What's up with that long hair?
A teenager at the 1964 Dallas Beatles concert, in five acts
Tuesday morning, January 14, 1964
Strike! John cheered triumphantly for no one in particular. Some high school kids were hanging out at the bowling alley in Preston Forest Shopping Center. Playing on the sound system were Dion and Belmonts, Bobby Vinton, and Paul Anka. Bob was not quite old enough to hang out at the bowling alley - he was just in junior high. Across Preston Road, Bob and his Benjamin Franklin Junior High friends spent all afternoon at Minsky's Records, browsing the new releases and listening to albums in one of four soundproof booths. After hearing a few songs from the album "Meet The Beatles!" on the radio, he rode his bicycle less than two miles to hear more of the album while in Booth 3. There were others waiting to hear the same album. Bob relinquished after two songs and bought his first record - in mono. He held the flat bag in one hand and steered with the other on the trip back home.
Taking residential streets to avoid traffic, Bob passed the 1950s-era ranch houses that would later become popular Mid-Century homes. At his own home, Bob, his brothers and his mother, gathered around the deluxe Hi-Fi cabinet in the living room to play the new record album. They all sat enamored and intrigued. This wasn't the typical sound of the day. It moved. It sang to them. It was fresh and invigorating. Though the media hype was just beginning, they knew this was going to be something very big. They heard, for the first time, songs that would later become classics. Within days, the Beatles would be on the Ed Sullivan Show, a popular variety show hosted by the ‘Talk of the Town’ master himself. There were puppets, circus acts, dancers, and, often, music for screaming teenagers: Elvis, Bobby Darin, and Bill Haley & His Comets’ Rock Around the Clock in August 1955, the first rock and roll song broadcast on national television.
Sunday night, February 9, 1964, about 7:15p
The entire nation watched, well, at least 73 million of them - a record audience for a television show. Ed Sullivan introduced them,
“And, now, (some screams) something for (louder screams) the kiddos (pandemonium screams) - The Beatles".
The song "All My Loving" was the first sung by the group, then "Till There Was You.” At the bottom of the screen were captions: "Paul McCartney" "George Harrison" "Ringo Starr" and “John Lennon. Sorry girls, he's married.”
For teenagers, it was euphoric. For Bob’s father and most adults, it was,
“Look at that long hair!” “That strange music!” “Horrible”
Three decades later, in New York City, Bob walked by the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway and noticed an open side door on 53rd Street. Of course, he went right in. The auditorium was somewhat of a mess - wood, tools, and debris - clearly a construction site. But he was able to wander up to the stage. Just after I stepped up onto the mostly barren stage, a voice called out, "Hey!" Bob played dumb. A security guard joined him on the stage. He declared that no one was supposed to be in there. Bob ignored that silly statement and began asking him questions. "What's going on here?" (referring to the construction and mess). Bob had read that security guards often get lonely and hungry for human contact and conversation. Bob was hoping that if he engaged him in banter, that would allow him more time to look around.
The guard tersely explained, it's the new set for David Letterman. He seemed a bit surprised that Bob didn't know that. Letterman had just left NBC and had recently signed his contract with CBS. The security guy was younger so he was fascinated and starstruck by the Letterman set. Bob, too, was somewhat fascinated by Letterman’s set, but not nearly as much as he was by the fact that he was standing on the very stage where The Beatles held their first US performance years earlier. Bob looked out and recognized details in the theater auditorium that he had seen on the Ed Sullivan show on that Sunday night in 1964. Sure enough, the guard seemed to enjoy talking with Bob and their conversation lasted long enough for Bob to embrace this special auditorium.
Back to 1964 - the radio stations and the newspaper announced the upcoming tour schedule. After several performances in NYC, the band would set out on a cross-country sojourn. The last stop before heading back to New York was going to be Dallas, Texas. Bob couldn't believe it. Right here!
Well, I want to go. I must go.
Tickets went on sale at only one place - the Preston Ticket Agency, inside Preston State Bank on Preston Road, just south of Northwest Highway, near Youngblood's fried chicken restaurant and just down the street from the very first suburban Neiman-Marcus, their second store, after the original in downtown Dallas. Bob’s parents banked at Preston, so he knew it well.
Bob shared his plan with friends and family. He was going to get up real early and ride his bike (Bob was 14 years old) to the ticket agency, a trip of about 2 miles, crossing only 2 major streets. His dad took him in the car the day before so they could map out the safest route for him to take. His dad was concerned but also accommodating of Bob’s desire - no, need, to get those tickets.
