The Man Who Toured With The Beatles
Ron Howard’s new film about The Beatles, Eight Days A Week, The Touring Years, (opening across Australia this week) begins with the voice of Larry Kane, who says, ‘This is the greatest phenomenon in the century thus far.”
A news reporter when The Beatles arrived in America in 1964, Kane was invited by Brian Epstein to accompany the group on their 1964 and 1965 tours and he got to see them on their final tour in 1966.
Just over 50 years since the Beatles final touring concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, on August 29, 1966, Brian Wise spoke to Kane about his experiences.
You were a reporter from Miami. How did you first get involved with The Beatles? It seems like an unlikely combination when you look at your background.
I was a news director at WFUN in Miami, and I wrote Brian Epstein, their manager, a letter, asking them for one single interview in Jacksonville. I got a letter back, very quickly, inviting me with an itinerary to a 25 city, 35 day tour, starting in August 19th of that year for the sum of $3000 to cover travel costs for 35 days. I went to my boss and said, “Wonderful opportunity, but not for me.”
The Vietnam War is raging, the racial tensions are developing across the country, Cubans are coming to Miami at a record clip where I lived. Muhammed Ali had just won the world heavyweight championship. The world was changing after the assassination of The President. This is exactly what I say, and I say it in the movie, “Why would a journalist like me want to travel with a band, a band that will be here in September, and gone in November?” That shows you, Brian, just how bright I was.
How were you finally persuaded to go on that tour, Larry?
They told me I had to go. I had a 41 pound tape recorder, reel to reel, and I met them on September 18th, 19th, 1964, and the rest is history.
Can you describe what it was like being on tour with them? Was it chaos because they suddenly became a sensation, particularly after the Ed Sullivan Show? What was it like being on tour with them?
The one great thing about Ron Howard’s new movie is that he’s done this so well, that when I first saw the film, the first version of it in April with my wife, first of all, I couldn’t believe that I was in so much of it.
Secondly, I got chills because he was bringing me back to the days when I traveled with them. I felt a sensation of being back there. Since I was there, I can imagine what viewers of this film are going to think world wide when they see it, because it’s a realistic film with rare footage of the commotion and extreme motion of the early days of The Beatles’ tours. When I tell you that you will be floored by the rare footage of the guys onstage, the comments about what they were like in private, you will be just blown away.
This film has been rated by reviewers, the lowest rating was a 4. They got a lot of 5’s and I will tell you right now, that Ron Howard has put together a masterpiece. In Australia, for example, the tremendous, tremendous level of footage, the cities in Australia they went to … And frankly, to be very honest with you the crowds in Australia were the biggest mass crowds in the world.
In Adelaide, 300,000 people showed up, and at the time, 900,000 people lived in the city. The video’s incredible. What it was like to travel with them? It was just one insane day after another. A universal expression of cultural change. Young women sitting in their chairs looking at them with their eyes wide open, so wide open they all thought that one of them was singing to them. When Paul McCartney was singing, “All My Loving,” the girls thought he was singing to them.
I got letters later, from teenagers who wrote to me, “Mr. Kane, thank you for your coverage, will you write to George and tell him that I will meet him at this shopping mall in Phoenix, Arizona on November 15 so we can begin our relationship?” It was just unbelievable.
I’d never seen anything like it, and a week and a half in, this doubter, started to realize that this was more than just a band. This was a cultural change and suddenly women who, when I grew up in high school in the late 1950’s, it was unheard of for a woman to express herself in public that way. The passion was there, the craziness was there, the lack of security was there. The tremendous human tide of missiles of young women trying to rush the stages and police officers trying desperately not to hurt them, as they were hurting themselves.
In one town alone, Vancouver, British Columbia, there were 20,000 people at Empire Stadium. 7,000 of them rushed the stage. When you see the video, and you see the motion of what happened, it’s pretty remarkable.
[I had a small experience of it myself having just turned a teenager and going in to see them at the Southern Croos Hotel in Melbourne where they were staying. I went in with my sister and nearly got trampled by the crowd. I remember vividly having to duck into a doorway to avoid being trampled upon. It was a bit of a frenzy, and you’re right, the crowds here were enormous.]
You’ve covered politics, you’ve interviewed presidents, so you’re no stranger to being close to fame, what was it like being next to The Beatles, who were, as you said, a phenomenon. It’s obviously an experience that’s had a lifelong effect on you.
It did have an effect on me. Very few people have asked what effect it had. First of all, I learned about traveling, about staying up 18 hours a day, filing reports every day with archaic equipment, a 40 pound tape recorder and alligator clips that I would attach the nodules with telephones. Where was the iPhone when I needed it?
I also learned a lot about them. They were four 19 year olds, 20 year olds, just about a 20 year old, George Harrison. Paul McCartney is three months older than I was, at 21. John and Ringo were at 23. They had tremendous panache, extraordinary class. The thing that shocked me the most about them, and one of the reasons I got along with them so well, was their intellectual curiosity.
