Donovan was a no show because of the death of a friend. But Martin Lewis’s Beatles panel at the 92nd St. Y on Thursday night kicked off Beatles weekend with a bang. Peter Asher, Billy J. Kramer, Freda Kelly, and Vince Calandra of the Ed Sullivan Show more than made up for Donovan’s absence.
They were/are, respectively, a famous 60s singer, producer, and the man who ran Apple Records (Asher); a Liverpool pop star and pal of the group (Kramer); the secretary for the Beatles fan club for 10 years (Kelly); and the guy who commanded the Sullivan show when the group played there.
On Saturday, the erudite Asher performed the first half of his one man (with a band) show recounting his life at BeatleFest at the Grand Hyatt to his largest audience ever. Part one tells the story of Peter & Gordon, Paul McCartney living in the Asher home, and Peter inadvertently introducing John to Yoko.
Denny Laine, of Moody Blues and Wings fame, stopped by to sing “Go Now” with Asher’s crack band.
Part two is all about Apple Records, Badfinger, how Asher discovered James Taylor, and went on to produce classic albums by Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. It starts at 1:30pm Sunday in the main ballroom.
Later today (Sunday) there’s a CBS panel at the Ed Sullivan Theater featuring Pattie Boyd, the first Mrs. George Harrison, and the woman for whom “Layla” was written by Eric Clapton.
At the Lewis panel, there was much chuckling about how Liverpool became a mythic place in Beatle lore. But Kramer and Kelly reassured everyone it was not a hip place. Asher agreed that no one wanted to go there. The goal was to leave and get to London.
“Love Me Do came out in 62, and Please Please Me in 63, and that was the start of Beatlemania for me,” Kelly offered. Billy J Kramer’s career took off then too. He said, “I had a hit with ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’ before the Beatles did. It was tied to the Profumo scandal.”
Another guest chimed in. Vince Calandra, talent executive for Ed Sullivan. He’s 79 now and has a sharp memory: “We really heard about the Beatles in March of 1963 when they had Please Please Me. We had an agent in London named Peter Prichard. He, Bob Precht, Ed Sullivan, Sid Bernstein. Those were the people responsible for the Beatles coming to America.
“Our talent person went to see them in London twice and turned them down. It wasn’t like they were bad. We had to convince everyone they were better than American groups like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Sullivan would see clips on CBS and NBC of them on the Val Parnell show. They did the Royal Command Performance. Sullivan saw that and got excited.”
“For some reason, Capitol Records wouldn’t release any of their records. When Brian Epstein came to New York [the label didn’t know who he was in New York]. Brian did have a meeting with Sullivan. He wanted two shots, and top billing. We never did that. My boss was never aware of the meeting. Brian and Sullivan had lunch at the Delmonico and ironed at the deal. Three shots, $3500 apiece. That’s all we gave them.”
Calandra, by the way, gives credit to a 15 year old girl in Maryland named Marsha Albert who got WWDC to play “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” She’d be 67 or so now. Marsha, this is all your fault. You can read more about that at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/martin-lewis/tweet-the-beatles-how-wal_b_239202.html
Calandra’s last thoughts: “They were so polite, you wanted them to succeed. After the Rolling Stones and the Doors, I could tell you stories…”
PS Everyone agreed that Dusty Springfield was their favorite female singer.
You can see more of Vince in this video.