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East L.A. Meets Liverpool:  My December 2004 Pilgrimage

by Mark Guerrero

     On December 12, 2004, I flew out of Palm Springs airport on my way to Liverpool, England to experience the city which literally gave birth to The Beatles.  For me it was more of a pilgrimage than a vacation on which I was embarking.  It must be understood that The Beatles are my all-time favorite musical artists.  But they were a lot more than mere musical artists to me.  As most of the world knows, they had a enormous cultural impact beyond the music.  I also liked their wit, humor, and intelligence.  I liked their movies and read books published about them.  They appeared on the world stage when I was thirteen years old and already leader of my first rock band, The Escorts.  I bought The Beatles' first hit single, "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and first Capitol Records album, "Meet The Beatles," when they first came out.  I also saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show when they first appeared.  I was hooked from the beginning and bought every Beatle album as it was released.  My band began to sprinkle its repertoire with Beatle songs and continued to do so throughout the 60s, as it evolved into Mark & the Escorts, The Men From S.O.U.N.D., and Nineteen Eighty Four.  My band was part of a music boom in East Los Angeles which happened simultaneously to the Liverpool explosion.  Like in Liverpool, East L.A. had countless bands and plenty of venues in which to play.  In the period of 1964 to '65, East L.A. produced several bands who had national and international hits such as The Premiers ("Farmer John"), The Blendells ("La La La La La"), and Cannibal & the Headhunters ("Land of a Thousand Dances").  It is at this point that East L.A. met Liverpool for the first time.  In 1965, Cannibal & the Headhunters' manager, Eddie Davis, got a phone call from Brian Epstein inviting Cannibal & the Headhunters to join the current Beatle tour, which was in progress.  They were put on a plane to New York for their first concert with The Beatles, which turned out to be the historic Shea Stadium concert.  They went on to play other venues in the tour, including the Houston Astrodome and the Hollywood Bowl.  I was fortunate to personally witness the Hollywood Bowl concert, where Cannibal & the Headhunters made a good accounting of themselves and got the best response of any of the opening acts.  I also saw The Beatles at Balboa Stadium in San Diego in 1965 and Dodger Stadium in 1966.

     Given the background information in the paragraph above, it's easy to understand why I had to one day visit Liverpool, the cradle of The Beatles.  I wanted to see all the places I had read about or seen in documentaries such as "The Compleat Beatles" and the more recent Beatle "Anthology" set.  I decided 2004 would be the year I would do it.  Shortly after making my decision, I serendipitously received an e mail from Arty Davies, a Liverpool drummer.  He had come across my website in search of an autographed photo of none other than Cannibal & the Headhunters.  (Amazing how it all ties together).  I wrote him back saying that two of the original members had passed away and I'd lost track of the other two.  I knew Chan Romero was very famous in Liverpool because of his song "The Hippy Hippy Shake," which was played and/or recorded by The Beatles and many Liverpool bands of the era.  I told him I knew Chan and could send him an autographed photo of Chan if he was interested.  He said he'd love to have it, so I got two autographed photos from Chan and sent them to Arty.  It also turned out an ex-patriot English guitarist friend of mine, Dave Wendels, knew many of the Liverpool musicians from back in the 60s and as it turned out, many remembered him.  Dave had played with Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers, Tom Jones, and Lulu.  In the course of my e mail dialogue with Arty, I told him I was going to Liverpool later in the year.  This led to an invitation to meet and play with some of the Liverpool musicians of the Beatle era.  He said the guys would welcome me with open arms.

