An Interview with:
Murray the K of WINS radio
Written and conducted by Martin A. Grove
from his excellent book, "Beatle Madness" published by Manor
My wife, Marjorie, and I had met Murray some years before in New York at Rick and Sydelle Skylar's home. We had talked that night about trends in radio and the music industry, including the influence of the drug scene on teenagers. When I reached Murray at the Beverly Hills Hotel he recalled our earlier meeting, and said he would be happy to talk about The Beatles with me.
In the dialogue that follows editing has been done only for the purposes of clarity. Murray the K's opinions, of course, are his own, and not necessarily those of the author.
I began our conversation by telling Murray that I remembered so very well, as if it were only yesterday, that he was known as The Fifth Beatle. And I asked him when he first became aware there was a group called The Beatles.
MTK: In October of '63. They brought a record to me, and mentioned the possibility that The Beatles might come to the U.S. I said, "Okay, I heard a lot about it." I put it on the air. I had a record review board contest on WINS at the time where I'd play five new records each day. The audience would vote on which record they liked best, and the winners of each week would be played on Saturday. When I ran them. [The Beatles] in a contest with a record called She Loves You it came in third out of the five records. But I still continued to play it for two or two-and-a-half weeks. Nothing happened. I mean, really no reaction. Nothing! During those days I was doing all the holiday shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre. Ten days, six shows a day. The Christmas show came along. I did the show, and then decided to go to Florida for my vacation. While I was in Florida from nothing at all suddenly every time you put on the radio every other record was I Want To Hold Your Hand. I remember saying, "Gee, that's the same group, only on this record they sound like an English version of The Everly Brothers." It was that kind of sound. While I was there I had received an urgent call from my station manager in New York at WINS. He told me that The Beatles were coming.
MAG: How did you react to that news?
MTK: I said, "Fine. Get an exterminator." He said, "You don't understand, man. All the television people and newspaper people and radio people are going to be out covering their arrival. We're going to be the only radio station to cover it live. We want you back here.
MAG: Did you jump at the chance?
MTK: I said, "Oh, forget it. I don't know them. They don't know me. I'm in the midst of a vacation I really need." Well, he really put the pressure on and forced me to return. We hopped on a plane and I came back to New York and went out there. I really wasn't too anxious for this whole deal. I walked into Kennedy Airport. Of course, in those days it was pretty much my town. The cops got me right into the press room where my engineer was. They had the radio people set up in the front, and the newspaper reporters were behind us. The cameramen were in the back. Then The Beatles walked in. We were doing it live. All of a sudden George Harrison turned to me and said, "I love your hat." I said, "By the way, you came over on the plane with some friends of mine."
MAG: Who were they?
MTK: At the time a group that was known as Murray The K's Dancing Girls had just cut their first record, Be My Baby. The girls, known as The Ronnettes, had been on the plane with Phil Spector, their producer. I mentioned this to George and he said, "Who are you?" I said, "I'm Murray The K." He asked, "You're Murray The K?" It seems that they had heard about me because all the acts that played The Brooklyn Fox Theater would tell them about my shows when they went to England, and would play my albums for them. They all stopped with the news conference and started rapping with me to the dismay of the rest of the press corps.
MAG: What did that lead to?
MTK: They said, "Hey, come on over to the Plaza. We want to talk to you." I said, "Okay, great." So I went over to the Plaza Hotel after I came back from the Kennedy, and we had done this exclusive interview. While this whole conversation was going on we had scooped everybody else. I came back to WINS and everybody was saying, "Great! Great!" And I said, "Listen, I'm going over to their hotel. They asked me to come over. I don't know what's going to happen." WINS said, "Do anything you want." So I did. I walked over. There were 10,000 kids out front. I got up to the floor where The Beatles were. There must have been about 20 security guards there. I saw people there from other stations, really heavy news people and disc jockeys, trying to get in to see them. I walked up to the desk, and I knew this was going to be a hassle. I was just going to forget it. I was just going to leave my name, and let them know I had been there. I was going to split. I said, "Listen, I'm Murray The K..." Before I could get anything else out, they answered, "Oh, yeah. They're expecting you. Go right in." So I went in and that's when it all began.
