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Jimmie Nicol: Temporary Beatle

In June 1964, the Beatles were to tour Scandanavia, Holland, the Far East and Australia. But on June 3, the day before the tour, Ringo collapsed at an early morning photo session for the Saturday Evening Post at a portrait studio in Barnes, London. He had a 102-degree fever and tonsilitis and was rushed to the hospital.

While having his tonsils out in London, he was temporarily replaced for the Denmark and Holland concert dates by shy 24-year-old session drummer Jimmie Nicol. Jimmie was interviewed in 1987 about his time with the Beatles, and it offers some very rare and interesting insights into a side of the Beatles very few if any other people ever saw:

Interviewer: Why haven't you written a book about your time with the Beatles?

Nicol: Anyone can write a book about someone who is famous that they met or knew. There is so much trash written about the Beatles and not one shows their good side. I guess I could very well write a book. Lord knows, I could use the money. I guess I really don't know. I think maybe my angle is not strong enough.

I: What did you think of Ringo Starr when you first heard and saw him drumming?

N: I thought he was good, innovative and all. By that time, I was getting pretty good at the traps, and Ringo was making the drums an interesting instrument for all aspiring musicians. But what I liked most about Ringo is that he was probably the first drummer known by name. He is also the first drummer to have girls cry their eyes out to get a touch of. Another thing, musically I mean, that I liked was his style of rim shots on the snare then onto the shell to-turn. In "Ticket To Ride", he used it as an accent of George's chords and in "She Loves You", he used it as a lead-in to the bridge. He was different. I loved how he used to attack the hi-hat instead of just pussy-footing about with them.

The Beatles break-in a new drummer

I: What were you doing just before that phone call which put you in the limelight as the newest Beatle?

N: I was playing around in a small band [the Shubdubs] and in the studio wherever I was needed. I was actually making money as a drummer, something many were not doing... Brian called me and I went down to his office. I nearly shit in me pants when he told me he wanted me to play for the Beatles in place of Ringo, at least until he was well enough to rejoin the group somewhere in the tour. I was truly shocked by it all...

Brian ... asked me if I had practiced with any of the Beatles hits and I said I had. It was 1964 and the Beatles had so many hits but they had a hell of a lot of good album songs as well.

I: You speak of the Beatles with almost a reverent tone. Why?

N: I am not alone, am I? There is just a feeling I get when I hear their songs. Not just because I played with them but that like millions of other fans, it was part of my... life. Me dad listened to Frank Sinatra and I listened to the Beatles. Both have stood the test of time.

I: What happened then?

N: Well, Brian had all of the Beatles--with the exception of Ringo who was already in the hospital getting the swelling down in his throat from his inflamed tonsils--in an outer office. In a passing motion, he waved them in to meet me. I was floored. The Beatles were actually there to meet me! Me mind was blown. I would have played for free for as long as they needed me. I shook all their hands and blurted out tones of admiration that I think made them embarrassed. They were very nice.

When Brian talked of money in front of them, I got very, very nervous. They paid me 2,500 pounds per gig and a 2,500 pounds signing bonus. Now, that floored me. When John spoke up in a protest by saying "Good God, Brian, you'll make the chap crazy!", I thought it was over. But no sooner had he said that when he said, "Give him 10,000!" Everyone laughed and I felt a hell of a lot better. That night I couldn't sleep a wink. I was a f---ing Beatle!

I: When did the real change start for you?

N: When a wardrobe lady came over to me flat and a hairdresser cut me hair in a mop-top. In the mirror, I cut a mean figure as the new Beatle. I was on top of the music world, for sure.

I: How did the Beatles treat you?

N: Fantastic. Even Ringo kidded me when they took me over to introduce me as his replacement. There were a lot of jokes over that scene. John was super nice as well as Paul and George, with George being about as nervous as I of the tour.

I: What about the fan treatment?

N: Like day and night. The day before I was a Beatle, not one girl would even look me over. The day after, when I was suited up and riding in the back of a limo with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they were dying just to get a touch of me. Strange and scary all at once. It's hard to describe the feeling but I can tell you it can go to your head. I see why so many famous people kill themselves. There is so little sanity to it all.

I: How did the gigs go with you on drums?

N: Good. A lot of drummer fans were disappointed, I'm sure, because they wanted to see Ringo. John would introduce me at some of the concerts and at some he wouldn't. Also, I think I was accepted by most of the fans 'cause I fit in. I wore the suit and hair and tried to play like Ringo in his nonchalant fashion. I also bowed when the rest of them did and that went over big.

I: How long did you play with the Beatles?

N: I started on June 4 of '64 in Copenhagen, Denmark, our first gig of the tour. I played until Ringo joined us in Melbourne, Australia. I was praying he would get well at the same time I was hoping he would not want to come back. I was having a ball, truly.

Rare photo of all 5 Beatles together

I: How much money did they pay you for being a Beatle?

N: I was paid unbelievable! So much that I practically lived off of it for a couple of years. I was paid in the neighbourhood of 40,000 pounds all told.

I: Give me some insight into Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, and how you saw them.

N: To begin with, Paul was not the clean chap he wanted the world to see. His love of blonde women and his general dislike of the crowds are not told. John, on the other hand, enjoyed the people, but used his sense of humour to ward off any he didn't care for. He also drunk in excess. In Denmark, for example, his head was a balloon! He had drunk so much the night before, he was on stage sweating like a pig. George was not shy at all, as the press had tried to paint him.

He was into sex as well as partying all night with the rest of us. I was not even close to them when it came to mischief and carrying on. I thought I could drink and lay women with the best of them until I met up with these guys! But I did as they did. To sit here and list each and every little thing we did in such a short time, well, I just can't do it... The Beatles living life to the fullest. I just thank God that I was there to live it with them. Needless to say, the 300,000 people screaming at me and tearing me coat off to the skin was a trip in itself.

I: Why do you think the Beatles stopped touring so early in their career?

N: That's easy. Demands fans placed on them were huge. They sickened of the way they were treated, all the groping and such. They stopped because they were musicians, not performers. It became boring, then dangerous. They felt it wasn't worth it all. They could sell their records and make a hell of a lot more money without all the hassle.

I: Did they like you?

N: I think so. But after Ringo returned, they changed. It was like welcoming a close member of the family back. They treated me with nothing but respect as a musician. And I think they thought I was very good. John once told me I was better than Ringo but that I just missed the ship. When I was on the plane back to London, I felt like a bastard child being sent back home from a family that didn't want me. When you have had the best, you can't accept anything else.

I: Did you ever see them after the tour?

N: I had a band and Brian put us on the same bill with the Beatles and the Fourmost one night. Backstage, we talked, but the wind had changed since we last saw each oter. They were pleasant.

I: Why do you think you were forgotten after all this?

N: When the fans forget, they forget forever. After the Beatles thing was over for me, I played around for a few years, then got away from the music scene. I mean, when you've played with the best, the rest is just, well, the rest.

I: Any regrets?

N: None. Oh, after the money ran low, I thought of cashing in in some way to other. But the timing wasn't right. And I didn't want to step on the Beatles' toes. They had been damn good for me and to me.

Upon Jimmie's return, his group the Shubdubs issued the single Husky/Don't Come Back, but it failed to chart. The Shubdubs later disbanded, after which Jimmie moved to South America. He also lived in Australia for a time, finally moving back to London.

This page last updated September 20, 2007

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