That morning, too early for anyone but the paperboy and maybe some deliverymen, Bob woke up easily - he had been too excited to get much sleep - put on his shorts and teeshirt, quietly opened the side door to the garage, and wheeled his bicycle out to the driveway. He coasted down the slope of the driveway and was off in the cool dark morning. He followed the pre-determined route with no problem. Thanks to dad. At the ticket agency, Bob hitched up his bike to a post and walked over to the line that had begun forming the day before. Some people were in sleeping bags and had small coolers of food and drink. Bob took his place at the end of the line. They waited in the light of the bank building's floodlights, a community of music fans eager to see their idols, the original boy band.
Every now and then, a rep or DJ from one of the two local rock-and-roll radio stations, KLIF and KBOX, would talk to those in line. There would have been a more festive atmosphere, but, most of us them were just too tired and sleepy.
Just before sunrise, Bob's friend, Randy arrived, also on his bicycle. Bob appreciated having a friend to wait with. The excitement level rose as the sun came up and the darkness faded away. The frenzy peaked when they saw ticket agency employees arrive and begin to start their day - turning on lights, taking off coats, and straightening the piles of stuff on their desks. A security guard stepped to the glass doors and they could hear the clicks as the guard unlocked each of the two doors.
The line had straightened itself out by this time and had become quite orderly. They snaked inside, through the building lobby and into the offices of the ticket agency, which was opposite from the banking lobby (still closed up and dark). There were four or five desks with agents seated at each to take orders. This was before computer technology and machines that spit out tickets. The agent Bob and Randy were directed to had a stack of printed tickets that she would flip through to find the best seats. She reminded them that there was a limit of six tickets per person. Bob asked for six. The tickets were $5.00 - that's right, five dollars! His parents couldn't believe how expensive it was to go to a concert by a band with just four musicians. Tickets to the subsequent Dave Clark 5 and Rolling Stones concerts were priced at almost six dollars!
(The ticket below wasn't one of theirs - just a sample.)
Bob dug out three ten dollar bills from his jeans pocket and handed them to her; she handed him six tickets to the concert of the decade. Bob clutched the pieces of light cardboard as if he had just found some valuable treasure. Stepping out of the lobby and to their bikes, they passed the rest of the line that was now very animated. Bob later learned that the concert, from this one ticket outlet, had sold out within a couple of hours. He made sure the six tickets with a rubber band around them were secure in the front pocket of his jeans and he unchained his bike for the journey home.
"Let's go to Love Field - the Beatles are landing.”
Bob was sound asleep.
“Let’s go. Get up.”
Bob’s brother had stuck his head in the bedroom, waking him up. He hurriedly got dressed and his brother, old enough to get a driver's License, drove them a few miles to Love Field, the only airport at that time serving Dallas. They had heard on the radio that they would land at the site of the old terminal, not the current terminal. The old terminal building was no longer there, but there was still parking and easy access. They got right up to the fence, close to the taxiway and apron (it was very early morning). Bob felt the excitement and energy in the air. Reminded him of the feeling when he was about to buy tickets. But, now there were signs and banners, some being attached to the fence, some carried by the fans.
There weren't many planes in the sky at that hour, so when a plane came into view, they just assumed that was the one with the Beatles aboard. It touched down and went almost out of sight to the end of the runway; then it turned and came back towards them. They realized that if it was going to the terminal, it would have turned in that direction. But, it didn't. This was the one. The ground crew began to get equipment and the staircase ready. The plane stopped right in front of the fans, not too far from the fence. Every minute seemed longer due to anticipation. Finally, the staircase was driven up to the door and someone walked up and knocked on the door. More agonizing wait. Then, the door opened. There they were.
They emerged waving and smiling. The sound of the jet engine continued even though they had already emerged. Bob realized the sound of the jet engine had merged with the screams of the fans and then it was only the fan screams that carried on. The Fab Four walked down the stairs and were escorted a few yards to a waiting limousine. Bob and his brothers watched the car drive off and through the fence - there was an opening. They all ran that way and onto a parking lot where they caught up with the limo. Bob was pressed right up to the window and sitting right there, a few inches away, were Paul and John. They were both smiling and watching the fandemonium on the other side of the glass. Someone that I didn't recognize, was between them in the back seat. Bob didn't have time to see George or Ringo as the car had inched forward and the fans continued to shove their way to the car. Once the limo got out of the parking lot and onto the street, it sped up and took them on to the Cabana hotel, designed by the same team that would later design Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in a similar design. A year before the Beatles stayed there, worked a cocktail waitress in the hotel restaurant, Raquel Welch.
