following is an excerpt from a chapter of a forthcoming book by John Rook
As a fan of 'The Crickets', a new group by the name of 'The Beatles' didn't impress me ... I thought it was a direct steal of Buddy Holly's band. My friend Bob Skaff, of Liberty Records had told me of his efforts to sign '"his new English group", but was turned down by his boss Al Bennett. "They are gonna be big Johnny", said Skaff who predicted, "It will only be a matter of time before they come to the attention of American radio". Bob would introduce me to Beatle manager Brian Epstein, who became very important in giving me an inside track to "the boys" in future times. However, I must admit I didn't expect the Beatles to last more than a year or two ... but then I came from the Elvis era.
Several months would pass before Capitol records would kick off the English invasion by introducing "I Want Hold To Your Hand", it would be the first of more than two dozen Beatle hits in a period of one year ... 1964. Capitol wasn't the only record company riding the wave as other labels climbed aboard with virtually everything the Beatles had recorded earlier in their career.
With their first Capitol release at #1 on the American Hit Parade, the mop tops arrived in the United States in February to make their TV debut on the top rated Sunday night Ed Sullivan show. 73 million viewed this show where they appeared twice during the hour, first to perform "All My Loving", "Till There Was You", and "She Loves You"; the second half saw the Beatles bring the house down with "I Saw Her Standing There" and their Hit Parade topper, "I Want To Hold Your Hand". My "pipeline" for Beatle music gave me each release several days before any other radio station in the states. As KQV truly aired the world premiere of many Beatle releases, a few days later another ABC owned facility would air them as "world premieres" also. In those days before satellites and Federal Express, the "exclusives" from England were copied and transported to the Pittsburgh airport where for a few bucks, airline pilots would fly them in the cabin to New York where WABC's program director, Rick Sklar would rush them to "Cousin Brucie" to give his listeners a treat.
As he joyfully proclaimed them to be WABC World Premieres, Chuck Brinkman, who had presented them to his audience at least a day before, begged me to allow more time to lapse before supplying them to WABC, whose signal covered the entire eastern USA including Pittsburgh. However, within hours of KQV airing any new Beatle recording, Rick Sklar was on the phone to insist it be shared with WABC. KQV was such a "hot" radio station, that the always present record people traveling into town would telephone Rick to alert him.
After a few weeks, Rick discovered an even speedier way to have Beatle recordings transported to New York. Using "downtime" on the ABC radio network, they were sent directly to the WABC studios and rushed to the air. Rick found humor in knowing that hundreds of affiliates, including ABC owned WLS in Chicago didn't realize they too could have had "world premieres" had they just paid attention what was being moved during the periods of network "downtime". Our little secret didn't escape the attention of ABC's radio president Hal Neal, who insisted we share the Beatle music with WLS also. At that point, within an hour or two of airing a Beatle exclusive on KQV, it was also being heard by Pittsburghers via the huge signals of both WABC and WLS .
In early 1965 Bess Coleman, Brian Epstein's secretary called to inform me the Beatles would include Pittsburgh in a late summer appearance. The local promoter would be Tim Torme, who negotiated an understanding with me whereby KQV would "present" several other shows leading up to the Beatles arrival. The first would be a controversial group who thus far had no success as recording artists ... The Rolling Stones. Only three hundred people showed up for that show, leading Torme to remind me how disappointed he was. Playing the "Epstein card", I was informed only the promoter could say who would present the Beatles.
Finally the day arrived, with a touch of fall in the air, it was September 14 and the Beatles would be appearing in Baltimore the night before. Epstein delivered by allowing me to send two of our KQVips to Maryland where hopefully they would be allowed to accompany the Beatles on their flight to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, competitor Clark Race had already taken steps to secure that advantage, requiring me to once again rely on my "Epstein card" by asking his secretary, Bess Coleman to intervene. She did, and Clark Race was taken off the flight carrying the Beatles to Pittsburgh. Years later he would tell me how devastating that was to him. Meanwhile our KQVips, Chuck Brinkman and Dex Allen had already taken an earlier flight to return to Pittsburgh where they would meet the Beatles on their arrival. Poor Clark Race was unable to catch a flight out of Baltimore early enough to b eat the Beatle flight to Pittsburgh. Upon their arrival 4,000 screaming fans were waiting at the airport, thousands lined the streets on their way to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena where they were interviewed by KQV's Chuck Brinkman. The 12,603 were greeted by a giant banner proclaiming "KQV Welcomes the Beatles".
The battle for the Beatles was over...KQV won
A few months later in February of 1965, Chuck Brinkman and I were invited to join the Beatles in the Bahamas where they were filming "Help". I have many memories of that "vacation" but one clearly stands out in my mind. "The Boys" with their well known mischievous streak decided to have some "fun" by wrecking the MG sports car they had been provided. Together they lifted the rear of the card up on two cement cinder blocks, one below each side of the back bumper, and then took delight in starting the motor, laying a brick on the gas peddle and pushing it off the cement blocks for the unattended car to gather speed crashing into a solid cement wall. This was done over and over until the MG no longer could "make the trip" to the wall. With each crash "the boys" leaped for joy squealing in delight cheering on the death of the MG.
While in the Bahamas I had a brief conversation with George and John who upon learning of my association with Eddie Cochran, were excited. George told John, "the man is the brother of Eddie Cochran" while I tried to explain I wasn't Eddie's brother ... just a good friend. "Christ man, he's my idol" said John, who reached out to shake my hand.
In the early 70's I was invited to Neil Diamond's opening at Doug Weston's Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. The place was packed and I was surprised to find I had been seated next to John Lennon. His eyes were heavy having already felt the effects of at least a Brandy Alexander but he remembered me from our conversation in the Bahamas a few years earlier. "Eddie Cochran was God in England" he said. "Do you know what ever happened to his Gretsch?" he asked. I wasn't sure I understood what he was asking. "Cochran's guitar man ... what ever happened to it?" I explained it was still in a cabinet in Eddie's bedroom at Buena Park, California, where it had been since Cochran's tragic death in 1960. "I'd like to buy it" he said. I replied I'd ask Eddie's mom if it was for sale. As he continued quenching his thirst, Lennon scribbled down a phone number for me to contact him. He slurred, "my woman and I have split"
Later I would learn he was referring to Yoko Ono, but they apparently reconciled as I learned from a newspaper gossip column.
Alice Cochran, Eddie's mom was shocked I would even ask about the availability of Eddie's guitar. "That guitar is staying right here in his room Johnny, it's not for sale". I didn't bother to relay the "no" to John Lennon.
Thus my contact with the Beatles ended then. It wasn't more than a few memories ... but perhaps more than most would experience.
(This is just an excerpt from Passing Thru)
Content on this Web Page © 2006 John H. Rook