In approximately six weeks from this writing, it will be the 50th anniversary of John Lennon’s concert appearance at the Apollo Theatre on December 17, 1971. Granted it was a very short set (three songs, and one of them was Yoko’s), but this performance was unplugged decades before that term was coined. It was just John & Yoko and his band on the edge of the stage, accompanied by nothing but Yoko’s bongo and their guitars.
December 1971 was a busy month for the Lennons. Only the week before they had performed at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan before heading back to New York City. The day before his Apollo appearance, in fact, on December 16, they’d taped an episode of The David Frost Show, joined by David Peel and the Lower East Side band. This wouldn’t be broadcast however, until a month later, well into January 1972.
The show was captured on 16mm film, and also completely ignored by mainstream media. The only reports would come from Harlem’s local Amsterdam News. Aretha Franklin also performed at this benefit for the families of the prisoners shot in the Attica Prison riot in September of that year. Joining John & Yoko were counterculture activist Jerry Rubin, Chris Osbourne and Eddie Mattau. What they were about to offer were three songs that wouldn’t see the light of day until the release of John & Yoko’s Sometime In New York City six months later on June 12, 1972.
“I’d like to say it’s an honor and a pleasure to be here at the Apollo, and for the reasons that we’re all here,” John began. “Yoko is gonna sing a number that she wrote about her sisters.” The show begins with her offering of a beautiful version of “Sisters, O Sisters.” For once Yoko’s voice is gorgeous, as are the harmonies she shares with John on chorus. Next up is “Attica State”, a song John began composing at his 31st birthday party. The lyrics are strident but softened somewhat by the acoustic guitars, and the slide guitar adds a bit of flavor.
“Thank you,” John said, three times actually. “Some of you might wonder what I’m doing here with no drummers and no, nothing like that, but as you might know I lost me old band or I left it. I’m putting an electric band together, it’s not ready yet and these things like this keep coming up so I have to just busk it. So I’m gonna sing a song you might know. Its called “Imagine”. This may be the most sincere performance of John’s classic, and may quite possibly be better than the official studio version. The acoustic guitar seems deeper somehow than the piano on the original; Yoko’s bongo is not intrusive this time. It’s hard to listen to this song now, since that was one of the numbers they played at my brother Eddie’s funeral in 2018. But sometimes you just got to.
Ironically, Mark David Chapman was sent to Attica Correctional Facility after he shot John in 1980.
Available: John Lennon’s two songs, “Attica State” & “Imagine”, have seen release first on John Lennon Anthology (November 1998), CD 2-New York City. “Imagine” was subsequently re-issued on John Lennon Acoustic (November 2004). Insofar as I know, Yoko’s live version of ‘Sisters, O Sisters remains unreleased.
Janis Joplin’s final recording was a tribute to John Lennon https://flip.it/JApz8P
The letter Bob Dylan sent in defence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono https://flip.it/FUX3Rl
The reason why John Lennon was obsessed with the number nine https://flip.it/eG0i8E
Available On: “The Luck of the Irish” and “John Sinclair” were anthologized twice, first on The John Lennon Anthology, CD 1’Ascot’ (1998); and later on John Lennon: Acoustic (2004).
The concert film, Ten For Two: The John Sinclair Benefit, may never see official commercial release. Previous attempts have met with opposition from Yoko Ono’s attorney. At times it has been free to view on YouTube, though one never knows when it might be yanked again.
Clips from Ten for Two opened the 2006 documentary, The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which chronicled the Nixon Administration’s campaign of harassment against the Lennons.
Everything changed with this performance. The show John and Yoko had done several months before with Frank Zappa had been pure spontaneity from inception to stage. The rally in support of activist John Sinclair was provocative to the powers that be, and the powers shoved back. This show put John Lennon firmly on Richard Nixon’s radar and incepted the four-year immigration battle to eject John forcibly from U.S. shores. Consequently it could be said to be the first stone pitched that inevitably led to his hiatus from music and an end to activism on both their parts.
Only four months had passed between the John Sinclair Freedom Rally and the Concert for Bangladesh initiated and hosted by fellow Beatle George Harrison. There was a world of difference between these two events. The Bangladesh shows were a warm and welcoming charitable event that set the standard for all rock benefits to come. The Freedom Rally was a political, even radical reaction against injustice.
