by The Beatles
Artwork by Klaus Voormann
Illustrations by Klaus Voormann and Alfons Kiefer
First published October 5, 2000
THE BEATLES' STORY
TOLD FOR THE FIRST TIME
IN THEIR OWN
WORDS AND PICTURES
JOHN: 'The Sixties saw a revolution among youth - not just concentrating in small pockets or classes, but a revolution in a whole way of thinking. The youth got it first and the next generation second. The Beatles were part of the revolution, which is really an evolution, and is continuing. We were all on this ship - a ship going to discover the New World. And The Beatles were in the crow's nest.'
PAUL: ' "To thine own self be true." I think that was very apt with The Beatles. We always were very true to ourselves - and I think that the brutal honesty The Beatles had was important. So sticking to our own guns and really saying what we thought in some way gave some other people in the world the idea that they too could be truthful and get away with it, and in fact it was a good thing.'
GEORGE: 'The moral of the story is that if you accept the high points you're going to have to go through the lows. For The Beatles, our lives were a very heightened version of that: of how to learn about love and hate, and up and down, and good and bad, and loss and gain. It was a hyper-version of what everybody else was going through. So, basically, it's all good. Whatever happened is good as long as we've learnt something. It's only bad if we didn't learn: "Who am I? Where am I going? Where have I come from?" '
RINGO: 'They became the closest friends I'd ever had. I was an only child and suddenly I felt as though I'd got three brothers. We really looked out for each other and we had many laughs together. In the old days we'd have the hugest hotel suites, the whole floor of a hotel, and the four of us would end up in the bathroom, just to be with each other.'
HERE, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN PRINT, IS THE HISTORY OF THE BEATLES - BY THE BEATLES.
This extraordinary project has been made possible because Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr have agreed to tell their combined story especially for this book. Together with Yoko Ono Lennon, they have also made available the full transcripts (including all the outtakes) of the television and video series The Beatles Anthology. Through painstaking compilation of sources worldwide, John Lennon's words are equally represented in this remarkable volume. Furthermore, The Beatles have opened their personal and management archives specifically for this project, allowing the unprecedented release of photographs which they took along their ride to fame, as well as fascinating doucments and memorabilia from their homes and offices.
What a book The Beatles Anthology is! Each page is brimming with personal stories and rare and vintage images. Snapshots from their family collections take us back to the days when John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey were just boys growing up in Liverpool. They talk in turn about those early years and how they came to join the band that would make them known around the world as John, Paul, George and Ringo. Then, weaving back and forth, they tell the astonishing story of life as The Beatles: the first rough gigs, the phenomenon of their rise to fame, the musical and social change of their heyday, all the way through to their breakup. From the time Ringo tried to take his drum kit home on the bus to their eagerly anticipated meeting with Elvis, from the making of the Sgt. Pepper album to their last photo session together at John's house, The Beatles Anthology is a once-in-a-lifetime collection of The Beatles' own memories.
Interwoven with these are the recollections of such associates as road manager Neil Aspinall, producer George Martin and spokesman Derek Taylor. And included in the vast array of photographs are materials from both Apple and EMI, who also opened their archives for this project. This, indeed, is the inside story, providing a wealth of previously unpublished material in both word and image.
Created with their full cooperation, The Beatles Anthology is, in effect, The Beatles' autobiography. Like their music, which has been a part of so many of our lives, it's warm, frank, funny, poignant and bold. At last, here is The Beatles' own story.
WHAT CAN I TELL YOU ABOUT MYSELF WHICH YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY FOUND OUT FROM THOSE WHO DO NOT LIE?
I wear glasses. Being born on 9th October 1940, I wasn't the first Beatle to happen. Ringo, being born on 7th July 1940, was. Although he didn't happen as a Beatle until much later than the rest of us, having played with his beard at Butlins and things before realising where his awful destiny lay.
Ninety per cent of the people on this planet, especially in the West, were born out of a bottle of whisky on a Saturday night, and there was no intent to have children. Ninety per cent of us were accidents - I don't know anybody who has planned a child. All of us were Saturday-night specials.
My mother was a housewife, I suppose. She was a comedienne and a singer. Not professional, but she used to get up in pubs and things like that. She had a good voice. She could do Kay Starr. She used to do this little tune when I was just a one- or two-year-old. The tune was from the Disney movie - 'Want to know a secret? Promise not to tell. You are standing by a wishing well.'
My mother and father split when I was four and I lived with an auntie, Mimi.
Mimi told me my parents had fallen out of love. She never said anything directly against my father and mother. I soon forgot my father. It was like he was dead. But I did see my mother now and again and my feeling never died off for her. I often thought about her, though I'd never realised for a long time that she was living no more than five or ten miles away.