MAG: What a stroke of good luck!
MTK: It ended up that night that I did my radio show right from their hotel room. I wound up taking them out afterwards for dinner, and all that kind of stuff. We got kind of friendly. Then I found out that it was going to snow the next day. They were supposed to take off for their first concert in the U.S., which was in Washington, D.C. So told Brian Epstein he'd better hire a train. I told him to make arrangements to get a special train to get to Washington because they weren't going to be able to fly out of New York tomorrow. It was really going to be a heavy snowstorm.
MAG: Did it actually snow?
MTK: Yes. It did snow. We went down to Washington, and had a lot of fun on the train. We almost got killed when we got off the train. Some 10,000 kids broke through the barriers. I remember being pinned against a locomotive on the outside, and feeling the life going out of me, and saying to myself, "My God. MURRAY THE K DIES WITH ENGLISH GROUP!" I wondered what my epitaph would be. George Harrison looked at me and said, "Isn't this fun?" I did my show that night right from their dressing room in Washington, D.C. We were talking and doing my radio show from there. We broadcast the concert, and then we came back to New York on the train. Then they had the Ed Sullivan Show to do. I stayed in their hotel suite and listened to it. When they came back they invited me to come to Miami. But there were no hotel rooms available.
MAG: How did you handle that crisis?
MTK: Cynthia Lennon was traveling with them. She was married to John at that time. Paul was sharing a room with Ringo. George said, "Hey, why don't you room with me?" So I did. I roomed with George while we were in Miami, and I did my radio shows right from their rooms. Then, because the press was on them all the time, I found them a place, a friend of mine's home, where they could go swimming and relax. I also knew somebody who had a big 90 foot yacht. We went out on that, and we just had a good time trying to beat the press. They wanted to see some of the action there, so I took them to see The Coasters. They'd rather see The Coasters than, say, Sammy Davis Jr. They really wanted to see some of the rock acts.
MAG: What happened after you returned to New York and The Beatles flew home to England?
MTK: Then came a lot of transatlantic telephone conversations and interviews over the phone -- like the day the Sunday papers all carried stories saying that Paul had married Jane Asher. Everybody was calling me and complaining, "I don't think they are." I called Brian Epstein and he said, "It's ridiculous." He told me, "We're not going to speak to the press, but you can call them and tell them that we're going to call you on the air tonight." And they did. Paul got on the phone and said it was a lie. Did a whole thing about it. He really put down the press for saying it. Then they invited me to England. I went, and they really built me up over there. They had me on every show, and then I introduced them at the New Musical Express Awards. That's where I met The Rolling Stones. John asked me if I'd bring The Stones over to the U.S., which I did a few months later.
MAG: Obviously, then, you were one of the very first people in the United States to get to know the Beatles.
MAG: What were they like back then when they were just starting out?
MTK: They blew everybody's mind away in the sense that they did not in any way, shape or form react like superstars had always reacted before. They put the press on. They really won everybody over with that. They looked upon the crowds as the crowds being the show and they the audience. They didn't take themselves seriously as superstars. They were just very much themselves and into having fun and finding out what was going on. They were very natural. Very together. Very disciplined. Very dedicated to wanting to sound good and make a good impression.
MAG: What were they like as individuals? Who, for example, would you say was the most forceful member or the most dominant member of The Beatles then?
MTK: Well, people talked a great deal about that. There really was no dominant member. They really talked about everything over. Brian would do something and they would talk it over as a group. The most inquisitive member, the person who would ask the most explicit questions, was George. He always wanted the answers and why. He was very direct. John, of course, was the most cynical and at the same time very friendly, Paul was the perfectionist, very cool and very much together. Ringo was very easy going. But there didn't seem to be any strong dominance by any one of them at the time. The dominance would take place, perhaps, or come on later in Paul being such a perfectionist in the studio. He was very heavily dedicated to that kind of thing. And they all started to become quite perfectionists. But Paul, in the studio, I would say was dominant. John, I guess, was the most vociferous, saying things or getting things together. He was a little older at the time. But there wasn't a very heavy dominance by one of them like people sometimes think.
