EAR CANDY MAG - June 2010

Interview with Eric Krasker, author of
"THE BEATLES-FACT AND FICTION 1960-1962"

By Ronnie

Intro:
When it comes to any new Beatles book, I play this little game where I try and count up the number of errors that I can spot. Well, I couldn't play this "count the errors" game with with Eric Krasker's book, “The Beatles Fact and Fiction 1960-1962”, because it is one of the most factually accurate Beatles books I have ever read. It is the kind of book that true Beatles fans long to read.

I recently interviewed Eric to try and discover his mindset when writing.

EC: What I really love about “The Beatles Fact and Fiction 1960-1962” is that it is very analytical. In the introduction you have a quote by Thucydides, which states that the historian ”must endeavour to search for the truth, and to do so he must examine the most reliable documents, closest to the related facts, he must compare differing accounts, and he must distrust errors conveyed by commonly help opinion…”. That seems to sum up your entire approach to the book and it is too bad that very few authors of Beatles-related books follow Thucydides’ words. Do you feel your background in history (Master diploma in history) and law enforcement (police captain) gave you an advantage in your approach to your book?

Eric: Well, it was very important for me to quote Thucydides as he was the very first historian to have a “modern” conception of history. And he was the very first to insist on the fact that not only accounts have to be compared and crosschecked, but also that the historian must beware of some documents which could be forgeries. He also must beware of the obvious and should apply rigorous methods whenever investigating. As I said before, all my research was conditioned by my earlier training and I couldn’t have worked in another way. You know, I was so annoyed throughout the years by all the rumours and untrue words that I was reading about the Beatles, that I thought that now that the group’s saga belongs more to history than to the present, it was probably the time to try to debunk some myths once and for all. And, in my opinion, the academic method is the best one to reach the desired aim with.

EC: I’d like to ask a few questions about the background of writing “The Beatles Fact and Fiction 1960-1962”. The initial idea came to you after you saw the movie “Backbeat” (and its many blatant errors), correct?

Eric: Yes, absolutely. This is something which is explained in the introduction of the book. And the film was a kind of alarm bell for me: the power of images is rather strong and dangerous, especially in movies such as Backbeat because the scenario was intentionally dramatized to get a better audience appeal. I suddenly realized that new generations of Beatle fans could seriously be confused after having viewed such a version of facts which can be qualified now as “historical”. So, I thought it was time to lead a serious investigation and separate fact from fiction in order to kill the myths and legends before they would become monsters!

EC: The book contains five chapters, each covering a different topic in Beatles lore between 1960-62. How did you pick these five topics? And, other than these five, were there any other “areas” that you would have liked to explore?

Eric: Well, we can never write the book we want. At the very beginning (namely in 1994), the idea was more ambitious, as the book was supposed to contain at least ten or eleven chapters, and the chronological period was initially from 1957 to 1962! (which would have included the Quarry Men period). However, as time was passing and as I was discovering more and more info, it appeared that every chapter would imply more and more work and painstaking research. I realized it would take me several supplementary years if I wanted to treat all the chapters correctly (and with an equal rigor). It seemed a bit like a bottomless pit. So, I was gradually forced to reduce my chronological period if I wanted to meet a reasonable deadline for the publication of the book. This is how, in 1998, I decided to concentrate my efforts only on the five chapters which are included in the 1960-62 period.

EC: Not having written a book, I’m fascinated by what goes into the research for a book. You show many of the original documents in the book, so you obviously did a lot of research. Once you had the outline of the book and the five topics, what was the research like? How long did it take, and were you surprised by any of your findings?

Eric: Yes, every serious researcher would agree that writing a book like this one implies a lot of research and years of patience. For instance, the documents which are shown in the book don’t come to you with ease. You have to get in touch with several people who sometimes live thousands of miles away and don’t know who you are and whether your work is really serious or not. So, you have to convince them that you’re not some flaky fan but a dedicated historian who tries to make a different book, full of research. Sometimes it works amazingly quickly, but sometimes it could be longer… Thus, at some stage, I had to stop working on one chapter for a moment until I could lay my hands on the eagerly awaited documents coming from Germany, and waiting for them, I was working on another chapter, in order not to lose time. This situation could be very unsettling and alarming though, because you never know if you’ll eventually get the documents or not!

