THE TWIST – HANK BALLARD & THE MIDNIGHTERS – CHUBBY CHECKER – JOEY DEE & THE STARLITERS – THE BEAT GENERATION – THE BEATNIK – FROM JOHNNY AND THE MOONDOGS TO THE BEATLES – FOLK MUSIC – THE KINGSTON TRIO – JOAN BAEZ

 

THE TWIST

“Come on baby, let’s do the twist, come on baby, let’s do the twist, take me by my little hand and go like this…” “The Twist” – Chubby Checker

It was the first touchless dance, the perfect move for the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era. All you had to do was shake. It didn’t matter what rock ‘n’ roll song was playing as long as it had a rhythm. You swiveled your hips back and forth, twisting your body at the waist while moving your arms left to right to the beat. You didn’t hold your partner or even take their hand, a concept that was unheard of in 1960. You just… twisted.

The Twist served in defining as well as bridging the Generation Gap, a gap that had been developing ever since Elvis swiveled his hips, by creating the first worldwide dance craze of the rock ‘n’ roll era. Parents shook their heads at the new dance style… then tried it out for themselves. It transcended age, spread around the world, and inspired future dances through the Sixties like the Frug, the Watusi, the Jerk, the Mashed Potato, the Swim, the Monkey and the Funky Chicken. The Twist is the granddaddy of them all, the dance craze responsible for literally shaking up civilized society.

 

HANK BALLARD & THE MIDNIGHTERS

John Henry Kendricks wrote and recorded “The Twist”, releasing it in 1959 as a B-side under his stage name Hank Ballard with his group the Midnighters. The Midnighters had choreographed a move they considered suitable for the song for their live performances, but it was a stylized dance, much like grooving to the music instead of dancing. Soon, the song became the high point of their show and their choreography morphed into the dance that shook the world.

“The dance was not originated by the Midnighters. The twist dance was originated by some women out there in the audience… so we just picked that up. The dance was created really by the people.” Lawson Smith – The Midnighters

The concept of the song came about during the time when Ballard, along with Midnighters’ guitarist Cal Green and the rest of the group, toured with gospel groups. One particular gospel member, Brother Joe Wallace of The Sensational Nightingales, explained to them the idea for the song. Because of its suggestiveness, Wallace couldn’t very well introduce it into the world of gospel music, so he passed the idea on to them. This got Ballad and Green to thinking. Having already written a song together called “Is Your Love For Real”, they decided to drop the lyrics and re-write new ones about the dance Wallace had described.

“My Daddy is sleepin’ and Mama ain’t around, yeah Daddy’s just sleepin’ and Mama ain’t around, we’re gonna twistin’, twistin’, twistin’, ’til we tear the house down…” – The Twist – Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

Ballard’s original version of The Twist only made it to Number 16 on Billboard’s R&B chart and Number 28 Pop in 1959. It was then quickly forgotten until Dick Clark heard it. Clark was the host of “American Bandstand”, the only rock ‘n’ roll variety show on TV at the time. Much speculation came about as to why Clark didn’t showcase Hank Ballard and the Midnighters on his show.

“He didn’t want to use the Hank Ballard record because he didn’t have control of (the song). He also felt Hank was too black. With Chubby, he had much lighter skin. He had the boy-next-door look. He was just a teenager.” Jim Dawson; “The Twist: The Story of the Song and Dance That Changed the World, (1995).

Another reason given for HB&TM to have been overlooked by Clark was simply because Clark wasn’t able to book the group due to scheduling conflicts, although some members of the Midnighters’ say Clark just didn’t bother with them.

“He (Dick Clark) refused to let us be on his show… and he started promoting Chubby Checker.” -Lawson Smith, The Midnighters

“History was made the day Chubby Checker went on Bandstand with ‘The Twist’… and it was all because of Dick Clark.” – Ernest Evans aka Chubby Checker

 

CHUBBY CHECKER

Ernest Evans was a gifted singer and dancer. When he was eight years old, he sang on the street corners of South Philadelphia with a harmony group. As a teenager, he’d entertain the customers of the markets he worked for with his imitations of the rock ‘n’ roll artists of the day, including his personal favorite, Fats Domino. His boss at the Produce Market nicknamed him Chubby due to his portly countenance, and his other boss, Henry Colt at the Fresh Farm Poultry store, was impressed enough to talk to a connection about having Chubby meet Dick Clark.

“I was 16 years old when I first met Dick. It was about two years before we did ’The Twist.’ I was in the studio with him. He was doing a Christmas project, and I was at the piano doing a Fats Domino impression.” – Ernest Evans aka Chubby Checker

Dick Clark’s wife Barbara attended the recording and after listening to him, Barbara asked him his name.

“Well, my friends call me Chubby.” Evans said.

“As in Checker?” she asked jokingly, and inadvertently gave Evans his stage name: Chubby Checker as a ‘twist’ on Fats Domino.

It was Clark’s decision to have Chubby record the Twist, primarily due to his voice, which was similar to Ballard’s, so much so that when Hank Ballard first heard Checker’s version on the radio, he thought it was his own recording. Clark also genuinely liked Chubby, having had him appear on “AB” once before to perform his debut single, a novelty hit called “The Class”, so Clark offered Checker the opportunity to record ‘The Twist” as his second single. Checker danced the Twist like he invented it, and thanks to the power of television, Chubby Checker was the symbol for the dance and its instructor as well, teaching the world how to move, forever identifying himself with it, and turning the song into a worldwide smash.

On July 18, 1960, Chubby Checker introduced his version of the Twist at the Rainbow Club in Wildwood, New Jersey. Three weeks later on August 6, he made his worldwide television debut on “American Bandstand” and the dance craze that would kick off a tsunami of dance crazes was born.

The single was a certified smash hit. It made it to Number One on September 19, 1960 and stayed there for one week. But that wasn’t the end of the Twist once it fell off the top position. It only became more popular as the months wore on, becoming ubiquitous worldwide, heard regularly on the radio, in clubs, even in conversation, as a thing of shock and fun. Soon, it spread from the teen market to the parents, and not just in America but all over global civilized society, right on up to the elite, sophisticated class that included the celebrities of the day, who were delighted by the Twist as much as everyone else. The Twist had broken through barriers, just like Elvis.

