Ever wonder what it would have been like to be on the road with the Beatles?
For British journalist Ivor Davis, it became a reality in 1964, when as West Coast correspondent for the London Daily Express, he was tapped to travel with the four lads from Liverpool on their first U.S. tour (and second tour in 1965). Fifty years later, Davis penned his book, “The Beatles and Me On Tour,” an insider’s look at touring with the Beatles. All the behind-the-scenes antics, the late-night card games, the drugs, the meetings with Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, and the girls — it’s all in there.
Davis will be in Chicago to chat about the book and more at “The Fest for Beatles Fans” this weekend in Rosemont.
THE FEST FOR BEATLES FANS Aug. 14-16 Hyatt Regency O’Hare, 9300 Bryn Mawr, Rosemont Tickets/three-day passes: $26-$189 Visit: thefest.com
Davis spoke to me recently about the book — and the boys.
Q. Describe the love affair between the Beatles and Chicago.
A. They came through Chicago in 1964 [at the International Amphitheatre], that was the big one. Then in ’65, that was smaller [at Comiskey Park]. And again in in 1966 they came to Chicago [at the International Amphitheatre]. So they played Chicago on all of their three tours in the U.S. At Comiskey Park they got over 60,000 people to show up. But they also got a chance to go out to a local ice cream parlor, Margie’s [Candies]. … They had been weaned on 1950s American movies where teens hung out at the local ice cream parlor, so they wanted to experience that. When the promoters mentioned to [Beatles manager] Brian [Epstein] that there was a great ice cream parlor called Margie’s, [they made it happen]. Even with their security detail they had a great time. … Very often we didn’t know where we were [on any given day] because it was so crazy. But we knew we were coming to Chicago [in 1964]. We landed at a very small airport, I think it was Midway. Somehow a few hundred girls managed to get through all the security at the airport and greet the plane. … During the first Chicago concert someone threw a steak at [Paul]. I don’t know what that was about. George or Paul just kicked [the steak] off-stage. It was the weirdest thing thrown at them in that first six-week tour.
Q. How old were you when you toured with them, and did you realize just how cool a gig you had?
A. I was 24. And the Beatles were only 23, 22 and 21. I remember I’d seen them on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” but I did not have a single clue until I showed up in San Francisco in 1964 and there were hundreds of girls screaming below their hotel window. That scene was repeated for another 24 cities. It was all insanity. I quickly realized this wasn’t regular [occurrences for bands]. To be honest, I wasn’t a rock and roll writer. I was an entertainment writer. I knew about Buddy Holly and Elvis and Bill Haley, but it was not my specialty. … At the time I didn’t appreciated it, but it was great fun. It was unreal. We’d have police escorts. It was like we were visiting royalty!
Q. Who was the funniest Beatle?
A. I’d have to say John. He had a dark sense of humor.
Q.Were they neat freaks on the road?
A. I only saw Paul doing his hair a lot. He was the most fastidious about the way he looked. But the rooms? They were total slobs. Never picked up after themselves.
Q. What were the rest of them like?
A. Paul was very shrewd. He knew how to deal with the media, how to get on with people in general. George never put on any pretense for anyone. He was very honest with you. Ringo was the new boy on the block. He was truly concerned about his [solidity] because he knew if they had gotten rid of one drummer [Pete Best] they could get rid of another. Funny, but by the end of the tour, Ringo was the most popular. When they were leaving [America] there were signs saying ‘Ringo for President. He endeared himself to fans incredibly. Ringo was fairly quiet and shy. … Ringo was not who he is today. It was a strange dynamic. Individually they were all very different. But when they got together at press conferences they were brilliantly funny; could finish each other’s sentences.
Q. What was it like to get drunk with the Beatles, as you mention in your book?
A. At 3 a.m. John would call my room and say, ‘We’re having a game of Monopoly. Come over.’ Even though you were sound asleep you’d still went over and played Monopoly. And John was a cheat at Monopoly. If he wanted to buy a property and rolled the dice and didn’t land on it he’d roll again. He loved rum and Coke. I preferred gin and tonic.
Q. Was there any kind of backstage ritual the boys had?
A. There really wasn’t because we were never in one place long enough. In Chicago it was a little better because when they played a football or baseball stadium there was a locker room where they could hang out. In Chicago they did one show at 3 p.m. and one at 8 p.m. at the baseball stadium. Two guys would get their entire sound system [and stage] set up. And it showed. Ninety times out of 100 you couldn’t hear a thing in those stadiums. From the moment they came out the screaming started and it ended when they left the stage. Ringo lost his place often because he couldn’t hear the other guys. One reason they stopped touring they said later “is because people don’t come listen to us.” They spent a lot of money on cops in Chicago, to try and curb the fans. They never spent that kind of money for backstage [amenities].
Q. Did they have a favorite city from all the tours?
A. John said he would have liked to have seen more of everything. The trouble was they never got out. In Chicago, except for the ice cream gig and lunch at The Saddle and Cycle Club on Lake Shore Drive put on by Capitol Records, they never went anywhere. They’d do their show. Go back to the hotel room and sleep till the next afternoon or strategically head to the airport.
Q. What about all the girls and the Beatles and hotel rooms?
A. There were lots of girls behind the scenes. The boys had very healthy libidos. John was the only married one at the time, to Cynthia. Paul had Jane Asher back in England. But Paul had the most roving eye for the girls. Peggy Lipton in Los Angeles was madly in love with Paul. She said she was going to marry him one day. At times, Paul was absent from the [entourage] in L.A. and he’d gone off to spend the evening with Peggy. In Atlantic City, [in the Beatles’ hotel suite after a private screening of “A Hard Day’s Night”] the promoter opened a door and about eight attractive, scantily clad women walked in. He told the guys, ‘great show; take your pick.’ And they did.
Q. How many reporters were able to travel with them for the entire tour as you did?
A. There were a few of us who stayed for the whole tour. The core was no more than about six of us. Then there were the radio DJs who joined the tour two or three days before they arrived in their respective cities. They’d come and go. You see the Beatles and Brian knew they had to conquer America, so Brian made the Beatles available to the media. He and the Beatles knew this was how they would pack the stadiums [with all the free publicity]. That’s why wherever they went on tour they had a press conference. The conference really were a joke because it was always the same questions. By the time they got to Chicago they were so smooth at the conferences they would do this Marx Brothers comedy act. But I remember in 1965, Paul was talking and someone asks him about the music he and John wrote. And Paul said ‘We write whatever music we want, like Cole Porter [did]. People will like us a lot more when we’re older.’ He had the prescience to see beyond the incredible fervor of the day, that they would last a long, long time.
Q. Since you were not a music writer, per se, what did you learn about music from the Beatles?
A. I learned I was a terrible judge of music. I loved the music, don’t get me wrong. But when you hear the same songs for 24 or 25 times over a period of 35 days — the Beatles did not change their set lists. I love their music more now than I did back then.