I had a group. I was the singer, and the leader. I met Paul and made a
decision whether or not to have him in the group. Was it better to have
a guy who was better than the people I already had in, or not? To make
the band stronger or let me be stronger? The decision was eventually
made to let Paul in and make the group stronger.
— John Lennon —
DOUGHNUTS OVER THE EMPIRE
The Teen Years
Paul McCartney's fortuitous first meeting with John Lennon officially took place on July 6, 1957, at a garden fete at St. Peter's Parish Church in Woolton. It was at the local fish and chip shop weeks earlier, however, that they actually first nodded hello. After that, McCartney recalls seeing the rebelliously attired Lennon climbing aboard the local 86 bus, bound for town. Unknown to those present at the Woolton fete, a musical miracle of sorts was secretly taking place amid the barking of Liverpool's trained police dogs, the clattery dirge of the Cheshire Yeomanry Band, and the unruly clamor of kids decked out for the day as Wolf Cubs, Girl Guides, Brownies, and Scouts.
Actually, as a rather ad-libbed, neighborhood affair it wasn't bad. Every year there was the mandatory Rose Queen Parade and coronation, cheery stalls selling finger sandwiches, cold drinks, and Britain's famous multi-colored ices, as well as a fun fair featuring several daring kiddy rides, and of course a smashing musical entertainment.
That year, as a concession to the basically church-shy teenage youth of Woolton, following a blessing by the Reverend Maurice Pryce-Jones, a local group of lads known as the Quarry Men were slated to appear. Performing mostly covers of well-known rock and skiffle tunes, the five young men jived their way through a rapid-fire repertoire of numbers ranging from "Maggie May," to "Railroad Bill" and "Cumberland Gap." In those days the Quarry Men were Colin Hanton on drums, Rod Davis, banjo, Len Gary, bass, Eric Griffiths, guitar, Pete Shotton, washboard, and of course John Lennon, guitar and lead vocal. Mixed into the happily swaying crowd was Paul McCartney who'd come along for the day at the suggestion of Ivan Vaughan, a mutual friend of John and Paul. "At school one day Ivy... invited me to this fete the following Saturday," recalled McCartney, responding to this author's questions late in 1986.
I remember coming up on the fete from across the field . . . John was singing a lovely tune by the Del-Vikings called, "Come Go With Me." He'd heard it on the radio but didn't quite know all the words, so he made up his own. "Come go with me, down to the penitentiary," stuff like that.
His hair was greased back into a drake. With that, and his nice big sideboards, he did look a bit of a ted.
After the Quarry Men's swinging first set, Ivan led Paul across the road to the band's impromptu dressing room in St. Peter's Church Hall. Later that evening the boys were to perform again, this time alternating with a local combo called the George Edwards Band. But for the moment it was time to relax, unwind, and cool down with the aid of a few discreetly tucked away bottles of beer. "This is John," Vaughan ventured upon entering the large, sweltering room. "Hi," replied Lennon. "This is Paul." A rather ordinary beginning perhaps, but within minutes things heated up when it was discovered that McCartney not only played a pretty mean left-handed guitar, but wonder of wonders, could actually correctly tune one as well. "Neither John nor Eric Griffiths had learned how to do that yet," recalls longtime Beatle crony Pete Shotton, "Whenever their guitars went out of tune, they'd been taking them round and paying a fellow in King's Drive to do it."
McCartney further wowed the often standoffish Lennon by jotting down the somewhat convoluted lyrics to singer Eddie Cochran's classic, "Twenty Flight Rock," as well as Gene Vincent's crazy "Be-Bop-A-Lula." He recounts what happened next: "I met them in the church hall. We talked and then I picked up a guitar lying there and started to play 'Twenty Flight Rock.' I suppose I was showing off a bit. I knew all the words and they didn't. That was big currency. Then I went through all the stuff I knew. John seemed quite impressed. There was nearly two years between us, so he was a big man in my eyes."
After McCartney's departure, Lennon asked Shotton what he thought about Ivy Vaughan's obviously talented young friend and wondered out loud if perhaps he shouldn't invite him to join the group. Shotton, however, doesn't remember being exactly bowled over. "I didn't really take in Paul that first meeting," says Shotton. "He seemed very quiet, but you do when you meet a group of new blokes for the first time. I wasn't really jealous of him, not at first. He was so much younger than us. I didn't think he was going to be a rival. Me and John were still the closest pals."
Two weeks later, while cycling along Menlove Avenue in Woolton, McCartney ran into Shotton who offhandedly announced that John had been talking about him and wondered if he would like to join the band. Delicately balancing against the curb on his bike, McCartney reflected for a moment or two and then replied simply, "Okay then. See you," before shoving °ff back across the golf course to the willowy wilds of Aller-ton. McCartney was naturally pretty excited, inwardly anyway. Externally though he was typically nonchalant, hardly Mentioning a word to anyone at home that night about his big break. Teacher "Dusty" Durband remembers that the day after his mother died Paul was back at his desk at school, seemingly quite normal and only a little more quiet and introspective than usual. Obviously, next to that, becoming a bona fide Quarry Man pales in comparison. Still, to the ambitious and sensitive young McCartney it was at least a milestone. At best, just what the doctor ordered to help ease his festering, raw emotion over his beloved mother's passing. From that moment on, John and Paul became virtually inseparable. Hanging out, chatting up the local wild life, and above all, making music.