LET’S TWIST AGAIN – CHUBBY CHECKER

Chubby Checker was compelled to record other Twist songs and released his second biggest hit after the original, called “Let’s Twist Again”, the following year in the summer of 1961. The song was as good as the original that spawned it. It reached Number Two in the UK and Number Eight in the US Pop and won a Grammy for Best Rock & Roll Recording in 1962.

“Come on, let’s twist again like we did last summer, yeah, let’s twist again like we did last year, do you remember when things were really hummin’? Yeah, let’s twist again, twistin’ time is here…” Let’s Twist Again – Chubby Checker

The growing momentum since Chubby Checker’s release of “The Twist” and the glut of Twist songs flooding the market convinced the record company to release the original song once again, sixteen months after its debut, on January 13, 1962, where it made it to Number One a second time, this time for two weeks. As of this writing, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker still holds the record for being the only single to be released twice and to hit Number One both times, except for Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” released twenty years earlier.

 

THE PEPPERMINT TWIST – JOEY DEE & THE STARLITERS

After Checker’s “Twist” in ’62 dropped from the Number One position, the need to fill the void of another Twist song was immediately fulfilled by Joey Dee and the Starliters when “The Peppermint Twist” replaced Checker’s “Twist” at the Number One Pop position on January 27, staying there for three weeks.

The name of the song was due to the fact that Joey Dee and the Starliters was the house band for the Peppermint Lounge, located on 128 West 45th Street in New York City. They already had a few minor hits since 1958, so they were originally booked to just do a weekend gig. That first night however, two celebrities of the day, actress Merle Oberon and Prince Serge Oblinski, were spotted by the press and written about in the next morning’s paper. The Peppermint Lounge became the hottest ticket, literally overnight. Lines were snaking around the block and celebrities such as John Wayne, Judy Garland, Nat “King” Cole, Shirley MacLaine, Liberace, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams and even First Lady Jackie Kennedy made an appearance, cementing the Starliters’ stay at the club.

The Peppermint Lounge was also one of the pioneering nightclubs that employed go-go girls, dancers in simulated outfits and exotic situations, often wearing next to nothing and found in cages or dance pods around the club. A year into the group’s stay, Joey Dee wrote “The Peppermint Twist” with producer Henry Glover. The song ultimately sold a million copies.

TWISTING THE NIGHT AWAY – SAM COOKE

Sam Cooke saw the value in the popularity of the Twist so he wrote and recorded “Twisting The Night Away” on December 18, 1961 and released it while Chubby Checker’s “Twist” was reigning over the chart the second time around on January 9, 1962.

TWIST AND SHOUT

“Twist and Shout” was written in 1961 by Phil Medley (not Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers) and Bert Barnes (later credited as Bert Russell). It was originally called “Shake It Up, Baby”, and it was given to young up and coming record producer Phil Spector to record with a group called the Topnotes. Russell felt Spector ruined the song with his over the top production style so he gave it to the Isley Brothers to re-record it the way he heard it in his head.

The song’s title was changed to “Twist & Shout”, probably to jump on the dance craze bandwagon. It became the Isley Brothers’ first hit since ‘Shout’ in 1959, cracking the Top 20 at Number 17 on the Billboard Pop chart and Number Two on the R&B chart during the summer of 1962.

Several months later, on February 11, 1963, the Beatles recorded “Twist & Shout” as the last cut on their debut album “Please Please Me”. It had been a long recording session. The young group had laid down all eleven songs that were to be on the album over one ten hour night. John Lennon’s voice was hoarse by the time they got around to “Twist & Shout”, the last recording of the night, and his hoarseness is clearly heard on the recording, making it so much more of a rocker than the Isley Brothers’ version. ”Twist & Shout” is probably the Beatles’ biggest hit that wasn’t written by them, and a curious connection between the most influential band of the rock era and the most influential dance. Both broke barriers and both swung open the doors to a world of change for a world on the cusp of a social revolution.

On November 4th, 1963, The Beatles played the Royal Command Performance in London, England with the Queen and the entire Royal Family in attendance. Their last song was “Twist & Shout” and John Lennon introduced it with a now famous quote that made fun of the royalty in attendance.

“For our last number I’d like to ask your help. The people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry.” – John Lennon

The Twist became the standard Sixties dance even after the Beatles came to American shores and a slew of dances followed. The “touchless” dance style would reign for the rest of the decade and wouldn’t be replaced by anything radically different until the disco craze of the Seventies.

 

THE BEAT

There have only been a handful of words and phrases that have encompassed the vastness of rock ‘n’ roll. The phrase “rollin’ stone” for example, has been around since Muddy Waters first recorded the classic blues song in 1950, then carried on in spirit a dozen years later when member British musician Brian Jones spotted the Muddy Waters record on the floor and quickly named his band “The Rollin’ Stones” when asked their name over the phone. The term was also used in Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rollin’ Stone” (1965), quite possibly one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written, and in the Temptations’ groundbreaking soul classic “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone” (1972). It even wound up being the banner of “Rolling Stone”, a prestigious rock ‘n’ roll magazine that’s been around since 1967 and is still going strong today. The term’s actual meaning of a rambler who never settles down is a large part of the rock ‘n’ roller’s romanticized image.

But there is also a word that has become equally synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll, and it has roots in the Forties, born from a group of eccentric bohemian writers that literally laid down the blueprint for the sexual, social and cultural revolution of the Sixties. The word is, quite simply, also what the music is essentially comprised of: a beat.

 

THE BEAT GENERATION

The Beat Generation were a group of authors who published books during the 1950s that subversively shaped the culture of post World War II American society with precepts that became an integral part of the rock ‘n’ roll spirit; the quest for spirituality, the rejection of materialism, sexual orientation and experimentation and the use of psychedelic drugs.

These precepts were drawn from the esoteric books and magazine articles written by these eccentric few and went on to inspire a powerful cultural revolution that would spawn the Beatnik by 1960 as the natural progeny of the Beat Generation.

