Sure, some of the fans who attended The Beatles’ first and only visit to Las Vegas 50 years ago this week may have had an inkling that it would be historic.
For many — and maybe for most — it was at the very least a great excuse to catch the latest supergroup and a cool way to cap off summer before school resumed, in a town where popular music still was more about the Rat Pack than four English guys with scandalous haircuts.
But historic it was. The Beatles’ 1964 U.S. tour, which came on the heels of the group’s now-iconic performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” furthered along a revolution in music, politics and pop culture that had already begun, and there would be no turning back.
When The Beatles came to Las Vegas on Aug. 20, 1964, and took to a patio-sized stage in the (appropriately) flying saucer-shaped rotunda at the Las Vegas Convention Center, it was an epic event, both for those lucky enough to be there and those who just happened to be close enough by to experience a bit of, that’s right, history.
• • •
Glenn Shaw didn’t see the concert. But he and his niece, Linda Shaw Stiles, believe they caught what would have been an early sighting of the group.
Shaw was 20 then and working at a car rental agency at McCarran Airport.
“Of course, the day of their arrival, the airport was flooded with kids,” he says. “Having worked at the airport, I knew where The Beatles were arriving, which wasn’t at the main terminal but the old terminal out on Las Vegas Boulevard.”
So, he says, “I got hold of my niece and said I knew where they were coming in.”
Linda already was a big Beatles fan, owning every album the group did to that point and, of course, tickets for one of the Las Vegas shows. So when her uncle called, “I was so excited,” she says. “I couldn’t honestly believe that I was going to be able to see them. I thought if I can just be close to them, I’d be thrilled.”
“I got off work,” Glenn recalls. “I had a little Thunderbird convertible back then, and we drove over to the other terminal. It was kind of dark. No one was around. But we did see the plane pull up.
“I said, ‘Let’s try to sneak in between these two buildings.’ I turned off the lights of the car and, as I pull in between the two buildings, I see the limo trying to come out.
“We were no more than 10 or 15 feet from them,” Glenn says. “They just stuck their heads out watching, like, ‘What’s going on?’
“We were nose to nose with the limousine. Finally a police officer came to help me back out and, in the meantime, my niece and her girlfriend, they’re jumping up and down.”
Glenn backed out, parked and watched as The Beatles’ limo went by. Their excellent Beatles adventure even made the newspaper the next day where, Glenn recalls, laughing, “they called us marauding teenagers.”
“That was probably the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me. I called my nieces immediately. ‘We’re in the paper!’ ”
Later, Linda saw The Beatles play. “It was nonstop music and nonstop screaming,” she says. “I remember that aggravated me, because I couldn’t hear.”
Did Linda think, even for just a second, about getting out of her uncle’s car and running over to The Beatles’ limo?
She laughs. “Oh, I could never have been brave enough to do that.”
• • •
The Beatles played two shows in Las Vegas. Ticket prices ranged from $2.20 to $5.50, and not everybody who wanted a ticket got one.
“I was 7 and my mother and I were crazy for The Beatles,” writes Kim Badgley of Henderson. “I loved Paul and my mom loved George and my Dad thought we were crazy!
“When they came to town, Mom and I wanted to go so bad. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my tears finally wore Dad down. He dropped Mom and I off, and when we got to the front of the line to get our tickets, they were sold out! We sat on the curb and waited for Dad to come back to get us. We could almost hear the singing above the screaming girls inside.
• • •
Christie Mullikin Jones was more fortunate. She and her family made The Beatles’ concerts the centerpiece of a Las Vegas vacation.
Christie was 16 then and lived in Claremont, Calif., where her father owned a trucking company. “They went between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, so he had some sort of contact in Las Vegas,” she says. “That’s how he got tickets for us.”
Christie already was “a crazy Beatles fan. From the moment I heard them, I loved — I still love — The Beatles.”
The family stayed at the Sahara, the same hotel at which The Beatles were staying. During their stay, Christie wrote letters on official Sahara stationery to her friend, Karen, describing what she saw and felt.
“There was a lot of excitement in the air,” Christie recalls, as well as “a lot of supposed sightings of The Beatles,” and at least one hotel page heard that Beatles manager Brian Epstein was spotted.
In her letters to Karen — which, Christie admits, laughing, “were pretty dramatic” — “I wrote about the restrictions. You couldn’t go up the elevator to the top floor. We were told that’s where The Beatles were staying. And there was a lot of security around.