MAG: Was Ringo well integrated into the group at that point?
MTK: Oh, yeah.
MAG: Despite the fact that he had come in as the last member, and was the new boy, so to speak?
MTK: It was just like he had been with them for years. He just fit right in.
MAG: How did The Beatles react to America on their first visit?
MTK: They didn't see much of it. They saw some of it, of course. In New York we went to the Playboy Club, I think, that first night for dinner. The press followed us, and I remember them asking Paul, "What do you think of the Playboy bunnies? What do you think of Playboy?" And he said, "Well, you can write that Playboy and The Beatles are just good friends." That's the kind of thing. And someone would come over from, say, Idaho and say to one of them, "Here, boy, sign this." And they would do lines like "Oh, sure, anything for an American. Don't you think so, Ringo? -- Oh, yea. That's it!"
MAG: How did you get the nickname The Fifth Beatle?
MTK: It was in Washington. I think it was Ringo who did it. One guy asked them some question, and they gave him a real typical Beatlesque kind of answer. They were really putting the press on. One reporter said, "Who's this fellow we see with you all the time?" They answered "Oh, don't you know him? My goodness man. That's the Fifth Beatle." That's where that was picked up. I was tagged with it after that. Then the station heard about it and started billing me on the air as The Fifth Beatle. I really didn't like it very much, but that was it.
MAG: So The Beatles came to America and their records took off.
MTK: Yeah. They had ten on the charts at the time. Anything they put out became a hit.
MAG: Why do you think that was? What was it about The Beatles that sparked the imagination of so many fans?
MTK: My observance has been that every time we have a new musical phenomenon or new superstar who comes along, it's always preceded with something of a national catastrophe. The Beatles were fulfilling what had happened in contemporary music for the past fifty years. We had a new superstar every nine years -- in 1936 Benny Goodman, and the national preoccupation was coming out of the Depression; nine years after that, in '45, when had more babies born in this country than at any other time, Frank Sinatra emerged and started the era of the vocalist at the end of World War II; Elvis Presley in '54 followed the Army-McCarthy Hearings. By that time everybody had a television set. The kids were really seeing their parents and their music and movies and rejecting it all. They wanted their own music, and that was the birth of teenage music -- by teenagers for teenagers with Presley. Then nine years after that came The Beatles, which was preceded by another national catastrophe, the assassination of President Kennedy. So looking for a new dimension with a completely different attitude, who looked differently and spoke differently. It was the right time and the right place with the right people. Their attitude was right, as much at the beginning, even more so, than their music. You couldn't hear them except on records. I think that was the reason for their success. Of course, we've now gone 14 years and we haven't had anybody come along to start a new musical era since The Beatles. So they still are powerful. The time came when it was supposed to happen. We had Watergate and Viet Nam. But that's nothing to sing about!
MAG: No, it's not. Murray, let me ask you to comment about how The Beatles changed as their time in the spotlight lengthened.
MTK: Well, it's like anything else. They changed. The thing that made them powerful was that while most groups would continue to play -- like Benny Goodman stayed Benny Goodman; Frank Sinatra stayed Frank Sinatra; Presley to the end stayed Presley -- The Beatles changed with every album. A 180 degree change. With this instant change they also had reached a point where when they were on tour they were always together, just the four of them in their hotel room having to play it cool and watch whatever they did. Finally, they started to take separate vacations. I think that was in '65. That's when George found the Maharishi in India, and Paul went to Greece. What happened was that they started to become individuals as opposed to young kids with a group. They found women they loved. The separation from each other and their own individual lives began. The metamorphosis started to set in. Then the death of Brian Epstein made a tremendous contribution to their breaking up and having problems with Apple.
MAG: Suppose Brian had not died at so an age. Would things have gone differently for The Beatles?
MTK: I think the script would have read much differently than the way it eventually ended up for them.
