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Beatles invasion 50 years ago left impression on north country residents


When a musical revolution arrived in black and white 50 years ago today, Janet H. Roberts was one of 73 million Americans who sat — or stood — captivated in front of the warm glow of a television.

She was a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Watertown’s Case Junior High when, on Feb. 9, 1964, four young men in suits and funny haircuts made their U.S. debut by appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS.

The Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — had invaded America.

“I remember watching the show and being irritated with my father, who stood in the middle of the room laughing at their appearance,” said Mrs. Roberts, a retired school librarian who now lives in Kingwood, Texas.

Two days earlier, on Feb. 7, the Beatles arrived in the early morning hours from England at JFK International Airport in New York City. An editorial that day in the Watertown Daily Times noted New York City police were alerted to use as many men as needed to avert teenage riots.

“A psychiatrist says it’s a fad — like swing, goldfish swallowing, Elvis Presley, panty raids and telephone booth cramming,” the editorial said.

Maybe that’s why Mrs. Roberts’ father, the Rev. Graham R. Hodges, was laughing.

“I think they were kind of off his radar,” Mrs. Roberts said. “He just had the ability to laugh. I know it made a lot of people angry with their hair and everything, but he just thought it was funny.”

But as the Beatles started to belt out “All My Loving” — the first of five songs they performed that night in Studio 50 on “The Ed Sullivan Show” — their fans sat transfixed, with local residents being part of the record-setting 73 million people who tuned in.

The music of the Beatles would guide young people through tumultuous times, and their arrival in America was a cornerstone date for many, when everything seemed to change. Ahead were race riots, war demonstrations, the sexual revolution, the fight for women’s rights, recreational drug use, the space race and more.

“The Beatles didn’t begin the fads and movements of the decade, but they embraced them early and made them popular,” Bryan Wooley of the Dallas Times Herald wrote in the Watertown Daily Times in a February 1984 column marking the 20th anniversary of the Beatles invasion.

The Watertown Daily Times spoke with several people, from a schoolteacher to a memorabilia collector, to hear what the Beatles’ invasion meant to them.

“It came right on the heels of the Kennedy assassination,” Mrs. Roberts said, referring to the death of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred two and a half months earlier. “I think that was part of what people liked, (that the Beatles were) kind of fun and lighthearted.”

Carl A. Bingle, Adams, longtime organist at First Presbyterian Church and a retired French and German teacher at Belleville Henderson Central School, was 11 and in the sixth grade when the Beatles arrived. He recalled the night he watched their debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in his family’s home in West Carthage.

“We had all been through sad, scary times, with the Kennedy assassination and the Cold War crises,” Mr. Bingle said. “‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘She Loves You’ were fantastic tunes and lyrics, and we wanted and needed more of the Beatles. They suddenly made the world more exciting and much happier.”

Joseph L. Rich, president of the Disabled Persons Action Organization Foundation, was news director at WOTT-AM in Watertown when the Beatles arrived in the United States.

“It hit the country like crazy,” Mr. Rich recalled. “What they brought was almost a catalyst of change, especially socially, but also politically.”

Mr. Rich said the music director at WOTT quickly changed the format of the station to accommodate the “British invasion.” But he said it became more than about the music.

“It was really amazing, the change in people,” Mr. Rich said. “I think people were conforming to a new era where they could speak up about sensitive issues like Vietnam and environmental issues.”

Mr. Rich said many bands in Watertown quickly learned Beatles songs for their live acts. But one local band, headed by one of the most talented musicians to come out of the north country, took the music to a new level.


Ed Wool, a 1962 graduate of Watertown High School, was a talented musician who formed the rock band Ed Wool & the Nomads in the early 1960s.

“For a while, we were the Beatles,” said Mr. Wool, who now lives in the Albany area.

From the mid-1960s to the mid-’70s, Mr. Wool and the bands he formed were well-known in the north country. He and bandmates recorded music for seven major record labels. In 2006, a label in England re-released the 1969 self-titled album “Wool.”

The album was produced by Michael Joyce, who discovered Ed Wool & the Nomads in the early 1960s before the Beatles invasion, when he was working as a talent scout and producer in New York City.

He said Mr. Wool was one of the best technicians he ever worked with, and his band became the Beatles in the eyes of his band’s fans. The fact that the band dressed like the Beatles, in suits and skinny ties, didn’t hurt, either.

“When they played a Beatles song, they played it exactly the way it was on the recording, and I don’t mean kind of close, I mean exactly,” Mr. Joyce said in an email.

Mr. Joyce, who now lives in Florida, recalled the days after the Beatles invaded and how fans’ reaction to Mr. Wool’s band quickly changed as it started to cover Beatles songs.

“The kids in the region got a sense that what they were seeing on stage and feeling had almost a one-to-one connection to the Beatles,” Mr. Joyce said.

He said band members even seemed to have similar personalities to members of the Beatles.

“Ed came across like John Lennon, a stickler, edgy, a bit moody sometimes and a creative genius,” Mr. Joyce said.

Mr. Wool, now an award-winning blues guitarist, said he and the Nomads traveled to the Montreal Forum to see the Beatles in September 1964.

“We even have a bootleg recording of that concert,” he said.

The concert, Mr. Wool said, further inspired his band.

“It changed our lives. It made it real. We wanted to continue to do more things that would make us more like the Beatles.”