“One of the things I had in (a letter) was, we were looking down out of the window to the pool area and we could see people. This is at night, and the pool was cleared out, but there were four men sitting down there. We couldn’t even see. They were very small. We were sure they were The Beatles. We were standing out on the balcony and they waved.”
Then came the concert.
“If my memory is correct, I think we were in, like, the seventh row,” Christie says. “But we were really close, and I just remember (Dad) sitting with his fingers in his ears the whole concert. I was just screaming, crazy loud. It was a wonderful thing.”
Christie wrote to Karen about the set list (The Beatles opened with “Twist and Shout”), Ringo’s lead vocal on “Boys” (“I just about died. He is so neat”) and how she sobbed when they sang “If I Fell” (“It sounds stupid, but when you hear them sing, it makes you feel like you remember a lot of good memories”).
Pretty perceptive stuff for a 17-year-old, actually. Another observation: What a great guy Christie’s dad must have been.
“I look back on it now, and I think that was an amazing thing he did for us,” Christie agrees.
Christie recently caught Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” and discovered that the passage of 50 years hasn’t diminished the power of The Beatles’ music.
“It’s just that whole time of life that it brings back,” she says. “I feel like the songs still hold up. They’re wonderful.
“They were so talented, and I don’t think we knew how talented they were at the time. We were just caught up in the frenzy and loved them. But, to look back, we got to witness something amazing.”
• • •
Meanwhile, a few miles away, Shelley Berkley was enduring a terrible summer.
Berkley, former Nevada congresswoman and now CEO and senior provost for Touro University’s Western Division, was 13 years old. The month before, she and her family had driven across the country so that her father could seek employment in Southern California’s hospitality industry.
Instead, they stopped in Las Vegas, where the family was living in a one-bedroom apartment behind the Blue Angel Motel, one block north of East Charleston Boulevard.
It was oppressively hot. Berkley missed her friends back home. She felt isolated and alone.
“I thought my parents had taken me to hell,” Berkley recalls.
But, somehow, her parents were able to score four tickets to The Beatles’ concert. They sat in nosebleed seats, Berkley with her mom and her sister, Wendy, with her dad.
Berkley screamed. She cried. And, she says, for the first time since she had arrived in Las Vegas a few weeks before, she felt happy.
Berkley recalls that as she left the concert, a big moon hung in the sky. It was then, she recalls, that “I realized that Las Vegas might not be such a bad place to live.
“Las Vegas was now home. It was the beginning of my incredible life in Las Vegas. After that show, I never looked back.”
The Beatles concert even may have planted the seeds of Berkley’s political career. After Review-Journal writer Don Digilio wrote, Berkley says, “a scathing column about the show in which he insulted Ringo’s nose” (Digilio wrote about standing in “the shadow of Ringo’s nose”), Berkley joined other local Beatles fans to protest at the writer’s front door.
• • •
Philip Jones, then 17, worked the shows as an usher. He had worked other shows at the Convention Center, including a Beach Boys concert, before. But, he says, “when this opportunity came for both shows, I jumped on it.”
Before the first show, Jones also was enlisted to serve as a proto-roadie.
“We had to get there early to get our silly outfits — our hat and tie — and they needed somebody to help set up the stage, so I helped put Ringo’s drums up,” Jones says. “You couldn’t imagine that nowadays. And if you see any photos of them playing that night, the stage was nothing. It was like a little curtain behind them that said, ‘The Beatles.’ No electronics, no fireworks, no pyrotechnics.”
Then, during the second show, Jones says, “I got to stand in front of the stage because they needed more security to guard them. The girls who saw the first show started to rush the stage, so they had ushers leave their seating posts after the people were seated and go down in front of the stage. So I heard them better during the second show because I was right there.”
Any fear of being trampled by overeager fans? “No, I was just glad I got to be closer,” he says, laughing. “The whole thing was sort of magical. I was just there saying, ‘I’m going to enjoy this.’ ”
Jones remembers feeling vibrations from the music in the arena’s metal hand rails. “You could imagine the whole saucer-shaped building taking off,” he says. “Just the vibration and the energy level were so incredible.”
After the show, Jones and some other ushers went to Denny’s on the Strip to unwind. “All the teenage girls saw us in our uniforms and wanted our autographs,” he recalls, laughing.
“We had a moment, thanks to The Beatles.”
• • •
Sherri Eddowes-Plummer and her mother, Barbara, got to visit backstage after the show.
Sherri was 5 then. “I really don’t know how we wound up there, but we sat in the front row, right by Ringo,” she says. “He was on the drums, and as soon as he hit the drums with his stick for the first time, complete chaos ensued.
