Meeting the Beatles

Most of us dream of encountering the Fabs. Some actually do.

This account comes from an email to me that Tom has graciously allowed me to post here. It's the way he wrote it, with a very few minor grammatical changes made by me. Certainly a dream come true.

As told by Tom Hartman. Copyright 1996. All rights reserved. This story may not be redistributed without the permission of the author or .

I've been trying to type out the whole story of our group, for my kids' sake if nothing else, so that when I'm gone someone will know what happened. Here's a short version....and it's long....(grin)

We were a young bunch of kids in St.Louis, Mo. Our band's name was The AeroVons. I was 17. We were a four-man group that did lots of Beatles tunes.

My Mom, who managed us, took our group and a demo that we had done to London (where we got the money, I have no idea) and got us appointments at Decca/London and EMI . Dick Rowe sat across from me and the group and listened, and then said "Well, not going to make the same mistake twice...," winked, and offered us a contract for a single (I didn't know what that statement meant until someone explained it that wild or what?).

At EMI they loved us. Mom told them Decca had offered us an advance of a few thousand dollars (they hadn't) and EMI matched the offer. Geez, Mom was good ;)

The details of how we got in to EMI and Decca are a little involved, suffice to say it happened, out of sheer determination by her, really. She really wanted to capture this dream for me. She passed away last year and to the end, I still thanked her for it.

This was in fall of 1968. For some reason, EMI didn't want to record us until the next March. They told us to go home and write lots of songs all winter, and they said, while we were there, we should see the studio, and some key sights in London. They set us up with a pass to visit The Speakeasy, a private disco in London.

The night we went, Paul was there with Jane Asher (many have thought I was wrong and that by this time it should have been Linda....but it WAS Jane...I know, I had a huge crush...)

To make a long story short, we walked up to him and introduced ourselves. He stopped and leaned back against a wall and spoke with us for about 10 minutes. He was very, very nice. I asked him about some guitar sounds, and he asked us where we were from, all that stuff, and our bassist reached over my shoulder and handed him one of our cards, saying "Paul, I know this is a lot to ask...but...," whereupon Paul immediately said "Oh...a LOT to ask," and smiled. He signed it. I said "Nobody's gonna believe this when we get home" and Paul said "Ah, yes..but now you've got this....," holding it up and smiling. We thanked him and left.

Later that evening, we realized there was four of us, and one autograph. By the end of the night when the lights came up, I walked up to him again (youth knows no fear, but I did feel embarrassed as hell) and said "Paul, I'm sorry to bother you again, but our bass player just got very possessive with the autograph you gave, and..." He looked up and said "OK, alright, have you got a pen??" I whipped one out and handed him 3 more cards, and he signed them, smiled and we all said a huge thanks. Nobody can tell me that he's a jerk. He was really nice to do that. I still have the autograph, of course....

Later that week, we were given the tour of the studios. The guard that was walking us through was suddenly joined by Mal Evans right in the middle of the hallway, on the way to Studio 2. I recognized him immediately, and was thrilled to death. He was a big, friendly bear. He was flattered that we all recognized him. I asked him if he was really in that ice water in the mountains in "Help!" and he said "Yeah, that was really me." I said, "How did you not get frozen to death?" "Oh, just lots and lots of coffee" he chuckled. Pretty quiet and unassuming.

So we all walk in Studio 2, and the first thing we see is Ringo's drums, with the "LOVE" drumhead from Mystery Tour, sitting off in the corner.

"Are those Ringo's...", I stammered...

"Yeah..he just leaves him up, y'know.." Mal says.

So we're walking around when I notice someone who looks like George up in the control room, looking down on us.

"Is that George?" we ask .... (It's hard to tell..the control room is up some steps about 40 feet and it's hard to see through the glass clearly.)

"Yeah, he's working on a soundtrack right now." ("Wonderwall")

"Don't guess you could get him to come down?" "No, he's very busy."

So Mal, my Mom, and the others, including the EMI official giving us the tour, are rambling on about stuff like "Over there is the mike cabinets..." and I just said, "To hell with it, this is my only chance" and looked up at the window, pointed to him, and motioned toward us, as if to say "Come down here!". He immediately vanished from the window. I thought, "Great. That scared him off."

But wonder of wonders. Suddenly the control room door opens, out comes George, and he looks down at us, probably particularly at my Mom's big camera.

"Are you with a magazine?" he shouts down. "No!," I said. "We're just a group that's going to be recording here." "Oh, Ok," he says. And he starts coming down the steps.

We were astounded, stunned, you name it. This is two Beatles in one week. We are hitting the proverbial jackpot. But this is broad daylight, not in a nightclub, and George is coming toward us and holds his hand out to shake. You had some REAL nervous kids here.

I asked him if he had time for a few questions and he said, "Sure." So I proceeded to ask him about a million guitar questions. He asked us where we were from, told me Paul was wrong about the guitar question I asked him (George's answer made more sense ... and was ultimately true!). But he couldn't remember a lot.

I ask him something about the guitar in "Got to Get You Into My Life" and he said, "Was there brass in that one?" We all laughed a little.

He asked us if we had heard Eric Clapton, and said, "He practices like 12 hours a day, and then people call me a guitarist.."

