Transcript: Interview With Ken Mansfield
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Interview with Ken Mansfield by James Rosen via telephone, Washington, D.C., to Murphys, Calif., Dec. 4-5, 2007.
JAMES ROSEN: I very much enjoying your new book, "The White Book," for which I thought a fun alternative title might have been "Keep It Together!"
KEN MANSFIELD: [Laughter]
Because that was the instruction you so often heard from your —
Oh, yes, yes!
— from your superiors at Capitol Records. Why don't we begin just by having you tell me and our readers how you came to be associated with The Beatles.
Well, I was the district promotion manager for Capitol Records in the sixties, which meant I was responsible for all artist relations and record promotion in the West Coast [area]. So when a band would come through my area, I worked with the bands: took them to their press conferences and you know, hung out if they were doing a club date or a concert or whatever. And so when The Beatles came through, Capitol was a very formatted company and it was like, "Okay: Beatles, on tour, band, Mansfield, West Coast, that's his job." You know, nobody took it away from me because I wasn't a top executive. And because I was in my twenties and starting to become, you know, bordering on hip myself, we just hit it off. There was not only the fact that it was an era that we were in together, but we were the same ages, and you know, I was a "happening young executive" and they were fascinated with California and — it was just a thing that clicked. And so that began the seeds of our eventual relationship where they brought me actually into the organization and had me run their company for them in America.
That would be Apple [Corps, Ltd.].
That would be Apple, right.
And when did you leave Apple?
I left Apple just at the beginning of 1970. The handwriting was on the wall at that time. I had great loyalties to Ron Kass, who was the president of Apple, and — because it was Ron Kass and Paul McCartney that actually brought me aboard to run it in America. And when [Allen] Klein came in and Kass was forced out, an interesting thing happened. MGM at the time, their recording division, their record division, was in deep trouble and they hired Ron Kass, who was the president of Apple; myself, who was running the label in America; and Peter Asher, of Peter and Gordon, and James Taylor and Carole King and all this fame, who was the head of A&R; and a fellow named Michael Conner, who was the head of their publishing — and they virtually just picked up the top of the Apple organization and put it on top of the MGM organization to try and give it prestige and get it back up and running. They had great artists — Eric Burdon and people like that — so it wasn't like it was a schlock label.
[...] The structure of your book is interesting in that it seems to be organized around individual, discrete events or memories. And I wonder if you could tell me about the process by which you brought all of it back to mind. It seemed like, to me, that it must have been the product of some very focused thinking, about trying to remember everything you could about these individual events or moments.
I think the key to what you said is everything I could, because I know there were things that I couldn't remember. But it was — it started out basically as an exercise in recalling the time with The Beatles. and then as I got into this —
And were you writing it down as you went along, type thing?
Well, yeah. It actually became an exercise at first to recall this time and to put it down. But what happened is it evolved into something more personal. And I realized, "Well, wait a minute." You know, there were these cross-relationships with people like Roy Orbison and Dolly Parton and the group of people that we started melding in together. Because when The Beatles were coming over here and working with me, then in time I was working with other artists, other "name" artists, and they were fans of each others'. So this started the cross-pollination, you might say, between the cultures, where Ringo would have — want me to get him together with Buck Owens and then, you know, Roy [Orbison] would hang out with us. Or I was producing Waylon Jennings at the time, so Ringo threw a party for Waylon because he was a country fan. And this is all — may seem like little stuff, but it's how we were during this era, and what we were like and the things we did, the simple things we did — but also the heart of what we were doing. We were beyond all these — the big things and all the scandals and the things you hear about and this. You know, we were the guys that got up and went down and bought jeans, you know, and went on the road and did things together.
So it began as an exercise.
Yes it did.
And how did the project transform, or did it?
Well, it transformed, I think — in a bit of what I was saying, it transformed from maybe reporting on events and people to where it really started taking a look and reporting on what we were doing and the time we were in and how things were changing.
Trying to evoke an atmosphere, in other words.
Exactly. And also, you know, it came out of the heart of The Beatles' era. You know, I was with them from the very beginning, as far as like when the fame was just, you know, out of control, to where it started unraveling, and to where then maybe George Harrison and Patti and my wife, you know, we were friends and we just hung out together, and then Ringo and I, and you know, I went through all [these] things with his life, where we became friends and evolved into another era of our lives. So it shows all these things. I think it really — I think it fills in the gaps of all the other books that tell a lot of history and data and things like that. This talks more about what they were, on a real level.
[...] Richard Lester, who as you know directed A Hard Day's Night, and Help! and How I Won the War, was quoted in an oral history of The Beatles that was published about a decade ago [The Beatles: An Oral History, (Hyperion, 1998) by David Pritchard and Alan Lysaght] — and I'm paraphrasing now — with words to the effect that he knew when he stopped working with The Beatles that the sort of zenith of his career, and more than just his career, but in a sense of his life, had passed. And that there was a certain psychological adjustment [he] needed to get over, that kind of sense of disappointment that "You are not a Beatle, no matter what proximity you enjoyed to them," and that once you finished — stopped working with them, that everything else in life to some degree or another was going to feel subpar, somehow.
Was that something that you experienced and can you talk about it?
Well, you know, I did, and interestingly enough I didn't realize it at first, and it's almost like the further you get away from it, the more you become defined by that. And it was such a pinnacle. I mean, for me, you know, being on the roof [of Apple headquarters in London, for The Beatles' final concert, on January 23, 1969, memorialized in the film "Let It Be"] with The Beatles — and in time, I think that will prove out to be one of the most historical moments in rock and roll — and to have been there, to have been part of the inside of the most phenomenal thing in the world, everything after that had to be, you know, almost second-best. And as time went on, 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; you had to keep going ahead. And it's almost like more pressure to maintain, you know, this high status in your own industry. Fortunately for me, because I evolved out into the "Outlaw" movement, and was the producer of Waylon [Jennings], Willie [Nelson] and the Boys, which was an American phenomenon, and the difference for me on that was that The Beatles and the Beach Boys and other people I'd worked with in the past — these people were famous when I came aboard, but with the "Outlaw" thing, with Waylon and these guys, I was [there] in the beginning and helped create, you know, that whole movement. So I think that softened the blow for me. I've never heard what you said — I mean, I never read what Richard said, but he absolutely nailed it as something you did walk away with from that experience.
Even in regard to things that should be the pinnacle of a person's life, such as the birth of a child or other sort of personal milestones, kind of took on a — were unfairly juxtaposed next to this incredible experience. That's what I think he was getting at.
Yeah, yeah. But also, in the business, you know, he walked out with a calling card, the fact that he had on his resume The Beatles. But at the same time, the suspicion always is, "Well, you know, you don't fire The Beatles, they probably fired you; or why would you leave?" So the question I would get all the time [was], "Well, why did you leave?" And it's really hard for people to understand. And I'll be honest with you: As great as it all was, you know, I'd worked with a lot of people, and 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, you know, go by the way of all the other bands. So I didn't really expect this thing to be so phenomenal, for the story to carry on like it did.
Do you possess any recordings that are rare, or that are unreleased in some way?
No, the only thing I did have is — a day when I was over in the building one day at Apple, somebody handed me this thing John had done, I think for a charity, and said, "This is a — you're about the only person that really has a copy. Just thought we'd give it to you so you'd feel good." It was his recording of "Across the Universe."...And so I carried this thing around, and I'd play it for — "Hey, you know, hey, I've got this thing that nobody else has got, 'Across the Universe.'" But no, I didn't keep things in those days. I could have had all kinds of things if I'd had really wanted to.
You kept a certain number of things!
I kept some things, but you know what's funny about me? I'm not a collector, never have been. And these are things that just didn't get thrown away, or lost [laughs] along the way.
You describe in the book having been present for some of the — aside from the rooftop concert —
— having been present at one of the "Let It Be" recording sessions —
— otherwise known as the "Get Back" sessions.
Do you have — but you don't talk in the book about what you heard, aside from your awe at being present for it. Do you have any recollection of what material they worked on that day?