While the magical team the world would soon know as Lennon/McCartney had come together, the rest of Lennon's Quarry Men were still a little undecided about their newest colleague. "I always thought he was a bit big-headed," band manager Nigel Whalley recalls. "As soon as we let him into the group, he started complaining about the money I was getting them, saying I should take less as I didn't do any playing. He was always smiling at you, but he could be catty as well. He used to pick on our drummer, Colin, not to his face — making snide remarks about him behind his back. Paul wanted something from the drums poor Colin just didn't have it in him to play."
And how did McCartney rate the Quarry Men? "Well, I thought John was good. He was really the only outstanding member. All the rest kind of slipped away, you know? The drummer was pretty good actually for what we knew then. One of the reasons I know they all liked Colin was because he had the record, 'Searchin',' and again, that was big currency. Sometimes you made a whole career with someone just because he owned a particular record!"
McCartney's first gig with the Quarry Men took place on October 18, 1957, at the New Clubmoor Club in Liverpool's Broadway. Resplendent as they were in their long, dark, string ties, black trousers, white shirts, and coffee-colored sportscoats, their performance was apparently not up to the mark. "Good & Bad" was the cryptic assessment written on the band's visiting card by dance promoter Charlie McBain following McCartney's sorry attempt at lead guitar. "He really cocked up on this one song," Lennon later recalled. "It was Arthur Smith's 'Guitar Boogie,' a tune we all especially liked. When it came time for the big solo Paul lost his bottle and was all thumbs. The rest of the evening actually went down pretty smooth. We all had a good laugh about it afterwards, everyone, that is, except Paul."
In those days virtually all of the numerous neighborhood groups played only cover versions of popular songs currently topping the hit parade. After awhile though, Lennon and McCartney found this practice not only boring and tedious, but creatively unsatisfying. It was McCartney who composed the first real tune, "I Lost My Little Girl." Lennon, massively impressed, immediately set about penning a few numbers of his own, not wanting to be outdone. Says McCartney: "Gradually, we started to write stuff together. Which didn't mean we wrote everything together... When I first began writing songs I started using a guitar. 'I Lost My Little Girl'... is a funny little song, a nice little song, a corny little song based on three chords — G, G7, and C. Later on we had a piano and I used to bang around on that. I wrote 'When I'm Sixty-Four' when I was about sixteen. I was vaguely thinking then it might come in handy in a musical comedy or something. I didn't know what kind of career I was going to take."
During the first three years of their relationship John and Paul wrote literally dozens of songs together. Unfortunately, many of them were inadvertently lost when Paul's girlfriend, Jane Asher, tossed out an original notebook containing some of the first-ever Lennon/McCartney compositions while clearing out a cupboard in McCartney's St. John's Wood home. Some of the early tunes that have been preserved are "Cats-walk," "Hello Little Girl," "Hot as Sun," "Just Fun," "Keep Looking That Way," "Like Dreamers Do," "Looking Glass," ^Love Me Do," "That's My Woman," "The One After 909," "Thinking of Linking," "Too Bad About Sorrows," "Winston's Walk," and "Years Roll Along," to name just a few.
Generally, these impromptu composing sessions took place after school at Paul's while everyone was still out. After the obligatory fried egg, toast, and tea, the boys would settle back to work in the McCartneys' cluttered front room, all the while puffing away on Jim McCartney's old Meerschaum pipe filled, not with tobacco, but Typhoo Tea!
Often, when they weren't busy busking at Paul's they'd hike over to John's mother's home in Springwood for a hectic afternoon of business and pleasure at the hands of the delightfully offbeat Julia Lennon. "I always thought of her as being an exceptionally beautiful woman," says McCartney. "She was very, very nice to us all and of course, John just adored her. Looking back, I can remember two tunes in particular Julia taught us. Oddly enough, one of them was 'Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine,' while another was definitely 'Romana.' Much later, during the Beatle years, John and I often attempted to write a few songs with that kind of similar feeling, with 'Here, There, and Everywhere' coming immediately to mind."
During this time Paul was still quite friendly with George Harrison, who despite his tender years impressed McCartney with his strong musical presence and stirring guitar licks, a commodity very much missing from the often musically ad hoc Quarry Men.
As to Paul's initial suggestion that perhaps Harrison might be invited to join the group, McCartney isn't altogether clear of the exact circumstances. He does, however, vividly recall band leader Lennon's first reaction to the idea.
"No fuckin' way, man!" John reportedly shouted. "He's just a little kid, for Christ's sake."
"But he knows dozens more chords than the two of us put together," Paul countered. "You should hear him play, John, really. He's great. Just think about it, okay? The band could really use him."
Oscillating between the potential harm admitting Harrison to the group might have on Lennon's carefully crafted, tough guy, teddy boy image, and the obvious benefits of bringing on board a lad of such superior musicianship, Lennon finally relented when on February 6, 1958, he agreed to hear what George could do. "I listened to him play," Lennon recalled, "and I said, 'Play "Raunchy," ' or whatever the old story is, and I let him in ... That was three of us then. The rest of the group was thrown out gradually... We went for the strongest format, and for equals."