Jack Kerouak, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Boroughs, Herbert Huncke, John Clennon Holmes and Lucien Carr were young authors and poets who first met in 1944 as students in the campus of Columbia University in New York City. They were the refuse of society; closet homosexuals, ex-convicts, murderers and drug addicts who happened to also be brilliant writers. Jack Kerouak coined the phrase “Beat Generation” as a way of describing his non-conformist circle of peers. His meaning for the phrase had nothing to do with a rhythmic beat however. It was rather a slang that meant ‘downtrodden’, or members of the bottom rung of society.

“The Beat Generation, that was a vision that we had, John Clellon Holmes and I, and Allen Ginsberg in an even wilder way, in the late Forties, of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America—beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction.”– Jack Kerouac

 

THE BEATNIK

On April 2, 1958, Herb Caen coined the term “beatnik”, meant as a derogatory term, in an article he wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle about the youth of the day and their lifestyle, which was mirrored in Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical and scandalous works of fiction. Caen picked up the “nik” suffix from the pages of world news and the steady stream of stories regarding the USSR’s Sputnik space program. Soon, the word ‘beatnik’ was picked up to describe the rebellious youth of the day who roamed the streets of Greenwich Village in distinct wardrobe that separated them from everyone else.

“Beat Generation” sold books, sold black turtleneck sweaters and bongos, berets and dark glasses, sold a way of life that seemed like dangerous fun—thus to be either condemned or imitated. Suburban couples could have beatnik parties on Saturday nights and drink too much and fondle each other’s wives.” –Joyce Johnson, “Minor Characters”

Madison Avenue picked up on the new trend and soon used it to sell records, mostly folk music.

“The term (beatnik) caught on because it could mean anything. It could even be exploited in the affluent wake of the decade’s extraordinary technological inventions. Almost immediately, for example, advertisements by “hip” record companies in New York used the idea of the Beat Generation to sell their new long playing vinyl records.” – Ann Charters, Jack Kerouac’s biographer

The demise of the Beatnik was brought about by the media’s manipulation of the stereotype, right down to the sandals and bongo drums. Half a decade later, the Beatnik would dissolve into history and give way to the hippie movement and the Sixties counterculture. Rock ‘n’ roll music changed to rock music by 1967 and the Beatnik vanished, but the term beat didn’t. Coincidentally, with no allusion to the Beat Generation at all, the word lived on to hang another suffix onto: Beatle.

 

FROM JOHNNY & THE MOONDOGS TO THE BEATLES


Stuart Ferguson Victor Sutcliffe
was a 19 year old, Scottish art student attending the Liverpool College of Art when he got evicted from his flat in early 1960 for not paying his rent. He moved in with his classmate Margaret Chapman into a larger place that had the nerve to call itself Hillary Mansions, located at 3 Gambier Terrace in Liverpool. It consisted of three rooms, three mattresses and three light bulbs. Since there was only two of them and they needed one more roommate to help with the rent, Stu’s close friend John Lennon moved in to occupy the third mattress.

John was more committed than ever to form a professional rock ‘n’ roll band. He found the perfect songwriting partner in Paul McCartney, who shared the same ambition, and Paul’s friend George Harrison complemented them well. George was the youngest of the three and underage, but he added a solid lead guitar to the songs they covered, and as they grew to know each other better and rehearse together steadily over the weeks that turned into months, they honed their talents into a nice, tight sound. Still, there were two things missing that without them, they couldn’t call themselves a proper rock ‘n’ roll band. Their first and foremost dilemma was that they still didn’t have a permanent drummer and it was difficult to get gigs without one. Paul used to explain to the club owners, “the rhythm’s in the guitars…” but it did no good. No drums. No gig.

They also hadn’t settled on a name for the band yet. The Quarrymen name suited John for his local Liverpool band, only because the original members were all students of Quarry Bank High School where John attended too. But now, John, Paul and George, the diehard members of the band, remained after all the others that passed through in the search for the right band mates fell off one by one. The trio had their sights set on becoming a legitimate rock ‘n’ roll band with the potential to tour outside Liverpool, maybe even all the way to London, and they needed a legitimate rock ‘n’ roll name.

“Stuart was in the band now. He wasn’t really a very good musician. In fact, he wasn’t a musician at all until we talked him into buying a bass.” – George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology

Stu joined the still unnamed band at the end of 1959, despite the fact that he didn’t know how to play a musical instrument. Stu was an artist, and John was mighty impressed by his peer’s immense talent. Stu and John stayed up at night talking about art, and many times the conversation veered towards the fate of the band. Stu felt uncomfortable about playing, especially when the other three would start yelling at him every time he got it wrong. He was more of a painter than a musician, and sometimes he felt forced by John to play in the band and relented only out of friendship.

Tension existed between Paul and Stu as well. Being an annoying perfectionist even way back then, Paul realized the only reason Stu was in the band was because he was John’s friend. Paul already felt a little resentment that John liked to hang out with Stu more than with him, especially because they were starting to write songs together. He knew that if they really wanted to succeed, they would have to strive for perfection, and Stu wasn’t adding anything to the band musically, although his looks did attract a female following.

“Stuart and I once actually had a fight on stage. I thought I’d beat him hands down because he was littler than me. But he was strong and we got locked in a sort of death-grip, on stage during the set. It was terrible. We must have called each other something one too many times: ‘Oh, you…’ – ‘You calling me that?’ Then we were locked and neither of us wanted to go any further and all the others were shouting, ‘Stop it, you two!’ – ‘I’ll stop it if he will.’” – Paul McCartney

Stu’s brooding look and thin frame carried a smooth featured face, and his manner of “teddy boy” attitude was accentuated with a wardrobe of tight, straight legged black leather pants, leather jacket, t-shirt and sunglasses. It made him look cutting edge for the times. John, Paul and George also adopted this tough guy look, originally inspired by Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” (1952) and today more associated with gay culture than anything else. But back then, they were all trying to look tough and the only one who could pull it off well was John. The worst attempt at the teddy boy look was Paul, whose baby face betrayed his real “tea and crumpets” demeanor.

