John Lennon Friends And Collaborators Set For NYC Tribute Tonight
John Lennon and Beatles fans are in for a treat tonight (September 12th) at New York City's City Winery for the Q&A performance presentation of An Evening Of Memories & Music With Those Who Knew & Worked With John. The chat, which is presented by Theatre Within, will feature Lennon's last producer, Jack Douglas, who apart from other works with Lennon and Yoko Ono, was behind the boards for all of Lennon's final 1980 songs featured on the Double Fantasy and Milk And Honey albums. Also appearing is the closet thing that the Lennons had to a personal photographer, the great Bob Gruen. In addition to his classic work shooting the New York Dolls, Aerosmith, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, the Clash, the Rolling Stones -- and literally every major artist of the 1970's -- Gruen had unique insight to Lennon's work and personality throughout the last decade of his life.
Legendary New York City DJ Dennis Elsas, renowned for his years at New York's WNEW, and now, at the city's public radio station WFUV, conducted what is easily Lennon's most beloved radio interview on September 28th, 1974 when Lennon joined him on the air to premiere his Walls And Bridges album for his adopted hometown station. Performing on the show will be R&B great Betty LaVette.
The show, which has the personal approval of Yoko Ono, will be hosted by Joe Raiola -- Theatre Within's executive artistic director and a senior editor at Mad magazine. Tonight's performance is a fundraiser for Theatre Within's 33rd Annual John Lennon Tribute on December 6th at the Peter Norton Symphony Space, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Spirit Foundation Charity, which was established in 1978 by John and Yoko. The annual show will feature Joan Osbourne, Marc Cohn, Raul Malo of the Mavericks, Betty LaVette, the Fab Faux's Rich Pagano, Teddy Thompson, Dana Fuchs, and Toshi Reagon.
Elsas shed some light onto what fans can expect from his appearance with Joe Raiola, Jack Douglas, and Bob Gruen tonight: "I was quite pleased that he considered me, and said, 'Look, if I'm gonna come, let me do what I know best about John' -- and those are the two hours that I spent with him, because they are the two most memorable hours that I may have ever had in terms of a radio interview to this day. And luckily for me, Beatle fans seem to agree with that. And it's been used in The Beatles Anthology, and it's been used in LENNONYC, and people still wanna know about it. And then, I guess, one of the great pleasures of that interview for me and for Beatle fans all these years later is, he's suddenly telling stories that I don't know that he ever told before on the air."
Bob Gruen took some of the most important and legendary shots of Lennon's New York City years. Because of their friendship, Gruen was able to have access to Lennon during one of the lowest points in his solo career: "When I first met him in the early-'70s with the Elephant's Memory, there was a lot of tequila involved. We referred to them as the 'tequila sessions.' We were all drinking quite a bit; there's other things that go along with drinking a lot that keep you awake and keep you going when you're doing that. We were all pretty whacked out of our heads. When I saw him in the summer of '74, after Los Angeles, he was beginning to clean up his act. Those sessions for the Walls And Bridges album, it was kinda noticeable that there wasn't a lot of booze in the studio."
Jack Douglas, who in addition to his work with the Lennons is known for producing classic sessions for Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, the New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, and many more, was turned on tonight's event by Yoko Ono herself: "She said, 'You should do this. This is for real and it benefits local charities in New York of which John felt that that's where money should go -- where he could see things happening.' So normally, I don't do Beatlefest, or. . . y'know, I avoid all of that stuff. I've never done this. And I've never done anything that has had John's name attached to it. I've done some interviews, but (not) any organized stuff. But, if she said it was cool, then I figured it was probably cool."
Douglas gave us a sneak peak as to what to expect tonight: "Y'know, what we're going to be doing, which is very interesting is, playing music -- a couple of tunes from inception. There's actually two demos of 'Watching The Wheels.' Y'know, he played it once and then he played it out of one boom-box into another one -- and while it was going across, he doubled his vocals and added a few more things. Well, there are two versions, see, there's one version where he's doubled and there's one where he isn't. It's the original cassette. So, I think we should go that one, then this one, then (the Double Fantasy) Stripped (Down version), and then final production. But that's what we're gonna be doing, and we're gonna be talking about the process of recording him."
Photo Courtesy of Capitol Records