Backstage Pass: John Lennon escapes The Beatles’ shadow in Toronto part 1

Shout! Factory released “John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band Live In Toronto ’69” on DVD June 23.

Captured by Academy Award-nominated director D.A. Pennebaker (“Don’t Look Back,” “Monterey Pop,” “The War Room”) this concert film serves as one of the important and historical documents in the career and life of John Lennon.

“John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band Live In Toronto ’69” is a rare look at one of the world’s most influential popular artists at a pivotal moment in his career. Filmed on the eve of the release of the Abbey Road LP — the last Beatles album to be recorded (although Let It Be was the last to be released) — this is the only performance ever caught on film of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band.

On an invitation from record producer, songwriter and rock ’n’ roll publicist Kim Fowley, John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono hopped on a plane from England with guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White to travel to the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival festival, showcasing some of Lennon’s early rock ’n’ roll musical heroes — among them Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

The DVD performances include: “Bo Diddley,” Bo Diddley; “Hound Dog,” Jerry Lee Lewis; “Lucille,” Little Richard; “Blue Suede Shoes,” John Lennon; “Money,” John Lennon; “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” John Lennon; “Yer Blues,” John Lennon; “Cold Turkey,” John Lennon; “Give Peace A Chance,” John Lennon; “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow),” Yoko Ono; and “John, John (Let’s Hope For Peace),” Yoko Ono.

There is also a bonus feature interview from 1988 with Yoko Ono. 

Kim Fowley was the master of ceremonies for the 1969 Toronto Rock & Roll Revival Festival, which featured the live performance debut of the Plastic Ono Band. Fowley talks about Lennon and the concert in this interview.

You were the master of ceremonies in Toronto, Canada, where John Lennon debuted The Plastic Ono Band onstage, and your voice is heard doing the introduction of Lennon and friends on the subsequent Live Peace In Toronto gold album that was culled from The Rock & Roll Revival held there at Varsity Stadium in September, 1969. 

Kim Fowley: It was a concert at The Varsity Stadium. Bo Diddley, Junior Walker And The All Stars, Tony Joe White, Alice Cooper, Cat Mother And The All Night News Boys, Lord Sutch, Chicago Transit Authority, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent — I was his record producer at the time — Little Richard, Doug Kershaw and The Doors.

How did you get the gig? I know some of the promoters involved, like Ken Walker and Thor Eaton, later also produced a 1970 train tour of Canada with several rock acts, including The Band, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead and Buddy Guy. It’s now a DVD titled  “Festival Express.”  

KF: I got the Toronto job because I was the voice of the Love-Ins in L.A. in 1966, ’67, ’68 and ’69. I did some pop festival shows with The Doors, The Seeds, Jimi Hendrix and The Jefferson Airplane. I did all those shows and knew what to do with a large audience like 100,000 people.

Ritchie Yorke, Billboard editor in Canada, and a contributor to Rolling Stone and NME at the time, he knew about me and persuaded the promoters to hire me — $4,000 and a plane ticket. I also got a hotel room a week before the gig. My job was not only to announce the date but also be a consultant and tell them how thin

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