You know, I can't remember what songs, because everything was pretty scattered, and they jumped about from things to things, and then they would be sometimes in the phase when they were really working more on maybe lyrics and structure of a song, and other times when they were really working on the track or on the guitar solo. So it was pretty scattered. But the amazing thing about that was, and what was so special for me: When I was starting at Capitol, I worked with another young kid that was starting, and his name was Billy Preston. And so Billy and I were these two really wide-eyed kids getting, you know, making our bones, and here we are, we're sitting in this room with the four Beatles, Billy's sitting there with the keyboard, and I'm just sitting, leaning against the wall, and I remember once we just looked over at each other and went, like: "What??" [laughs] You know, "Look where we are!" you know? And they would just jam on things, and we would go, "Wow, listen to that." But the thing I realized was just how good a band they were. I mean, they were a great rock and roll band. And years later, when I represented Ringo on a solo album and we sat down for dinner to kind of, to go over the concept of the album, and he said: "I want to work from a basis on this album." He said, "The reason The Beatles made it is because we were a good band." So he said, "I want to put together a good band for this album."
Where along the timeline would this have been?
Oh, this was in the early nineties. This was his "Time Takes Time" album.
Okay. The good news about the so-called irretrievability of time where The Beatles are concerned is that because they have attracted an almost Talmudic scholarly following, almost every moment of their lives is accounted for. And were you able somehow to pinpoint the date that you were there for that recording session, since so much of the "Get Back" sessions have proliferated in bootleg form, I think it would probably be an easy matter to get you the actual CD of that session.
Wow. I would — you know, my guess is, and — because I have a problem remembering the sequence of things — but my guess would be it would be, like, a day or two prior —
To the rooftop.
— to the rooftop. Because they were, you know, really trying to get things done. We needed the footage for the rooftop. And I think that was probably the reason I was over there, where we were just trying to get a lot of things together. So I would imagine most of my "Let It Be" memories are right — centered right around that exact date.
That — what you just said suggests that the rooftop was not quite so spontaneous an event.
Well, it was, it was in this respect: the fact that there was a schedule for the film, and one of the things that was needed for the film was live footage of them performing together. And I think I mention this in the book, about [how] we tried to book them into a club in Germany under the name of "Ricky and the Red Streaks," this hot new band from England. And then, so you know, the big promo on the hot new band from England, and then when the people got inside this small club, the doors would be locked and The Beatles would walk out, and then [we'd] film the footage, and everyone would be thrilled that they were there. And we just couldn't keep the secret long enough, because word would get out and pretty soon, you know, everybody was lining up a week early. So then we had an idea about trying to do a free concert out in one of the deserts and just let all the kids of America, or the world, come free, and that was just absolutely impossible. So my understanding of that was, like I was just told, "Hey, we're gonna go up on the roof. We're gonna do it up on the roof tomorrow, at one o'clock." That kind of a thing. So to me it was last-minute, because it was just out of the blue that we were going to do it that way.
But I think in popular mythology the idea is that they just needed an ending and instantaneously said to themselves, "Why don't we go up on the roof right now?" But it sounds to me from like what you're saying that — as if, actually, there was at least twenty-four hours' sort of aforethought here.
I think, well, you have to think that in terms of just, you know, putting up the electronics, or you know, all the stuff that goes with putting something like that together. That's not a thing [where] you go, "Well, let's just take our camera up on the roof, and our sound equipment." So I have a feeling that it was probably planned for the next day.
No pun intended!
Yes!...What was fascinating about the ["Get Back"] studio [sessions] — the concept was to do this thing live, and that's why the Spector thing [producer Phil Spector's version of the "Let It Be" album, officially released by Apple in 1970] was just such a, for us, such a nightmare. But they basically, in the studio, started on a song, almost from the beginning of writing a song, taking it all the way to the end, to the final product. And so the way it went in the booth [was] the tape machine was rolling all the time. So you'd go downstairs into the studio and you'd walk in the control room, and it would just be stacked, like floor-to-ceiling, with you know, two-inch master reels, and the tape machine rolling, and then they would be going through something, and they would start working on a song. All of a sudden, maybe Paul would look in and say, "Hey, let's listen to that one." And that would be — the idea was that would be the take, because it would be done live....I think it captured what you're saying, their naiveté, also, that they would do something like this, you know, that they would allow themselves to be exposed to something that was going to go down historically, or be on record, you know....
[END TAPE I]
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Can you describe for me what is different about this book from your last book [The Beatles, The Bible, and Bodega Bay: My Long and Winding Road (Broadman & Holman, 2000)], which also was in some way a memoir about your time with The Beatles?
Yeah, when we were talking earlier, I mentioned how this, the new book, started more as...journaling and talking about the time with The Beatles. The original book was really a book about my spiritual walk and what had, you know, evolved later on, after all the years of decadence. And I had started writing about The Beatles in the other book in comparison to where I'd ended up as an older man, if you like, spiritually. And I had written about The Beatles to recapture that time from my past and try and get a perspective from going from the guy on the roof with The Beatles, on top of the world, to a guy on a lonely beach in California looking out, having conversations with God, you know, trying to figure out what it was all about. But that book is the one that spawned this book, because I had such a powerful reaction to my insight into The Beatles that I was asked to write a book entirely about The Beatles, and just, you know, my stories about them. And so when I started doing that, that's when I got into writing not only about them but about the era we were in. It's a book that's evolved, and it's evolved because of people wanting to know more about my particular, you know, look at The Beatles. And I really feel, James, that this book does fill in the spots and the gaps in the other books that were more historical and more technical and more, you know, gathering of facts. Because there's only about a handful of us that were actually there that have written about The Beatles, that were, you know, actually in the rooms and actually part of the whole, the whole craziness.
And is it correct that there was some input from The Beatles in either or both of your books?
In terms of — that they — there was one thing that I could not do when I wrote about The Beatles. I couldn't do something that I didn't feel they were okay with. When we were there, there was a bunch of us who swore we would never write about our time there. We were so privileged to have been let inside, I guess you could say. And it wasn't like The Beatles said, "Okay, now, you're gonna see some stuff, and you're gonna hear some stuff, and we're gonna let you in, but you gotta, you know, promise you'll never say anything."
There was no blood oath ceremony.
No! They never asked that. The pact was made by us, I think, because we felt so privileged, and I think out of respect for being invited to the, you know, different levels of the inner circle.
Was it ever discussed, that pact that you're talking about, or it was just sort of an innate and unspoken, or — ?
It was a lightly discussed thing to where, you know, I think probably what prompted some of this was the Peter Brown book —
The Love You Make [The Love You Make : An Insider's Story of the Beatles, with co-author Steven Gaines, (McGraw Hill, 1983)].
Yeah, where he really got into some darkness. And you know, I read that book and it was the first thing I read about them and I virtually never read another book about them after that. Because I was in the room on a lot of these things he mentioned in there — and even though, of course, my ego was miffed because he left me out — but I went, "That's not really what happened, you know, and it's so dark," and all this. So it was almost something that we agreed on. We didn't sit down and [say], "Here, we have to sign a contract, we're not going to write — " But when I did, I really felt this obligation that I wanted them to be okay with it. Not that I wanted them to be my censors, but fortunately for me, my attorney — Ringo and I share the same attorney, and this has been a decades-long relationship. So I went to Bruce Grakal...and you know, Bruce, he came up through the ranks with us, and he represented Harry Nilsson and a bunch of people who liked us also. But I went to Bruce, and I said, "Bruce, here's the manuscript and I want you to represent me like always, but is there going to be a conflict for you?" And he read the manuscript and was deeply moved by the thing and said, "I just think we should go ahead and let's just make sure everything's okay, that's what you sensed about this." So —
This was the first book or the second?
This was the first book, and so he gave it to Ringo and Ringo came back and used a very unusual phrase with me. He said: "Ken, I give this book my blessing." Now, Ringo typically would say, you know, just our dialogue, would be, "Hey, man, rock on, you know, make a couple bucks off the guys, okay, you know, it's cool [laughs], you know, go, bro!" But the fact that he said that, I think he answered in terms of the reverence I think I was paying them. So it went through the whole — every manager, every agent, all The Beatles, George was still alive at the time, and Yoko [Ono] gave her approval. And so at the time, the first book was the only book ever approved by the [surviving Beatles and Ono] — so I held true with this formula on the second book, too. And when I went back to Grakal, I was concerned I was going back to the well, and they may say, "Okay, you know, enough's enough." But interestingly enough, Yoko was the first person to come forward and say, "Yeah, I'm okay with this."...Ringo had once released me to write a book. That was the thing I left out about ever writing something, is: We were having dinner one night and he asked me why I hadn't, and I told him about our little informal pact —
Which had been set when, how far — ?
Well, this was the informal pact that we wouldn't [and it] was in the late sixties or, you know, the beginning of the seventies, I guess.
That as a discussion between you and him?
