August 19th is a special date in Houston's history because it marks the day in 1965 when The Beatles played The Bayou City. The Fab Four played twice at the now defunct Sam Houston Coliseum.
Dan Lovett was there. The former abc13 KTRK sportscaster was working for 610 KILT and covered the big event.
He has graciously allowed me to post the chapter about The Beatles from his excellent book Anybody Seen Dan Lovett?: Memoirs of a Media Nomad on my blog for this special occasion.
The following text is from Lovett's Beatles chapter:
The Beatles Have Landed
...They twist, they shout, kids knock themselves out...
August 19, 1965. I am here for the scoop, and to help scoop up The Beatles. The Beatles are on Texas soil, arriving in the middle of a muggy night at Hobby Airport in Houston. It is the fourth stop, and the only one in Texas, on a ten-city tour that began in front of 55,000 frenzied fanatics at Shea Stadium in New York. They arrive from Atlanta, where they had performed a few hours earlier in a brand new outdoor stadium (one day to become a parking lot).
I work for KILT radio. My assignment from the news director is to "get your butt out to Hobby and report on the big event.” Our station is sponsoring their two concerts at the Sam Houston Coliseum.
I am not impressed. Elvis is my man, who, along with Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, had received more play than these four kids from across the pond in the U.K. I don’t see what the fuss is all about; but I do see the fuss.
Much will be written over the coming years about The Beatles’ visit to Houston. The most popular story has the late Dickie Rosenfeld being the man responsible for getting them to the Bayou City. That is partially true. Rosenfeld, at the time, is the General Sales Manager at KILT. He is instrumental in promoting and coordinating The Beatles’ two shows in Houston.
In reality, it is Bill Weaver, then General Manager of KILT, who’d been given the green light, and I mean green, from station owner Gordon McLendon, to see to it that KILT is the station bringing “the boys” to Texas.
Dallas was one of the stops on their inaugural tour of the U.S. a year earlier. Prior to their concert in Big “D,” in mid-September of 1964, there was an open date in late August for them to play in Houston. However, Bayou City teenagers would only learn years later that it never happened. The teens of the ’60s, who are now in their sixties, may never have known why. Until now.
The Beatles opened their 1964 North American Tour at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on August 19, 1964, followed by shows in Las Vegas, Seattle, Vancouver and Hollywood. August 26 was the open date. Paul Berlin, the most well-known Top 40 disc jockey in Houston in those days, had received a call from his contact with The Beatles. He asked if Paul, who was on KNUZ, the rival rock station to KILT, would like to promote a concert by The Beatles in Houston on August 26.
Berlin jumped at the opportunity, only to check his calendar and discover a major conflict. Paul had already booked Sonny and Cher for that date in 1964. He convinced his contact not to bring The Beatles to town and kill his booking. Thus, Houston got Sonny and Cher, while The Beatles twisted and shouted that night at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside Denver.
Capitol Records is the American subsidiary of London-based Electric & Musical Industries, which owns the rights to all of The Beatles’ recordings. In 1963, as the group was creating a sensation across the pond, Capitol had no desire to release their records in the U.S., where British artists were considered to be pale imitators of the authentic, homegrown stuff. EMI farmed out single releases to two small, independent distributors: Vee-Jay, a black-owned R&B label out of Chicago; and Swan, a Philly-based outfit once co-owned by Dick Clark of American Bandstand.
Vee-Jay releases in February (“Please Please Me”) and May (“From Me To You”) quickly disappeared with little fanfare. In September it was Swan’s turn. They released “She Loves You” and sent promoters to radio trying to create a buzz among the most influential music marketers of the day. Murray the “K” played it for the first time in New York City on WINS radio. His former cohorts at Swan thought Dick Clark would give them a boost, but he showed little interest. Clark spun it one afternoon during his “Rate-A-Record” segment. The response was weak. Reportedly, the American teens in the studio giggled when shown a picture of the mop-topped lads. The song just wasn’t that popular. What remains The Beatles’ best-selling U.K. single of all-time failed to even chart on Billboard in the U.S. back in ’63.
In Houston, Arch Yancy, of KNUZ, received a copy of “She Loves You” from Wayne Schuler, the regional rep for Capitol Records. Yancy said he played it at a sock hop one Friday night at Mount Carmel High School and the kids didn’t much care for it. He played it the next day on his KNUZ radio show and got much the same lack of response.
Of course, the apathy soon turned into near-apoplexy after teens began seeing film clips of British Beatlemania on prime time TV. By the time “the boys” landed in New York the following February, the disease had already infected a growing legion of stateside youths. After three iconic appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, followed months later by the ’64 tour, the fever was inescapable. Houston’s teens were not immune.
Gordon McLendon, not to be outdone when it came to mining promotional gold, gave Weaver a blank check and told him to get on a plane and fly to New York City, where the group’s manager, Brian Epstein, was making plans for the 1965 tour. Weaver was told to cut a deal. He pulled it off. Epstein filled in the check for $100,000. KILT received clear rights to promote the hottest group in the world at the time, with the added bonus of shutting out archrival KNUZ, which was in no position to suddenly stop playing The Beatles’ records and pretend they didn’t exist.
Yancy, the first D.J. to play a Beatles record in Houston, told me Dave Morris, owner of KNUZ, didn’t want any part of The Beatles. Morris wouldn’t have parted with any money to bring them to Houston, anyway. Certainly not a hundred grand!
