Screw It! A Beatles Podcast Without the Pontificating

Beatlefan Executive Editor Al Sussman looks at a refreshingly unassuming Beatles podcast that a group of young fans are doing.

If you’re a regular or even occasional listener of the more popular and long-running Beatles podcasts available online, you may have detected a down-the-nose, cynical, elitist tone that has crept into some of them, with a certain amount of pontificating. (Full disclosure: Until recently, I was one of the pontificators.)

It’s one thing to, hopefully, impart information that the average listener may not know, but not everyone appreciates being talked down to. If you’re one of those disaffected listeners, I’ve recently discovered an entertaining alternative — a podcast called “Screw It! We’re Just Gonna Talk About The Beatles.”

When I first encountered this podcast via iTunes, the original description said that it was begun by a group of Los Angeles comics who were so pissed off by the results of the 2016 election that they decided to get together and just listen to Beatles albums and talk about them. A newer description is somewhat more refined, saying that their purpose in doing the podcast is, “We just want to because we’re obsessed with the band, like any rational human.” (The podcast can be found here as well as at iTunes.)

The creator of “Screw It!” is Will Hines, an L.A.-based actor-writer-producer who also performs and teaches improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Other participants in the podcast include fellow 20- or 30-something creative types within the L.A. scene (most with a UCB connection) who have a common love of The Beatles and their music. Among the more frequent participants are singer-songwriter Ariana Lenarsky, writer-TV producer Curtis Gwinn, writer-actor Ben Rodgers, musician Joel Spence, writer-actor Adam McCabe, Canadian-bred producer-director Brett Morris, actor-writer-director-singer-dancer Heather Woodward, actor-producer Connor Ratliff, actor-casting director-improv coach Wayland McQueen and his writer-actor wife Katie Plattner, comedian Jackie Michele Johnson, sole U.K. native James Bachman, writer-actor Jen Krueger, and writer-actor Lynsey Bonell.

As you can see from that list, only a couple of professional musicians are involved with “Screw It!,” and no know-it-alls. Therein lies the podcast’s charm. A short introductory episode by Hines was released on Jan. 12, along with the first main episode, in which Hines, Gwinn, Rodgers and Lenarsky listen to The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” album (yes, they do play the recordings while they listen, which could cause problems in the future). It has the feel of listening in on, well, a listening session with a group of millennial Beatles fans.

To be clear, if you’re a hardcore fan and you can’t abide hearing any inaccuracies, this may not be your cup of tea. In his podcast notes for the first episode, Hines says, “Although the band was still taking shape (Ringo, after all, had just joined the week before they recorded this), there is still plenty of evidence on this record of how great The Beatles were.” His overall point is fine, but Ringo Starr had been a Beatle since the August before the “Please Please Me” LP was recorded in February 1963. The first review of the episode said, “Listened with interest until hosts stated ‘P.S. I Love You’ and ‘Misery’ were covers on the Beatles’ first album. Do you homework …” Indeed, Hines has brought up the “Do you homework” crack on occasion and freely admits that, while they do some research, neither he nor his cohorts are Beatles “experts.”

Will Hines.

Somehow, though, that lack of Beatles “scholarship” gives “Screw It!” a charm missing from a number of other podcasts. These really are gatherings of young people, albeit all within the pop culture world, listening to and showing their appreciation for Beatles music, so the historical bloopers are less irritating than one might expect.

The group did 14 shows between mid-January and mid-April, covering each of the EMI/Apple Beatles albums, with some of the period singles thrown into the mix and a few episodes ending with a Beatlefest-type sing-along to one of the discussed songs. As well, various participants would throw in alternate takes from the “Anthology” sets.

No sermons about the riches on the Twickenham “Get Back” rehearsal tapes or the Esher demos for what became the White Album. In fact, for the “Let It Be” episode, Hines simply engineered and made it an all-female panel, and the dissection of “Let It Be” thus gave way to a discussion of the sexiest Beatles songs, with the consensus being that John Lennon provided most of those.

After the shows examining each album came two mini-episodes, one on the similarity between Paul McCartney’s and TLC’s songs called “Waterfalls,” and another with Hines’ Aunt Sue, who saw The Beatles live as a sixth grader in 1964. Then came two full episodes in which the group nominates John songs vs. Paul songs. In between those came an “emergency episode” that Hines labels “nerdy and specific and fawning and fun,” as the group plays the remixed “Sgt. Pepper,” just weeks after they did an episode in which they listened to the standard stereo version of the album. Finally, in the podcast’s 20th episode, Wayland McQueen polls the group with a set of “which song” questions.

One episode looked at John songs vs. Paul songs.

In the meantime, Hines set up a closed Facebook group for “Screw It!” (saying that virtually anyone who asks can join). From the comments and submissions I’ve seen, most of the Facebook group members are also millennials or slightly older. I happily haven’t seen much of what one might call the “usual suspects” from Facebook’s sometimes ponderous Beatles discussions, save for Tom Hunyady, himself a youngish Beatles fan and host of the McCartney “2 Legs” podcast.

Hines has been taking suggestions for topics for what he calls the “second season” of “Screw It!,” which may or may not be a good thing, since some of the suggested topics do veer toward Beatles nerd territory. But, the first set of episodes of “Screw It! We’re Just Gonna Talk About The Beatles” are a charming escape from the pomposity that has crept into much Beatles discussion online, and, if you don’t mind the occasional historical blooper, are well worth checking out.

— Al Sussman

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‘Sgt. Pepper’ Lives … Onstage!

The “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album kicked off The Beatles’ “studio” period, when they made music that they didn’t think adequately could be re-created in concert. That’s no longer the case, however, as Rick Glover details. …

It’s hard to grasp that, only nine months before the press event to promote the new album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” The Beatles were taking their final bow as a touring unit on the stage of Candlestick Park.

After that show, the Boys decided — for several reasons, in reality — that the concert stage was no longer for them, ostensibly because the music they were making was not able to be performed live. That last show only included two songs from the two most recent albums — and none from the just released “Revolver.”