There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women; five sisters. One happened to be my mother. My mother just couldn't deal with life. She was the youngest and she couldn't cope with me and I ended up living with her elder sister.
Those women were fantastic. One day I might do a kind of Forsyte Saga about them, because they dominated the situation in the family.
The men were invisible. I was always with the women. I always them talk about men and talk about life, and they always knew what was going on. The men never ever knew. That was my first feminist education.
The worst pain is that of not being wanted, of realising your parents do not need you in the way you need them. When I was a child I experienced moments of not wanting to see the ugliness, not wanting to see not being wanted. This lack of love went into my eyes and into my mind.
I was never really wanted. The only reason I am a star is because of my repression. Nothing would have driven me through all that if I was 'normal'.
Sometimes I was relieved to have no parents. Most of my friends' relations bore little resemblance to humanity. Their heads were filled with petty-cash bourgeois fears. Mine was full of my own ideas! Life was spent entertaining myself, whilst secretly waiting to find someone to communicate with. Most people were dead. A few were half-dead. It didn't take much to amuse them.
Most people never get out of it. Some people cannot see that their parents are still torturing them, even when they are in their forties and fifties. They still have that stranglehold over them, their thoughts and their minds. I never had that fear of, and adulation for, parents.
Penny Lane is a suburban district where I lived with my mother and father (although my father was a sailor, always at sea), and my grandfather. I lived on a street called Newcastle Road.
That's the first place I remember. It's a good way to start - red brick; front room never used, always curtains drawn, picture of a horse and carriage on the wall. There were only three bedrooms upstairs, one on the front of the street, one in the back, and one teeny little room in the middle.
After I left Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie, who lived in the suburbs in a nice semi-detached place [251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton] with a small garden and doctors and lawyers and that ilk living around, not the poor, slummy image that was projected. I was a nice clean-cut suburban boy, and in the class system that was about a half a niche higher-class than Paul, George and Ringo who lived in council houses. We owned our own house, had our own garden; they didn't have anything like that. So I was a bit of a fruit compared to them, in a way. Ringo was the only real city kid. I think he came out of the lousiest area. He doesn't care, he probably had more fun there.
The first thing I remember is a nightmare.
I dream in colour, and it's always very surreal. My dream world is complete Hieronymus Bosch and Dali. I love it, I look forward to it every night.
One recurrent dream, all through my life, was the flying bit. I'd always fly in time of danger. I remember it as a child, flying around, like swimming in the air. I'd be swimming round where I lived or somewhere I knew very well usually. The other times in dreams I remember are nightmarish, where there'd be a giant horse or something and whenever it would get near to a danger point I would fly away. I used to translate it to myself, when I used to dream it in Liverpool, that it was that I wanted to get away from the place.
Some of my most vivid dreams were about me being in a plane, flying over a certain part of Liverpool. It was when I was at school. The plane used to fly over time and time again, going higher and higher.
One really big one was about thousands of half-crowns all around me. And finding lots of money in old houses - as much of the stuff as I could carry. I used to put it in my pockets and in my hands and in sacks, and I could still never carry as much as I wanted. I must have had ambition without realising it - a subconscious urge to get above people or out of a rut.
You dream your way out until you actually, physically get out of it. I got out.
I have exactly the same feeling anybody does about their home town. I have met people who don't like their home town. Probably because they've had a lousy time. I had a happy, healthy childhood in Liverpool and I like it. It doesn't stop you living somewhere else or going somewhere else, it's still my home town.
Liverpool is where the Irish came when they ran out of potatoes, and it's where black people were left or worked as slaves or whatever. We were a great amount of Irish descent and blacks and Chinamen, all sorts.
It was going poor, a very poor city, and tough. But people have a sense of humour because they are in so much pain, so they are always cracking jokes. They are very witty. And we talk through our noses. I suppose it's adenoids.
We were a port, the second biggest in England. The North is where the money was made in the 1800s. That was where all the brass and heavy people were, and that's where the despised people were. We were the ones that were looked down upon as animals by the Southerners, the Londoners.
There were two famous houses [in Woolton]. One was owned by Gladstone - a reformatory for boys, which I could see out my window. And Strawberry Field, just around the corner from that, an old Victorian house converted for Salvation Army orphans. (Apparently, it used to be a farm that made strawberries.) As a kid I used to go to their garden parties with my friends Ivan, Nigel and Pete. We'd all go up there and hang out and sell lemonade bottles. We always had fun at Strawberry Field.