Apart from George's great talent, one of the definite perks arising from his inclusion in the band was the friendly welcome the boys all received from George's mother, Louise. A hearty, good-natured woman, Mrs. Harrison was both pleased and proud to see her youngest son so involved in something as creative and individual as music. "Come along in, then, boys," she would sing out, waving Lennon's Quarry Men into the Harrisons' cosy kitchen. "How about something to eat before the big rehearsal?"
While Jim McCartney was certainly very supportive of Paul's love of music, he wasn't really all that keen on his considering anything so inherently risky as a possible career. Although McCartney denies it, there is some question of whether his mother would have approved or even allowed her precious elder son to venture into such treacherous waters. In 1986 while promoting my first book, The Beatles: A Celebration in Toronto, I met a woman who had known and worked with Mrs. McCartney for many years. She claimed that Mary would never have even considered that either of her sons would go into show business and had talked many times about Paul one day becoming a teacher. "If Mary had lived," she said, "I'm positive there never would have been any Beatles."
When not practising at the Harrisons', hanging out at Julia Lennon's was always a viable alternative. John's younger half-sister Julia Baird remembers: "Without a doubt, some of the most memorable episodes in the Beatles' early Liverpool period were their hilarious bathroom jam sessions with my mother at home in Blomfield Road. Our toilet was one of the tiniest in all of Great Britain, and to see John, Paul, George, Colin, Duff Lowe, and Mummy all scrambling around inside trying to find a place to sit, was truly a wondrous sight." The door shut securely behind them, they enthusiastically tucked into a bevy of now-classic tunes such as "Besame Mucho," "Alleycat," or the sneaky theme from The Third Man. The raucous, musical, free-for-alls sometimes meandered on late into the evening.
Like Aunt Mimi's front porch (another old Lennon/McCartney haunt), the room gave off a kind of natural echo which somehow seemed to enhance the group's offbeat sound. "Occasionally," says Julia, "my younger sister Jacqui and I were actually unlucky enough to be taking a bath when John's buddies suddenly felt like letting loose with a little homemade rhythm and blues. In that case, we were both unceremoniously hauled out of the tub to make way for these bathroom Beethovens. Of course we didn't mind, as it meant we were allowed to go outside and play for an extra hour or so." The lineup for these unusual sessions was generally John, Paul, and George on acoustic guitars, with the others bashing along in unison, and Mrs. Lennon on her favorite kitchen pots and pans.
Being a Quarry Man, however, was not all adolescent merriment. Perpetually short of money and places to play, several times the group almost folded. For a brief while in the summer of 1958 George actually played with another local band, The Les Stewart Quartet, tired and edgy to get something happening. "Mostly we just played blokes' parties and things," recalled John, "or maybe occasionally a wedding if we were lucky. That was always a good gig as it usually meant all the free beer we could guzzle, and generally a damn fine meal to boot."
Casting off the extraneous Quarry Men along the way, the group was now down to the three hard-core members — John, Paul, and George. Any sort of reasonable drummer, as usual, was almost impossible to find, or to keep. Altogether Len-non's schoolboy group played only about twenty-five official gigs over a three-year period, more for the experience than anything else. Still, the nucleus of what would later become the Beatles was now firmly fixed.
Show business aside, Paul McCartney was growing up in other ways as well. Ever since he was old enough to understand that there were indeed two sexes, he was keenly interested in girls. His brother Mike reports that on two occasions this legendary Lothario-in-training even stooped so low as to secretly covet a couple of his sibling's first female admirers, one, a pretty "McCartney Brothers" fan from Gypsyville, Hull, named Angela, whom the brothers had met at Butlin's, the other, an exotic-looking early German Beatles fan, Ursula Milczewsky.
Paul's first legitimate crush centered on a young woman remembered simply as "Val" whom McCartney happened to notice one morning on the bus to school. Impressed with her long, pretty hair and deep-set, baby-doll eyes, he was content to admire her from afar until word went around the classroom that the young lady too was smitten. "It came along the grapevine that Val liked him," remembered Mike in a 1964 interview. "You should have seen the way he went on! He was completely knocked out! He took Val out once or twice, to the cinema, visiting friends, that sort of thing. Then the whole affair suddenly fizzled."
McCartney's initiation into manhood came at the still-tender age of fifteen in the arms of a neighborhood girl whose name history fails to record. "She was older and bigger than me," says Paul. "It was at her house. She was supposed to be babysitting while her mum was out. I told everybody at school the next day, of course. I was a real squealer."
McCartney's first real girlfriend, was Dorothy Rhone, a pretty, blonde pixie. Cynthia Lennon remembers her as "a gentle soul," who spoke in whispers, blushed frequently, and idolized Paul. Dot was from Childwall, a homey suburb very near Woolton. She worked as a clerk in a dispensing chemist's, living at home with her parents. Unfortunately, the young woman's father was exceedingly strict and so was naturally suspicious of the cheery, sometimes overly polite McCartney. Sandra Hedges, one of Dot's closest girlfriends, now a housewife in Yarm, Cleveland, recalls:
Her name was shortened to "Dot" by Paul and he wrote "P.S. I Love You" for her.