     On Monday, December 13th, I arrived in Manchester, England via Chicago and then caught a train to Liverpool.  After checking in at my hotel, I headed for the Beatle museum, called The Beatles' Story.  The first room of the museum blew me away immediately.  On one wall there was a giant blow up of the famous photo of a 16 year old John Lennon playing with the Quarrymen at a garden fete on the grounds of St. Peters church in Woolton.  In a glass case in front of the photo were ALL the original instruments in the photo, including John's first guitar.  On the opposite wall was a blow up of a well-known photo of a 14 year old George Harrison playing his first acoustic guitar.  You guessed it.  In front of the photo was the actual guitar.  The museum leads you through many rooms, including a recreated Cavern Club, Abbey Road Studio, the John Lennon "Imagine" white room, and much more.  On your way in, you get a tape recorder with headphones to guide you with information at your own pace.  The museum also has a Beatle store, which has CDs, books, T shirts, and just about anything else you can imagine emblazoned with The Beatles name and/or likenesses.  That night Artie picked me up and took me to a neighborhood pub called the Fantail in the district of Kirkby.  It wasn't one of the vintage, classic English pubs, but a newer suburban one.  There performing solo, was one of the original Undertakers, Geoff Nugent.  Geoff, along with Jackie Lomax, were members of the Undertakers, who played at the Cavern many times in the Beatle Liverpool era.  Geoff is an excellent singer, accompanying himself with tracks and a Gretsch guitar.  When Arty told the patrons that I was also a singer, I was encouraged to go up and sing a few.  I wound up doing a few three song mini-sets and had a great time.  Geoff and I also sang a couple of Everly Brothers songs together.  Geoff was very gracious and the pub patrons were great.

     On Tuesday, December 14th, I went on a private Beatle tour.  Three weeks before I left for England, I met a nice couple from Liverpool named Ann and Michael at my gig in Palm Springs.  It turns out her sister runs a Beatle tour.  Serendipity strikes again.  Her sister Margie and her friend Brenda took me to John Lennon's birthplace, the childhood homes of The Beatles, Strawberry Field, Penny Lane, St. Peters Church in Woolton (where John and Paul met), the Cavern Club, the Jacaranda Club, the Liverpool Institute (where George and Paul went to school), the Liverpool Art College (where John attended), pubs they frequented, and many other Beatle haunts.  This tour greatly fulfilled my desire to see the places I'd read about.  That night, I was a guest on a radio show on BBC Merseyside.  In the months before my visit, Chan Romero had recorded a song I wrote for him entitled "Rockin' Like There's No Tomorrow" and Trini Lopez had recorded another one of my songs, "Oh Maria."  Chan hooked me up with Spencer Leigh, a BBC radio host from Liverpool who had interviewed Chan about five years before when Chan was touring England.  A few days before I left for England, I called Spencer and he invited me to do his show.  I arrived at the studio right after my Beatle tour.  We did a about a half an hour interview in which we discussed subjects such as The Beatles, Chicano music, the East L.A. music scene of the 60s, Chan Romero, and Trini Lopez.  I also performed four songs in studio on acoustic guitar, loaned to me by Liverpool musician Kingsize Taylor, whom I had not yet met.  I did two of my own songs, "Pre-Columbian Dream" and "On the Boulevard"; a Beatle song, "No Reply"; and one of my dad's songs, "Los Chucos Suaves."  The show was taped to be aired at a future time so Spencer would later edit in the two new recordings of my songs by Chan Romero and Trini Lopez.

     After the show, I walked over to historic Mathew Street, which is the center of Liverpool's nightlife.  It is on this cobblestone street, which is closed off to car traffic, that the famous Cavern Club is located.  The Cavern is where it all started for The Beatles.  They played there 270 times!  Unfortunately, it was closed on this night so I went to the Cavern Pub across the street.  I walked down a flight of stairs to find a thriving drinking establishment with live music.  Behind the band playing on stage, was a glassed in shelving containing classic Beatle instruments.  Though probably not the originals, it was good to see that John Lennon black 6-string Rickenbacker, the George Harrison Gretsch Country Gentleman, and Ringo's famous grey drum set emblazoned with "The Beatles" on the bass drum skin.  They must have had the Paul McCartney violin bass too, but it may have been hidden from my view.  On the stage was a great band called S.P.X.  It was a three piece band featuring a monster guitarist/vocalist, who's voice and vocal style reminded me of Sting; a bass player/vocalist, who was excellent at both; and a solid drummer, worthy of the talents of the other two.  These guys could play and sing!  They did interesting cover material that you don't hear most cover bands do, like "I Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who and I think it was "Money" by Pink Floyd.  I found out the band member's names from a young musician standing next to me by the name of John Birch, who plays bass in a Beatle cover band.  The guitar player, who played a Les Paul gold top, is Ronnie Hughes.  According to John, Ronnie was a member of the Fourmost in their later stages.  The Fourmost also go back to The Beatle Liverpool era.  The bass player is Davey Walsh, according to John a graduate of the school founded by Paul McCartney called the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts (LIPA).  The drummer's name is John Ditchfield.  They were great.  The place was crowded and hectic so I didn't get a chance to meet them.  All in all it was quite a second day in Liverpool.  