I was hip in kindergarten. I was different from others. I was different all my life. It's not a case of 'then he took acid and woke up', or 'then he had a marijuana joint and woke up'. Everything is as important as everything else. My influences are tremendous, from Lewis Carroll to Oscar Wilde to tough little kids that used to live near me who ended up in prison. It's that same problem I had when I was five: 'There is something wrong with me because I seem to see things other people don't see.'
I was always a homebody; I think that a lot of musicians are - you write and you play in the house. When I was wanting to be a painter when I was younger, or write poetry, it was always in the house.
I spent a lot of time reading. Hanging around the home never bothered me. I enjoy it. I love it. I thought it was because I was an only child. Although I had half-sisters, I lived alone. I always tripped out on my own or in books.
I always had this dream of being the artist in a little cottage in a little road. My real thing is just to write a little poetry and do a few oils. It seemed like such a dream, living in a cottage and wandering in the trees.
I was passionate about Alice in Wonderland and drew all the characters. I did poems in the style of 'Jabberwocky'. I used to love Alice, and Just William. I wrote my own William stories, with me doing all the things. Wind in the Willows, I loved. After I'd read a book, I'd re-live it all. That was one reason why I wanted to be the gang leader at school. I'd want them all to play games that I wanted to play, the ones I'd just been reading.
I did fight all the way through Dovedale [primary school], winning by psychological means if ever anyone looked bigger than me. I threatened them in a strong enough way that I would beat them, so they thought I could.
With the fact that I wasn't tied to parents I would infiltrate the other boys' minds. That was the gift I got, of not having parents. I cried a lot about not having them, but I also had the gift of awareness of not being something.
I was shot at once for stealing apples. I used to go thieving with this kid. We used to ride on the bumpers of tram cars in Penny Lane and ride miles without paying. I'd be shitting myself all the time. I was so scared. I nearly fell off while riding on the bumpers.
I was the kingpin of my age group. I learnt lots of dirty jokes very young; there was a girl who lived near who told me them.
I wasn't taught anything about sex. I learnt it all from the bog walls. I knew everything when I was about eight. Everything had been shown, everybody had seen dirty pictures, everybody knew all the perversities and the naughty things that there were - you just found out. When we are free of our guilt and hypocrisy about it, sex will take its rightful place in society - just part of living.
Edinburgh is one of my favourite dreams. The Edinburgh Festival and the Tattoo in the castle. All the bands of the world's armies would come and march and play. The favourites were the Americans, because they swung like shit - apart from the Scots, who were really the favourites. I always remember feeling very emotional about it, especially at the end where they put all the lights out and there's just one guy playing the bagpipes, lit by a lone spotlight. Och aye.
I was obviously musical from very early, and I wonder why nobody ever did anything about it - maybe because they couldn't afford it.
[When I was young] I was travelling to Edinburgh on my own to see my auntie, and I played the mouth organ all the way up on the bus. The driver liked it and told me to meet him at a place in Edinburgh the next morning and he'd give me a fantastic one. It really got me going. I also had a little accordion which I used to play - only the right hand - and I played the same things on this that I played on mouth organ, things like 'Swedish Rhapsody', 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Greensleeves'.
I can't remember why I took it [harmonica] up in the first place - I must have picked one up very cheap. I know we used to take in students and one of them had a mouth organ and said he'd buy me one if I could learn a tune by the next morning. So I learnt two. I was somewhere between eight and twelve at the time; in short pants, anyway.
There's an exam in England that they hang over your head from age five, called the Eleven Plus: 'If you don't pass the Eleven Plus, you're finished in life.' So that was the only exam that I ever passed, because I was terrified.
(After the exam's over, the teacher says you can do whatever you want. So I just painted.)
I looked at all the hundreds of new kids [at Quarry Bank grammar school] and thought, 'Christ, I'll have to fight all my way through this lot,' having just made it at Dovedale. There was some real heavies there. The first fight I got in, I lost. I lost my nerve when I got really hurt. Not that there was much real fighting; I did a lot of swearing and shouting, then got a quick punch. If there was a bit of blood, then you packed in. After that, if I thought someone could punch harder than me, I said, 'OK, we'll have wrestling instead.'
I was aggressive because I wanted to be popular. I wanted to be the leader. It seemed more attractive than just being one of the toffees. I wanted everybody to do what I told them to do, to laugh at my jokes and let me be the boss. I suppose I did try to do a bit of school work at first, as I often did at Dovedale. I'd been honest at Dovedale, if nothing else, always owning up. But I began to realise that was foolish; they just got you. So I started lying about everything.
I only got one beating from Mimi - for taking money from her handbag. I was always taking a little, for soft things like Dinky's, but this day I must have taken too much.
