Rare Fab 4 photos head to auction

By  Alex Bonis

An astounding collection of unpublished photos and memorabilia of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and others taken by The Beatles U.S. tour manager have been hidden away for 40 years. 

They will be coming to the auction block in July. They are shown in the June 6, 2008, edition of Goldmine magazine (cover at left) for the first time in any publication courtesy of Gotta Have It.com, who will be selling the entire collection, including the photographer’s copyright, in approximately 100 lots along with hundreds of other important items from the icons of rock and pop, as part of their upcoming summer Rock and Roll Pop Art auction.

These photos were taken between 1964 and 1966 by Bob Bonis, who was the tour manager for all three of The Beatles tours of the U.S., as well as The Rolling Stones’ first-ever U.S. tour beginning in June of 1964. Through these photos fans will get a rare glimpse, for the first time ever, of The Beatles and Rolling Stones behind the scenes during their first American tours.  Bob died in 1991 at the age of 59. His son, Alex, tells us the story behind these photos and more… 

Photographing history

My father, Bob Bonis, had what had to be the coolest job in the world!

Through his friend, impresario Norman Weiss at GAC (General Artists Corp.), he got to spend almost two years as The Rolling Stones’ tour manager beginning with their first U.S. tour, June-July 1964, and as if that wasn’t cool enough, he was The Beatles’ tour manager for all three of their U.S. tours in 1964, 1965 and their last tour in 1966. He also served as agent or road manager for the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Eric Clapton (solo) and others.

He started his career at MCA as an agent where he met and worked with Norman Weiss. As a jazz aficionado, he started a jazz management firm managing and working with a variety of jazz and big-band performers, including Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Harry Belafonte, Gerry Mulligan and others. Standing 6’1” and weighing over 200 pounds, he cut an intimidating figure and earned a reputation for dealing with the wise guys that ran a lot of the jazz clubs. 

Because of this he was tapped by his friend at GAC, Norman Weiss, to serve as The Rolling Stones’ tour manager for their first ever U.S. tour.

According to Bill Wyman in his book, “Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band,” when Norman Weiss asked my father to go on the tour, his initial reaction was that he didn’t want to go out on the road anymore. He wasn’t a fan of rock ’n’ roll at that point. 

But Norman showed him the famous article from Melody Maker entitled “Would You Let Your Sister Marry A Rolling Stone? And according to Wyman my father responded, “That’s a great sales pitch,” and he agreed to the tour. 

He did a great job of getting them where they had to be on time. Quite a feat considering that the “bad boys” of the British Invasion worked hard at their reputation for being trouble. 

His experience with them was quite the opposite, and he developed a great friendship with them that lasted after his role as their tour manager ended. This success with The Stones’ tour led Weiss and someone in the Stones management office in England to recommend him to Brian Epstein for the same role with The Beatles.

Aside from his duties as tour manager, my father was also a very talented amateur photographer and took advantage of his access to these musicians and shot what amounts to a couple of thousand photographs of The Beatles and The Stones, as well as some of Simon & Garfunkel, Cream recording in the studio, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra.

The combination of an extraordinary eye for composition and unequaled access to some of the most significant performers of the 20th century yielded a truly remarkable trove, including some of the most fantastic images of both The Rolling Stones and The Beatles (n)ever seen by the public.

In addition to the images that are published here for the first time anywhere there are hundreds of spectacular photographs of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on stage in concert, backstage — rehearsing, tuning up, waiting to go on stage and clowning around, dressing and relaxing, on vacations or en route to shows or cities, getting their haircut, bowling, recording in the studio, at press events and just hanging around being themselves. 

There are black and white and color 35mm negatives, contact sheets and original 35mm color slides, and all will be sold with the photographer’s copyright.

What’s in the collection

My father passed away in 1991, and I’ve been holding on to several boxes of items that he saved or accumulated throughout his career since then, and I’ve decided to finally share these treasures with the public.

The entire collection of memorabilia and original, unpublished and never-seen-before photos goes up on the auction block at GottaHaveIt.com auctions in July along with items such as Elvis Presley’s Peacock jumpsuit, John Lennon’s Talisman necklace, handwritten lyrics, concert played instruments of Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), a collection of Johnny Cash items coming to auction for the very first time, Beatles Cleveland cardboard poster, Meet The Beatles motion display, an autographed Sgt Pepper insert signed in 1967 and much more. (Please see their ad elsewhere in this issue and check out their website GOTTAHAVEIT.COM for more specific details on the auction and the other historic artifacts included.)

Although he didn’t save or collect memorabilia, he did save a number of very rare items in addition to the 2,000-plus photographs. In the auction you’ll get a chance to acquire for your collection his original tour passes and credentials, crew passes, press passes, signed receipts, a “Butcher” LP slick, Rolling Stones autographs, a handwritten note from George Harrison to my father thanking him for his help, tour itineraries with his handwritten notes about the shows, all kinds of receipts from the tours, copies of contracts, and an engraved desk set that The Beatles presented to him as a thank you gift with their signatures engraved on the inside.

My favorite piece of the collection is a Pound Note signed and inscribed to my father by all four Beatles with outrageous inscriptions. George wrote “To Bob, best wishes, George Harrison MBE.” Under that John wrote “To Bob’oners, from John Lennon, LSD.” John’s nickname for my fathers was “Boners.” Paul wrote, “To Bob Bob, from Paul McCartney (BYRDS),” and Ringo wrote “To Bob, Best Wishes, Ringo Starr.”

