The scene is in the small hours of the night. The place is a nightclub in an undisclosed city at an undisclosed date. The doors are locked. The stage and dance floor are empty and unlit. The chairs are stacked on top of the tables.
Yet the entertainment for the night has not yet ended. Light from a back room spills out from the back of the establishment. Inside is a small barroom and the air within is presently heavy with cigarette smoke, stale sweat and beer. A small crowd is gathered about a man in the corner of the bar. He is tired and haggard looking, his eyes bloodshot and his face many days unshaven.
But the crowd is not paying attention to the man. Instead they are mesmerized by a hand puppet that the man is wearing on his left hand. The puppet is a caricature of the Devil. This Devil Puppet wears an easy expression in its eyes and an inviting smile. It is smoking a cigarette. It seemingly has every control of its facilities, the hand that gives it motion, and the complete rapt attention of the surrounding crowd, who are hanging on its every word,
"...and that is how Prince and Sheila E. saved Minnesota from the flood of 1986."
With the conclusion of the Devil Puppet's tale, the spell on the crowd breaks and each listener explodes with relief, enthusiasm, and exclamation. A sense of relief glows about the barroom and another round of drinks is bought and poured. The Devil Puppet asks for and receives a light from a beautiful young lady in a red cocktail dress.
"Thank you, Kimberly. Now, I have one final tale for you all before I must retire for the evening..."
The crowd immediately interrupts the Devil Puppet, pleading and protesting, but the Devil Puppet raises its little arms to silence them.
"Now, now. I shall leave you with a worthwhile tale benefiting the tone of the evening. Now tell me, who amongst you, my dear listeners, have heard of ‘The Fifth Beetle’?"
At this some of the audience begins to protest anew, "George Martin!", "Stuart Sutcliffe!", "Man, everyone knows that!" Once again the Devil Puppet raises its little handless arms to silence them. It smiles and resumes.
"Ah, but who amongst you know that the fifth Beatle was nearly a woman? A black woman from America? Ah, yes. I see that none of you know. I am not surprised. Ah, but my musically learned listeners, how many bands can you name from Liverpool which made up the early Beat Scene in the early sixties?"
"The Beatles!" "The Cryin' Shames!" The assembled crowd bursts out, many voices at once, "The Liverbirds!" "The Merseybeats!" "Gerry & The Pacemakers!" Cass & The Cassanovas!" "Kingsize Taylor & The Dominoes! "The Rockin' VICARS! "Yeah,Lemmy!", The room eurupts with loud laughter which subsides jovialy. The Devil Puppet resumes its tale.
"Ah, yes my dear Mister Kilmister! Yes Lemmy, too. You are all learned musical scholars everyone, but are there any of you who have heard of The Tequilas? Or The Vodkas? Or how about The Wiskeys with Lime?
No, I thought not...Could someone freshen up my drink? Thank you, Jessie.
These obscure early Rock N' Roll combos played together at the infamous Cavern Club one night in 1962. As you all are well aware, this club was ground zero for the Beat Scene in Liverpool. The Tequilas and The Vodkas were the scheduled entertainment that night. Now these boys were but flashes in the pan. I would not expect any of you good people to have heard of them. Like so many garage bands of the day, they each played a hand full of shows before breaking up, their members graduating from school and taking jobs in the dock yards.
In the crowd that night were regulars in the scene. A great number in the crowd were aspiring musicians, including members of the bands that you are familiar with. These boys were hanging out hitting on girls, looking cool, and assessing the talents of the bands playing just as on any given night.
Among their ranks were musicians Gerry Marsden, Billy Kinsley, Aaron Williams, Les Chadwick, Charlie Gallagher, Tom Evans, Ken Griffiths and Valerie Gell. It was, musically, a mediocre night until the local success and early English Rock N' Roll pioneer Billy Fury arrived escorting a young black woman.
This was Gwen Berry, one of the Ray Charles's backup singers The Raelettes. Ray Charles and his big band were on break midway through a tour supporting Charles's '
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music' album.
Introductions were made and over the course of the evening, Fury, Chadwick, Marsden, Kinsley and a forgotten cast from some of the other aforementioned musicians, convinced the club owner to lend the stage to play an impromptu jam that was introduced as, ‘The Wiskeys with Lime.’
Few are the witnesses who can be found today who can give testimony to the magic that was created that evening. Perhaps if the walls of the Cavern Club could speak they would say that the audience stood still that evening, enraptured, as something special was born inside each and every one of them.
Rock N' Roll was born in the crossroads of the American south, a fusion of white and black, sacred and profane. In England, up until that night, the lads in their leather jackets and quaffed hair who learned how to play along to imported records were but, forgive the pun my friends, pale imitators of the original masters.
But in the span of a five or perhaps six songs, the spark that Miss Berry lent to that pickup band lit a fire in the musicians on the stage and in the members of the audience. Her’s was a true voice of Soul, a true voice of gospel, a true voice of the blues. Passion, Sorrow, Desire, Despair. That night was like enlightenment. It changed everything for those who played and heard the music that night. A door to a new path had opened.
A handful would follow that path to great things. A few more would struggle without success to the depths of their anguish and hopelessness. But none would deny that they witnessed something great that night and that the world was a richer place for having experienced it.
Indeed, had Billy Fury not attended the Ray Charles concert with Brian Epstein the night before and set fate in motion, the Liverpool Beat Scene, perhaps Rock N' Roll itself, might be a much different shade than what we presently know it as.
There is more to the tale, gentle listeners. And there none who know for these following events for these are the events that never came to be. Billy Fury and Brian Epstein were both to escort Miss Berry to The Cavern Club that night. But Mr. Epstein was absent and did not witness the night’s magic.
It was not meant to be for Brian, as he had tripped over his cat on the way out that night. He instead spent the night entertaining the local veterinarian who was good enough to make a house call to aid the unfortuitous feline.
Had Brian Epstein made it to the show, he ultimately would have convinced Gwen Berry to record a single with Billy Fury. That single would lead to introductions between Miss Berry and one Mr. John Lennon. The two would start a romantic relationship and fall in love.
Theirs would not be an exclusively romantic relationship either. Gwen would have left the employment of Ray Charles to take on a prominent vocal and songwriting role with The Beatles and lend her vocals to the harmonies of Lennon, Harrison and McCarthy. She would have infused their music with authentic spirit of soul and gospel. She would have become, truly, the fifth Beatle.
She would return with The Beatles to take America and Ed Sullivan by storm. Millions of enamored young Beatles fans would see this young black woman singing by the side of her white counterparts. Just like those in the Cavern Club, their hearts would have been opened. Her added spirit would have strengthened and accelerated the pace of the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. The shape of American history in the 60's and 70's would have taken a decidedly different course which would ultimately lead to successful nomination and election of President Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1976 and 1980.
But, my friends, my host grows weary and THAT is definitely a tale that will have to wait until another day. I must, regretfully, bid you all a good night."
I do not have an original thought in my head.
The Devil Puppet is the creation of Evan Dorkin which was featured in the series "The Invisible College" in his comic book Dork!. Fine out more about Mr. Dorkin's work, here!
The inspiration or my story is 100% attributable to Spiregrain. As I was bellyaching in the catbox about my nodeshell title and trying to swap it for another, Spiregrain gave me the following "lead":
16:35 The Tequillas, The Vodkas, and The Whiskeys are all 1960s beat combos. The latter once recorded with a soul diva called Lime.
12:26 Spiregrain: you ARE pulling my leg about those bands, right??
"spiregrain says, I was pulling your leg, yes. Or, alternatively I was suggesting you write a work of fiction."