Acknowledgement: The Ottawa Beatles Site wishes to thank Bill DeYoung and TCPalm.com for allowing us to e-publish the following article...

 Riders' Too Slim made music history with Beatles 'clues'

 By Bill DeYoung entertainment editor
 April 22, 2004

 

In the fall of 1969, a rumor spread the world that Paul McCartney had died, his death was covered up, and the surviving Beatles were planting mysterious "clues" in their music and on their album covers.

It started in Detroit.

Fred LaBour, aka Riders in the Sky's Too Slim, was a junior at the University of Michigan. He was planning his review of the brand-new "Abbey Road" album, for the campus newspaper, when he happened to tune in to a local disc jockey.

"A guy called in and said 'There's something weird going on with these Beatle records,'" LaBour recalls. "He said 'Something's happened to Paul.' It was really spooky. He had three or four of what we now call clues."

The caller pointed to an eerie voice at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever," apparently intoning the words "I buried Paul."

In an instant, LaBour -- who had written term papers on the music of Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys -- knew what he was going to do.

"I talked it over with a friend of mine," he says, "and said 'I'm just going to kill him. I'm just going to make the whole thing up.'

"So the next morning, I lined up all my Beatles albums on my desk and made up this story. I wanted to take what he said and make a story out of it."

The Oct. 14 issue of the Michigan Daily was headlined "McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought to Light."

And so Fred LaBour -- still 20 years away from his chaps and handlebar moustache -- entered history, for the first time.

He alleged, among other things, that McCartney had been killed in a 1966 auto accident, and that the others had replaced him with William Campbell, a Scottish kid who'd won a McCartney look-alike contest.

LaBour scrutinized his "Sgt. Pepper" album cover. The photos, he said, were laden with "clues." McCartney has his back turned to the camera in one picture; in another, he's wearing a badge that reads O.P.D. "O.P.D., Officially Pronounced Dead," LaBour says with a laugh. "There's a bunch of them that crack me up."

(In truth, McCartney had been given the badge during a Canadian tour; it stood for Ontario Police Department).

"It was supposed to be a satire of the school of criticism where you ascribe a lot of qualities to an artist's work that he probably had no idea he was doing," LaBour says. "Like over-analyzing."

"Paul was always doing something different in the pictures, so you could say 'Great! This is a metaphor for that,'" He explains. "He's barefoot on the cover of 'Abbey Road'? Well, dead men don't wear shoes. I didn't research that, but it sounded good. He's in a box on this one? That's obviously a coffin."

In many photos, a raised hand appeared over McCartney's head. Obviously, LaBour wrote, a Mafia sign of death.

Regarding "I Am the Walrus," LaBour told his readers that "walrus" was a Greek word meaning corpse.

"When this all hit the fan and they were trying to verify the clues, they called the great Greek classics professor at Columbia University: 'Walrus, is it true that it means corpse?'

"And he said 'Walrus? We have no word, walrus. What is that?"

The Beatles, who had quietly broken up the month before, remained mum on the subject (in all honesty, it wasn't hurting record sales). The real McCartney was very much alive and in seclusion at his Scottish farm.

Others discovered new "clues," and the rumor got bigger and bigger; soon it was all over the national news. "I thought people's interest would be piqued, and their imagination and stuff, but I never thought people would believe it," LaBour says. "The phone was ringing all the time. I got scared. It was too weird."

In November, attorney F. Lee Bailey filmed a TV show, staged in a mock courtroom. Several of the principals, including the Michigan disc jockey and Fred LaBour, along with Beatles manager Allen Klein, were flown to Los Angeles to "give testimony."

LaBour was terrified, and at his first meeting with Bailey, he confessed that he'd made the whole thing up.

"There was this great pause," LaBour recalls. "And he said 'We have an hour of television to do. You're going to have to play along.'"

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Ottawa Beatle Site e-publication, May 2, 2004 and is used with permission. Copyright by Bill DeYoung and TCPalm.com, April 22, 2004, all rights reserved.