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Dedication: To Mal Evans

Mal and JohnOn the eve of publication, I dedicate this book to Mal Evans, the protagonist of our story.

Evans was a real person, having worked with the Beatles from their days in Liverpool all the way through the end of the group in April 1970, and to a lesser extent, with the solo Beatles and with Apple Corps Ltd. for the next six years. He died in 1976 at the hands of two Los Angeles police officers, who mistook his air rifle for a real gun. He apparently was high on Valium and police considered him dangerous.

Mal adored the Beatles. From the minute he heard them playing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in the early 1960s, he was hooked. And he did everything for them. If the band needed a glass of milk or a pair of socks, Mal ran to the store to get them. He drove the band to many gigs, including one in a snowstorm in which a pebble broke the windshield, forcing him to break a hole in the glass so he could see properly. Another time, he broke plastic silverware to create makeshift picks for the band when they wanted to jam with Elvis. He protected the band from a near-riot in the Philippines after they apparently scrubbed First Lady Imelda Marcos.

It didn’t stop there. He contributed to many Beatles classics, including the film “Help!” He sang in “Yellow Submarine,” played piano in “A Day in the Life” and organ in “You Won’t See Me.” He accompanied the Beatles on their trip to India to see the Maharishi, and subsequently played tambourine on “Dear Prudence.” He played trumpet on “Helter Skelter.”

And it got even more bizarre. He was the silver hammer on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” playing an anvil in time with the song. He rang the alarm clock in “A Day in the Life.” He shoveled gravel as a rhythm track on the bizarre “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number).” And according to Evans’ diaries, he even helped compose some songs on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

He did all this for £38 per week – about $58, or the salary of a clerical worker.

Mal Evans setting up a drumIt was a labor of love for Mal, but he seems to be forgotten in most of the Beatles’ stories. When I mention my book to people, they’ve obviously heard of the Beatles, but have never heard of Mal. As luck would have it, Mal was about to publish his memoirs when he was shot, but they weren’t even found until a few years ago; his chance at stardom and immortality was lost with his death.

This book gives Mal a view into what the 1970s would have been like if fate hadn’t broken up the Beatles. New music, new albums, and the legacy of the Beatles growing by leaps and bounds. If you didn’t think they could get any bigger, read this book. It also shows readers what an insider he really was, and how much the members relied on him through the years – even if they sometimes didn’t realize it.

I hope that Mal would enjoy my trip through the 1970s, seeing new Beatles albums being created – and being at the center of the greatest rock n’ roll legacy of all time. As long as he was along for the ride, he would have cherished every moment of it. And he deserves it.

The Beatles Apart: Ringo Starr

Ringo StarrWhen the Beatles broke up in 1970, one would naturally fear for dearest Ringo Starr. The other three had established themselves as talented songwriters, but Ringo was, well, Ringo. He was a great drummer. But he was the funny one, the odd man out, the tone-deaf musician who depended upon the other three.  Stephen Colbert once proclaimed “Paul the cute one; John the smart one; George the quiet one; and Ringo the luckiest man on earth.”

Sure enough, of the four musicians, Ringo was the least successful as a solo artist. But realizing this, he made up for it in other areas, adding such jobs to his resume as actor and entrepreneur. With low expectations, he recorded several huge singles, kept his name in the spotlight and over time has seemed to be the most comfortable with his status as an ex-Beatle.

So what does a drummer do for a solo career after his cash cow abruptly calls it quits? At first, Ringo struggled to find his voice, so to speak, releasing two albums of cover songs – an album of standards and a country-western album. But in 1973, he asked his former bandmates to contribute songs and play on a new album, Ringo.

It was payback time. Ringo always wanted to lend a hand to musicians., and his contributions over the years include playing drums for Harry Nilsson, Carly Simon, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Paul Simon and of course, Paul, John and George. Ringo was the only member that got along with the other Beatles. (Although George Harrison would play on a few of John Lennon’s albums, their relationship was testy at times, and neither had any relationship with Paul McCartney.) And when Ringo needed help, all three ex-Beatles gladly agreed to contribute. Ringo was a smashing success and stands as the closest the Beatles ever came to a reunion:

  • John contributed a song that he had written a few years earlier called “I’m the Greatest” (He said that only Ringo could pull off a line like “I’m the greatest – and you better believe it baby!” and not sound egotistical).
  • Paul wrote a charming song called “Six O’Clock” and sang backup vocals on it and another song, “You’re Sixteen.”
  • George wrote and performed on the hit song “Photograph,” which rocketed to No. 1 in the United States.

And then there was “It Don’t Come Easy,” a song Ringo actually wrote. Produced by George, it proved to be a huge hit – probably the only song from his catalogue that most people recognize. Punctuated by horns and George’s trademark slide guitar, the simple melody lended itself well for Ringo’s voice.

It was the highlight of his solo career. And the fall from the top was quick.

1974’s Goodnight Vienna tried to copy the success of Ringo, using John as the composer for several songs, but the quality was not quite as good, and critics were cool. Then came a host of bad albums, each failing worse than the previous, with singles amounting to nothing more than novelty songs (e.g., “Oh My My,” “No No Song,” “Oo-Wee” and “Snookeroo”). He went from record label to record label and battled alcoholism before finding new support in 1989 in the form of his All-Starr Band – a revolving group of famous musicians ranging from Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton to Howard Jones and Ringo’s son, Zak Starkey.

