HIGH ON JOHN’S BED
Derek Taylor called and said he was coming back to town and he needed help in setting up some radio interviews with an artist he was bringing over. I told him I’d walk over hot coals for him. He said the artist wasn’t important but his trip was.
Derek was staying at the Algonquin Hotel on 44th. He had a huge suite with a sitting parlor and a great view. I met up with him and told him all the places we’d be going and what to expect. He was pleased with the plan and happy to be in New York.
Derek was running the UK office for WB. At this point he was looking forward to meeting some old friends like Scott Muni over at WNEW-FM. He even told me if he saw John Lennon on this trip he was going to ask him to sign with Warner Brothers Records!
During our journey I mentioned to Derek about some rare Beatles film footage my friends Ron and John Overall were able to lay their hands on. Ron had recently found some 1963 color footage by Pathe’ News called “Here Come The Beatles.” I told Derek that back in ’71, after being on Howard Smith’s radio show, I received a letter from a guy in Connecticut who wanted to sell a master tape of the Beatles at Washington Coliseum, the Beatles first concert in America, for $10,000. When I called him, I told him we were kids who lived with our parents and that we didn’t have any money. He said he had one print of the negative and we could have that for 800 bucks. Somehow Ron and Overall came up with the dough. I told Derek he must see this footage.
Derek said, “Call your friend with the films and arrange a showing in my room at the Algonquin. We’ll do it later this evening.”
I used the hotel phone to contact Ron and asked him to come in from Clifton, NJ. I told him what was happening. He would need to lug the 16mm projector and the films and hurry! Ron was in no mood for this push and shove since we’d done this many times before and it’s a big hassle. It takes two people just to carry everything. The big sticking point was who was going to pay for the parking. I told him I would pay for parking and any food he wanted.
I headed down to the bar to let Derek know this was a go! I could also see how tired everyone was getting from a long day of the dog and pony show. Derek was with some friends telling them we’d all be heading upstairs soon. He finally approached me and said he was going out for a walk to get some air and he would return soon.
In the suite overlooking 44th street there were now about ten people in the room and the phone was ringing. I wasn’t sure if I should pick it up but I did and it was Ron. He was here and on his way up. When he walked in the suite he was in a sour mood. Derek wasn’t there. Ron was dejected.
The phone rang again and this time I let it ring a few times before picking it up. It was May Pang calling. I knew her voice right away and said ‘Hi May, it’s me, Dave Morrell’. After saying hello, she said, “How many people are in the room?” I looked around and counted ten. “That’s too many, hang on.” To my surprise, Derek came on the phone and said, “I’m over here on 52nd Street at John’s place. Can you come over here?” I said “Give me the address, we’re on our way.” I told him I had to bring Ron since he’s got the projector and the films. “Okay” he said. “The address is 434 East 52nd Street. The Penthouse, Tower B.”
Our man Keith from the record store was with us and was helping with all the gear. I had to tell him that only Ron and I could go in. Since nothing had yet been set up in the room, it was easy to leave and not create any chaos. We hopped in Ron’s car and headed east over towards First Avenue. We found a parking spot and Keith said he’d stay with the car. Ron and I headed in.
We told the doorman where we were going and he helped us into the elevator. When we got off we found the door and rang the bell. When the door opened we were looking at stairs that were headed up to a loft. Years later when May wrote her book, she shows pictures of Paul & Linda, David Bowie and many others taken from the top of the stairs.
We greeted May and made a quick right into the main room where we saw Derek and John sitting on the bed talking. John got up and welcomed us to his home. He pointed to the bed and said “Hop on, it’s alright.”
John sat down and rolled a joint on his new album “Walls And Bridges.” He said he just got copies of the final record and wanted to show us how it opens up to reveal him wearing different pairs of glasses. He showed us all the drawings he used for the cover. Art he created when he was 11 years old. It was very moving to hear John talk about his early years. The memories were flowing. He said his mother had shown him how to draw a horse and then showed us her work on his cover.
He lit a joint and began to hand it to me. As he was passing it, he was looking directly into my eyes. As I looked into his, I was thinking, “Give Peace A Chance,” “All You Need Is Love” and “Imagine.” When the joint was passed to Ron he said no thanks. John looked at him and said, “Good lad, you don’t wanna mess with this stuff!”
Derek had already told John what to expect, so Ron got into action and set up the projector. A giant 27” Sony TV was on at the foot of his bed so Ron asked him if he wanted it off and John said just turn the sound down. Ron asked John where he wanted to show it and John got up and pulled down a huge shade across the room at the far end. It was showtime.
First we showed him a beautiful pristine color copy of a Pathe’ News short showing the Beatles in concert at the ABC Cinema in Manchester, England in late ’63. The volume was turned up and the walls in John’s apartment were shaking.
It was rounding midnight and we were all giggles. Ron set up the Beatles at Washington Coliseum film and we were ready.
As the film began to play John began to get more animated if that was possible. We were showing him the very first Beatles concert in the United States that was professionally filmed with incredible sound quality. He was yelling and screaming at the screen, egging the Beatles on. We were all falling on the floor laughing. The volume was at concert level.
By the time the Beatles got to “This Boy” John was going bonkers. He leaped off the bed and sprang over to sit directly in front of the screen looking straight up at himself. During the song, Paul and George are huddled around him and then break away to let John wail. When John was watching, he was standing and whistling and screaming! John Lennon was turned on.
When it was over, John said, “Look around – you don’t see any gold records on the walls – you don’t see any guitars, do ya? – Let me go get something.”
John came back with a square yellow envelope that was beat up. Inside of it was another yellow envelope in much better condition, and he slowly pulled out acetate of an unmarked record.
He said, “Wait ‘till you hear this!”
As he headed to the record player he told us only one speaker was working. He apologized, but before he could finish Ron said, “I can fix it!” and he did!
John told us to go sit in the middle on his bed. We all jumped on like good little boys. He told us the Beatles did “Love Me Do” and it peaked at number 17. He told us George Martin had the next song picked out for the boys to record. It was a song called “How Do You Do It” written by Mitch Murray that Martin thought could be a hit. John said he didn’t want to do it, that it wasn’t what the Beatles would do or even sing at the Cavern. He felt the Beatles fans wouldn’t like it. George Martin got his way and the Beatles did record “How Do You Do It.” John said he deliberately sang it without the excitement you would expect.
After the recording was complete John said he went home to finish off “Please Please Me” with Paul. When they sang a re-worked version to George Martin, he told them it would be their first number one record.
“How Do You Do It” by the Beatles was shelved and never heard of again until Hunter Davies mentioned it in his authorized biography of the Beatles. When I read about it, I never imagine I would hear it one day.
When John was finished telling us the story he threw up the volume, dropped the needle and screamed, “Stand back!” A guitar intro began and then John started to sing the first verse of a song we never heard. All our jaws dropped. John was lit up.
It was John Lennon with the Beatles singing “How Do You Do It” produced by George Martin, being played full blast with John at the controls. It was fucking out of this world. A REAL Beatles song fully produced that no one ever heard. John was turning us on.
The rest of the evening was full of laughter and friendship. John asked Ron what other films he collected and when he heard the names Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis, he wanted us to come over for another screening. Ron told him the Elvis film was from the Dorsey show and was the first television performance ever.
John said, “You know where to reach me!”
We never asked for an autograph or a photograph. We had great admiration and respect. How many fans get to sit on their idols bed smoking pot and listening to rare recordings and films?
Thanks to Derek and May, John now knew me as Dave the promotion man.
It was a dream I couldn’t dream.
A week later, my phone rang at the office. I picked it up and it was John.