Retreating to the studio would allow the band to focus on the recording process and use the studio itself as an instrument. The result was, of course, the masterpiece that is used as a line of demarcation in the history of popular music: Before “Pepper” or After “Pepper.”

Macca on his 1990 world tour.

But, did the changes and complexity of the music really need to be contained in the studio? Well, maybe at that time, but flash forward, say, a few decades and it appears the various former Beatles, especially Paul McCartney, rethought the decision. Since 1989, when McCartney returned to the stage for live performances, songs from the “studio period” have featured regularly in the set list — and no album has been featured more than “Sgt. Pepper.”

In fact, it is possible to assemble a nearly complete live version of the “Sgt. Pepper” album from various live performances of tunes from this benchmark album.

“Pepper” was conceptually a McCartney vehicle and shows his breadth of musical influences, as well as other influences of the time. So it’s not surprising he has embraced the album for his concert tours.

The opening title track of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with a segue into the reprise near the end of the album, was performed throughout the 1989-90 tours, and was performed as recently as 2005 alongside U2 at Live Aid (with a horn section in full Pepper regalia).

Teaming up at Radio City Music Hall.

Paul and Ringo performed “With a Little Help From My Friends” in New York at Radio City Music Hall (with somewhat of a missed opportunity, by NOT performing the “Sgt. Pepper” intro to the song), and “With a Little Help” has been a mainstay of Ringo’s All Starr Band set lists.

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was performed at John Lennon’s very last concert performance, at Madison Square Garden with Elton John.

“Getting Better” was a staple on Macca’s Back in the U.S. tour in 2002, along with “She’s Leaving Home” and the reprise of the title track into “The End” to close the show up through 2004.

“Fixing a Hole” was a highlight on Paul’s US tour in 2005 — and was performed for McCartney’s VH1 “Unplugged” special.

“Lovely Rita” and “Mr. Kite” were both featured on the most recent One on One tours, with the latter given a groovy psychedelic lighting treatment with lots of black-lights and lasers.

The album finale of “A Day in the Life” has been in and out of Paul’s set list for a few tours, also given special lighting and graphics for appropriate atmosphere.

That only leaves three tracks from the album that haven’t been performed live by a Beatle — “Within You Without You,” “Good Morning Good Morning” and, oddly enough, “When I’m 64,” which would have been perfect on Paul’s tour about 10 years ago!

Lennon with Elton John at Madison Square Garden.

So, a whopping 10 of 13 titles from “Pepper” have been performed live — 77 percent of the tracks on the album, which is the highest percentage of ANY Beatles album!

Here’s a look at the percentages of songs from The Beatles’ albums that have been performed live by a Beatle in the years since the group broke up:

“Please Please Me” — three songs (of 14) routinely performed in concert: “Please Please Me,” “Love Me Do” (by both Ringo and Paul) and “I Saw Her Standing There” — for 21 percent (28 percent if you throw in the one-off performance of “Twist and Shout” with Bruce Springsteen at the Hard Rock Calling concert in 2012).

“With The Beatles” — Four of 14, for 29 percent: “All My Loving,” “I Wanna Be Your Man” (by Ringo, Paul and Ringo and Paul together) and “Till There Was You,” and Harrison doing “Roll Over Beethoven”.

“A Hard Day’s Night” — four of 13 tunes performed live (title track, “And I Love Her,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Things We Said Today”) for 31 percent.

“Beatles For Sale” — Two tracks of the 14 from this record regularly have been performed regularly — “Eight Days a Week” and “I’ll Follow the Sun” — but Paul also has performed “Kansas City” twice (only in that city), which would score this album at 21 percent.

“Help!” — “The Night Before,” “Another Girl,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Yesterday” have been performed individually, and the title track as part of a “Lennon Medley” performed on the 1990 tour. That’s five of 14, for 36 percent.

“Rubber Soul” — Five of 14 from this record, with George doing “If I Needed Someone” and Paul performing “Drive My Car,” “You Won’t See Me,” “The Word” and “I’m Looking Through You,” for 36 percent.

Onstage in 2005.

“Revolver” — Eight of 14 songs have been performed from this album: George did “I Want to Tell You” and “Taxman,” Ringo does “Yellow Submarine,” and Paul has done “Eleanor Rigby,” “Here There and Everywhere,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “For No One” and “Got to Get You Into My Life,” for 57 percent.

“Magical Mystery Tour” — Scored as an album (not the EP), the title track, “The Fool on the Hill,” “Your Mother Should Know,” “Hello Goodbye,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” (also as part of the “Lennon Medley” of 1990), “Penny Lane” and “All You Need Is Love” all have been done by McCartney. That’s seven of the 11 tracks, but is still only 64 percent.

The White Album (“The Beatles”): Ringo doing “Don’t Pass Me By” and George performing “Piggies” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (which Macca also has done) plus Macca’s performances of “Back in the USSR,” “Ob-La-Di Ob-La Da,” “Blackbird,” “I Will,” “Birthday,” “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Helter Skelter,” as well as a one-off performance of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” adds up to a tally of 11 of the 30 songs here, for 37 percent. (This album has the most tracks performed live of any title, though the percentage is less than for “Pepper.”)

“Yellow Submarine” — The title song (as previously mentioned, performed by Ringo, and also occasionally done partially by Paul), “All Together Now” and, again, “All You Need Is Love,” so that’s three of the total 13 tracks, for 23 percent, or, if you discount the seven George Martin tracks on the album, three of six Beatles tracks, for 50 percent.

“Abbey Road” — Live performances of “Something” (by both George and Paul), “Here Comes the Sun” by George, “Come Together” by John, plus Macca doing“You Never Give Me Your Money” and the four-song closing medley, and the occasional Ringo one-off of “Octopus’s Garden,” count as nine of 17 titles for 53 percent. (A couple of songs from this album, “Oh! Darling” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” are sorely missing from the concert stage!)

“Let It Be” — Seven of 12 titles performed: “Two of Us,” “Let It Be,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Get Back” and “For You Blue” from the Concert for George, for 58 percent performed live.