“We did have some arguments, me and Stu, but actually I just wanted us to be a really cracking band, and Stu – being a cracking artist – held us back a little bit, not too much. If ever it came to the push, when there was someone in there watching us I’d feel, ‘Oh, I hope Stu doesn’t blow it.’ I could trust the rest of us; that was it. Stuart would tend to turn away a little so as not to be too obvious about what key he was in, in case it wasn’t our key.” – Paul McCartney

As they struggled to find the right name, their lack of a drummer was a bigger problem, because it prevented them from getting good gigs like the upcoming Eddie Cochran concert at the Liverpool Stadium. But Cochran had to replaced at the last minute with Gene Vincent after being killed in a car accident on April 17, 1960. Vincent was also a passenger in that car but he had survived.


Rory Storm and the Hurricanes with drummer Ringo Starr

That show in Liverpool Stadium was promoted by Larry Parnes and Alan Williams. Parnes at the time was manager for a not very popular pop star called Johnny Gentle, who recorded two singles and an EP (Extended Play, consisting of only four songs) that didn’t go anywhere. The acts for that night besides Vincent were Gerry & The Pacemakers, and local Liverpool acts Cass & the Cassanovas and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Parnes and Williams met the still embryonic rock n roll group when they were auditioning local bands for the show. In the end, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes got the gig. Next to these scruffy beginners with the funny name, RS&H were a much more polished band, and it was particularly distinguished in having a rock steady drummer holding the beat.

“It was held in the stadium where Pete best’s dad, Johnny, used to promote boxing. Ringo was in that show with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. We weren’t big enough to play, we didn’t even have a drummer, and I remember thinking how we’d got to get our band together because the Hurricanes all had suits and dance steps; a proper routine. It was semi-professional. It looked impressive from where we were sitting.” – George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology

As Stu and John busied themselves painting the walls of their flat yellow and black, they spent their evenings trying to find a good name for the band. They followed a trail of past band names and used Buddy Holly’s Crickets as a starting point. They liked the name of Holly’s group because the word ‘cricket’ had two meanings. Besides the chirpy insects, the name also had a musical connotation. It was Stu who suggested another insect: the beetle. John liked that (ironically enough, Buddy Holly had also considered ‘beetles’ as a possible name for his band before he ultimately decided on the Crickets).

But even at that point, they still weren’t sure of any name so they continued to try new ones on for size. When they appeared on Carroll Levis’ “TV Star Search”, a popular talent show in Britain, they billed themselves as Johnny & The Moondogs.

“The Spring of 1960, John and I went down to a pub in Reading… At the end of the week, we played at the pub as the Nerk Twins.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

One Saturday night, on April 23, 1960, John and Paul traveled to Reading, Berkshire and played live as a duo the only time in their lives. They called themselves The Nerk Twins on the spot, apparently not having given it much thought. The audience in the pub that drunken first night consisted of a grand total of three customers. They played country standards and rock ‘n’ roll songs like “Be-Bop-A-Lula” that night and reprised them the following afternoon for their lunch crowd, which didn’t have too much more clientele as the night before.

The two landed the gig because the wife of the pub’s landlord, Mike Robbins, was Paul’s cousin.

“It was the Easter school holidays and John and I had hitchhiked down from Liverpool to help out in the pub,’ Paul McCartney recalled. ‘We generally dossed around for a week and worked behind the bar. Then Mike said that me and John should play there on the Saturday night. So we made our own posters and put them up in the pub: ‘Saturday Night – Live Appearance – The Nerk Twins’. It was the smallest gig I’ve ever done. We were only playing to a roomful, a small, throbbing roomful.” Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

Although that week long ago proved uneventful then, it was actually an important lesson learned by Paul in the world of professional show business.

“My cousin (Mike Robbins) used to tread the boards – he was a bit showbizzy. He’d been an entertainments manager hosting talent contests at Butlins and he’d been on the radio. He asked us what song we were going to open with and we said Be Bop A Lula. He told us, ‘No, it’s too slow. This is a pub on a Saturday night, you need to open with something fast and instrumental. What else have you got?’ We said, ‘Well, we do The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise’ – I played the melody and John did the rhythm – so we played him that and he said, ‘Perfect, start with that, then do Be Bop A Lula.’ This was our introduction to showbiz wisdom here and I would remember his advice years later when we were organizing The Beatles’ shows.” –Paul McCartney

After John and Paul returned from the Nerk Twins’ simultaneous debut and farewell shows, they were able to land a spot in a show in a little club cellar that had been organized by musician/entrepreneur Brian Cass. In the meantime, Stu had recently suggested playing around with the word ‘beetles’ as a band name and changing it to ‘Beatals’ but it didn’t sit right with John. John came up with a different spelling that would also have a double meaning just like the Crickets; bugs with a beat.


Gambier Terrace-Liverpool, England

“One April evening in 1960, walking along Gambier Terrace, by Liverpool Cathedral John and Stuart announced, ‘Hey, we want to call the band The Beatles. We thought, ‘Hmmm… bit creepy isn’t it?” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

It was at the club Cass got them booked in where they first presented themselves as the Beatles. Cass hated the name. Since John was the founder and therefore leader of the group, Cass suggested, among other variations, Long John and the Pieces of Silver. An argument ensued.

“He said, ‘what’s your name?’ We had just thought of the Beatles so we thought we would try this out at the audition. Cass said, ‘Beatles? What’s that? It doesn’t mean anything.’ Everyone hated the name, fans and promoters alike. He asked John’s name. John, who was pretty much at that time the lead singer, said ‘John Lennon’. ‘Right, Big John… Long John… OK, Long John Silver’. So we compromised and had Long John and the Silver Beetles. We would do anything for a job, so that’s what we became.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

The Beatles were to drop the whole ‘Long John’ stuff and decided to just call themselves the Silver Beetles. During the summer of 1960, Parnes booked the Silver Beetles on a tour through Scotland backing the artist he managed, Johnny Gentle.

