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VOL. 126 | NO. 130 | Wednesday, July 6, 2011

British Invasion

Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum unveils Beatles exhibit

By Andy Meek

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Right before visitors to the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum enter a hallway at the end of the tour that takes them past a guestbook and leads into the gift shop, they’ll walk past a collection of black-and-white photos.

Visitors check out the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum’s newest exhibit, the “The Beatles Hidden Gallery,” during a preview party last week. Memphis is the second North American city to host the exhibit.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

It’s a new temporary exhibit, “The Beatles Hidden Gallery,” that was exhibited first in Liverpool, England, the Beatles’ hometown, and then in San Francisco earlier this year before traveling to Memphis, where the Beatles played two historic shows 45 years ago. It will be in Memphis through Sept. 11. The exhibit showcases a few candid and intimate moments with the Fab Four, the mop-topped quartet whose music transcended rock and sent fans into hysterics during concerts that included the group’s two Memphis shows on Aug. 19, 1966, at the Mid-South Coliseum.

“We knew that ‘The Beatles Hidden Gallery’ exhibit had the potential to create some interest among locals, especially given the unique tie with the band’s infamous 1966 concert here in Memphis, and with the recent attention on the Mid-South Coliseum,” said museum director John Doyle. “In just its first weekend, that’s been proven with many more Memphians attending specifically for the Beatles aspect.

“That, then, gives us a great opportunity to share with them the full Smithsonian Institution exhibit, and to further build community pride among locals for the global musical impact our city has affected.”

Although the photos were taken by British photographer Paul Berriff in 1963 and 1964, the live shots included with the exhibit give an indication of what the Memphis audiences would have seen.

One of the images features the famous “V” shape formed when left-handed bassist Paul McCartney and right-handed lead guitarist George Harrison stood next to each other as they played and sang.

In another, McCartney is shown by himself presumably hitting a high note with his face contorted and his hair raised and askew, almost as if by plucking a string on his Hofner bass he’d touched an electric current.

In yet another image, McCartney is seated at a piano, while the other three – Harrison, lead singer John Lennon and drummer Ringo Starr – appear to be singing. They’re all smiling, indicative of the bouncy joyfulness that characterized the sound of the group’s early years before they drifted into mysticism, classical music, all manner of instrumentation and ultimately the bitterness that sent them drifting apart.

The group’s Memphis shows are historic for several reasons. For one, they come almost at a midpoint of the group’s history. Not long afterward, the group gave up touring and devoted itself to the studio full time, resulting in some of its most impressive work.

Visitors to the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum in Downtown Memphis can see its newest exhibit, the Beatles Hidden Gallery, through Sept. 11.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

A few months before the Memphis shows in ‘66, the Beatles came close to recording their album “Revolver” in Memphis at Stax. “Revolver” was ultimately recorded in England.

The Ku Klux Klan picketed the Coliseum when the Beatles came to Memphis. The group got a scare when someone threw a firecracker that exploded during one of the shows that at first set off fears in the group of a gunshot.

The group had a well-known fascination with the Bluff City, with Elvis repeatedly cited as one of the Beatles’ earliest and most important influences. Years ago, McCartney even acquired the original upright bass with a distinctive white trim played by Bill Black in Elvis’ early trio.

The Chuck Berry song “Memphis, Tennessee” was a staple of the Beatles’ live show.

When McCartney came to Memphis in 1993 as a solo artist to play a concert at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, at one point the lights were dark before McCartney appeared and generated an audience roar as he ran back and forth across the stage waving a Tennessee flag.

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, which exceeds 50,000 visitors each year, celebrated its 10th birthday in 2010. Also last year, the museum signed a new exhibit agreement with the Smithsonian Institute, which researched and developed the museum in Memphis. That new agreement spells out curatorial and conservation responsibilities.

“Since moving to FedExForum, we have continued to see attendance increases, and an engaged board and local supporters have now afforded us many more opportunities to further expand our mission with stronger programs and initiatives for education and for preserving Memphis’ great musical story,” Doyle said.

Meanwhile, the photos aren’t the only piece of the new Beatles exhibit that’s garnering attention. The museum is also showing the original contract for the Beatles’ Memphis shows, which was signed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein. It shows the performance price of $50,000 guaranteed against 65 percent gross receipts for the two concerts.

There’s also a Yellow Cab receipt for the Beatles’ limo, print advertisements for the concert and original tickets to both the 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. shows.

The Beatles’ performance rider also on display specifies a dressing room with four cots, mirrors, ice cooler, portable TV set, clean towels and two cases of soft drinks.

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