“I don’t see why you’re so bent outa shape, Reggie; you’ve already seen them – twice!”
Angles and Charlie sat together on the piano bench in my music room as I sat in a nearby chair, playing a twelve bar blues shuffle on Gramfer’s old guitar, all the more comfortable for our house finally getting air conditioning.
Bob Eubanks, then of KRLA, had mortgaged his home to finance the Beatles’ appearance at the Hollywood Bowl on the 23rd; sadly, the tickets had gone on sale before we’d all gotten together.
Only Angles had one, and he’d given it to his kid sister, Darja (whom everyone called “Dar”), so she could go with a group of friends, in exchange for future favors to be determined at a later date. I was trying not to seethe at our bad luck. Angles wasn’t too happy about it either, but he couldn’t understand the extent of my personal umbrage and disappointment.
He’d a point, in a way. I had seen them twice in ’63 – not exactly in a club setting, but at Birmingham’s Town Hall and Hippodrome, respectively – more up-close and personal than what we could ever hope to get at the Bowl. But they’d still been – nominally at least – a supporting act (for Roy Orbison) first time I’d seen them (though by the time the tour got to Birmingham, the Beatles were closing the show, more like headliners). Then, they were – officially – headliners for the first time by the second appearance.
But the Beatles had evolved so much since the times that I’d seen them. Besides, what had been going on in my own life hadn’t allowed me to appreciate them the way I should have that last time at the Hippodrome, and I wanted to see them again under happier circumstances.
I’d thought of trying to duplicate the way Ian, Stan and I’d crashed the Desmond Shaddowe and Linda Faye blowout two years ago at the Queen’s Theatre, back in Birmingham. But then I realized that this was the Hollywood Bowl, one of L.A.’s prized, internationally known landmarks, hosting an event about three steps away from the Second Coming. L.A.’s finest were sure be out in force, not some disparate group of rinky-dink security forces barely willing to speak to each other, let alone work together (even in Birmingham we’d almost been caught by those Keystone Cop security forces; crashing the concert here was nuts, pure and simple).
No it was a fool’s errand, and the sooner I was clear in my mind about that and accepted it, the better.
I continued to play the shuffle, but changed the chords to the theme from A Hard Day’s Night, adding a sixth, Chuck Berry style, on alternate beats as I hummed the melody. Charlie scrunched up his nose.
“That’s not the way the Beatles play it.”
“Well spotted, Charlie.”
Angles sighed, rolling his eyes. “This a prelude to another of your lectures on why white guys shouldn’t play R&B and soul?”
Angles rolled his eyes again. “OK, professor, enlighten us: Why?”
“In the first place,” I replied, “because you’re Catholic, I’m Episcopalian and Charlie here carries the dual blessing – or burden – of being both Jewish and Lutheran at the same time.”
“Ben had Confirmation and Bar-mitzvah when he was 13,” sighed Charlie. “I’m not sure what I’m gonna do, yet.”
“I didn’t mean to presume, Charlie,” I said apologetically. “I only meant that we don’t go to some Baptist or AME church where gospel music’s been been pumped into us since we were babies. Second, we’re candy-arsed suburban kids who’ve pretty much had everything we’ve ever wanted – we wouldn’t know the blues if it bit us on the neck.
“We’ve never had a ‘baby,’ and if we did and she’d left us that many times we wouldn’t moan about it in a song, or beat her up and then sing about getting put in the hole, we’d just tell her to take a hike. And speaking of the hole, none of us’ve ever even been grounded 30 days, much less spent them in anything remotely like the hole. The closest thing any of us get to hard labor is cleaning our rooms and mowing the lawn, and when we hear Little Red Rooster we think about a day in a real barnyard.
Furthermore, even if it were OK to lift someone else’s music, claim it for our own when we’ve not been a part of that world and it isn’t a part of our lives – if bald appropriation weren’t theft – we’d still get killed trying to do it. Not literally killed, but anyone with ears’d know the diff. Remember Pat Boone and Tutti Frutti?”
