Concert promoter Pat DiCesare recalls the intrigue behind the infamous concert 45 years ago
October 11, 2009 8:00 AM
Pittsburgh Press Photo
Pittsburgh Beatles fans lined up outside the Civic Arena awaiting the Sept. 14, 1964, concert.
C Apple Corps Ltd
The Beatles in 1962.
C Apple Corps Ltd
The Beatles in 1966.
By Pat DiCesare
The first time I ever heard of The Beatles was in the fall of 1963. I was managing a Pittsburgh record distribution outlet called Regal Records, and record stores started to call me for Beatles singles and LPs. I could tell by the demand that this group was special.
Back then, if an artist sold a million records nationwide, we could sell about 50,000 in Pittsburgh. If they followed up with an LP, we could sell about 5,000. The Beatles had three hit singles out at the same time, which was unprecedented, and there was a fourth song available only on an LP that Capitol Records had released. That meant that if a Beatles fan wanted that song, he had to buy the entire LP. I had never seen this before, but the LP was selling like a hot single.
Tim Tormey, who died last year, was the concert promoter in Pittsburgh back then and my mentor. I believe he thought of me more as a son than an employee, and he taught me volumes about the business. We talked every day about bringing different acts into town.
Since Tim was no longer in record distribution, he lost the feel for what was selling and what was hot. When I mentioned The Beatles to him, I could tell he wasn't aware of them. Tim was kind of conservative with his taste, so if it wasn't Nat "King" Cole, Frank Sinatra or Sarah Vaughan, he wasn't listening. He was managing Lou Christie, who had big hits with "The Gypsy Cried" and "Two Faces Have I." However, by the time The Beatles' American tour was announced in early 1964, everyone and their grandmother knew about them.
One day Tim said to me, "What do you think of bringing The Beatles in for a concert?"
"I think it's a great idea. ... Can we get them?" I asked.
"Yes, I think so, but they're expensive," he said.
Tim called Roz Ross at the William Morris Agency in New York, who handled Christie. She referred him to Norman Weiss. That's the way the business worked. You had to establish a relationship with an agent and the agency to get their acts. The problem was, Tim didn't know Norman.
By now, others in Pittsburgh began announcing that they had The Beatles. Lenny Litman told the newspapers that he had a date held at the Civic Arena. Disc jockeys at KDKA radio began announcing that they had a date for The Beatles. Tim was discouraged, but did not give up. He kept calling Roz.
"Save yourself the aggravation and disappointment," she told him. "Forget about The Beatles. You'll never get them."
Then it happened. Tim got a call from an excited Roz, who said, "Tim, do you have $5,000?"
"No, why?" he said.
"If you could take $5,000 cash to the Club Elegant in Brooklyn and leave it with the bartender, there is a good chance that you could get The Beatles."
Neither Tim nor I had $5,000. You have to remember that at the time a schoolteacher's salary might have been $3,500 a year. I was a young guy in my 20s, and Tim was living from show to show. He approached various investors in Pittsburgh that we had done business with in the past. But when Tim told them he had to leave the cash "with a bartender in Brooklyn," and that there was no guarantee that he could get the date or that the bartender was for real, no one would invest the $5,000.
When I asked Tim about The Beatles, he told me everyone had turned him down and that Roz said he had to have the money by the next day or he would lose the date.
"Tim, hold her off," I said, "Let me see what I can do."
Betting the house
It was late in the afternoon. I was still at my distributorship. I usually left at closing time, a little after 5 p.m. and made the hour drive home. During the ride I had time to reflect on the situation. Tim and I had partnered many shows before, and I had promoted shows on my own. But now, I was a college student who took a semester break to manage Regal Records for Tim, Nick Cenci and Herbie Cohen. Even though Nick and Herbie were in business with Tim, they wouldn't advance the money for what I thought was a "sure thing." They thought it was too risky.
