Classic Rock Corner

Five Direct Beatles Connections to Texas

Looks like Beatlemania 2.0 is in full swing. Rocks Off may have mentioned how excited we are to play The Beatles: Rock Band at Coffee Groundz tonight, with prizes, drink specials and much laughter as we try to gnash our way through "I Saw Her Standing There." Shortly after noon, we called over to Cactus Music to see how the freshly released remastered Beatles catalog was selling. The complete box set sold out in pre-sale, the clerk reported, while about 50 people have already bought individual albums, mostly between two to four at a time (and remember, Cactus opens at 10 a.m.). The store's phone, he added, has been ringing "off the hook."

Obviously the Beatles continue to be as beloved in Houston as they are around the world, so Rocks Off thought we'd salute the perhaps the biggest day in the group's history since New Year's Eve 1970 - when Paul McCartney's attorneys filed suit against the other three Beatles and manager Allen Klein, asking that the group's legal partnership be officially dissolved - by highlighting a few of the Fab Four's Texas connections.

1. Buddy Holly. The Lubbock-born bespectacled rock and roller is, with apologies to John, Paul, George and Ringo's mums and dads, probably the single human being most responsible for the Beatles' existence. The group's name is a play on Holly's band the Crickets, of course, but even before there was the Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney's earlier groups like the Quarrymen honed their chops on Holly-penned early rock and roll classics like "That'll Be the Day." Even as late as the Let It Be sessions, the splintering Beatles used a Holly medley to warm up in the studio.

2. Delbert McClinton. The Lubbock-born, Fort Worth-raised master of Texas roadhouse R&B, back on the new-release racks with the fine Acquired Taste, played harmonica on Bruce Channel's 1962 hit "Hey Baby" and accompanied Channel on the subsequent UK tour, where he met John Lennon. Accounts differ as to how much harmonica instruction McClinton actually gave the fledgling Beatle, as Lennon already knew how to play the instrument, but according to, the Texan gave him this pointer: "Just blow, son. You're good at that." But listen to "Hey Baby" and "Love Me Do" back-to-back and it's pretty clear that something rubbed off.

3. Billy Preston. Though he grew up in Los Angeles, prolific pianist and keyboardist Preston did spend the first year of his life in Houston, which by local music calculus makes him a Houstonian for life. After befriending the group while on a UK tour with Little Richard's band, Preston played on the sessions for the Beatles' final two albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be (which was recorded first). The Beatles held Preston - who went on to play on several Rolling Stones albums including Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street and Tattoo You, Fastball's The Harsh Light of Day (that's his piano on "You're an Ocean") and Johnny Cash's swan song American IV: The Man Comes Around - in such high esteem they released the "Get Back" single as "The Beatles with Billy Preston."

4. The Coliseum. Houston wasn't the Beatles' first time in Texas - they played Dallas' Memorial Coliseum on September 18, 1964 - but they played twice as much here, with afternoon and evening shows at the Sam Houston Coliseum on August 19, 1965. (The setlist was the same at both shows, however, including "Help!," "Can't Buy Me Love" and opener "Twist and Shout.") In The Complete Beatles Chronicles, Mark Lewisohn reports that the Fab Four pulled down a cool $85,000 for the two shows at the 12,000-capacity Coliseum - tickets were all of $5. In Houston, Lewisohn adds, was "Beatlemania at possibly its most acute level yet witnessed"; bootleg recordings of the Coliseum show are easily accessible online. Ringo reportedly was a big Lightnin' Hopkins fan, and according to this review of his All-Starr Band's August 1995 Arena Theatre concert (featuring Billy Preston on keys), once considered moving to the Bayou City.

5. Roky Erickson and "Rocky Raccoon": A popular myth in Texas psych circles is that the bouncy White Album song is based on the troubled Thirteenth Floor Elevators frontman. It's not, but even former Elevators drummer Danny Thomas - who later played on Houstonian Johnny Nash's hits "Stir It Up" and "I Can See Clearly Now" - thought it was, and said so in a 2001 interview with the Texas Psychedelic Rock blog. The most widely circulated story concerning "Rocky's" origins is that it's Paul McCartney's parody of Bob Dylan's Western-themed John Wesley Harding album. Thomas says Dylan and Elevators electric jug player Tommy Hall had several mutual friends, and that part of Harding itself is based on Elevators songs. Thomas replaced original Elevators drummer John Ike Walton in 1967, and also admitted "psychedelic drugs were the cornerstone of our existence" in an earlier Texas Psych interview, so there's really no telling.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray