 1961 officially became the Beatles’ manager.

 

Epstein arranged a tryout with Decca Records — on Jan. 1, 1962 — which did not go well: Decca eventually went with another band, the Tremeloes, that had auditioned the same day as the Beatles — because the Tremeloes were based in London and would thus be easier (and cheaper) for Decca to oversee than a Liverpool band.

 

So that’s where things stood for the Beatles — moving forward but no breakthrough yet — when Hamburg impresarios Manfred Weissleder and Horst Fascher (a former boxer and bar bouncer who had befriended the Beatles and sometimes sang with them during their previous Hamburg gigs) recruited the band to open their big new Reeperbahn venue, the Star-Club at Große Freiheit 39, on Friday the 13 (of April) 1962.

Beatles-Horst-Fascher

The Beatles with pal Horst Fascher, the Hamburg bouncer who protected a bunch of talented teenagers in 1960 and then hired the budding stars in 1962 to play at his new venue, the Star-Club. 

Several thousand people could pack into the Star-Club with a large open dance area in front of the stage and theatre seating at the back of the room.

 

Before the club closed on Dec. 31, 1969, it would play host to every big name passing through Hamburg from Little Richard (with whom the Beatles shared the Star-Club stage later in 1962) to Jerry Lee Lewis to Ray Charles to Jimi Hendrix to Cream. But the first band to play there — and ultimately the biggest — was the Beatles.

Little-Richard-StarClub-1962

Above, Little Richard at the Star-Club in 1962 and, below, Jimi Hendrix at the Star-Club in 1967

Hendrix-star-club-1967

 

And now the Beatles were being treated as headliners, not fill-ins. They flew to Hamburg this time, unlike their first two stints there, when the band arrived by ferry and van. And they were boarded in individual hotel rooms instead of bar barracks.

 

John, Paul and Pete Best arrived first, flying to Hamburg from Manchester, on April 11, followed the next day by Brian Epstein and George Harrison (who had been sick). The first three were met at the airport by Astrid Kirchherr with the terrible news that Stu Sutcliffe had died of a brain hemorrhage the previous day.

 

Nevertheless, the show must go on (or whatever other tragedy-related cliche you want to substitute).

Star-club-1962

The Star-Club was packed for opening night and the Beatles rocked the joint. Over the next seven weeks (until May 31, 1962) the band kept up a relentless performance schedule — between three and five one-hour sets every night (172 hours on the Star-Club stage in total) with just one day off. Sometimes they alternated sets with visiting rockers such as Gene Vincent; other times they just carried the crowd on their own shoulders for the whole night. It didn’t matter — the Star-Club was always packed when the Beatles were in town.

John-Paul-George-Star-club-1962

Fifty years ago today, John Lennon was the old man of the Beatles at age 21, while Paul and George were both just 19.

And that really was the end of the pre-fame period of the Beatles’ lives, even though they returned to Hamburg for two more shorter stints at the Star-Club in November and December 1962.

 

Within a week of returning to England on June 2, 1962, the Beatles were back in a recording studio for another audition, this time at the famed EMI Studios at 3 Abbey Road in London’s St. John’s Wood.

 

The June 6 date was both an audition and full recording session and marked the first collaboration between the Beatles and producer George Martin, who was mainly known at the time for his work on comedy and novelty albums with the Goons and others. Four songs were recorded in the three-hour session (including Love Me Do and PS I Love You) and by the time the group left the studio at 10 p.m. they had impressed Martin enough to offer them a recording contract with EMI’s Parlophone label.

 

The Beatles returned to Abbey Road for further recording sessions on Sept. 4 and Sept. 11 but there was a major personnel change between between the June and September sessions.

 

The full story may never be known, but on Aug. 16, 1962, Pete Best was fired from the band. Doing the dirty work was Brian Epstein, who simply told Best, “The lads don’t want you in the group anymore.”

 

The firing is often attributed to pressure from George Martin, who wanted a better drummer. But when the Beatles replaced Best with another Liverpool friend, Ringo Starr, Martin still used a session drummer, Andy White, for most of the drum work on the Beatles’ first single — Love Me Do, backed by PS I Love You. (Ringo’s drumming from the Sept. 4 session appeared on the initial single, but was replaced by White’s Sept. 11 session work by the time the Beatle’s first album was released.)