When I was about twelve, I used to think I must be a genius but nobody's noticed. I thought, 'I'm a genius or I'm mad. Which is it? I can't be mad because nobody's put me away - therefore I'm a genius.' I mean, a genius is a form of mad person. We're all that way, but I used to be a bit coy about it - like my guitar-playing. If there's such a thing as genius, I am one. And if there isn't, I don't care. I used to think it when I was a kid writing my poetry and doing my paintings. I didn't become something when The Beatles made it; I've been like this all my life. Genius is pain, too. It's just pain.
I always wondered, 'Why has no one discovered me?' In school, didn't they see that I'm cleverer than anybody in this school?
If I look through my report card, it's the same thing: 'Too content to get a cheap laugh hiding behind this,' or, 'Daydreaming his life away.'
I daydreamed my way through the whole school. I absolutely was in a trance for twenty years because it was absolutely boring. If I wasn't in a trance, I wasn't there - I was at the movies, or running around.
I used to embarrass authority by chanting out a weird version of 'The Happy Wanderer' at inappropriate moments. I was suspended for a spell. I think it was for eating chocolate in prayers or ducking a swimming instructor; something daft like that.
One maths master wrote, 'He's on the road to failure if he carries on this way.' Most of them disliked me, so I'm always glad to remind them of the incredible awareness they had.
But there was always one teacher in each school, usually an art teacher or English language or literature. If it was anything to do with art or writing, I was OK, but if it was anything to do with science or maths, I couldn't get it in.
When I was fifteen I was thinking, 'If only I can get out of Liverpool and be famous and rich, wouldn't it be great?
I wanted to write Alice in Wonderland, but when you think, 'Whatever I do I'm never going to topple Leonardo,' you get to thinking, 'What's the use?' A lot of people had more pain than me and they've done better things.
I wouldn't say I was a born writer; I'm a born thinker. I'd always been able at school - when they want you to imagine something instead of giving you a subject; I could do that.
At school we used to draw a lot and pass it round. We had blind dogs leading ordinary people around.
I suppose I did have a cruel humour. It was at school that it first started. We were once coming home from a school speech day and we'd had a few bevvies. Liverpool is full of deformed people, three-foot-high men selling newspapers. I'd never really noticed them before, but all the way home that day they seemed to be everywhere. It got funnier and funnier and we couldn't stop laughing. I suppose it's a way of hiding your emotions, or covering it up. I would never hurt a cripple. It was just part of our jokes, our way of life.
All kids draw and write poetry and everything, and some of us last until we're about eighteen, but most drop off at about twelve when some guy comes up and says, 'You're no good.' That's all we get told all our lives: 'You haven't got the ability. You're a cobbler.' It happened to all of us, but if somebody had told me all my life, 'Yeah, you're a great artist,' I would have been a more secure person.
They should give you time to develop, encourage what you're interested in. I was always interested in art and came top for many years, yet no one took any interest.
It's like when they ask you, 'What do you want to be?' I would say, 'Well, a journalist.' I never would dare to say, 'An artist,' because in the social background that I came from - as I used to say to my auntie - you read about artists and you worship them in museums, but you don't want them living around the house. So the teachers said, 'No, something real.' And I'd say, 'Well, present me with some alternative.' They'd suggest veterinarian, doctor, dentist, lawyer. And I knew there was no hope in hell of me ever becoming that. So there was never anywhere for me to go.
They only wanted scientists in the Fifties. Any artsy-fartsy people were spies. They still are, in society.
Even at art school they tried to turn me into a teacher - they try to discourage you from painting - and said, 'Why not be a teacher? Then you can paint on Sunday?' I decided against it.
At school I saw a lot wrong with society. I revolted the same way as all my colleagues. Anyone who had anything didn't fit in with the school curriculum, and all my reports from Quarry Bank were on the line: 'He is clever, but doesn't try.' I was a particularly offensive schoolboy. I am one of your typical working-class heroes. Mine was the same sort of revolution as D. H. Lawrence's - I didn't blieve in class and the whole fight was against class structure.
I always was a rebel because of whatever sociological thing gave me a chip on the shoulder. But on the other hand, I want to be loved and accepted. That's why I'm on stage, like a performing flea. Because I would like to belong. Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouth, lunatic, poet/musician. But I cannot be what I'm not. What the hell do you do? You want to belong, but you don't because you cannot belong.
I was fairly tough at school, but I could organise it so it seemed like I was tough. It used to get me into trouble. I used to dress tough like a Teddy boy, but if I went into the tough districts and came across other Teddy boys, I was in danger. At school it was easier because I could control it with my head so they thought I was tougher than I was. It was a game. I mean, we used to shoplift and all those things, but nothing really heavy. Liverpool's quite a tough city. A lot of the real Teddy boys were actually in their early twenties. They were dockers. We were only fifteen, we were only kids - they had hatchets, belts, bicycle chains and real weapons. We never really got into that, and if somebody came in front of us we ran, me and my gang.