Finally, Harrison concerts also featured “Old Brown Shoe,” originally a 1969 nonalbum B-side that later was included on various compilation albums. We won’t get into those albums, but it’s worth noting as another late-period Beatles track later done live by one of them.

Paul also chose four out of the five Beatles songs he performed on the Wings Over the World tour in 1976 from the Fabs’ post-touring days.

So, today’s technology has provided the ability to adequately perform songs that previously the band had perceived as unable to be played live — overcoming the limitations that took The Beatles off the stage and into the studio.

— Rick Glover

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First Impressions: Sirius/XM’s Beatles Channel

Beatlefan Executive Editor Al Sussman offers some random observations on the early days of Sirius/XM’s channel devoted to The Beatles.

By now, you probably know the trivia. “All You Need Is Love” was the first song played on The Beatles Channel, Channel 18 on Sirius/XM, following an introductory sound collage at about 9:09 a.m. ET on May 18, which climaxed a couple of days of sound collage teasers. Next came “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “With A Little Help From My Friends” from the newly remixed “Sgt. Pepper,” the chief vehicle behind the timing of the channel’s launch. And the first solo track, George Harrison’s “What Is Life,” aired at about 9:50 a.m., by my watch.

The channel’s programming is heavily weighted toward the group’s catalog — after all, it is called the Beatles Channel — but work from the solo years gradually became more of a presence over the first couple of days. And virtually anything from the solo catalog seems to be fair game. Early on, I heard Ringo Starr’s “Y Not,” the title song from his 2010 album and a track that, let’s face it, rarely is heard on any Beatles radio show, terrestrial or Internet. However, there’s essentially nothing here by any wives, relatives, offspring, or from the Apple or Dark Horse records catalogs.

Now, to be fair, Internet radio outlets like Fab4Radio and Pat Matthews’ Beatles-A-Rama have been playing largely this same format for a number of years and, of course, “Joe Johnson’s Beatle Brunch” and the various “Breakfast With The Beatles” shows around the U.S. have been tilling this soil for decades.

Even some relatively obscure solo tunes are featured on the channel.

But, with the growing popularity and portability of Sirius/XM, thanks in no small part to the presence of dedicated channels for Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, The Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, Jimmy Buffet, etc., a Beatles channel has long seemed a natural. Still, it required the “okey-dokey” from Apple and a waiver from the dreaded Digital Music Copyright Act, which restricts the number of songs that can be played by any one act in a given hour, on any form of radio. This has been a headache for programming Beatles shows on both terrestrial and Internet radio, but Sirius/XM obviously got the Apple endorsement that those other outlets don’t have.

Of course, a steady diet of even the Rolls-Royce of pop music catalogs and selections from the solo works can take on the feel of a jukebox or an iPod on shuffle (already a quaint reference), especially since there were no air personalities for the first few days and still are none for most of the day as this is written. So, there are little between-songs sound bites — reminiscences by fans or Paul and Ringo, factoids by Chris Carter called “Every Little Thing,” standard radio segues, etc.

And, as on the Internet Beatles formats, there are songs by artists who influenced The Beatles (“they were listening to this before they were Beatles”), the first of which was the recently departed Chuck Berry, and covers of Beatles songs, some old (Emmylou Harris), some new (The Beat Bugs).

In my listening, which was not a steady diet, I didn’t hear anything that appeared to come from bootlegs and I’ve been told on good authority that everything heard is from an official source. There are (Yay!) plenty of BBC recordings, but those come from either the two official 2-disc sets or from the iTunes package of 1963 recordings from a few years back. The only non-BBC live recordings are from the Hollywood Bowl, and those seem to pop up very occasionally or in the channel’s “Magical Mini Concerts.”

George Harrison’s “What Is Life” was the first solo track played.

Of course, no launch of a new radio station or format would be complete without some bloopers, and I heard at least two. One of those sound-bite segues on the first day had Ringo Starr talking about how, during a series of Beatles recording sessions, time would be set aside for Starr’s customary vocal spot. That segued into … a live All Starr Band version of “No No Song.” Oops. That same day, one of the “The Beatles were listening to this before they were Beatles” tracks featured was Mary Wells’ “My Guy,” which was a hit single in the months after The Beatles’ initial conquest of America in early 1964. Of course, to be fair, only music nerds like me would even notice hiccups like these.

Featured programs began on Monday morning, May 22, with the debut of a weekday version of Chris Carter’s “Breakfast With The Beatles,” which runs 8-11 a.m. ET. If you’re familiar with Carter’s long-running Sunday morning show on KLOS in Los Angeles, you know what the weekday show is like. Indeed, during that first week, Carter played a long set of the opening song from each original EMI/Apple Beatles album, a programming vehicle he uses every so often on the Sunday show.

Wednesday night brought the debut of “The Fab Fourum,” basically a live two-hour talk show with some music elements (on the debut, that included some session material from the about-to-be-released “Sgt. Pepper” album) and phone calls, always a crapshoot (“Longtime listener, first time caller. … I think they should fire Jeff Jones…”). The show is hosted by longtime New York FM personality Dennis Elsas, a consummate pro, and writer Bill Flanagan, who’s not as smooth on the air and doesn’t have the greatest command of facts. Fortunately, they were joined in the second hour by Beatlefan’s Tom Frangione, who was so impressive that he was asked back for the second show. A live first show is always problematic, and the first-show jitters hopefully will be smoothed out in the weeks to come.

On Thursday night, a one-hour show hosted by Peter Asher called “From Me to You” debuted. Those who have seen Asher’s in-person multimedia shows knows his Zelig-like role in the pop/rock world of the ’60s and beyond, and the debut installment, with Asher obviously showing some first-show nerves, really just hinted at the treasure trove of stories and music (and not just Beatles and Peter & Gordon) that Asher hopefully will be sharing as this series develops.

Other specialty shows on the schedule include “Get Back: The Beatles in Britain,” hosted by Geoff Lloyd; the Flanagan-hosted “Northern Songs,” a “themed playlist of hits and rarities”; a one-hour “Guest DJ” show; the half-hour “Magical Mini Concert”; and a daily “My Fab Four,” programmed by a fan or a celebrity.