 

In any case, the Beatles consisted of John, Paul, George and Ringo as of Aug. 18, 1962.

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One of the first Beatles publicity photos with the band’s new drummer, Ringo Starr

The first single was released on Oct. 5 and climbed to No. 17 on the British charts — considered exceptional for an unknown (relatively speaking) new group.

love_me_do

 

That was the band — now getting plenty of radio play and media attention in Britain — that returned to Hamburg for a two-week engagement Nov. 1-14. They played three sets every night for 14 days — 49 hours on stage — and each got paid the princely sum of 600 Deutschmarks a week (about $150 at the time). Not bad money, actually, when you consider it was about 10 times more than they were paid during their 1961 stint in Hamburg and 20 times more than their weekly pay during the Beatles’ first Hamburg sojourn two years earlier.

 

On Nov. 26, 10 days after returning to England, the Beatles were back in the Abbey Road studio with George Martin to record their second single, Please Please Me (with Ask Me Why on the B side).

 

It was at that point — poised on the brink of Beatlemania — that the group returned to Hamburg for their third Star-Club engagement of the year  from Dec. 18 to 31.  Their only day off was Christmas and they were now paid the even more princely sum of 750 Deutschmarks per person per week (about $180).

 

So they played out New Year’s Eve in Hamburg and returned to England where their second single was released on Jan. 11, 1963, becoming a British chart-topper within a few weeks. (It also became the Beatles’ first U.S. single release on Feb. 25 on the small Vee-Jay label but with considerably less success — only about 7,000 copies sold and the initial pressing listed the performers as “The Beattles.”)

 

Back in the studio on Feb. 11, 1963, the Beatles recorded 10 more songs in a marathon one-day session which, added to the four songs from their first two singles, became the Beatles first album, also entitled Please Please Me.

 

The album was rush-released on March 22, 1963, became an immediate huge success and topped the British charts for 30 weeks from May 11.

 

The rest is, of course, history.

 

And for the next decade or so, we’ll have plenty of “50 years ago today” moments from the Fabulous ’60s (and the not-quite-as-fab ’70s) to look back on.

 

But for today at least, our memory is this: Fifty years ago today, the Beatles opened Hamburg’s Star-Club.

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Beatles-Platz in Hamburg

Star-club-2010

The building that housed the Star-Club burned down in 1987. All that remains today at Große Freiheit 39 is a plaque — and a Thai karaoke bar.

Thai-karaoke-2010

Hard To Believe Who Is Turning 70

- April 1st, 2011

I guess 70 really is the new 60.

Maybe even the new 50 (nah, that´s too much of a stretch — at least for now). 

What brings on this bout of age-ist navel-gazing is the sudden realization just how many amazing music people are all turning 70 this year. 

It seems like about half of the people who made the 1960s (and later)  such an incredible musical period were all born within a few months of each other in 1941.

(By the way, there won´t be any photos with this post — it would take away the surprise factor.)

In any given year, roughly the same number of people pop into the world who end up being famous or infamous for one reason or another. Some years produce a few more, some a few less, but it´s usually within a fairly predictable range.

 But 1941 was a freakish, out-of-this-world year — at least as far musical talent was concerned.

 In terms of non-musical celebrities, 1941 was well above average but still within the outer bounds of a normal birth year. 

Born in 1941 and turning 70 this year are people like:

 Bush VP Dick Cheney (cripes, I thought he was at least 80, maybe 85) and U.S. political activist Jesse Jackson; North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak; actresses  Julie Christie and Faye Dunaway (I really don´t believe it); ´60s hotties Ann-Margaret and Senta Berger (who, after her Hollywood success, returned to Germany where she is enjoying a long and rewarding career in theatre, film and TV which is probably the envy of actresses who stayed in Hollywood only be ignored and even belittled in their mature years); 

