By Ian & Lauren Wright
“Dear Mr. Epstein,
We don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups of guitarists are on the way out.”
This was the opening line of a letter written by Decca Record’s London A&R man, Dick Rowe, turning down The Beatles after an audition Jan. 1, 1962. It was the biggest mistake ever made in the music industry.
Undaunted by the rebuff, The Beatles forged ahead like a juggernaut, finally attaining a #1 chart hit with “Please Please Me” in February 1963. March 9, less than a month later, their second U.K. tour began in London’s East Ham. Since the tour contract had been signed well before they charted and Brian Epstein always honored his contracts, the boys received bottom-of-the-bill wages consisting of £80 a week (for all four), including expenses.
Americans Tommy Roe and Chris Montez headlined the tour but after the first performance realized it was impossible to follow The Beatles. Roe said, “It was complete mayhem at the theatre with hundreds of screaming girls rushing the stage like lemmings. They were completely out of control, with only a few theatre staff and usherettes trying to keep some sort of order. How could you possibly follow that?” Subsequently, Roe and Montez agreed to drop down the bill, letting The Beatles close out the shows. The same fate would happen to Roy Orbison on his May 1963 tour when the Big “O,” with great dignity, also dropped down the bill.
I spoke with Tommy recently at his home in Los Angeles when he recounted, “I got on very well with The Beatles. Every day began with nonstop questions about everything American. Evidently, their biggest goal was to go to the States. Montez was not so popular, always pestering them with questions about who they were and why they were so popular. John nicknamed him, ‘The Little Mexican Kid.’
“Montez wondered why John and Paul always had their heads together writing songs, even on the tour bus. In those days there was only one motorway in the whole of England which traversed the 100 miles between London and Birmingham. All other roads were single carriageways and country lanes, so the tour buses had to travel through the night to reach the next gig. The long back seat of the bus became a bed for the exclusive use of the Star. On this occasion, there were two headliners, so Montez and I took turns with the bed.
“En route to a gig in Newcastle, John had enough of Montez’s constant questions and roughed him up a bit — nothing violent, just letting off steam — part of the inevitable arguments during touring. After the Newcastle gig everyone was in the theater’s bar for sandwiches and drinks when John threw a beer at Montez, soaking the side of his head and jacket. George asked, ‘What did you do that for?’ and Lennon responded, ‘Bloody Hell, I haven’t got the price for another pint!’ ”
The tour finished in Leicester March 31, and they all returned to London as guests of Brian Epstein. Roe explained, “The next night while The Beatles played for the New Musical Express Awards concert at Wembley’s Empire Pool, Epstein proposed the possibility of becoming my manager and moving me to England. Felton Jarvis, who had produced my million-selling record “Sheila” for ABC-Paramount record company, suggested, “We’ll think it over on our six-day crossing back to New York.” (In 1962, “Sheila,” written by Roe, was #1 in the United States, Australia and Canada, reaching #3 in the U.K. charts. Jarvis was Elvis Presley’s record producer from 1966 until 1977. He and Roe were born in Atlanta, Ga.)
“Epstein, always persuasive and persistent, asked us to introduce a copy of The Beatles’ new album Please Please Me (released days before) to our record company in America. Felton, who had been on the tour, thought it a great idea and within seconds, Epstein produced the full promo pack — album, press releases, bios and photos — the works.
“On Thursday, April 4, we sailed from Southampton aboard the Queen Elizabeth. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was the first person to bring The Beatles to the United States, albeit in my guitar case. We disembarked at Pier 90 on the morning of April 9 and took a cab to ABC-Paramount, where president Samuel Clark greeted us like the returning prodigals. We were in fact bringing him the tour accounts!
“We had coffee in Sam’s office with national sales manager Larry Newton and the company’s A&R man, Don Costa. After the usual pleasantries, we enthusiastically presented Epstein’s promo pack to the assembled executives. Sam gave the package the once-over, then put the vinyl on the turntable. Side 1, track 1, “I Saw Her Standing There,” filled the room with that unmistakable Beatles sound. After a few minutes and less than complimentary looks passing between the execs, Sam suddenly snatched up the record and frizzbeed it into the trash bin saying, ‘Gentlemen that was crap!’ ”
In that instant, Samuel Clark made the second biggest mistake in the history of the music industry. Clark admonished, “Now Tommy, you just get on with touring, writing and singing your songs and leave all the business decisions to us. Nice to see you, son. Have a nice day.”
Now retired from performing and living in Beverly Hills with his wife, French actress Josette Banzet, Tommy Roe will celebrate his 67th birthday May 9. Concentrating on his golf handicap, photography and travel, Tommy is also planning on penning his autobiography.
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© Ian Wright and Lauren Wright