     On Wednesday, December 15th, Arty picked me up and took me to a rehearsal at the venue where we would be playing that night.  It was called the Huyton Park Conservative Club.  I met the guys that would be backing me that night and we went over the six song set I had planned.  After going out for some fish and chips, we picked up Faron of Faron's Flamingoes at his house.  Faron's Flamingoes also played at the Cavern during the Beatle Liverpool era.  (Arty Davies plays drums for the current version of Faron's Flamingoes.)  At the venue, I met Kingsize Taylor of Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes, who also played at the Cavern in the Beatle era.  They also played in Hamburg, Germany in the era in which The Beatles were there.  I also met Lee Curtis of Lee Curtis & the All Stars of the 60s, and many more musicians.  All these musicians are members of an organization called Sounds of the Sixties.  They do shows to raise money for musicians who are in financial need.  This night's "Christmas Jam" was part of this worthy effort.  The opening set was provided by the group of musicians who were to back me up.  They jokingly call themselves The Wheely Bins.  Kingsize Taylor calls them The Wheels of Fire.  I came on next with my six song set, which was comprised of "Let the Good Times Roll" by Louis Jordan, "Slow Down," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Nadine," "Back In the U.S.S.R.," and "Long Tall Sally."  It was a good ol' rock & roll set that went without a hitch.  I was in good voice and the band did a great job with the tempos and a great rockin' feel.  The band members were Arty Davies, drums; Ritchie Ballard, bass, George Eccles, rhythm guitar, and Phil Ford on slide guitar.  George Eccles loaned me a Fender Stratocaster that felt and sounded good and I used a Fender tube amp, which may have been a Twin Reverb.  I liked the sound of the rig.  Phil and I shared the lead guitar duties and all went very well.  We rocked!  We were followed by Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes, who also rocked.  They did a set of classic rock & roll including "Slow Down," with Kingsize commenting with tongue in cheek that I had "pinched" the song from them.  Kingsize Taylor aka Ted, generously allowed me to close his set by singing Chan Romero's "The Hippy Hippy Shake" with them.  It rocked and I had a great time doing it.  Mr. and Mrs. Kingsize Taylor were also celebrating his son Mark's birthday, which I believe was the next day.  Later in the evening, Mark Taylor also got up and sang a few songs himself.  Faron's Flamingoes were next.  Aside from being an excellent singer/performer, he's over the top with his humor, enthusiasm, and sometimes off-color antics.  He's truly a loveable character.  At one point, he called me over to where he was singing on the dance floor to join him on "Walking the Dog."  After trading a couple of verses, he took hold of me and we began circling arm in arm like in a square dance.  After a few spins, I had to run off the dance floor for fear of what he might do next.  The Undertakers followed, without Geoff Nugent, who had another commitment.  I'm sure they would have loved to have Geoff, but they played well without him.  Lee Curtis was next.  Believe me when I tell you, this guy can sing.  He has his own style and sound, but he reminded me of Roy Orbison.  Like Roy, his voice can be operatic in power and range.  Lee can still hit some incredibly high notes with full voice.  He was very impressive.  The show ended with a finale of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say."  Just about everybody was on stage, including myself, taking turns singing verses.  Needless to say, I had a great time.  It meant a lot to me to be able to meet and play with all these veteran Liverpool musicians.  At the end of the show, I was approached by a man named David Jamo, who invited me to come to another jam across town the next night.  He was from another Liverpool musicians organization called The Merseycats, who do shows to raise money for children.  Also, Kingsize Taylor kindly gave me a copy of the CD "The Beatles Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, Germany 1962.  This is an important and historic musical document recorded by Kingsize Taylor himself.  After the show, Arty and I took Faron home.  He invited me in and showed me some incredible photos on his wall.  One was of Faron with all four Beatles.  Another was Faron with Paul McCartney.  Both photos were circa 1962.  As I was leaving, he gave me a scarf from the Liverpool Art College attended by John Lennon.  Faron had also gone to the school.  It was a generous gesture that was greatly appreciated. 