Those things included trying to locate Italian-style boots worn by the Beatles, which became known as “Beatle boots.”

“We finally found a store in Syracuse that carried that style,” Mr. Wool said. “We were the first ones to have them. It was really cool.”

Mr. Wool said he met Mr. McCartney at a recording studio in New York City in the early 1970s.

“We had a wonderful conversation for 20 minutes or so,” Mr. Wool said. “It was mostly him asking me questions about what I was doing there. I told him how important the Beatles were to us.”


Guy C. Root shares his Watertown home with a bounty of Beatles memorabilia. It’s mementos he started to collect shortly after he saw the Beatles’ premiere on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964, when he was a student at Watertown High.

“I’ve had stuff since I was 17 years old,” said Mr. Root, 66.

The Beatles’ “stuff” collected by the retired postal clerk ranges from music boxes to plates and 8-track tapes. And yes, he has Beatles postage stamps, but they were made in England. The closest the U.S. Postal Service came to honoring the band was in 1999 when it issued a “Yellow Submarine” stamp, which was selected by the public in balloting to pick 15 stamps to honor the culture of the 1960s.

Mr. Root recently decided to sell his collection, which is stored in four multi-gallon totes in his home.

“I’m not trying to get rich on them,” he said.

Last month, he sold a Sgt. Pepper-themed music box on eBay for $35. He also has scores of Beatles records and single 45s he is selling. When asked if he’ll be sad to see his collection go, he said he thought “somebody might as well take them who is going to enjoy them, and maybe put it in their collection or whatever.”

But he’ll never part with the memories the music has brought him.

“I loved their music and I still do,” Mr. Root said. “For my generation, I don’t think there (is) another group like them.”


Joan M. Jones, who taught music in Watertown schools for 34 years and spent 16 years as the district music coordinator before retiring in 1988, was never a big fan of rock ’n’ roll.

So when she was teaching at Case Junior High in 1964, and the Beatles had invaded the lives of her students, she initially didn’t think much about it. She recalled watching the band’s U.S. debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

“When they came on, I remember saying, ‘They’ll never last,’ ” Mrs. Jones said.

But there was no escape, and she adjusted her lessons to reflect that.

“I always incorporated the ideas of the Beatles in putting music together in the classroom whenever it could apply to the theory of music,” Mrs. Jones said. “I would bring it in to keep students’ attention.”

She found that relatively easy to do with the Beatles.

“A lot of rock music, in my opinion, is noise or rhythm, or what have you,” Mrs. Jones said.

The Beatles broke that mold.

“They had some good musicians in the group,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘Is this the new way?’ I had no idea. You take what comes. They’ve made a fantastic career. But that’s only because they knew what they were doing.”


On a blustery day a few weeks ago, Adams resident Wynn G. Burkard called up YouTube and viewed a live version of “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles recorded on Feb. 11, 1964, at the Washington (D.C.) Coliseum.

Mr. Burkard enjoys watching such Beatles clips. The Coliseum concert was the band’s first live performance after its “Ed Sullivan Show” gig. In both concerts, the audience is seated, but the screaming, shouting and clapping of the girls and boys in those videos reflect an energy force that would become unstoppable.

The music of the Beatles still energizes Mr. Burkard.

“To this day, people say I won’t listen to anything but the Beatles,” said Mr. Burkard, a retired construction worker. “It’s not true. Groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash are big on my list.”

He was 15 and a student at Watertown High when the Beatles invaded. A month before the band’s appearance on Mr. Sullivan’s show, one of Mr. Burkard’s friends purchased the single “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which was the band’s first No. 1 song in the United States. It replaced Bobby Vinton’s “There! I’ve Said It Again” from the top spot in 1964.

“It was completely stunning,” Mr. Burkard said of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand.’ “We just played that 45 over and over again for two or three hours. The sound was completely different from anything we had heard.”

When the Beatles appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Mr. Burkard was at his girlfriend’s house in Watertown. He said his parents were at the Music Box bar on outer Arsenal Street.

“They were watching it there, apparently discussing how degenerate the Beatles were,” Mr. Burkard said.

Not discouraged by his parents’ displeasure with the band, the young Mr. Burkard had a surprise for them when he returned from his girlfriend’s home on the night of Feb. 9, 1964.

“When I got home, I had already combed my hair down and cut it across like a Beatle haircut,” he said. “When my father saw it, he hit the roof. My mother was a little more conciliatory. In later years, she became a big Beatles fan.”

What once was seen as degenerate became accepted, revolutionizing the music world. The Beatles would influence other acts before they officially disbanded in 1970.

“The Beatles set the standard and opened up America and the whole pop music industry to a lot of new groups,” Mr. Burkard said about the Byrds and other bands. “We’ll never see the likes of them again. The times were just right.”

The times apparently are still right for the Beatles.

Robert G. Sauter, chief engineer of Canton-based North Country Public Radio, hosts the Wednesday afternoon radio show “The Radio Bob Rhythm & Blues Show.” Mr. Sauter, who was 14 when the band invaded, said he always gets requests to play Beatles music.

“They were great songwriters, fabulous musicians and great performers,” he said. “It was an unstoppable combination.”

For more on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ U.S. invasion and a story on the love a SUNY Potsdam professor has for teaching a course devoted to the Beatles’ music, visit

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