Friday, February 25, 2011

Before the Beatles were the Beatles and then there was Billy Preston


This story was told to me by Leroy Cooper during our first session and I transcribed it from the recording. First I wanted to corroborate the story since Leroy was 78 years old and I was checking on his memory. He insisted the club was the Star Club and that they did NOT have a regular drummer during Ray's gig at the club. When I saw Paul, John and George in their 'cowboy clothes' just as Leroy described them I felt I would publish his personal memory of the events that followed. It is all in his own voice.

This is an excerpt from Leroy Cooper's memoir as told to me back in 2007. The material is copyrighted by Susan Cross and cannot be copied, published or duplicated without permission.


In Hamburg, Germany, I was with Ray and we played in a place called the Star Club. It was a very popular venue in Hamburg at the time. It was very impressive. They met us at the airport with Mercedes Benz convertibles, a whole parade of them.

We went to the club and there was a house band playing there. There was all these guys with English accents and they were wearing cowboy clothes and boots. That seemed real funny to us because they were from England, not from the States. Every night, all we did was play shows but they had to play for the dancing and we used to laugh because they had this black drummer at the time. He was a showman. He really impressed me. He was in the Air Force and just passing through, fillin’ in. We lived at the same hotel as this band

They would say, “Come on over and listen to some records,” in their English accent. You know and we used to hang with them. There were two or three of us to a room because we weren’t making the big bucks, and these guys were all bunched up in one room. We would go and listen to records. Back then, they weren’t the Beatles yet.

So when they came to the States to be on the Ed Sullivan show we were watching these guys and somebody said, “Hey, they are the same guys that were in Hamburg, Germany. They changed their haircuts.” When we first saw them in Germany they were playing rock ‘n’ roll. Now they were doing this other music.

I said, “Wow, they made it. They made it.” From then on they were the Beatles and they were big, big, big, big. What a difference a day makes. What a difference.

*****

Billy Preston

One year we were in Liverpool and we usually packed the place out, but this time the crowd was a little slim. We asked what’s happening?

They said, “They have a local group that’s real big. And they’ve got a movie out A Hard Day’s Night.” We had a big show that same night and that sort of hurt our crowd. So I said this new outfit must be dy-no-mite!

In Ray’s band at the time, Billy Preston was sitting next to me on the front line. He played organ and I played the baritone sax, and he met The Beatles at the rock ‘n’ roll show over here in the States.

Years later we were over in England again and the guys were laughing at Billy, saying the Beatles are big and you are supposed to be such good friends with them and everything.

I said “Why don’t you call them?” You know how guys put you on. “Have another drink. Why don’t you call the Beatles, you’re supposed to know them so much.”

He said, “Okay I’ll call ‘em,” We thought we could get a good laugh.

He calls and the housekeeper answers and she said, “They’re not in at the moment and did you want to leave a message?” So he left a message. Two or three days later he heard from one of them.

They said, “This is so and so and we bought your record contract.” At the time Billy was signed up with Ray Charles. They said, “Oh yeah, we bought it and we want you to join the group.” After that, he was like the fifth Beatle.

This must have been in the ‘60s. I remember he was driving a little ‘67 Plymouth and he was getting five hundred a week. He was always complaining about money.

“I’m tired of these cheeseburgers and I got to have more money,” he told Ray. He got with the Beatles and the next time I saw him he had a white Rolls Royce.

One time we were playing in San Francisco at The Fairmont Hotel there up on Nob Hill. It was real ritzy. We were on stage and I said, “Ray, Billy Preston’s in the audience.”

Ray said, “Aw he’s too big to sing with us now.”

Somebody announced Billy. McCartney and the other guys brought him up to the bandstand and he stayed up on the bandstand with us the rest of the night. The Beatles were sitting right next to him in the audience and Billy stayed up there with us. He didn’t forget. He admired Ray. I’ve never seen anything like him.

Anything Ray would play on the piano Billy would play exactly what Ray was playing and I thought this boy is a genius!

He was a young man at the time. He was so young guys would tell him how to dress. He was eating cheeseburgers and milk shakes. And I didn’t get to see him after he got to be a big wheel. He used to come through here and I was determined to try to get out to see him but you know you can’t get to people when they get that big. It changes.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Callback

This story was written as a follow up to a previous Friday Flash called The Audition which can be viewed here.
© Susan Cross

The phone rang. Her mother answered and called to her, “It’s the agency, dear.” She couldn’t believe it—she had gotten a call back from her audition! After setting the appointment she went and packed her satchel to head out to the train station.