Given that, it was still one of those events where music could still make a difference, could literally open doors to freedom, before the music industry eviscerated itself in our times.
Likewise, some Presidents improve with time, the more you read about them; sometimes their achievements overshadow the man’s myriad personal flaws and sins. Richard Nixon, to be sure, is not one of those men.
Beginning in 1968, poet and activist John Sinclair from Flint, Michigan pulled together a rumply band of associates to form the White Panther Party, cofounded with Pun Plamondon and his wife Leni Sinclair. The Party’s basic ideology was anti-racist, anti-capitalist as well as “fighting for a clean planet and the freedom of political prisoners”.
Among his associates were a group of young musicians, soon to be known as the MC5. (They released one album under his management, the classic live disc Kick Out the Jams in 1969, before Sinclair had his own problems to deal with). In 1969 Sinclair was arrested after offering two joints to an undercover narc and sentenced to ten years in prison. The severity of the sentence led to many counterculture protests, leading to this rally, which drew 15,000 people to Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The rally featured as many speeches as it had musical performances, from firebrands such as Black Panther Bobby Searle, Alan Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis and others. Among the many performers featured in the film Ten for Two were Ann Arbor’s own locals The Up, Bob Segar doing a raw, classic rendition of “Oh Carol” as well as jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp with trombonist Roswell Rudd (Nov. 17, 1935-Dec. 21, 2017).
Phil Ochs (who committed suicide five years later) offered an eerily prescient monologue before performing “Here’s To the State of Richard Nixon”, a song about Nixon’s future that could be held up as a mirror facing the Trump era. The most worrisome aspect of the anti-Nixon feeling at this concert was that Tricky Dick got re-elected by a landslide a year later, despite people knowing what the man was like and the terrible things he’d done In Cambodia and Vietnam.
A phone call from Sinclair in prison was intercut in the Ten For Two film with shots of the prison yard and the prison interior. Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen stepped up next to perform “Hot Rod Lincoln”. Then Sinclair’s wife Leni took the stage, bringing on the big guns: Sinclair’s mother, Elsie. “I can tell you young people, you can teach more to your parents than your parents can teach you.”
21-year-old Stevie Wonder took center stage to sing “For Once in My Life”. Now it’s scenes such as this that make these films like a time machine. it is so strange to see Stevie Wonder so young, so trim again. “This song goes out to any of the undercover agents who might be out in the audience,” he said by way of introducing the next number, “Somebody’s Watching You”. In closing he sang “Heaven Help Us All.”
David Peel and the Lower East Side came on with a satirical number, “The Ballad of Bob Dylan”, followed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono at 3 am in the morning. Peel and band stayed on as John’s backing group. This was John and Yoko truly unplugged, all acoustic. None of the songs they would perform that night had been committed to vinyl; all of them were new to the John Sinclair rallygoers. All four would appear six months later on Sometime in New York City, by which time certain songs would no longer be applicable.
Both John and Yoko wore black leather jackets and red undershirts, and they began with “Attica State”. “It was conceived on my birthday,” John said. “We adlibbed it, then we finished it off.”
The genesis of “Attica State” could be laid at John’s 31st Birthday party on October 9th, only two months prior to this event. After the opening of Yoko’s art exhibition This Is Not Here at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, a party was held at a nearby hotel. Composition of the song began before the party. All the guests joined in for a drunken all-star singalong captured on tape, like most of John and Yoko’s activities. Ringo Starr was a much better singer than anyone else at the party, his voice carrying much clearer–and less drunk, perhaps.
“Attica State” wasn’t much on the bootlegged tape, mostly the ‘Attica State’ tagline repeated over and over, like he was pulling the song out of thin air. There at Ann Arbor, John and Yoko harmonized while John was on acoustic guitar and Yoko accompanied him on a bongo drum tucked under her arm. They went right into “The Luck of the Irish”, which was as good or better than the studio version yet to come.