However, I felt particularly relieved when I could exclusively examine some first-hand documents. For instance, among them were the four precious An Technische Prüfstelle (technical control reports) of the legendary My Bonnie LP, which undoubtedly prove that this historic record was released in early April 1962, not later. Of course this was already mentioned on both the mono and stereo Überspielungs-Meldungen (transfert reports) of that record – which were also published for the first time in the book –, but thanks to these supplementary documents, all the doubts were definitely put to rest. In my opinion, this discovery did represent a significant breakthrough in the early Beatles’ history.

Right: The Beatles with Preludin tubes.

EC: I love the book cover and the photo of the Beatles with the Preludin tubes. Were there any other rare Beatles photos that you found but did not include in “The Beatles Fact and Fiction 1960-1962”?

Eric: Well, there are always new photos which surface from time to time, and of course I would have loved to include some supplementary ones in the book, for instance the beautiful colour ones which were taken at the Star-Club in spring 1962, but – for budget reasons – my publisher did not want to increase the colour section in the middle of the book or even to create a second one. In fact I was forced to keep the layout of the original French edition and I was only allowed to add the 28 beautiful B&W documents which are shown at the end of the book. So the main thing was preserved, which is the most important aspect for me.

EC: Your chapter on “The Beatles & Tony Sheridan” really puts to rest several myths about the Beatles: an accurate timeline of events; the definitive word on the Polydor songs; and the contract with “Bert Kaempfert Produktion” (July 1961-June 1962). I was amazed to find that Bert Kaempfert had booked a studio for the 28 & 29 of May 1962 for the Beatles to record 12 songs (but cancelled since both parties signed an agreement winding up the contract on 25 May 1962)! This made me wonder : why didn’t Brian Epstein try to convince (or purchase) Kaempfert to record some of the Beatles originals? Since the Beatles contract was with Kaempfert and not Polydor, Epstein could have shopped these tapes around London trying to get a record deal.

Eric: Well, I think that as a record dealer himself Brian Epstein was really convinced that he would eventually find a record company for the Beatles in their home country. After all, the group was English and I think he saw no reason – especially in those days – to carry on recording with a producer (even the prestigious Bert Kaempfert) who was abroad. That would have been much more complicated as far as management and communication are concerned. Remember that all this happened in 1962 when the numerous opportunities of today did not exist! In Epstein’s eyes, Germany was OK for the group’s training on stage and a good way to wait until he would get them a contract in due form with a British record company, but I don’t think he ever thought they had a future with a domestic recording deal there. Bert Kaempfert Produktion was only an intermediate step for Epstein. Besides, the 12-song LP record which was planned to be recorded on 28 & 29 May 1962 was precisely supposed to be used by the Beatles’ manager for promotional purpose with the English record companies. However, it eventually became unnecessary since Brian got a deal with Parlophone and then the first recording session of the group was planned on 6 June 1962.

EC: Your chapter of the Death of Stu Sutcliffe was the first chapter I read in your book. I had read Alan Clayson’s claim (in “The Walrus Was Ringo-101 Beatles Myths Debunked”) that amphetamine abuse (and or withdrawal) was the real cause of Stu’s death. Again, your timeline of events and quotes by Astrid and Dr. Hommelhof really confirmed my personal opinion that it was drugs, not some head injury, that cause his death. Do you know if the X-rays taken of Stu, shortly after his death, still exist?

Eric: No. Of course it is still possible that the X-rays in question are somewhere in the Sutcliffe family’s archives, but it’s only a supposition on my part and I didn’t have the opportunity to verify it. Actually, I would have been very interested to have a look at them, but I voluntarily decided to make my research with no direct connection with the Sutcliffe family because I didn’t want to be influenced in any way, so that I could keep my complete independence. Anyway, as I say in the book, the only thing which really counts in the end is the post-mortem report conclusion which does not mention any blow in the skull, just a “bleeding into the right ventricle of the brain”. Admittedly, it is likely that the amphetamines played a part in Stu’s death, but to what extent? Unfortunately, this is something which is quite impossible to determine today.

EC: In “The sacking of Pete Best” chapter, you once again bring some new information, that helps explain Pete’s dismissal. You show that in addition to George Martin being skeptical of Pete Best’s abilities, he was not the only producer to do so. Previously Bert Kaempfert expressed reservations, suggesting that Pete not play his bass drum because he would speed up. Additionally, there were three other people that mention Pete’s shortcomings that were at those sessions: Tony Sheridan, Karl Hinze (sound engineer) and Roy Young (pianist). Do you agree that this information seems to point to the area of competency and not jealously?

