From St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Thursday May 8, 1997
Reported by Andrew Bedell
In the quiet of September 1963, Beatle George Harrison visited his
Southern Illinois, where a teen-age DJ first put needle to Beatles vinyl
months before the group's milestone "Ed Sullivan" gig.
Now a local fan wants history to remember Harrison's musical recom
and the time.
Maybe you're old enough to remember -- or surely you've at least seen
the historic event: On Feb. 7, 1964, a jet touched down at Kennedy
New York, chauffeuring in an event that would change music -- some say
culture -- forever.
The Beatles arrived in the United States for the very first time. The
hysterical mob at the airport was only the beginning. On Feb. 9, and
Feb. 16, more than 70 million people tuned into the now-legendary
the "Ed Sullivan Show" and heard "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold
Girls screamed, they cried, they fainted. Beatlemania had made it to the
It's time to rewrite popular history. The trip to New York was not
the first time the Beatles were in America, and the "Ed Sullivan Show"
the first place their music was played here. Beatles historian and
Bartel of Springfield, Ill., is setting the record straight, and helping
preserve what he and other Beatles fans believe is an important piece of
history. He's made a documentary telling the real story.
In September 1963, while the rest of the Beatles took a holiday in
George Harrison, then 20, and his brother, Peter, visited the United
Ostensibly on a recon mission to test the market before the group
plans to finally play here.
George and Peter were actually here to see their sister. Their
Benton, Ill., a small mining community in Southern Illinois. Louise
Caldwell moved there early in 1963 with her husband, a mining engineer.
Bartel's film, "A Beatle in Benton," which won honorable mention at
recent Berkeley Film Festival in California, is a straightforward
which the director interviews many of the folks who encountered Harrison
his stay in the area. It consists mostly of casual chats with family
musicians, radio DJs and others who helped make local history.
"George spent 18 days in Benton," says Bartel, a middle-aged guy who
tinted glasses and drives a cab. "While he was there, he played at a VFW
with a local band, he bought a guitar, he went camping with the family."
Just a normal visit to your older sister, right?
"Remember, at this time the Beatles were huge in England, and early
summer, George's mom sent Lou the Beatles' latest single, 'From Me to
Bartel explains. "And Lou acted as the Beatles advance person, taking
record to local stations to get it played." She decided to take it to
in West Frankfort, Ill.
WFRX was a typical middle-of-the-road station, but it did have a show
played youth-oriented music. The disc jockey of the show, Marcia
just a high-school girl (her father owned the station). So, in June
the very first time anywhere in the United States, Marcia cued up the
and "From Me to You" went over the air in Southern Illinois. Bartel
Marcia should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, right alongside
When George arrived in Benton three months later, it was obvious that
sister's advance work had paid off. Brother and sister hitchhiked to
another new single for the playlist, "She Loves You."
"So here you have this small radio station in Southern Illinois brea
Beatles in the U.S. months before anybody else," says Bartel.
"Lou had also arranged for George to play with a local band, the Four
so he'd have some musicians to hang out with," Bartel adds. "She even
band some Beatles records so they could learn the music before George
The Four Vests -- plus George Harrison -- played a gig in Eldorado,
the VFW Hall. "The band played their normal first set, popular stuff
Ventures, and then took a break," Bartel says. "They came back for the
set and introduced George as the 'Elvis of England.' They said people's
Harrison even bought a guitar at the music store in nearby Fenton --
famed Rickenbacher hollow-body. (Please note: This reporter did not have accurate information in preparing this portion of his interesting report. The instrument was a "solid-body Rickenbacker" as described in the article You Won't See Me
Bartel, 48, is a life-long Beatles fan. He says he had always known
significance of the connection with George and Benton, Ill., but never
directly involved until 1994. "I drove down to Benton to buy the new CD,
at the BBC,' the day it was released as a gift for my wife, Janice. When
down there, I thought, 'I wonder where Louise Harrison lived?'''
Bartel started digging -- and it didn't take him too long to find
what he was
looking for. Bartel is trained as a private investigator.
"At first, no one seemed to remember Louise Harrison. But then I
a directory from 1963 and found a Louise Caldwell," Bartel says. "So I
to 113 McCann."
Louise Harrison Caldwell and her husband had sold the house some years
before. When Bartel found it, the bungelow was in disrepair and was
slated to be
torn down by the state to make way for a parking lot for the Mine Rescue
Bartel made some calls to state officials and discovered that the house
have already been demolished. Frantically, he made more calls and got a
execution. He wanted to save the home.
He called Louise Harrison, now living in Florida, for help. She
Benton and they began an all-out effort to save the home. Months later,
much agonizing and legal wrangling, Bartel and his band of Beatles
preservationists succeeded. A group of local investors bought the home
turned it into A Hard Days Nite B&B.
Bartel's belief in the historical significance of George's stay in
and of Louise's former home, is profound. That's why he filmed a
the subject. The 120-minute video, "A Beatle in Benton," tells the whole
in depth. The video is in the archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
"Benton is really the birthplace of the Beatles in America," Bartel
emphasizes. "For me, the essence is that (I) got to do something to