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Larry Kane discusses The Beatles and his 'Ticket to Ride' show at Sellersville Theater December 5th


In over 50 years in the field of journalism, Philadelphia broadcasting legend Larry Kane has been an Emmy Award Winner, New York Times best selling author, and one of the most respected figures in television news. Kane was the only American reporter in the Beatles' touring entourage during their historic U.S. tours in 1964 and 1965. Kane has penned two books about his experiences, Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles’ 1964 and 1965 Tour that Changed the World, and Lennon Revealed -- and is writing a third Beatles book with Philadelphia-based publisher Running Press.

In honor of John Lennon’s 70th birthday, the Sellersville Theater will present Larry Kane's ‘Ticket To Ride,’ an extraordinary lecture and multi-media presentation featuring Kane’s experiences with the Beatles on Sunday, December 5th at 7:30 p.m. All ticket buyers will receive a Larry Kane highlight CD of his audio interviews of the Beatles. Due to the mature nature of some of the content, the evening show is recommended for ages 18 and above.

Philly2Philly was lucky enough to speak with Kane about his upcoming show, the continuous impact of the Beatles, and how he almost turned down a chance at history.

Joe Vallee:  What can Beatles fans look forward to when seeing your 'Ticket to Ride' show at the Sellersville Theater on December 5th?

Larry Kane: It's a show that takes you right inside the Beatles very closely and intimately. It will feature video, some multimedia, some stories people have never heard. It's outlined but not scripted, so every show is different from the last. It's a lot of fun and a lot of laughs. It's an hour and a half long, and afterwards I'll take questions from the audience. This show will be spectacular. After 30 tries, I finally got it down (laughs). By the way, you can also get my Beatles book "Ticket to Ride" on iTunes.

JV: Speaking of iTunes, why do you think it took so long for the band to make their debut on the site?

LK: It was a real lack of foresight. Part of it had to do with their lawsuit against Apple Computer. I think Neil Aspinall (chief executive of Apple Corps) was really negligent in his inability to make a deal. They not only lost millions, but gazillions!

JV: You were just 21 years old when you covered the Beatles in 1964. How did you get this opportunity at such a young age?

LK: I was a news director at a station called WFUN in Miami. The Beatles came to America for a very sLarry Kane. Photo courtesy of Randy Alexander at Randex Communicationshort trip in February 1964, and I saw them at their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show  in Miami Beach. I interviewed them and that was that. They went back home after their big splash, and then word started to reach us about April or May that the Beatles were coming and it was going to be the biggest tour in the history of rock and roll- which it was. Since rock and roll was at the time only 10 or 15 years old, there was no real history of rock and roll (laughs).

Our station program director who was the general manager asked me if I could get an interview with the band in Jacksonville, which was the closest location to where the Beatles were performing near Miami. They had decided to fly some kids to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville as part of the tour.

So I wrote a letter with a bunch of my stationary with letters from Beatles fans who had written to the station, and asked them if I could do a one on one with them in Jacksonville. Then I got a letter back from (Beatles Manager) Brian Epstein. I didn't realize it but on my business card there were six other radio stations listed. Most of them were stations featuring gospel and rhythm and blues. He told me later that he thought I was a big time broadcaster in America.

So Epstein ended up inviting me on the trip to travel with the band, in their planes, the whole package. I thought 'You gotta be kidding,' and I wrote them back saying I'd have to talk to my bosses. I think it was $3,000 for the cost of a 35-day trip and they thought it was expensive. Then one of them came up with the idea of syndicating my reports all across America to other radio stations, including WIP in Philadelphia. They asked me to go, and I said 'I'm not gonna go.' I thought it was an absolute waste of time for a journalist like me to spend time with a rock group who might not be around in November. That's all in the 'Ticket to Ride' book. Eventually, they coerced me into doing it and I went on the tour. Little did I know the potential for history that I would be making. None of that struck me at the time. I want to recommend to younger people that any opportunity you can get like that, you can NOT turn it down. Little did I know what was staring at me right in the face would be the story of a lifetime.

JV: You guys were all pretty close in age. How did the band take to a journalist following what was pretty much their every move?

LK: It was never an issue in terms of access to them. We were on the same plane, so I went back to see them, talk to them, I interviewed them in their seats. Basically when they wanted to be alone, they were alone, and when they wanted to be together, they were together. As far as what happened behind the scenes, there was a different mentality then. First of all, nobody knew what a rock tour was supposed to be like. There were lots of women, but because of their reputation things were very carefully arranged for them. There was a lot that I saw that I didn't write about and probably will never write about because it was private.

