On September 16, 1963, the Beatles released their third U.S. single, “She Loves You.” The song received a lowly 73 rating on American Bandstand’s Rate-A-Record segment and—like the group’s first two American singles—did not make the national charts. Paul McCartney summed up the band’s trio of misses thusly: “‘Please Please Me,’ flop, ‘From Me To You,’ flop, ‘She Loves You,’ flop.”
Exactly one year later—and 40 years ago this month—the Beatles descended on New Orleans for the first and only time. The reverberations of their visit, which lasted less than 24 hours and were felt in every corner of the city, can only be described as that of a category five musical hurricane.
The intervening 12 months had seen them rise from being virtually unknown in the United States to causing mass hysteria among teenagers everywhere they went, a fact that was being proven night after night as their first U.S. tour unfolded. In New Orleans, “London Boots” were on sale at Woolco, and “Beatle Pins” could be ordered from an obscure company in New York. At 12:57 a.m. on September 16, the Beatles departed from a typically riotous appearance in Cleveland that had been interrupted—and very nearly cancelled—after the crowd rushed the stage ten minutes into their set. Aboard their plane with them were opening acts Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Jackie De Shannon and the Bill Black Combo, as well as manager Brian Epstein and press agent Derek Taylor. The midnight flight was headed for New Orleans, where Frogman would get to go home to Algiers to enjoy a little peace and quiet while his British tour mates endured maniacal adoration in New Orleans East.
“I met the Beatles around ’61, through a promoter in England,” remembers Henry, who was touring Great Britain when he made their acquaintances. “He took me to an upstairs club in Piccadilly Circus where they were playing and introduced me to them.”
The Fab Four’s adoration of the Frogman was no surprise; after all they knew their American rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll inside and out and were hardly secretive about their musical fanaticism. But as fate would have it, Frogman’s longtime manager also happened to be Bob Astor, who worked for NEMS Enterprises, Ltd., the organization responsible for bringing the Beatles to the States in 1964.
“Bob Astor was bringing the Beatles over,” says Henry of that first tour, “and they had a West Coast tour and an Eastern tour. He put me on the Eastern tour. Our first show was in Philadelphia and we did 18 dates—Montreal, Toronto, New York, Chicago, all the way down to Florida.” Frogman’s contract for the tour guaranteed his services for $750 a week. After expenses, Frogman says, “I wasn’t making but $500 a week, but I enjoyed that $500! A lot of entertainers wanted to do it for nothing.”
THE GOOD GUYS VS. THE BOSS JOCKS
Astor, as it turns out, was also the unsung hero behind ensuring that the Beatles played in New Orleans. The show was officially sponsored by radio station WNOE, whose disc jockeys—known as “The WNOE Good Guys”—competed against WTIX’s “Boss Jocks” for teen loyalty. In an article originally published in Beatlology Magazine, noted Beatles historian and native New Orleanian Bruce Spizer perfectly characterized the division between the two stations and their listeners: “In those days, listeners were fiercely loyal to their station. You listened to either the ’NOE Good Guys or the ’TIX Boss Jocks. You didn’t switch the dial or punch the button on your car radio. And kids would get into playground fights stemming from arguments as to which station was the best.”
In what Spizer called “a major coup for the Good Guys and a devastating blow to WTIX,” WNOE’s Herb Holiday not only promoted the concert but managed to snag the entire show for $20,000, a cool five grand less than any other promoter on the entire tour. “Because Herb Holiday knew Bob Astor,” details Frogman, “Bob gave the Beatles to him for very little money. Herb paid less than anybody else for the whole show, but he also charged less for tickets.”
From the moment the Beatles arrived in New Orleans, they created an unprecedented bedlam that would not soon be forgotten. The confusion started before their plane even touched the ground, as Henry remembers. “When we flew into New Orleans, we didn’t know whether we were going to land at the Lakefront Airport or the Moisant Airport [now Louis Armstrong International]. They were trying to keep the landing somewhere where the kids would not be, so they decided on Moisant.”