Eric: Well, in my opinion, Pete’s musical shortcomings have always been at the heart of the problem (although it seems they were not the only reason). I readily admit that jealousy might have played a part in his dismissal, but the situation might have been very different if Pete had been a very good drummer. How could a group who was desperately looking for a recording contract have got rid of an experimented and respected drummer? Indeed, if Pete had been a fantastic musician, he would have massively reduced the risk of being fired from the Beatles.

Let’s look at Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, for instance. Like Pete Best, Charlie has never been like the rest of the Stones: He is taciturn, quiet, has a much less complicated personal life than his bandmates and stays far away from the group’s bustle. He is still with Shirley, the wife he married in 1964. It is also widely known that he has always preferred jazz to rock ’n’ roll. And yet he has always been considered a full-fledged Rolling Stone because his much respected drumming contributed a lot to the Stones’ sound. It was never planned to sack him from the group!

One cannot say the same of Pete Best, though. If he had realized how important the rhythm section was in a rock ’n’ roll band, he probably would have attempted to improve his style and technique, instead of stopping progressing. It’s easier to claim today that jealousy was responsible for his dismissal rather than being self-criticial, being lucid and admitting that his drumming was probably not up to the standard in those days. Obviously, if Pete had given a fine performance on 6 June 1962, George Martin would have made no negative comment about his drumming, and then it would have been much more difficult for the Beatles to find an objective reason get rid of a skilled drummer. After all, who would have taken the risk of changing a winning team?

EC: I have always loved the Star Club tapes since they first came out in 1977. But, until reading your book I was not aware of the amount of editing done to the original tapes. Having acquired the Purple Chick Star Club set, I was curious: why didn’t any of the unedited songs appear on the Anthology? It seems to me like they would have fit perfectly, and the sound quality is probably better than some of the 1969 tracks that were used on the Anthology. Or would that have been a “conflict of interest” since Apple had already sued in regards to the tape?

Eric: Well, I’m not behind the concept of the Anthology series, so I prefer to stay cautious and all I can do is put forward some kind of hypothesis. The Anthology series was broadcast at the end of 1995 and the eight videotapes were subsequently released in the summer 1996. As I said in the book (footnote # 104, page 361), Apple did not hesitate one second to use some songs (including Red Hot) as a medley for the soundtrack of the videotape volume 1, but I still don’t know the exact nature of the tapes they owned at that time. (I just know that during the making of Anthology, Apple got some tapes from several collectors around the world, but I know nothing of their content).

In fact, it seems very likely that Apple didn’t own any of the unedited songs in those days, otherwise they would probably have used them as such, and so this might explain why they decided to include them as a medley only. But once again, it’s only a guess on my part. It should also be pointed out that after 8 May 1998, when the High Court of justice pronounced its final verdict and ruled in favour of the former Beatles, Lingasong was ordered to return the recordings to the group’s lawyers. So Apple is supposed to have got back some supplementary tapes, at least the ones which were used to make the double Lingasong CD. Whether there were some additonal tapes featuring unedited songs among the returned tapes is something I don’t know, though.

Right: Eric Krasker (right) with Mark Lewisohn (middle) and Jean-Claude Hocquet (left). Photo taken at the Beatles Unlimited convention in Utrecht (Holland) on 15 April 2006.

EC: What other writing projects do you have on the horizon? It seems to me that your analytical approach (and police background) would be ideal for a book about the Brian Jones (Rolling Stones) death mystery. Can we expect any more Beatles-related books from you? I’d love to see your “fact and fiction” approach to other years of the Beatles’ story!

Eric: Well, as I explained before, writing books such as this one takes a long time, and it’s not so easy to get good quality information, especially first-hand. However, you can expect something new dealing with the Beatles in the years to come. Along with my co-author/friend Jean-Claude Hocquet, I’m currently working on the second volume of La France et les Beatles. Volume one, which was published in French by Séguier/Atlantica in July 2005, was dedicated to the original French discography, from 1962 to 1970. It includes more than one thousand pictures and previously unpublished release sheets directly from the Odéon-Pathé Marconi archives.

Volume two will be dedicated to the historical part. It will include new information and previously unpublished documents about the prestigious series of concerts at the Olympia theatre in January/February 1964, but the reader will also find complete chapters about the visit of John and Paul in Paris in October 1961, plus the June 1965 concerts at the Paris’ Palais des Sports, at the Palais d’Hiver of Lyon and the Palais des Expositions of Nice, etc. As usual, it will be a painstaking research, full of footnotes and precise references. I cross my fingers so that this volume will be a bilingual one so that that English-speaking people can enjoy the pleasure of discovering this new information at the same time as the French-speaking ones.