There was nothing of a barbaric nature, nothing of the orgy-like nature, and not a lot of drugs. In fact, there there were no drugs until 1965, which was after Bob Dylan introduced them to marijuana in August 1964. Mainly there was drinking, a lot of cigarette smoking, prostitutes, and mostly hand-picked, female accompaniment whom they were very careful about. I never really got into that because I was too busy (laughs). I was working until two o'clock in the morning and got up at five or six. I had to be at the station early with all my tapes, so it was really a grind.

JV: Were you there on that infamous night when Bob Dylan turned them on to marijuana?

LK: The Beatles met Bob Dylan at the Delmonico Hotel in New York where we all stayed, and they had a seance where they were introduced to marijuana. Not just the Beatles but (road manager) Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, and Brian Epstein. They were all in there. I was not invited to the seance, but I was there that night and you could smell it a mile away. They did have a final party at the Riviera Hotel which I attended. Paul McCartney was there with a very beautiful woman, we were all sitting around, and John Lennon pulled me aside and said "Larry, I really hate to do this, but there is a guest who is waiting at the front desk. Could you go bring him up?"

So I go down to the front desk and I see this guy who has a very slight build wearing jeans with holes all over it and a t-shirt that looked like it hadn't been washed in about a year. I said 'Hi, I'm Larry." He said "I'm Bob." I didn't know who he was. He had a guitar case with him, I brought him up, and they started jamming in the room. Dylan was not very well known then. He was known in the Beat circles in Manhattan with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. In a way, his association with the Beatles really helped him. So I got to meet him, which was kind of fun. And then a year or two later when he got bigger, I stopped and thought "Oh, THAT was Bob Dylan." It was one of those kinds of things.

JV: Do you think that the things you didn't write about helped you earn their trust?

LK: They trusted us, but there was nothing that they did that would be scandalous today. If someone walks into a room with somebody and does something privately, that's what they do. There were some things I did report. Jayne Mansfield and John Lennon were making out in a cab when I'm sitting in the middle. That was a little strange. There were tremendous parties and social gatherings. A sense of festivity but hard work. Those guys were very serious about making it and they didn't want anything to distract them.

Security was horrible because they never expected how it was going to be and sometimes the hotels weren't ready. The biggest problem mainly was my body beaten to hell by security guards and cops when I was trying to let them know I was with the group. It was kind of wild and incredible. I saw 67 of their concerts and watched them up close. I realized that after about two to three weeks that this could be the greatest band in the history of the world.

I think the reason they liked me a little more than the others was because I didn't ask them the same, silly questions that a lot of people did. "How often do you wash your hair?" "What do you like to eat?" Silly questions that come up from teenage magazines. Basically I asked them questions about the world around them and they had some pretty intense intellect about things. They were not stupid people, so they liked questions that showed the public they were real human beings.

They recommended me to do all the interviews for a program produced by Larry Kane with Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Photo courtesy of Randy Alexander at Randex Communications.Ed Sullivan Productions called "The Beatles at Shea Stadium.' I got paid by Ed Sullivan's company and for me it was a tremendous amount of money back then as well as an extraordinary amount of prestige to get noticed around the country.

 I can't quite explain to you what those first 34 days were like. It was total insanity, there was no time to rest. It was, in my view, an almost reckless situation where there was never time to sit down. The best times were the times on the airplane because nobody could bother you.

They didn't see much of America. What they saw were basically the beautiful limousines and patrol cars. One morning Ringo (Starr) got a state trooper to take him around town in Indianapolis. That was a major moment for him because those opportunities were never really available for them.

The greatest thing about travelling with the Beatles was learning about them. I am working on a project that chronicles all of the years before they made it. It took seven and a half years from the time it took them to get together from the time they really succeeded. Everybody thinks they were an overnight success. There were years of travelling, cleaning toilets, and playing for strippers. The stuff I found out was just unbelievable about their life. I knew them from 1964 on, so that's why I'm working on this book. I was really interested in finding out how it all began. It almost didn't happen. It was really a case of a lot of luck and fate.

JV: How different was the 1964 tour compared to 1965?

LK: The band had been to Japan, Australia, New Zealand. A lot of people forget that it wasn't just America. They were constantly touring. If you look at the map of the 1964 tour it was ridiculous. We went from San Fransisco to Las Vegas back up to Seattle, Vancouver back down to L.A., across the country to New York, up and down the United Stated three times. There was no geographical measurement for it.