Similarly, there was a last minute change in hotel accommodations, as the owner of the Roosevelt Hotel [now the Fairmont], where they were originally booked to stay, feared damage and begged to be let off the hook. Reservations were then secured at the Congress Inn on Chef Menteur Highway [now the site of the Renaissance Retirement Community]. The original plan was that the Beatles would be flown to the hotel by helicopter from the airport but before their plane even landed, the helicopter blew a tire and a bank of limousines were ordered. In a brilliant snafu, the cars were accidentally dispatched to Moisant, where the Beatles’ plane touched down around 3 a.m.
RINGO FOR PRESIDENT!
The last minute decision to land at Moisant diverted the large crowd of fans gathered at Lakefront Airport, but city officials who were also on hand to greet them were unable to do so. As the motorcade left the airport, a madcap scene ensued when it became immediately evident that the only limo not on the designated route was the one containing the Fab Four. Detecting the faux pas, fans surrounded the band’s lone limo but were eventually rebuffed by police who’d realized the mistake. Somewhere in this dizzying scenario the limo backed into a Kenner squad car, but eventually joined the procession to the Congress Inn.
In a world prior to the existence of I-10, the motorcade made the journey on surface roads where hundreds of fans lined the late night streets in hopes of a glimpse of their heroes. When the Beatles finally arrived at the hotel, they encountered about 100 more fans. Ringo Starr seemed to be the current favorite; one girl held a sign stating “Ringo For President” while another continually screamed, “If I can just touch one of Ringo’s rings!” They bolted from the limousine into the lobby and were then led down a hallway before being smuggled into Room 100 via a laundry room. Reporter Clarence Doucet, writing for the Times-Picayune, first encountered them near the laundry room, wryly noting that, “To their right was a deep sink for cleaning mops.”
Most of the crowd had dispersed by four o’clock and armed guards stood outside of their boarded-up three room suite. Councilman Daniel L. Kelly, who in the last hour had attempted to greet the Beatles first at Lakefront Airport, then at Moisant, and finally at the hotel in hopes of presenting them with Mayor Victor Schiro’s proclamation declaring Wednesday, September 16, “Beatles Day In New Orleans,” was one of the last to leave, never having been invited to make the presentation.
JUST BUMMIN’ AROUND
Frogman, meanwhile, was enjoying a welcome break from all the insanity.
“I saw things with the Beatles that I had never seen before on tour,” he says today. “Doctors and nurses and ambulances all around at every show. A lot of towns put us out, we’d get in there and they’d get us out of there. We’d play, but after we finished, that was it: get to the plane and get to the next city.”
In the past two weeks, there had only been two days off, spent memorably in Key West, Florida on September 9 and 10. “We stayed in a hotel and just viewed the city, and we got to be a little closer then,” he remembers. “Paul, he was my main Beatle that was real friendly, he’d ask me about different New Orleans musicians. He and I and one of the guys with the Bill Black Combo, we bummed together.
“We had a nice time in Key West; I don’t think anyone knew we were down there. We played dice but Paul was winning all the money. At one point we tried to have a jam session but I don’t think the Beatles knew too much about music at the time; all they knew was what they played. I was trying to get them to do like the Jimmy Reed or the Bill Doggett beat, things like ‘Honky Tonk,’ but they weren’t too familiar with the blues then.”
The next scheduled rest day was to be the day after the New Orleans show, but Frogman’s hometown visit—and the Beatles’ Crescent City experience—was cut short when word arrived that they would now be flying to Kansas City immediately after the City Park concert. “I brought all my clothes home with me because they said we were going to stay over night. Then I got a call before the show telling me to bring my clothes to the concert with me.”
Charles O. Finley, the owner of the Kansas City A’s baseball team, caused the change in plans when he made the Beatles an offer they couldn’t refuse: If they would give up their day off to play a show in Kansas City, he’d pay them $150,000. The sum was more than seven times what they would make that evening in City Park and the largest take for a single show in show business history.