The 50th anniversary reissue of “Sgt. Pepper” provided the impetus for the Beatles Channel.

And, of course, what Beatles-connected event in the 21st century would be complete without the Greek chorus of comments from the wonderful world of social media? While many were looking forward to the channel with nearly as much anticipation as for the “Sgt. Pepper” 50th anniversary splash, carping began almost immediately. Some of that, naturally, came from supporters of already-existing Beatles programming, both on terrestrial and Internet radio. There were comments questioning why solo material was being played (“Isn’t it supposed to be a Beatles channel?”) or why so little solo music was being played. Some alert listeners picked up on the fact that selections from “Sgt. Pepper” were bouncing between the 2009 stereo and mono remasters and Giles Martin’s 2017 remix.

Others, clearly people who don’t listen to much radio, complained about the repetition of certain popular tracks. This is, after all, radio — even on the satellite — not a jukebox or an iPod. All radio stations are programmed so that what’s popular is going to be heard more often than the rest, and that’s been the case with all forms of Beatles programming over the years.

Yes, one is going to hear “Hey Jude” or “Ticket to Ride” or “My Sweet Lord” more often than “Not a Second Time” or “Tell Me What You See” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Since the Beatles Channel is competing with Sirius/XM’s other music channels, and since it’s a fact of life that most people listen to radio of any kind for only a finite amount of time each day, the hits and most popular album tracks are going to get the most exposure. That’s Programming 101.

Overall, though, the reaction to Sirius/XM’s Beatles Channel has been quite positive. The rollout has taken place during a free listening period that ends with the beginning of June. The big test then will be to see how many people decide to pay for, as critics put it, music that one easily can get for free elsewhere.

— Al Sussman

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The Beatles, Pete Shotton and Me

Pete Shotton (third from right) with John Lennon in the Quarrymen.

Bill King looks back fondly on an evening of Beatles stories and more with the late Pete Shotton.

It’s always sad to hear about another of The Beatles’ old Liverpool pals passing on, but I couldn’t help but smile when I got the word that Pete Shotton, John Lennon’s lifelong buddy, had died at 75, because I have my own fond memories of him.

Shotton and Lennon during their school days in Liverpool.

For those who might not be up on their early Beatles history, Pete was Lennon’s best friend from age 6. Shotton attended Dovedale Primary School and Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool, where he was a mischief-making classmate of John’s, and he briefly was a member of John’s pre-Beatles skiffle band, the Quarrymen, as a washboard player.

Although Pete decided music wasn’t for him, he remained a part of Lennon’s life after The Beatles had left their hometown and become famous. John bought a grocery store for Pete, later enlisted his pal as manager of the short-lived Apple Boutique on Baker Street in London, and made him one of the early directors of The Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd.

Pete also was present when a number of Beatles songs were written, and even contributed the occasional idea that got used in the lyrics.

Pete’s book, written with Nicholas Schaffner.

It wasn’t until a couple of years after John’s death that Shotton decided to share his Lennon stories. He teamed up with a very talented friend of mine, the late Nicholas Schaffner, an early contributor to Beatlefan and author of the acclaimed book “The Beatles Forever,” among other titles. (Nick died in 1991.)

Their book, “John Lennon in My Life,” first published in August 1983, and later republished as “The Beatles, Lennon and Me,” was a frank but affectionate telling of Lennon’s life, spending a large amount of time detailing John’s pre-Beatles years, complete with boyish pranks, sexual escapades and earthy language.

I had visited with Nick at his loft in New York City’s Greenwich Village during the time he and Shotton were working on the book, and Nick assured me I’d get to interview Pete for Beatlefan after it came out. So, when Shotton’s five-week tour promoting the book in the U.S. brought him to Atlanta that September, I spent an evening chatting with Pete.

It was easy to see why Lennon liked Pete so much.

Pete with Nick Schaffner (left) and PJ Dempsey. (Courtesy of PJ Dempsey)

The blond Liverpudlian, who was 43 at the time we met, had an extremely engaging manner and a way of making you feel comfortable. We started out the evening with dinner in a restaurant at downtown Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency hotel, talking about the book and The Beatles and all of the other sorts of things you’d expect a reporter and author to cover in a publicity tour interview.

But, by the time we parted company more than 4 hours later, we’d spent quite a bit of time sitting in the hotel bar, chatting about everything from the economy to the differences in British and American food. Pete also kept up a running commentary on the many attractive women who passed by us!

At the time, Shotton, who had a brother living in New Orleans, was involved with another old Liverpool pal, Bill Turner, and others in several businesses on Hayling Island, off the southern coast of England, near Portsmouth, including a couple of restaurants. (He had sold the grocery store that John had bought for him some years earlier.)

Pete’s restaurants eventually evolved into the successful Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of American-style diners all over Britain, which he sold around 2000.

But, at the time the book came out, he told me he spent most of his time running a betting shop (gambling is legal in Britain), the very business that Lennon originally had offered to set him up in.

Although he said he had not seen Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr in years, he was still in touch with George Harrison, and said he spent the night occasionally at George’s Friar Park estate.

Shotton with Lennon during the “Sgt. Pepper” era.

During that same time period, two other Lennon volumes — by John’s former girlfriend May Pang and John and Yoko’s tarot card reader, John Green — were attracting quite a bit of attention for some of their warts-and-all tales of the Beatle’s life, and some publications had lumped “John Lennon in My Life” in with those books, which greatly displeased Shotton.

Although Pete and John’s relationship grew more distant after the arrival of Yoko Ono on the scene, Shotton particularly disagreed with portrayals of Lennon as being dominated by his wife. 

“That’s another one of the myths,” Pete told me. In Yoko,  he said, Lennon “met someone he considered his equal intellectually and spiritually. And, of course, he totally adored her. But, by the same token, he was still John Lennon. He was always prepared to argue with Yoko when it came to the crunch, where he really wanted to do something. He’d just found someone he respected enough not to walk all over.”

