For decades, Beatle fans have shared in the knowledge of the “Trinity Team” of Brian Epstein, George Martin, and Dick James. Their talents and dedication- Epstein as the band’s business manager, Martin as in-studio producer/arranger and fellow experimenter of sound, and James as music publisher- were the dream team of support that didn’t just make the Beatles famous, they lead to them becoming iconic.
But before this “Trinity Team” evolved, there were three other men whose actions in helping, sponsoring, and supporting the Beatles in their rise and final “discovery” to Brian Epstein and the world. Their activities were essential to the band’s eventual success. Without them, there may have been no Beatles.
None of the following three men shared in the riches and fame soon bestowed upon the Beatles. Nevertheless, here is a story of those who changed music and pop history with their actions, although they didn’t know it at the time.
3- Allan Williams
Standing a prideful 5’ 3’’, Allan Williams was the owner of the Jacaranda club in the city center of Liverpool. A hang-out for many students of Liverpool’s College of Art, it had become a regular haunt for John, Paul, George, and Stu. The Welshman who had an unusually high voice for a man also had a bohemian streak to become a concert promoter.
As Williams grew in his role as a promoter he increased opportunities for booking local Liverpool talent. His eventual association with Stuart Sutcliffe (who was commissioned to paint a mural in the basement for the Jacaranda) led to the Beatles getting their first rock & roll tour gig as the back-up band for pop singer Johnny Gentle. Williams then took what he had learned from working the clubs in Liverpool and tried his hand in the international game, seeing an opportunity to export the exploding British band scene to the hot clubs in Hamburg, Germany.
The German musician population had not yet produced their own rock bands who were keen to play the loud, rhythmic, and rebellious sounds coming from the USA. That form of music fit perfectly in a city that had become known as the post-WWII version of Sin City, availing work to strippers, mobsters, prostitutes, and rock and roll bands. Williams was initially given a chance to book bands with German club owner Bruno Koschmider, the club owner of two establishments (The Indra and Kaiserkeller clubs).
Surprisingly at this point, Allan Williams was not a big fan of the Beatles. He considered booking several other local bands (including Ringo’s band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes) but found that none was available or willing to go abroad in just seven days. That’s when Williams finally reached out to the Beatles to request that they take the four-week engagement. So, on August 15, 1960, Williams took it upon himself to personally drive members of his family, all of the Beatles, (with new drummer, Pete Best) and their musical equipment packed his van to the ferry at the British port of Harwich, with an eye to sail overnight to the hook of Holland.
Time and again, over their 36-hour trek to Hamburg, Williams proved to be more than just a booking agent for the boys. He was more like their den mother, managing their mix of youthful energy along with the naiveté of city kids visiting a foreign land for the first time in their lives. The band often said rude things about him behind his back, snickering like school kids frightened of authority. Nevertheless, Williams packed food and drink for the group’s journey and saw to it that all their paperwork was in order to make the trip. He even convinced suspicious immigration authorities with his humble smile that the leather-clad musicians were not making money in their country, just “students” on their way to Germany for a concert appearance.
The Beatles would not return from Hamburg without becoming the hit of the club circuit. The Hamburg trip manifested in the Beatles transforming the band’s talent by clocking 205 stage hours (equivalent to 136 ninety-minute shows at home). When Williams returned to Hamburg to check on the band in early October, he was stunned how good they had become in just over 7 weeks, and then had a hand in extending their engagement until the end of the year…..guaranteeing more stage time toward their development. Without this initial opportunity crafted by Allan Williams, the intense apprenticeship period of the Beatles may have never happened and they may have been just another band.
For his trouble, the Beatles ended up stiffing Williams out of his 10% commission pay for most of their Hamburg bookings. He later began to take legal action against them but lost his adrenalin to follow-through. After originally swearing he’d have nothing to do with the band again, he soon welcomed them back to his Jacaranda club. His last duty as a departing manager was to tell the prospecting Brian Epstein his advice; “The Beatles? Don’t touch them with a F-ing barge pole.”