I had no doubt about that. But, still, I thought it was reasonable to pay someone $5,000 cash for the right to get The Beatles. After all, record stores had actually been offering me money on the side to get them Beatles records ahead of other stores. They were asking for the opportunity to pay more money -- just to have the records! They thought of this payoff as advertising costs. If they had the Beatles record and their competitors didn't, that would bring in more traffic. I never accepted their money because I couldn't explain to the other stores why I gave one store the record and not the other. I tried to distribute the records evenly whenever I got a shipment. The bottom line is that I really wasn't worried about risking the $5,000. Sure, it was a risk, but everything we did in this business was a risk.
My dad usually got off work at 5 from his job at Westinghouse in East Pittsburgh, and I got there a little later. I still lived in Trafford with my mom and dad. Dad would usually be finished eating and would be sitting in his favorite lounge chair. He would have his pipe and tobacco and matches within reach and would be watching the 6 o'clock news. This day was no different. While I was eating, I started to tell him about The Beatles and the $5,000.
Of course, my father didn't know anything about The Beatles -- if they were a singing group, a car or some bugs on the back porch -- but he sat and listened. I don't think he ever made more than $100 a week working as a shipper at Westinghouse. He never had an opportunity to save money because he had such a large family -- nine kids. But my dad was the type of guy who would give you his right arm. When I told him I needed $5,000, he didn't comment much. He just listened to my story with a solemn look on his face.
The next day when he came home from work we sat at the table and he slid an envelope across the tablecloth. "Go on, open it," he said. I opened the envelope and inside was a cashier's check made out to me for $5,000.
"Dad, where did you get that?" I said. "That's a lot of money, and I know you don't have that kind of money."
"You're right, I don't have that kind of money, but I borrowed it from the credit union at work. They've put a lien on the house," he said.
I felt like crying right there. I didn't ask him to do this. He just listened to what I told him and went out and did this for me. I agonized over the thought of taking this money. He worked all of his life and still had not paid off his house and now he was willing to lend me more money than he made in a year. What if the bartender in Brooklyn just kept the money and never booked The Beatles?
"Dad, I can't take this. Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked.
"Yes, go do the show with your Beatles," he said.
He never asked me anymore about the money or The Beatles. He just had huge confidence in me and my judgment.
$5.90 to see The Beatles
"Tim, I got the money," I told him. "Call Roz right now and tell her we can wire the money tonight or tomorrow. Hurry so we don't lose the date."
An hour later Tim called back. "Roz said we could wire the money to an attorney if that made us feel any better."
"Yeah, who is more trustworthy -- a bartender or an attorney?" I asked.
Tim laughed and said, "It's a toss-up."
The next day, it was cold, there was snow on the ground -- a typical depressing Pittsburgh cloudy day that filled me with mixed emotions. I felt guilty about taking my dad's money not knowing if it was secure. I met Tim at the Western Union office on Smithfield Street and we wired the $5,000.
When we walked out the office in the bitter cold, Tim said, "Well, partner, there goes your father's five grand. I hope we can trust the attorney."
We were 50-50 partners. We had done many things together, never with a contract, only a handshake. I never worried about Tim living up to his word. He was an honest person. No business ran like the concert business. No banks or attorneys would endorse our way of doing business. But that's the way it was done. That was probably why no one else was willing to come up with the money.
The next week, the attorney called and asked us to check out some open dates for September at the Civic Arena. This was exciting. Now we were convinced that The Beatles were serious about playing Pittsburgh.
A few weeks later, the agent confirmed and solidified the date: Sept. 14, 1964. Our excitement was diminished, however, when the agent told us that the price for The Beatles would be a whopping $35,000. In 1964 whenever we put a touring show together, one headliner would go out on a bus with about 10 supporting artists and route across the country. The most we ever paid a headliner to do a one-nighter was about $3,500. Tim went back to the agency and negotiated the guarantee down to $25,000.
He called me and asked, "Do you think The Beatles could sell the Arena out on their own?"
"Absolutely," I said. "Trust me, you don't need anyone else on the show."
