A (Partially) True Story by Alan L. Chrisman
I was a young girl working as a librarian in a small southern Illinois town when he walked into my library one day. He was cute and seemed nice, but in a quiet sort of way. He said he was looking for some books on guitar music and I helped him find the right section. He said he was only in town for a few days, but that he liked to read especially about music and musicians.
He joked and it made me giggle. After chatting for a bit, he said he was in town visiting his sister. He had a British accent which was pretty unusual around where I lived and although I was shy myself, he intrigued me. So it surprised me when he mentioned that his sister was taking him to see a local band play on Saturday night. He said if I’d like to attend he was going to be there too and maybe he’d love to see me there. It sounded like an invitation.
I knew the place he mentioned where they had regular Saturday dances, but I really didn’t go out much and still lived at home with my parents. I wasn’t much into pop culture or music. I preferred Broadway musicals. But still there was certainly something fascinating about him, so it got me curious.
Enough, that by the time Saturday came around, I couldn’t think of anything else, but learning more about this mysterious stranger. I didn’t know what to wear, but I dressed up in my nicest clothes. I arrived at the small Legion Hall early and there was a line-up there, but I got in with no problem. I saw him sitting at a front table near the front and when he recognized me, he invited me over and introduced me to his sister and family there. Soon the local band came on stage and began to play. He even asked me to get up and dance with him and he was a good dancer.
The band mainly played country tunes. And I was as surprised as he was, when the band asked him to come up on stage and join them. Finally, with much encouragement from his sister, he couldn’t resist and got up and borrowed one of the member’s guitars. After conferring with the band for a few minutes, they agreed on some Carl Perkin’s songs they both knew. At these regular dances, most people were drinking and really didn’t pay much attention to the local band. But soon as this stranger started playing the guitar, the audience stopped talking and were quiet. It seemed not only was this foreigner cute, but he could actually play quite well and the band asked him to continue playing with them that night. After the show, the tiny make-shift dressing room behind the stage was filled with all kinds of people, and everyone was drinking and talking and joking.
I was about to turn and go away, feeling totally out of place, when he noticed and came over to ask me how I enjoyed the show. I was sort of taken back with all that was going on and the conflicting emotions within myself. As I say, this was way out of my experience. But when he asked me if I would like to meet him the next day for lunch, I found myself shyly answering, “Yes.”
I, of course, couldn’t sleep the whole night, wondering what I had got myself into. But right at noon, there was a knock at my door and it was him. We had a great time over lunch at the local fast-food drive-in. He said he especially enjoyed that as they didn’t have anything like it back in England. He made me laugh a lot, something I hadn’t done enough, unfortunately, in my life before.
He said he was in this band back in England, and they were actually becoming popular in Europe, but I hadn’t heard of them. He said they had already recorded an album and a couple Ep’s. They had had some songs released on a couple small independent U.S labels (including one out of Chicago), but they hadn’t gotten much radio airplay or reaction over here and the big U.S. record companies had turned down distributing them. But he seemed hopeful that they would eventually be recognized in America.
We spent the rest of the day together and then he even kissed me goodbye. He said he was leaving the next morning to go back to England, but he would try to keep in touch with me by sending me a card. This was in 1963.
I didn’t hear from him for several months and missed him, but figured he must have gotten busy and met many other girls, of course.
But one day, in early Feb. ’64, after “just another day” at the library, when I got home, there was a card in my mailbox. And it was from him. It was an early Valentine’s Day card. In it, he said that they had even gotten a record deal with a major U.S. label and they had become popular enough to come to America. In fact, they were to be on The Ed Sullivan TV Show that coming Sunday. Sure enough, as I and millions of others watched that evening, there he was with his band playing in matching suits their own songs, as all these girls screamed. There was that friend, I had met that one day a few months before. He had said his name was George. And soon everyone would know the name of his band.
The above fictional story was inspired by a true story told to this writer by George’s older sister, Louise, at my 2nd. Beatles’ Convention I organized. She told there of a little-known visit by George and his brother, Peter, to her in a small town in Illinois in September, 1963. He was persuaded by a local band to get up and play with them. The band played with George, some old rock ‘n’ roll including, “Roll Over Beethoven” , “Johnny B. Goode”, “Matchbox”, and “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. After, one of the band members said to him, “You’re not a bad guitar player. If you keep at it, you might even get somewhere.” Louise had previously been sent a copy of "Love Me Do” by her mother, Louise. She had taken it to a local radio station. This was in June, 1963, and it was the first time a Beatles song was broadcast in the U.S. Later when George arrived to visit her, the two hitch hiked to the station and brought along “She Loves You” , which had been released in England the month before and the station also played it. Two members of the local band, The Four Vests, took George to a music store in Vernon, Ill. where George purchased a red Rickenbacker guitar for $400, which he had painted black to match John Lennon’s. The Rickenbacker 400 was first played in public on the British TV show, Ready Steady Go, on Oct.4, 1963. They also visited a local record store where George bought several singles including “Got My Mind Set on You” by James Ray, but written by mailman, Rudy Clark. George would later have his own hit with it in 1987. A few months later, on Feb. 9, 1964, The Beatles played on The Ed Sullivan Show. .Louise would be the only Beatles relative to accompany them on the train to Washington, D.C. And the rest is history, as they say.