Yoko took over for “Sisters O Sisters”. “I wrote this song day before yesterday for (our) sisters in Ann Arbor, Michigan,” as Yoko put it. For the first time in a live performance we could hear what a gorgeous voice Yoko has–when she’s not shrieking. After that number, John commented, “We came here not only to help John and to spotlight what’s going on, but also to show and to say to all of you, that uh, apathy isn’t it, and that we can do something. OK, so flower power didn’t work, so what? We start again.”
John went electric for a bluesy slide guitar performance of “John Sinclair”, a lesser anthem in the vein of “Power to the People” that closed the show. This time, the gloves were off. He got the judge’s name wrong, but it’s all in the lyrics. Line by line it was a crucifixion; each line was an accusation. The strings twanged as he laid bare the sins of the State crushing down on one man for a minor infraction, and the crowd ate it up. That night John and Yoko left the stage on top and on message.
Ironically the song became irrelevant before it was officially recorded. Three days after the rally John Sinclair was released from prison, after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the state’s marijuana statutes were unconstitutional.
His case against the government for illegal wiretapping led to a monumental Supreme Court ruling, United States vs U.S. District Court (1972), which prohibited the U.S. government’s use of domestic wiretaps without a warrant.
Eventually Sinclair left the U.S. and moved to Amsterdam, where he continues to record and write. Since 2005 he’s hosted The John Sinclair Radio Show and other programming on his own radio station, Radio Free Amsterdam. For John Lennon, his troubles were only beginning…
–The MC5 and John Sinclair: The Rock & Roll Revolution Began in Detroit at PleaseKillMe.com:
–Why ‘Ten for Two’ is the John Lennon-Yoko Ono MusicDoc You Haven’t Seen at Lifersthemovie.com:
–John Sinclair-the Beatles Bible:
–Imdb entry for Ten For Two: the John Sinclair Freedom Rally:
–The Ann Arbor Chronocle: The Day a Beatle Came to Twon, from 2009:
Available On: Side 2 of the Live Jam disc included with Sometime in New York City, released in the U.S. on June 12, 1972. This performance was subsequently issued, with an alternate mix, on disc one, “A Typical Day On the Road, Part 1”, of Frank Zappa’s 2-CD live set, Playground Psychotics, originally released in 1992 on Zappa’s Barking Pumpkin label; it was re-released on Ryodisc in 1995.
The performance was captured on 16 mm film and insofar as I know, has not been officially released on video.
It comes out that people like me have to save themselves, because we get fucking kicked! Nobody says it! Zappa’s there screaming, “Look at me, I’m a genius, for fuck’s sake, what do I have to do to prove to you son-of-a-bitches what I can do and who I am and don’t dare fuckin’ criticize my work like that! You who don’t know anything about it!” Fucking bullshit! I know what Zappa’s going through! And a half! I’m just coming out of it now, just fuckin’ hell, I’ve been in school again, I’ve had teachers ticking me off and marking my work! Fuck you all! If nobody can recognize what I am, fuck ’em!
-John on recognizing himself as a genius at age 9, Lennon Remembers, New Edition, Jann S. Wenner, @ 2000 Verso/Rolling Stone Press, originally published in 1971
The Mothers of Invention were much like John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, in that their membership fluctuated, and in fact they had disbanded in 1969. The Mothers had only recently reunited in 1971, not long before the John and Yoko set. Both bands were also led by men with distinctive absurd artistic tendencies.
This session had its genesis in an interview with the Lennons by Village Voice writer Howard Smith on his WPLJ-FM show. Smith was off to interview Frank Zappa (Dec. 21, 1940–Dec. 4, 1993) next and asked if John would like to come along, and naturally he said yes.
Zappa recalled, “A journalist in New York City woke me up–knocked on the door and is standing there with a tape recorder and goes, ‘Frank, I’d like to introduce you to John Lennon’, you know, waiting for me to gasp and fall on the floor. And I said, ‘Well, okay. Come on in.’
“And we sat around and talked, and I think the first thing he said to me was, ‘You’re not as ugly as I thought you would be,’ So anyway, I thought he had a pretty good sense of humor so I invited him to come down and jam with us at the Fillmore East. We had already booked in a recording truck because we were making the Live at the Fillmore album at the time.”