She was very much in love with Paul and he, in turn, would jealously guard her (to her chagrin) by placing her amid the group while playing. In an attempt to shake him, she returned home to her parents. Later Paul became the love of the world: the famous tickertape welcome in America, his face in every newspaper, every newscast. A year later we bade farewell to Dot when she emigrated to Canada. Ironically, I recall once saying to her: "I'm fed up with those lads from the art college practising in our front room every Sunday. You'll never get anv where with them."
Dot, her husband, and elder daughter, Astrid, were Rolls-Royced some years later to meet up with the group when they played Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. When she saw Paul again, the ghost was finally laid to rest.
Despite the love affair's perhaps predictable ending, while still together Paul and Dot were a very hot item. McCartney, deeply impressed at the time with French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot (as was Lennon and, for that matter, much of the western world), requested Dot bleach her hair, which she did, much to her parents' horror. "We wanted to try and turn our girlfriends into Liverpool's answer to Bardot," says McCartney. "So my girl was Dot, and John was going out with Cynthia. I think we got them both to go blonde and wear miniskirts. Terrible isn't it, really? But that's the way it was."
On her eighteenth birthday Paul sent Dot a humorous hand-drawn, cartoon-filled card featuring himself on the cover as "THE WILDMAN OF ALLERTON." The birthday message inside read: "FROM THE LATE JAMES CROW, TO DOT, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HIGHNESS, 0 GREAT SILVER BUBBLE OF THE SILVER SEAS, HANDSPUN." The sometimes fairly inscrutable McCartney magic, it seems, had netted a very willing catch.
In 1961, Dot and Cynthia embarked from Liverpool's Lime Street Station for a visit with their men while the Beatles were playing Hamburg. Traveling by boat train across the hook of Holland they arrived at Hamburg Station tired and cramped, but ecstatic at the sight of their two leather-clad lovers pacing up and down the platform, anxiously awaiting them.
Cynthia went home with early Beatles supporter, photographer Astrid Kirchherr, while Paul and Dot took up residence on an old river barge owned by Rosa, the motherly lavatory attendant at the Top Ten Club.
Several months later, Dot and Cynthia became roommates as tenants of a tacky Liverpool boarding house where Cyn first learned she was pregnant with Julian, and Dot's affair with her beloved Paul came to an end. Arriving by surprise one evening, McCartney told his long-suffering girlfriend that the romance was over, and then quick as you please, bounded down the long, shabby stairway out into the street a free man. Dot, of course, was devastated. "Poor little defenseless Dot," Cynthia recalls. "She wouldn't harm a fly but had been hurt so much that she couldn't even tell me what had happened without renewed convulsions and outbursts of uncontrollable crying."
Within a couple of days, once the reality of the situation had sunk in, Dot sadly collected her things together and went back home. "I hardly saw Dot again," says Cynthia. "It was impossible, too close to home for her to bear."
By the sultry summer of 1958 John and Paul were not only bound musically but had become exceptionally close buddies into the bargain. When Lennon lost his mother, Julia, after she was run over and killed by a drunken, off-duty policeman that July, Paul was himself deeply affected. "When I look back on Julia's death, all I really see is just the word T-R-A-G-E-D-Y written in big, black letters," McCartney reflected in 1986. "The only way I could really help was to empathize, as I'd had the same thing happen to me. I mean, there wasn't actually anything I could say that would just sort of magically patch him up. That kind of hurt goes far too deep for that."
Julia Baird remembers her mother ironically saying how sorry she felt for Paul having lost his mum at such a tender age. "Can you imagine how that must hurt?" she would comment to John occasionally over tea and toast. "And he's such a lovely, talented boy. What a pity."
Filing away his hurt and anger under an apparently impenetrable armor of emotional indifference, Lennon stoically forged ahead, intent upon turning his boyhood dreams of stardom into a life-saving reality. His bond with McCartney became even stronger. After his mother died, Lennon remained surprisingly close to Julia's party-loving, common-law husband, John Albert Dykins, or "Bobby," as he was known. McCartney remembers:
Once in a while, John and I would pop in and visit Bobby at his new place in Woolton. We used to borrow his record player to listen to the latest Carl Perkins discs we'd dug up in town. In fact, I seem to recall catching hell from him once for accidentally damaging one of his records. He was basically a good bloke, though, and always seemed to enjoy seeing John. Frankly, I do know John had this sort of "stepfather" thing about him. I mean, he liked him alright, but he couldn't quite associate with him as his dad. Actually, it was a problem I had later, when my father remarried.
By the fall of 1959 John had finally dropped the name "Quarry Men" for the more celestial-sounding "Moondogs," and then, "Johnny and the Moondogs." It was during an on-stage audition for British television personality Carroll Levis (probably on October 18) that the boys first used the name. And although they made it into the finals (appearing for two successive auditions at the Liverpool Empire and Hippodrome theatres in Manchester), they were not ultimately chosen to appear on Levis's show.
Ever intent upon cultivating their blossoming image, the group tried on several new names over the following year, including the Beatals, the Silver Beats, the Silver Beetles, the Silver Beatles, and by August of 1960, the Beatles. Earlier that year, in January, Lennon invited his art school chum, Stuart Fergusson Victor Sutcliffe or simply "Stu" to join the band. Although a brilliant painter and designer, Sutcliffe made no pretence about being any sort of musician and was therefore obliged to up pick up the bass as he went along, a learning experience that certainly didn't ingratiate him to the perfectionistic McCartney.