No, Ringo and I had this discussion in — just before, when we were getting together for me to represent him on that early nineties album, "Time Takes Time." And basically at the end of the dinner was, what he said to me, in essence, was you know, "If you ever do decide to, I trust you, I trust how you'll handle the whole thing." And so in that night he released me to do that. But it was years and years, many years later, before I finally did. But at least I knew that if I decided to, I knew the approach I would take and the fact that he trusted me to, I just — I felt gave me a sense of freedom about it. So that's their involvement as far as the book is concerned.
Your involvement with The Beatles grew out of your presence in the West Coast music scene.
You were actually kind of the "Under-Assistant West Coast Deputy Promotion Man," or whatever the title of the Stones song is ["The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man," Rolling Stones, 1965].
[Laughs] I never thought of that! That's right!
And it struck me that your book, as far as I can tell, is silent on two sort of notable Beatles — L.A. interactions, or connections, that I wondered if you had any insights into.
One was the meeting between Elvis and The Beatles that took place in Los Angeles in 1965, just around the same time that you describe first sort of getting over the wall and into The Beatles' orbit [at a private residence in Bel Air where the band was staying].
You know, I found out, I found out later that that was — my story in the book is the afternoon before the evening that happened. That was all the same day, I believe. Now, you're more of a historian; you might want to — but that's what I've had historians tell me. But I'm not party to what happened, other than the fact that another author/friend of mine has worked on, has a book out with Sonny West, who was with Elvis, and Sonny was there that night. So I he and I were actually able to piece the sequence of events together that they went from, you know, my story into Sonny's story, that Sonny told in his book. But it was an interesting description about — Elvis, my understanding is, you know, Elvis was very excited about The Beatles and all, and then of course, The Beatles were in awe of Elvis, and so that was a given, that they were all in awe of each other. And of course they were the two biggest phenomena of all musical time. But my understanding of the, you know, how dogs are [laughs], the stance and all that? Is that Elvis was king, and that that was the stance in the house that night.
Yeah, by all accounts, including the ones that The Beatles themselves — the surviving Beatles, themselves — gave in the "Anthology" documentary, it was kind of an awkward and stiff encounter.
The other — and by the way, for collectors of Beatles bootlegs and sonic rarities, you know, the nineties were the golden age, where you really were able for the first time to obtain crystal clear-sounding audio of studio rehearsal sessions, and outtakes and so forth, as opposed to just live concerts and the "Get Back" sessions. And that spigot has since dried up, and I guess EMI, or whoever, finally managed to secure the vaults. So what people are collecting now, because so little is available to collect, are things like DVDs of raw news camera footage of Beatle press conferences, Beatle comings and goings at airports. And their arrivals and departures from that home in Bel Air are now circulating as collectors' material.
Wow. Now is there any footage of inside the house that day?
I would have to — I think there is, frankly. I mean, there — I remember, you know, and they also had celebrities coming and going to pay court to them, including I think Groucho Marx and some other surprising characters.
To the Bel Air house? At Benedict Canyon?
Because, I know — I mention in the book, you know, here I am, there's this young girl not talking to anybody, she's just this young, slender, dark-haired girl, swimming back and forth, and just by herself, and I found out later it was Joan Baez! [Laughs]
Which is incredible!
These people were around, you know!
McCartney has talked in interviews about seeing photographs of himself as a young person with famous people like Mitzi Gaynor and, you know, like twenty years later, and saying, "I don't even remember meeting her!" Which is, you know, for the blur they were in the middle of, that's kind of understandable.
The other L.A. connection I wanted to ask you about was George Harrison's famous visit to the Haight-Ashbury at the height of the — I guess it was 1967.
Yeah. There's — as is documented — this was an eye-opener for George. He was actually sickened by the whole thing. He was very surprised. I think he felt very, you know, George was so sensitive. And I really did get to know George. And there was something about George and I that — just because we are, that is our nature, that we really hit it off with each other. But there was that, that quiet, sensitive part of our natures that matched up and I know how he felt about that. And he was deeply disturbed that he was part of the — that he considered the creation of something like that and he'd really had his head in the clouds about things. And it really changed his life. There's a picture in the book that is taken when he was up there [or] right after, a picture nobody's ever seen. He's on the golf cart with my San Francisco guy that worked for me at the time.
Bud O'Shea, is that?
Yeah, Bud O'Shea. And I didn't know Bud had, you know — the story is in there — well, anyway, Bud ended up with him that day. And Bud had talked me to me about, too, how George was deeply, deeply troubled. And I think it was really was one of the end of George's personal eras when that came down. You — I feel you know more about that than I do because you've probably read more.
But I'm wondering whether you played any role in facilitating that visit, or were aware of it at the time.
No, no, I wasn't. I was supposed to be a part of that and I got hung up on one of my tours with other Capitol artists and I was in Philadelphia or someplace. I just couldn't get back and that's why Bud O'Shea was — I called my San Francisco guy and had Bud take over or I would have been a part of that.
[...] A third L.A. connection with The Beatles is perhaps the most unfortunate, and that is the Helter Skelter—Charles Manson episode. And I was just watching a documentary on television about that, those events, recently, and they had somebody commenting to the effect that because there was the connection with Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, a lot of stars were very fearful in that period. And you, having been in Los Angeles in that time period, I wonder if — and of course, Manson's invocation of — the Manson family's invocation of The Beatles' lyrics and so forth at the crime scenes — I wonder if you have any particular recollections about this weird and troubling juxtaposition.
Well, we all did, because it brought an element into our daydream-y type of life we had. There was this horrible, stark reality of just how far things could go. And it did affect all of us, whether we were involved [in show business] or not. And of course, the producer —
Terry Melcher [the late producer for the Byrds and other acts who had briefly expressed interest in recording Manson's songs, and whose former residence, once visited by Manson, was later the site where the Manson family carried out the killings of Tate and four others] —
Yeah. You know, that really brought it close to home, because here was another element of our group of producers and music people. I want to tell you something very interesting about all this. The Spahn Ranch — we were at a church here about six or seven months ago in Southern California, out in that area, and they [had] just bought the land that the Spahn Ranch is on. And I find a great irony that where the Manson people were, and where they were doing their planning, and their work is now —
Going to be the property for a church!
— for a church and it's going to be used for a much different, you know — [laughs]
I suppose land, no less than people, can be redeemed.
That's right. That's right. So I find a great irony in that and that's just how God works, you know.
Discussion of the Manson family naturally leads to discussion of drugs in this time period. And you make a point in the book of saying that it might be hard for people to believe, but drugs were really not an ever-present element in The Beatles' lives, as far as you observed, or in your dealings with them.
Yeah. It's good [you mention this] because there's a differentiation there in [that] when we were working and we were doing things — and this is different that what evolved, eventually, for all of us in the business — but the drugs was not, like, the forefront of things. The Beatles, in my observation and in the time I worked with them as businessmen or as musicians, everything had to do — the priority was — with the music, with the projects we were on, with the company, you know, what we were doing. Or if we were personally hanging out, it wasn't like, "Okay, let's get the drugs first and we'll go from there." You know, and later on, it evolved like, [as] soon as you got in the room, like John Lennon once said, as soon as cocaine was brought in the room, all focus went there. It wasn't the priority at that time. Now, I wasn't around some of the things that have been written, to where maybe that could have been the priority. I think I liked the fact that they were so — there was that innocence of what they were about, that they were very childlike in their love of what they were doing and their relationships with the people around them.
You do, however, nonetheless [laughter] describe an occasion when Mama Cass —
— brought out this enormous marijuana joint and you smoked it with her and George Harrison and some other people, right?
Yeah. I'm not saying we were choir boys!
Yeah, I understand!
We got stoned, too, but it wasn't like we started there, you know. This was an incident that was very typical of, let's say, of how drugs would be in our lives. It's a good example because it's not so puritan. But Mama Cass walks in and she pulls out this joint which was the size of a knockwurst, literally —
— you know, it was obvious why we chuckled, you know [laughs] —
It was a Mama Cass-sized joint! And yeah, we were working on some stuff with Jackie Lomax. And you know, it was fun just to sit back and take a few tokes off her, you know — because in those days it was like sharing the peace pipe or something, too, if somebody brought something — and to listen to the playbacks and be stoned and just relax. And it was fun for me, because I got to spend some time with Mama Cass and soon as you took a couple of tokes, everybody was friends [laughs], and you know — so that was more — that's good. That's more the nature of the drug side that I saw.
And did you observe any particular difference in George's personality?