The picture of Lennon provided by Shotton wasn’t entirely favorable, but he said that was “because I don’t want to be accused of glossing over. You know, John Lennon was human. I tried to be perfectly honest about it. I think I’ve given a full picture of John for the time that I knew him.”

Pete and John together at a 1967 film premiere.

Pete said he wrote the book because he was reading stories about Lennon that were distorted and wrong in newspapers and other books. “Two friends kept encouraging me, saying ‘You’re the one that knew him best all those years. If anyone can put the record straight, you can.’”

However,  if Lennon still had been alive, Shotton said, “this book would never have been written. And, may I say by the way, that I could have made a hell of a lot more money out of John while he was alive than I’ll ever make out of this book.

“I always refused to do it, although he used to encourage me. He’d say,  ‘Pete, for God’s sake, will you please make some money out of knowing me.’ And I wouldn’t do it, because I thought the relationship was not only important to me, but even more important to John. … There were very few people that he could totally relax with, speak his mind, say what he wanted without thinking, and know there was no way it was ever going to reach [the public].”

It was a conversation with his teenage son that finally made Pete decide to tell his story.

“I was talking to my son, Matthew … and he was telling me about something he’d done that day with one of his friends, and it reminded me of something I did with John. I started telling him about it. My son had done a thesis in school on The  Beatles … and he read all the Beatle books. I said to him this such and such that John and I did, and he interrupted me halfway to say, ‘Hang on Dad, that’s not right. Because in ‘Shout!’ [the Philip Norman Beatles biography] it says this.’

“And I was totally and utterly stunned. This is my son talking to me, and he’s contradicting me on something written in a book by a guy that never even met John! I said, ‘Son, I was there, I should know.’ In that moment, it came together. I said, I’ve got to do it.”

Pete and John relaxing with friends.

We talked a lot more that evening about John and The Beatles and Pete’s work with Nick on the book, but, long after my tape recorder was turned off and our interview officially was over, Pete continued to regale me with stories from the old days, including one that’s always been a favorite:

Pete was at John’s house one night watching television with him and the other Beatles during their Maharishi period, and someone suggested they meditate. Sitting on the couch, they all closed their eyes and did just that.

Pete, however, wasn’t really into Transcendental Meditation, and soon grew bored. So, he said, “I opened my eyes.” What he saw was Ringo, also with his eyes open, sitting quietly on the couch watching the TV while the others continued to meditate.

Ringo looked over, noticed Pete, and simply winked.

That’s one of my favorite Beatles-related images. And my evening with Pete is one of my favorite Beatles-related experiences.

That’s why, sad as I am that he has passed on, I have to smile at the mention of Pete Shotton.

— Bill King

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Early 1967: Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound?


50 years ago, on Feb. 25, 1967, American fans got their first look at the “psychedelic” Beatles when the promo films for “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” aired on ABC’s “Hollywood Palace” variety hour. This memoir of that time by Bill King originally was published in Beatlefan #105, March, 1997.

“It’s the end of an era.”

I was sitting on the living room floor the night of Jan. 23, 1967, when veteran broadcaster Lowell Thomas, on his CBS Radio evening newscast, used that melodramatic opening for a story about The Beatles. The group was giving up touring, he said. Breaking up.

Thomas’ report (like a brief item in that afternoon’s paper)  came from a widely quoted interview with Paul McCartney in the previous day’s Sunday Times magazine in London.

“Now we’re ready to go our own ways,” Paul had said. “We’ll work together only if we miss each other. Then it’ll be hobby work.”


Paul McCartney’s “new look” made news in early 1967.

The news reports paid a lot of attention to the droopy mustache he now was sporting. Paul said it was “part of breaking up The Beatles. I no longer believe in the image. I’m no longer one of the four mop-tops.”

I refused to believe it. Sure, things had been quiet on the Beatles front since back in the fall when “Yellow Submarine” ended its chart run. And, yes, they’d gone off in solo directions: John had cut his hair and acted in “How I Won the War”; Paul had been working on the score for the Hayley Mills film “The Family Way”; George had gone to India; and Ringo, one press report had said, was “just being Ringo.”

There’d been a brief flurry of breakup rumors in November when it became clear there would be no year-end shows in Britain. But John had said at the time, “We’ve no intention of splitting up. We will go on recording songs.” I took him at his word, even though there’d been no new album for Christmas ’66.

I was in 9th grade — an era of paisley shirts, turtlenecks and plaid or checked pants, when girls with long, straight hair were beginning to intrude on my devotion to the Georgia Bulldogs. The Monkees were at the height of their popularity, with “I’m a Believer” all over the airwaves; I liked the show and bought some of their singles, but The Beatles remained far and away my favorites.

I kept an eye on Names in the News in The Atlanta Journal — which I delivered by bike each afternoon to almost 100 customers in two neighborhoods of my hometown of Athens, GA — and the Fab Four continued to pop up there fairly often. Already that month, there’d been items on Ringo being sued by a gardener over a billing dispute and Jane Asher saying she and Paul were deeply in love and wanted to get married and “have lots and lots of babies.”

The really big Beatles news that month, however, had been the telecast (at last!) of “The Beatles at Shea Stadium” on ABC, which showed it on the evening of Jan. 10 as lead-in to the premiere of the network’s new evil-space-creatures-among-us series, “The Invaders,” starring Roy Thinnes. (The local ABC affiliate in nearby Atlanta showed an old movie instead, delaying “Shea” until early the following Sunday evening, but we had cable so I watched it along with the rest of the country that Tuesday night on a North Carolina station.)

Of course, this was Beatles circa ’65. But, at that point, we didn’t yet realize that McCartney, though overstating the case, was indeed right: They weren’t going to be mop-tops any more.


The crew of the doomed Apollo 1 mission.

My attention was diverted from the question of The Beatles’ future just four days after the Lowell Thomas report by a tragedy in one of my other youthful obsessions: the space program. Three astronauts — including Gus Grissom, my favorite — died in a launchpad fire aboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft. It didn’t seem like the year of 1967 was off to a very good start.