By April of 1960 things were finally beginning to perk up for the band. At this point still the Silver Beatles, the boys snagged a solid two weeks work backing balladeer Johnny Gentle on a ballroom tour of Scotland. Encouraged by what for them was at least a taste of real work, they came home feeling like genuine musicians, even if their pockets were still basically just as empty as ever. "Someone actually asked me for my autograph," Paul wrote home to his dad from Inverness. "I signed for them too, three times!"
"From that day onwards," Jim McCartney later remarked, "things were never really quite the same."
Contrary to popular belief, the Beatles' initial trek to Germany came about more as a result of a lack of alternatives than of any great success in England. Thinking they had been booked at Hamburg's popular Kaiserkeller through small-time Liverpool promoter Allan Williams, they later discovered they were actually slated to appear as the new house band at the Indra, a seedy, low-life, former strip club at 34 Grosse Freiheit. Just prior to setting off, Paul McCartney rang up local drummer Pete Best on the spur of the moment and invited him to join the group as a quick fix to the Beatles' ongoing percussion problems. Best, eager to escape the hopeless tedium of attending teacher's training college the following autumn, immediately said yes. The shy, handsome young man from Hayman's Green was now a Beatle.
There was, however, still one major stumbling block to be overcome before the five eager young men could pile into Williams' battered green mini-van and make for Germany: Jim McCartney. Aware that his no-nonsense dad would never allow such an apparently foolhardy venture without a great deal of convincing, Paul, ever the politician, cleverly recruited the assistance of his brother. After Paul's stirring, fifteen-minute-speech on how his phenomenal fifteen-pounds-a-week salary would enable him to buy his beloved younger brother just about anything his heart desired, Mike was only too happy to go a couple of rounds with the old man on Paul's behalf. After all, this was a chance for high adventure. And culture! Mike just couldn't say no. "Our kid was always very good at handling Dad and getting his own way," he recalls.
I remember coming home from school with Paul the day he told me they'd been invited to Hamburg, just casually. I said, "Wow!" But he didn't know if he should, pretending he was all undecided. I said it was fantastic! He was going to be a big star. Wow! He said, "Do you think Dad will let me?" That was very smart. I was then on his side in persuading Dad. He let me get all excited, so that I was desperately wanting him to go.
When the time came to actually make his pitch, however, Mike's impassioned pleas fell on deaf ears. Puffing thoughtfully on his ever-present pipe, Jim listened patiently before quietly lowering the boom. "I'm sorry, son, but the answer is no. The whole thing is just too uncertain."
"But he's got weeks of school holiday left," Mike went on, "and he'll be making fantastic money. I wish I had the chance to travel like that. You're always going on about how broadening it is for a man to travel."
"That may be," Jim continued, "but we haven't even had the results of Paul's A levels yet. If he were smart he'd be more concerned about that than galavanting off with some beat group."
Despite Mike's best efforts, his father remained stubbornly unmoved and so Allan Williams was brought in to try to talk sense to the naturally reserved and cautious salesman.
But there was another problem. "Allan could never get our names right," McCartney later remembered. "He would call me John." Playing on Mr. McCartney's obvious respectability, the canny Williams went on to paint a picture of the lovely Germanic scenery, good steady wages, and a chance for his son to experience new, meaningful horizons. In other words, he laid it on thick.
"Williams was really very convincing," Jim McCartney commented with a wry smile years later.
He's almost as good a salesman as myself. Maybe better! Anyway, in the long run they eventually all wore me down and I told him he could go. I remember one of my main concerns, funnily enough, was that he might not get enough to eat. From the time they first arrived I started getting these silly little postcards and letters from him reciting their menu on any given evening. I suppose that satisfied me in a way. At least he wasn't starving I thought to myself.
The reality, however, was rather grim. When the boys first arrived they were put up not in the comfortable, homey, guest houses they had been promised back home, but rather three dank, seamy rooms with bunk beds behind the movie screen of the Bambi Cinema at 33 Paul-Roosen Strasse. Stuck away in their revolting, dilapidated digs, the boys looked around in utter disbelief.
"What a fucking shit hole," Lennon finally blurted out, suddenly pacing the almost pitch-black room like a wounded animal.
"Is this supposed to be a joke?" asked Paul to no one and everyone. "Where's the bloody toilet?"
"We're living in it," George shot back sardonically.
"Not for fucking long I hope," countered Pete. "Allan should have seen to this lot."
"I'm knackered lads," said Lennon, finally throwing himself into one of the top bunks. "Welcome to the wonderful world of show business. Let's get some sleep."
Unfortunately, he spoke a moment too soon. Bone-tired from the grueling trip, disoriented and hungry, the boys were all just about to settle down for a much-needed rest when a big, burly bouncer from the club ambled in and announced that the band was expected on stage at the Indra within the hour. Groaning and cursing together almost in unison, they had no alternative but to silently gather up their ragged gear and do as they were told. All things considered, their first taste of the continent left a lot to be desired.