THE ENGLISH STORM
After the Beatles awoke sometime the next afternoon, they held a press conference at the Congress Inn that commenced with Mayor Schiro presenting them with Keys To The City and Certificates Of Honorary Citizenship, to which John Lennon remarked, “I want to put my arm around you. You look like a nice fellow, Lord Mayor.” Schiro then read the proclamation that had caused Councilman Kelly to race all over the city just hours before. It declared, among other things, that “What the Beatles do and sing is based on a cousinship with jazz, the jumping, danceable historic art form which New Orleans has contributed to world culture,” and concluded that “In order to be hospitable to our English cousins, the Beatles, who will serenade New Orleans in the hurricane month of September it devolves upon myself to officially welcome this English storm.”
Upon presenting them with the proclamation, Schiro produced a duplicate copy and requested that each band member sign it. “Your pen, your Lordship,” Lennon stated eloquently as he returned the Mayor’s pen. Thousands of copies of the proclamation were given away at City Hall beginning the next week.
For the first time on the tour, Brian Epstein allowed the press conference to be filmed by a newsreel camera man, an occurrence that would not repeat itself. In characteristic witty form, the Beatles answered questions about topless bathing suits (George: “We’ve been wearing them for years”), atheism (Paul: “We’re not atheists, we’re agnostics. We simply don’t know enough about it”), the draft (John: “There is no draft in England anymore. We’ll let you Yanks do the fighting”) and their chief gripe against the United States (Paul: “The quality of your tea”). Asked what he enjoyed most about the group’s newfound wealth, Ringo responded with a single word: “Money.”
“Dave Brubeck told the Dallas News that America is reaping the harvest from the musical garbage it exported to England years ago,” quipped one reporter. “Comment?”
“Quite true,” answered John.
In characterizing their New Orleans visit thus far, the Beatles described it as the “roughest” stop on their tour due to the events of the night before. But as they most surely knew, the real fun was yet to begin.
MEETING THE FAT MAN
That evening, as Epstein and Taylor enjoyed dinner at Antoine’s, the Beatles arrived at City Park Stadium only to be pleasantly surprised by an unplanned visit from one of their primary musical heroes—and the only Antoine that they cared about—Antoine “Fats” Domino.
“Fats came in with Bob Astor,” remembers Frogman. “Bob knew every musician there was and he and Fats were good friends. He told Fats, ‘I’m going to bring you to meet the Beatles.’ And he brought Fats into one of those little trailer houses and left him back there. So after Fats finished talking to them and came back by Bob, Bob said, ‘Fats, how did you enjoy the Beatles? Fats said, ‘Man, them cats talk funny!’”
As for the Fab Four’s impression of Domino, they couldn’t decide what was more mind-blowing: being in the same trailer as the man who’d recorded “Ain’t That A Shame” or the star-shaped wristwatch he wore, which was made of gold, silver and ivory and encrusted with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls. As the Bill Black Combo took the stage, the estimated 12,000 fans in the stadium began to chant, “We want the Beatles” while hundreds of policemen prepared themselves for an evening that would make Carnival Day look like Easter Sunday. Meanwhile, WTIX had hatched a secret plan that would utilize reverse psychology to defend their honor. WNOE may have been the official sponsor of the show, but the Boss Jocks were not to be outdone. As the concert got underway they swung swiftly into action, personally greeting fans with hand bills declaring, “WTIX welcomes you to this Beatle Concert.” Emblazoned with pictures of both the Boss Jocks and the Fab Four, they concluded, “Have Fun…and listen to WTIX after the show.”
Fans may have been ecstatic about seeing the Beatles, remembers Frogman, but they were more than welcoming to the opening acts as well. “The Beatles’ fans enjoyed our music; we got our share from the crowd. The only thing that the Beatles got was the howling. Sometimes the audiences would howl at the end of our songs, but with the Beatles it was constant, throughout their whole set. And the girls were standing up there just crying and fainting.”
JUST TOO MUCH
At 9:25 p.m. the Beatles hit the stage with gale force, blasting out a raucous rendition of “Twist And Shout.” Within 15 minutes the entire stadium was in a frenzy similar to the one they’d caused in Cleveland just 24 hours earlier. Tonight, however, nobody was about to stop the show just because things were getting a little out of hand. After all, this was New Orleans. “When the Beatles came on those kids broke the barriers,” laughs Frogman, pausing for emphasis. “And the policemen were tackling them like it was a football game. It was a bunch of girls who broke it, not much guys.”
