A week of Beatles Music — Pure Joy, Old Friends & Celebrations

Nothing slowed down after the incredible Beatles evening I hosted with Gibson Musical Instrument’s Peter Leinheiser on January 22 where rock stars came out to sing their favorite Beatle songs.  That event, it turned out, was merely the kick off to day after day of incredible rock and roll that culminated with The Beatles concert here in Los Angeles (which will air February 9th on CBS) in honor of the Beatles 50th and their Ed Sullivan Show appearance that changed everything, yes everything 1964.

Musicares January 24

This year’s Musicares event (Los Angeles) honored the extraordinary singer-songwriter Carole King and it was the must–attend event because of Carole’s status as one of the greatest singer-songwriters ever in rock or pop or standards or just about any category you can imagine. Her masterpiece album Tapestry, of course, far surpassed any bands’ albums sales for decades and her body of work contains hit after hit after hit of her compositions from the mid 1960s on – each song beloved.

Rona Elliot with David & Jan Crosby

Rona Elliot with David & Jan Crosby

I spent the evening at Musicares (happily) with old friends David and Jan Crosby and saw many other longtime pals and professional colleagues too. The evening could really be considered (no kidding) a 60s love fest (this was just a warm up for the Beatles tribute it turned out!) with its continuous effusiveness. At Musicares I looked around and every great musician who contributed to the genre of singer-songwriter was on hand along with every other musician despite their style or category. Before I even name some of fantastic artists who performed Carole’s classics, a look around was a who’s who of music royalty from Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, to Verdine White of Earth Wind and Fire.  Anywhere you looked there were musical giants. Of course the Beatles extended families and friends were on hand too, the elegant Olivia Harrison, Yoko and Sean Lennon, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson — even Nancy Pelosi showed up. Who knew?

I think both music industry veterans and artists came to celebrate Carole, her artistic status is so elevated and her work held in awe even by the others we all consider the greatest. The performances of Carole’s music were incredible, from Pink, to James Taylor to Zac Brown and Sara Bareilles to Merry Clayton (think Stones) and Darlene Love, to Miranda Lambert, LeAnn Rimes and Steve Tyler, Jakob Dylan and (Carole’s daughter) Louise Goffin, Jason Mraz and Lisa Fischer.  I particularly loved Gloria Estefan’s arrangement of “It’s Too Late”. But it was Lady Gaga who burned the house down into cinders with an astonishingly powerful version of “You’ve Got a Friend”. Incomparable, truly. Carole was gracious, enthusiastic, did the expected classic duos with James Taylor and it was all love love love. She closed the night with my personal favorite from her body of work, from the era when I was just a teenager trying to figure it all out (when the Shirelles sang it) “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”. Amazing night.

Grammy Rehearsals January 25

It’s always fun to be inside the Staples Center when it’s not filled with thousands and thousands of people. You get to watch the production team working to set up the Grammy telecast (produced by the great Ken Ehrlich), testing the sound, the lights and the spotlights out in the audience. I prefer being at a rehearsal to actually being at the show, the compulsive worker that I am, who can’t sit still and I like to see what people do to make an event happen.

Ringo Starr

That said, of course, it’s the most fun to watch and listen to the sound check and hear Ringo sing “Photograph” a few times with the extraordinary Don Was music crew behind him and then watch Sir Paul rehearse a few times singing “Queenie Eye” with his own band and Ringo on drums. No photos, no phones, no texting, or you’re tossed out of there and rightly so. It takes a lot to protect a TV show these days and thank goodness, at least sometimes, it’s still possible. People, I believe, care to see Sir Paul and Ringo more than they were willing to risk grabbing their iPhone for a photo. Thank you Maureen O’Connor as ever!  We walked out of that rehearsal filled with Beatles love and knowing the Beatles 50th TV show was still to come.

Rona Elliot, Nick Roylance & Ringo Starr

Rona Elliot, Nick Roylance & Ringo Starr

Beatles 50th Live Concert and Show (on CBS to air February 9th) live show and unexpected old friends January 27

By now, my voice was gone from singing along at too many events and I wanted to still sing at the show. You know, no one is cool about The Beatles – I don’t care who you are, how hip or cool or famous you are. No one. The Beatles changed everything and that was the atmosphere heading into this show at the LA Convention Center. I’d arranged to stop in to the Grammy Museum before the taping to talk with Bob Santelli, who runs the Grammy Museum, about a proposed project and so arrived early with a pal so we’d have enough time before the show. We noticed a stack of books piled up by the entrance as the Grammy Museum regularly hosts evenings with authors and musicians. The books were Jane Pauley’s, who was soon to arrive for her event. I was thrilled. Jane, was the Today host with Bryant Gumbel during some of the years I was on the air at NBC Today. One time, I’d given Jane, on the air, an autographed copy of George Harrison’s book “I, Me, Mine” because Jane too, is a Beatles fanatic. I greeted her when she arrived and she was as surprised as I was, as well as disappointed that she’d miss the Beatles show. We went off to the green room to catch up only to have another old friend of both of ours Mary Hart – long time host of ET – (and our kids also went to the same school together) show up and we all caught up and laughed and carried on. This was BEFORE the Beatles show, so I knew the night would be magic. Bob Santelli came in and we all shared Beatles stories but sadly Jane went on with her book tour and we took off for the show, down the block. Almost show time.

