PAUL: I started out with just an acoustic guitar. I'd been brought up not to borrow (an ethic my dad instilled in me), so when I first moved to an electric I had to buy a Rosetti Lucky Seven; a terrible guitar but cheap, and it was electric. I had a little Elpico amp for it (which I've still got), of a very fifties design in bakelite. This Elpico wasn't really a guitar amp. It only had microphone and gramophone inputs; but I got a reasonable sound from the mike input. I took that and the little electric to Hamburg and they stood me in good stead for a month or so, until the sweat got to the guitar. It looked OK, pretty-ish for three days, and then the paint started to wear and it fell apart. One day someone just broke it, sort of over my head. It was never going to last, it was just a crappy piece of show. I think it was designed to fall apart, actually. Built-in obsolescence in an early form.
Stuck out in Hamburg with no instrument, I was forced onto piano as they had one on stage at the Kaiserkeller. I was used to facing the audience so this was an excuse to turn my back on the audience and just get into the music, which was good. I started to get into numbers like 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying', a Ray Charles B side. That was a good little period for me, and I think I developed my piano-playing quite a bit. I ended up being slightly better than the other guys on piano from that period by pure default: having no guitar.
So acoustic guitar is really my instrument, inasmuch as that's what I started on. But I went through to the Rosetti Lucky Seven, then the piano. And then, when it became clear that Stuart was leaving the band, I went on to Stu's bass. This got me back in the front line, which I wasn't too keen on since I'd been having quite a good time at the back. At that time I could just about get by on bass, putting in a very simple bassline now and again.
We used to actually cut strings out of the piano for the bass (which I hear is impossible, but we managed to do it). If we needed an A string, say, we'd just get on the piano and go dink, dink, dink - A! And then it was out with the pliers, thinking, 'They'll never notice the odd string,' and then try to fix it onto the bass. It worked occasionally but it's hardly the thing to do and probably puts a huge strain on the guitar. But back then it was very different from today where you have a roadie with a trunk full of strings. One packet was as much as anyone ever had. It just wasn't a priority to have strings. If a string went you just worked on the other three (or, if it was a guitar, the other five). You would ignore the one that had gone and think, 'One of these days I'll get one'
GEORGE: These days, you amplify the kit and have proper bass amplifiers - we had some little Mickey Mouse amplifiers. Now there are fifty-nine gauges of guitar string; for us it was, 'Can I have some of your strings, please?' I don't think we even knew the difference between electric and acoustic strings: they were all like telegraph wires, really thick so you couldn't even bend them. I don't expect it sounded very good.
PAUL: Anyway, after a bit I decided that I wanted to get my own guitar. In the centre of Hamburg there was a little music shop. I recall passing now and seeing a violin-shaped bass, which in itself was intriguing. And it appealed to me, being left-handed, that it was symmetrical; so when I turned it upside down it wouldn't look too bad. I got one; a little Hofner. I paid for it outright. It was the equivalent of about thirty quid, which was pretty cheap even back then.
That was it; that was the start of what became a kind of trademark. It is a lovely instrument. And because it's so lightweight, I didn't even feel as if I had a bass on - that had quite a liberating effect. It actually does something to you; because it's so light you treat it more like a guitar. I found I became more melodic on bass than other bass-players because I could do lots of high stuff on the twelfth fret. Being melodic in my writing, it was good not always to have to play the root notes. And you need a few more muscles on a big bass! So, being melodic anyway, and the combination of the instrument being very light yet with a very bassy sound, things just came together to make a certain sound; luck, really. And when I was given a Rickenbacker, during the Sgt Pepper years (though it was slightly heavier and slightly more electric), I had firmly developed this melodious style, which gave songs like 'With A little Help From My Friends' and 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' fairly interesting basslines.
After some years I put my Hofner in a case and consigned it to history, but I was watching the film of us on the rooftop in Let It Be years afterwards, and I noticed how lightly I was playing the bass and it brought it all back: 'Wow, that was what I used to love about it.'
RINGO: The drummer always sets the feel and I think that was the way that I played, and then with Paul on bass - he is an amazing bass-player; to this day he is the most melodic bass-player - we would work at putting the bass and bass-drum together. As long as they're together, you can put anything on top.
I only have one rule and that is to play with the singer. If the singer's singing, you don't really have to do anything, just hold it together. If you listen to my playing, I try to become an instrument; play the mood of the song. For example, 'Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,' - boom ba bom. I try to show that; the disen-chanting mood. The drum fills are part of it.
