As it happens at the end of each year, tallying up the list of the names of show business personalities who have passed on gets sadder and sadder, especially when you see the older names on the list. And the list compiled here for 2015 is no different.
What you have here is a selective list of some of the names from this year, starting from the beginning of the year, with their connections to The Beatles. The year’s list includes two direct members of the Beatles family, including a first wife of one of the Fabs; a few who performed with them in the recording studio, including one in a historic moment; some who could be legitimately be acknowledged as having an influence on their music, either to the music of the Beatles or in their solo careers; and some who were their musical competition that also had a big influence on music in the 1960s, which, of course, the Beatles certainly did.
No doubt, we missed one or two, but thanks to all of them for their accomplishments.
Albert Maysles, died March 11
Albert Maysles and brother David were groundbreaking filmmakers for their cinema verité style of film making. One of their earliest films was “What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.” which documented the craziness of the Fab Four’s arrival in the U.S. in February, 1964, and was later released in “The Beatles First U.S. Visit.”
The brothers Maysles made several other pop music films, including “Gimme Shelter” and he was a cinematographer on “Monterey Pop” and “Jimi Plays Monterey.” Maysles himself, after his brother’s death, worked with Paul McCartney again in “The Love We Make,” which looked at McCartney’s reaction to the 9/11 attack on New York.
Cynthia Lennon, died April 1
The news of her death at age 75 from cancer, which was announced by her son Julian, brought a flood of loving sentiments from those who had met her at Beatles conventions or were just fans from the days of Beatlemania. The former Cynthia Powell had known John Lennon since his art school days. When Lennon became the first married Beatle, she was forced to keep it a secret. In 1968, she and Lennon divorced in the wake of his relationship with Yoko Ono. The tributes to her following her death included statements from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Ono. McCartney said, “She was a good mother to Julian and will be missed by us all but I will always have great memories of our times together.” Ono wrote, “She had such a strong zest for life and I felt proud how we two women stood firm in the Beatles family. Please join me in sending love and support to Julian at this very sad time.”
Ben E. King, died April 30
Ben E. King was an influence on many rockers, including especially John Lennon, who sang his song “Stand By Me” several times, including during the “Let It Be” recording sessions with the Beatles and his solo career for his own “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album in 1975. A recording of “Stand By Me” at a star-studded recording session in 1974 included Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Harry Nilsson and others and was bootlegged on “A Toot and a Snore in ’74.” “Stand By Me” was also issued as a single from the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album.
B.B. King, died May 14
While the Beatles could never be described as a blues band, blues guitarist B.B. King’s influence did extend to the Fab Four. Ringo Starr played drums on King’s 1971 release “B.B. King in London,” one of a spate of albums put out around that time by veteran artists using British rockers as backup musicians. And King credited the Beatles as one of those who helped open up all kinds of music to listeners. “I think this started due to the Beatles first,” he said in 1971. “They started people towards really listening. I usually think that they got hip to the fact that there’s more than just dancin’ to music.” And as he told PBS, “… I think if it didn’t happen with some of the superstars like the Rolling Stones, like the Beatles, the doors would’ve never opened for B.B. King. But when they did start to do some of the things that I’ve done, then doors started to open. I started to go places that I’d never been before.”
Dennis Ferrante, died June 6
Recording engineer Dennis Ferrante worked with many artists throughout his career behind the boards, but it was his work with John Lennon and also Harry Nilsson’s “Pussycats,” produced by Lennon, that Beatles Lennon fans will remember him for.
“John’s way of doing music was he would come into the studio with his song,” he said about Lennon’s song “#9 Dream.” He would run the tune down for the band and after about 45 minutes the band would be ready to put it down. Then we would record any guitar overdubs or other instruments and be ready to put down John’s vocal. He didn’t like to hear his voice plain so I had to put in his headphones efx’s that seemed to me the more he heard, the better he sang. After that we put on the background vocals and whatever little nuiances were needed like May (Pang) saying ‘John’ in the chorus. After all the parts were put down, we would mix and the rest is what you hear.”
Cilla Black, died Aug. 1
One of the members of the Brian Epstein stable besides the Beatles to achieve lasting stardom that continued to her death. She was introduced to Epstein by John Lennon, who had tried to arrange an audition for her. Her career had long ties to the Beatles, beginning with her British singles chart debut, the John Lennon and Paul McCartney song “Love of the Loved,” which released on Sept. 27, 1963. She recorded other songs by the Beatles songwriting masters, including “It’s for You” and “Step Inside Love,” and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” the same night in 1965 as the Beatles did. Paul McCartney, in a posthumous tribute, called her “a lovely girl who infected everyone with her great spirit.” His brother Michael was among those who attended her funeral. Ringo Starr, in his tribute, said, “She was a good friend. We will all miss her.” Former Beatles fan club secretary Freda Kelly, also a good friend of Black’s, said of her, “One of my favorite memories is of Cilla singing ‘Fever.’ That was her masterpiece around Liverpool even before Brian Epstein signed her. I also loved her singing ‘Love of the Loved’ by The Beatles. They used to sing this song at The Cavern.”