The sort of gang I led went in for things like shoplifting and pulling girls' knickers down. When the bomb fell and everyone got caught, I was always the one they missed. I was scared at the time, but Mimi was the only parent who never found out. Most of the masters hated me like shit. As I got older, we'd go on from just stuffing rubbish like sweets in our pockets from shops, and progressed to getting enough to sell to others, like ciggies.
I'm not a tough guy. I've always had to have a facade of being tough to protect myself from other people's neuroses. But really, I'm a very sensitive weak guy.
I'd say I had a happy childhood. I came out aggressive, but I was never miserable. I was always having a laugh.
We [Mimi's husband and I] got on fine. He was nice and kind. [When] he died, I didn't know how to be sad publicly - what you did or said - so I went upstairs. Then my cousin arrived and she came upstairs as well. We both had hysterics. We just laughed and laughed. I felt very guilty afterwards.
Mimi was looking after me on her own and she wanted to keep up this semi-detached house and not go down, and so we took students in at one time.
She always wanted me to be a rugby type or a chemist. I was writing poetry and singing since she had me. All the time I used to fight and say, 'Look, I'm an artist, don't bug me with all this maths. Don't try and make me into a chemist or a vet. I can't do it.'
I used to say, 'Don't you destroy my papers.' I'd come home when I was fourteen and she'd rooted all my things and thrown all my poetry out. I was saying, 'One day I'll be famous and you're going to regret it.'
I'd seen these poems around, the sort you read to give you a hard-on. I'd wondered who wrote them and thought I'd try one myself. Mimi found it under my pillow. I said I'd been made to write it out for another lad who couldn't write very well. I'd written it myself, of course.
When I did any serious poems, like emotional stuff later on, I did it in secret handwriting, all scribbles, so that Mimi couldn't read it.
My mother [Julia] came to see us one day in a black coat with her face bleeding. She'd had some sort of accident. I couldn't face it. I thought, 'That's my mother in there, bleeding.' I went out into the garden. I loved her, but I didn't want to get involved. I suppose I was a moral coward. I wanted to hide all feelings.
Julia gave me my first coloured shirt. I staarted going to visit her at her house. I met her new bloke and didn't think much of him. I called him Twitchy. Julia became a sort of young aunt to me, or a big sister. As I got bigger and had more rows with Mimi, I used to go and live with Julia for a weekend.
[Twitchy was] otherwise known as Robert Dykins or Bobbie Dykins. Her second husband - I don't know if she married him or not; little waiter with a nervous cough and the thinning, margarine-coated hair. He always used to push his hand in the margarine or the butter, usually the margarine, and grease his hair with it before he left. He used to keep his tips in a big tin on top of a cupboard in the kitchen, and I used to always steal them. I believe Mother got the blame. That's the least they could do for me.
I'd always had a fantasy about a woman who would be a beautiful, intelligent, dark-haired, high-cheekboned, free-spirited artist (a la Juliette Green). My soul mate. Someone that I had already known, but somehow had lost. Of course, as a teenager, my sexual fantasies were full of Anita Ekberg and the usual giant Nordic goddesses. That is, until Brigitte Bardot became the love of my life in the late Fifties. (All my girlfriends who weren't dark-haired suffered my constant pressure to become Brigitte. By the time I married my first wife - who was a natural auburn - she too had become a long-haired blonde with the obligatory bangs. I met the real Brigitte a few years later. I was on acid and she was on her way out.)
I read some guy saying about the sexual fantasies and urges that he had all his life. When he was twenty, and then when he was thirty, he thought they'd cool down a bit. Then when he got in his forties he thought they'd cool down, but they didn't, they went on sixty, seventy... until he was still dribbling in his mind when he couldn't possibly do anything about it. I thought, 'Shit!' because I was always waiting for them to lessen, but I suppose it's going to go on forever. 'Forever' is a bit too strong a word - let's say you go on until you leave this body, anyway. Let's hope. Maybe the game is to conquer it before you leave, otherwise you come back for more (and who wants to come back just to come?).
I remember a night, or should I say day, in my teens when I was fucking my girlfriend on a gravestone and my arse got covered in greenfly. This was a good lesson in karma and/or gardening. Barbara, where are you now? Fat and ugly? Fifteen kids? Years of hell with me should have made you ready for anything. What's so sad about the past is it's passed. I wonder who's kissing her now.
America used to be the big youth place in everybody's imagination. America had teenagers and everywhere else just had people.
We all knew America, all of us. All those movies, every movie we ever saw as children, whether it was Disneyland or Doris Day, Rock Hudson, James Dean or Marilyn. Everything was American: Coca-Cola, Heinz ketchup - I thought Heinz ketchup was English until I went to America.