“I became Paul Ramon, which I thought was suitably exotic. I remember the Scottish girls saying, ‘Is that his real name?’… Stuart became Stuart De Stael after the painter, George became Carl Harrison after Carl Perkins (our big idol, who had written ‘Blue Suede Shoes’). John was Long John… So here we were, suddenly with the first of Larry’s untempestuous acts and a tour of Scotland, when I should have been doing my GCE exams.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

By the time they came back from the tour, John had once again tinkered with the name and changed the ‘e’ in ‘beetles’ to an ‘a’. By July, they were officially calling themselves the Silver Beatles.

It was during this time that Alan Williams became the Silver Beatles’ manager. Besides promoting rock ‘n’ roll shows, Williams owned a former watch repair shop on 21 Slater Street in Liverpool. He converted the shop into a coffee bar and called it the Jacaranda, after a flowering tree, opening the place on September 1958. John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe, then students of the Liverpool Art College, and Paul McCartney of the Liverpool Institute, were frequent customers, having already met him within the local gig circuit.

John approached Williams to get him to hire them to play in his club. He took a liking to him and hired John and Stu to paint a mural for the Ladies’ room instead. After a while, Williams relented and allowed the Beatles to play in the Jac. Soon, he was finding other venues for the group to play in. The problem was that they still had no drummer, but when Williams found out about a club in Hamburg, Germany looking for a rock ‘n’ roll group, it was time to get serious and find a permanent percussionist.

 

PETE BEST AND NEIL ASPINALL


The Casbah Coffee Club – Liverpool

Pete Best’s mother Mona had a nightclub in Liverpool called the Casbah Coffee Club, located in the cellar of their own house. It was Pete who got his mother to open the club when he asked her if he could use the cellar to invite his friends over and listen to the popular music of the day. John, Paul and George lent a hand in painting the club and getting it ready for their grand opening. They played as the Quarrymen on the club’s opening night, on August 29, 1959, and several more times afterwards.

In 1960, 18 year old Neil Aspinall rented a room in Mona Best’s house. Neil had already been school friends with George Harrison and Paul McCartney for a couple of years now.


Neil Aspinall

“My first encounter with George was behind the school’s air raid shelters. This great mass of shaggy hair loomed up and an out-of-breath voice requested a quick drag of my Woodbine. It was one of the first cigarettes either of us had smoked. We spluttered our way through it bravely but gleefully. After that the three of us did lots of ridiculous things together…. By the time we were ready to take the GCE exams we added John Lennon to our ‘Mad Lad’ gang. He was doing his first term at Liverpool College of Art which overlooks the Liverpool Institute playground and we all got together in a students coffee bar at lunchtime.” –Neil Aspinall

Neil Aspinall would be connected to the Beatles for the rest of his life. He started with just driving them around to their gigs. Once the group really began to grow in fame, Neil became their road manager and personal assistant. He headed Apple Corps after the death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, practically since the Beatles founded the company in 1968.

Pete’s father had gone on an extended business trip and soon Aspinall began an affair with Pete Best’s mother, despite the fact that she was 35 years old, 17 years his senior. It was during this time that Aspinall father a child with Mona, named Vincent “Roag” Best. Vincent was born in late July, 1962. For years, it was covered up and made everyone to think Vincent was Pete’s full brother, but Neil finally confessed to being the real father months before he died, and including Roag in his will along with his other children and his wife Suzie.

Aspinall died at age 66 of lung cancer on March 24, 2008.

 

HAMBURG

“We used to shout in English to the Germans (when performing), call them Nazis and tell them to fuck off.” – Paul McCartney, Beatles Anthology

With the Hamburg dates only four days away, John made the final decision on dropping the ‘Silver’ from their name since it didn’t mean anything anyway. They contacted Pete Best and asked him if he wanted to join the group as their drummer. They barely knew him. George happened to remember seeing him with a drum kit before the Casbah ever opened, and was the one who brought his name up.

Four days after Pete Best accepted their offer, on August 17, 1960, the five Beatles, John, Paul, George, Stu and Pete, were off to Hamburg. They were a proper rock ‘n’ roll band with a proper name, but they were far from ready for the big time. With an untried drummer and a novice bass guitarist, they set off to hone their trade.

“In Hamburg we had to play for hours and hours on end. Every song lasted twenty minutes and had twenty solos in it. We’d be playing eight or ten hours a night. That’s what improved the playing. And the Germans like heavy rock, so you have to keep rocking all the time, that’s how we got stomping.” – John Lennon, The Beatles Anthology

“This was the point of our lives when we found pills, uppers. That’s the only way we could continue playing for so long.” – Ringo Starr, The Beatles Anthology


The Indra Club, Hamburg, Germany

Williams had signed the Beatles to a three and a half month contract with German club owner Bruno Koschmider, who had recently converted two strip clubs into music venues. The Beatles played in one of them, named the Indra Club, from August to October of 1960. The church across the street began to complain about the noise emanating from the Indra late at night, so Koschmider was forced to move the Beatles to his other club, the Kaiserkeller.


The Kaiserkeller, Hamburg, Germany

“The whole area was full of transvestites and prostitutes and gangsters, but I couldn’t say that they were the audience. I don’t recall there being many people at all at first. It took a little while before word of mouth built up, by which time the church across the street had made Bruno close down from all the noise we were making.” – George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology

It was at the Kaiserkeller where they shared billing with Tony Sheridan and Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, among other groups traveling in and out of the city. Richard Starkey was the Hurricanes’ drummer. George found Rich to be a little cocky, probably because the group he was in were leagues ahead of the Beatles in terms of style and popularity. They had their own suits and a well-rehearsed act. Starkey was a solid, steady drummer, much more talented than Best, with an affinity for rings on all his fingers, which earned him the nickname Ringo. Starkey shortened his last name and renamed himself Ringo Starr, a name as iconic today as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.