Well, he was already there, just about, you know? So he was already a mellow, quiet, gentle person, so he maybe just got just a little more mellow, a little gentler [laughs]. But yeah, the change in him wouldn't be as noticeable as somebody maybe like Paul or something.
Now your initial dealings with The Beatles were because you worked for Capitol Records, which was the American distributor of Beatles recordings.
And as any Beatles fan knows, the Capitol mixes of the albums up through "Sgt. Pepper," I believe, were quite different from the mixes that The Beatles and EMI were producing — and George Martin — were producing in England.
Yeah, I believe this is more — you're referring more to the mastering, aren't you?
I guess; yeah, yeah. Correct.
And this is where sometimes the problems would develop because, you know, they would not always like how the records were mastered in America.
And can you remember any specific instance of any of The Beatles, individually or as a whole, conveying this displeasure to you?
Yeah, well, that's — you talked about the Mama Cass story. What had happened on that [was] George was very dissatisfied with what was happening with the White Album in America at that point on the mastering. And he took it upon himself. He just wanted to get this project done and out of the way. He told me, he said, "This is killing us," this whole project became so big. So George was — had two purposes when we were there in those studios. He was working on his Jackie Lomax project but he was also remastering the "White Album." Now, historically, there may be a lot of confusion on that. But I happen to know — you know, I was with him, and what he was doing. And it was a surprise to me that Paul wasn't, you know, so much in charge, that I saw George just take it over.
What do you mean by "remastering," exactly? For a lay audience.
Well, when you — there are steps. Once you've recorded an album, you recorded it on multiple tracks. Like, let's say there are sixteen tracks of information, with the lead vocal on one track, and the guitar on a track, and the drums on a track. And then when you mix an album, you mix these all down to two tracks, which is then your stereo, your commercial stereo. But once you — and as each track you're working with, you do the EQs and echoes and pans and do all the things, put all the effects on the vocals, or the guitars, whatever. And this is the process of mixing down to a finished product. Once you've mixed down to the two-track, there's still one more step, and that is the step prior to it being, in those days, making your pressing, that the records would be pressed from, your pressing master, which was a metallic thing. And you would have one more step. Then you would take all the information on your two-track and you would master them, which means then you would run all this information through the electronics again and tighten things up. You may want add a little more high-end, you know, a little more brightness to it; you may want to put a little more push in the bottom. You may want to do what we called "squooshing" it, which was compressing it so it read better on the meters. And there was a one final process, and like all the processes, this was the final, maybe most critical of all. So mastering it in Europe, with European technology, or their equipment and their attitude towards things, was many times much different than how an American engineer would approach what he felt was the proper final sound to make the masters out of.
I'm not sure it's commonly known, even amongst obsessive fans, that George Harrison had that kind of role in the remastering of the American version of the "White Album."
Well, there's a lot of, there's a lot of different versions of that, I know. I was very careful in researching this. Because, you know, James, [in] my book, I go off of memory and what I remember what we were doing? And so my memory is real simple: We were working on Jackie's album and George was dissatisfied with the White Album and so we were remastering that. That's, that's what I know.
And he spent several weeks doing it.
Oh, yeah. I think I, I got him a house for, like, three weeks or something over in L.A. And I believe in the book that's probably the time the Clapton-Donovan story comes about, where we were all hanging out one night.
But fortunately for me, Brent Stoker is a Beatles historian. His father was one of the Jordanaires [Elvis Presley's original backup band] and Brent's a rock and roll historian and has great, you know, family history himself in the business. And Brent knows — like, in the book, Brent would say, "No, Ken, you weren't in London when you and Paul did this; you guys were actually in L.A." And: "No, you and George did this after you did that." So I have the memories but he has the —
We spent a lot of time in researching that particular part. Because it was a little confusing to him. Because I actually had us placed in a different studio when we were doing this. And it turns out that my confusion was the studio we were actually in was owned by the same person that owned the other studio I thought we were in. So you can see why sometimes I would get confused. So he, really, if this thing passed his, you know, microscope, it's pretty close to what happened, then, so —
Okay. But I began by asking about the different Capitol mixes. And for example, if one listens to "Meet The Beatles" versus "With The Beatles," the mixes on the songs are different. Even down to — if you listen to the American version of "Revolver" versus the English version of "Revolver," you'll hear different actual lyrics sung on the fadeout of "Got To Get You Into My Life," for example. So there were very different mixes and in some cases different recordings — mono versus stereo, U.S. versus English — and what I 'm wondering is — what I'm told is, there was a fellow — what I understand is, there was a fellow at Capitol named Dave Dexter who was responsible for producing these mixes, or was responsible for these American mixes; and who felt that American radio stations, American music consumers, wanted the recordings, the albums, to as much as possible approximate a live performance. And that's why he loaded up the American — the early American albums with a lot of echo effect. So if you listen to "She's A Woman" on the American version versus the English, it sounds very different; it sounds like it's in an echo chamber. And I wonder if you knew Dexter, if you ever discussed any of this with him, etc.
No, I didn't. I mean, I knew him vaguely. And Dave Dexter was a much older person. And he may have been dictated [to] by a lot of things to do with what the radio stations needed, too, in terms of compression and lengths of records and things like that. But I wasn't aware that anybody at Capitol — and I'm a little embarrassed. I feel I should know more about this because I was there. But I wasn't aware that there was that deep of an involvement. I thought originally you were probably talking about mastering. So I didn't know that there was choices of versions and things like that done by Capitol.
And it goes even farther for special releases such as the "Capitol Fan Club" records that would be issued at Christmas or sometime, or certain eight-tracks that were done in the seventies. There are different mixes still further from the, you know, the two you've already got in the English and the American versions, these sort of special, one-off versions that Capitol would do for radio stations or for fan clubs or what have you —
— even have further different mixes, and they're collectible for that reason....
Okay. I can see that a part — to help put a little bit of a cap on this — to do with the way Brian [Epstein] ran things. I think there were so many loose things and so many things that weren't, you know, taken care of like that. And that is, I think, is part of a management thing and a lack of control under Brian during those times.
Which is well-documented.
I wanted to ask about a couple of specific things I read in the book.
On page thirty-one, you talk about having been present when Paul was on an acoustic, I think, just —
— strumming along and creating "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Back In The U.S.S.R."
And you say, I think half in jest, that you in a sense, "spent the afternoon songwriting with Paul McCartney. Of course, later on when the album came out, I wasn't surprised when I didn't see my name as a co-writer." And then later on, you mention how you were prevented from telling him one suggested contribution for a line in "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" that you had in mind. Are there any actual lyrics that you think that you actually contributed to?
You know, I can't remember because it was the kind of thing where he would say, "Well, what do you think of this?" and I'd say, "Yeah, but why don't you, you know, what about this instead, in terms of maybe changing a word or two?" And it was that, you know, that exchange-type thing where you're bouncing ideas off —
But in your heart of hearts, do you think there is at least one word in the Beatle canon for which you might be responsible?
[Laughs] You know, I can't remember where I was sometimes! So — but I do, you know, again — this is what I was talking about, the general — I remember the exchange and how I felt that night. Because this was how he engaged me in this to where I didn't really think about it until I was driving across Mulholland Drive back to my home that night. I thought, "Wait a minute — was I, was I songwriting with Paul McCartney tonight?" [laughs] You know, because I'm a songwriter and I — those were just like you [do], sit around and bouncing back and forth ideas, and —
Right. And I know it's unverifiable at this point, it's irretrievable —
But in your heart of hearts —
— if someone forced you to bet on it, with a gun to your head or something, God forbid, do you think that probably you were responsible for one single word in the canon of lyrics?
[Laughs] Oh, I would say one word, maybe!
[Laughs] All right.
Or maybe he ripped me off for the whole song, I don't know —
— you know. But you know the thing that came out of that point was, is I was in the room and was actually a little involved with it. And when the record came out I didn't expect it to say "Mansfield-McCartney" —
— but the point was it did say "Lennon-McCartney," and that's when I got an explanation from Paul of why that happened, you know.
[END TAPE II]
* * *
Is it fair to say, Ken, that this will be the longest interview you've ever done?
[Laughs] Yes, and one of my favorites, I might add!
