By Patrick Prince
Ulf Krüger’s life has always been strongly connected to Hamburg, Germany, and its music scene. Like the members of The Beatles in the early 1960s, Krüger was an aspiring musician who performed in Hamburg and, incidentally, performed at the famous Beatles haunt, the Star-Club (which does not exist anymore). He then went on to be a record producer and songwriter; in the 1980s he managed famed Beatles photographer Astrid Kirchherr. During that time, Krüger met Uwe Blaschke, one of the world’s foremost Beatles collectors.
Krüger developed a strong working relationship with Uwe Blaschke. The two worked together in Hamburg on Beatles books and anthologies, the Beatlemania museum (2009-12) and Fab Four cultural projects and events. Krüger was continuously amazed at the range and depth of Blaschke’s collection — from historically significant legal documents to apparently frivolous items such as Beatlemania bubble bath bottles. The collection was put to use if a specific project called for it.
Unfortunately, Uwe Blaschke passed away unexpectedly in his late 50s from heart disease (2012). Since the collection centers around the very sought-after Hamburg days (1960-62), it was turned over to Krüger to manage. Krüger knew Blaschke would want this collection shared with the world, especially Beatles fans who would cherish it as much as he did.
And now Heritage Auctions, a top entertainment and music auctioneer, brings the Uwe Blaschke Beatles collection — straight from Hamburg — to auction on September 19, 2015, live and online, in New York. While the entire collection is noteworthy, perhaps the most watched item will be the first recording contract of The Beatles — one signed with the German record producer Bert Kaempfert (estimated to sell for $150,000).
Needless to say, Goldmine was excited to chat with Beatles expert and author Ulf Krüger about the significance of this giant Beatles collection being open for public auction.
Goldmine: Did Uwe Blaschke ever tell you why he was first drawn to The Beatles, particularly the band’s Hamburg days?
Ulf Krüger: Their music. He was too young to be a real, let’s say, normal fan in the old days when Beatlemania was on. He was fascinated by their music, their appearance and their stardom because The Beatles were something very, very special. And he was mainly fascinated by the Hamburg days of The Beatles. And so, he started collecting whatever he could get, stopped for a while because he was playing in rock bands and had other interests, and then he had a second wind in collecting and really started to collect seriously and spending real money.
He was a real expert in Beatles signatures, too. He could tell you, of course, if it was a real or counterfeit signature. But he also could tell you, if George, for example, wrote it, when he was sitting or when he was standing, when he was walking or when he was running. He was really good, so various auction companies asked him to verify autographs.
GM: You have said that there is nothing comparable to Uwe’s collection in the entire world. Can you explain why you feel this way?
UK: Of course, I can’t prove it. But I met a lot of people who were collectors themselves — people who really know what they are talking about regarding The Beatles. They said they had never seen such an amazing collection before. And I, myself, have seen a lot of exhibitions and so on and have never seen something comparable — which doesn’t mean there might not be other collections like it, I just don’t know about them.
GM: John Lennon famously said that he was born in Liverpool but grew up in Hamburg. In your own words, why do you think Hamburg made such an impression on The Beatles?
UK: Because Hamburg was different than England at that time. When they performed in England, they had to stop at 11 o’clock at night because they had different closing times. In Germany, especially in Hamburg and St. Pauli — which was a red light district — they didn’t have those rules. So the show started at, say, 8 o’clock in the evening and stopped at 2 o’clock in the morning. That meant not just playing 45 minutes like they did in England but six or even eight hours a night.
I always say that their music was invented in Liverpool by combining skiffle with rock ‘n’ roll — making a simple form of rock ‘n’ roll called the music beat — brought that music to Hamburg and cultivated it because of the long playing times. And they learned about show business in Hamburg because they had to entertain people eight hours a night. They did everything, of course, to please the guests and the owners of the clubs, (who) were real tough guys. If the band couldn’t play, let’s say, the latest Little Richard number, next day they had to.
GM: Up for auction isa vintage photo of George Harrison in Uwe’s collection, modeling his first leather jacket ...
UK: Yes, taken in the back room of the Bambi-Kino (Cinema).
GM: It’s always interesting to note how quickly their image changed. Here they are in Hamburg, all dressed in leather jackets, and you have to ask yourself: is this the true Beatles? This brooding, James Dean image ... then they change to the playful mop tops quite quickly.
UK: The image of the leather jacket is the influence of the Hamburg so-called “exis” [a youth movement in Hamburg that took its name from the existentialist movement] and because Astrid (Kirchherr) already wore leather jackets and trousers. And, yes, that’s very interesting because being a young woman, wearing a leather jacket and trousers in Germany then — such a short time after World War II — was really dangerous for the person. Because the establishment didn’t like a young lady wearing clothes like that. And The Beatles were very impressed by those looks, especially Stuart (Sutcliffe) at first, and he was a very small and tiny guy so he could wear Astrid’s clothes. And he wore Astrid’s leather coat and The Beatles were jealous and loved it and wanted to have the same stuff and bought jackets like that in a Reeperbahn shop. They liked that, as you say, moody James Dean/Marlon Brando stuff.
GM: The first recording contract signed by The Beatles ... are you surprised that these kind of documents do so well in auctions?
UK: There are people who will say “Oh, but it’s just signatures” — and those people, of course, are not interested in things like that. And then there are people who will say it’s of historical significance — which is true. And then there are people who know it’s of historical significance and are fans, of course, and love them. And you know how it is with stars. It’s not just The Beatles who are adored by fans but The Beatles, from my point of view, are the biggest thing in the music business still to be collected and adored. If there is something historically important Beatles-related, then it makes it double the value. I can understand it but I have to say, sometimes I’m surprised how much money people spend for things like that. On the other hand, it says that The Beatles are really important and some people forget what makes their importance, and that’s their music and their personality.