2- Bob Wooler
Being born in 1926 made Bob Wooler at least 15 years older than any of the Beatles as well as most of the kids who frequented Liverpool’s Cavern Club where he was the DJ and Master of Ceremony for all of the club’s shows. He was considered hip, polished, a promotor, and the big “Daddy-O” of Liverpool’s rock scene. He was really a railways clerk by day, but by night, he was a man with keen communication skills and a deep interest and good ear for live performances of R&R music.
Wooler cracked into the music scene as a self-propelled booker of teen Skiffle bands for various local promotors as far back as 1957, but his place in history changed when 32-year old Ray McFall bought the former fruit exchange warehouse turned jazz club that would become the Cavern on October of 1959. McFall soon reached out to Wooler, knowing his talent for selecting and booking the best drawing bands in the city (he already had some DJ experience working for Allan Williams’s Top Ten Club that burnt to the ground in December 1960). Drawing on his experience of booking the Beatles for dances in the Aintree section of Liverpool, he immediately gave the band his highest priority, while he booked them into the Cavern for McFall, he went outside of their immediate area of the city, calling on promotors on their behalf. He could read that they had that “something” the others in the city did not possess.
Soon Wooler was accepted into the inner sanctum of the Beatles camp. They liked his musical knowledge, his humor, and his “older person” advice. But Bob found the band was quite different from him. The Beatles were working-class, while Wooler was educated, wore a suit and tie every day when working in the clubs, and was a closeted gay man (not a “protected class” in that era). “The Beatles were terrible when they ganged up on you,” he would later reflect, “All of them, their tongues could be savage.” If you wanted to be part of them, you had to learn to handle it. The mistreatment came with the Beatle’s territory.
Perhaps Wooler’s most important moment for music history’s sake was when the Beatles actually talked about breaking up, just months before Brian Epstein’s “discovery” of the band. They had been home from their triumphant days in Hamburg for ten months, the Beatles were the undisputed top R&R band in Liverpool, but they had no direction or path to get to the next level of show business. By late September of 1961, they were showing little career growth, they were bored, (John was especially disturbed and making everyone know it), and they raised the specter of breaking up. It was Bob Wooler who counseled them as he insisted that they not break up. He reminded them that they were too good to walk away. Wooler has stated of this period, “They were definitely going to collapse.” He appealed to them to consider their large fan base and their disappointment if they just went their individual ways.
The Beatles’ history might have been different for Bob Wooler, as he had their connection, their trust, and their hard-earned respect. One would think he had the best chance of anyone in Liverpool to become their permanent manager, of which by the fall of 1961, they were deeply in need of in order to get to the next level of show-biz. But the R&R Gods did not shine upon Wooler, and he knew why; “They needed someone to channel their energies, their ideas.” He would say with no regret or malice, “It called for somebody who was prepared to put up with the Beatles, and they were such a handful because they were strong-willed.”
Once a young fan, Raymond Jones, inquired about an odd-off Beatles recording at the record shop owned by Brian Epstein, the owner’s curiosity and imagination soon burned a path to sign with the Beatles as their manager. When Epstein requested the Beatles to come to his Whitechapel Road office, the band turned to the respected Bob Wooler. The band was road-weary of all the bookers, managers, and hustlers that surrounded the music business in Liverpool.
“They asked me to go to the meeting – ‘Come along and see what you think of this feller.’” He would share years afterward, “They didn’t know if he (Epstein) was going to be a con man.” To supplement their lack of confidence, they utilized the stature of Bob Wooler. John went out of his way to introduce him to Brian as “me Dad.” …..Bob Wooler had arrived!
Of course, the band would sign with Epstein, and Wooler would enjoy forming a mutual-respect and working relationship with Epstein over the next few years. “I got an invitation to lunch at Brian’s favorite club,” Bob would later mention, “I thought he was a nice fellow, a gentleman through and through.”