New facts about The Beatles unearthed

My father always stayed silent with the public about this part of his life and never had aspirations to publish his photos or write a book about his experiences with the two greatest and most important bands in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. 

He never went to any of the conventions or participated in the fan culture. He had submitted and allowed a handful of his photographs to be published in teen magazines in the ’60s, but after that, he wasn’t interested in pursuing any attention from his past exploits.

This part of his life took place before I was born in 1969, so I have no firsthand knowledge of his experiences and these events. In 1984, on the 20th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America, he did grant a handful of interviews. There are significant facts that he revealed in those interviews that I think would be of great interest to collectors as well as fans of both groups.
Since Goldmine is one of the great resources for collectors I thought it appropriate to share that information with you here. Some of these facts will clear up some disputes among collectors that have been debated for years.

Over the years, collectors have seen a variety of items offered for sale such as “original” Beatles tour jackets or T-shirts and other alleged tour items. In one interview, he was asked what merchandising The Beatles had on tour, and his reply should be definitive considering he was there.

He replied, “There wasn’t any…  You’ve seen that ad in the back of Rolling Stone for original Beatles tour jackets? We never had tour jackets. I swear. I would’ve had one, right? No T-shirts. All they did have was a pair of guys who sold programs… but no T-shirts.”

Although The Beatles traveled with an entourage of some 60 people, including journalists, they didn’t really have much of a road crew.  “The road crew was Malcolm Evans and Neil Aspinall.”

My father (Bob Bonis), and Ira Seidell (who worked previously with The Dave Clark Five) were the two road managers. Ira handled the accounting, and Bob oversaw most everything else. “Mal did the setting up of the stage, and Neil was like the road manager left over from the old road manager days. That was the road crew.” 

And we’re not talking about a lot of equipment, either. “Everything fit into one station wagon,” he said, although they actually traveled by plane. “Each guy had an amp, and Ringo was up on a six-foot platform and half the time he watched, and when they stopped — he quit. We’re not talking about monitors or anything like that. It was only in the ’65 tour that they’d come up with the so-called “Super Beatle” amp, the big one. They had an extra one they carried around with them that they stuck next to Ringo.”

The Stones actually had a better set-up in the days before monitors. “They lowered Charlie Watts to either on the floor or just a foot above it. Bill Wyman had two speakers for his bass. He stuck one on one side of Charlie, and Brian Jones kept his speaker on the other side of Charlie, so that he could hear what was going on all the time.  But once the fans started screaming, you couldn’t hear anything anyway.”

That’s quite a contrast with today’s tours where a fleet of semis is not uncommon on a tour of groups like The Stones. 

In one interview, my father was asked about his favorite moments with The Beatles, and he recounted the story of how Hurricane Dora prevented a planned mini-vacation on a yacht off Florida; instead, they went to the Florida Keys for a 3-day stay. “You know, I’ve got pictures of everybody running around the pool and swimming and just having a good two or three relaxed days just when we really needed it.” 

One of those photos is featured on the cover of this issue and all the negatives, along with the photographer’s copyright, are included in the upcoming GottaHaveIt.com auction.

In another session, he talked about standing by the back door at the Stadium in Cincinnati in 1966, and “all these people were coming in with the red pass…,” the color pass that gave access to The Beatles dressing room. “There couldn’t be more than seven of those that existed outside of The Beatles themselves.”

As it turned out a member of the police force that kept a sample of each pass had them made up and had given them to his family and friends. Fortunately, the show was rained out and the problem corrected before the rescheduled show the next day, thanks to Bob’s keen eye. Bob’s personal red pass, and several others from his career, will also be featured in the upcoming auction.

Brush with greatness

If I ever had any questions about whether my father really worked with and knew these superstars the events one night in 1984 after my father had taken me to the Guitar Expo answered them.

I left school early, and we went to New York City. After rockin’ the early evening away, we met his one of his friends and went out for Japanese food to Mitsukoshi on Park Avenue. We walked in, and the hostess said we had picked a good night to come and sat us one table away from Mick Jagger, David Bowie and another woman.

For the entire dinner, I watched Mick glance at my father quickly, and my father doing the same. Bowie gave me two giant smiles while I was scarfing up spicy tuna rolls. They must have gotten there just before us, because we all finished our entrees at the same time.

Mick’s voice could be heard throughout the entire dining room. After more glances from Mick, my father says, “Alright, that’s it.” He threw his napkin on the table, stood up and walked to their table, and as Mick stood up to greet him, said, “Do you have time to say hi to a former road manager?” Mick hugged him, and they start to chat and laugh. Mick asked the waitress to combine their table with the one separating us.

In an instant, the entire floor staff rushes around to set this up. Bowie stood up and walked up to me, while Mick and my dad are chuckling like giddy school kids, and stuck out his hand and said “Hi, I’m David.”  That was certainly one on the most surreal moments of my life… Mick Jagger and Ziggy Stardust and my father. 

Over dessert, and for quite a while after that, my dad and Mick just cracked each other up. I was sitting next to David talking about the many incredible guitar players he used, like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Adrian Belew when Mick actually interrupted David to tell me how important my father was to them. I was very touched, and David looked quite impressed. After quite a while, we all said our goodbyes. It was nice to see my father so happy, and I could sense a little of an “I told you I knew him” attitude. I was very proud and still am.

For more details about the auction or to order a catalog visit GottaHaveIt.com or email info@gottahaveit.com.

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