We assured him he was indeed a guitarist, and asked him some more stuff. Finally, he excused himself. The picture is framed, and I can look up at it from where I type this, in my room. A remarkable day for me.

A couple months later, my Mom and I returned to London to sign contracts. (Why didn't we do it by mail? I have no idea) While I was there, EMI asked if I'd like to see a recording session, and said I could see Frankie Vaughn or The Hollies. I jumped on the Hollies invitation.

I watched them record a song called " Man With No Expression", which was only recently released on their huge compilation CD set. After staying for awhile (and going to a pub with them for a drink on a break!!!), I said thanks and left, only to find The Beatles were now down the hallway recording "Yer Blues" and "Sexy Sadie."

I just roamed around the studio for a while, and that's how I saw them working on those tunes. That was truly amazing.

I didn't hang too long, because they would look up and you could tell they were starting to notice that someone was hanging around.

To make things worse, a groupie came down the hall and really squelched it. I don't know how she got in.

Paul came out of the control room and said "Are you all with someone?" I felt like an idiot. I said "Uh, no, I was just here with The Hollies, and I'm waiting to be picked up." That seemed to please him, but he told the girl, "Well, you see, we're working, and if you hang around out here, we can't work well, y'know." I walked off with him basically telling her she should leave. Still, another example of him really being cool when he could have said "Beat it." I wonder how many of today's groups would be that polite.

We returned in March and did our LP. One day, or night, I don't remember, we heard them working on "Old Brown Shoe" seemingly forever. I saw George in the hallway and talked to him again for awhile (he didn't remember meeting me the previous fall ). Again, very gracious and patient with the questions, and explained the strange "Value for Money" principle at EMI. That said that a given record shouldn't have too much bass, or treble on it, because the buyer wasn't getting his money's worth if it did. Is that weird or what? George was kind of shaking his head and rolling his eyes about it.

We went on to record our LP with an engineer who was a fellow Beatle fan as our tape operator. He played us "Oh! Darlin' " one night after The Beatles had left, and it was amazing. We heard it in the control room, off the 8-track master. Stunning. We just wanted to shoot ourselves and go home. We were truly in the land of the Gods.

For a while, Norman Smith was our producer. We asked him some Beatle things, but I don't think we understood who he was. We knew he did a bunch of their recordings, but for some reason I don't remember badgering him much about it. I asked him why "I'm Looking Through You" had a false start on the American stereo LP (or was it the mono..I forget...) and he was surprised. He knew nothing about it. Then I asked him why the cymbal crashes in "No Reply" are cut so short after each "I saw the light" line. He didn't know. Finally, I remember asking him if he remembered the "I Want to Hold Your Hand" session, and he said," They were very loud, I remember that." So much for Norman.

On a few tracks Geoff Emerick sat in. That was a treat. A truly great engineer, extremely soft spoken and polite. A true gentleman with terrific ears. We didn't get him much, as he was with the Beatles doing "Abbey Road" most of the time.

Know what was really weird? Recording in Studio 2 late at night. These red "mood lights" would be on, casting an eerie glow on the big studio, and the other lights would be off. I'd look around if I was down there by myself doing a guitar part or something and think "This is where "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" were made. What AM I doing here???"

Particularly spooky was the harmonium over in the corner. I played the "We Can Work It Out" pattern on it and it sounded like the record. Your hands would actually tremble. I'm not kidding. The Steinway was there (with lots of cigarette burns) and playing "Lady Madonna" on it was equally disconcerting. This was truly the room it all came from, and it was really obvious.

Final quick story. We kept our equipment in the same room as The Beatles. It was apparently a storage room, and since their stuff was there, EMI just said, "Go ahead and keep in there, just don't bother their stuff." So naturally, late at night, we did. We took a load of pictures with us holding their guitars, and me holding the famous "The Beatles" drumhead. I've got one of those framed too.

Anyway, one day I shorted out a guitar cable during a session. I went upstairs, heading for the equipment room, to get another. Our drummer said, jokingly, "John's down the hall, ask if you can borrow one of theirs. I don't think we have another one." It was just kinda of a joke. I said "OK, I will."

I had intended to walk toward John and then walk right by, to fake Mike out, but as I got closer, John, who was standing in the hall talking to Yoko, looked at her and said "Just a minute...." and looked right up at me as I came near. I felt like a jerk. Now I HAD to say something.

"Uh, John," I said, "we're recording in Studio 2 and I just broke a guitar cable. We keep our stuff in your equipment room. Do you have a cable I could borrow?" "Do you know Mal or Kevin?," John asked. "Yes," I said. "Yeah, well go tell them I said it was OK," John said.

"Aw, thanks John, thanks," I said, stumbling off, almost running.

So that was my big meeting with John. But see, he didn't say "get lost" either. They really were like ordinary guys. Walking around them, you just couldn't believe it was really them. One day Paul came out and saw us sitting on the couch in the front waiting room. "Hi " he said, and we all acknowledged.

Ten minutes later, he comes out again, walks by, looks at us and points a finger. "I'm not gonna say hi this time ....," smiles and keeps walking. So we even got a little Beatle humor, too.

Anyway, that's some of it all. Needless to say, it was the thrill of a lifetime.

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This page debuted Jan. 18, 1996.