So intriguing is Wooler’s place in Beatles history that if you go to Amazon today, the rare single book written about Bob Wooler is available in paperback for an unbelievable price of $143!
1 – Kim Bennet
The popular history of the Beatles has always had Brian Epstein going to the HMV store on Oxford Street in London licking the wounds over the Beatles’ recent rejection by Decca Records. We have heard the story for years that while the tapes of that audition were being transferred to disk by the store’s services, the store’s disk cutter Jim Foy, he would give Brian the contact name of George Martin, Producer at EMI’s Parlophone label…. and the rest would be Beatle history.
Only one problem….it didn’t happen that way.
Epstein had already been in front of George Martin the week before, and Martin has said of those Beatles’ demo tapes: “I was not knocked out at all” by what he heard. It was a dead-end for Epstein. But the truth was that disc cutter Foy actually gave Epstein the contact name of Kim Bennet, the energetic song representative (known as a song “plugger” in those days) for Ardmore and Beechwood, EMI’s music publishing house. He was just upstairs, above the HMV store.
It was Bennet (age 31), along with his older boss Sid Coleman (56), who would fall in love with the sounds they heard. Bennet’s professional reputation was that he could propel himself to “believer” status once in love with a song or artist. Once hearing a winner, he always moved heaven and earth to obtain the contractual rights to “plug” the song. That is, to ‘sell’ the song’s rights to a producer in hopes an artist they were working with would, indeed, record it. If it sold, Ardmore & Beechwood would make money on the song’s sales, and Bennet would reap the rewards of doing his job rightly. It was also a plugger’s job to keep the song’s popularity boosted by convincing radio stations, jukebox owners, and bandleaders to play the song as often as possible.
What really happened is that Bennet’s ears eventually reviewed the Decca tapes and he liked the possibility of a Paul McCartney song, “As Dreamers Do.” He got excited until Coleman told him that Brian Epstein laid down the challenge: The plugger who helps the Beatles get a recording contract would reap the rewards of a publishing deal. On that, Bennet went to work, 24/7, to help this band with the crazy name (“Oh! Bloody hell, what a name to use!”) get their songs recorded.
The first place he inquired was his home team, right across Oxford Street- the Producers at EMI, including George Martin. Bennet totally struck out. In his words, “Nobody over there wants to know.” After saturating most of his other contacts, Bennet changed gears. He creatively challenged the status quo of the song publishing business.
Next stop, EMI’s powerful Records Managing Director, Len G. Wood. Bennet would plead with Wood to use his fairly healthy expense account balance (traditionally used for travel and lunch/entertainment with prospective producers and DJs) to pay for the Beatles to record “As Dreamers Do” on their behalf. Although he liked Bennet’s creativity, in the end, the empathetic Managing Director suggested that Kim stick to publishing, and let the record people make the records. For now, Bennet had hit a roadblock – but the wheels of fate have their ways.
The EMI organization had just begun to hear rumor of George Martin possibly having an affair with his secretary, Judy Lockhart. In fact, the buzz had it that they had been going together for some time, right under the nose of EMI management. When the gossip reached the ears of Len Wood, a religious man who could not tolerate his employees out of step with the morality of the day, he addressed the situation with Martin – sort of.
Wood had been a bit frosted with Martin for some weeks, as George had been in his office asking for a substantial raise along with a request for him to receive a percentage of the sales from the recording he produced. This was an outrageous deal being aired, as no producer in the UK got a piece of the action in 1962. Wood brought all this to a head at a meeting in the spring of that year, giving George a ‘decent’ raise, (but no percentage deal), but also getting his pound of flesh.
Not addressing the affair directly, he threw a little professional embarrassment at his employee. Drawing from his knowledge that weeks before Kim Bennet had been pitching his idea of recording that Liverpool band, Len Wood ordered George Martin to sign the Beatles, against his better judgment. Martin knew it was a reprimand for the affair. Ron Richards, a close associate to Martin, has stated, “George’s arm was being twisted, because of the affair with Judy.” Bottom line, the Beatles recording contract was meant as a punishment. Eventually, Martin would record “Love Me Do” with the band and release it as their first single.