Well, that's — I'm very glad to hear that....I have the Richard Lester quote that I wanted to read to you, in which he says: "For three years I was in the center of the universe, from A Hard Day's Night to Help! to How I Won the War, and I knew at the time that it would be the pinnacle of whatever I did. I said in the late 1960s that thirty years from now, if I'm knocked down by a bus, the Evening Standard poster will be: BEATLES DIRECTOR IN DEAD DRAMA. You can't avoid that and I'm perfectly happy because at least I've had the opportunity to have had that experience. So life is downhill, okay, but at least you've been up and seen the view. The fact that a part of you lives on, apart from your own children, is a rare privilege and I'm perfectly happy. I'm thrilled to have made a film like 'A Hard Day's Night' that will always be a good antique mirror. One that will say, 'This is as accurate as I could produce what it felt like to be around that experience at the time.'" But I gather you can identify with those sentiments.
Wow. In fact, that, to me, actually, James, was a touching statement. Because I know exactly what he's saying. At times, you know, people introduce me and say, "Oh, well, he's the Beatles guy." And I go, "That's, that's so limiting; that's so another time." But at the same time, like I believe he's saying, I was there, you know? I produced David — same line as this — I produced David Cassidy after his, after his peak. And David had a real problem with being tagged as a has-been or something like that. And I said, "David! You were an is-been!" [Laughs] I said: "You've been there! You know, people, people would give anything to have gone where you've been! And so feel good about that." So the Beatles thing does stay with you, and it does tag you, and it does define you in some ways that you don't want to be and in other ways that you're just so privileged and happy to be.
George Harrison used to say that the Beatles thing was a shirt that he had worn for some period of time and yet other people could not stop seeing him in that shirt, even though he wasn't wearing it.
In your own case, you went on to do other things that in some ways are as equally profound as the Beatle experience. When I was growing up in the mid-to-late seventies, country music was really a fringe culture.
No pun intended. And today, of course, country music is a gigantic, multi-billion-dollar industry.
And do you feel, Ken, that your work in that so-called "Outlaw" scene helped transition country music from where it was to where it is?
You know, this is a perfect segue from what I was just saying. I was there at the beginning of the "Outlaw" music. This was something we did together. With The Beatles and the Beach Boys and these other people I worked with, they were already famous. But we took this thing, the "Outlaw" thing, right off the ground and moved it up. We were playing, you know, clubs where they had 300 people and you had to have a screen to keep the beer bottles from being thrown at you — to ending up with mammoth auditoriums, sold-out, headlining, you know, the front rows filled with youths, young kids at seventeen that, you know, weren't even born when Waylon had had some of these other records yelling out for these records. And we just saw this thing just blossom into — it became — you know, The Beatles was a social movement, and so was the "Outlaw" thing. Because people saw freedom through us, just like they did The Beatles. So we wore our hair long and we were crazy and we did these things that people couldn't really do in their everyday lives but they could live it through us.
And you kind of fused the L.A. culture with the Nashville culture.
Oh, absolutely. Because I was, you know, an L.A. producer and my idol in life as a producer was Alan Parsons, who, as you know [produced Pink Floyd's] "Dark Side of the Moon" and was engineer for The Beatles and stuff like that. When Waylon and I came together, he brought that country, down-gritty feel and I brought in the technology and the L.A. approach to making records and I think that's why, you know, we crossed over. Because there was elements of both that, that rock and roll thing and that hard, you know, red-dirt country thing going on at the same time.
Not to entice you into immodesty, but do you see a connection between the work you were doing then and the explosion of country music as a broad, crossover giant industry that it is today?
Oh, absolutely. Because in the beginning, when I first started working with the country people, it was like a master-slave relationship. The record companies totally dictated, you know, what songs the artists did, what studios [they used], who their producers were, and the artists was way down the totem pole, almost, as a matter of importance in Nashville. And we broke it loose. We broke it loose to the point where I brought Waylon and his band out to L.A., put him together with Ike and Tina Turner's horn players, and Cher's guitar player, and Graham Nash from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. We cut it in the L.A. studios with a Grammy-winning rock producer — I mean engineer. And just changed the character of that whole thing. And pretty soon Dolly's [Dolly Parton] is coming out; now she's recording in L.A. She takes on L.A. management and we move this whole thing up just another notch. And we took it away from the good ol' boys in Nashville.
And is there a straight line between what — between that moment and sort of the Garth Brooks era of country music?
Well, it was — Garth, I think, was like the different thing, the next phase: Okay, there was the hard-core country thing, and then there was the "Outlaw" country. And then I think Garth took it up to stadium country, to, you know, really combine — we did our shows pretty much straight-out. We just got out there and hooked it, you know? But Garth then took it to the rock and roll level. So I think he actually moved it ahead another notch just as much as we did, in an entirely different way and beyond what we were doing and could do.
Okay. Some specific things from your book and some others I wanted to ask you about. I did a kind of a brief survey last night of the Apple literature I have on hand. And I found no references to you in Derek Taylor's first book, "As Time Goes By" [Quick Fox, 1973]; no reference to you in "Apple To The Core," by Peter McCabe and Robert Schonfeld [Pocket Books, 1972]; and no reference to you in Peter Brown's book, which we have previously discussed.
No reference to you in Richard DiLello's book, "The Longest Cocktail Party" [Playboy Press, 1972]. But there were some references that I thought might have been oblique. And so I wanted to run a couple of those past you.
In "Apple To The Core," by Peter McCabe and Robert Schonfeld — do either of those names ring a bell?
No. No, they don't.
The book itself?
No. I mean, the book title. But I don't know who these people are.
On page ninety-nine of "Apple To The Core," the authors write — they're talking about Paul's burgeoning relationship with Linda Eastman, his previous relationship with someone who worked at Apple named Francie Schwartz.
And they write: "When Paul stayed at a Beverly Hills bungalow a few weeks later, he called Linda and she flew to California."
"She was still not too hopeful of a lasting relationship, says a friend, because of an incident that took place at a drive-in Jack-In-The-Box. Paul turned to her in the car and said, 'This is you, Linda, an instant dessert, a royal cream pudding.' She wanted to know what he meant by that."
You're not the "friend," are you?
No. At the Jack-In-The Box? No, I was the guy that was with Paul in the bungalow when I refer in the book to him — I sat around working on "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." And this — these are these time periods — I don't know who these authors are, and I don't mean that in a negative way.
But when they write about these things and I do see them, I go, "Well, you know, I was there! I was the guy that answered the door when Linda came in, you know, I was the guy that was with McCartney during this." And it often, it often — there's a little bit of ego involved. I've often wondered why I was left out. In some cases, I know why. I was the American, I think, in some cases. And Peter Brown, he didn't want to share the limelight in things. Another thing: You could not — and you and I talked about this before, about the pact that some of us made, about not writing about our time [with The Beatles] — and when I left The Beatles, you couldn't get me in a conversation about them. So I was not available to interview. I was not able to — or not available to fill in the gaps when people would approach me and say, "Well, we want to know about, you know, Paul's trip, when you were there," or whatever. I just — you couldn't get me in a conversation for twenty years. I just felt I didn't want to talk about it.
They also paint the scene of the post-Bangladesh concert party —
— where Phil Spector was hammering out on the piano and out of control, apparently, and trying to get Andy Williams to sing with him —
That's from my book.
— unsuccessfully. Well, they also paint that scene —
Oh, they do?
And they talk about how Andy Williams left immediately, fled the scene.
But you, of course, bring a much larger and funnier context to that particular incident.
Exactly. And that, I think that's what we're, you know — what we're talking about, about being left out. A lot of times, you know, there's a great thing — and you'll appreciate this. When you're with somebody extremely famous, is you get sit in the same restaurant and have the same great meal or ride in the same great limo, but you don't have people pestering you all the time! [laughs] But at the same time, you don't get mentioned that you were there. So — I like, I like being one row back form that whole thing. But there are books like "Those Were The Days" [Those Were the Days: An Unofficial History of the Beatles Apple Organization 1967-2001, (Cherry Red Books, 2002), by Stefan Granados] — did you get that one, read that one, from England, about Apple?
I don't have that one, no.
I'm all through that book, you know. And [Bruce] Spizer, you know, who is the biggest historian of The Beatles, has, you know, has me in his books. And to me in some ways the people that really count are the ones that have done that, so —
Here's another quote from the "Apple To The Core" book that I wanted to run past you. They're talking about the atmosphere at Apple. One of the surprises in your book for me was how earnestly and intensely involved with it The Beatles were, at least for some period of time.
Whereas I think the popularly received version of it is that they really could never bothered with it —
Oh, that's definitely not true.
— and despaired of it. But here's how this book, "Apple To The Core," put it.
Who are these gentlemen, anyway? I'm sorry —
Peter McCabe and Robert Schonfeld.
