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The Beatles and the Dark Period Before Success 1958-60
When you, as a musician today, whether struggling to make it or already there, hear of the Beatles' story, it remains one of the greatest rags to riches event that simply demands your respect whether you like them or not. The story is inspiring and what they went through still happens to millions of wannabe bands. Sure, they possessed the raw talent innately, but there is "life" in the present form also.
In 1958, there were only John (18 yr), Paul (15 yr) and George (15 yr). Three teenagers starstruck by Elvis and Buddy Holly, among others also. Their little band, The Quarrymen, were playing covers to about anyone who might listen for free. They had no real gigs, maybe at a school function. Even at this early stage, there was something special about the bond between John and Paul,as friends, band members, and desire. Their first song collaboration was, "Too Bad About Sorrows" and "Just Fun", then, "In Spite of all the Dangers" (which was released in 1996). Later, "Like Dreamers Do" and "One After 909" and " I Call Your Name". Like Dreamers Do resembles a Paul trying to impersonate Elvis, his idol. The Beatles did a demo of it in 1962 for their Decca Records audition. It is simply horrible in almost all ways. "One After 909" as recorded in 1964, almost made it unto thier first LP. "I Call Your Name" remains the best of first songs and was put on their second album. By the end of 1958, they had penned two others, "Love Me Do" and I"ll Follow the Sun", both would appear on their LPs. The latter appeared on their Beatles 65 LP.
Despite the talent, real life impacted them all. Paul had already lost his mom to breast cancer and just as he was getting over the loss, John's mother, Julia (song by the same title on White LP is simply haunting) was killed crossing a busy street at night. George was seriously flunking out of school in all subjects and his teachers were giving up. He did not care for school. Not associated with them yet was Ringo (Richard). Of all the Beatles, he came from the poorest family, his mom was a bar tender. All except George, had broken families caused by death or divorce.
When Julia was killed, the Quarrymen, as a "band" ended. The death sent John into the depths of wanton loss and despair. While he was searching for direction and meaning before, 1958-9 would be a period of total disregard for John. For the most time, he drank with his buddies, became beligerant and jealous of anyone with better things than he had. Even Paul could not help. John went though the motions of going to Art College but was not really interested. Like many his age then and now, he simply was at a loss of what he was suppose to do and very little means to do it. John remained in denial about her death for many months and during this he refused to see Paul and George. George started to play in another band. Paul simply waited for John to move on, and in the meantime, prepared for his future just in case the "rock star" plan did not materialize. Paul was a good student. By now, Paul had written, " PS I Love You" a song that would be on their first US LP.
There were only a few times when John was happy to see "the boys" (Paul and George), they would get together and jam, go over material, maybe play at lunchtime at the Art College, all very impromptu. They were now known as "the college band". Just vocals and guitars. None of them had electric guitars or amps. Even still, the girls liked what they saw and heard, as did the guys.
John was bitter, angry at life, felt pressure to become someone doing something. After all, he was 18, out of high school and in Art College. To John, Paul and John were like "kids". John seemed to have little going for him except a unique voice, a good pencil artist, a witty sense about him, a fading dream to become bigger than Elvis, and two close friends, Paul and George. As Paul said, "during this time, we did not see much of one another, we were not playing much either". True, life seemed to be steering them in opposite directions. Yet, when they did get together, one could see how truly, like brothers, they were fond of one another and competitive musically.
In 1959, John met Cynthia Powell in school. She saved John from self destruction by falling in love with him. Exactly what John needed, to feel real love again. Yet, while it stopped John from further destruction, it diverted John's attention from his dream, his music. Most of 1959 was about John and Cyn being happily in love, doing what lovers do, living in their own flat and friends dropping by, mostly Paul and George, now 16 yrs. Lots of parties, lots of drinking, some jamming on guitars, but no "real" band, per se. John became obsessed with Cyn, his world revolved around her.
Love's spell was broken when George had secured "the Quarrymen" a gig at a new club for teens called the Casbah, They got, as a band, three pounds. Even without a drummer, they packed them in. This event was akin to "splashing" water on John's face with regards to dreams and aspirations. The gig lasted several weeks. Meanwhile, Paul had fallen in love with a "hottie" name Dot, so music seemed to take a backseat in the latter part of 1959. As time moved towards 1960, jam sessions tended to occur more frequently but there were still only three guitars-no drums, no bass. John's roommate, Stu Sutcliffe, was a successful artist and John hinted to him that if he bought a bass guitar, he could be in the band. Stu did so.
It was February 1960, when John was trying to come up with a new name for the band. He came up with Beetles (much like Buddy Holly and the Crickets). John wanting a different spelling just for the hell of it, spelled it, Beatles. Yet, when the business cards and poster ads were printed, the printer had spelled it, Beatals. And for many months to come, they were The Beatals. The Beatals still only played gigs on a occasional basis, their big problem remained not having a drummer.
When they finally got their first real audition for a tour, the Beatals, went under the name of Long John and the Silver Beetles or Silver Beeles by other accounts. The audition was up against some of Liverpool's best pop bands. The Beatles were looked upon as a joke. Tommy Moore was their temporary drummer, a guy who was an old man, 36 yrs. Paul was only 18 yr. The audition was on May 10th. The Silver Beetles arrived minus Tommy. The men judging the audition all formed a negative impression of them; all were dressed like hoods or gangsters, dressed in black everything and two tone shoes. Very unprofessional. Nobody there had heard of "the silver beetles". Billy Fury was a recording artist and also listened. Before the beetles played, John asked for his autograph.
All of the bands preceding the Beetles played less than 100%, none really shook up the judges. When Beetles turn arrived, things were bleak, Tommy Moore was nowhere to be found. No drummer, no play. John facing this dire consequence, swallowed his pride and asked another drummer from a competing band to sit it. He did. Because the songs were all "covers", the beetles ripped into each with amazing speed and perfect vocals, in what would become their signature, harmonizing. One judge was blown away by their sound. The tour's promoter was not. He felt they were good but not polished.
Billy Fury whispered to the promoter that he wanted them for his backup band. The Silver Beetles thus had their first real success and were paid 90 pounds a week. It would be a 10 day road trip to Scotland and unprecedented, playing in a variety of venues. George took time off from his job. Paul promised his Dad he would study real hard for upcoming exams, John and Stu simply cut classes from college.
Beatals were becoming the real Beatles. This was the first mile of a long and winding road to their iconic status in rock history. The inspiration they got from this tour kept their own dream alive for some time.