Beatles Fan’s Memorable Meeting With John Lennon
by Dave Morrell
Look closely at this one-of-a-kind piece of Beatles history. (Photo: Dave Morrell Archives; used with permission)
Before Dave Morrellbecame a successful record label promotion man, working countless records at radio and helping to establish the careers of scores of recording acts, he was a music fan, like all of us.
But unlike the rest of us, he has a one-of-a-kind story to tell. As a recent high school grad living in New Jersey in the summer of 1971, it was, as he says, “a great time to be 18 years old.” He listened to rock music on FM radio during the day and went to the Fillmore East in New York City as often as he could at night.
The following is excerpted from Morrell’s book, Horse-Doggin’: The Morrell Archives, Volume 1, chronicling his rise from music fan to a music distributor warehouse job to his first record label gig. It is reprinted here with his permission (with a wild postscript)…
I saw an ad in the back of Rolling Stone from a mail order company called Godzilla. They had a Beatle album they were calling Yellow Matter Custard and it had songs on it I had never heard of: “I Got a Woman,” “I Just Don’t Understand,” “To Know Her is to Love Her,” and so on. The only song I knew was “Slow Down.”
I sent the money and the record came with Godzilla’s list of bootleg albums. The disc was red vinyl with no song titles. I jacked up the volume and began to listen. “I Got a Woman” was the first track and John Lennon started singing. But was it the Beatles? Yes! There was no doubt in my mind.
This was too good to be true. I was listening to a brand new Beatles album that I never heard about and it was thrilling. I wondered if this was original material or a cover. I knew the only way to find out was to try to find someone to ask John Lennon and that man was Howard Smith, who often had written about John and Yoko and had them up to his radio show on WPLJ-FM.
The Newark Star Ledger ran a story on John and Yoko on November 7, 1971. “The Lennons have been living in New York now for several months, in a suite at the St. Regis Hotel. Their room contains a complete 16 mm editing room, a powerful stereo system, Chuck Berry albums everywhere you look… plus a rare copy of a withdrawn Beatles album cover of the boys dressed as butchers and holding bloody, decapitated dolls and slabs of meat.”
I was salivating when I read that. To me, the Beatles Butcher cover was a holy grail. Thirty days later, on December 7, 1971, I was holding it in my hands.
I got home… and there was a message for me from Howard Smith. “Dave, I showed your letter to John and he wants to meet you!”
We arrived [at the Record Plant East], one of the great recording studios, and saw John Lennon standing there to greet us. He said: “We’re recording now, sit yourself down, and we’ll talk at the break.” I sat down in front of the recording console and peered into the studio.
They were working on a song called “The Ballad of New York City/John Lennon-Yoko Ono.” I must have heard it ten times.
Everyone behind the console stood up to stretch and John said to me: “What have you got tonight?” I handed him the Yellow Matter Custard bootleg and gave him the catalog and told him it was where I found the record and some other great bootlegs. I was hoping he wouldn’t be mad and start screaming about people who rip off artists this way, but he was just the opposite, and wanted to know all about the Dylan and Rolling Stones bootlegs.
John was looking over the song titles I had written out. Without hearing it, he said he couldn’t be sure, but he knew the songs and said they were from 10 years ago and looked like they could be the Decca audition tape.
Dave Morrell with Yoko Ono and John Lennon, September 1972. (If you look carefully, you’ll see Dave wearing a Beatles Butcher t-shirt) (Photo: Dave Morrell Archives; used with permission)
We spoke about the Beatles doing their version of “Slow Down” and John went bonkers teaching me all about Larry Williams, one of the greatest rock & roll singers, who he loved as much as Chuck Berry.
As we were talking, I pulled out the Savage Young Beatles album and he screamed: “We were Savages!” I told him that “Savage” was the name of the record company. So it was like saying “The Vee-Jay Young Beatles.” He shrugged and said he loved it and wanted it, so I gave him the album.
John was in such a playful mood. He was sarcastic and witty and enjoyed seeing all the Beatle goodies. This was the same week Capitol Records released “Happy Christmas (War is Over).” At first he said he was miffed Capitol got it out so late, but was relieved it was finally on the radio.
[Morrell continued to show Lennon various items in his collection including photos he had taken of the Beatles at Shea Stadium.]
In 1965 and 1966 when I saw them, they didn’t do “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “She Loves You.” In 1966, “Yellow Submarine” was the big hit at the time but they didn’t play that either.
John said they were always busy and couldn’t rehearse, and it was too hard to include the newer songs because he couldn’t remember the words and besides, they were too complicated to play live.
