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50 years ago marked the beginning of Beatlemania
Memories of the music, era are vivid
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In this Feb. 9, 1964, file photo, The Beatles — (from left) Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr on drums and John Lennon — perform on the CBS ”Ed Sullivan Show” in New York. The appearance officially kicked off Beatlemania. (AP)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Fifty years ago today, The Beatles made their groundbreaking appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

It was the start of the British Invasion of bands into the United States, screaming fans, long hair and a new sound in music. “Beatlemania” had begun.

It also is something people remember vividly, half a century later.

To commemorate the occasion, several area Beatles fans shared their early memories of the band.


Favorite Beatle: Ringo Starr

Favorite album: “Rubber Soul”

Linda Gibson, who teaches middle and upper school courses at Carlisle School, remembers seeing The Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

However, she had been hip to the band since the summer of ’63.

“I remember going into a store in Wilmington, N.C., with my grandma,” Gibson said, “and buying a 45 (record) of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’”

It was the first time she ever spent money on The Beatles, though it wouldn’t be the last.

Gibson said she remembers staying up late and listening on her transistor radio to disc jockey Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow spin Beatles records on WABC out of New York.

Cousin Brucie frequently played the top 10 songs of the day, she said, and in the mid-1960s, half of those songs would be by The Beatles.

“My father hated them, of course,” she said, as many parents did at the time. The late William Johnson preferred the big band music of his era, the ’30s and ’40s.

“He thought Glenn Miller was the best,” she said. “That was real music, as far as he was concerned.”

Gibson said she always watched “The Ed Sullivan Show” with her father, and generally, she always liked whatever he liked.

When it came to The Beatles, however, “we differed on that one.”

Gibson bought all of The Beatles’ LPs as they came out, although she often found herself short on cash. She would turn to her younger brother, Gene Johnson, who would buy the albums. In exchange, she said, he got “partial ownership.”

“He went for that,” she laughed. “It was one of the benefits of being an older sister. He owed me something for looking after him all the time.”

Gibson also owned all of band member John Lennon’s books, including “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard in the Works,” along with Beatles trading cards and other memorabilia.

Unfortunately, she never got to see The Beatles while they were together. Living in southeastern North Carolina, she believes the closest they came to her neck of the woods was Jacksonville, Fla.

However, over the last 20-odd years, Gibson has seen Paul McCartney play twice, and just a couple of years ago, she got to see her favorite Beatle — Ringo Starr — play in Baltimore.

Gibson admitted that Ringo fans are few and far between, but she always liked his attitude.

“He knew he had really lucked out,” she said.

Although Ringo was her favorite Beatle, she said, she was surprised by how deeply she was affected by Lennon’s 1980 murder.

“I remember when I found out that morning,” she said. “It sounds melodramatic, but I thought, ‘That’s the end of my childhood.’ That’s a marker. Something’s over. ... I was surprised at how it hit me.”

Gibson said she could not pick out a favorite Beatles song; they’re all too different, which, in her view, is part of the secret of their success.

“They didn’t record the same songs over and over,” she said. “They moved with their audience.”

Gibson’s daughters, Kate and Lydia, also are Beatles fans, and in her experience teaching at Carlisle, she has found that the music of The Beatles still resonates with some youth today.

“There’s always a kid or two in every class that will know about their music,” she said. “It’s still current.”


Favorite Beatle: Four-way tie

Favorite album: Tie between “Rubber Soul” and “Abbey Road”

For musician Tom Berry, seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan was a watershed moment.

“They were so different from everything we were used to,” Berry said. “At that point in my life — 13 — I was already playing music,” but the bands he was in were rhythm and blues bands. In fact, he said, he was in his 30s before he was in a band that didn’t have horns.

The Beatles, on the other hand, offered a new, stripped-down sound.

“They were game-changers,” Berry said. “There was a fundamental shift in the expression of popular music, or at least rock ’n’ roll, after they became big. They changed the way I think most people thought about music.”

They certainly changed the way Berry thought about music, he said.

“Even now, 50 years later, I can still feel their influences in my writing and performances,” he said.


Favorite Beatle: George Harrison

Favorite albums: “1962-1966” (The Red Album) and “1967-1970” (The Blue Album)

Because he was born in 1961, “I started listening to (The Beatles) about the time they were breaking up (in 1970),” said musician Will Zimmer.

As a result, his favorite Beatles albums were the career-spanning 1973 compilations, popularly known as the Red and Blue albums.

However, even though he was only 3 years old at the time, Zimmer does remember seeing The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

“I remember hearing the music and thinking it was the best music I had ever heard,” Zimmer said.

He told his older brother, Luke Zimmer, “I want to be a Beatle when I grow up.”

When Luke informed him that that wasn’t going to happen because there could be only four Beatles, Zimmer was crushed.


Favorite Beatle: George Harrison

Favorite album: “Rubber Soul”

David Woodall, of Roanoke and formerly of Martinsville, vividly recalls watching the Beatles debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964.

“I grew up during the rock ’n’ roll years,’” said Woodall, 69. “I had lived through the Elvis era and Chuck Berry.”

The rock ’n’ roll performers of the 1950s were no strangers to controversy, Woodall said, and parents of the era were particularly concerned by the suggestive shaking that so many rock ’n’ roll musicians were fond of.

“When Elvis was on (‘The Ed Sullivan Show’) in 1956, they would only photograph him from the waist up,” Woodall said. “They didn’t show the hips. And when Chubby Checker came out with ‘The Twist,’ a lot of places wouldn’t let them do it. That was very lewd, suggestive.”

When The Beatles debuted, Woodall said, they swept aside the rock ’n’ roll era and introduced “a new kind of music.”

“I remember seeing it, and the next day, everybody was talking about The Beatles,” Woodall said. “‘Did y’all see The Beatles?’ And then of course came the Beatle haircuts, Beatle records and the British Invasion. It opened the gate for British groups ... and they had some good music.”


Cari Zimmer, wife of Will Zimmer, doesn’t count herself as a huge Beatles fan — although she does have a Beatles story.

When she was growing up in Thiensville, Wis., she said, her birthday tradition was to get lunch and go shopping with her grandmother in downtown Milwaukee.

On her sixth birthday, “Granny Helen” gave her a choice between two birthday surprises: tickets to the movie “The Sound of Music,” starring Julie Andrews, or tickets to The Beatles in concert.

“Those Beatles tickets went in the trash,” Zimmer laughed.

Although she did not grow up to be a big Beatles fan, “I became a big Julie Andrews fan,” she said.


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