GM: Some might say that these kinds of historical documents belong in a museum rather than someone’s personal collection.
UK: I can understand that. To come back to Uwe, that was, let’s say, a dream come true that he had found a home for his collection in the Beatlemania (Hamburg) museum. Of course, we were all hoping it would go on and Uwe would bring in new ideas and more collectibles — have a real shrine of what he had collected over the years. Because he was very proud of what he had collected. And people (should be) really grateful a collector like him giving all that stuff to the public in a way.
GM: The original artwork of the Sgt. Pepper characters by Klaus Voormann is a nice piece up for auction, too.
UK: Uwe had helped Klaus when he was doing the artwork for “The Beatles Anthology.” Uwe had all the stuff Klaus needed to make his paintings. With the Anthology, Uwe brought him the material to inspire him.
GM: Are you surprised that Beatles fans actually kept items like bubble bath bottles ... stuff that was meant to be disposed of?
UK: That shows the importance of the impact of The Beatles on fans who were young. They loved The Beatles very much that they loved everything that was connected to them, even if it was these little bottles.
GM: Do you remember those bottles first coming out during Beatlemania? Did you think they would ever become collectibles?
UK: I have to admit that in those days I was a Rolling Stones fan (laughs). Even being a musician myself, in the beginning, I didn’t realize the importance of The Beatles because the Rolling Stones image was impressing me much more. Later, of course, I learned of the quality of The Beatles’ songs. For example, they never published a song that was not good. Never. All the songs The Beatles ever had on record were fantastic. You can’t say that with the Rolling Stones. I learned very quickly of the importance of The Beatles because they were real tough guys when they were in Hamburg and Liverpool and I think they were a bit tougher than the Rolling Stones but had a different image. And we’re coming back to your question: “How can The Beatles change that quickly from leather to the suit?” And that, of course, was Brian Epstein’s influence. The Rolling Stones were the other way around. In the very beginning they had the suits but didn’t want them any more. When the Beatles played the Star-Club, they were there three times and the last time they came over Brian Epstein had asked Astrid to shoot photos of them in their new suits. Which she did. And the Beatles didn’t like the suits very much, especially John. They didn’t wear them onstage at the Star-Club. Brian wanted them to but they didn’t — they came back to their leather outfits. But when they returned to England, then the leather times were over.
GM: Do you think there will be a surprise in this auction as far as how much money an item will draw. Will there be a sleeper?
UK: That’s very hard to say. I’m sometimes very surprised. A couple of month’s ago a cover of Sgt. Pepper’s was auctioned and it wasn’t a very special edition or something. It was just the (album) cover and it was signed by The Beatles inside. Somebody paid a hell of a lot money for that cover, and I still don’t understand it because it was so much money. I know some signed covers are very rare because when The Beatles were really famous they didn’t sign that much stuff anymore because they didn’t have the (kind of) contact with the fans then. On top of that, a certain period The Beatles didn’t like to sign the front covers of LPs. They didn’t want to destroy the artwork. There are a lot of reasons for certain things but I wouldn’t dare to say an item would bring in a lot of money and that one would not. Maybe there will be a real sensation — as you said, a sleeper — that develops into a big success.
GM: As a Beatles author and expert, do you have a favorite piece of memorabilia in this collection?
UK: Yes, I have to say the contract with Bert Kaempfert, I think is a very special item because it is one of the pillars of their Hamburg days. I knew Alfred Schacht, who was Bert’s lawyer and publisher. When I started some investigations years ago I went to see Alfred and he told me the story from his point of view, when Bert one day came to him and said, “I let the Beatles go.” Alfred said, “What did you do?!” Bert said, “Their new manager asked me to let them go. He said when they’re back to England you can’t use them anymore because they are not present for publicity and so on. I’m mainly interested in Tony Sheridan, so no problem. I set them free.” Alfred was not very enthusiastic about that.
I think, being from Hamburg and being very much interested in the whole Hamburg sound and history, I think the most impressive thing for me is that contract.
Another noteworthy item at auction in Heritage Auctions' Uwe Blaschke Beatles Collection:
Beatles - Tony Sheridan & The Beat Brothers "My Bonnie / The Saints" German 45 with Picture Sleeve (Polydor NH 24 673, 1962).
The Beatles' first appearance on a commercial record release. This is the third pressing of the record (February 1962) with "Twist" under the title of the "A" side, no German subtitle, and an English introduction. The picture sleeve has a large "Twist" superimposed over the photo of Sheridan. The sleeve has some tape stains, pinholes, and tears, GD-VG 4. Disc is VG-EX 6. A great opportunity to own a very important part of Beatle recording history. From the Uwe Blaschke Beatles Collection.
During their second trip to Hamburg in 1961, the Beatles were on the same bill as Tony Sheridan at the Top Ten Club, sometimes playing as his backup group. The Beatles and Sheridan were signed by Bert Kaempfert for a recording session in June 1961, where they recorded these tracks with Sheridan for a fee of 300 marks. This record was released in October 1961 and became a minor hit in Germany. This record led directly to future manager Brian Epstein becoming aware and interested in the Beatles. Paul McCartney explains: "A kid had gone into Brian's record store and asked for "My Bonnie" by The Beatles. Brian had said, 'No it's not, it's by Tony Sheridan,' and he ordered it. Then Brian heard that we were playing 200 yards away. So he came to the Cavern and the news got to us: 'Brian Epstein is in the audience - he might be a manager or a promoter. He is a grown-up, anyway.' It was Us and Grown-ups then." (The Beatles Anthology, page 65).
For more information, go to Heritage Auctions’ website: www.ha.com.