I mean, from what — are they historians, or —
I don't know, honestly.
I mean, the book is from 1972.
Okay. [Inaudible] they were there, or — I'm, I'm sorry.
"Between The Beatles and their employees, it was a kind of dual rape. Many members of the staff robbed them left and right, but The Beatles flattered, magnetized, seduced and finally abandoned many who worked for them. The old buddies from Liverpool spent most of their time patting Beatle backs and trying to hack off a piece of the empire for themselves." Continuing elsewhere: "For a while The Beatles remained aloof from petty office politics. Smiling and unquestioning, they appeared like sheiks sitting fatly on newly acquired wealth."
"They continued to postpone their board meetings and on the rare occasions that these were held based their business decisions on the readings of the I Ching. Then slowly, they began to dabble in the mess themselves. Finally, they went searching for an exterminator to rid them of the locusts."
You know — [sighs]. I hate to even be on the same page with some of that stuff. I mean, I'm sorry, James, but those are the things that really irritate me.
Well, here's your chance to set the record straight.
Well, okay. Well, you know — and again, I have to go from what I saw and what I knew. And I wasn't there all the time? And there's a lot that I did know about. And I even accused Ringo once that I felt they put on a little bit of a facade for me, that I felt that they wanted to always make me feel like they had it really together and they were, you know, really cool as businessmen, so that I would really feel good back when I went back to the States and had to work on stuff. I happen to know that — and especially the reference to their pals or their inner circle or the people that had been with them for a long time. I know these guys and they were dedicated. And I do know, which may confirm a little bit of what he's, they're inferring [sic] there, is they were not paid well. [Laughs] And it was always sort of a sore point. Because here were The Beatles, the richest people in the world at this time. And the guys that were really in there, and really for 'em and with 'em and hanging with 'em and doing the twenty-four-hour days were not getting paid a lot. And they suffered from something that I suffered from, for a while, when I was rising so fast, is: I wasn't making the big bucks yet, but I was with big bucks people. And so it was really hard to keep up with your clothing, and your, you know, your activities, and your things like that. So these guys, the workers, were thrown into this thing where here they were, with The Beatles and everybody expected them to, you know, to be high rollers. I know the most part — and this is something I learned later from people who were there — is that The Beatles a lot of times would — Paul would be in the building for a while, and then he maybe wouldn't be around for a while. And it was like I got the sense that after a while, that if one Beatle was going to be there, the others weren't, you know? It was going to be, like, who was ruling the roost for that particular time or had the most involvement in a project. When I went in, the place was a madhouse. It was an absolute madhouse. Derek Taylor's, you know, office, with his big chair, his big —
[Laughs] Yeah. And he basically held court. And it was, you know, the champagne and the drugs and all this stuff was going [on]. But Derek had this incredible way of getting the job done, you know, whatever was — needed to get done, and in such a flamboyant way that I think it paid off better than if he was just a straight PR hack that, you know, cranked the stuff out. I think Derek was a genius at that.
One last quote from this book before we leave it.
"It was a painful decline for the four dilettantes. Before Brian Epstein's death, they had easily slid into anything to which they turned their hands. Brian, they always said, had done nothing; now doubts were beginning to enter their minds [about that]. The pressures of business were on their own shoulders, and inevitably, their artistry began to suffer. They lacked any purpose or direction. They drove to the Apple office in Rolls-Royces, haggled with each other about the relative merits of their various protégés and watched old friends living like Romans under Nero at their expense. The employees took sides in their arguments and this only contributed to the disintegration. The Beatles drifted from one idea to another, showing a spark of enthusiasm for one venture, then quickly losing interest in favor of the next."
Right. I think, you know, in looking at something like that, I think there's a lot of truth in it but I think it's a little bit exaggerated. The one fear that I had — and you can imagine this — was knowing that I had four equal bosses. And that I had to, as Stanley Gortikov said, I had to "keep it together," and there was no margin for error when it came [to] The Beatles. I had to make sure that everybody liked me and I, you know, did my job with them. And I stood in constant fear of McCartney saying to me, "You gotta go left on this," and Lennon saying, "You gotta go right on this." And that's it — and there I am, you know, standing in this gap. It never really, really happened. I felt each guy, you know, more or less had their little baby projects and they supported them. But nobody ever — I didn't see the squabbles. I didn't see Paul and John or George arguing over whose artist got on the next release, or who, you know, this — but again, these are things I didn't see. What I did see was — and [that was] because of a fellow named Jack Oliver who was there. Jack's official title for a while was the "head of international," and because I was running the label in America, the most important market, he and I worked together a lot. And Jack was a guy that pulled everything together. If there were these problems, I never saw them, because Jack brought it to me, you know, in order. He would sort through the chaos a lot of times.
Speaking of the interaction between The Beatles, as you just did, where they sort of had their separate projects and respected that, I thought particularly funny in your book was your depiction of the scene when John Lennon showed you the pictures of himself and Yoko Ono that were to adorn the cover of "Two Virgins" [the 1969 Lennon and Ono LP, "Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins"], where they were in the nude. And particularly striking was Paul McCartney's reaction to this —
— when you asked him about it privately.
Could you recount that?
I can. The whole story, basically, was — we were, you know, putting together, we were having a meeting with all four Beatles and Stanley Gortikov and [longtime Beatles aide and Apple [executive] Neil Aspinall. And these were important meetings when we'd get down because we really had things to cover. And [longtime Beatles aide] Mal Evans had taken a — we had a suite in Hyde Park — and Mal Evans had taken the room next door. And during a break he said, "Come on in here," and they got me high. And I wasn't really used to getting high [in] those days, and especially with hash. That was just a thing I didn't [do] — so I come back into the meeting late. And I'm going, "Whoa! You know, this stuff's a little stronger than I'm used to!" [laughs] So I'm very uncomfortable, because here I have Stanley Gortikov, the president of Capitol Industries, watching me, who's supposed to "keep it together" with The Beatles, and I sit down on the couch with John and Yoko. And I'd missed a little bit of the meeting then, and I was sitting there extremely paranoid, going, "I've just blown it with my boss and maybe now with the guys." And John just leans to me and says, "Here, take a look at these." And he pulls these pictures out of this manila envelope. And there was a bunch of them. And he starts showing me nude pictures of he and Yoko. And I'm going, "I don't know what's going on here." My fear and my thought was that he was hitting on me with he and Yoko, like some really perverse thing. And, [laughs] you know, I thought, "These English rockers, I don't know, you know, what they do at night!"
And so, you know — and I'm, I'm actually sweating. And I'm not a sweater. And I'm just sitting there squirming. I don't know what to say. I don't know what the deal is. About a million things are going through my head: "What do I do? Do I alienate John? Or do I kinda play it a little —" I don't what I'm doing! You know. And I look over at McCartney [who] is just kind of smirking, smiling at me. [Laughs] And he let me squirm for a while, until he knew I was about ready to go over the edge. And he said, "By the way, Ken, while you were out, these are pictures of John's idea for their next album cover, and you know, what do you think?" [Laughs] Well, you know, obviously we couldn't do it at Capitol, for a lot of obvious reasons, as you know, I think that's — was it Tetragrammaton that the thing finally came out on?
You got me. [The LP was released on the Apple label but distributed in the U.S. by Tetragrammaton Records, and by Transatlantic Records in England.]
Yeah. Anyway, there was a label that had money and they were trying to get established, so —
I know it was released in a brown paper bag with a hole cut through it.
Yes, yes. But, you know, afterwards, I asked Paul about this. And this, to me, is indicative of their relationship, maybe as much as anything I [had] ever heard. I said, "Paul, you know, what do you think about this?" And Paul says, "I don't know." He said, "I don't really agree with John. But I just am going to figure that John's ahead of me on this, and that someday I'll understand and I'll catch up. So, you know, I'm okay."
And what did that reaction tell you about their relationship?
That it was an extremely deep relationship. And you know, you couple that with the thing Paul told me about, you know, when I asked him how come John's name was on "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" when I was there when he was writing it and John wasn't. These two comments from Paul showed me what their — how deep their relationship was.
What did he say on that occasion, about "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"?