John then asked me what I was looking for and I told him the Beatles’ Butcher album cover. John picked up the phone, called his apartment and spoke to someone and told him where to find it and to bring it over to the studio. The guy brought it over and John showed us. He handed it to me to look at. I held it in my hands for a moment and gazed at it. The very record I read about a month ago was in my hands.
John was a Beatles fan and encouraged me to look for more rarities. It was time to pack up the show and tell. I didn’t want to ask for a photograph or an autograph. Things went so well, I just had a feeling we’d meet again and we did.
As I packed up and got ready to leave, John took a pen to the Butcher cover. He drew a big bubble above his head and wrote: “To Dave, From John Lennon, Dec. 7, ’71” then he smiled and handed me his own personal copy of the Beatles’ Butcher cover.
[Morrell has published three volumes in his series, writing about his music industry career, with more to come.]
The story doesn’t end here. Sadly, Morrell no longer owns the album. His signed copy of the Beatles Butcher cover was part of an auction of Entertainment & Music Memorabilia via Heritage Auctions, who identified the seller as Beatles collector Stan Panenka.
On the listing page, Heritage quotes another Beatles collection, Gary Hein: “There is no Beatles album in the world that compares with this one, in my professional opinion, in terms of both Rarity and Value.”
Hilary Hahn Returns to Bach, 21 Years Older. And Maybe Wiser.
The violinist Hilary Hahn has come back to Bach for her latest album, two decades after she made her recording debut with his solo works.CreditCreditDaniel Dorsa for The New York Times
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A lot changes in two decades. A lot also stays the same.
Take “Hilary Hahn Plays Bach,” the violinist’s audacious 1997 debut recording, released when she was just 17. The photo on the cover shows her with soft, youthful features but the solemn stare of a serious artist. No mere prodigy, she was declaring that she was ready to leave her mark on some of the most challenging and profound music in her instrument’s repertory.
Fast-forward to the present, and the release of her long-awaited follow-up, “Hilary Hahn Plays Bach: Sonatas 1 & 2, Partita 1,” which closes the circle on Bach’s solo works and will be accompanied by a virtually sold-out tour that includes a stop at Lincoln Center on Oct. 23.
Ms. Hahn’s Bach is as earnest as ever, yet naturally wiser. Between the recordings, she has become one of the essential violinists of our time, a restlessly curious artist eager to commission contemporary composers and push the boundaries of performance.
And on the cover of the new album, in contrast to the last, she’s smiling. That may well be the more accurate portrayal, based on a visit to her Cambridge home, where she has lived for the past two years with her husband and two daughters. Here she practices, unglamorously, in a corner of the basement that also houses her Grammys, still not unpacked.
On a recent morning, Ms. Hahn graciously played host while discussing her life and approach to performance, nursing the infant Nadia and indulging the imaginary tasting menu prepared by three-year-old Zelda, a precocious child with a multilingual library, perfect pitch and the youthful confidence to serve, with a straight face, a dish she called “cookie water.”
For someone who made her professional debut as a child and has been touring and recording ever since, Ms. Hahn seemed surprisingly well adjusted, with a conventional home life that didn’t fit the profile of a superstar virtuoso with a massive, dedicated fan base.
The reason, she said, could be that she has long aimed to prioritize her individuality over the grueling demands of concertizing. As a student at the Curtis Institute of Music — where her teachers included the great Jascha Brodsky, who died in 1997 — she was focused and skilled. But when her career blossomed, she resisted any persona prescribed to her.
“When I was starting out with record companies, there was a tendency to simplify the image as a prodigy,” she said. “I have more than one adjective, and I’ve always tried to be myself and listen to my instincts.”
So Ms. Hahn became a self-guided globe-trotter, traveling for a time with a pet mouse she carried in the pocket of her cargo pants. She recorded the standard repertory — Sibelius and Tchaikovsky — as well as more out-of-the-way 20th-century works by Barber, Schoenberg and Bernstein, all with musicality beyond her years.
A young Ms. Hahn with her teacher Jascha Brodsky, who died in 1997.CreditHilary Hahn
Composers wrote specifically for her, including Jennifer Higdon, whose Violin Concerto, made for Ms. Hahn, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010. And she reached beyond the classical world for collaborators including the mandolin player Chris Thile, the folk singer Josh Ritter and Valgeir Sigurdsson, who produced an adventurous album of her in improvised music, “Silfra.”
