Danny Zelisko on Today and Tomorrow in Scottsdale
September 7, 2023
I have been writing a book for the last few years. I think it’s a good time to put it out there now, a chapter at a time – till this thing keeping us home goes away. WE STILL NEED TO BE ENTERTAINED RIGHT?
HERE is the first chapter of the book. Feel free to SHARE. I hope you like it. New Chapter every Monday.
Please Please Me
The Beatles and Ed Sullivan
My brothers and I had started paying attention to songs that were played on the radio, in Chicago in the early 1960s. All there was for us kids to listen to was AM radio. There were two stations: WLS and WCFL. There were 45 RPM records and 33 RPM long-play records in stores, but we weren’t buying those quite yet. The first record I ever bought was “Puff the Magic Dragon,” by Peter, Paul and Mary.
We would go to bed at night, each of us with a transistor under our pillow, and try to be the first to guess what song was playing and yell out the name of the song. WLS had a weekly list called the Silver Dollar Survey. This was when I first heard the phrase “Top 40.” The Silver Dollar Survey was a thin piece of paper, maybe three-by-eight, that would show the top 40 songs each week, and it was available at record stores all over the place. New songs would appear at the bottom of the survey every week, and some other songs would end up being taken out because they ran out of room for them. This was my introduction to the music business.
One Friday afternoon after school, I went over to the record store to pick up my new Silver Dollar Survey, and this song appeared on the list called “Please Please Me,” by a group called the Beatles, whom I’d never heard of. Of course, me being a spelling-champ type of guy, I noticed that “Beatles” was spelled differently from beetle. In fact, they spelled it The Beattles on the survey!
As soon as I heard the song in the record store, I absolutely loved it. It was magic—an arm-hair raising experience. It lasted only one week on the survey!
A lot of great American vocal harmony acts came out during those days—the Beach Boys; Dion; Peter, Paul and Mary; and the Four Seasons, just to name a few—but the Beatles did it with a certain tongue-in-cheek coolness. The Beatles didn’t look like Elvis. They didn’t look like roughnecks. They seemed very approachable. They were the perfect package. They masterfully combined electric guitar music with catchy hooks and great vocals, and it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. To this day, nobody has ever done it like the Beatles, and nobody ever will.
“Please Please Me” is not the Beatles’ best song, but it was the first one that I liked, and it remains one of my favorites. It displayed their ability to combine very simple words with music that appealed to you, that you could dance to. I bought the single, and I was probably the only kid in the neighborhood who had a copy of it. I played that song for my family, my friends, and everybody I knew.
This went on for most of 1963—and then the Beatles exploded. As the famous story goes, TV talent host Ed Sullivan was at Heathrow Airport in London, and the place was jam-packed with thousands and thousands of kids waiting to get a glimpse of the Beatles when they flew in. The Beatles were already huge in the UK and Germany, and it seemed the entire city of London had turned up to see them. Sullivan asked what all the commotion was about. When he was told that it was for the Beatles, he said anybody who was making this much noise among the kids had to be on his TV show. He immediately booked them to perform, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The fact that they were English also piqued the public’s interest. Think about it: try to name one English singer or band before the Beatles. I can’t. They put England on the map, and their music opened up the world for a whole new generation. Now, probably for the first time, people really wanted to go to England.
There was no way for that 45 record groove to capture the excitement the Beatles were generating all over Europe—it was their live performances that were so stunning. The four great personalities that made up that group were an incredible experience live, as everybody finally saw, in 1964, on The Ed Sullivan Show.
This was how I started to learn what it takes to break a band and make them big. You have to do more than just get discovered. The one thing every band has in common is that they were a baby band, first. They were somebody that nobody cared about. If they were lucky, they got a manager who knew the ropes and might be able to help get them a record deal.
Promoting a band’s career means getting involved with them when they’re brand new, recognizing if there’s an audience for them, and helping them to find it. If it works, you’re in like Flynn, for the time being anyway, and hopefully you’re with that band as long as they keep making music.
Almost ten years later, when I was starting out in the live music promoting business, I called up Frank Barsalona’s Premier Talent Agency, and asked about my favorite bands—acts that were just coming out in the early ’70s, like Robin Trower and Yes. They’d tell me, “We don’t know you. You could be the greatest promoter in the world, but you haven’t proven yourself yet. You’ve got to do some of the smaller groups and show that you can do whatever it takes to help them grow. Keep in touch.”
That was probably the same thing they said to the lots of other people who somehow found their phone numbers, and most would never call back.
Lots of people fantasize about booking bands, but very few people actually follow through because it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of tedious steps, and it often involves losing money on your first few shows, as I did, in order to show that you can take a hit and carry on; pick yourself off the floor when you lose, and continue to do it.
The booking agents don’t want to be in business with people who aren’t going to be able to pay the act the night of the show because they screwed up and didn’t charge enough, or who get taken by surprise because they didn’t know how many people were going to show up. Doing it right is about being in the right hall on the right date, charging the right price for tickets, getting the word out, and so many other things. All those factors are key to being a successful promoter.
But in 1963–1964, I wasn’t thinking about any of that stuff. It was a rush just to have heard about a band like the Beatles, and to know after they hit it big, that I was right to have liked them from the start. It didn’t occur to me then that this business was something I ought to do, or that I had a good ear for this stuff. I didn’t know shit. But I did like the mop-tops!
If you would’ve told me then I would be having anything to do with The Beatles later on in life, I would’ve not believed it – then, anyway.