Okay. On "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" — in fact, you had talked earlier about Linda coming and I was in the hotel room, the bungalow with Paul. And that night, when we were — he was working on some songs, and he included me on the writing, you know, just 'cause I was there. He said, "What do you think of this?" And I'd say, "Well, why don't you try this?" And the songs were "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "[Back In The] U.S.S.R." And that was all. It was very casual. I drive home that night, and I'm going: "Wait a minute! Was I — was I songwriting with Paul McCartney? Wow, that's pretty cool!" Well, you know, the record comes out, and it's Lennon and McCartney. And I didn't expect it to be Mansfield-McCartney. But I asked Paul, I said, "You know, I was there with you when you were writing this, and John wasn't. And yet it's a Lennon-McCartney." And Paul said: "John and I are so close to each other, we've been through so much together, we understand each other so much, our relationship is so deep, that when we're songwriting," he said, "even if I'm 6,000 miles away, I can be working on something and I can hear John over my shoulder going, 'No, no, no, that's not gonna work; why don't we do this?' Or 'Hey, I like this.'" He said, "So, in essence, to me, we're songwriting together even if we're not together."
Now do you see something between those two comments about how their relationship, how it was very — ? Even when I think they were at their furthest away from each other, I think there was something, a strong connection between those two people.
A couple of other things, very quickly, I want to run through with you. You write, on pages seventy-four [and] seventy-five of your own book, "Accolades and adoration for being able to sing and whip your hips in a suggestive manner at the same time do not make one a master of all intelligentsia. Some of my most bizarre, clinging-to-the-edge friends were sought out for their wisdom just because they were famous. If these same people broke a shoelace in the morning, they were lost for the day, and yet the words that literally escaped from their numbed brains were taken as gospel truth and lives were shaped after their insane verbiage." Anyone in specific that you have in mind, about the broken shoelaces and being lost for a day?
Well, I — yeah, you know, I can say this because I — during those days with Waylon I couldn't tie my shoelaces [and] at the same time he couldn't. But Waylon became almost like a God to so many people, you know. A lot of desperate people, a lot of people that wanted to come up out of the dirt like he did and — they idolized him. And you know, it's documented. We had a real history of drugs, you know, like Captain Midnight, I mean — and this would be pretty heavy. We made the rock and rollers look like choirboys when it came to partying. And you don't remember Captain Midnight. Captain Midnight said once, he said, "Yeah, sometimes we'd stay up for six days and it would feel like a week!" [Laughter] You know. So Waylon was particularly — would be asked for really deep advice about somebody's personal problems or life guidance issues, and [laughs] in the middle of — sometimes, I'd sit and I'd look and I'd say, "I can't believe you're saying that!" and then I'd go, "I can't believe this guy's gonna go away with this," you know. [laughs]
"Can't believe you're being asked!"
You write on page 156 about being present as George Harrison replaced some of his guitar parts and vocals for the live album and movie soundtrack to "The Concert for Bangladesh." Are you aware — can you recall which songs we're talking about?
No, you know what? —
Was it throughout the whole album?
It was basically throughout the whole album. And I think what George was — and he stated this to me — I don't think I wrote about it in the book; I might have — that he was really trying to maintain the integrity of the project and not fake anybody out. There were just things that happened on a live recording to maybe where, you know, there's a piece of electronic feedback or something, or just an absolute clinker that the listener doesn't need to suffer through or, you know, a flat vocal or something. So he was meticulously going through the thing and just cleaning up things. He wasn't trying to, you know, rewrite the history of the moment. He was just, as a producer of the project, just wanted to make it better, that's all. So some people could say, "Well, that was dishonest and it wasn't really a live recording," but that wasn't his attitude on that. And it was nice for me to see him sit and just work as a technician, and just you know — almost you'd say a businessman, a musical businessman, in that respect.
One of the things that has been made available to collectors of Beatles rarities recently — as I mentioned to you yesterday, there's a great paucity of it at this point, of collectible material that's emerging — is an uncut, clean soundboard recording of The Beatles' Shea Stadium concert from 1965. And unbeknownst to me, and, I think, a lot of Beatles fans, the version that had proliferated as a bootleg for so long — because it was based on the television documentary that was produced at the time of the Shea concert — included a lot of exactly similar overdubs by The Beatles of vocals and guitar parts, and even drumming parts, that they did in the studio in early 1966 for that purpose. And only, as I say, last year was a clean recording of the Shea concert made available for collectors. What now, of course, the freaks like myself want to get our hands on is that recording session from early 1966!
And I have to become the questioner here: How did they get the supposedly bootleg tapes —
The clean, the clean soundboard recording of the concert?
Yeah, and then how did it come out, that whole process [inaudible] —
Well, this is one of those instances, Ken, where even as a reporter I incline toward ignorance, and learn not to look a gift horse in the mouth!
I gathered from the book that you had an extraordinary affection for Mal Evans —
— who was one of the earliest and the deepest [members] of the Beatle Inner Circle.
But you — and you write about having spoken with him very close to the moment where he was killed by Los Angeles police in 1976.
There's a chance I could have been maybe the last person who did speak to him —
— outside of Fran, you know —
His lady friend.
And in recounting that conversation you said something that I wanted to pursue with you. You write, and this is on page 179: "Something seemed peculiar even though he was professing optimism, and in the middle of his good news, I asked him what was wrong. 'Nothing is wrong,' he said. 'Paul and I just worked out some problems, and he's going to give me credit for some of the things I wrote with him— 'I interrupted again, asking him what was wrong." And he continued to talk about some other projects he had in the pipeline, or may have had in the pipeline. But I was struck by this quote from him: "Paul and I just worked out some problems and he's going to give me credit for some of the things I wrote with him." In your prior discussions with Mal Evans, had he complained to you that he was denied credit for some sort of contribution to The Beatles' recording catalogue in some way?
Never. And I've never thought about that. That's interesting you brought this into, um, that recollection. I don't ever remember Mal — and I think that was loyalty. I don't think Mal would ever, you know, confide to somebody, "Yeah, well, Paul's, you know, ripping me off," or something like that.
Was it his view, as — had you ever heard him express the view previously —
— that he had made to contributions to either the lyrics or the music in some way?
No. I never had — until that time. And it was a bit of a surprise to me at the time. And I don't know the depth, I don't know what it was. It was a general statement like that, that he and Paul had sorted out some things. And I've — again, have heard later of things that I'm not privy to, that there were songs. I've heard that Mal was actually given some money — and this is just things I've heard now — that he was given, paid off, basically, for contributing to a song here and there instead of [being] given credit, so that everything could stay in order as far as Lennon-McCartney. But, uh —
How did you hear that?
Uh, I've read that recently, something. I don't know. But I heard that — that's what I heard [laughs].
Given your insights into that circle, is it conceivable that Mal Evans would have contributed somehow to either the lyrics or the music or the instrumentation, somehow, of any Beatles song?
Absolutely! Because, you know, the night of me hanging around with Paul and being included in the lyrics to something — and I think it's very obvious, you know, Mal lived with these guys. He was with them all the time. It's pretty hard not to imagine that — I mean, 'cause Paul, when you were with Paul a lot of times, he was always writing. I mean, he was — I remember that [Apple Records president] Ron Kass and I had tried to get Paul to carry a little — some kind of recorder around with him, because we would be doing something and he'd sit down at a piano and he'd rattle off something that would just blow us away. And the next day we'd say, "Hey, you know that song about the trolley car?" And he'd go, "What song?" And he was just in, you know, constant stuff just comin' out of him. So I can very much see Mal being involved in a lot of times, you know, with opinions and, you know, and sometimes maybe giving a whole line or a chorus idea or whatever. That's just not — that doesn't seem odd to me at all. And that night that Mal died, to me the point of the story was, is the closeness of Mal and I and — 'cause Mal was presenting these things, something about a production deal with Atlantic Records. He called me and there was something odd about the call. I couldn't put my finger on it. And then when he started rattling these things off, the reason I said, "What's wrong, Mal?" is Mal was really defending something as opposed to going, "Hey, you know, cool, I got this or that." It was more like he was validating something or defending something. It was just a tone in that, and I knew something was wrong, you know.
You, at various places in your book, warn the reader about the unreliability of other books about The Beatles, based on what you yourself knew. H.R. Haldeman, who was President Nixon's chief of staff and went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal —
— used to say that because he had so much time on his hands in prison, he made a practice of reading every book about Nixon and Watergate that he could get his hands on with three colored pencils, underlining every sentence with one of the different pencils. Those sentences he knew to be true, he underlined with the red pencil, if you will; those he knew to be false, with the blue pencil; and those that he couldn't say one way or the other, with the third pencil. And I wonder if there's — and you've probably had a similar experience, in reading some of these books. I wonder if there is a particular book, or books, by somebody who was not a member of the inner circle, somebody who was not a contemporary of The Beatles, but simply a reporter or historian, that you would say: These are definitive books, or, this is a book that I can recommend. This probably gets it right. Probably Bruce Spizer's books I guess you would point to.
