Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Beatles: The British Invasion Began In Southern Illinois?

by Special Guest Contributor
William J. Hussey, Jr.

February 9th, 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Beatles making their live television debut in front of American audiences on the Ed Sullivan Show. The fact is, however, that well before that, George Harrison visited his sister Louise in Benton, Illinois on September 17, 1963. It's true--the Beatles invasion started in Southern Illinois.

A few yours ago I got to hang out with George’s sister, Louise Harrison.  Louise was managing a Beatles group called the Liverpool Legends. The Liverpool Legends played in both Robinson and Danville (IL) twice and were dead-ringers for the original band.  I had the honor of taking care of Louise during her stay. I love music, and most especially George Harrison--he was the man in my book. So I got to spend two weekends with Louise where we talked non-stop about her famous brother. Whenever she talked about her lil' brother, her eyes would light up and she would go into one of her stories about him. I asked her if he was really the quiet Beatle, and she laughed.  “Heavens no!” she said.

In September '63 the Beatles were big in England but were little known in the United States. Ringo Starr was supposed to come with George during his visit to Southern Illinois, but he backed out at the last minute. It didn't stop George.  The first place that George Harrison played in the United States was the VFW hall in Eldorado, Illinois. Can you imagine going to the local VFW for a beer, and seeing some guy playing, and then a few months later seeing him on the Ed Sullivan Show? Louise said the black Rickenbacker guitar he played was actually bought at the local music store in Benton. The guitar wasn’t black when he originally bought it.  He wanted it black like John Lennon’s guitar, and so the story goes he had a local body shop repaint it.

A few other interesting Illinois Beatle facts: 1.) The first Beatles record played in the United States was played at a local radio station in Southern Illinois. The station owner let his daughter play records on the air and Louise got her one of the Beatles records. 2.) During his visit, Harrison went to a drive-in to watch a movie--he had never seen anything like it. 3.) A popular local music group passed up a huge chance--they could have had George Harrison sit in and play with them.

Probably the last peace and quiet Harrison enjoyed was in Benton, Illinois. Just a few months later life changed forever. None of the Beatles would ever get to enjoy being an average person walking around the streets again. Just watch the beginning of the movie A Hard Days Night--that was the reality of their life for the remainder of the '60s.

And In The End, The Love You Take Is Equal To The Love You Make.

~WJH

William J. Hussey, Jr., 33° is the Past Master of Palestine Lodge No. 849 (IL) and a dual member of Robinson Lodge No. 250 (IL) and an honorary member of Greenup Lodge No. 125 (IL).  He has been a member of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Valley of Danville (IL) since 1988, and served as the Most Wise Master of the Valley's George E. Burrow Chapter of the Rose Croix.  In August 2005, he received the 33rd Degree from the Supreme Council (NJ).  He currently serves as the Right Excellent Deputy Grand High Priest of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the State of Illinois.  Hussey is also the Past Commander of the Sons of the American Legion Post 69 in Robinson, IL. 

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