Much to my consternation, an old-line segregationist named Lester Maddox had just been elected governor by the Georgia legislature after failing to win a majority in a three-way race with two moderates.

The front page was filled each day with casualty counts from Vietnam, where the U.S. troop level now had reached 400,000 (and where, the week of January 19, we had suffered our heaviest losses to date). The rift between LBJ and Robert Kennedy widened as RFK called for a halt in the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. With Mao’s Red Guard purges at their height, China appeared on the verge of civil war. A Richard Nixon presidential campaign was even in the “talking” stage!

But what is most striking about looking back at the winter of ’67 is the nation’s continuing obsession with the JFK assassination. Look magazine was serializing William Manchester’s “Death of a President.” Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgement”, the first of the conspiracy books, sat atop the best seller list and was being excerpted in the daily paper. And, in New Orleans, D.A. Jim Garrison had begun his wild and woolly JFK conspiracy investigation (many years later the subject of an Oliver Stone movie).

Not everything was serious, of course. Green Bay crushed Kansas City that January  in the very first Super Bowl; the first U.S. major professional soccer league was gearing up for spring play; the upstart ABA was seeking to lure NBA stars with big bucks; and there was this headline: “Braves payroll nears all-time high” — a total of $675,000 for the whole team!


Fans had been worried about The Beatles breaking up.

Probably spurred on by the breakup reports, Brian Epstein wasted no time in letting the world know The Beatles still were The Beatles. As February dawned, it was announced that the group had signed a new nine-year recording contract with EMI (on the same day as the Apollo 1 fire, in fact) and that a new single, “Penny Lane”  and “Strawberry Fields,” would be issued in the U.S. on Feb. 13!

I remember sitting on the front porch looking at the article announcing the single. The song titles seemed particularly unusual and exotic to me. I wondered what they would sound like. I anxiously awaited their release.

As I searched for Beatles news each day, I saw frequent mention of the amusing quasi-courtship of actor George Hamilton and First Daughter Lynda Bird Johnson, along with the married travels and travails of Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow. (Mia’s replacement on “Peyton Place,”  Leigh Taylor-Young, had just wed costar Ryan O’Neal.) A 17-year-old, 91-pound British model called Twiggy was making her first visit to the U.S. And Liz and Dick were filming “The Comedians” in Dahomey.


“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was directed by Richard Lester.

Speaking of films, that winter of ’67 was the time when I first started attending more “adult” movies. Oh, I still went with my younger brothers to see such family fare as  Fred MacMurray in “Follow Me Boys” and Dean Jones in “Monkeys Go Home” from Disney (which was preparing to begin construction in a swamp in central Florida) plus “Andy Griffith Show” favorite  Don Knotts in “The Reluctant Astronaut.” But I also went on my own to see George Peppard and Ursula Andress seducing each other between World War I battles in “The Blue Max” (the first cinematic sex scene I’d viewed!), and Dick Lester’s bawdy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Also in cinemas that winter were a mix of the old-line Hollywood spectaculars and the New Wave youth-oriented films:  “Georgy Girl” starring Lynn Redgrave; “Grand Prix” with James Garner; “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” costars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in a pair  of underwhelming solo film outings — “The Venetian Affair” and “Three Bites of the Apple”, respectively — Woody Allen’s “What’s Up Tiger Lily?”; Rock Hudson in “Tobruk”; Julie Christie in “Fahrenheit 451”;  Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in “The Night of the Generals”; Steve McQueen in “The Sand Pebbles”; Vanessa Redgrave in the British arthouse hit “Blow-Up”; James Coburn in “In Like Flint”; former “Rawhide” regular Clint Eastwood in a new style of bloody Italian-made western, “A Fistful of Dollars”; and Elvis in one of his more forgettable efforts, the appropriately titled “Easy Come, Easy Go.”

The Smothers Brothers were a new arrival on TV with their weekly comedy hour.

The Smothers Brothers were a new arrival on TV with their weekly comedy hour.

On TV, it was time for the “second season” replacements, which included  two almost identical superhero spoofs, “Mr. Terrific” on CBS and “Captain Nice” on NBC. There was a new version of “Dragnet” on NBC, “Rango” with Tim Conway on ABC, the return of “The Avengers” on ABC and, on Feb. 5, the new “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” opposite “Bonanza” Sunday nights on CBS — which quickly began cutting into the venerable western’s audience. Another venerable western, “Gunsmoke,” received a cancellation notice from CBS, but the network relented after viewers protested, and dumped “Gilligan’s Island” instead.

Shortly after the announcement of the forthcoming Beatles single, I got a phone call one night from my friend Sam, who liked to listen to WLS out of Chicago. Excitedly, he told me he’d just heard the new song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” I asked him what it sounded like and, struggling for a comparison, he said “Yesterday.” (“Yesterday”?! The strings, I guess.)

When I heard it myself, it was like nothing The Beatles had done before — in fact, a bit hard to take in on first listen. I liked it, but I liked “Penny Lane” more. Especially the trumpet.

It was about this time, in search of the new Beatles songs, that I really began listening to Top 40 radio on a daily basis, making WDOL-AM part of my afternoon routine as I struggled with Algebra II homework. The songs from that time play in my head like a soundtrack:  “Kind of a Drag” by the Buckinghams; “Ruby Tuesday” by the Rolling Stones; “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” by the Supremes; “Niki Hoeky” by P.J. Proby; “Happy Together” by the Turtles; “Dedicated to the One I Love” by Mamas and the Papas; “My Cup Runneth Over” by Ed Ames; “There’s a Kind of Hush” by Herman’s Hermits; “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” by Buffalo Springfield; “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” by the Mojomen; “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James and the Shondells; “California Nights” by Lesley Gore; “Western Union” by the Five Americans; “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas;  “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” by Harpers Bizarre.

I saw most of these acts miming their hits weekday afternoons on “Where the Action Is” (paired in ABC’s teen hour with “Dark Shadows,” which my brothers and I wouldn’t get into for some months yet).

The Beatles on the set of their promotional film for "Strawberry Fields Forever."

