Bud Ragan, a local psychotherapist, never thought Beatlemania was a fad, despite how the media described The Beatles landing at New York’s newly renamed John F. Kennedy Airport Feb. 7, 1964.
For two weeks, John, Paul, George and Ringo took America by storm, doing interviews and playing concerts to hundreds of thousands of screaming fans. But perhaps what solidified the band as a force to be reckoned with was their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," which happened 50 years ago yesterday.
Ragan remembers watching the band on TV.
"I was already a big fan of The Beatles and watched ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ at my girlfriend’s house," he said. "You could feel that this was the biggest thing in pop music since Elvis. It wasn’t a fad. Their music had beautiful melodies, tight vocal harmonies, meaningful lyrics at times; and sometimes, they just rocked the house. Mainly, they had more fun onstage than anybody in the audience."
A couple of years later, when Ragan was a student at the University of Chattanooga (now UTC), he had the opportunity to meet the Fab Four. He, his girlfriend, a photographer friend for the Chattanooga Times and another buddy traveled to Memphis’ Mid-South Coliseum, the eighth stop along their 1966 North American tour, to catch the show and possibly meet the band.
"The plan was to disguise ourselves as reporters for the Chattanooga Times and get into the press conference," Ragan said. "Looking back on it, it was a preposterous idea. John Lennon had just been quoted as saying, ‘We’re more popular than Jesus,’ and the press was frantic to cover his defense of that statement, especially in the Deep South. Brian Epstein [The Beatles’ manager] considered canceling the concert."
Ragan and his friends arrived about an hour before the news conference and quickly realized how difficult it was going to be to get in because, of course, they had no real press passes, only the ones they forged.
"Undaunted, I got in line alone and began the slow process of working my way to the door," Ragan said. "When I got to the door, I began an aggressive defense of my credentials, which was going nowhere, when the guy behind me said, ‘I have an extra pass; just let him in and get on with it.’ He was from the ABC affiliate in Little Rock and was bristling with TV cameras and assorted equipment. He gave me the pass, and they let me in!"
Ragan walked into the conference room, where a folding table with four empty chairs sat at one end of the room, a podium not far away. He got as close as he could to the table and took a seat. Members of the press began filling in around him, and as they did, his three friends came in and joined him, having talked their way in. Epstein walked into the room, followed by the band. They took their seats, and the press immediately began to attack, Ragan remembers, firing questions at Lennon:
He was contrite and said it wasn’t meant as a slur against Christianity or religion but rather a statement of fact. They showed no mercy. [There were] more questions about KKK threats and kids burning their albums. I raised my hand, which was protocol. The moderator realized I was about their age and, looking for relief, called on me. I asked a question about recording techniques used on their recently released album, "Revolver." Lennon immediately responded, as did McCartney and then Harrison. All told, their responses must have taken five minutes. I got five smiles, four from the boys and one from Epstein. Tension eased in the room. Some questions were still directed at the Lennon quote, but the witch hunt was over. After the Q&A, we were allowed to mix and mingle for a few minutes. I shook hands with each of them and exchanged brief comments. What I remember most is when I got to Lennon, he looked me right in the eye and said "thank you." In a moment, it was over. They filed out, and about an hour later, we saw a great live show. The next day, it was back to Chattanooga. Despite our unauthorized use of their credentials, the Chattanooga Times printed an account of our escapade, written by my girlfriend, Chris Richard. It was just a moment in time, but I shall never forget it.
After Ragan graduated from college in 1967, he was drafted and became an officer in the Army. In 1972, he went to Los Angeles and found a career in the music business as an agent and band manager. He met many more famous musicians, such as Jackson Browne, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones, Warren Zevon and Linda Ronstadt. He even met original Beatles drummer Pete Best. But none of them topped meeting the Fab Four.
The Beatles changed American culture. Young people were still reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy. He was the first young person’s president and appealed to baby boomers. His assassination said to baby boomers that the old guard was still in control. Lyndon Johnson was a good guy but an "old" guy. Boomers despaired. Then, along came The Beatles. From that moment on, youth and the boomers ruled American culture. The British invasion, long hair, hippies, huge outdoor concerts, Haight-Ashbury, marijuana, acid, anti-war protests, everything changed. For good or bad, as you perceive it, it all started with The Beatles.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.