Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Beatles, Benton and Boccie Ball

George Harrison with his sister Louise and brother Peter in downtown Benton, Illinois, 1963.

The Riverfront Times has a really fab piece on the Beatles this week - specifically George Harrison's sister and George's trip to America in 1963, six months before the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan ...

And so it was that George Harrison, along with brother Peter, stepped off a plane at Lambert Field in St. Louis and became the first Beatle to set foot on American soil.
And no one cared.

For me this article hits close to home, as it details the time Harrison spent in a part of the world where I've been performing for years.  In fact, Beatle George and I both performed at the same unusual venue, the Benton Boneyard Bocce Ball Club.  Not many people can say that they performed at a boccie ball club, especially the boccie club in Benton, Illinois.  My memory of our murder mystery we performed there, back in 2003 or so, was that I've never been in a place that was filled with more cigarette smoke.

Things were probably not much different forty years prior to that, the night George Harrison took the stage with the Four Vests, who were then the hottest band in Southern Illinois ...

A few nights later, Harrison — clad in a dark suit, white shirt and no tie — took the stage yet again with the [Four] Vests, this time for a birthday party at the Bocce Ball Club in Benton. There he played "most of that job 'cause Kenny [Welch, the Vests' lead guitarist] just let him play, an hour, hour and a half. It went down pretty good, we had a good time that night. People wanted to know who he was, I told 'em he was from England, told 'em the story."
Interestingly, Harrison — a decade younger than the Vests — had enough material in common with the band to fill 90 minutes onstage. And nary a Beatles tune was played.

This is a good reminder of how the Beatles were troopers, performing night after night in the Cavern and other clubs, covering a ton of rock and roll standards.

The story of George's sister covers a lot of ground, from Benton, Illinois to Branson, Missouri, and beyond.  The story has its bittersweet moments - one of which (for me) is that Ringo was invited to St. Louis and to Illinois with George but decided not to come!  At any rate, the story is filled with some fascinating tidbits, and is worth a read.

The Four Vests, for whom George played lead guitar at the Benton Boneyard Boccie Ball Club.

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