Not one to preen, Ms. Hahn didn’t record an early album of encores, as many young musicians do. When she did turn to encores, in 2013, it was a collection of 27 new pieces written by some of the leading composers of the day. One of them, Du Yun, remarked that this record was the hallmark of a truly mature artist.
“It’s easy to be a prodigy,” she said. “It’s really hard to keep pushing in new directions.”
Ms. Hahn commissioned 26 of the encores, and held a contest to select the 27th. The album release, a building-scale performance installation, was more akin to “Sleep No More” than an average recital. Early next year, Boosey & Hawkes will release a two-volume edition of the pieces, with Ms. Hahn’s bowings, markings and in-depth notes about her experiences working with each composer.
“She’s not just a world-class violinist,” Ms. Du said. “She has this idea and sees it through and fund-raises and talks to a record label and publisher. And then she thinks about how to talk about those pieces in different concert settings and online. That’s a whole package of what an artist in today’s time should be.”
Ms. Hahn has also known when to take a break; she decided long ago that every 10 years she would go on sabbatical. During these periods off, she has taken language immersion courses and studied ceramics and welding. When she was 30, she briefly stopped playing and listening to the radio. (It was during this time that she met her husband.)
She has played from Bach’s six sonatas and partitas more or less every day since she was 9; movements from these works make for crowd-pleasing encores and warm-ups in practice. Her Bach has preternatural clarity: Four-note chords and fugues sound as though they were played by a small ensemble, not by a single instrument articulating discrete voices.
“When you hear her play,” said Mr. Thile, who once tried emulating her hands, “you’re hearing the music as clearly as you will ever hear it.”
The differences between her Bach albums are subtle. The technique is superb in both, but the 1997 recording is slightly more exuberant, while the new one is capacious in its phrasing.
“This is a portrait of how I play Bach in my 30s,” Ms. Hahn said of her new album. “When I play those earlier pieces now, the tempi are faster, but the structure within the phrase is more stretched. It’s a little bit more of a push and pull.”
Her work has of late had to be incorporated ever more into the rhythms of everyday life. “I was trying to not practice when Zelda napped, trying to compartmentalize, but I wound up just not getting done what I needed to,” Ms. Hahn said. “So I threw caution to the wind. If I have five minutes, let’s practice. If it becomes half an hour, great.”
On a white-water rafting trip, she gave an impromptu Bach performance to a father and son, who listened through headphones while she played an electric violin. She has organized B.Y.O.B. — bring your own baby, that is — concerts for parents who otherwise might not be able to take their children to hear music in traditional settings.
One of Ms. Hahn’s baby-friendly concerts, in Seattle.CreditCarlin Ma/Seattle Symphony
“I find that Bach is appealing to a lot of different audiences,” she said. “It really hits people at their core in different ways, but it also creates a meditative space. I just feel like I can play it, and it reaches people.”
Next year, Ms. Hahn will turn 40 — which means that after this season, it will be time for another sabbatical. She doesn’t have any plans yet, and doesn’t want to make any.
“Maybe I’ll go on safari for a month,” she said, “or go to an artist residency to write for a couple of weeks, or go to Walden Pond every day.”
Or, gesturing to Nadia, playing on the floor, she said, “I could just do the mom thing.”
Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, Who Inspired a Hit Song, Dies at 78
Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, who lent her name to the Buddy Holly hit “Peggy Sue,” with copies of her memoir, “Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?” in Tyler, Tex., in 2008.CreditCreditJaime R. Carrero/Tyler Morning Telegraph, via Associated Press
Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, who became part of Buddy Holly’s circle of friends as a teenager and long reveled in having her name used as the title of one of his biggest hits, died on Monday in Lubbock, Tex. She was 78.
Her son-in-law, Tom Stathos, confirmed the death but said he did not know the cause.
As Ms. Rackham told the story, she was a sophomore at Lubbock High School in 1956 when she first encountered Mr. Holly, who had graduated a year earlier. She was walking to the school’s band room — she played alto saxophone — and he was rushing to the auditorium to attend an assembly.
He crashed into her, sending her to the floor, her books scattering and her poodle skirt rising over her knees.
“I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t have time to pick you up,” he said, as she recalled the moment in her autobiography, “Whatever Happened to Peggy Sue?” (2008). “But you sure are pretty.”
He headed off. But she would get to know him better when she realized soon after that her boyfriend, Jerry Allison, was the drummer in Mr. Holly’s band, which would become known as the Crickets.
Mr. Holly wrote ”Peggy Sue” with Jerry Allison and Norman Petty, although he did not receive a writer credit when the song was originally released in 1957.
