Fifty Years Ago Today: Part 1


This was what it looked like from inside the Ed Sullivan Theatre on February 9, 1964. Of course it was in color if you were actually there but most of us saw it in glorious black and white.

This was what it looked like from inside the Ed Sullivan Theatre on February 9, 1964. Of course it was in color if you were actually there but most of us saw it in glorious black and white.

It was December of 1963 in Scotia, NY. Where? Scotia, where I grew up, is a little village across the Mohawk River from the industrial city of Schenectady-home of General Electric and, formerly, The American Locomotive Company (“The city that lights and hauls the world”). I’d call it a sleepy little village but it really wasn’t–it was more tired than sleepy.  It was less than a month since President Kennedy’s assassination and the national mood was decidedly grim. But we were kids and politics and presidents

The eight Gelber boys lived here in 1963 (yes, that's a pink house) and we were in the basement that night watching Ed Sullivan.

The eight Gelber boys lived here in 1963 (yes, that’s a pink house) and we were in the basement that night watching Ed Sullivan.

took a back seat to the coming holidays and snow days. There were eight of  us then (all brothers) the youngest was four  and the oldest was 15. That’s if you don’t count my brother Steve who was still 5 months from being born. My number two brother, Bob, always had a radio playing. It was a brown plastic thing with a three inch speaker that only got AM. It had a volume control and a tuner. I don’t think it had an on/off switch because it was never off. There was no rock or pop FM back then and AM “Top Forty” was what you listened to.  WPTR (fifty thousand watts of music power!), one of the three local AM Radio stations in the area, had put three or four songs in its rotation by some British group that was apparently getting a fair amount of attention in the UK.  I’m pretty sure I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” first and I was hooked. My taste has always run toward artists with big vocals and harmonies and the Beatles certainly had that. It was just so different. It wasn’t just the great melodic hooks and tight, tight vocals… it sounded, I don’t know, modern (gear, fab).  Keep in mind I was 11 years old and I wasn’t exactly a musical sophisticate but here I am 50 years later still listening to them and playing their music. I remember introducing my son to them when he was three or four. I told him that two hundred fifty  years ago there was a composer named Mozart who was so good that people still play his music today. I believe that the Beatles will still be popular in another 200 years. The first fifty years were a piece of cake. But in December of ’63, the term “Beatlemania” didn’t exist in this country. It would be another 6 weeks before that would occur. It was, of course, a very different world in 1963. If something big was on the horizon you learned about it slowly. From TV, magazines and newspapers. News traveled slowly and the hype for the Beatles started weeks in advance of the actual event. The “event” is, of course, The Beatles appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It was Sunday night and Ed Sullivan wasn’t really on our list of must see TV at the time. First of all, it was a school night and second, we were supposed to be in bed by 8 and Ed was on from 8 to 9. The TV, a big black and white GE, was in the basement playroom – no TV (and no food) in the living room in our house. Mom’s rules. I hooked up my fathers reel to reel Wollensak tape recorder to preserve the occasion although thinking I could get my brothers to shut up during the performance was a fools errand. I don’t know where the tape is now (or the Wollensak) but I remember the night like it was yesterday (I feel a song coming on). So, imagine the scene. Ben, Bob, Frank, Charlie, Brian and probably Mike draped over the big Barcalounger and on the floor glued to the fuzzy image from Channel 10, the then CBS affiliate in Albany. My younger brother, Brian, says our Dad was watching too making comments like “how can you listen to this crap.” I don’t recall that but I do remember him saying that more than once. More than a hundred times but who’s counting. A Norman Rockwell moment if ever there was one. Next…the really big show.

I was armed and ready to record the event for posterity on my Dad's Wollensak.

I was armed and ready to record the event for posterity on my Dad’s Wollensak.

