So many of us have Beatles stories, and my family is no different. But I want to share this one especially since there may be more to it: it might be an unknown snippet of Beatles history.
My grandfather was Hy White, a professional guitarist who began his career with the Woody Herman orchestra. After leaving in 1944, he went on play with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and Danny Kaye, to name a few. He was also one of the most well known guitar teachers of the era. Not only was he the author of a number of instructional books, he taught guitar to both Paul Simon and Carly Simon. As Binky Philips noted in The Huffington Post, “In New York, in the 1960s and 70s, if you mentioned Hy White’s name in the right crowd, you’d draw gasps. Mr. White was like the tennis coach who trains the Williams sisters. The stealth guru of jazz guitar in NYC.” Pretty snazzy stuff.
I could go on forever about his career…I could probably write a book about it. But, this being a Beatles site, I’m going to highlight one particular story. One of his longest-standing gigs was as the guitarist for Ed Sullivan’s house band, the Ray Bloch orchestra, from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. This was no big deal to him; his job mostly entailed playing incidental music or accompaniment needed for individual acts.
As a member of the orchestra, Hy was called for the February 9, 1964 episode to play, among other things, the orchestral accompaniment to the Oliver performance and provide the banjo solo that Tessie O’Shea mimed in her act. Of course, that meant he was around for the Beatles’ historic first performance, as well as the pre-recorded set that ended up being their third appearance. While his son (my dad, 16 at the time) was nuts about the group, Hy never heard of them. But though he wasn’t allowed to bring family members that day, he did get an autograph.
The fact that he didn’t know or care much about this group is evident. He used a scrap of paper and gave them a pencil to sign with. A PENCIL!!!! It looks like the Beatles were signing quite a few of these at the time, as John didn’t even finish his name.
But it was the scrap of paper he used that makes it the most interesting, because when you turn it over, it happens to be on the back of a rehearsal call sheet for the February 9th show:
Though it has deteriorated immensely over the years, the back is fascinating. It shows the date, call times for each act and their dressing rooms. Here’s a close up of the top part:
The Beatles were called at 9:30AM, but their dressing room number is sadly obscured by damage.
The bottom shows the same information for some of the other acts, including one for Davy Jones (!!) who was part of the cast of Oliver. While time and age have robbed it of monetary value, it’s a priceless snapshot of a moment in history from someone who was there.
But wait…there’s more!
Hy told a second part of the story…that he actually overdubbed some of the guitar on at least one of the songs. Though he passed in 2011, we have video of him telling the story (this is from a memorial video, which is why the beginning shows family photos):
Though the details are murky, I’ve always felt that what he dubbed was the lead guitar on the third performance. He wouldn’t have played with either of the live shows, and there were definitely mic problems for that first appearance. So when the sound engineers reviewed the material for the third show, they probably had the house guitarist, my grandfather, double George.
In all my research, I’ve never found anything that corroborates this story. Still, I think it’s true, and here’s why. First, it wasn’t in his character to boast or exaggerate. In fact, I never even knew the extent of his career until we found some archives he kept when we were making the memorial video. Second, he never really cared about the Beatles (obviously so when you look at the autograph) so there was no reason for him to make something up. Third, he was as sharp as could be up through his 95th year when he passed away. He was about 88 when we taped this interview, and I don’t think he would have confused that with a different band or day.
Finally, there’s the sound evidence. As the first and the third Sullivan performances were taped on the same day, with the same equipment, they should have exactly the same sound. And while balance issues between John and Paul’s mics are found in both performances, the final performance does seem to have a boost in the lead guitar. Am I hearing things I want to hear because I’m so familiar with the story? Possibly. But as I reviewed the two performances back-to-back, I heard a difference. Unfortunately, as copyright is so strict on the Sullivan performances (in fact, a short clip my dad posted of the one time Hy was on stage was swiftly pulled down), I can’t post a comparison here. But if you have them, take a listen and see what you think.
Is this a snippet of Beatles history that will forever be a mystery? Did it even happen? I don’t know for sure. But what I do know is that of all the “5th Beatle” stories out there, my grandfather’s is definitely my favorite.