Angles moaned. Charlie laughed, and punched me good-naturedly in the shoulder. “He probably thought the song was about ice cream.”
“We wouldn’t be that badt,” Angles said.
“You don’t think so?” I replied.
Angles’ tone became tense, a rarity for him.
“So there’s no place for white boys in rock’n’roll except in the audience or as consumers; that what you’re saying?”
First Charlie, now Angles – and they thought I was upset. Why was everyone so tetchy today?
“No,” I sighed. “S’not wot I’m saying t’all. That’d be like saying no one can ever play c&w or r&b on guitar because guitars originated in Europe – based on instruments the Crusaders found in the Holy Land, of course. But when someone plays classical, r&b or c&w, the sound’s their own. Same for us – rock doesn’t equate with c&w or r&b – they’re in the mix, but there’s a great deal more. Use it. We can borrow r&b form as raw material – flavour, really – but the final product has to be our own.
“Look at Elvis – take Blue Moon of Kentucky. At first, the song was a country waltz,” I said, playing the bass string and chords on Gramfer’s guitar in three quarter time as I sang a couple of lines.Then came Elvis. Not that he turned it into an r&b song, but he changed it to an upbeat, four-four shuffle.” I sang and played about twelve bars or so to illustrate my point.“Then, there’s this – the UK entry in a Eurovision Song Contest.”
“A what??” Angles’ eyebrows were raised.
I sighed. “Think of it as a kind of Olympic singing and songwriting event, western Europe only, with songs designed for 40-year-olds. This one went like this – excuse the piano – ” I churned out Ring-a-ding Girl the way it was done in the contest.
Charlie made a face.
“Be kind, Charlie,” I said smiling. “I know you’d do better.”
Charie rolled his eyes, shaking his head. “I don’t think so, Reggie. You’re not the problem.”
I turned away from the piano and picked up Gramfer’s guitar.
“OK, let’s try this.”
I did the same refrain in the style of Jimmie Dean.
Anges laughed. “That’s real cute, Reggie. I presume this is leading somewhere.”
I showed him the chords and directed how I wanted them played. Then, I handed him Gramfer’s guitar. As Angles played, I played along on the piano and sang the refrain again.
The two clashed, but were harmonious enough – barely – to make the style recognizable.
“Gerry & the Pacemakers, How Do You Do It?” shouted Charlie. “Same style.”
“Exactly,” I replied. “No Little Richard. No Chuck Berry – who’s style is tailored for white kids, anyway. Just enough r&b seasoning to give hope to an otherwise hopelessly square song. It’s in the mix, but it’s not what you do.
“Once you do, let people laugh and sneer about ‘white boys with guitars’ all they like – only showcases their ignorance.”
With that, I started another riff in shuffle form, going from E to A6 to B7 and back to E; I took it to mid-tempo as Angles slid off the piano bench, slapping it as if it were a cardboard box as I added the rest of the rhythmic bric-a-brac on the guitar, and we all sang along to Summertime Blues.
I started a third riff in shuffle form, then went drastically uptempo. Gramfer’s guitar worked its magic, for the sound almost seemed to be from an amp with sliced speakers and a distortion box. Angles gave a whoop and joined in on an acoustic guitar he’d brought over singing along to the refrain of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me. Charlie tried, but his guitar had gone out of tune again, and he sadly dropped out. Seeing the look on his face, we stopped abruptly. I went back to quietly doing A Hard Days Night as a shuffle.
Then, when he and Angles least expected it, I hit the loudest G9 chord the guitar that I could muster. Gramfer’s guitar gave it a gong-like quality and additional bass to compensate for my actually playing the wrong chord.
In the next moment I was strumming the song chords at full tempo calling out “Geddit?” as Angles and Charlie played and sang along.
With that, we arose from our bad humor, determined to be among the first to see A Hard Day’s Night, when it screened in early August at the old Fox Theatre (its second hit exclusive that year).
And we were.
Not the first.
Tickets for the first four days had already sold out;
Wednesday the 12th was the best we could do.
But we saw it.
Twice in a row.
We’d had to.
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