Seven hundred girls, to be more specific, all of whom were attempting to storm the stage. The police, many of whom were on horseback, tried to hold the girls back during “Can’t Buy Me Love,” but were further challenged by several boys and finally, a small battery of girls in wheelchairs, who had won field seats from a radio contest.
“It really was like a football game,” Frogman continues, “I mean, they were running from the policemen and the policemen were tackling them. I really enjoyed it because it was so comical. And those policemen, man, they were laughing the whole time.”
New Orleans Police Superintendent Joseph I. Giarusso described the episode as “both amusing and tragic at the same time.” One girl who suffered a broken arm refused to be taken to the hospital for fear of missing the remainder of the concert, while approximately 200 other teenagers were treated with ammonia spirits after fainting from the excitement. One memorable quote from the New Orleans States-Item put it literally: “City Park Stadium will probably never see such inspired, broken field running nor such a determined defense.” The Times-Picayune wasn’t far behind with a front-page headline that proclaimed “Beatles Just Too Much For Fans.” An accompanying photograph pictures a girl clinging to a railing who “appears to be in a state of ecstasy.”
“I want to thank everyone for coming,” announced Paul McCartney just before introducing the last number, “including the football players.” With that, the Beatles stormed into “Long Tall Sally” and vacated the stage.
McCartney later admitted that the scene at City Park, “was the closest we’ve come on the tour to getting worried. When I saw them coming for the stage,” he added, “I wondered, would they stay at the barricades or rush the stage and we’d be massacred?”
By 1:45 a.m. the tour had arrived in Kansas City, after what Frogman remembers as being a shaky flight, to say the least. “I’ll never forget the trip from New Orleans to Kansas City. We were flying in a private DC-3 and we went through a storm. It looked like that plane was never going up, just going down. I just knew we was gone. But that pilot got us through.”
Once safely on the ground, and after a (presumably) good night’s sleep and yet another press conference, the opening acts were summoned to join the Beatles in their dressing room; a rare occurrence according to Frogman. “The only way we could get to the Beatles’ dressing room was when Paul would bring us up there. In Kansas City he brought us up to their dressing room and they had a big old huge watermelon. Now the Beatles, I don’t think they knew what a watermelon was. ’Cause they were hitting it and poking it with a knife!
“Our last show together was in Dallas, I flew back to New Orleans from there. The Beatles gave me a money clip there, that was their gift to us for doing the tour. I’m looking for it right now, it’s around my house somewhere.”
While the Beatles were struggling with watermelon in Missouri, New Orleans was attempting to deal with the whirlwind that they’d just witnessed. Several days after the concert, articles and editorials were still appearing in the city’s newspapers. And in the coming months, an unprecedented side of Beatlemania would be felt as this dyed-in-the-wool R&B town became engulfed in an identity crisis. Arguably, New Orleans had provided the British Invasion with more source material than any other locale, yet many of the very musicians who had most inspired their young, long-haired English counterparts were now having a hard time getting gigs. Henry couldn’t help but notice the change in musical climate.
“After the Beatles tour I went back to playing on Bourbon Street and suddenly everything was guitars. Before the Beatles, you couldn’t catch a musician who wasn’t well dressed, with a suit, a uniform or something like that. The Beatles dressed well, but some of the other British groups didn’t. After the Beatles came along musicians started playing on stage with their shirts busted open. And then they had the long hair, and all the kids in the world started wanting long hair. See,” he says, smiling, “my hair didn’t grow too long.
“The British put a hurt on us,” he concludes. “It lasted a few years but we got it back. But I really enjoyed the Beatles’ music, it was something new and something different. Touring with them was a great experience but I never knew it was going to be like that. It really was comical.”
When the Beatles played at City Park, local R&B guitarist Deacon John was in a unique position, one that had nothing to do with the fact that he was one of the only black kids in the audience that night. A popular bandleader who’d played on almost every hit that Allen Toussaint had produced in the past four years, he was watching America’s musical tide turn before his very eyes. And he loved it.