The other thing is, I couldn't do the same drum sequence twice. Whatever beat I would put down, I could never repeat identically, because I play with my soul more than my head. My head knows to play the rhythms - rock'n'roll, swing, whatever - but it comes out as whatever the feeling is at that moment. The interesting thing about The Beatles was that we seemed to have telepathy. Without thinking, we'd all be up or bringing it down - together. It was magic, and that was one of the forces of The Beatles, the telepathy. (And, of course, the love of music, the great songs...) I've never had anything like that before or since.
When I first was around I was always being put down, like it was: 'JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE... and Ringo.' Particularly in Britain it was, 'There's them and there's him.' And to this day, there are music critics who don't really appreciate the drums. But when we went to America it was great because there are drummers like Jim Keltner (who's still my finest drummer), who would say 'Wow!' So, in the end, being appreciated by other musicians was a lot more important to me than the press's opinion.
My two favourite drummers in the world are Jim Keltner and Charlie Watts. Buddy Rich and Ginger Baker and all those great drummers are very fast, but they just don't get me off at all because they're too busy being complicated. I like drumming to be solid instead of busy.
JOHN: Ringo's a damn good drummer. He was always a good drummer. He's not technically good, but I think Ringo's drumming is underrated the same way as Paul's bass-playing is underrated. Paul was one of the most innovative bass-players that ever played, and half the stuff that's going on now is directly ripped off from his Beatles period. He was coy about his bass-playing. He's an egomaniac about everything else, but his bass-playing he was always a bit coy about. He is a great musician who plays the bass like few other people could play it. If you compare his bass-playing with Rolling Stones's bass-playing, and you compare Ringo's drumming with Charlie Watts's drumming, they are equal to them, if not better. I always objected to the fact that because Charlie came on a little more 'arty' than Ringo and knew jazz and did cartoons, that he got credit. I think that Charlie's a damn good drummer, and the other guy a good bass-player, but I think Paul and Ringo stand up anywhere, with any of the rock musicians. Not technically great. None of us were technical musicians. None of us could read music. None of us can write it. But as pure musicians, as humans inspired to make noise, they''e as good as anybody.80
I'm what I call a primitive musician. Meaning no schooling. I didn't ever take the instrument that far. I just took it enough to enable me to do what I wanted to do, which was express myself.74
I played a lot of harmonica and mouth organ when I was a child. 'Love Me Do' is rock'n'roll, pretty funky: the gimmick was the harmonica.(There had been 'Hey! Baby' and then there was a terrible thing called 'I Remember You'; and we did those numbers, so we started using it on 'Love Me Do' just for arrangements.) And then we stuck it on 'Please Please me' and then we stuck it on 'From Me To You', and then we dropped it; it got embarrassing.70
And I've always loved guitars. I still have my black Rickenbacker, which used to be blond, which is the first good guitar I ever had. It's a bit hammered now. I just keep it for kicks, really. I bought it in Germany, on HP. I remember that whatever it cost, it was a hell of a lot of money to me at the time.66
GEORGE: When we were first in Hamburg, we'd gone to Steinways because we didn't have very good equipment. That's where John bought his Rickenbacker and at the same hire-purchase session I bought a Gibson amplifier. I've no idea what happened to that amp. It was beautiful looking, but it didn't have any balls.
My sequence of guitars was: first; my crummy little Ј3 10s number. Second; a Hofner President. Non-electric, but you could buy a pick-up for a few pounds that would screw on to the bottom of the finger board - which I did - which made the guitar semi-electric. (Alternatively, put the head of the guitar to same sort of cavity, a wardrobe or a cupboard or a door, anything that will vibrate, and - because sound resonates that way - it will amplify slightly. I used to play my guitar against the wardrobe.) The Hofner guitars were quite nice (especially after the little Ј3 10 s one). They had a good range and each one came either blond or sunburst. Mine was the straight one.
I didn't have an amp to start with. The first thing I ever plugged into was John's stepfather's radiogram. It only amplified the sound a little, but it was great; except for the fact that we kept blowing out the amp or the speakers. John knew how to get into Twitchy's house when he was out, so we'd plug in and play and mess about and then blow his amp, and then we'd sneak off and have to wait a few weeks until he got it fixed.
I swapped the Hofner President with one of the Swinging Blue Jeans for my third guitar, a Hofner Club 40. Next came the Futurama, which I got at Frank Hessey's. A very bad copy of a Fender Stratocaster.
PAUL: In passing, I've never felt like I could afford a Fender. Even now there's a strange thing at the back of my mind that makes me think I can't afford a Fender. (Amazing how these things form and say with you.) A Fender is still a bit of an exotic instrument to me and, even though I could probably afford the factory, it seems out of reach.