Yes, because they are, you know, so technically, so technically accurate, in a way, because Bruce is a historian, he's a gatherer of facts. The books that I object to are the ones you quoted [from] earlier. But if you told me that these two fellows [McCabe and Schonfeld] were on staff there [at Apple], and worked there and these were their firsthand observations, then I would go, "Wow, that's something, you know, I didn't know." Like Tony Bramwell's recent book [Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles (Thomas Dunne Books, 2005)]. Tony was with them for a long time, and when Tony would talk about things, I really knew they were true, because I knew he was there. And you know, like in Patti's new book [Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me (Harmony, 2007), by Patti Boyd and Penny Junor], I learned a lot of things about George I didn't know. If I would have heard that from a historian, I would have gone, "Well, I don't know; that's just their, you know, they talked to somebody."
So the only books that I've really — unless you go to a Bruce Spizer book that's actually just a clear-cut historian's look at it — but when you get into this personal stuff, and the guy wasn't in the room, I don't know. And I've had instances where I have read books where I was in the room and I'm going, "That's not true."
Besides Bruce Spizer, are there any sort of general histories of The Beatles that you would point to — you know, I don't know if you've made a science of reading them all.
No, I really haven't! [laughs]
You know, there's Philip Norman's Shout! [Shout! The Beatles In Their Generation (MJF Books, 1981)] There's —
I like Steve Turner's books about The Beatles.
Which are those?
Well, "The Gospel According To The Beatles" [(Westminster John Knox Press, 2006)], and what was the other one that he — "In Their Own Write" [sic; A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song (Collins, revised edition, 1999)], I think. Because I think Steve tends to be historically accurate because he's so cautious. I mean, this guy does things — I can't believe how much time and effort, and how he'll go out, you know, fly around the world to get one sentence of clear fact. But he also really does interject an appropriate personal, you know, an opinion and overview of things. So he's the only guy that wasn't there that I think really accomplishes about as much as anybody. "The Gospel According To The Beatles" is a book you can't read without putting it down and being moved, confused, you know, eye-opening about a lot of things. So I don't read a lot of the books, because like I told you, the first book I read was Peter Brown's and after that I just thought I don't care anymore, you know? [laughs]
Okay. We're down to our last couple of questions, you'll be grateful to know.
Okay. No, I'm enjoying this, James.
I want to ask about concerts. How many actual Beatles concerts, apart from the rooftop concert, did you attend?
And they were?
They were the Hollywood Bowl [August 23, 1964] and the Dodgers Stadium [August 28, 1966].
Dodgers Stadium. Were those the same year or separate years?
Those were '65 and '66.
Okay. So you were present for the second Hollywood Bowl concert. Because they played the Hollywood Bowl in '64, as I understand. And there's film footage of that.
Right, right. Actually, there's one other concert I did appear at, that, again, nobody else was there except four or five of us and that was upstairs at a hotel dining room where they — we were having lunch during one of our meetings and they'd set aside the dining room upstairs, because it wasn't open during lunch. And they seated us at a round table in front of a bandstand where there was a cocktail set. And after lunch the four of them got up and did a little set for Gortikov and I [laughs] and Neil [Aspinall] and a couple of people, and so —
But they weren't on their own instruments, right?
And the thing — that's what was interesting! They were just playing and it was really fun. Because they would — each jumped on a different instrument than they were known for, you know?
What did they actually play?
Well, the only person I can remember — well, the thing about that in my memory is I can't remember what Ringo played! You know? [laughs] 'Cause I could see Paul and George and John moving around between bass and drums and guitar and stuff like that, but I'm not sure what Ringo did! [laughs] But I do remember Paul sitting behind the kit. That's the one thing I do remember.
There are photographs of each of The Beatles playing the different instruments. There's photographs of Ringo playing guitar; there are photographs of each of the other Beatles playing drums....One person you don't discuss much in the book is Brian Epstein. And I presume you met him.
I did meet Brian and, as in everything else, if I don't know anything about something, I don't come up with something. I met Brian once, and worked with him in a very light manner, at the "Help!" press conference. And that's the only time I ever met him, the only time I worked with him. I had no communication with him across the ocean after that. And then by the time they brought me aboard he was already gone, so I don't really know anything about Brian. That's why I don't have anything to say on him.
Last question: For all that we've talked about the subject of The Beatles, we haven't talked about their music, per se, and their sound. First, although your interaction with them was more or less limited to what we would call the later Beatles, the late Beatles — I mean, you were there for the "Help!" press conference — but more or less, you didn't enter their — you didn't become an intimate of theirs until the Apple era.
Not till the Apple — yeah, the Apple thing is what brought us together.
Do you have any thoughts on the early Beatles music and just where it fits in the sixties, and so on?
I do, because I think the key to The Beatles' success, maybe from one aspect, was there was this sense of innocence about their music. There was a sense of simplicity and accessibility, I mean, bordering on "moon-June-spoon"-type thing, you know, and I just think the lightness and the honesty of their lyrics. And I believe that's what really drew people in. I think that The Beatles were able to bring people in on a level to where they didn't have to be too smart, that they could just get in and enjoy it, you know —
Yeah, but what distinguished them — you were working with acts like the Beach Boys at that time —
— who were also not writing, at that point, profound lyrics —
That's true! [laughs]
— and what was it that set The Beatles apart and gave them the kind of phenomenal chart success in the early sixties that nobody else could touch?
I think even at that realm of simplicity that they actually almost blew you away with just how incredible their music was. I mean, Paul McCartney could make rhymes with words that didn't rhyme! Their pannings and the way they did their, you know, their approach to recording; that sound that — I've never heard that sound again like that. that was just, you know, that magic sound they had. The songs, their arrange — they just hit you like a wall of new stuff that was phenomenal.
I'm going to toss in my theory, which is —
— it has something to do with the actual beat, and with Ringo Starr's drumming in the early music.
Well, the Mersey Beat, absolutely! Because this thing, think about it: If something can take over a regional area, and just totally engulf the young people, there's no reason why it couldn't be a worldwide thing, which it did with The Beatles, you know.
I have not made a. you know, a complete science of this, but I have listened to a lot of Top 40 music from, you know, 1955 to 1964, and I don't hear a single record — with, you know, some exceptions of maybe like something like Bruce Chanel's "Hey Baby"  or something like "Deep Purple" by Nino Tempo and April Stevens , I think —
Sure, yeah. And Philly, maybe, where there was a "sound," you know [laughs] —
Well, this kind of laid-back, backbeat approach that Ringo Starr took.
It was mostly swing-jazz-type drumming for the Little Richard records and other kind of — for rock and roll.
And when Ringo comes along, it's a boxier, more muscular sort of drumming sound, I think. If you listen to the drumming on "A Hard Day's Night" or "She Loves You," it's just harder and just different than anything that precedes it. That's my observation.
Well, it is. And I think the reason Ringo was the perfect drummer for The Beatles was that he knew how to stay out of the way. and he let what the rest of the guys did, you know, surface and be heard and he put it in the pocket. For me, when I think of Ringo, I think of the high-hat. I don't know why. I think of the pocket and I think of the high-hat. [laughs] There was just something about the way he had his own little sound and that's why I think he was the perfect drummer for them.
That's it for me, Ken. That's all the questions I have.
There's one thing, I don't know if we touched upon this — and we might have yesterday. When we were in the meetings and they would refer to "The Beatles." Did we talk about that?
As sort of an entity apart from themselves, right?
We didn't. But I'd be happy to.
Well, it was a strange thing for me. And again, when we talked about understanding Paul's and John's relationship by the comments Paul made to me. In the first meetings we were having, when we were setting up Apple, here I'm sitting with these four guys, and they keep referring to "The Beatles." And they referred to "The Beatles" in such a way as like they were talking about a band from another planet or something. And so, I asked them, I said, "I don't understand. You know, you keep talking about The Beatles like they were somebody else." And they explained to me that the whole thing with them had gone so far beyond them that as they sat there — and then during the meeting also they would say, "Well, John this," or you know, "John, Paul, and I and Ringo did this," or something. But then they would refer to "The Beatles" separately. And they just said that it went so far beyond us that it has become a separate entity. It's like something that we're observers of, this phenomenon that's then become "The Beatles." So I thought that was very interesting.
Well, and just, perhaps, a survival mechanism.