Above left: The fence about where Bob stood in 1964.
Above right: The circular drive was at the front of where the old terminal stood.
Below left: The Cabana Hotel on Stemmons Freeway. Below right: Memorial Auditorium.
September 18, 1964, 4:40p
Randy's older brother, Bruce, drove them to Memorial Auditorium in downtown Dallas. They had been awaiting this trip all day. Bruce parked the car in the large lot behind the auditorium, now the site of the mammoth Dallas Convention Center that includes the remodeled auditorium. In 1964, however, the round arena sat there by itself. Bob and his friends joined the throngs of teenagers making their way to one of the lines that had formed outside the entrances. Apparently they hadn't yet opened the doors. There was incredible energy and excitement in that line. Anticipation so great that it was spilling out into the evening air.
In line with Bob were Randy, his brothers Bruce and Jim, and Alec and John, Jim‘s high school friend. They didn’t spend much time with the junior high kids. John was the guy that bowled the strike while Bob was at Minsky’s buying that album. Representatives from the Dallas chapter of The Beatles Fan Club were walking up and down the line repeating their disturbing message: if fans threw items up onto the stage, the Beatles would end the concert. One of the reps even told a story of exactly that happening in one of the earlier tour stops. No one in the crowd wanted the concert to end early, so we all nodded our understanding and implicit agreement to obey their request.
As the crowd grew, the line became less of a line and more of a mob. An anxious excited mob. Bob and his friends were pushed right up against the glass doors. Soon, the doors opened. It could have been soon or it could have been a long time - they were so caught up in the excitement with their fellow fans that the wait time was not an issue. Their line moved up to the ticket takers and then on into the vast hallways that curved around the entrance tunnels to the arena seating. Bob and gang went right to their seats. The arena was a bowl of activity: talking, visiting, waving and yelling, or buying drinks and souvenirs. You could feel the electricity. It may have been something like his parents experienced at a Frank Sinatra concert. But to Bob, it was new and exhilarating.
As it got closer to the stated concert time, the anticipation heightened and became a force so powerful that its momentum caught up even those few older folks in the crowd. But, they had to wait a while longer - the concert would be delayed about 15 minutes. A bomb threat had been called in and the arena was still being searched. The lights began to dim, section by section. New lights became apparent - the constant flashing of bulbs from flash cameras.
An announcer, a local disk jockey, walked out onto the stage and spoke some typical emcee schtick, but, not too many were listening. He introduced the opening act, the Bill Black Combo. Most of the 10,000 people politely tolerated the opening groups. Next were The Exciters and Jackie DeShannon. Then the lights came back up in the arena and some stagehands came out onto the stage to rearrange the equipment. Ringo's familiar drum set with 'The Beatles' painted on the front of the bass drum was brought out and set up. You'd think it was the greatest event on earth, judging from the hysteria and screams over just seeing that drum.
The same DJ returned to introduce the main act. Bob was not at all sure what the guy said as the screams overpowered his trained announcing voice. The lights dimmed again and it was on. The Liverpool lads appeared in their matching suits and went right into, "Twist and Shout”.
The screams were constant, but they were so consistent that one could partially tune them out or at least, turn their volume down. After a couple of songs, Paul motioned for the audience to sit down. He wanted to say a few words, maybe about Texas or finishing the tour. As soon as the teens got quiet enough for him to speak, he would begin to speak. The sound of his voice cued the screaming to resume. He tried again. Nope. On the third try, he just went on ahead and said a few sentences and introduced their next song. The next 30 minutes were just a blur of constant screaming, music, and sheer joy.
The Beatles were probably out of the building and into their limo before the screaming finally stopped. From Municipal Auditorium, they went back to Love Field and to a waiting charter plane. Dallas was the final stop in the tour of 25 cities in one month. They spent a day at a ranch in Missouri to rest before going back to New York City for another taping of the Ed Sullivan show, then on home to Liverpool.
But for that evening in downtown Dallas, nothing else in the world mattered. This was Beatlemania and it reigned supreme. That evening in September was truly an evening Bob and thousands of other teenagers will never ever forget.
Photos from the press conference and the concert in Dallas, 1964.
Brief YouTube video of the concert - someone added sound from another concert.
© James Robert Watson, PhD, 2012, 2022