“I had no idea who they were,” she admits. But her mom did, and she was a big fan.
“Of course, I have no memory of this, but she told me I was just sitting there listening, and after five minutes I was standing on my chair. It was just utter insanity. People were crying, people were screaming. Of course, it was mostly girls, and shaking their hair like they did back then.
“Then, I don’t remember how we got backstage, but we were there after the concert,” Sherri says. She figures that had something to do with her stepfather-to-be, who “was one of the pit bosses at the Silver Slipper, and he had all kinds of — I’ll put it nicely — connections. So that’s probably how we wound up back there.
“I just remember it was a lot of people trying to get close to them, and because I was so young, it wasn’t really a big deal to me.”
She and her mom also ended up with a nice photo of the group. And, Sherri says, “the irony of this is now that, a good part of the year, I live in England.”
“I used to live in London right across the street from Abbey Road. I work for the Defense Department, and I’ve actually been in England back and forth for more than 10 years now. So it’s kind of full circle.”
• • •
Dave Pinion was 16 then and working as a busboy at the Sahara. After the shows, he rode an elevator with The Beatles up to their suite.
“They were very nice, very friendly,” Pinion recalls. “They asked me a few questions about the girls (in Las Vegas). They couldn’t get over the fact that you could gamble 24 hours and drink 24 hours. They said, ‘Is it true you can gamble in grocery stores?’ ”
But, Pinion says, “I was nervous. I couldn’t get a conversation going. They kept trying to talk to me, and I was just a starstruck kid. I didn’t know what to say. I was scared to death. John was the most talkative, but they all said something to me.”
Pinion entered the group’s suite to wheel their dinner dishes downstairs. In the hallway, he ran into a group of girls who, with others, by now had packed the hotel.
“They were all over the place, hundreds of them,” Pinion says.
“So I’m taking out the dishes and telling them, ‘Oh yeah, Ringo drank out of this coffee cup.’ I could have sold all this stuff, I’m sure. I just gave it to them. ‘I saw Paul eat out of this.’ ‘Here’s a plate John had.’ I gave away, like, a whole busboy’s tray of stuff.”
• • •
Las Vegas was still a pretty small town in 1964, then, so it’s not surprising that some of the people who saw The Beatles here would become some of Las Vegas’ and Nevada’s better-known residents.
Sig Rogich, for instance, political consultant and president of The Rogich Communications Group, was 19 then and dating a girl whose father worked at the Sahara, a sponsor of the shows. So, he says, “as luck and good fortune would have it, I had a chance to go.”
“It was funny. I wasn’t a big concert guy per se, but I think at that time I remember thinking, ‘This is kind of a historic moment,’ ” he says.
But, he continues, “these guys were great from the first time I really heard them. As they wrote music, going on in their careers, I was always taken by their ability and their harmony. I’ve always loved music and I played guitar most of my life, so I always enjoyed great harmony and good four-part harmony, and we were just taken by their ability right away.”
Not that the concerts were the best place to truly appreciate The Beatles’ musical ability.
“It was the first time I’d ever been to a concert where it was quite like that,” Rogich says. “There were people screaming at the top of their lungs. So, from that standpoint, looking back on it, I remember people asking me right afterwards, ‘Did you like it?’ We said, ‘We didn’t hear anything, but I loved it.’ ”
And to illustrate just how small a town Las Vegas was back then: In a separate recollection, Las Vegas native Kathy Bellflower writes that she went to the concert with her sister and their baby sitter, Ronnie Rogich, Sig Rogich’s sister.
“That’s right,” Sig Rogich says. “I guess two of us were at that concert.”
As a memento, Rogich years later was given a photo of the concert, taken from the stage, that shows him sitting in the audience.
• • •
The Beatles’s 1964 North American Tour played more than 20 cities, from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Philadelphia and New York. That Las Vegas was on the itinerary was key in ensuring that the city that prides itself on being the entertainment capital of the world wasn’t left behind even as the music and culture of the ’60s began to turn.
Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, attended both shows.
“August 20, 1964, was an incredible day in Las Vegas, and one I’ll never forget,” he writes. “Beatlemania was beginning to sweep across the country, and there was an excitement in Las Vegas that had rarely been seen at that time. The response was so great, the promoters — Herb McDonald, Stan Irwin and John Romero of the Sahara hotel-casino — decided to add a show and move the concerts from the Sahara’s Congo Room to the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“The minute John, Paul, George and Ringo walked onto the stage in the Convention Center, Las Vegas’ title as ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’ was cemented in history.”
Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@review journal.com or 702-383-0280.