The music was mainly American before rock'n'roll. We still had our own artists, but the big artists were American. It was the Americans coming to the London Palladium. They wouldn't even make an English movie without an American in it, even a B movie, because nobody would go to the movie. They'd have a Canadian if they couldn't get an American.
There was no such thing as an English record. I think the first English record that was anywhere near anything was 'Move It' by Cliff Richard, and before that there'd been nothing.
Liverpool is cosmopolitan. It's where the sailors would come home on the ships with the blues records from America. We were hearing old funky blues records in Liverpool that people across Britain or Europe had never heard about or knew about, only the port areas.
There is the biggest country-and-western following in England in Liverpool, besides London. I heard country-and-western music in Liverpool before I heard rock'n'roll. The people there - the Irish in Ireland are the same - they take their music very seriously. There were established folk, blues and country-and-western clubs in Liverpool before rock'n'roll.
As kids we were all opposed to folk songs because they were so middle-class. It was all college students with big scarfs and a pint of beer in their hands singing in la-di-da voices. 'I worked in a mine in Newcastle,' and all that shit. There were very few and folk singers, though I liked Dominic Behan a bit and there was some good stuff to be heard in Liverpool. Occasionally you hear very old records on the radio or TV of real workers in Ireland singing, and the power is fantastic. But mostly folk music is people with fruity voices trying to keep alive something old and dead. It's all a bit boring, like ballet, a minority thing kept going by a minority group. Today's folk music is rock'n'roll.
Folk music isn't an acoustic guitar with a singer who talks about mines and railways, because we don't sing like that any more. We sing about karma, peace, anything.
In our family the radio was hardly ever on, so I got to pop later; not like Paul and George who'd been groomed in pop music coming over the radio all the time. I only heard it at other people's homes.
The Bill Haley era passed me by, in a way. When his records came on the wireless my other would start dancing around, she thought they were so good. I used to hear them, but they didn't do anything for me.
This fella I knew called Don Beatty showed me the name Elvis Presley in the New Musical Express and said he was great. It was 'Heartbreak Hotel'. I thought it sounded a bit phoney: 'Heart-break Hotel'.
The music papers were saying that Presley was fantastic, and at first I expected someone like Perry Como or Sinatra. 'Heartbreak Hotel' seemed a corny title and his name seemed strange in those days. But then, when I heard it, it was the end for me. I first heard it on Radio Luxembourg. He turned out to be fantastic. I remember rushing home with the record and saying, 'He sounds like Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray and Tennessee Ernie Ford!"
I'm an Elvis fan because it was Elvis who really got me out of Liverpool. Once I heard it and got into it, that was life, there was no other thing. I thought of nothing else but rock'n'roll; apart from sex and food and money - but that's all the same thing, really.
People have been trying to stamp out rock'n'roll since it started. It was mainly parents who were against rock'n'roll. The words had a lot of double entendre in the early days.
They cleaned it up for the white audience, a lot of it. That black stuff was very sexual. They made Little Richard re-record 'Tutti Frutti'. Whatever was going on, they had to clean up a lot of words. Elvis did 'One Night With You'. The original was 'One Night Of Sin' - 'One night of sin is what I'm praying for.' The words were pretty good; they were street words or black words.
They've been saying it will never last ever since I heard about it, and it's always written in the papers that it's dying. It'll never die. It's been apparent in all the music since it began. It came out of its roots of blues and rhythm-and-blues and jazz and country. It was really a combination of black and white music. That's what finally made it.
There have only been two great albums that I listened to all the way through when I was about sixteen. One was Carl Perkins's first or second, I can't remember which. And one was Elvis's first. Those are the only ones on which I really enjoyed every track.
On things like 'Ready Teddy' and 'Rip It Up' I have visions of listening to the record when I was younger. I remember how the London-American label looked. I remember playing it to my auntie and she was saying, 'What is it?' Or I remember dance-hall scenes where we were all dancing.
Buddy Holly was great and he wore glasses, which I liked, although I didn't wear them in public for years and years. But Buddy Holly was the first one that we were really aware of in England who could play and sing at the same time - not just strum, but actually play the licks. I never met him, I was too young. I never saw him live either. I saw Eddie Cochran. I saw Gene Vincent and Little Richard, but I met them later. Eddie Cochran was the only one I saw as a fan, just sitting in an audience.
Little Richard was one of the all-time greats. The first time I heard him a friend of mine had been to Holland and brought back a 78 with 'Long Tall Sally' on one side, and 'Slippin' And Slidin'' on the other. It blew our heads - we'd never heard anybody sing like that in our lives, and all those saxes playing like crazy.