GEORGE: Paul came with me when I bought the Futurama. It was on the wall with all the other guitars and Paul plugged it into the amp but couldn't get any sound out of it, so he turned the amp right up. The guitar had three rocker switches and I just hit one and there was an almighty 'boom' through the amplifier and all the other guitars fell off the wall. My mother signed the hire-purchase agreement for me. That is, one pound down and the rest when they catch you.
My fifth guitar was the Gretsch I bought in 1962 from a sailor in Liverpool for Ј75. A black Duo-Jet. (Chet Atkins used Gretsch guitars. He always had a different Gretsch in photos on his album covers.) That was my first American guitar. It was advertised in the Liverpool Echo. God knows how I managed to get seventy-five quid together. It seemed like a fortune. I remember having it in my inside pocket, thinking. 'I hope nobody mugs me.'
Next, in 1964, while we were staying at the Plaza in New York for The Ed Sullivan Show, the Rickenbacker people came and gave me one of their twelve-string guitars. After that trip I used it a lot. It was a great sound, and in those days the only other type of twelve-string available had a great big fat neck (it would have a high action, be a bugger to get in tune and impossible to mash the strings down). The Rickenbacker had a slim neck and low action. The twelve machine heads were fitted very tidily, and in a way which made it simple to recognise which string you were tuning. The pegs for the six regular strings were positioned sideways while the pegs for the octave-extra six were placed blackwards as on old Spanish guitars.
John already had a little six-string Rickenbacker, the famous blond one with the short-scaled neck that he later had painted black; so after I was given the twelve-string at the Plaza, John and I both had Rickenbackers and they became synonymous with The Beatles.
JOHN: The arm on the old one wasn't bad, but we had the Rickenbacker people to see ua in New York. They gave me a new one and the neck is great. I'd like to play this make of guitar all the time. George only got his because he didn't want me to be the only one in the group with a Rickenbacker.64
GEORGE: I used a Stratocaster around Rubber Soul time, on 'Drive My Car' and those kind of things. I used it quite a lot later when I got into playing slide in the late Sixties and early Seventies. I painted it before we did the 'All You Need Is Love' TV satellite show. It was powder blue originally. The paint started flaking off immediately. We were painting everything at that time; we were painting our houses, our clothes, our cars, our shop! Everything. In those days day-glo orange and lime paints were very rare, but I discovered where to buy them - very thick rubbery stuff. I got a few different colours and painted the Strat, not very artistically because the paint was just too thick. I had also found out about cellulose paint, which came in a tube with a ball tip, so I filled in the scratch plate with that and drew on the head of the guitar with Pattie's sparkly green nail varnish.
PAUL: IT WAS NEVER AN OVERNIGHT SUCCESS.
It started in pubs; we went on to talent contests and then to working men's clubs. We played Hamburg clubs, and then we started to play town halls and night clubs , and then ballrooms. There could be as many as 2,000 people in a ballroom, so if you did a gig there the word really got round. Next up from that was theatres, and Brian took us through all these steps.
When we began to headline bills on theatres, we felt we had really arrived. The next ladder to climb was radio. It was a gentle thing; we had conquered the Indra, we'd conquered the Cavern - and we had gradually became quite known, so it was, 'Well, what's left? Radio!'
We wanted to be on Brian Matthew's Saturday Club. This was a huge radio show, and the thing I loved about listening to it was that I could wake up after a week of school and have a lie-in. I had a radio by my bed and I would lie there until about eleven. The most delicious lie-ins of your life are those teenage lie-ins: wake up feeling great, turn the radio on and Saturday Club is still on for an hour. So we really wanted to be on that, and we knew that it had a huge audience.
NEIL ASPINALL: They'd sold a lot of records for 'Love Me Do' to get to Number Seventeen, which was great for a Liverpool band - they'd made the charts! Now that The Beatles were known nationally, not just in the Northwest and Liverpool, they were being played on the radio and people everywhere were hearing them. In 1963 they started doing BBC radio shows, playing live. They did about five numbers on each show, all through 1963-1965.
JOHN: We did a lot of tracks for Saturday Club, a lot of stuff we'd been doing in the Cavern or Hamburg. 'Three Cool Cats' I think we did. There's some good stuff and they were well recorded.80
GEORGE: After the Hamburg period we were driving up and down, doing gigs at the BBC in London a lot. We got a better van and made more money and then a better van still.
