By Nate Hendley
Excerpt from my new book, John Lennon: Music, Myth and Madness:
“On June 21, 1957, John and the Quarry Men played their first concert. Wearing a plaid shirt, his guitar in hand, John led his band through a clutch of skiffle tunes at a neighbourhood block party. The Quarry Men did an adequate job but they were hardly impressive.
Two weeks after the Quarry Men’s debut gig, John and his band played a daytime concert at a church fete. After their brief show was over, a dark-haired teenager in a white jacket and black pants introduced himself to John. His name was Paul McCartney and he wasn’t quite 16 years old.
Paul, who loved rock ‘n’ roll as much as John, praised the Quarry Men for their performance. Paul did take a moment to point out, however, that the band wasn’t terribly professional. John tended to fake lyrics and couldn’t actually play guitar very well. A born showman, Paul picked up a guitar and performed an impromptu version of ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ by Eddie Cochran and ‘Be-Bop-a-Lula’ by Gene Vincent. Paul had an excellent voice, was a good guitar player, and possessed a definite poise.
A couple of weeks after their first introduction, John invited Paul to join his band. Despite his reservations about the fledgling band’s abilities, McCartney was keen to join. He was attracted to the prospect of joining an already formed group — and he was drawn to John, with his dark charisma and bad-boy attitude.
The two teens shared a few things in common. In addition to their love of music, John and Paul had each lost a parent. Freddie Lennon had been absent from John’s life since he was a child while Paul’s mother had died of cancer the year before.
Other than that, Lennon and McCartney were as different as Elvis and Liberace. Unlike John, Paul had been raised in a stable, loving home. His father had taken on all the household responsibilities after his wife died and taught Paul to be thrifty, self-directed and disciplined. Paul was a natural charmer with a diplomatic personality. He carried none of John’s bile and bitterness.
Being a talented musician, McCartney thought it was his duty to teach his new friend, John, how to play guitar properly. Paul was left-handed — a fact that made lessons unusually complicated for the right-handed John — though it did contribute to a pleasing symmetry on stage.
For all their differences, Lennon and McCartney were soon jamming on a regular basis. The sounds they produced were crude, but enthusiastic. They played rock ‘n’ roll songs, skiffle tunes, and anything else that caught their fancy.
After a few months of playing together, McCartney mentioned that he had a friend who was an even better guitarist then both John and himself. The boy’s name was George Harrison; he was shy, intense, and almost three years younger than John. During his audition for the Quarry Men, Harrison played a note-perfect version of an instrumental called ‘Raunchy’. John was impressed and in early February 1958, Harrison joined his fledgling band.
Paul and George attended the Liverpool Institute, which was conveniently located near the College of Art. The three young men frequently played guitar together during their lunch hours.
George usually handled lead guitar while John and Paul played rhythm. John and Paul took turns singing vocals while George piped in on the chorus or sang backup. John had a raspy, tough-guy voice. Paul had a wider range, but generally sounded sweeter, whether he was singing rock ‘n’ roll or a pop ballad.
The three boys practiced constantly, honing their musical chops. Their talents complemented each other, as did their personalities. While John was clearly the leader, Paul was the band’s showman — eager to ham it up to draw attention from the girls. John brought a raw rocker sensibility to the group while studious George provided a strong musical foundation. Everything pointed to rapidly rising success — until the band was sidetracked by a personal tragedy.”
(Nate Hendley is the Toronto-based author of Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, available in paperback and on Kindle. He has also written several other works, primarily in the true-crime genre.)