“I’d heard the Beatles before they got on Ed Sullivan and I thought they were really refreshing because they incorporated rhythm and blues as well as pop elements and so much of the old and the new. It was totally unique and seeing it during my formative years as a musician, I embraced it. I didn’t look at it as a threat to what I was doing, I looked at it as something I could add onto. I thought, ‘Hey, I’m not just a guy who can sound like Wilson Pickett or James Brown, I can do this too!’ But I really had a passion for the music. You know, there’s always been criticism saying people should stay true to their art no matter what fad comes along but I didn’t look at the Beatles as a fad. I looked at them as a band who revolutionized popular music. I saw it first hand when I saw the hysteria in the crowd at City Park. I knew right then and there that this was gonna be one of the biggest things ever to hit the music scene.”
PROCLAMATION PRESENTED BY MAYOR VICTOR H. SCHIRO
WHEREAS, the Beatles are coming!
WHEREAS, this event will be acknowledged, assented to and even acclaimed by presumably a large segment of our people; and
WHEREAS, what the Beatles do and sing is based on a cousinship with jazz, the jumping, danceable historic art form which New Orleans has contributed to world culture; and
WHEREAS, in order to be hospitable to our English cousins, the Beatles, who will serenade New Orleans in the hurricane month of September, it devolves upon myself to officially welcome this English storm;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Victor H. Schiro, Mayor of the City of New Orleans, do hereby proclaim the day, Wednesday, September 16, 1964, to be BEATLES DAY IN NEW ORLEANS.
SET LIST for Wednesday, September 16, 1964
Twist and Shout
You Can’t Do That
All My Loving
She Loves You
Things We Said Today
Roll Over Beethoven
Can’t Buy Me Love
If I Fell
A Hard Day’s Night
Long Tall Sally
The Beatles Are Coming! The Birth Of Beatlemania In America
By Bruce Spizer
Local Beatles historian Bruce Spizer is a living, breathing testament to the old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” The Beatles Are Coming! is the fifth self-published volume in his series of detailed histories of the Fab Four, and once again underscores just why he has to be counted as one of the most valued authorities on the group that changed the face of music. It isn’t just the thoroughness and immediacy with which he writes, the scrupulous-yet-entertaining recounting of the facts, the previously unpublished photographs or the never-before-seen documents that make this book a must-have for casual fans and hardcore fanatics alike. While all of these elements put Spizer in a class by himself, most striking of all is the way in which he assembles them. His overall presentation makes The Beatles Are Coming! not merely a book, a historical volume or a labor of love, but a 246 page work of art. The raw materials alone attest to its greatness: superb graphic design, thick high-gloss paper, an excellent binding job; these are the rewards that await an author like Spizer, who will cut no corners in seeing his vision through to reality.
Of course, these are just the kind of jaw-dropping details that will make you want to read the book cover-to-cover. Zeroing in on the events that led up to the Beatles’ explosion in America, it begins in February 1963—when their first American single was issued on Chicago’s R&B-heavy Vee-Jay label—and concludes with their first U.S. visit a year later. But this isn’t merely a play-by-play account of the facts. Informing the main body of text are plenty of perfectly-placed sidebars on subjects ranging from the industrial process of pressing records to the history of Vee-Jay Records to George Harrison’s first visit to the States (his U.S. stage debut wasn’t with the Beatles at all, but with a local band called the Four Vests at a VFW Hall in rural Illinois!) Additionally, events like the group being turned down by Capitol Records four times over are brought into high relief by those who were involved, in this case then-Capitol Records President Alan Livingston.
As if the exquisitely written text and stunning collection of photographs aren’t enough, letters, posters, receipts and even telegrams—not to mention the obligatory record sleeves and labels—are beautifully reproduced in full color, and in many cases, actual size. If he’s not too busy working on his next masterpiece, Spizer might well consider teaching a class to the world’s future—and current—music historians. We’d all be the better for it.
For more information and to order copies: www.beatle.net