MAG: Do you believe it was inevitable that they would break up?
MTK: Yes. It was inevitable the way things were going. I mean, John and Paul started to have different ideas about writing. George wasn't too happy because he wasn't getting too many records on the albums.
MAG: What are they like today? Do you see them now?
MTK: I saw Ringo and George most recently. George says he's happier now than he's ever been in his life. He's got all his stuff together.
MAG: Is he living in New York or Los Angeles these days?
MTK: George has a place out here [in L.A.]. He still has an estate in London, too. And Ringo's out here in Hollywood.
MAG: What about John and Paul?
MTK: John lives on West 72nd Street in New York. He's got a co-op apartment there. Paul's places are in England and Scotland.
MAG: We've heard so much talk about whether The Beatles will ever get together again. The question has come up as to whether they would do it for some astronomical amount of money, say $50 million?
MAG: You don't think they would?
MTK: No. Paul is a perfectionist. He worked very hard on Wings. It's what he wants to do and it's his music. They all say that, man, they'd have to get together and spend five or six months just playing together to get it all together again. You've got a dichotomy with their wives going now. You've got George into where his head is. They're just not together any more. It's over.
MAG: And yet there seems to be an enormous market today for The Beatles. Capitol Records, of course, is reissuing their albums.
MTK: And our show, Beatlemania, is a big smash in New York.
MAG: Tell me about Beatlemania. I know that you're coming to Los Angeles for at least 19 weeks at the Schubert Theater, which says something right away!
MTK: It's an absolute smash in New York. Standing room only. A standing ovation at every performance!
MAG: Is Los Angeles the second company to be opened?
MTK: Yes. But we're bringing the original cast in from New York.
MAG: Are there plans to go out with a national company, too?
MTK: Yes. We will eventually go on tour. And we'll also go to Europe and to the Far East as well.
MAG: There are several motion pictures in the works right now, too, dealing with aspects of The Beatles. Robert Stigwood is finishing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in New York, with Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees starring.
MTK: Yes. And there's I Want To Hold Your Hand at Universal. I'm going to be in that picture.
MAG: From what I've heard, that sounds like an interesting project.
MTK: It's about The Beatles' first week in New York.
MAG: Why do you think that today's youngsters -- many of whom weren't even in school in 1964 -- have such a strong interest in The Beatles?
MTK: Well, two reasons. First, the albums and the music they hear. They always have that. They've seen them in at least three motion pictures. And they hear The Beatles talk about them. And there's Paul McCartney and Wings and the George Harrison stuff. They've heard so much about The Beatles. And, secondly, there never was another superstar to come along that they claim as their own. So they find the same excitement that their older brothers and sisters did in the '60s.
MAG: Are The Beatles aware of the extent of all this continuing interest about them? How do they feel about it?
MTK: Oh, The Beatles feel that they don't want to get together.
MAG: Do you think they are surprised that the public is still so hung up on them?
MAG: And you don't think anything would ever really bring them to the point of reuniting?
MTK: No, I don't think so.
MAG: Where do they go from here?
MTK: Their own separate ways. They have their own lives. They'll follow their own paths.
MAG: I've heard talk about the possibility that while all four of them might not get together we might someday see Ringo and George, for instance, team up to do something.
MTK: Oh, they're always doing something. Two or three of them always get into a studio and fool around a little bit. But never the four of them together.
MAG: Hae they ever released any of that material?
MTK: You mean, when they play on another person's records?
MTK: It's all been released. But they never mentioned that some of them are sitting in on it.
MAG: That's very interesting, indeed.
MTK: Say Paul is in town and George is making a record. Paul may come in and play a couple of tunes. Or Ringo may sit in for one, you know. They do it. But they just do it as friends. Just getting together and having fun. But never the four of them together.
MAG: So we may have heard the results of a Beatles reunion -- or, at least, a semi-reunion without actually knowing it.
MTK: Yes. In a very masked different way.
MAG: It's been good talking with you, Murray. I thank you for your time.
MTK: It's been my pleasure.