Tim explained, "I negotiated the $35,000 down to $25,000, but it has to be against 60 percent of the gross sales, whichever is higher." This was the first time an act demanded and received a percentage of the gate as well as a guarantee. What this meant was that The Beatles could make over $35,000 if the date sold out.
While we were waiting for Sept. 14, I was drafted into the Army National Guard and received a notice to report to active duty at Fort Knox, Ky., at the end of May, which meant that I wouldn't finish my six months until the end of November. I would miss The Beatles show!
Before I left, Tim and I met constantly. We agonized over what the ticket prices should be. Up to this point, our ticket prices at the Arena had ranged from $1.50 to $3.50. We offered three different sections with three different prices. At the time, the city had a 10 percent amusement tax, and there was a 10 percent federal tax on each ticket, so right off the top, 20 percent was gone. We figured people would pay more for this show and set the price at $5.90. That way, after taxes, we would net $5 per ticket.
In addition to its high amusement tax, the city still had to determine how many police officers should be on site. When Tim went to obtain a permit, the police chief insisted that we pay for 200 uniformed officers. Normally at an Arena concert we would have no more than 20 and we never had an incident. Tim negotiate it down to 100 men at $50 each. Even though we paid for 100 police no one was sure if there were actually that many there. Tim didn't count them but insisted until the day he died that there were not 100 cops, and some of them only got paid $20. Others didn't want to be paid, they just wanted to get in and see the show.
When it was announced that we got the show, both KDKA and KQV wanted to "present" it. KD was the big station in town, with 50,000 watts. It had a lot of well-known jocks -- Rege Cordic, Art Pallen and Clark Race, who was my friend -- and the biggest listenership. If KD wanted to get behind an artist, it could and did make hits. But the station had an attitude and would always give us a hard time. Now it was coming to us with all kinds of deals.
KQV had Chuck Brinkman, who would hang out at Tim's office at the Carlton House every day and was begging for KQV to present the show. Tim was the best negotiator in the business, and when he met with Chuck's boss, John Rooke, he got everything he wanted. KQV would do all the future shows at no cost for advertising. Whenever Tim brought a concert to town he would get the works. John agreed to play their records and say things like "The Shower of Stars time is ...," "The Shower of Stars weather is ...." about our series. They would play our artists' records more frequently before a show. It was an amazing deal. Obviously KQV got to say they were presenting The Beatles -- although Tim and I were the promoters.
Normally, we sold tickets in advance at National Record Mart, but this show was different. Tim wanted to do mail order only. I didn't think it made sense, but if he wanted to do it, I didn't care.
"How are you going to handle all the mail?" I asked.
"I know these nuns. I trust them. I will pay them to put the tickets in a self-addressed stamped envelope that buyers must send us with their order, send them back to the buyers and deposit the money. Don't worry, we can trust the nuns. My sister is a nun in New York," he said rather proudly.
Beatles' share: $37,000
The show sold out as fast as the nuns could handle the mail -- in a day and a half. All 12,600 tickets were sold months before the show. Thus, Tim had $75,000 in his checking account. He had to send the act a $12,500 deposit. He sent me a check for $5,000, which I gave back to my dad with a sigh of relief. Dad was proud that he could and did help me.
Everyone in town was caught up in Beatlemania (and I could feel it all the way to Oklahoma, where I was then stationed). One problem was that we could not get a hotel to let The Beatles stay there. They were afraid the kids would destroy the place. Secret arrangements were made for The Beatles to stay in Cleveland the next three days and fly in and out to the other cities they performed.
On the day of the show, in the late afternoon, two limousines were accompanied by six police cars escorting the group. They thought if they got there early, there would be no crowd expecting them. But that was not the case. The area was jam-packed with fans hoping to get a look. The plans were to "sneak" the act in unnoticed, but the six police cars had their sirens blaring during the trip from the airport to the Arena. How did they think that was sneaking them in unnoticed?