     On Thursday, December 16th, Arty took me to two Beatle-related places which turned out beyond my expectations.  First, we went to John Lennon's Quarry Bank School, which is now called Calderstones School.  The part of the school John attended is now called the Quarry Bank Wing.  I was taking pictures outside the school walls when a teacher, who happened to be having a spot of tea looking out over the wall, said to me "John Lennon went to school here."  I said, "I know.  I'm a huge Beatle fan."  She invited Arty and I to drive onto the school grounds.  She said to tell whoever approached us that she said it was o.k.  (Unfortunately, I can't remember her name.)  She took me to the front entrance of the school for pictures and then took me inside the building.  I went up the classic old dark wooden stairway with hand rails, saw a classroom, and got the feel of the old school John attended.  I also met a couple of male teachers and posed with them for a photo.  On the school grounds, I asked the female teacher if the students knew John Lennon had been a student here.  She said, "why don't you ask them?"  I asked a group of kids around 8 years old if they knew who John Lennon was.  One immediately said yes, while another said no.  Ob La Di Ob La Da life goes on, bra.  Arty and I headed next for Strawberry Field, where two days before I had taken a picture at the famous entrance.  This time we got in due to someone Arty knew and had spoken to on the phone earlier in the day.  I won't say who it was so Strawberry Field won't be inundated with tourists using the name of this person to attempt to gain entry.  For those who don't know, Strawberry Field is a children's home called The Salvation Army Strawberry Field Community Home.  I met the director and staff, who were very friendly and gracious to me.  He showed me around and gave me a couple of Xerox copies.  One Xerox was of the way the building used to look when John Lennon used to play on the grounds as a boy.  The other was of a painting of an adult John Lennon in front of the Strawberry Field gate by a female American artist.

     That night I had dinner with Ann and Michael, the couple I had met in Palm Springs weeks before my Liverpool visit.  It was an incredible multi-course meal worthy of a fine restaurant.  The venue of The Merseycats show wasn't too far from their home in Crosby, so Michael drove me down.  It was in the Old Roan, Aintree district of Liverpool and the venue was the Aintree Royal British Legion Hall.  The first band to perform, The Zodiacs, had one of the original members of Gerry & the Pacemakers playing keyboard.  According to Arty, some of them were in the original Ian & The Zodiacs of the 60s.  They did an enjoyable set of late 50s/early 60s rock & roll and played very well.  The next band was fantastic.  It was called The Liverpool Express, whose leader is Billy Kinsley.  In the 60s, Billy was a member of the famous Merseybeats.  Someone told me he still plays with them as well.  The Liverpool Express did a set of cover tunes including Steely Dan's "Reelin' In the Years," Badfinger's "No Matter What," "Stuck In the Middle" by Stealer's Wheel, and a couple of Beatle songs, "All My Lovin" and "I Saw Her Standing There."  They're a four-piece band composed of drums, bass, guitar, and keyboard.  These guys can play and sing.  They've also got great harmonies.  After a comedian, whose accent I had trouble understanding, I was asked to come up and sing.  I didn't get a chance to rehearse with the band ahead of time and the equipment situation was not suitable for me, so I did "Slow Down" and "Roll Over Beethoven" and got off.  Although my segment didn't go as I had hoped, it was still very worthwhile being there because I got to hear some great music and meet Billy Kinsley and his band, who mercifully were in the dressing room when I did my two songs.