The Beatles on the set of their promotional film for “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Naturally, I went out first chance I got after the Beatles single’s release (the following Saturday) and bought it. First thing I noticed when I got home was that the trumpet ending had been deleted — first time I ever questioned one of their artistic decisions. Another disappointment came when I discovered that while the early copies were in plain sleeves, the second batch to hit town came in the color picture sleeve with Beatle baby pictures on one side and a spotlight-backed shot of their new mod look on the other. It would be several years, actually, before I’d get one of those sleeves.

The week of the record’s release, the paper ran an AP interview with McCartney, Epstein and Starr stressing that giving up touring didn’t mean breaking up. Said Paul: “We never said we were splitting up. Other people said it about us — but it’s not true.” Epstein said they were currently recording tracks for a new album and expected to start their third film in the spring or early summer. They also were planning a television show.

Weird ... but wonderful!

Weird … but wonderful!

A week after I bought the single, the promo films for both songs were shown on the Feb. 25 edition of “The Hollywood Palace,” with actor Van Johnson hosting. Again, they were like nothing we’d seen before.




I really liked them!

Aside from the picture sleeve and a magazine photo or two,  this was our first chance to get an extended view of the “new look” Beatles — and it was the topic of much conversation at school the next week. Homeroom reaction ran much like it did on the  March 11 “American Bandstand,” when Dick Clark showed the clips and polled members of the audience.

The boys mostly liked the mustaches and thought The Beatles looked really cool; the girls didn’t.

No more cuddly mop-tops.

— Bill King

(Thanks to Mark Gunter, Allan Kozinn and Brad Hundt for research assistance.)

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Beatles Scoops From Where You Might Not Expect Them

Beatlefan internet columnist Kit O’Toole talks in Issue #223 with Norwegian Beatles expert Roger Stormo, whose blog/news site WogBlog has attracted a worldwide audience, boasting readers from the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, Russia, Australia, and Brazil. A past president of Norway’s Beatles fan club Norwegian Wood, Stormo has written articles for the organization’s newsletter and co-authored the Beatles discography “The Beatles in Norway.” Here is an expanded version of his conversation with Kit.

Roger Stormo with Pete Best.

Roger Stormo with Pete Best.

When and why did you start WogBlog?

I originally started up a blog in mid-2008 after finding that I had stories I wanted to tell that didn’t warrant publication in the Norwegian Wood fan club fanzine that I usually write for. I was also keen on having an international audience, so with that in mind, I started writing it in English. I originally called it Wogew Central because “Wogew” has always been my handle on the internet, in various forums, on usenet, chat rooms and other user groups. I then hit upon the idea of renaming the blog to just WogBlog, because it was catchier and rhymed — a terrible idea I’m afraid, because “wog” is not a polite word, which escaped me at the time.

How would you distinguish WogBlog from other Beatles sites?

First and foremost, I am writing from a Norwegian and European perspective. This sets the blog apart from most Beatles blogs, because a great number of writers are U.S.-based and a few are British. Secondly, I write the blog mostly for my own pleasure. It was never intended to be a news site as such, but I tend to write news either when I have an exclusive, or when there’s a new major release, or when I feel like it. Also, I feel that many of the other writers are skeptical when new information comes from non-U.K. or non-U.S. sources, whereas I often find that, for instance, “foreign” branches of the record companies aren’t as tight-lipped about upcoming releases as their parent companies.

You have broken some big stories. Without revealing your secrets, how do you find leads?

The cover discovered in an unlikely spot.

The cover discovered in an unlikely spot.

These are all happy accidents — either I am alerted by some of the people I know in the fringes of the record industry, or I can stumble upon something while combing through the internet on the lookout for something else entirely. Here’s an example: A record reviewer friend of mine got a release plan from Universal Music, listing upcoming releases. He informed me that, alongside the re-release of “The Beatles Live at The BBC,” a second volume also appeared on list. I mentioned it in a blog post. A day or so later, as I was Googling around, I found that MCA Music (which is the Universal Music company in the Philippines) actually had posted an image on their Facebook account of what was supposedly going to be the cover photo for the release. As we all now know, this was a colorized version of a well-known Dezo Hoffmann photo. So, I felt I had enough to be able to write a blog post, and I included the photo there.

What is your favorite article you have written, and why?

A holy grail for many people over the years has been to find amateur films from John Lennon’s guest appearance at Elton John’s concert at Madison Square Garden Nov 28, 1974. I discovered that a girl called Mary Jane said [in YouTube comments] that she had footage from the actual concert. I contacted her in 2011, and she was able to transfer her home movie to digital and send it to me. I encouraged her to get in touch with Elton’s management, which she did.

Stormo helped a fan make available footage of John Lennon's appearance with Elton John.

Stormo helped a fan make available footage of John Lennon’s appearance with Elton John.

Elton was very happy that actual film from the event had been discovered, and invited Mary Jane to come backstage at one of his concerts. His company bought the film from her, and in a thank-you note to me, Mary Jane told me that my interaction and encouragement had saved her family house, which she was able to keep thanks to the money she got from Elton’s company for the film. A year ago, Elton published part of Mary Jane’s film to YouTube.

Your blog is based in Norway; how does the location influence the content you produce?

Let me tell you about Norway and The Beatles. Norway is a country which was never visited by The Beatles as a group. …

Eventually, Paul McCartney came to Norway to play a concert with Wings in 1972, which was a big event for all the Norwegian Beatle people. He didn’t return until 1989, but has played here several times since; last time was this summer. Ringo visited Norway for a TV show, “Cilla in Scandinavia,” and shot a video for “It Don’t Come Easy,” but didn’t come here to play until his lone concert here in 2011. John and George never visited Norway.

Stormo with the late Sam Leach, an early Beatles promoter in Liverpool.

Stormo with the late Sam Leach, an early Beatles promoter in Liverpool.

Observing The Beatles from Norway is looking at them from a distance. And we are happy whenever there’s a Norwegian connection; in the new “Eight Days A Week” film, one of the photos of The Beatles in Denmark was taken by a Norwegian photographer. You would never have noticed, unless you’re from Norway. And it was probably one of my blog posts that alerted the production company about these photos.