Rona Ellit and Jane Pauley

Rona Ellit and Jane Pauley

Rona Elliot, Mary Hart and Jane Pauley

Rona Elliot, Mary Hart and Jane Pauley

I’ve been to more shows than I can count but there was magic in the air and gratitude on the lips of every person I spoke to walking towards the entrance of the hall. People – and I mean it – could not believe they were going to see the remaining Beatles play and hear all these other greats play Beatles songs. Even the most uber self-important music business types (and they were there too) had dialed it down and seemed genuinely grateful to be there to witness this event. The actual audience size was very small and dotted overhead the crowd were only a few cranes with cameras on them. People were ready for a night of rock and roll. Producer Ken Ehrlich came out and explained how the evening would go, when there’d be breaks for set changes, what to expect during the live TV shoot and within minutes there was Ed Sullivan talking about the Fab Four on screens throughout the hall where 2 nights earlier Carole King was singing. Much of the original Ed Sullivan footage was included with many gorgeous color graphics throughout the night and a lot of the original vocal tracks of the Beatles I think had been remixed and were great and brand new again, the guys’ vocals extremely clear and distinct. I don’t want to give a lot away here but it will be worth watching on February 9th to say the least.  Very moving, very beautiful show. Stevie Wonder, Dhani Harrison (George’s son), Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, the incomparable Eurythmics Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart (together for the first time in 9 years), Alicia Keys, backed up by the Don Was assortment of extraordinary musicians (think back up band Peter Frampton and Steve Lukather for starters!) and the list goes on. Sir Paul and Ringo, together and apart, Beatles families and of course, the songs and the love and spectacular incomparable music. The Beatles may have seemed to come to give us their music but I’d argue that they came to spread the love.

The Beatles Performance

What a week!

I got onto the famous LA freeway and re-entered reality, sadly horse but still singing.

The Great Pete Seeger  

I got home from my Beatles swoon to check the NY Times headlines only to read that the great great Pete Seeger had left this world. What a contribution he made. Appropriate somehow, in the wake of the Beatles evening, to read about Pete’s departure. Pete had come to this world, in my opinion, to bring people together, to have people sing together, always sing together, under any circumstances and things will get better, he believed.

Rona Elliot with Pete Seeger Dec. 7 1998 - Beacon, New York.

Rona Elliot with Pete Seeger – Dec. 7 1998 – Beacon, New York

I’d been around Pete on a number of occasions through my long-time friend brilliant musician Arlo Guthrie. He and Pete were true family, truly connected and Pete, the living link to Woody, Arlo’s dad in so many ways. Pete and Arlo worked together for years at so many events. My favorite though, the annual concert by Arlo and Pete at Carnegie Hall every year on Thanksgiving in honor of Alice’s Restaurant and the garbage. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go look it up. Arlo and garbage are forever linked.  When my kids were younger, I took them to New York and to Carnegie so they could see Pete while he was still at his best and of course, hear Arlo sing Alice again. Pete also sang with Arlo and his daughter, Sara Lee, at Sara Lee’s wedding to Johnny Irion at Arlo’s place in the Berkshires. A remarkable day.

Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Sara Lee

Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Sara Lee

Then, in honor of his 80th birthday, I did a long TV piece on him, a real privilege. We shot the interview at his cabin in Beacon, New York, overlooking the Hudson, which he loved, and spent a day or two there. His wife Toshi, (also now gone) was on hand. Pete was just an American institution, living history, committed to other people. What an extraordinary contribution he made.

I also went to Pete’s 90th birthday concert celebration held at Madison Square Garden (with Michael Lang, producer Woodstock) as I felt I needed to be there to honor Pete and add my voice. It was a glorious night of music.

I can’t imagine what could happen after all this. How lucky I’ve been to have all this extraordinary music in my life.

RIP Pete, John and George. You’re missed but your music lives on.

Rona Elliot with George Harrison

Rona Elliot with George Harrison

Rona Elliot with Sir Paul McCartney in Toronto

Rona Elliot with Paul McCartney in Toronto

2 responses to “A week of Beatles Music — Pure Joy, Old Friends & Celebrations

  1. I guess Paul will never talk to Jane after her interview with Linda didn’t go so well some years back. But Rona and Paul, they had chemistry.

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