Patrick Macnee, died June 24 (and Brian Clemens, died Jan. 10)
Fans of the ’60s TV series “The Avengers” will recognize the name of Brian Clemens as the creator of that series and “The Persuaders,” which starred Roger Moore in a pre-James Bond role. “The Avengers” was always a spy series, but started with two male leads with Patrick Macnee, who also died this year on June 24, as John Steed and Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel. Hendry was dropped and Honor Blackman was added as Cathy Gale, the first sexy female co-star. It was Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel that made the series an international phenomenon starting in 1965 during a time when British culture was popular in America, thanks, in part, to Beatlemania, but also to this very popular TV show. Also, seen on the series were several actors with ties to the Beatles, including Roy Kinnear, who was Victor Spinetti’s assistant in “Help!,” Anna Quayle and Jeremy Lloyd, both seen in “A Hard Day’s Night,” and John Cleese of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Fans of the 1951 movie “A Christmas Carol” with Alistair Sim will recognize Macnee in one of his better known non-Avengers roles as the young Jacob Marley.
Andy White, died Nov. 9
He was almost a footnote in the Beatles’ history, but his passing this year due to a stroke gave him some well-deserved respect. Sir George Martin hired him to sit in for Ringo on “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” on Sept. 11, 1962. “George Martin didn’t think that Ringo was a very good drummer,” Paul McCartney told author Mark Lewisohn for an interview used in “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.” “So Andy White was the kind of professional drummer that we weren’t really used to, and George obviously thought that Ringo was a little bit out of time, a little bit unsteady on tempo. We never really had to be steady on tempo. We liked to be but it didn’t matter if we slowed down or went faster, because we all went at the same time. So that was a major disappointment for Ringo.” The three-hour session resulted in a paycheck of all of £5 for White.
Allen Toussaint, died Nov. 10
Toussaint was another veteran musician who was an influence on members of the Beatles. John Lennon recorded his song “Ya Ya” on “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” while Ringo Starr covered “Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette) on “Bad Boy.” McCartney also used him as one of the sidemen for the New Orleans recording sessions for “Venus and Mars.” “He knows a lot about New Orleans music, and if he was gonna do something with some of that feel he wanted to come down here where it all was,” he said about McCartney. The Allen Toussaint Orchestra issued an album, “The Beatles Songbook,” with covers of their songs, in 1989. Toussaint contributed his version of “Lady Madonna” to the 2014 McCartney tribute “The Art of McCartney.”
P.F. Sloan, died Nov. 15
The Beatles recorded their share of what could be termed “protest music,” but Sloan wrote a song that John Lennon would probably have wished he’d written called “Eve of Destruction” that became a number one Billboard hit for Barry McGuire on Sept. 25, 1965 when it nosed “Help! out of the top spot. One of the most pre-eminent songwriters of the ’60s, he was also wrote or co-wrote “Take Me For What I’m Worth,” “Tell ‘Em I’m Surfin’,” “Where Were You When I Needed You,” “Secret Agent Man,” “Let Me Be,” “You Baby” and “Can I Get to Know You Better.”
Nicholas Smith, died Dec. 6
Nicholas Smith was best known to American audiences as the jug-eared Mr. Rumbold on the wonderful BBC comedy series “Are You Being Served?” that aired in the U.S. on PBS. Smith also was seen in “Dr. Who,” “The Avengers” and “The Saint” during his career. What’s the Beatles connection? One of the co-writers of “Are You Being Served?,” Jeremy Lloyd, was the tall dancer bopping up and down with Ringo in the disco scene in “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Stevie Wright, died Dec. 27
The Easybeats, of which Wright was frontman, were Australia’s biggest pop band of the ’60s and their success there has been compared to the Beatles. Their best-known song, “Friday on My Mind,” rose to a No. 16 hit in the U.S. and No. 6 in the UK. “To describe The Easybeats as “Australia’s Beatles” is not to damn them with faint praise,” wrote Milesago. “They were without question the best and most important Australian rock band of the 1960s, and their string of classic hit singles set the benchmarks for Australian popular music. They established a unique musical identity, and they became our first homegrown rock superstars, and for quality, inventiveness and originality their work is arguably unmatched by any other Australian band of the period.”