The track listing may be confusing, so I’ll lay them both out to be sorted. On John’s Live Jam disc, included with his 1972 LP Sometime in New York City, it goes “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”, “Jamrag”, Scumbag” and ‘Au”. The alternate mix on Zappa’s Playground Psychotics (1994) lists them as “Well”; “Say Please” & “Aaawk”, a double renaming of “Jamrag”, which was a cover of Zappa’s tune “King Kong”; “Scumbag” and “A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono”.
This was one of the last concerts to be held at the Fillmore East. After only three years of groundbreaking concerts, the venue closed on June 27, 1971. Fillmore East–June 1971 was released Aug. 1971, two months after John’s encore appearance; yet the encore wasn’t included on this album; instead it would be saved for Playground Psychotics.
The audience must have been surprised when John and Yoko stepped out for the encore, John in an off-white suit and black guitar. “This is a song I used to sing when I was at the Cavern in Liverpool. I haven’t done it since,” John said by way of introductions.
The only tune that kept true to the performance in either mix was “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”, a 1958 hit by the Olympics. Well, at least it proved that John could carry a blues song. The only detraction was Yoko’s wailing after every line of every verse. She seemed to be on a one-track mind that night; all she managed to offer was the same wail.
(Ironically the live cover of ‘Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)” was released decades before the studio version saw daylight on the John Lennon Anthology and the smaller compilation Wonsaponatime in 1998.)
“Jamrag” was where they were sued by Zappa because they stole the melody to his song “King Kong”. That song was composed in 1967. Zappa and the Mothers had been performing it in concert throughout 1968, where it quickly became a concert favorite. It was finally committed to vinyl on 1969’s Uncle Meat as an 18 minute-plus track. I gotta credit the Mothers for stamina in keeping up the rhythm for 18 minutes.
(P.S.–‘jamrag’ was British slang for a sanitary napkin. Sorry, TMFI)
Basically, in this venue, it was John and Yoko screaming back and forth, with Zappa jerking his middle finger up, eliciting even more shrieks. It actually had to get a minute and a half into it before it approaches anything constituting a melody. Don Preston gives a prominent keyboard solo, but Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan’s vocals had been turned down on the Live Jam mix…as well as Yoko’s cat-killer wailing, ironically.
On Playground Psychotics, “Jamrag” gets split up into “Say Please” and “Aaawk”, still with no mention of “King Kong”, though Zappa had every opportunity to do so on his own CD. Perhaps he was hoping to avoid any more lawsuits, or he had no interest in stirring up any more hornet’s nests. Who knows? The “Aaawk” section brings forward the guitars. Zappa probably renamed that part ’cause that’s what Yoko’s screeching sounds like halfway through the song.
“Scumbag” was a long jam consisting of John calling out two words over and over–with less Yoko. Literally, as partway in someone rushes onstage to drape Yoko in a bag, from which she wails on unimpeded.
Halfway through, Zappa breaks the Fourth Wall, calling to the audience, “Hey listen! I don’t know if you can tell what the words are to this song but there’s only two words and I’d like you to sing along ’cause it’s real easy, anyone who comes to the Fillmore East can sing this song. The name of the song is “Scum Bag”, OK, and all you gotta sing is ‘Scum Bag!” All right brothers and sisters, let’s hear it for the Scum Bag!”
That bleeds over into the last number, “Au”. On Playground Psychotics, the last number in John’s show was retitled, appropriately enough, “A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono”. Zappa and the Mothers exited the stage while John bent over the loudspeakers and left his guitar spewing feedback over the crowd, whose cheers had been scrubbed from the Live Jam. Yoko’s siren wouldn’t come in until two minutes in, and thankfully the feedback almost–but not quite–drowns her out.
Finally, when the noise is over, everyone comes back onstage to say goodnight. “I’d like to thank Frank for having us on,” John says. “Yeah, he’s the greatest,” Yoko adds.