“I met the Beatles when we were playing in Germany. We’d seen them in Liverpool but they were a nothing little band then, just putting it together. In fact, they weren’t really a band at all.” – Ringo Starr, The Beatles Anthology

Those brief months in Hamburg taught John, Paul and George the rudiments of onstage performance. Stu was too self-conscious of his bass playing to even face the audience, turning his back to them as he struggled to find the right key. Pete in the meantime, was more aloof, keeping to himself and displaying his lack of abilities on the drums, often going off-beat. But despite these shortcomings, John, Paul and George were developing the charm that made them so popular by engaging their audience, urged by Koschmider to ‘mach shau’ (make show). They were quickly learning how to entertain, and their musical abilities were only getting better.

“There was another thing. Pete would never hang out with us. When we finished doing the gig, Pete would go off on his own and we three would hang out together, and then when Ringo was around it was like a full unit, both on and off the stage. When there were the four of us with Ringo, it felt rocking.” –George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology

Very much opposite the brainwashing given Elvis during his days in the Army from 1958 to 1960, the Beatles underwent their own boot camp in Hamburg’s red light district, learning how to not just play a song, but also how to develop an onstage act. People who happened into the club where they played were attracted by their charm and intensity, soon developing a fanbase.

“We had to actually invite the audience in, because we would be playing to a completely dark and empty club. The minute we saw someone we’d kick into ‘Dance In The Street’ and rock out, pretending we hadn’t seen them. And we’d perhaps get a few of them in.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology


Klaus Voorman and Astrid Kirscherr

One of the few the Beatles managed to get in was a young man named Klaus Voorman. Twenty- two year old Voorman had been visiting the Reeperbahn one night when he walked past the Kaiserkeller and heard a beautiful noise. Intrigued, he walked in and saw these five fellows his age having a blast onstage and playing some damn good rock ‘n’ roll. After the set, Voorman approached the Beatles and started up a conversation. Stu Sutcliffe noticed Voorman’s hair and commented that he would like to have his own hair cut that way. Voorman wore his hair in a shaggy style, a look that was just beginning to spread throughout Germany. Voorman’s girlfriend, Astrid Kirscherr, also 22 years old, cut it that way to hide the big ears he had.

“We were frothing at the mouth because we had all these hours to play and the club owners were giving us Preludins, which were slimming tablets. I don’t think they were amphetamine, but they were uppers. So we used to be up there, foaming, stomping away.” – George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology

Hair has always been an important symbol in rock ‘n’ roll lore. It symbolized rebellion, starting with the greased back pompadours of the Fifties. In 1964, when the Beatles first played in America, their hair was one of the most visible difference that set them apart from every other musical group and artist in the world. By the end of the Sixties, as the Beatles’ hair grew longer, the entire Western world followed suit and even today in 2015, anyone wearing long hair can thank the style, in proper order, to Astrid Kirscherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, George, John, Paul and Ringo.

“The things we used to do! We used to break the stage down – that was long before the Who came out and broke things, we used to leave guitars playing on stage with no people there. We’d be so drunk, we used to smash the machinery, And this was all through frustration, not as an intellectual thought. We will break the stage, we will wear a toilet seat round our neck, we will go on naked. We just did it through being drunk.” – John Lennon, The Beatles Anthology

Voorman soon urged Astrid to join him to meet the Beatles. She was hesitant at first, since they played in the red light district of the city, but ultimately, she gave in and went. The second she first laid eyes on the five young musicians, she too caught the bug.

“When I went down the stairs and looked at the stage I was amazed at how beautiful these boys looked. Being a photographer then, it was a photographer’s dream. In fact, it was my dream because I… would like to take pictures of young boys who looked like them. And then when I heard the music it was even more fantastic for me so… I went nearly every night to see them. And that’s how it started.” – Astrid Kirscherr

During October and November of 1960, Astrid Kirscherr took the now famous photographs of the early Beatles in and around Hamburg. Pete Best isn’t in all of them because he didn’t attend all the sessions, proving again how uninterested he was to form any kind of a bond with the rest of his band mates or the group he was in.

“One of those days we were doing stuff and some slightly strange-looking people arrived, who didn’t look like anyone else. Immediately we felt, ‘Wey-hey… kindred spirits… something’s going on here.’ They came in and sat down and they were Astrid, Jorgen and Klaus …and we could see they had something different. And we were also what they were looking for.“ – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

Soon, Rich Starkey would come in after his set with Rory Storm and watched the Beatles play, yelling out encores for ballads. The Beatles were a little wary of Ringo at first. He had a beard, which made him look much more adult than they did, despite the fact that he was 20, just like John. Also, the fact that he was in a more polished band and drank bourbon and sevens instead of beer like they did, made them feel like they were way out of Ringo’s league.

“One night our drummer then, Pete Best, wasn’t available, so Ringo sat in. And I remember the moment. I mean, Pete was great, and we had a good time with him. But me, John and George, God bless ’em, were on the front line singing, and now behind us we had this guy we’d never played with before, and I remember the moment when he started to play – I think it was Ray Charles, “What’d I Say,” and most of the drummers couldn’t nail the drum part, it’s a little bit [sings a bit of it]. It was a little difficult to do, but Ringo nailed it. Yeah — Ringo nailed it! And I remember the moment, standing there and looking at John and then looking at George, and the look on our faces was like, fuck you. What is this? And that was the moment, that was the beginning, really, of the Beatles.” Paul McCartney – part of his speech inducting Ringo Starr into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame; April 18, 2015

Although they were being paid a whopping £15 a week, their lodgings were less than comfortable. They were being driven in a cramped van by Alan Williams to Hamburg where they had to sit on their amps the whole way. When they arrived in the German city, it was so early in the morning that by then all the clubs had closed. They had to hunt down the guy with the key to the club so they could get some sleep, which they did in the club’s alcoves with red leather seats bunched together for beds. The following night, while Koschmider made sleeping arrangements for them, they slept in his house, all in one bed.