The setup for The Beatles was amazingly simple. According to Bob Miller, business agent for the Stagehands Union, The Beatles arrived in a Ford Econoline van that held all of their equipment. Today, it's not unusual to see 30 or more semi-trucks and trailers with a dozen luxury tour buses at a concert for setup. At the time, we would use the same sound system for a concert at the Arena as was utilized for a sporting event. It would not be for a few more years that companies such as Clair Brothers in Lititz, Pa., would assemble sound systems for concerts in arenas.
The dressing room was the Penguins locker room. In an effort to "decorate" the cement block walls and hide the lockers, Kaufmann's department store agreed to furnish the rooms. It did it reluctantly, thinking that its couches, tables, lamps, TVs, etc., might be trashed. As it turned out, after the show, it announced that it was selling The Beatles dressing room furniture and received a huge premium. The Beatles said it was the best dressing room on the tour.
Brian Epstein, their manager, thought The Beatles needed support acts on the show. He certainly didn't need them to sell tickets. The act didn't want to have to do the entire show themselves. They wanted to save their throats in order to get through the entire tour. The audience didn't like the idea. At first, The Fun Lovin' Five came on stage, which was all the DJs from KQV. They didn't want or expect to be paid. Their egos were fed by being on stage in front of a sell-out crowd -- and it was The Beatles. They could tell their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There were Hal Murray, Steve Rizen, Dave Scott, Dex Allen and, of course, Chuck Brinkman. The only problem was that the audience didn't want to see or hear them. They wanted The Beatles. In addition to the DJs, there were opening acts: Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Jackie DeShannon, The Exciters, and the Bill Black Combo.
After each act, a KQV jock came on the stage and announced the previous act off: "Let's hear it now for Clarence 'Frogman' Henry." And now for the act you've all be waiting for!" A scream beyond anything ever heard before went up, and the DJ knew he made a mistake teasing the crowd but now had to say, "and now Jackie DeShannon." Poor Jackie. No one wanted to see or hear her, and they let her know, chanting, "We want The Beatles!" When The Beatles finally took the stage, there was so much noise, everyone said you couldn't hear them sing.
While the concert is going on, unfortunately, the promoter is in the box office "settling the show": doing the accounting work with the Arena, who gets its take; the city, who gets its taxes; other vendors; and, most important, the artists' representative. Sometimes it's the manager, but this group had a road manager. I guess Epstein didn't want to do this part of the job.
When the accounting was settled, The Beatles made $37,000, the most money we had ever paid an act. For our end, after all expenses, Tim and I split $8,800.
"What do you want to do with your half?" he asked.
I asked Tim to mail me $100 a week to Fort Sill. I was the richest soldier in the army.
The year before, to satisfy my mother ("Pat, why don't you become a schoolteacher? They were the only ones who worked during the Depression"), I taught school for a year. After school and on weekends, I was still in the music business. My salary for teaching was $300 per month. In the concert business, I made $4,400 in one night.
A few years later, I asked mom, "What's the payoff of your home?"
She said, "I don't know, but I think it is around $3,500."
The next day I sent her a check for $3,500 with a note, "Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me the chance of a lifetime."
Oh, what a feeling
A year later, I visited their home and sat at the kitchen table as we always did. Dad was quick to bring something to the table for me to eat. I slid an envelope over to my mother and said, "Here, this is for you. Open it."
My mom opened the envelope and there was a check from me to my mom and dad. Mom said, "Oh, $50. Thank you, Pat. What's this for?" And very quickly she corrected herself and said, "Oh, this is for $500. Pat, what is this?" My mother had been blind in one eye for all of my life and sometimes had difficulty seeing. My dad then looked closer at the check and said, "That check is for $5,000." My mother quickly handed the check back to me and said, "Pat, you better not fool around like this with checks. You could get yourself in trouble. Now take this check back and stop this fooling."
I said, "No, Mom, the check is for you and Dad, and it is good. Take it."
"What's this for, Pat?" she asked.
"Do you remember in '64 you got me the $5,000 for The Beatles?" I said.
"But Pat, you already gave us the $5,000 back and you paid off this house," she said.
"This is just a bonus. Go ahead and take it," I said.