The most exciting thing about early Little Richard was when he screamed just before the solo; that was howling. It used to make your hair stand on end when he did that long, long scream into the solo.
I still love Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. They're like primitive painters. Chuck Berry is one of the all-time great poets; a rock poet, you could call him. He was well advanced of his time, lyric-wise. We all owe a lot to him, including Dylan. I've loved everything he's done, ever. He was in a different class from the other performers. He was in the tradition of the great blues artists but he really wrote his own stuff - I know Richard did, but Berry really wrote stuff. The lyrics were fantastic, even though we didn't know what he was saying half the time.
In the Fifties, when people were virtually singing about nothing, Chuck Berry was writing social-comment songs, with incredible metre to the lyrics. When I hear rock, good rock, of the calibre of Chuck Berry, I just fall apart and I have no other interest in life. The world could be ending if rock'n'roll is playing. It's a disease of mine.
That's the music that brought me from the provinces of England to the world. That's what made me what I am, whatever it is I am. I don't know where we'd have been without rock'n'roll and I really love it.
Rock'n'roll was real, everything else was unreal. It was the only thing to get through to me out of all the things that were happening when I was fifteen.
I had no idea about doing music as a way of life until rock'n'roll hit me. That's the music that inspired me to play music.
When I was sixteen my mother taught me music. She first taught me how to play banjo chords - that's why in very early photos of the group I'm playing funny chords - and from that I progressed to guitar.
I remember the first guitar I ever saw. It belonged to guy in a cowboy suit in a province of Liverpool, with stars and a cowboy hat and a big Dobro. They were real cowboys, and they took it seriously. There had been cowboys long before there was rock'n'roll.
I used to borrow a guitar at first. I couldn't play, but my mother bought me one from one of those mail-order firms. It was a bit crummy, but I played it all the time and got a lot of practice.
I played the guitar like a banjo, with the sixth string hanging loose. My first guitar cost £10. All I ever wanted to do was to vamp; I only learnt to play to back myself.
When I got the guitar I'd play it for a bit then give it up, then take it up again. It took me about two years, on and off, to be able to strum tunes without thinking. I think I had one lesson, but it was so much like school I gave up. I learnt mostly by picking up bits here and there. One of the first things I learnt was 'Ain't That A Shame' and it has a lot of memories for me. Then I learnt 'That'll Be The Day'. I learned the solos on 'Johnny B. Goode' and 'Carol', but I couldn't play the one on 'Blue Suede Shoes'. In those days I was very much influenced by Chuck Berry, Scotty Moore and Carl Perkins.
The best quote Mimi ever said was: 'The guitar's all right for a hobby, John, but you'll never make a living at it.' (Fans in America had that framed on steel and sent it to her, and she has it in the house I bought her; she has it looking at her the whole time.)
About the time of rock'n'roll in Britain - I think I was about fifteen so it would be about 1955 - there was a big thing called 'skiffle', which was a kind of folk music; American folk music with washboards, and all the kids from fifteen onwards had these groups.
I listen to country music. I started imitating Hank Williams when I was fifteen, before I could play the guitar - although a friend had one. I used to go round to his house, because he had the record-player, and we sang all that Lonnie Donegan stuff and Hank Williams. He had all the records. 'Honky Tonk Blues' is the one I used to do. Presley was country, country-rock. Carl Perkins was really country, just with more backbeat.
We eventually formed ourselves into a group from school. I think the bloke whose idea it was didn't get in the group. We met in his house the first time. There was Eric Griffiths on guitar, Pete Shotton on washboard, Len Garry, Colin Hanton on drums and Rod [Davis] on banjo - and somebody named Ivan [Vaughan]. Ivan went to the same school as Paul.
Our first appearance was in Rosebery Street - it was their Empire Day celebrations. They had this party out in the street. We played from the back of a lorry. We didn't get paid. We played at blokes' parties after that; perhaps got a few bob, but mostly we just played for fun. We didn't mind about not being paid.
The Quarry Men is the name of the group before it turned into The Beatles. The original group was named after my school, which was Quarry Bank and had a Latin motto which meant 'ou of this rock' - that's symbolic - 'you will find truth'.
Anyway, we always failed the exams and never did any work and Pete was always worried about his future. I would say, 'Don't worry, it'll work out,' to him and the gang that was around me then. I always had a group of three or four or five guys around with me who would play various roles in my life, supportive and subservient. In general, me being the bully boy. The Beatles became my new gang.