The next morning, after going for a quick wash in the Bambi's putrid public lavatory, the boys exploded out into the street, keen to soak up as much of the Reeperbahn's lurid atmosphere as they could. "Hamburg was fantastic," John Lennon told me in 1971 when I visited him at his Syracuse, New York, hotel suite during Yoko's This Is Not Here exhibit at the Everson Museum of Art.
Between the whores and the groupies our dicks all just about dropped off. Coming from Liverpool, we basically felt like big, tough teds — until we met the Germans, that is. Virtually every night at the Indra some poor bastard was either bottled, knifed, or worse. Fortunately, as the band, we were generally left alone. I walked about legless most of the time anyway. We all did. Hamburg was where we first got into pills. Speed it was, called Prellys. Believe it or not this old bird Rosa, the lavatory attendant, used to get them for us. In Hamburg you could get anything you wanted without even trying. Usually more than you wanted.
Of all the many ribald tales of the young Beatles in Hamburg, none is more sleazy than Allan Williams' infamous charge in his book, The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away, that while there, at least two of the boys were involved in homosexual unions with an unnamed, glamorous, six-foot-four transvestite they met in a St. Pauli night club. Although Williams never revealed which two he was talking about, in 1975 when the book was published, John Lennon was quoted as saying that of the many Beatle books written, Williams' tome was by far the most truthful and accurate. Since that time, several so-called experts on the group have hinted at the possibility of there being at least one practising bisexual Beatle, with the allegation usually leveled at the late John Lennon. As young and basically naive as they were in those days it's entirely possible that one of them might have gone at least half way with one of these beautiful she-males before even realizing the actual gender of his date. What happened after that is anybody's guess. In the end, it's all just so much more finely ground grist for the perpetual gossip mills of London and New York.
There is, however, another Hamburg-period scandal associated with the Beatles, and Paul McCartney in particular, that's not quite so easy to dismiss, involving the daughter of a local night club owner. Erika Heubers first met Paul while working as a waitress in a Reeperbahn night spot. Almost immediately the two began dating. According to Erika, then a slim, pretty teen, with lovely, straight, shoulder-length hair, she soon became pregnant by Paul, sending the careerminded, nineteen-year-old McCartney into a chaotic tailspin. He allegedly begged the heartbroken Erika to have an abortion, a suggestion the simple, family-oriented young woman refused even to consider. Several months later, on December 18,1962, she gave birth to a baby girl she called Bettina. Born two months premature, Bettina grew up a happy, healthy girl, blissfully unaware of her "surprise" heritage. On her confirmation day in 1975, however, her mother, then married to German Army noncom Hans-Werner Heubers, broke the incredible news to her thirteen-year-old daughter. "At the time," Bettina later told reporters, "I was collecting lots of Beatle records and was a real fan of theirs. My mother kept hinting about Paul, and then she showed me the birth certificate with his name on it. It was a shock."
Peter Brown, the Beatles' longtime personal assistant, insists that the allegations were true. He says that following the Beatles' departure from Hamburg during one of their several engagements there, legal papers were sent on to Liverpool where Brian Epstein quickly turned the matter over to David Jacobs, the Beatles' London attorney. Jacobs advised McCartney to deny all charges and allow him to send the papers back to Germany unanswered, obviously preferring the singe's chances in a plodding German tribunal to the prompt Mention both the English courts and the media were likely to give such a blatantly unsavory matter.
McCartney, without exception, has steadfastly denied that he is the young lady's father. But that didn't keep him, in 1966, from paying out £2,700 towards Erika's support until Bettina turned eighteen. McCartney explains:
We were due to do a European tour. I was told that if the maintenance question wasn't settled we couldn't go to Germany. I wasn't going to sign a crazy document like this, so I didn't. Then we were actually on the plane leaving for the tour when they put the paper under my face and said if I didn't sign, the whole tour was off. They said the agreement would deny I was the father and it was a small amount anyway. I've actually seen a letter from Brian Epstein saying it would be cheaper to sign than not go to Germany where we could make a lot of money.
It was a decision that would come back to haunt McCartney. In 1981, interviews with his alleged "love child" began turning up in tabloids around the world. Touting the teenage Bettina as the mystery "Beatle Girl" they wrote as if it were already a foregone conclusion that McCartney was indeed her father. For Paul and Linda it became an embarrassing nightmare.
What I object to most is the effect on my children. It's not fair to them. Why should they suffer?
She [Bettina] was in Time magazine in 1983 and there was picture of her holding one of my record covers with the comment, "Dad says ..." Not even alleged father. My kids had to read that. You have to put it down to life being tough at the top.
Unfortunately, for McCartney things were about to get a lot tougher. On February 22, 1983, in the district court, Schoeneberg, Berlin, a new action by the Heubers was heard, requesting maintenance of £375 monthly and an official declaration that Paul McCartney was indeed the girl's father. Under German law, if paternity could be proved, then Bettina stood to one day inherit an estimated ten percent of the former Beatle's vast estate, a potentially astronomical sum. Although the judgment would only be enforceable in Germany, if left unpaid, sizeable German royalties could be frozen by the court, a decidedly unhappy prospect for McCartney's other heirs.