     On Friday, December 17th, I slept in for half the day.  I spent the late afternoon walking around downtown Liverpool and soaking it all up.  I found Liverpool to be a clean city and one in which I felt safe walking around both day and night.  Its downtown area has new buildings mixed in with those that are old and historic.  There are many great restaurants and a lot of nightlife.  Around the city you'll find cathedrals that are hundreds of years old and classic old pubs.  On weekends Matthew Street is teaming with young people frequenting the night clubs, pubs, and restaurants.  The old docks have been refurbished and turned into nice hotels, restaurants, and shops.  The docks also often host major rock concerts.  Liverpool is a vibrant and hip city and the vast majority of the people are friendly and helpful.  That night I went to The Blundell Street Music Lounge, where I saw a very good duo called Feelin' Groovy.  They were doing cover tunes, a lot of the same ones I've done on similar gigs in the past.  During their set, someone requested "Brown Eyed Girl," which they dutifully performed.  It made me suspect that even on the other side of the Atlantic, cover musicians probably have to play that song nightly.  It's a great song, but once you've played it every night for years on end, it gets old.  I spoke to the guy who sang it and he verified what I suspected.  He was burned out on it as well.  I understand Van Morrison himself refuses to do the song in concert these days.  Later that night, I returned to Mathew Street and went into the Cavern Club.  Unfortunately, this night they had a DJ and no live music.  It was still very cool being down there and imagining what it was like when The Beatles and others played there in the early 60s.  On the wall behind the stage are the names of bands who played there in the early days.  Right next to The Beatles on one side it read Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes.  On the other, Faron's Flamingoes.  Down further to the left, The Undertakers.  It brought home what I had experienced on my trip to Liverpool.  I would also like to say that having seen many bands perform at the two events described above, my observation is that these musicians love rock & roll and play it primarily for that reason.  I found it to be very inspiring.

     On Saturday, December 18th, I caught a train at Liverpool's Lime Street Station bound for London.  I spent three days there in which I saw the theatrical production featuring Queen's music called "We Will Rock You."  It was great.  I also went on a Rock & Roll/ Beatle Tour, which goes to London Beatle and other rock & roll sites including Abbey Road Studios, the former Apple building, Jimmy Page's castle, where Jimi Hendrix lived and where he died, Bill Wyman's Sticky Finger's restaurant/pub, Freddy Mercury's former home, and much more.  The tour was hosted by a former mod who enthusiastically regaled two non-English speaking Japanese tourists and I to infinite stories about rock & roll London.  I also saw the vault at the Hard Rock Cafe Store, where they have John Lennon's shirt from his New York City Central Park concert, Bob Dylan's hat from Nashville Skyline, a Jimi Hendrix guitar, etc.  I especially enjoyed wandering around Soho, where there are a lot of great restaurants, clubs, pubs, and shops.  It's also where Paul McCartney's offices are located.  I also saw an excellent singer named Sarah Jane Morris at the legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott's.  She's a white jazz/blues/pop singer, who was backed by some great musician's.  She's also an excellent performer and is very good at her between song stories and comments.  The highlight of her set for me was a New Orlean's style version of "Me and Bobby McGee," with a full horn section.  On the non-musical front, I visited the British Museum and the Cabinet War Rooms, which were Winston Churchill's secret wartime headquarters.  All in all, I got quite a lot in on my eight days in England.    

     A couple of weeks after my return home, I was talking on the phone with my aforementioned English musician friend, Dave Wendels, about my trip.  Dave, who now lives in Hemet, California (about 45 minutes from me) was saying how he had taken a trip to Memphis around 1980.  Being a huge Elvis and rockabilly fan, going to Memphis and visiting Graceland and Sun Studios was a pilgrimage to him.  It was magical.  It probably has to do with the era in which one was a teenager and maybe a little of the grass is greener on the other side, of the ocean in this case.  I've been to Memphis myself and it was an exciting and profound experience to go to Graceland and to see Sun Studios, but for me the magic is in Liverpool.

Liverpool Sound Bytes and Photo Gallery Links Below:

mp3 Sound Bytes of Mark Guerrero Liverpool Set

Musicians on three tracks below:  Mark Guerrero- lead vocals, lead guitar; Arty Davies- drums; Ritchie Ballard- bass; Phil Ford- slide guitar; George Eccles- rhythm guitar

Let the Good Times Roll || Roll Over Beethoven || Long Tall Sally

On track below:  Mark Guerrero- lead vocal with Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes

The Hippy Hippy Shake

Click here for Liverpool Photo Gallery
 

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