Ringo seemed to handle being on his own a lot better than the other three ex-Beatles. Having stolen the show in the Beatles’ big-screen debut, “A Hard Day’s Night,” he found limited success in B-movies such as “Blindman,” “Son of Dracula” and “Caveman.” He narrated the children’s show “Thomas the Tank Engine” and appeared in numerous commercials, from Pizza Hut to Oldsmobile. He even started his own furniture company in 1971.

His last few albums have seen a return to the Beatlesque sound that his bandmates perfected, and he has used such Beatle wannabees as Jeff Lynne and the members of Jellyfish on his recordings. He is one of only two surviving members of the greatest band of all time. It’s rare company, and he seems to enjoy the role more than ever.

What if I Don’t Know Anything About the Beatles?

The Beatles with a question mark over themThis is a question I’ve gotten a few times from friends who, for some reason, just haven’t listened to the Beatles that much. They wonder whether they’d understand enough about what’s going on, whether they would get the inside nuances that only Beatle fans might understand.

Granted, you get more out of the book the bigger the fan you are. You understand all the solo songs that might go on a future Beatles album, and you recognize the bit players in the Beatles’ history. But for the rest of you, not to worry. This book is mainly about Mal Evans and the journey he takes throughout the 1970s. And very little is known about Evans.

I have taken great care into trying to describe each song, putting it and each event into its proper context, and giving even non-fans an idea about how all the songs might fit together. I include sections at the end that explain what really happened during the 1970s, and how you can create your own fantasy Beatles albums by splicing together solo album cuts from the four. I also explain why each song made it onto the fantasy albums. If you don’t know who Geoff Emerick is (He was the Beatles’ sound engineer), I tell you.

As Jim Bartlett said, the book moves at a quick pace, and you’ll find yourself wrapped up in the story without wondering what the song “Isolation” really sounds like. Of course, if you’re interested, you can always buy the solo albums or listen to it on Spotify to get a real feel for what’s happening. That’s what I recommend. The Beatles’ journey was one thing. The unplanned journey through the 1970s is a bumpy ride, but it’s full of surprises and beautiful music.

First review!

The first review is in, and it’s a good one! Fellow blogger Jim Bartlett of The Hits Just Keep on Comin’ has posted a review of The Life and Death of Mal Evans. In short, he says the book has been “meticulously planned and is scrupulously written. It’s terrific entertainment, too. It moves quickly, and that’s a good thing, because once you’re into the story, you want to know what happens next.”

Thanks to Jim for the kind words. Stay tuned for more reviews!

Why I Wrote ‘The Death and Life of Mal Evans’

For years, the story of the Beatles’ breakup has bothered me.

It seemed so…unnecessary, so incomplete. They had just finished what was arguably their best album, Abbey Road, and judging from their first solo works after the Beatles, they were still at or near their creative peak. So why did it have to happen? And more importantly, what would have happened if they had put aside their arguing and continued to record albums?

That was where I started with my book. Some 10 years ago, before Facebook, Twitter and Reddit created a forum for people with similar interests to talk and chat, there were newsgroups – discussion boards on hundreds of topics. (Anyone remember them?) And I found in the newsgroup rec.music.beatles that there were many people who asked the same question I did: What if? What if they had stayed together? What would the next Beatles album have sounded like? Members debated incessantly on the inclusion of a certain song, giving their reasons why it would or wouldn’t have made a good Beatles cut. These were diehard fans.

Like other members of the newsgroup, I made my own fantasy Beatles albums, tweaked them, and while I listened to the fictional masterpieces, I wondered how the four would have gotten along during the 1970s, how they all would have stayed together given the cracks that were showing in the group in 1969.

About that same time, I discovered the tragic figure of Mal Evans – a man who gave his heart and soul to the Beatles, only to see his life crumble without them during the 1970s. He, more than anyone, I thought, would have asked that question that we all wondered in the newsgroup.

I wanted to give Mal a second chance to relive the 1970s with his group. I wanted to hear new Beatles albums full of the four’s best solo songs, a majestic collection of music. And most of all, I wanted to see what happened to the four members as they lived through this alternate reality.

Yes, this book is a novel. It’s pure fiction, a dream within a work of fiction, the ultimate “What if?” Some things remain true to what really happened (I didn’t make John and Paul a comedy team, or Ringo an astronaut). But the important thing to remember is that the Beatles remain together after 1970. This book allows us to pretend for just a little longer that the world’s greatest band made more wonderful music for us, for Mal, and for themselves.

Off to the designer…

I finally had to part with my manuscript yesterday, sending it to my book designer, Rebecca Shaw, for layout. I also sent the covers as well. A few days before, we made some decisions on typeface, page numbers, and slight changes to the cover.

I wanted one more look at it to find that typo and grammatically incorrect sentence that I know are still out there; no matter how many times people have looked at it, I know there’s at least one more that’s still hiding out there. But I was so sick of reading through it that it all went by in my head too fast. I couldn’t even get through the whole thing. (Note to self: the gremlins probably lie in the second half of the book, since I’ve read the first part so many times.)

I hope to read through it one more time -out loud – before it goes off to be published.