“After they had sat in with us, an arrangement was made that we would both have access to the tapes…He wanted to release it with his mix, and I had the right to release it with my mix–so that’s how that one section came about. The bad part is, there’s a song that I wrote called ‘King Kong’ which we played that night, and I don’t know whether it was Yoko’s idea or John’s idea, but they changed the name of the song to ‘Jamrag’, gave themselves writing and publishing credit on it, stuck it on an album and never paid me. It was obviously not a jam session–it’s got a melody, it’s got a bass line, it’s obviously an organized song. Little bit disappointing. I’ve never released my version of the mixes of that night.”
Do you ever intend to?
“One day yeah–but it would be drastically different because there were things that were edited out of their version and certain words that were being sung that were removed because of the editorial slant that they wanted to apply to the material and I have a slightly different viewpoint on it.
–Zappa recalls on The Frank Zappa Interview Picture Disc, Baktabak CD CBAK 4012/ UK 1985, interviewer unknown, transcribed by Robert Moore; interview conducted c. 1984
This was probably the second-fastest turnaround between the performance of a live show and its release since Live Peace in Toronto, barely a year after the session. The show was fine, of course; what went into the mix on the Live Jam LP wasn’t the Lennons’ finest moment. Technically it was supposed to be a ‘free’ bonus disc, except that it was given a separate catalogue number which pushed up the price of the total album package. As Zappa said, he got the raw end of the deal.
When it comes to mixes, I have to give this one to Zappa. Well, the audience was brought forward significantly. Zappa’s vocals and Jim Pons’ bass are more audible I believe on Zappa’s mix than on the Live Jam. At times it seems Zappa and the Mothers had been erased altogether from the Live Jam version.
Interestingly, Sometime in New York City was the last LP to carry the Plastic Ono Band name, as the Nixon Administration had already taken up its campaign of government harassment against the Lennons.
I think I begged my first grade school teacher to take me to the record store to get this single. Funnily enough I was unaware at the time that John had shaved his head. At the beginning of that year he and Yoko was vacationing in Aalborg, Denmark to be with Yoko’s daughter Kyoko, which was where the young girl was living with Yoko’s second husband Tony Cox and his new wife Melinde.
For reasons unknown, possibly to keep up the profile with their peace campaign, John and Yoko cropped their hair the shortest it’d ever be in John’s adult life. On February 4th, 1970, they swapped their shorn locks for a pair of Muhammed Ali’s boxing shorts, which they said they intended to auction off to raise money for peace. That’s the crew cut you’ll see in their Top of the Pops gig.
John was mostly quiescent as far as live appearances go in 1970. That’s okay, he’d make up for it in 1971. He was continuing the peace campaign he and Yoko had begun at the Amsterdam bed-in the year before. He was also undergoing primal scream therapy with Dr. Janovich. This would inevitably led to the quality and intensity of his masterpiece John Lennon Plastic Ono Band.
“Instant Karma” was recorded in a single night, January 27, 1970, in a single nine-hour session. The producer was Phil Spector, and this led to a long-standing working relationship between him and John and George as well. This would also lead to Spector invitation to remix the Let It Be album.
“It was great, ’cause I wrote it in the morning on the piano, like I said many times, and I went to the office and I sang it. I thought, ‘Hell, let’s do it,’ and we booked the studio. And Phil came in, he said, ‘How do you want it?’ I said, ‘You know, 1950 but now.’ And he said ‘Right,’ and boom, I did it in just about three goes. He played it back, and there it was. I said, ‘A bit more bass,’ that’s all. And off we went. See, Phil doesn’t fuss about with fuckin’ stereo or all the bullshit. Just ‘Did it sound alright? Let’s have it.’ It doesn’t matter whether something’s prominent or not prominent. If it sounds good to you as a layman or as a human, take it. Don’t bother whether this is like that or the quality of this. That suits me fine.”
-from Lennon Remembers, Jann S. Wenner
John recruited George Harrison on lead guitar, Billy Preston on electric piano, Alan White driving the thundering drums & Klaus Voorman as bass man. John provided acoustic guitar on the single. The mass chorale and handclaps closing the single was provided by Yoko and the patrons from Hatchetts, a local London nightclub.
On Feb. 11 1970, the Plastic Ono Band taped two versions of “Instant Karma” for an appearance on the BBC program Top of the Pops, for later broadcast on Feb. 12 and 19th, respectively. Technically , this was not a live performance apart from the actual appearance of the band. Actually it wasn’t even the same band.