To establish my presence on the scene, I make my initial call to the KILT newsroom from a pay phone on the Gulf Freeway. I am killing time waiting to tell Houston the British invasion is coming, like a modern-day Paul Revere. It is a raucous spectacle at Hobby. The only time I would see anything quite like it again in Houston would be the rowdy weekend crowds at Gilley’s in Pasadena, a joyful beer joint owned by singer Mickey Gilley. When you walked into Gilley’s, you had to be ready to ride a mechanical bull and geared up to party.
This is, however, the wee hours of a Thursday morning. No bar.
At around 2:00 a.m., a four-engine Electra taxies in with The Beatles and their entourage on board. I can see them peering through the small windows on the big bird.
A screaming pack of hysterical teens storms the tarmac as the plane slowly comes to a stop. The challenge is now to extricate the four lads who are recognized throughout the music world. “The boys” will not be able to disembark down the air-stairs, as they had famously done when they first arrived at JFK Airport on February 7, 1964, waving to the loonies who had been safely barricaded out of harm’s way.
They probably thought their arrival was to have been a secret. But this very moment might be the first time you will see the words “secret” and “radio promotion” in the same sentence. Other than my regular over-the-air “news” bulletins, how would 5,000 screaming teenagers know when to show up at Hobby to swarm their plane, break through police barriers and almost climb the wings to get a glimpse of their idols? I never saw anything like that at Gilley’s.
Rosenfeld has it all under control. It doesn’t bother him that thousands of chaotic kids are clogging the tarmac. Dickie, in fact,
probably orchestrated the entire scene. He is a master at pulling off big events in Houston.
What to do?
Rosenfeld had previously made arrangements to have an airport food truck available to dolly up to the plane and unload The Beatles by way of its elevated scoop. For that to happen, the pilot taxies the plane away from the mob and toward a remote hanger at Hobby. The kids are crushed as the plane begins to pull away. Emotionally crushed, that is, although, with the lack of security, it would not have been a surprise if a few of them had been flattened as they chased after the plane with reckless abandon.
With the teenyboppers at bay below, the service truck’s scoop is elevated so The Beatles can walk onto it. I become more involved at this point by helping Paul, John, George and Ringo get off the plane. It is quite fun actually. The Beatles are enjoying it, too. Lennon and McCartney yuk it up as they wave and shout to the throbbing throng below them. It is a routine of which they will soon grow weary; their very last concert tour will end in San Francisco in just 375 more manic days.
The truck begins to lower the cargo bed without the group’s manager, Brian Epstein, who is still attempting to disembark. With one foot in the plane and the other in the air, Epstein tries to leap to the lift as it moves away. He plunges about sixteen-feet and lands on his back. He is taken to a hospital by taxi. Sadly, Epstein would die two years later from an accidental drug overdose.
The Beatles are transported to a Brinks armored truck, which takes the mop-tops (with me as their station chaperone) to the loading dock at the Sheraton Hotel. The conversation on the trip downtown is pleasant enough, it seems. With their thick Liverpudlian accents and consistent use of slang, I have no idea what they are talking about most of the time.
The King Curtis Band, Cannibal and the Head Hunters and Sounds Incorporated perform as the warm-up acts for the Fab Four at both shows, at 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Beatles play the same twelve songs at each performance. They open with “Twist and Shout,” but they don’t play “She Loves You.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Some 12,000 kids, paying five bucks each, are jammed into the 5,000-seat arena for both performances. KILT is paying 150 police officers to keep the bedlam from turning into a complete riot.
Rental cost for the Sam Houston Coliseum is $1,500. Police security costs $2,500. KILT also donates almost $15,000 to the Houston Farm and Ranch Club, a social organization of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, for which the Coliseum had originally been built.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame DJ Russ Knight, “The Weird Beard,” and the nighttime jock on KILT, emcees both shows and makes the historic introductions. He threatens to cancel the afternoon show if the rowdy fans in the first few rows can’t get a grip on their overwrought passions.
Chuck Dunaway, known as the “Round Mound of Sound” on his KILT morning show, is also part of the big party. I am there, too, with a backstage press pass as one of the station’s newsmen. I reluctantly observe the event as The Beatles holler their way through two thirty-five-minute performances in the old building. These are short concerts by latter-day standards, but to me it seems like the noise will never end. I’m not being critical of the music. I can barely hear it. Shrieking teens, primarily female, generate enough decibels to put a double “L” in the word; my ears are still ringing.
Chuck Dunaway, another early icon of rock and roll radio, is the only Houston DJ to be invited aboard The Beatles’ plane prior to its departure from Houston. Malcolm Evans, The Beatles’ close friend and tour manager, takes Dunaway aboard the Electra as it idles on the runway awaiting lift off from Hobby.
Inside, sitting alongside McCartney and Starr, Dunaway is getting some final comments from “the boys” before it is time to go.
They autograph a program for Dunaway, who, years later, gives it to his son, who in turn sells it to a collector in England.
With far less fanfare than their arrival, they depart for their next stop on the tour, Comiskey Park in Chicago.
Many years later I will fully realize what had taken place in August of 1965 in Houston. Although, as the Brits might say, they were not my “cup of tea,” one cannot ignore their mark on music history.
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