In an effort to establish his innocence, McCartney agreed to submit to both blood and tissue tests later that same month. McCartney reasoned that a negative result might serve to halt the proceedings then and there. Once again, he was wrong. That March, McCartney was ordered to pay Heubers an interim maintenance of £180 monthly despite the fact that both tests, which have a ninety percent accuracy rating, indicated he was not the father. "It seems the girl's blood contains something that is not in mine or the mother's, so it must come from the third person and he is the real father," McCartney explained at the time.
Moving to West Berlin in 1980, Erika worked at a street concession selling sausage and chips to the passing throngs, while Bettina spent her days sticking fuses into fireworks at a local factory. As soon as the story hit the papers, however, the young woman was dismissed on the grounds that her new-found notoriety was disturbing to the normal work routine of the other employees. Later, Bettina was quoted as saying that like her illustrious alleged dad, she too was intent on making it as a pop singer. "I want to have a career as a singer under the name Bettina McCartney. I have enjoyed singing for many years, and I don't see that I am copying my father or trying to cash in on his name.... I will do it if only to prove to my father that I have spirit."
In April 1983 full maintenance was awarded the Heubers by the court. McCartney, it seemed, was fated to shoulder the consequences of this twenty-year-old night of passion whether he was actually the girl's father.or not. "One thing I think is very unfair," McCartney said at the time, "is that the judge is a woman and is pregnant herself. But I'm not going to ask for a different judge, I just want to get the whole thing settled." Not surprisingly, McCartney refused to honor the German court's ruling and did not pay the Heubers any further monies. Two months later, in June, Bettina, then twenty, attracted further international headlines by posing nude for the trashy High Society magazine for just a scant £600. "The pictures are very tasteful," commented Erika Heubers in an effort to defend her daughter's plummeting reputation. "She did the session because she is broke and Paul hasn't paid her any maintenance money yet." Pictured nude but for a pair of long leather gloves, and holding a clear plastic guitar, Bettina pranced and pouted her way through the sizzling eight-page spread looking very much the victim of her own tacky lust for her rightful fifteen minutes of fame.
Bettina later thought better of her unlikely quest for stardom and settled down to a job at a Berlin hair salon. She also lost two additional appeals brought on by McCartney's high-powered German attorney, Dr. Klaus Wachs. As Heubers had now officially lost her case, the poor girl was liable to pay McCartney's £60,000 legal bills, an eventuality obviously far beyond her meager capabilities. In the end, Dr. Wachs advised his client that it might be wise to go ahead and pick up the legal fees himself in an effort to quash the mortifying mess once and for all. "I advised Paul, and he agreed for psychological reasons he should by no means enforce his right for costs. It was my opinion that if he did, this would give Miss Heubers another cause to make bad publicity for him."
In a final, misguided twist to this unhappy, no-win scenario, Bettina dismissed McCartney's apparent generosity as "suspicious," saying, "I think it's very odd Paul paid these costs for us and this will be prominently brought forward in our new case." To date, nothing further has been heard from either Bettina or her mother.
Enduring a grueling four-and-a-half-hour nightly playing schedule (six hours on Saturday and Sunday), the Beatles' term at the Indra mercifully came to an end on October 4, 1960, after club owner Bruno Koschmider finally caved in to an avalanche of complaints from both neighbors and patrons not accustomed to such loud, raucous music. Having no desire to let go of his contractual stranglehold over the band though, Koschmider moved them just down the street to his sister venue, the Kaiserkeller.
Although it was definitely a better gig in terms of the actual surroundings and clientele, for the band life was still tough. For one thing, Paul and Stu, never really close, had become increasingly hostile towards each other, eventually coming to blows one night after a particularly tiring set. "I admit I had problems with Stu," McCartney once told me.
I regret it, of course, as he is now dead, but sometimes you can't help these things if you run up against controversy. It was mainly because he couldn't really play very well which made it very embarrassing when we were on stage or having photos taken. We had to ask him to turn away from the audience or the camera, so it couldn't be seen that his fingers weren't in the same key as the rest of us, or how few chords he could play. I was probably over-fussy but I felt it wasn't a good thing for an aspiring group to have such an obviously weak link.
Stuart was really a lovely guy and a great painter, but he was the one I used to have all the ding-dongs with. One time we even had a fight on stage. I assumed I'd win because he wasn't all that well built. Some extraordinary power must have taken over though because he was not an easy match, let me tell you. We were locked for what seemed ages. "I'll kill you, you bastard!" I screamed at him. "I'll bloody get you, McCartney!" he screamed back. I think they had to pour water on us in the end.
Looking back, the real bone of contention between the two might have had more to do with young McCartney's abnormally keen sense of ambition than his alleged jealousy over Sutcliffe's close friendship with John. So completely obsessed with success was McCartney that soon even his thinly veiled, nice-guy image couldn't hide his obvious lust for the limelight. No longer were the Beatles just an off-the-cuff boyhood band with stars in their eyes; by the time they realized just how rough and unrewarding life could be at the bottom, all any of them wanted was to find a way up and out, just as quickly as possible.
"Where are we going, fellas?" John would frequently cry out in an effort to boost his rag-tag group's often rock-bottom morale.
"To the top, Johnny!" they would shout back like a band of wild Apache war lords psyching themselves to do battle.
"Where's that, then?"
