Category Archives: Beatles

My grandfather, a “5th Beatle” (maybe)

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.

Beatle-autograph-1The 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:

Beatle-autograph-back-2Though 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.

Beatle-autograph-back-3 copyThe 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.


Songs the Beatles gave away to Women

The hugely popular ITV miniseries Cilla told the story of one of the most successful and long-lived performers to come out of the British Invasion. It also shed light on an important aspect of the movement: female artists were few and far between.

This signaled a change in the dynamic of popular music, as the hits of the late ’50s and early ’60s routinely featured girl groups such as The Supremes the Ronettes, as well as solo artists like Patsy Cline, who spanned jazz, country, and pop.

But with the British Invasion (and the subsequent American music explosion) of the 60’s, female artists started to fade from the scene. While women and girls clearly had an enormous role in these groups’ successes, it was primarily in the of role rabid fans and record buyers, not artists. It was likely that the British culture simply didn’t encourage female performance; that being in a band was not considered seemly, and that girls’ priorities were to prepare for marriage and motherhood.

But there were a few women who infiltrated the scene, and one especially—Cilla Black—became an international celebrity. But Cilla,  being a woman, did not have the ability to make herself known as easily as her male counterparts. She did not play an instrument, did not have her own band, and only became known by singing as a guest of established Merseyside acts like The Beatles, the Big Three, and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Without that help from her male friends, she would never come to Brian Epstein’s attention, no matter how talented she was. But her determination to be out front with a band made her exception, and she recorded her first single almost as soon as Brian signed her.
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The Ultimate Beatles Workout Playlist!


So you’re working out to your Beatles playlist or an Internet Beatles radio station. You’re having a crazy intense workout fueled by the music, maybe to “I Saw Her Standing There” or “Long Tall Sally.” Awesome! But the next song is “A Day in the Life,” and your exercise mojo is totally gone…

Now, I love “A Day in the Life,” but try keeping up a vigorous run tempo when it goes into that minute-long fading chord. It’s LOST! And that momentum isn’t coming back for the rest of the workout.

Has this ever happened to you? It’s sure happened to me! So to relieve that extreme suffering (#BeatlePeopleProblems?), I’ve put together my ultimate Beatles workout playlist, separated by songs for lower and higher impact exercise. Everything is linked to iTunes in case you want to hear a sample or add it to your own playlist.
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50 years later, A Hard Day’s Night is still brilliant

A Hard Day’s Night promo poster, FilmForum, NYC

For a second-generation fan, one of the best things about all the 50th-anniversary-of-the-Beatles celebrations is the ability to (sort of) experience some of the original events that made the early ’60s one of the most exciting periods in modern music. Seeing the beautifully remastered A Hard Day’s Night in the theatre was one of those experiences.
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Who’s the Better Beatle: John or Paul? There’s no Comparison.


No, really, there’s not. So stop fighting about it.

This afternoon I saw an inane article giving 20 reasons why Paul is better than John. I won’t even give it the dignity of linking it here, but suffice it to say the reasons ranged from Paul knowing more chords than John in the beginning, to the fact that Paul recruited George into the group while John only recruited Yoko (I guess it didn’t matter that John first recruited Paul and Yoko never joined the band??).

We all have a favorite Beatle, whether we’re talking group or solo output. And everyone’s reasons are different—musical styles, personality, looks, politics, etc. But personal preferences aside, the Beatles’ genius was the result of a close partnership between two polar opposites who had a remarkable ability to collaborate while simultaneously competing with each other. The partnership made them the songwriters they became, and was responsible for allowing each to realize the fullness of his potential.
Continue reading Who’s the Better Beatle: John or Paul? There’s no Comparison.