1965 was a smaller tour. There were 10-15 stops instead of 28, so it was a little easier to deal with. It was a little more civil. I knew them better, they knew me, and it was an easier assignment. We had some adventures and some great stories. That was the year that their aircraft had an emergency landing in Portland. We never saw that plane again. Elvis Presley was hanging around with us and so was Johnny Cash. In retrospect, there were people who were just starting to make it who were travelling around with them. The Beatles got real tired in 1966. That was when they were pretty fed up. I got to spend a few nights with them that year. I saw them again in 1968 in New York and London.

JV: Describe your individual relationships with John, Paul, George, and Ringo

LK: Lennon was a guy who said in public what he thought in private. Never hesitating. He was the real thing. As tough as he was, which made his life and his legacy, he was a very compassionate person. He may not have shown it in public, but he really was.

Paul McCartney was a man who never met a mirror he didn't like. On the other hand, he was also a great guy, but was much more in the garden variety of the whole "I want to be loved" sort of thing. I could see the divisions beginning with John and Paul because they were both different people. Lennon did all the heavy lifting. If there was a controversy with Epstein, Lennon was the guy who talked to him because he was the heavy.

The real unsung hero of the Beatles was George Harrison. The influence he had on their music is just extraordinary. I don't think he ever really got his due. I call him the compassionate Beatle. He was the only one of them who ever went to the funerals of their associates. The only one who really cared about things like that.

Ringo, in addition to being a fabulous person, is probably the luckiest person in history. He showed up at the end of 1962. At that time they were already established by Epstein as a national band. Although he did play very well with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. He played the role well and was a very nice guy. I don't think he's as nice now as he was then. I think he's a bit more arrogant than he was. He lives a secluded life in Monte Carlo and he's not as successful as he used to be. Security wise, Ringo and Paul are both afraid. They have that kind of bubble around them, and I guess they should after what happened to John.

JV: Everybody has those moments in life where they remember where they were for certain historic events. Where were you when you found out that John had died?

LK: It was a Monday night and I was at Channel 10 getting ready to go home after the news. I got a call from a friend of mine from my old station in New York who told me that John was dead and what happened. At that moment, everybody ran to the television in the newsroom and they heard Howard Cosell (on Monday Night Football) announce that he was dead. Cosell had the same source where I got the news from and I went on the air with it.

 It's kind of a callous thing to report the deaths of people every day in the news when you don't know who they are. When you go on the air to report the death of someone who you do know, it becomes very hard and emotional, and that night it was for me. I knew a producer from that station in New York who was in a motorcycle accident the night John died. He was in the hospital ward with him and he saw the whole thing. Just an absolute waste of somebody to do that to someone. John was big in life, but he's actually bigger in death than he was in life. That says something.

JV: You wrote a book on John titled 'Lennon Revealed.' Is it safe to say John was the Beatle you were closest to?

LK: Yes, no question. I spent the most time with him after the tours and I had the best relationship with him. I'd see him in New York and Philadelphia. I spoke numerous times on the phone. The last time was about three weeks before he died.

JV: Have you kept in contact with the other Beatles?

LK: Yes. I saw Ringo a few years ago and I saw Paul at the White House in June. He was honored by President Obama and the Library of Congress. Paul has a significant bubble around him, even if you know him, but in the White House there is no bubble because of security. After the ceremony was over, I walked over to him and he just freaked out. We chatted for a little bit and said we would get together when he was in Philly for his concert in August, but that never materialized. It was a very nice talk, though. He still has incredible energy.

JV: Can you believe the Beatles still have the impact that they do on music and pop culture after all these years?

LK: If you look at the crowds who go to Beatles events, most of them are in their 50's and 60's. At my Beatles' shows at the Franklin Institute, the crowd was very young and I was surprised. There were a lot of kids there, and a lot of people in their 20's and 30's. That to me shows that the Beatles have passed that generational gap very quickly. People ask me why the Beatles are still so popular. It's very simple: the music. It all comes down to that.

Tickets for Larry Kane's 'Ticket to Ride' are $35 & $45 for 7:30 pm show, available at the Sellersville Theater box office either in person or by phone at 215.257.5808. Tickets may also be ordered online at www.st94.com. For shows that will take place within 48 hours, please order by phone.

Special thanks to Randy Alexander at Randex Communications

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com