8 Responses to “Fifty Years Ago Today: Part 1”

  1. Rob says:

    I watched them on that show and a short time later after I had turned 17 took my 15 year-old girlfriend to see them in Philadelphia. I forget who the opening act was but think it was a female Motown act. The most interesting thing to me was a talll skinny white guy with a Beattles haircult dressed just like Beattles in a faux-Edwardian suit who roamed up and down the aisles after the Motowners finished their set. This guy elicited screams and squeals from the thousands of pre and young teenage girls in the audience. I figured that the guy was a plant since he resembled Paul quite closely and thought that it was a pretty smart way to get the crowd pumped up. Of course this was before most rock concert patrons pumped themselves up with various plant and synthetic substances.

    The Beattles’ performance itself was rather anti-climactic since all you could hear over the constant crowd-scream din was Paul’s bass and Ringo’s drums. That really didn’t matter to most of us since the local AM rock and roll radio dominant, WIBG, had been playing their songs almost non-stop since before the Sullivan Show. They would play the German language version of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” from time to time which I started to like better and better the more I heard it.

  2. cgelber says:

    I never got to see them live since they never performed close to where I lived-I was only 13 when they played Shea Stadium (160 miles away) and there was no way my parents would let me go even if I could have afforded tickets. I guess Schenectady was too small for the likes of the JPG&R. The Stones played Albany as did Jimi Hendrix. Just about everybody played Saratoga (15 miles away) but not The Beatles. I did get to see Paul up close when he played the Letterman Show-I worked in the same building and my office was right above the Marquee where he played. Got to talk to him and Rusty a little about guitars from my window.

  3. Rob says:

    To correct my comment, the Philly concert was the evening of September 2, 1964, and the warm up acts listed in historic concert sites are not those I remembered. Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Jackie DeShannon (“Needles and Pins”) and several others. Then I found an unused ticket for that concert on Ebay. $5.50. I read somewhere that the Gibson nomenclature for some of its electro-Spanish guitars came from their factory prices. An ES 335 for $335.

  4. RAB says:

    An interesting assortment of guitars played by the Beatles mostly based, I presume on the limited availability and/or expensive American guitars in England. Still, once the group had become even mildly successful you wonder why J, P and G didn’t trade in their Rickys, Gretsches and Hofners for Gibson or Fender? They did adopt Epi Casinos but why not a nice Sheraton or Riviera? Still, that fabulous Beatles sound owes a lot to the quirky instruments they played so I guess we can’t begrudge the Fab 4 that! At least Ringo played Ludwigs!!

  5. Rod says:

    Early pictures of Ringo with the Beatles show him playing a (British) Premier kit. When George bought his first Gretsch he was really after a Stratocaster but the guy from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes beat him to it. In those days, US guitars were still hard to find in the UK, there were no ‘Guitar Shops’ as such, just general music shops, grudgingly moving from selling saxes and violins to guitars and US instruments were few and far between.
    I first heard the Beatles on BBC radio in late 1962, before they were signed, doing ‘Love me do’ and although I can’t say they really impressed me they did make an impression of sorts and I followed them in the UK music press thereafter. I didn’t really like much that they did after ‘Rubber Soul’ though. When they hit the US Fender did try very hard to get them to use Strats etc but Brian Epstein was violently against the idea of them endorsing ANYTHING. If Fender hadn’t tried so hard, they might have used their stuff a lot earlier!

  6. chuckNC says:

    Re Premier drums…..Mitch Mitchell never sounded as good after he forsook his Premier kit for those Ludwigs. Just MHO…….and has nothing to do with either ES guitars or the Fab IV.

    Charlie, where are the emoticons?

  7. Rod says:

    Totally off-trhe-wall but more Beatles trivia, folk lore has it that McCartney used Stuart Sutcliffe’s bass with the strings reversed until he bought his own Hofner, such was the speed of Sutcliffe’s departure. I have a photograph in a book somewhere of Sutcliffe playing his bass on stage with McCartney’s bass standing beside him so it would seem that they both played bass with the Beatles at that time. Still, absolutely nothing to do with 335s but you started it Charlie!

  8. cgelber says:

    Apparently Stu looked like a rock star but he wasn’t much of a player. I recall a photo of him, back to the audience, hiding among the amps because he couldn’t play and didn’t want to embarrass himself. I don’t know if that’s true or just hearsay.

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