“We were living in a toilet, like right next to the ladies’ toilet. We would go to bed late and be woken up the next day by the sound of the cinema show. We tried to get into the ladies’ first, which was the cleanest of the cinema’s lavatories, but fat old German women would push past us.” – John Lennon, The Beatles Anthology

Their stint with Koschmider became even more brief than the contract they signed. Contrary to the agreement’s stipulation, the Beatles played at the Top Ten Club, a rival establishment, while still under contract. To get back at them for playing there, Koschmider informed the authorities that George was underage (he was only months away from 18) and was served deportation papers to return back to Liverpool by November 30, 1960. Paul and John were the next to go after Koschmider discovered a burned a condom on the wall of the room they slept in, leaving a round, black plastic latex seared into it . The Beatles would not be able to return to Hamburg again until after George turned eighteen on February 25, 1961. Stu however, decided to stay in Hamburg. Since Astrid Kirscherr first walked into the Kaiserkeller with her boyfriend Klaus and laid her eyes on Stu, they had both soon fallen in love.

“When I saw (Stu) for the first time, I knew that was my man. He was and still is the love of my life even though he’s gone for such a long time, but I never ever, and I was married a couple of times, met another man who was so fascinating, so beautiful and so soft and well-mannered, you name it and that he was. And such a gifted artist.” – Astrid Kirscherr

By November Stu and Astrid were engaged and Stu was looking into attending the Hamburg College of Art. His days as a Beatle were numbered, by his own choosing. When Stu joined them on one of his last gigs with the band, he sported the same haircut Klaus Voorman had been wearing when he first met them. John, staring at a Beatle haircut without having realized it yet, collapsed laughing. Paul didn’t think much of it either. Pete Best’s hair was curly so it would not have been possible for him to have his hair cut that way. The only other person who liked Stu’s cut was George.

“We finished at the Kaiserkeller last week. The police intervened because we had no work permits. Paul and Peter [Best] the drummer were deported yesterday and sent in handcuffs to the airport. I was innocent this time, accused of arson – that is, setting fire to the Kino where we sleep. I arrive at the club and am informed that the whole of the Hamburg police are looking for me. The rest of the band are already locked up, so smiling and on the arm of Astrid, I proceed to give myself up. At this time, I’m, not aware of the charges. All of my belongings, including spectacles, are taken away and I’m led to a cell, where, without food or drink I sat for six hours on a very wooden bench, and the door shut very tight. I signed a confession in Deutsch that I knew nothing about a fire, and they let me go. The next day Paul and Pete were deported and sent home by plane, John and I were without money and job. The police had forbidden us to work as already we were liable to deportation for working three months in the country illegally. The next day John went home. I stay till January at Astrid’s house. At the moment she’s washing all my muck and filth collected over the last few months. God I love her so much.”- Stuart Sutcliffe

It wouldn’t be the last time the Beatles were to perform in Hamburg. In December of 1960, they negotiated a contract with Bruno Koschmider’s rival, the Top Ten Club to return and play on a regular basis starting April of 1961.

 

THE FOLK MOVEMENT

By 1960, folk music was enjoying a revival with the unprecedented success of three folk singers who called themselves The Kingston Trio. Their tight musicianship and soaring harmonies made them the most popular folk group of the time, launching the revival of the genre with young artists just coming of age.

The first folk artist to emerge from the Sixties folk revival that The Kingston Trio launched was a nineteen year old girl from Staten Island, New York named Joan Chandos Báez. Born to a Mexican father and an American mother, Joan Baez was fluent in both English and Spanish. Her grandfather, the Reverend Alberto Baez, was a minister who moved to Brooklyn from Mexico when Joan’s father, Albert, was only two.

After making her professional debut at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, Baez released her eponymous debut album, Joan Baez, in November 1960. Baez wasn’t a songwriter as much as she was an interpreter of traditional folk songs. Her next three albums released each subsequent year all went gold. During the mid-Sixties she would release covers of songs that had already been recent hits from the Beatles, Paul Simon and Donovan. She never had a single on the charts during this era however, not ever making it to the Top Ten until 1971 with the Number Three “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down”.

Joan Baez inspired many future legendary female folk and pop artists such as Judy Collins, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell. But Joan Baez’ largest contribution, not just to folk but to rock ‘n’ roll music in particular, was the discovery of a young man by the name of Robert Zimmerman. He later took the last name of one of his favorite poets, Dylan Thomas, and called himself Bob Dylan.

 

THE KINGSTON TRIO

Bob Shane, Nick Reynolds and Dave Guard were discovered performing at the Hungry I in San Francisco, California in 1957. Shane and Guard had been friends since junior high school in Honolulu, Hawaii. When they both found themselves in California during their college years, Shane met Nick Reynolds who held the same fascination for folk music and guitar as the other two did.

After their debut eponymous album release, The Kingston Trio (1958), one particular track made airplay among the DJs around the country. “Tom Dooley” went to Number One that summer. This led to their sudden incredible popularity where they would chart in Billboard’s Top Ten Pop Album chart for the next few years through 1963, reaching the top three positions ten times with seventeen releases.

The Trio’s success coincided with the advent of the stereophonic 33 1/3 rpm LP vinyl record, which allowed more space for music. By 1960, 78 rpm records ceased being made, in favor of the 33 1/3 speed and the 45 rpm vinyl single with only one track per side. It was the first year of a decade that was still trying to get its footing as to its direction, and the Kingston Trio was the most popular musical artists of the year.

The Trio’s innate precision, speedy guitar playing and pitch perfect harmonies were what made them popular but, like Baez, they were not known for their songwriting abilities, a talent that few artists of the day had. It would be the Beatles four years later who would set the trend of artists writing their own music.

Rock music would not develop out of rock ‘n’ roll for another seven years. 1960 still felt like part of the Fifties, yet despite the Kingston Trio’s lack of songwriting mettle, they can be credited with being the spark that ignited a the most influential folk revival of the 20th century.

On July 25, 1965, folk would meld with rock on the first night Bob Dylan walked onstage at the Newport Folk Festival carrying an electric guitar, shocking the traditional folk crowd with the audacity of such a thing. Five days earlier, Dylan released “Like A Rolling Stone” as a single, regarded among the top five greatest songs of the 20th century.