What Beatles and solo projects are you most anticipating in 2017?

Like in 1979, I am always looking forward to the next Paul McCartney album. Ringo, not so much, but I will buy it and play it for a while. I don’t know if there’s going to be some kind of new release from The Beatles in 2017, but, if they do finally get around to that “Let It Be” movie, I’d be very pleased!



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Macca in the Desert: What a Trip!

Here is Beatlefan Senior Editor Rick Glover’s complete report from the second night of Desert Trip festival in Indio, CA. …

Onstage with Neil Young at Desert Trip. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Onstage with Neil Young at Desert Trip. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Paul McCartney must have some very big hands, to be able to hold 75,000 people in his palm at once.

After the previous night’s performance by Bob Dylan and a blistering set from The Rolling Stones, Neil Young opened the second night Oct. 8, followed by a somewhat shortened McCartney set.

Macca welcomes the crowd of 75,000. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Macca welcomes the crowd of 75,000. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Paul opened with “A Hard Day’s Night” and had the crowd screaming. The production utilized the 5-story-high video screens, featuring a wash of polka dots and pinwheels, and the crowd immediately reacted to the Beatlemania classic. The back screens, nearly two football fields wide, were even larger.

“Jet” was back in the second slot as a real plane flew high over the crowd and drones were a few feet over the pit and audience. Then more Beatlemania: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” with images of The Beatles floating behind the stage on the screen.

“Letting Go” was next, followed by “Day Tripper,” with geometric patterns all across the huge screens, followed by “Let Me Roll It,” with everyone’s hands in the air spinning in circles in the audience and a hot hot hot tribute to Hendrix coda.

Then “I’ve Got a Feeling,” with the huge backdrops a wall of throbbing pulsating speakers and a jamming ending to wind up the first act.

Performing in Indio, CA, on Oct. 8. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Performing in Indio, CA, on Oct. 8. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Paul next moved to piano for “My Valentine,” with the standard backdrop of the Johnny Depp video, followed by a rollicking “Nineteen Hundred and  Eighty-Five,” with the crowd clapping along. “Maybe I’m Amazed” was next and, as always, was the biggest challenge for his voice for the evening.

Back to center stage for “We Can Work It Out ,” with Paul’s voice still cracking a bit, then “In Spite of All the Danger,” with a sing-along reprise at the end and Paul telling the story of that being the first song The Quarry Men ever recorded.

“I’ve Just Seen a Face” was back in the set, replacing “You Won’t See Me.” “Love Me Do” followed with a nod to George Martin as Paul told the story of how the harmonica and vocals came to be. Then came “And I Love Her,” next with a 5-story Macca Wiggle shown on the side screens and close up.

Paul and Rusty Anderson. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

Paul and Rusty Anderson. (Kevin Mazur for Desert Trip)

A touching “Blackbird” found the crowd as quiet and attentive as that many people can be, followed by “Here Today,” both delivered from high atop the rising platform.

The magic piano songs opened with “Queenie Eye” then right into “Lady Madonna” (skipping “New” and “Fool on the Hill”).

Back to acoustic guitar for the best ever version of “FourFive Seconds,” followed by “Eleanor Rigby,” with the screens showing classical music instruments and glowing scrolls of sheet music.

Next, Paul was back on bass guitar for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” as the psychedelic visuals and lasers filled the desert sky.

Jamming with Neil Young. (Rick Glover)

Jamming with Neil Young. (Rick Glover)

A special moment came next as Paul called Neil Young to the stage and the pair performed “A Day in the Life” with a “Give Peace a Chance” medley.

Then Paul said, “We’ve got something really special for you tonight and I’m going to ask Neil to play a solo in the middle.” At this point Neil broke into a wildly improvised solo, drawing a confused look from Paul. Paul then said, “I’d like that in the song, please.” He then counted off the rhythm by deadening the strings of his bass and the band kicked into “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” for his first performance of this song live ever.

Then came the closing act of “Something,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” “Band on the Run,” “Back in the USSR” and, on piano, “Let It Be,” followed by the hugest pyrotechnical display ever during “Live and Let Die.” Macca’s production team did an outstanding job adapting to a different sort of venue.

The audience at Desert Trip. (Rick Glover)

The audience at Desert Trip. (Rick Glover)

The set closed with “Hey Jude” and the gigantic sing-along from the crowd.

The band returned waving the California state flag as well as the U.S., U.K. and rainbow flags. Paul said since the Stones had done a Beatles song the previous night (“Come Together”), “We thought we’d do one of theirs tonight. John and I wrote this next song for The Rolling Stones way back in those early days and we’re going to do it for you tonight.” With that they broke into I Wanna Be Your Man” with a similar arrangement to the actual Beatles arrangement instead of the Bo Diddley-like version he performed in 1993.

Even though “Hi Hi Hi” and “Birthday” were listed on the set list, they were not done. After “Helter Skelter,” he went back to piano to perform the finale of the “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” medley with another huge fireworks display as the show ended.

Lots of fireworks and giant video screens were a feature of the outdoor show. (Rick Glover)

Lots of fireworks and giant video screens were a feature of the outdoor show. (Rick Glover)

Many songs had fresh visuals on the screens, with “Maybe I’m Amazed” having more of Linda’s photos. “Queenie Eye” was different as well, and “Lady Madonna” featured an exotic dancer on the screen instead of the usual significant women in history. “A Day in the Life” brought back similar graphics from when this was in the regular set, with the swirling melting gardens that morphed into huge peace signs.

Three unique Desert Trip T-shirts were available, but no other programs or merchandise.

Paul was in very fine voice for most of the evening and very energetic throughout the show. He seemed to recognize he was bookended by The Rolling Stones and The Who and Roger Waters following the next night, and that apparently caused McCartney to take his game up to an A-plus plus level.

The festival was very well-organized for a massive event such as this. No problems at all getting into and around the venue; parking was the usual boondoggle leaving, but overall a wonderful show for sure.

— Rick Glover

(Click on any of the photos to see larger versions.)

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