Before she knew it she was seated comfortably heading for the city. She followed the same rituals as last time, using the toilet, washing her face, pulling her hair back. She wore the same white blouse tucked into straight-legged jeans with her red belt pulled tight accentuating her waist. Truth be told, these were the only clothes she had that didn’t give away her small town origins.

Before she knew it she was walking toward the office and opening the door. There was only one other girl in the small waiting area. She took a seat and shyly struck up a conversation with the other woman. This woman was wearing a suit and looked much older than she was, maybe in her mid 30s.

“Hi. I’m Mary Jane. I’ve never been called back after an audition before,” she said to the stranger.

“Don’t be nervous Mary Jane. I’ve been here many times. I’ve even gotten a few jobs for my troubles. My name is Abigail. Perhaps you’ve seen some of my TV spots although you probably wouldn’t know it if you did.” Abigail laughed at that notion, and then continued. I like your red belt. Do you have lipstick to match?” she asked.

“Well, no. I don’t usually wear makeup. I just focus on my hands, keeping the nails trimmed and lacquered,” Mary Jane replied.

“Well, I think you might look good with some lipstick. You should try it some time. Red would be a good color, sort of like mine. It would make the color in your belt pop, as they say, and perhaps you would be considered for other ads if you got noticed.”

Mary Jane only wore lipstick on special occasions. A local square dance; a movie date with James and occasionally when she and her mother went to a mother-daughter luncheon at the local women’s club. She chose the softer, more delicate shades.

“Mary Jane Tomlinson?” the receptionist said, her voice lilting into a question mark. She had assumed that Abigail would go first since she had been waiting longer. This didn’t seem to disturb Abigail, though. Mary Jane rose and followed the receptionist into a hallway.

She was ushered into a small office and a man invited her to have a seat. There were no family pictures on his desk or walls. The d├ęcor consisted of posters for various ad campaigns.

“I’m Mr. Ballinger. I assume you’re Mary Jane?” he said as he reached out his hand and took hers gently. “You really stood out in the audition. Your hands are very special and the way you applied our product was just perfect. I would like to see that again if you don’t mind,” he said.

“Of course, Mr. Ballinger.” Mary Jane felt her heart beating a little faster. He had noticed her!

Mr. Ballinger had a bottle of the moisturizer on his desk and handed it to her offering her a seat. She sat down.

“I’d like you to put a small pea-size dab on the top of your left hand and rub it across your skin slowly and sensually. Look down at your hand as you’re doing it and make your facial expression match the feel of the lotion.”

Mary Jane did as she was told.

“Now turn your hand over and put a little bit larger dab onto the palm of your hand. Yes, just like that. Look down and rub the lotion liberally on the palms of your hands.”

Mary Jane’s eyes were closed as she felt the warmth of the lotion on her skin. As her eyes opened just a crack she saw that Mr. Ballinger had unzipped his pants. She saw his ‘thing’ standing up high as he moved towards her. She was afraid she was going to be sick.

“I want to feel the lotion now. Are your hands still moist? Place your left hand in my pants under my balls and hold them, not too tight.”

Mary Jane was horrified! What had she gotten herself into? She wanted to run out the door but she also wanted the job.

“Now with your right hand stroke my cock from the bottom to the top and back again. Yes, just like that. Keep moving your hands like that. It feels very good.”

Within a few minutes, she couldn’t maintain her calm disposition and she pulled her hands away. “I’m sorry Mr. Ballinger, but I just can’t do this. I thought you called me back because you liked my audition and I was going to get the job as a hand model. But I can’t do this.”

“Wait Mary Jane. I think you’ve done a wonderful job. If you’re able to come back next week, we can shoot the commercial and possibly some stills for print magazines as well. Would that be alright?”

“I-I guess so. You’re serious? About the job, I mean? You wouldn’t ask me to do this again?”

“No, no. Next week is the photo shoot. You can make the appointment with my receptionist on the way out. Really I was just testing the product and I believe it’s good. Thank you for coming in.”

Mary Jane moved quickly past him to the door and into the reception area. She glanced at Abigail and wondered if she had been asked to do the same thing in order to get her jobs. Maybe Abigail was his girlfriend and had held back that information. She made the appointment and as she turned to leave she asked Abigail what she thought about the hand lotion.

“Hand lotion? I’m here about the lipstick commercial, sweetie. Did you get the job?”