The Kingston Trio started to show strain by early 1961. David Guard left the group that April due to financial differences as well as a growing resentment of Guard’s penchant for adding his name as songwriter to many of the traditional folk songs they sang, including their biggest hits “Tom Dooley” and Scotch and Soda”. Guard was successfully sued by the original writers of “Tom Dooley”. By April 1961, Dave Guard had left the Kingston Trio.

There was life after Guard for a few more years for the group however as they added a new member. They chose 21 year-old singer John Stewart from the crop of groups popping up imitating their sound. Their success showed no sign of waning as six of their subsequent albums with Stewart, from 1961 to 1963, went into Billboard’s Top Album chart.

Stewart’s continued contribution to the Kingston Trio include the song “New Frontier” which was also the name of the album it was in, released in November 1962. The song perfectly encapsulates the optimism that generation had for John F. Kennedy being President of the United States.

“Let the word go forth from this day on, a new generation has been born, born to the task to keep us free but proud of the rights of the home country, this is the new frontier, this is the new frontier.” New Frontier – The Kingston Trio

One year after the release of this song and President Kennedy would be assassinated. The young folk market’s dreams of a new frontier were dashed. As a result, sales of acoustic guitar music dropped significantly and Capitol Records, who also, coincidentally carried the Beatles, let the Kingston Trio’s seven-year contract lapse.

All the members of the Kingston Trio went their own way in 1967 after their farewell performance at the Hungry I. , John Stewart managed writing several hits for other artists throughout the year, including “Daydream Believer”, a Number One Hit for the Monkees in December 1967.

As the decades wore on, the Kingston Trio reunited for different tours and concerts in various forms, sometimes adding a different singer to replace a member who couldn’t perform. As of 2015, only Bob Shane is still alive.

 

JOAN BAEZ

“I couldn’t stop looking at her, didn’t want to blink… the sight of her made me sigh. All that and then there was the voice. A voice that drove out bad spirits. .. she sang in a voice straight to God… Nothing she did didn’t work.” – Bob Dylan in his autobiography Chronicles Vol. 1

Joan Baez picked up the ukulele as a child and learned four chords after much practice. This was enough to play rhythm and blues, the music she was listening to despite her parents’ concern over the effects of listening to such music. She attended a Pete Seeger concert at age 13 and was moved by his music. Soon he learned Seeger’s repertoire and began to perform publicly. Her father moved them to Massachusetts when he accepted a faculty position at MIT. Joan immersed herself in the Boston folk music scene. She gave her first formal concert in 1958 when she was 17 at Club 47 in Harvard Square, Cambridge with a total of eight people in attendance, mostly family and the rest, friends.

Having met the most influential musicians in the Boston folk scene, Joan was invited to the 1959 Newport Folk Festival by then prominent folk singer Bob Gibson where he introduced her onstage to the world for the first time. Coming out barefoot, long black hair flowing with guitar in hand, she sang. An 18 year old girl took the torch from the Kingston Trio and held onto it until she met the person she would transfer the torch on to next when she first heard Bob Dylan play.

Christened the Barefoot Madonna, Joan Baez was signed to Vanguard Records as a result of her performance at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. Her debut eponymous album “Joan Baez”, produced by Fred Hellerman, of the landmark Forties folk group the Weavers ,was released in November 1960. It was just Baez’ amazingly strong yet angelic tenor and her guitar, accompanied only occasionally with a second guitar played by Hellerman. It was spare and no hit singles were in sight, yet it managed to go gold. It wouldn’t crack the Billboard Top 200 Albums charts however until two years later in 1962, but when it did, it peaked at Number 15 and spent two and a half years on the charts.

“…It took four days. We recorded it in the ballroom of some hotel in New York, way up by the river. We could use the room every day except Tuesday, because they played Bingo there on Tuesdays. It was just me on this filthy rug. There were two microphones, one for the voice and one for the guitar. I just did my set. It was probably all I knew how to do at that point. I did ‘Mary Hamilton’ once and that was it…That’s the way we made ’em in the old days. As long as a dog didn’t run through the room or something, you had it…” – Joan Baez

“Joan Baez” consisted of 13 traditional folk songs, including one sung in Joan’s native Spanish language and revealing the traditional origins of her high vocal range reminiscent of the old traditional mariachi songs of Mexican yore.

Her next three albums, “Joan Baez Vol. 2” (1961), Joan Baez in Concert Part 1 (1962) and Joan Baez in Concert Part 2” (1963) also went all gold. On November 23, 1962, Joan Baez appeared on the cover of TIME magazine as a symbol of the burgeoning young folk music movement.

Baez’ career shifted to a more classical sound and away from the acoustic guitar in the mid to late Sixties and experimented with different styles throughout the rest of this and the next decade.

DIAMONDS AND RUST – JOAN BAEZ

In 1975, Baez chose to record more pop oriented music and released her album “Diamonds & Rust” which contained her own songwriting for the first time in her career, including the title song, Many believe “Diamonds and Rust” is about her relationship with Bob Dylan.

“You burst on the scene already a legend, the unwashed phenomenon, the original vagabond, you strayed into my arms… and there you stayed, temporarily lost at sea, the Madonna was yours for free, yes the girl on the half-shell would keep you unharmed…” Diamonds and Rust, Joan Baez

It became her second Top Ten single since “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” four years earlier in 1971. The album went on to become her biggest seller.

Her career veered into humanitarian services during the Eighties, beginning with her receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Rutgers University in 1980. Besides dating Steve Jobs who was twenty years her junior, she appeared in the Live Aid concert in 1985 where most of the major artists of the time threw a simultaneous concert in London and New York to help the needy in Africa. In 1989, she played in Czechoslovakia where she met with future Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel. Later that day, as Baez and Havel walked together, she saved him from being arrested by handing him her guitar and letting him blend in to her entourage. Later that night, at one point during her performance, her microphone was shut off after she publicly acknowledged a dissident human rights group onstage. Despite the silent sound system, Baez continued to sing a cappella to a stadium filled with four thousand strong.

Baez has remained active up until today. She has performed all over the world, including a surprise appearance in Czechoslovakia in 2006. Ex-President Havel was in attendance and unaware of her presence until she walked onstage.

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