Ex-Apple Records Boss Ken Mansfield's New Memoir Chock-Full of Beatles Lore
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
"Mama Cass walks in and she pulls out this joint which was the size of a knockwurst..."
Not too many people can begin a sentence like that, but Ken Mansfield can, and there's tons more where that came from.
Such as the time Mansfield sat on his couch and and watched George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Donovan jam out on acoustic guitars; the time John Lennon dropped a pile of nude photographs of himself and Yoko Ono on Mansfield's lap, and menacingly asked what he thought; the time Mansfield and Paul McCartney batted around potential lyrics for two little works in progress, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Back in the U.S.S.R."
And that's not to mention the impromptu tea-time concert, staged in a London ballroom for a handful of employees of The Beatles' company, Apple, during which each Beatle played an instrument other than his own; the more famous "rooftop" concert, The Beatles' last live performance, which Mansfield also attended; the time with Ringo and Dolly Parton; the time with Ringo and Elvis; the time with Phil Spector and Andy Williams; the time ... the time ...
Grand times, they were, and they all come flooding back in Mansfield's new memoir, "The White Book" (Thomas Nelson, 2007), which recounts the Idaho native's up-and-down, three-decade show business career, including his pivotal two-year stint, from 1968 to 1970, as the head of Apple Records in America.
The book also recalls his later work, as both executive and producer, with a broad spectrum of artists ranging from Roy Orbison to Waylon Jennings.
“When I left The Beatles, you couldn't get me in a conversation about them,” Mansfield said in a two-hour telephone interview from his home in the Sierra Nevada foothills, near Lake Tahoe.
Honoring an informal “pact” he made with other Apple employees, and disgusted by some of the more salacious books published about the greatest band in history — especially 1983’s "The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of the Beatles," co-authored by Apple executive Peter Brown — Mansfield maintained his silence until 2000.
That year, with the blessing of the surviving Beatles and Ono, he published "The Beatles, The Bible, and Bodega Bay: My Long and Winding Road," a memoir of his journey from sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll to devout Christianity.
"The White Book," also sanctioned (though not censored) by McCartney, Starr and Ono, focuses more directly on Mansfield’s work for — and friendship with — The Beatles, both individually and collectively, and the other music legends he helped manage and produce.
“I got into writing not only about them but about the era we were in,” Mansfield said. “There's only about a handful of us that were actually there that have written about The Beatles, that were actually in the rooms and actually part of the whole craziness.”
Of particular fascination to Mansfield is what he called the “cross-pollination” between the British rock world and that of American country music, which Mansfield helped revolutionize in the mid-1970s with his L.A.-style production of “Outlaw” artists like Jennings and Willie Nelson, performers who had previously recorded in the more staid setting of Nashville.
“Ringo threw a party for Waylon because he was a country fan,” Mansfield recalled. “And this may seem like little stuff, but it's how we were during this era, and what we were like … There were these cross-relationships with people like Roy Orbison and Dolly Parton and the group of people that we started melding in together.”
With its all-white jacket, individually-numbered covers and many previously unpublished snapshots of The Beatles, "The White Book" is designed to resemble the landmark 1968 album, “The Beatles,” which also featured individually numbered, all-white covers and photo collages in its original printing run and was swiftly dubbed "The White Album."
Yet Mansfield’s "White Book" is hardly antiseptic. In addition to recounting the author’s descent into hard drugs and increasingly desperado behavior in the freewheeling '70s — “We made the rock and rollers look like choir boys when it came to partying,” he recalled, in the telephone interview, of his years with the Outlaw crowd — Mansfield also described the nose-dive his career took when the hits dried up.
At one point in the mid-1980s, he was forced to accept work as a stagehand at a summer amphitheater, where some of the same acts Mansfield had overseen as a top-level executive two decades earlier were stunned to see him hauling their equipment on and off stage.
“As time went on,” Mansfield recalled, “you had to fight not only being defined as ‘the Beatles guy,’ but you also had to deal with the fact that you were no longer there, and you couldn't live on that.”
Both casual and obsessive Beatles fans will find much of interest in Mansfield’s recollections about the band, and about the period after its 1970 break-up, when John, Paul, George and Ringo famously flew “solo.” Among the highlights, insights and mini-revelations are Mansfield’s accounts of:
· George Harrison’s heretofore undisclosed role in re-mastering the American version of "The White Album";
· Paul McCartney’s private explanation of why even the songs he and John Lennon wrote separately were attributed to “Lennon-McCartney”;
· The contentious “Get Back” recording sessions of January 1969, which Mansfield attended with his longtime friend, keyboardist Billy Preston;
· George’s rental of a studio in 1971 to re-record errant guitar and vocal parts for his live album “The Concert for Bangladesh”; and
· Ringo’s legendary New Year’s Eve bashes in the mid-1970s, affairs of both high revelry and surprisingly sober adherence to English tradition.
As with the Fab Four, to observe photographs of Mansfield taken over the course of the '60s and '70s is to chart a vividly discernible personal evolution in lifestyle, clothing style and hairstyle.
The pragmatic and punctual youth who sang with a clean-cut folk group patterned after The Lettermen and who abandoned his computer data job to promote West Coast bands like The Beach Boys for Capitol Records evolved first into a long-haired, inter-continental hippie capitalist, then into a bearded, tank-topped Kris Kristofferson-lookalike, a bona fide country-and-Western Outlaw.
Now in his 60s and active in Christian ministry work, Mansfield sports a white goatee but long ago left behind the glamour, excitement and excess of the entertainment industry.
He is planning his third book, a travelogue, and taking life at a slower pace than he did in the frenetic Beatles era, when he routinely caught red-eye flights to London to fulfill the one duty with which his business-suited bosses at Capitol Records constantly tasked him: “Keep it together with The Beatles!”
“I'll be honest with you,” he said in the interview with FOX News. “I thought someday that The Beatles would be like every other band I worked with. You know, it'd be over and then one day they would be considered old hat, and they would just go by the way of all the other bands. I didn't really expect this thing to be so phenomenal, for the story to carry on like it did.”