“As a threesome, Jerry, Buddy and I spent most of our time together just hanging around at my house, listening to records or to Jerry arguing politics with my dad,” she wrote. She and Jerry went horseback riding, bowling and to the movies with Buddy and his girlfriend, Echo McGuire.
Peggy Sue became “Peggy Sue” a year later. The Crickets were in the producer Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, N.M., preparing to record “Cindy Lou,” a song the group had been performing. (Its title was reportedly a combination of Mr. Holly’s niece’s first name and his sister’s middle name.)
But Mr. Allison was hoping to solidify his on-and-off relationship with Peggy Sue and asked Mr. Holly to change the song’s name.
“I think Buddy liked it because he knew me,” she told the website MusicDish e-Journal in 2004. And, she added, Mr. Allison “always said, ‘Peggy Sue rhymes with everything.’ ”
“Peggy Sue” — “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue” — was released in 1957, shortly after Mr. Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” reached No. 1. And it was almost as successful, rising to No. 3 on the Billboard charts. Mr. Holly shared writing credit for “Peggy Sue” with Mr. Allison and Mr. Petty (although the original label credited only Mr. Allison and Mr. Petty).
Buddy Holly performing "Peggy Sue" on "The Ed Sullivan Show."CreditCreditVideo by ianhuman
Mr. Holly died in February 1959 in a plane crash in Iowa, along with his fellow singers Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson). Ms. Rackham said she toured with the Crickets for a while after Mr. Holly’s death, counting tickets at the gate among other jobs.
She eloped with Mr. Allison in 1958; their marriage ended in the 1960s.
Peggy Sue Gerron was born on June 15, 1940, in Olton, Tex. Her mother, Lillie (Rieger) Gerron, was a homemaker, and her father, John, was a civil engineer. Over time, she worked as a dental assistant and owned a plumbing business with her second husband, Lynn Rackham.
Buddy Holly in a publicity photo taken shortly before he died in a plane crash in 1959. “You sure are pretty,” he told Ms. Rackham after (literally) bumping into her in high school.CreditAssociated Press
Ms. Rackham’s memoir, written with Glenda Cameron, was published shortly after “Peggy Sue” turned 50. To recall her time around Mr. Holly and the Crickets, she said, she used about 150 contemporaneous diary entries.
“I wanted to give him his voice,” she told The Guardian in 2008. “It’s my book, my memoirs. We were very, very good friends.”
Mr. Holly’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, threatened to sue Ms. Rackham over what she said were false claims in the book.
“He never, never considered Peggy Sue a friend,” she told The Associated Press.
Ultimately, Ms. Holly declined to sue because she thought the publicity would have helped Ms. Rackham sell books, her lawyer, Richard Wallace, said in an email.
Ms. Rackham sustained her connection to “Peggy Sue” in other ways over the years. She judged a Buddy Holly look-alike contest, helped promote the musical “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” in Australia and appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s television program with the women behind other rock ’n’ roll songs, like “Angie,” “Barbara Ann” and “Donna.”
She is survived by her daughter, Amanda Stathos; her son, Von Rackham; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Her marriage to Mr. Rackham ended in divorce.
A song as popular as “Peggy Sue” ensured Ms. Rackham a dollop of everlasting fame.
“It’s very hard to stand still,” she told the BBC in 2009, “when you’re listening to ‘Peggy Sue.’ ”
Hamiet Bluiett, Baritone Saxophone Trailblazer, Dies at 78
Hamiet Bluiett, left, and Fred Hopkins performing at St. Peters Church in 1995.CreditCreditAlan Nahigian
Hamiet Bluiett, a baritone saxophonist who expanded the possibilities of his instrument while connecting the jazz avant-garde with a broad view of its own history, died on Thursday at his home in Brooklyn, Ill. He was 78.
His granddaughter Anaya Bluiett said that the cause had not yet been determined but that his health had deteriorated in recent years after a series of strokes and seizures.
A central figure in jazz, primarily as a member of the renowned World Saxophone Quartet, Mr. Bluiett (whose name is pronounced HAM-ee-et BLUE-it) married a dazzling physical command of the instrument with a passion for the full scope of the blues tradition. With an astonishing five-octave range, he could leap into registers that had been thought inaccessible on the baritone.
“Most people who play the baritone don’t approach it like the awesome instrument that it is,” Mr. Bluiett said in an interview with jazzweekly.com in 2000. “They approach it as if it is something docile, like a servant-type instrument. I don’t approach it that way. I approach it as if it was a lead voice, and not necessarily here to uphold the altos, tenors and sopranos.”