Actors Nick Nolte, David Warner, Stacy Keach, Robert Forster, Bruno Ganz, Jurgen Prochnow, Eric Braeden and Beau Bridges (Jeff´s older brother); writers Paul Theroux, Anne Rice and Norah Ephron; former Blue Jays manager Bobby Cox and NFL coach Bill Parcells; film directors Denys Arcand, Bernardo Bertolucci, Stephen Frears, Wolfgang Petersen and (again) Norah Ephron;

 Canadian comic actor and SCTVer Joe Flaherty; evolutionary biologist and champion atheist Richard Dawkins; Rich & Famous Lifestylist Robin Leach; Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL New England Patriots; NHL Rangers great Rod Gilbert; former Disney child star Tommy Kirk; even Toronto´s own (temporary) public housing czar Case Ootes.

I can  accept a few singers like Placido Domingo, Paul Anka and Cesaria Evora  all turning 70 at the same time. (They seem like they should be 70 by now anyway.)

But the scale — in terms of both numbers and talent — of singers, musicians and songwriters turning 70 this year is (to my mind, anyway) staggering.

 I really wonder if there´s been another year like it. (And the U.S. and British birth rates were normal that year — even less than in the later war years and post-war Baby Boom – so it´s not just a proportionate bulge.)

For starters, consider just these three 70-this-year icons, all still rolling:

Bod Dylan (May 24, 1941)

Paul Simon (Oct. 13, 1941)

Art Garfunkel (Nov. 5, 1941)

(If you want to throw in Dylan´s equivalent of Simon´s Garfunkel, Joan Baez already turned 70 on Jan. 9.)

And they´re just the tip of the iceberg.

Because there are so many, I am not going to list everyone´s birthdays. We´ll just go through the 1941 births month by month.

And don´t forget, these are just some — not all — of the musical greats (and goods and pretty goods) born in 1941 and turning 70 this year:

JANUARY

Joan Baez, We Shall Overcome, Diamonds and Rust

Richie Havens, opened Woodstock

Aaron Neville, Tell It Like It Is, The Neville Brothers

Neil Diamond, Solitary Man, Sweet Caroline, Cherry Cherry, Cracklin´Rosie, Song Sung Blue, a million more — count ´em, a million I tells ya. For a while he held the record for highest celebrity divorce settlement. Madonna knocked him out of that No. 1 spot a few years later.

Placido Domingo, tenor

FEBRUARY

Sergio Mendes, Brazil ´66, The Look Of Love

Tom Rush, No Regrets

Brian Holland, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Motown Sound

Irma Thomas, Soul Queen of New Orleans

Joanie Sommers, Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb

Buffy Sainte-Marie,  Order of Canada, Universal Soldier, Until It´s Time For You To Go, Up Where We Belong (co-writer)

MARCH

Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane

Mike Love, Beach Boys

Alf Clausen, conductor/composer for The Simpsons (the show that taught my kids about the ´60s)

Charo, Cuchi Cuchi flamenco provocateure. Charo claims she was actually born in 1951 but falsified Spanish birth records when she married 66-year-old bandleader Xavier Cugat back when she was (she says) 15.

APRIL

David LaFlamme, It´s A Beautiful Day violinist

Roberto Carlos, Brazil´s King of Latin Music

Zamfir, confirmed  pan flautist

MAY

Eric Burdon, The Animals, House Of The Rising Sun, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, Don´t Bring Me Down, Don´t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Bring It On Home To Me, Cee Cee Rider, Sky Pilot, Monterey

Joe Brown, Top UK Vocal Personality of 1962 (The Beatles were, of course, Top Vocal Group that year and the next and the next …Brown won the Personality contest again for ´63 but John Lennon knocked him off ´for ´64.)