Brian Epstein had not decided on who would be doing the publishing of that single or any of the Beatles’ original compositions. This did not stop Kim Bennet; he single-handedly pushed for radio, DJs, and other means to publicize “Love Me Do”, even if he did not have a financial hand in its success just yet. Being Lennon and McCartney’s first true believer, Kim not only spent time with those in the industry in London but also Cologne and Luxembourg, building up relationships all while pushing “Love Me Do” as if it was his own. “It was a bastard to get ‘Love Me Do’ played,” Kim would say years later, “because no one wanted to know. I believed in it! To me, the sound was different and needed to be heard. I went to Germany (to meet the British Forces Network’s heads) because I couldn’t get anyone in London to listen to me.” Bennet would reflect years later, “It was the only time in my life I actually begged anyone. I made no bones about it…..I groveled.”
And his actions paid off, big time. Two weeks later “Love Me Do” had its biggest audience ever, in excess of 17 million listeners, as Two-Way Family Favorite played the single due to Bennet’s hard dedicated work. The Beatles’ camp always worried about the record prematurely dropping in the sales charts, but two weeks after Bennet’s extraordinary accomplishment, “Love Me Do” actually climbed to the 23rd slot by mid-autumn (it would reach its summit at #17). You would think the actions he took toward getting the band signed by EMI would have made him the Prince of Beatle Town, but alas, it was not meant to be.
Two things would dog Bennet from getting the recognition he deserved:
Back in June when contracts were signed with the Beatles and EMI, Brian Epstein made his instructions clear that the record’s 45 label would display the writers of “Love Me Do” as McCartney-Lennon, as Paul was the main writer in this instance. When the record was released in October, its initial 250 pressings came out with writing credits to “Lennon- McArtney” (yes, they misspelled Paul’s name). When the finger-pointing began, the hard-charging Kim Bennet took most of the blame.
The second shoe to drop against Bennet involved his work to get the BBC’s Saturday Club to play “Love Me Do” in November. This was the perfect radio program aimed right at the Beatles’ target audience with over 10 million listeners, most of them young record buyers. Bennet had them all set up for success, and then the record was pulled by the BBC. Why?
Around this time, the British music managers had become more sensitive to anything that looked phony in their relationships with song pluggers. When song request postcards from the north (i.e. Liverpool) for “Love Me Do,” seemingly signed with phony names, came to the Saturday Club weeks before “Love Me Do” would be broadcast, they backed off their commitment to Bennet… and the Beatles.
Soon enough, Brian Epstein would be on the phone to Kim stating; “Mr. Bennet, I understand you’ve managed to lose us the Saturday Club.” Bennet had nothing to do with the postcards or the pulling of “Love Me Do” from the program. It would eventually be observed that these cards were from the many Liverpool fans having a good time writing the capital city “squares” with their brand of pushy humor to move the popularity of the Beatles along. Again, Bennet could not win for losing in the eyes of Brian Epstein, even after all he had done for the band’s trajectory.
Ardmore and Beechwood would not get the publishing rights to perhaps the greatest body of songwriting in the second half of the 20th century. George Martin, having some inclination of the Bennet-Coleman connection with his boss Len Wood would steer Brian Epstein away from his employer’s publishing wing and onto publisher Dick James’ organization, who would create Northern Songs exclusively for Lennon and McCartney. Kim Bennet would not see a dime from his efforts nor realize the millions that he would have made in the coming tidal wave of Beatle success. Left out, he went back to plugging other records of the day.
Kim Bennet never made the big money associated with the Beatles and went to his grave only telling a handful of people (fortunately, one of them was the Beatles historian- the great Mark Lewisohn) about his impactful role in the success of the Beatles. Tomorrow never knows!
Photo: Beatles at the Cavern Club (Getty Images)