RINGO: There are lots of driving stories. This is how a band gets close: in the van, going up and down the M1, freezing your balls off, fighting for the seats. A lot of madness went on in the van, but it got us together. We had a Bedford and Neil would drive. There'd be the passenger seat for one of us, and the other three - whichever three; the rest of us - whichever three; the rest of us - would sit behind on the bench seat, which was pretty miserable.
We would go everywhere in the van and the amps and everything would fit in it with us. I remember sliding all over Scotland. It was bloody freezing in the winter.
JOHN: But we always got screams in Scotland. I suppose they haven't got much else to do up there. Touring was a relief - just to get out and break new ground. We were beginning to feel stale and cramped.67
RINGO: We never stopped anywhere. If we were in Elgin on a Thursday and needed to be in Portsmouth on Friday, we would just drive. We didn't know how to stop this van! If we had a day off and we were going to Liverpool from London, we would just drive.
There was only a small piece of motorway in those days, so we'd be on the A5 for hours. Some nights it was so foggy that we'd be doing one mile an hour, but we'd still keep going. We were like homing pigeons; we just had to keep getting home.
One night I remember, when it was very, very cold, the three of us on the bench seat were lying on top of each other with a bottle of whisky. When the one on top got so cold that hypothermia was setting in, it would be his turn to get on the bottom. We'd warm each other up that way; keep swigging the whisky, keep going home.
PAUL: Quite an image. People think of stardom as glamorous, and there's us freezing - lying literally on top of each other, as a Beatle sandwich.
GEORGE: There were a lot of good times in the van; all the rough-and-tumble stuff that happens. And there were some hysterical things that happened. I had a good crash once. We were coming over the Pennines, the roads were icy and I was driving pretty quickly as we came through what turned out to be Goole in Yorkshire. Everything was fine until suddenly I went into a right-hand turn. It was a bit sharper than it looked and we went up onto the grass bank, which then slopped down to the left. The whole van tipped as we went down the embankment, at the bottom of which was a wire-mesh fence with concrete posts around a Burton's factory.
We bounced along - bump, bump, bump - knocking down all these concrete poles and finally came to a stop with Neil sitting in the front seat next to me, howling, 'Ow, ow, my arm!' The accident had ripped the filler cap off and the petrol was pouring out. We got out and had to shove T-shirts and things into the hole to try to stop the flow of petrol.
We'd started to push the van back up on the road when, out of nowhere, came, ''Allo, 'allo, 'allo, what's all this then?' It was a cop, and he booked us for crashing. A couple of months later I went to court; Brian came with me for moral support. (He did stand by his lads.) I think they banned me for three months.
RINGO: Another great van story was when George and Paul were both planning to drive the van; George got into the driving seat and Paul had the keys, and there was no way one was going to help the other. We couldn't go anywhere. We sat there for two hours. When you're touring, things can be pretty tense sometimes and the littlest thing can suddenly turn into a mountain; that was one of the great ones.
GEORGE: AS A BAND, WE WERE TIGHT. THAT WAS ONE THING TO BE SAID ABOUT US; WE WERE REALLY TIGHT, AS FRIENDS. WE COULD ARGUE A LOT AMONG OURSELVES, BUT WE WERE VERY, VERY CLOSE TO EACH OTHER, AND IN THE COMPANY OF OTHER PEOPLE OR OTHER SITUATIONS WE'D ALWAYS STICK TOGETHER.
If we were arguing, it was always about things like space: 'Who's going to sit on the spare seat?' - because everyone else had to sit on the wheel arches or the floor all the way to Scotland or somewhere. We used to get ratty with each other, pushing, protesting, 'It's my turn in the front.'
PAUL: There were a lot of laughs in the back of the car, just naming albums and chatting about birds and other groups' music and things. I can't remember many deep conversations. There was a lot of giggling though.
I do remember one incident: going up the motorway when the windscreen got knocked out by a pebble. Our great road manager Mal Evans was driving and he just put his hat backwards on his hand, punched the windscreen out completely, and drove on. This was winter in Britain and there was freezing fog and Mal was having to look out for the kerb all the way up to Liverpool - 200 miles.
RINGO: Neil and Mal were all we ever had. Throughout our fame, we just had two guys looking after us. Mal joined us full-time in 1963. He was our bodyguard, but he was great at it because he would never hurt anyone. He was just big enough to say, 'Excuse me, let the boys through.' He was pretty strong. He could lift the bass amp on his own, which was a miracle. He should have been in the circus.
1. /Jennifer BATTEN/[GUITAR] Jennifer Batten - Two Hand Rock For Guitar.pdf
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