John sang a new vocal on top of a single-track vocal and instrumentation from the January 27th EMI recording session. The prime difference between the two versions being that in one Yoko would be seen knitting, while in the second she was holding cue cards. John sat in and sang behind piano while Yoko did her things, blindfolded with a sanitary towel, beside it. Neither George nor Preston were present. BBC DJ BP Fallon mimicked sitting in on bass, Mal Evans in a business suit was on tambourine, along with actual bass player Klaus Voorman. The first version with Yoko knitting was broadcast Feb. 11 while the second was transmitted on Feb. 19th, the following week.
For the cue card performance John bangs on the piano in a denim jacket with a “People For Peace” band wrapped on arm while go-go dancers frolic in the background. (By the way, the cards say ‘smile’, ‘peace’, ‘love’ ‘hope’ and ‘breathe’. With reverb over the microphone he delivers a very intense vocal, gritting his teeth for the final verses while Klaus and BP mime on bass.
Available on: It’s hard NOT to find this on home video. The ‘cue card’ version appeared on The John Lennon Video Collection VHS from October 1992. The ‘knitting’ performance shows up most on DVD, first on Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon, a 2003 set accompanying the CD of the same name. Apparently for this collection, they changed the original audio track, replacing the live vocal with the clean studio track. This version was also released on Power to the People: the Hits, the CD/DVD Experience Edition from 2010.
Beatles Bible Instant Karma link:
“We got this phone call on a Friday night that there was a rock ‘n’ roll revival show in Toronto with a 100,000 audience, or whatever it was, and that Chuck was going to be there and Jerry Lee and all the great rockers that were still living, and Bo Diddly, and supposedly the Doors were top of the bill. They were inviting us as king and queen to preside over it, not play–but I didn’t hear that bit. I said, “Just give me time to get a band together,” and we went the next morning.”
–John Lennon, 1969
Well, almost. Toronto promoter John Brower was the man who made this historic phone call. But while everyone else had convened at Leeds Airport the following morning, John and Yoko were still in bed, and guitarist Eric Clapton apparently was unaware of the plan. He soon received a call from Brower: “Eric, you may not remember me, but I’m the promoter who lost $20,000 on your Blind Faith show last month. Please call John Lennon, and tell him he must do this or I will get on a plane, come to his house, and live with him, because I will be ruined.”
For this show John had collared a handful of people he knew. Eric Clapton had played the classic guitar line on George Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on The White Album the year before, as well as providing lead guitar for John’s performance nine months earlier at the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. Klaus Voormann he’d known since the Beatles’ days rocking Hamburg at the Kaiserkeller club, as well as designing the album cover for Revolver, for which he won a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. Klaus became an accomplished cover artist and from 1966 to 1969 was bassist for Manfred Mann.
At seventeen years age, Alan White chose music over technical school and toured with Billy Fury’s Gamblers and Griffin, the band where John Lennon saw him in a club. At first White disbelieved the call he got from John, thinking he was a prankster, but luckily chose to accept the invitation to play. In 1972 he joined Yes as their permanent drummer.
(Clapton, Lennon & Voorman on the plane to Toronto, 1969)
John reluctantly crawled out of bed. Long story short, they arrived backstage around 10 p.m. and waited in their dressing room before they were announced by guest emcee Kim Foley at midnight. I can’t imagine the kick this concert must’ve been for John, and nerve wracking, since he’d be following on from the idols who’d inspired him to play rock and roll. Actually, I can imagine, since John said as much to Jann Wenner in his historic Rolling Stone interview in 1970:
“I just threw up for hours until I went on. I nearly threw up in ‘Cold Turkey’–I had a review in Rolling Stone about the film of it–which I haven’t seen yet, and they’re saying, ‘I was this and that’. And I was throwing up nearly in the number. I could hardly sing any of them, I was full of shit.”