He pounded out rhythmic patterns like a tuba player, or held long, gently quavering notes as if bowing a double bass. When soloing, he could slide from graceful melody playing into high, braying wails.
The World Saxophone Quartet — a saxes-only ensemble that spun through a mix of styles, from gospel to free jazz — was among the most successful jazz groups of the late 1970s and ’80s, touring constantly and eventually releasing five albums on a major label, Nonesuch, an Elektra subsidiary.
The band came together in 1976, after its four members — Mr. Bluiett, the tenor saxophonist David Murray and the alto saxophonists Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake, all notable young figures on New York’s so-called loft-jazz scene — were invited to New Orleans to play a few concerts in various formations.
Their performances without any other instruments drew the most rapturous response, partly because Mr. Bluiett stuffed the band’s underbelly with so much texture and power.
“The four men have made a startling conceptual breakthrough,” Robert Palmer wrote of the band in a 1979 concert review for The New York Times. “Without ignoring the advances made by musicians like Anthony Braxton and the early Art Ensemble of Chicago, they have gone back to swinging and to the tradition of the big‐band saxophone section.”
Mr. Palmer went on: “Some of the music looks to the more archaic end of the tradition, to the hocket‐style organization of wind ensembles in African tribal music, and in doing so it sounds brand new.”
Mr. Bluiett said he insisted that the group put primacy on balladry and song, even as it explored free improvisation. “I think melody is very important,” he told NPR in 2010. “When we went into the loft situation, I told the guys: ‘Man, we need to play some ballads. You all playing outside, you running people away. I don’t want to run people away.’ ”
Mr. Bluiett in 2014. He played jazz baritone saxophone and clarinet, as well as composing music.CreditEarl Wilson/The New York Times
Hamiet Ashford Bluiett Jr. was born in St. Louis on Sept. 16, 1940, to Hamiet Sr. and Deborah (Dixon) Bluiett, but moved as a child to nearby Brooklyn, Ill., the first town in the United States incorporated by African-Americans. He started to play the piano at age 4, learning the basics of music from his aunt, a choir director. At 9 he took up the clarinet and studied under George Hudson, a popular area bandleader. (Mr. Bluiett often brought a clarinet into the World Saxophone Quartet.)
He began playing the baritone saxophone, an instrument he had long admired, while attending Southern Illinois University. His major influence was Harry Carney, the baritone saxophonist in Duke Ellington’s orchestra.
Mr. Bluiett left college without graduating and served in the Navy before moving to St. Louis in 1966. There he found a community of musicians, artists, poets and dancers, including Mr. Lake and Mr. Hemphill.
“His personality and his thoughts and his wit were so strong,” Mr. Lake recalled in a telephone interview. “As was his creativity. He wanted to take the music forward, and we were there trying to do the same thing.”
In 1968, the three helped found the Black Artists Group, an interdisciplinary collective dedicated to furthering the Black Arts Movement. Operating out of a building in downtown St. Louis, the organization often presented concerts and other public programs.
Mr. Bluiett led the B.A.G. big band and offered guidance to a slew of developing musicians. Even in his 20s, “he was a mentor and a natural teacher,” Mr. Lake said.
In 1969, Mr. Bluiett moved to New York, where he soon joined the saxophonist Sam Rivers’s orchestra. In 1974 he became a member of one of the final bands of the eminent bassist and composer Charles Mingus.
After leaving Mingus, he made his first albums as a leader in 1976 — including “Birthright,” a remarkable live recording on which he played the baritone saxophone alone for 40 minutes.
Between the World Saxophone Quartet and his own groups, Mr. Bluiett recorded close to 50 albums as a bandleader. Those ranged from solo affairs to duets to full-ensemble efforts. In the late 1990s he created a band with four baritone saxophonists; it released one album, “Libation for the Baritone Saxophone Nation” (1998).
Mr. Bluiett moved back to Brooklyn, Ill., in 2002 to be closer to family and took on students, giving lessons and leading youth ensembles.
He is survived by two sons, Pierre Butler and Dennis Bland; two daughters, Ayana Bluiett and Bridgett Vasquaz; a sister, Karen Ratliff; and eight grandchildren. He was married twice; one marriage ended with the death of his wife and the other in divorce.
Over the last 10 years he moved back and forth frequently between Illinois and New York, but ill health forced him to quit playing the saxophone in 2016. The World Saxophone Quartet had continued playing through a number of personnel changes over the years. But when Mr. Bluiett
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