Ronald Isley, The Isley Brothers

Bob Dylan, Voice of a Generation, Poet Laureate of Rock ´n´Roll, Pulitzer Prize recipient, enigma, genius, antagonist, world´s hippest senior citizen. His Never Ending Tour (a tag Dylan dislikes) heads to Australia and New Zealand this month

JUNE

Charlie Watts, oldest of the Rolling Stones (Mick and Keith turn 70 in 2013)

Chick Corea, jazz piano great, Scientologist

Reg Presley, The Troggs, Wild Thing, Love Is All Around, crop-circle afficianado

Lamont Dozier, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Motown Sound

JULY

Martha Reeves, The Vandellas, Jimmy Mack, Dancing In The Street, Detroit city councilwoman

Lonnie Mack, blues-rock guitarist (not related to Jimmy Mack)

Vicki Carr, He´s A Rebel (The Crystals´Phil Spector-produced version was a cover of Vicki´s original)

George Clinton, Parliament, Funkadelic, P-Funk, official Urban Icon

Paul Anka, Order of Canada, Diana, Lonely Boy, My Way, co-king of Vegas (with Wayne Newton), co-writer of This Is It (with Michael Jackson), second wife (30 years his junior, divorced 2010) starred on TV show Swedish Hollywood Wives (in Sweden it´s called Svenska Hollywoodfruar).

AUGUST

Beverley Lee, one quarter of The Shirelles, Another quarter, Doris Coley, was born a day earlier but died in 2000. Lee currently holds trademark rights for The Shirelles.

David Crosby, The Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash, CSNY, Joni Mitchell´s main man (for quite a while) and biological father of Melissa Etheridge´s two children with former partner Julie Cypher.

Cesaria Evora, the Barefoot Diva from Cape Verde

SEPTEMBER

David Clayton-Thomas, The Shays, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Spinning Wheel, illegal alien in U.S. at height of BS&T´s fame, apparently now living in Toronto again.

OCTOBER

Chubby Checker, on never-ending Twist cycle. The stage name was supposed to be a play on Fats Domino.

Paul Simon, Listen to the Sounds of … Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Waters,  Mrs. Robinson, Graceland and dozens more classic Simon songs. His new album So Beautiful Or So What is released this month, supported by the tour that brings him to Toronto May 6.  Keep on rolling, Paul. Just like Dylan.

Jim Seals, Seals & Croft

Steve Cropper, Booker T and the M.G.s, original Blues Brothers

Helen Reddy, I Am Woman, Delta Dawn

Curtis Lee,  Pretty Little Angel Eyes

Otis Williams, baritone for The Temptations, only original member of the group still performing in The Temptations

NOVEMBER

Art Garfunkel, the Tom in Tom & Jerry, the Garfunkel in Simon & Garfunkel, the high in high & not-so-high, the singer not the songwriter, nice guy, lucky to have a boyhood friend named Paul Simon.

Duck Dunn, like lifelong pal Steve Cropper, a mainstay of Booker T & the M.G.s and the original Blues Brothers.

Pete Best, The Beatles´original drummer (Aug. 12, 1960-Aug. 16, 1962), replaced by Ringo Starr after George Martin had already signed the Beatles to their EMI contract and only months before the first album launched Beatlemania.

DECEMBER

Maurice White, Earth Wind & Fire founder

Mike Pinder, Moody Blues, psychedelic mellotron

Ray Thomas, also Moody Blues, confirmed flautist

I haven´t even mentioned the lesser lights turning 70 this year from groups like Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Temptations, The 5th Dimension, The Pips, The Searchers, The Shadows, The Tremeloes.

And then there are the ones who would have turned 70 this year if they had lived:

Richie Valens, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Gene Pitney, Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott, Tim Hardin, Harry Nilsson, Desmond Dekker, Long John Baldry, David Ruffin, Tom Fogerty, Doug Sahm, Danny Rapp, Captain Beefheart (who just died in December) and I guess you might consider Monty Python´s Graham Chapman an honourary rocker.

So, a lot. The next decade or two will probably have some more “look who´s turning 70″ bulges, but this one´s the biggie for me. (Gawd, I just don´t want to see Elton John and Madonna at 70.)

I guess I just can´t believe Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel are turning 70 this year. Thank God they´re still making music. Keep those rocking chairs rocking.

Yikes! I just looked ahead to 1942 births. Here are the first five names I came across of famous folk turning 70 next year: Barbra Stresiand, Brian Wilson, Brian Jones (well, woulda/coulda/shoulda), Bob Hoskins, Billy Connolly. And there´s more: Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, Muhammed Ali, Stephen Hawking, Harrison Ford and on and on. I guess this trend is just going to keep rolling for a while.