If you’ve ever used the expression “it happens in three’s” regarding celebrity deaths -- you’re an idiot. Unless three people died within an hour, it never even makes sense when people say it. And what qualifies as one of the three? George Kennedy might be a household name to us movie lovers, but not to other people. Would you also know who Pat Conroy is? I think he’s one of the best novelists of the ‘70s (The Great Santini, My Losing Season, Prince of Tides). Do you put authors on a list with actors?
That all being said, the third talented legend to pass away recently, in yet a different profession, I found out about in a weird way.
The death of The Beatles producer George Martin was strange. I was sending emails back and forth with somebody on the Autograph site about two signed Ringo Starr items I have that he’s interested in seeing. A Tweet came through from Ringo Starr about the “5th Beatle” passing, at age 90.
Martin basically gave them their recording contract and produced all their songs (well, except for Phil Spector, who worked on Let it Be). Spector, when he worked on a solo record with John Lennon, pulled a gun out and put it to his head. Lennon apparently told him if he was always going to pull the thing out, he should use it.
When I interviewed John Prine (who is a great autograph signer, by the way), I shared that story and asked him of Spector pulled a gun on him when he produced his album. He laughed and said, “I think Specter has pulled a gun on everyone he’s worked with.”
That made it all the more interesting that Spector’s daughter, who works for The New Yorker, tried to argue with me about how her dad was innocent on a website once.
But I’m getting off track here. That’s what I do when I start typing about musicians.
Anyway...Martin was born in London in 1926, joined the Navy, and played a handful of instruments (most notably, piano).
He snagged an Oscar for his work on A Hard Day’s Night. And speaking of “night”, he was knighted in the mid-90s.
One of his best selling songs was a Brit that bought his mop top -- Sir Elton John. It was the remake of “Candle in the Wind” for Princess Di in 1997.
Martin also worked with Gerry and the Pacemakers, America, Cheap Trick, Kate Bush, Celine Dion, and Jeff Beck. His Giles has also worked with Beck.
He worked on some solo records by Ringo and McCartney
Now, I have a Sgt. Pepper record signed by the Beatles, but...many believe the John Lennon signature isn’t real (that’s still open for debate). Anyway...when Pete Best came to town, I had him autograph it. He gladly did, which a lot of my friends think is insane. They have a decent point. Best didn’t do anything on the Pepper record (or any Beatles album, other than one of the Anthology collections). I just liked the idea of having something signed by “five Beatles.” (for those that don’t know, Pete Best was the original drummer).
Obviously, I couldn’t get anything signed by the original bassist -- Stu Sutcliffe, as he died in the ‘60s.
I ended up getting press passes to the Grammy Awards, when George Martin was being honored years ago. I brought my record, thinking it would be a simple thing to have Sir George Martin, who was routinely called the “5th Beatle”...become the 6th Beatle to sign my record.
I was standing on the red carpet with other reporters, doing interviews with the folks walking in. Joe Walsh, one of my favorite guitarists, came by. Jeff Lynne of ELO, as well as Jeff Beck. When I was backstage, I got those guys to all sign my tickets to the event, including Tom Jones. He was kind enough to grab my cell phone and talk to my mom for a few minutes. One of the nicest things a celeb has ever done.
When Martin was walking up the red carpet, I actually got nervous. It’s one of the rare times I was nervous asking for an autograph. Part of that was because, I wasn’t so sure the event organizers would even be cool with that. A reporter next to me was so excited for me, saying “There’s no way he’ll turn you down.”
As he approached, I asked him a few questions. He couldn’t hear me well, and had trouble answering my questions. Since I had seen LOVE in Las Vegas (an expensive show, but one I highly recommend), I told him how great it was. He mentioned his son Giles working on the music with that production.
I then pulled out my record and asked him if he’d sign it. He said, “No, no. Not today. I’m sorry.”
It’s strange because...I’ve seen lots and lots and lots of signed things by Martin popping up over the years, so he obviously signs.
Next, his son came up the red carpet. I asked him about LOVE, and he gave me some good quotes. I showed him the record and asked if he could get it signed. He said his dad doesn’t really do that unless it’s for charity (that night, they did auction off a lot of signed things by George Martin, but that doesn’t help my record get signed).
At the reception, all the celebs were sipping glasses of wine. I was near George Martin, but didn’t want to ask him again. So, I did what any of us would’ve done. I bugged his son. I pleaded and pleaded. He just kept turning me down, even as he curiously looked at the record.
Well, after the event I went with the other autograph collectors out back. They had various Beatles records, one guy with a Paul McCartney signature on Abbey Road. There were about 20 of us, and one autograph collector said, “This Bentley limo is what he came up in. When he comes out, if we all hound him, he’s going to turn us down. Why don’t we all just start clapping.”
Sounded like a great plan.
He came out 20 minutes later, and we all applauded. He stopped, waved, and thanked us. We asked about signing records, and he just got into the car, which stopped again near us. He rolled down the window, and waved and smiled.
Months later, I’d send emails to Giles Martin. I found out we were born on the same month (October) in the same year (1969). I tried to use this to persuade him. I got nowhere. I found out later, my girlfriend at the time was also in contact with him, trying to get this signed for my birthday. She got nowhere either.
So, while I’m saddened to hear about his passing, I’m actually a lot sadder that he turned me down for an autograph. I know that sounds horrible to say, but he was 90. He had a great life. He got rich, he produced the Beatles, and did a job he loved.
The least he could’ve done was signed a handful of autographs for some fans. And if he was told to avoid the LA autograph crowd because they might be dealers or sell on eBay, he could’ve personalized, or only signed one item per person.
I’ve thought about framing my items, and buying a Stu Sutcliffe and George Martin signature. Maybe even something signed by their original manager - Brian Epstein. I could matt them in the frame. I probably won’t do that, though.
It’s all very frustrating to even think about, especially the fact that my Lennon might not even be real.
It was a long and winding road, collecting all those guys -- and it’ll be a nice piece to put on the wall someday.