"Why, to the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!"
Sometimes, that little moment of enthusiasm was all they had. As time went by, one of the big attractions for the boys (besides sex, that is) became getting loaded. With the possible exception of Pete Best, the band were all legendary dopers, rocketing themselves up and down as the spirit moved them, fuelled by a never-ending supply of amphetamines, barbiturates, and booze. Some of the company they kept was often pretty suspect as well. Apart from the many harlots and hustlers, the Reeperbahn also attracted a decidedly more hard-core element as well. Before long the boys were rubbing elbows with a sordid collection of robbers, rapists, and even hitmen in the course of a night's entertainment. Jim McCartney, one imagines, would surely have been frantic had he known.
The scene of their most harrowing experience in Hamburg was an after-hours club they frequented when unable to sleep after their backbreaking performances at the Kaiserkeller. Sitting together around a great circular table they were quietly listening to the house band one evening with Allan Williams when, without warning, a man walked up and wordlessly pointed a revolver in the face of one of the group's German acquaintances. Before anyone even had time to react, he carefully squeezed the trigger, instantly sending a rain of blood, bone, and tissue around the room. As horrific a scene as this was, on the notorious Reeperbahn it was merely another black night in Germany's most dangerous city.
Despite the often grim reality of the Beatles' Hamburg life and times, Paul McCartney's usual party line comment regarding their days there tends to downplay the well-documented naughtiness of the place in favor of a kinder, gentler Reeperbahn. "You're in Hamburg," says Paul.
You're eighteen. You've never been abroad in your life and you've got a bit of money in your pocket. You go drinking on a Saturday night and you end up out until Sunday morning. You do a couple of loony things like most eighteen-year-olds, or service men abroad; there's always some lunacy. But it just grows. Someone remembers and they say, "Do you recall that?" It's the old story; it grows into this amazing legend. "I remember them! They were tough days." It wasn't that much different from now. It was just a little bit more lunacy, that's all. Quite a bit more lunacy. But it was just good clean fun. Good dirty fun actually.
By far the most surprising feature of Hamburg for the boys was the inexplicable way in which so many desirable women were drawn to them. Back home they had always been reasonably popular with the ladies but nothing prepared them for the sexual smorgasbord available to them on the Reeperbahn.
Returning nights to their hovel at the Bambi Kino the boys were often waylaid by several anonymous females from the club who used to lie in wait in the almost pitch-black hallway hoping to snare a Beatle, any Beatle, on the way to their rooms. Pete Best remembers:
There were nights when we felt so bushed all we wanted to do was head back to the dungeons and hit the sack. But we couldn't win. I would reach my cupboard-like room ready to flop — and find there was a bird already waiting outside my door. Some of them had discovered that they could enter our quarters through the cinema: all they had to do was buy a ticket, then head for the toilets, push open a crashbar on a door and there they were.
When Paul and I would arrive at our doors we would hear sniggering in the darkness and suddenly become aware of the aroma of perfume — and it was a case of doing justice, no matter how we felt. Sometimes we never even saw the face of the girl who had waited in the gloom to share our beds.
According to Best, the record number of groupies the band availed themselves of on any given evening while in Hamburg was eight. After a quick huff and puff the boys would switch dates, with Lennon shouting out, "All change!" It was that wild.
We shared everything in those days, and for the nightly romp there were usually five or six girls between the four of us. During the proceedings there would come an echoing cry from John or George along the corridor inquiring of Paul and me: "How's yours going? I'm just finishing. How about swapping over? How you two doing? I fancy one of yours now!" The girls would each do the rounds with us.... Birds — ready, willing and able, were vying for our attention everywhere. They would even trail us to our eating haunts. We often went for a bite at a cafe called Harold's, and admiring girls would be there, happy to buy us meals — and give other delights for free later. We found ourselves having two or three girls a night each, depending on how fit we were.
The Beatles' first stint in Hamburg ended on November 21, 1960, when George Harrison was deported by immigration officials for working under the age of eighteen in a night club. Not to mention the fact that Allan Williams had somehow neglected to secure the appropriate working visas for the group. Drifting back home to Liverpool, the boys felt dejected and beaten, oblivious to the vast improvement playing in such miserable isolation had made to their music. By this time, they had raced furlongs ahead of virtually all the local competition. Leaving England, happy just to have a gig, any gig, they returned fully professional musicians able to tease the emotions of an audience with their vast reserves of talent and charisma. But they were still stone broke, an unhappy fact not lost on the overtly practical Jim McCartney. Within days Paul had reluctantly landed a "proper" job as a delivery boy for something called Speedy Prompt Delivery Service, in Liverpool. "And you'd better think about getting back to school as well," Mr. McCartney chided his thoroughly frustrated young son, "just in case things don't work out with the music."
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Very similar sentiments, one suspects, were being heard in virtually all of the Beatles' households at the time. For a moment there, John's Aunt Mimi even suggested that her soon-to-be-famous nephew accept a position as a bus conductor.
Fate, it seemed, was intent upon letting the Beatles dangle just a little while longer before finally revealing to the world their extraordinary future. Waiting for a tomorrow that might never arrive is a spiky little hell all its own, a hell so diabolical as to make only a few scant months seem, to its unwilling denizens, an eternity.