Many of the older, when I say older, 30, 40, 50 year old reporters, would treat them with an overt benign neglect. They would treat them as a ridiculous act. They would ask them questions like, “What kind of a woman do you like, redhead, blonde, brunette? What kind of a figure do you like? Do you wash your hair? Do you shower every day? What did you eat for breakfast?”
I would ask them questions about the war in Vietnam, about the racial situation, immigration riots in Europe, the Royal Family, about things that happened the day before at the concerts, about preparing for themselves, about their history, and that’s why they liked me.
I wasn’t somebody who was asking them silly questions, although, we were polar opposites. I will never forget my first meeting. I met with Ringo, who was lovely, started talking about world affairs, about war, about the assassination of The President.
George was just delightful to be with. Everybody said that he was the quiet one, not at all. In 1965 we flew from Minneapolis to Portland. We had an emergency landing at The Portland airport. As we were coming down, he repeated this the next day on tape, foam on the runway, fire engines and ambulances, we could see them. George said to me out loud, “Larry, if anything should happen on this plane, it’s Beatles and children first.” He had a great sense of humour and a wonderful personality.
Paul McCartney, never met a microphone onstage or offstage or an audience he didn’t love. He was delightful to be with. John Lennon, well, that was a special case. My first meeting with him was quite acidic. He looked at me up and down and he said, “Who are you? You look like a round peg in a square hole. You’re like from another planet. Are you a nerd from the 1950’s?” I proceeded to rip him apart and we started a conversation about world events. He came running after me in the hall, pulled me around and gave me a big bear hug and said, “I’m really going to be happy traveling with you.” They were very, very good people.
They did some things that very few people know about. One was going in to visit the opening acts, because the opening acts were big names in their own right: Jackie DeShannon, who was a teenage superstar, The Righteous Brothers, The Exciters. Every night they would walk up to the front of the plane, sit down with them and find out if they were okay, because the crowds were screaming for them to get offstage, so The Beatles would go on.
They also did something remarkable for me. My mother died a few weeks before the start of the tour. When I had doubts about going, my mother told me, “These guys are going to be big. Just travel with them, it will change your career.” I was very upset about her death. She died at the age of 40 from Multiple Sclerosis, and both Paul and John sat down with me together to talk about the deaths of their mothers. Paul’s mother died at the age of 14 of cancer, and John’s mother died at the age of about, when John was about 18.
Basically, they had similar experiences. They shared their emotions with me, and certainly made me feel very good about being with them and getting this really human touch that I did.
Interestingly, Larry, you were responsible partly for making sure that when they played Florida in 1964, they didn’t play to a segregated audience. It’s hard to imagine now that audiences were segregated, but that was the situation then.
It really was. You had to understand the history of America, especially the American South. Frankly, the Civil War hadn’t really ended for a long time in America. 100 years later, in 1964, I found out from the station in Miami, that the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, was going to be segregated. I told them this in a hotel room in Las Vegas, and they went berserk. They just went off, led by Paul, followed by John, George and Ringo. They basically said, “We’re not going there,” and this is explored very deeply in this film through a remarkable coincidence, but really, a talent of searching and research on the part of the team that put this film together at White Horse Pictures and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment.
They found a young woman who was actually at the Gator Bowl, in Jacksonville. A young black woman, and she basically talked about what it was like that night. Today, she’s an historian, I think she’s probably in her mid-60’s, or early 60’s, and she basically talked emotionally about what it was like for the first time in her life to sit with white people. To not have to go to a special bathroom at a public event. To not have to go to a water fountain that said, “Colored,” on it. It was just an emotional change for her, and a striking change for the American South, when The Beatles stood out and took a stand on the fact that they believed there’s no reason a person should be barred from any other person simply because their skin color is different than other people.
Larry, it’s 50 years, almost exactly since The Beatles stopped touring. Their last concert in America was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, I think. I guess you would have seen the frenzy in the audience, and the noise. It was probably impossible for them to hear themselves on stage. That touring in America didn’t last very long, did it?
No, basically the cheering lasted through 1965, and then in 1966 there were some controversies. I was in the Military, and managed to travel three times on their flight just to say hello and get reacquainted. They were getting tired of touring. What people don’t know is that from 1959, before Ringo Starr joined the band, and on through 1966 when they stopped touring, they’d probably done over 1500 concerts. They were constantly on the road. They never had a vacation. They’re traveling to Asia, to Canada, to which part of our tour was to three cities in Canada, to South America, to Europe, throughout Europe and the Middle East was phenomenol.
They had basically gotten very tired, and they wanted to have the time in the studio to write more music. They went back into the studio. The last part of this film, considering the danger they faced, is told in a very poignant way, with an extraordinary scene of what turned out to be their final concert. I’m not talking about Candlestick Park.
The viewer will see the full range of emotion and the way that Ron Howard did this, shows the genius of his ability as a filmmaker. I have to tell you that when I saw it, I just got chills watching the film. That’s how he was able to bring people there. I was there and suddenly I was back there again. I felt like I was back on the plane and sitting with the boys in the back, and shooting the breeze.
Thank you so much for talking to me. It was great to catch up, and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the film. It sounds absolutely sensational. I’m looking forward to seeing you in the film as well.
You’ll love it. Thanks so much.