I always believed that something would turn up. I didn't make plans for the future. I didn't study for the exam. I didn't put a little bit on the side, I wasn't capable. Therefore I was the one that all the other boys' parents would say, 'Keep away from him.' Because they knew what I was. The parents instinctively recognised I was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend's home. Partly out of envy that I didn't have this so-called home. (But I did. I had an auntie and an uncle and a nice suburban home. This image of me being the orphan is garbage because I was well protected by my auntie and my uncle, and they looked after me very well.)
I think I went a bit wild. I was just drifting. I wouldn't study at school, and when I was put in for nine GCEs I was a hopeless failure. Even in the mock I got English and art, but in the real one I didn't even get art.
I was disappointed at not getting art at GCE, but I'd given up. All they were interested in was neatness. I was never neat. I used to mix all the colours together. We had one question which said do a picture of 'travel'. I drew a picture of a hunchback with warts all over him. They obviously didn't dig that.
We knew that the GCE wasn't the opening to anything. We could have ground through all that and gone further, but not me. I believed something was going to happen which I'd have to get through - and I knew it wasn't GCE.
Up to the age of fifteen I was no different to any other little cunt of fifteen. Then I decided I'd write a little song, and I did. But it didn't make me any different. That's a load of crap that I discovered a talent. I just did it. I've no talent, except for being happy, or a talent for skiving.
I was always thinking I was going to be a famous artist and possibly I'd have to marry a very rich old lady, or man, to look after me while I did my art. But then rock'n'roll came along, and I thought, 'Ah-ha, this is the one.' So I didn't have to marry anybody or live with them.
I didn't really know what I wanted to be, apart from ending up an eccentric millionaire. I had to be a millionaire. If I couldn't do it without being crooked, then I'd have to be crooked. I was quite prepared to do that - nobody obviously was going to give me money for my paintings - but I was too much of a coward. I'd never have made it. I did plan to knock off a shop with another bloke, do it properly for a change, not just shoplifting. We used to look at shops at night, but we never got round to doing it.
Mimi had said to me that I'd done it at last: I was now a real Teddy boy. I seemed to digust everybody, not just Mimi. That was the day that I met Paul.
It was through Ivan that I first met Paul. Seems that he knew Paul was always dickering around in music and thought he would be a good lad to have in the group. So one day, when we were playing at Woolton, he brought him along. We can both remember it quite well. The Quarry Men were playing on a raised platform and there was a good crowd because it was a warm, sunny day.
[It was] the first day I did 'Be Bop A Lula' live on stage. 'Be Bop A Lula' has always been one of my all-time favourites. It was at a church-hall garden fete, and I was performing with a mutual friend of Paul's and mine. Another mutual friend who lived next door brought Paul along and said, 'I think you two will get along.' We talked after the show and I saw he had talent. He was playing guitar backstage, doing 'Twenty Flight Rock' by Eddie Cochran.
Paul could play guitar, trumpet and piano. That doesn't mean to say he has a greater talent, but his musical education was better. I could only play the mouth organ and two chords on a guitar when we met. I tuned the guitar like a banjo, so my guitar only had five strings on it. (Paul taught me how to play properly 0 but I had to learn the chords left-handed, because Paul is left-handed. So I learnt them upside down, and I'd go home and reverse them.) That's what I was doing - playing on stage with a group, playing a five-string guitar like a banjo - when he was brought around from the audience to meet me.
Paul told me the chords I had been playing weren't real chords - and his dad said that they weren't even banjo chords, though I think they were. He had a good guitar at the time, it cost about £14. He'd got it in exchange for a trumpet his dad had given him.
I was very impressed by Paul playing 'Twenty Flight Rock'. He could obviously play the guitar. I half thought to myself, 'He's as good as me.' I'd been kingpin up to then. Now, I thought, 'If I take him on, what will happen?' It went through my head that I'd have to keep him in line if I let him join. But he was good, so he was worth having. He also looked like Elvis. I dug him.
Was it better to have a guy who was better than the people I had in? To make the group stronger, or to let me be stronger? Instead of going for an individual thing we went for the strongest format - equals.
I turned round to him right then on first meeting and said, 'Do you want to join the group?' And he said 'yes' the next day as I recall it.
Paul had a trumpet and had this wild theory that he'd actually learnt how to play the oldie 'When The Saints Go Marching In'. He just blew away as hard as he could, drowning out everything we were trying to do. He thought he was doing a great job on the tune, but we didn't recognise any of it!
Now George came through Paul.
Paul introduced me to George and I had to make the decision whether to let George in. I listened to him play and said, 'Play "Raunchy".' I let him in and that was the three of us then, and the rest of group was thrown out, practically.
We asked George to join us because he knew more chords, a lot more than we knew. We got a lot from him. Paul had a friend at school who would discover chords, and these would be passed round Liverpool. Every time we learnt a new chords, we'd write a song round it.