In 1964, U.K. photographer Harry Benson was headed to Africa on assignment for the Daily Express when he got a call from his editor, saying the plans had changed. He was now going to Paris to photograph the Beatles. Benson was less than thrilled. “I thought of myself as a serious journalist,” he says. “But when I really heard [the music] in person … I knew I was on the right story.”
Now in his early '80s, Benson and his Beatles photographs are the subject of a massive tome, The Beatles On the Road 1964-1966, published on June 1 by Taschen and feted in Beverly Hills last week. For the occasion, West Coast Sound got our grubby little hands on some exclusive photos of the group from this era: the one above and the second one on the next page. This post also has other amazing photos from the book, all of them taken by Benson. In addition, we got the opportunity to pick his brain about the two years he spent covering the Fab Four.
The photo (above) with John, Paul and George sitting with their arms crossed and a fourth guy who's not Ringo: Who is that?
Ringo was back in London with the flu. He wasn't well. And they got hold of another drummer called Jimmy Nichol, who was a very good drummer. So this drummer did Amsterdam and Copenhagen. That picture was taken in Copenhagen.
Was he better than Ringo?
Well, I don't know about that, but [John] did say he was a very good drummer.
You took photos of the Beatles at the piano. Were you ever around them when they were writing music?
Oh, yes. A few times. They could write music with a full room, like maybe fifteen people in the room, and it wasn't like, “Oh, be quiet. Can't you see we're working here?” Nothing like that.
Tell us what was going on in the “Beatles Forever” photo.
“Beatles Forever” was them coming off the stage in Chicago. That was after John had said something like, 'We're more popular than Jesus.' That was one of the concerts that might have been cancelled because he had made those remarks — but it wasn't…. You'll see policemen helping them … to protect them. There were death threats.
What were your thoughts when you saw the crazed, screaming fans in America?
Well, they were all such nice-looking — I was going to say kids, but they were all ages. The thing about the Beatles crossed all ages. Everybody wanted to be associated with them…. The Beatles went to all layers of society. Also, they came to America at a very vital time, meaning, the Kennedy assassination was only a couple months away, and the Beatles were this kind of shot in the arm. I don't forget that because I could see that this had a very good effect on people.
Did you think at the time that you were photographing something historic?
I took it as, I'm doing a job. I never thought this was going to be historic. I think the Beatles, debatably, arguably, were probably the greatest composers of the last century. I do. I think they're up there with the greats. That's why I'm glad I got pictures like the Beatles having a pillow fight.
That would be good if you had Mozart and Beethoven having a pillow fight when they were young. Do you know what I mean? They must have done young, silly things…. And what the Beatles were doing was probably what you and I would do if we'd found out we're on The Ed Sullivan Show and were number one in America. Meaning, we've arrived!
Another photo below