The Doors headlined the one-day event at the Varsity Stadium of Toronto University. The Toronto Rock and Roll Festival included an all-star lineup featuring legends Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, plus Jr. Walker and the All-Stars. Among the up-and-comers were relative unknowns like Alice Cooper and Chicago Transit Authority, as well as lesser known acts such as Cat Mothers and the All Night Newsboys, Doug Kershaw, Screaming Lord Sutch, Nucleus, Milkwood, Tony Joe White and Whiskey Howl.
It’s not often noted but the other performers were also having a good time. At this point only fifteen years had passed since the birth of rock and roll, and a lot of these guys were relatively young. While this may sound strange to the young people of today, by the standards of the 1960’s rock crowd, they were ancient. The oldest artist was Bo Diddly at age 41, followed by Little Richard at 37; both Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis clocked in at a youthful 34. Chuck Berry was 43 but he could still play and duckwalk. Yeah, at my age I say people that age are still in diapers. What would that say about John Lennon, who was less than one month away from his 29th birthday?
John stepped in front of a live audience for the first time in three years and said, “We’re just going to do some numbers we know, you know, because we’ve never played together before.” And thar’s how the Plastic Ono Band was born.
While he might have pulled this band out of his ass, and the total rehearsal time encompassed their flight from London to Toronto, they put on a decent performance. They started off with the classics–“Blue Suede Shoes”, “Money” and ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. This would be the second and last time John would perform “Yer Blues” live, again with Clapton as lead guitar, and boy does he love that fuzz guitar.
Then John cut in and said, “This is a song about pain”, before launching into the live debut of “Cold Turkey”. John had not officially recorded the song yet; that would come eight nights later on September 25 at EMI Studios. And thus began a pattern of performing a song live before he’d committed it to vinyl, as he would with his later song “John Sinclair”. It’s not all that unusual; Pink Floyd auditioned future songs from Dark Side of the Moon for months before sitting down to record that classic album. The band managed to hash their way through, though the moaning and shrieking at the end of the upcoming single would be remarkably abbreviated tonight.
Yoko…ah Yoko does her usual performance art wailing. “This is what we really came here for,” John said as he led the audience through a loose rendition of “Give Peace a Chance.”
Then it was Yoko’s turn. For the first two tunes she’d laid on stage in a white bag. Well, now the cat was out of the bag. “Don’t Worry Kyoko” was mercifully short at 4:18 minutes, though it might have felt longer. For her second number, “John, John (Let’s Hope for Peace)”, Clapton grooved on a single riff while Yoko inflicted new dimensions of pain for 12:39 minutes. To be fair the keening was at least tolerable while supported by John’s guitar feedback.
“At the end of “John, John”, all the boys placed their guitars against the speakers of their amps and walked to the back of the stage. Because they had already started the feedback process, the sound continued while John, Klaus, Alan and Eric grouped together and lit ciggies. Then I went on and led them off-stage. Finally I walked on again and switched off their amps one by one.”-
(Group photo of the Plastic Ono Band, 1969)
Toronto was a turning point for John. It gave him the confidence to step beyond the outsized shadow of the Beatles. On the plane ride over he’d already confided to Allen Klein that he was leaving the group. A week after the festival, John told the group, “I want a divorce.”
the Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera blog:
Beatles Bible entry on the Toronto Festival:
Available on: On September 25, on the eve of the release of Abbey Road, the actual final album by the Beatles, John mixed the tapes of the Toronto concert into stereo at EMI Studios. These were taken to Apple by Geoff Emerick. The album cover was gorgeous in its simplicity, a single puffy cloud on a sky-blue backdrop. Live Peace in Toronto 1969, the first record by the Plastic Ono Band, was released on December 12, 1969.
An early version of “John, John” could be heard at the beginning of “Amsterdam”, which is a collage of musical interludes and dialogue taken from their first bed-in earlier in 1969. That track takes up the entire second side of John & Yoko’s Wedding Album, released October 20, 1969.
Famed filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker was on hand to record most of the concert, released in 1971 as Sweet Toronto. Then at one early screening Janis Joplin called out during a song by Chuck Berry, “Keep On Rockin’!”, which became the title of the 1973 version without the John & Yoko sequences. The full film would not be seen again until its re-release in 1988 for television and home video as John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band Live in Toronto ’69 by Shout Factory.
Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.
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