~ You Won't See Me ~

George Harrison Purchases a Rickenbacker

by Peter McCormack

When did George Harrison visit Illinois and Why?

The year was 1963 and for a two week period in September George Harrison and his brother Peter visited their sister Louise in Southern Illinois. Like so many events in the life of The Beatles, the circumstances surrounding this visit, including the purchase of his first Rickenbacker, have yet to be described in any detail up until the present time. After an extended search a few individuals have been located in the Mt. Vernon area who spent time with George and his brother during this visit. They have kindly offered what they know about his stay at 113 McCann Street in Benton, Illinois and the purchase of the solid body "cresting wave" single pickup Rickenbacker 425. More than 35 years later it is quite amazing to realize that one of The Beatles was able to visit the United States for a two week period and go almost completely unnoticed. The historical information to date is presented in the brief article contained on this page. As with all of the articles on "NO REPLY" your input is requested, either in the form of a critique or in additional facts that you may be able to add.

Where was the 425 Purchased?

Mr. Gabe McCarty, formerly of the Illinois music group the "Four Vests" provided invaluable information regarding George Harrison's purchase of his first Rickenbacker, a 425 Model. Mr. McCarty experienced what most would consider to be a dream of a lifetime. He spent two weeks with George and his bother Peter in the fall of 1963. This visit took place at a time when almost nobody in the Mt. Vernon area knew anything about George Harrison. The selection and pruchase took place at the Fenton Music Store located at 601 South 10th Street, Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Lester "Red" Fenton operated this music store in 1963 at the time of the sale and continued to be its proprietor until the mid 1980's. Mr. Fenton died in 1991. There we no pictures available of this store at the time this article was posted. "NO REPLY" would be grateful for any picutres that interested readers may be able to submit to the Rickenbacker Registration Page.

What Were The Details Surrounding The Purchase?

Shortly after arriving in Illinois, George Harrison met Gabe McCarty and another member of the "Four Vests," Vernon Mandrell. George expressed his interest in purchasing a Rickenbacker guitar and Gabe knew that the only dealer nearby was the Fenton Music Store. Apparently Rickenbackers were difficult to come by in England at this time and in Gabe's words "He just had to have one." Mr. McCarty volunteered to drive Harrison from Benton to the store in Mount Vernon to try out a Rickenbacker. Gabe recalled his pitch "Red, he's a good friend of mine and wants to buy a Rickenbacker guitar. Give him the same discount you gave me." The Four Vests had fostered a good relationship with Red Fenton as they had purchased equipment from him only a short time earlier. In his reminiscence of the events that day, Gabe mentioned "George pulled a couple of guitars off the wall" and eventually decided on a Fireglo (red) Rickenbacker Model 425. This description is validated by the research carried out by Mr. John Hall of Rickenbacker International Corporation which indicates that the guitar Harrison purchased, based on the serial number of BH 439, was shipped from the factory in the Fireglo finish. It has also been confirmed by Mr. Hall, that this instrument was shipped by the factory, in error, as a Model 425 even thought it was in fact a Model 420, having no vibrato. After all these years this is not the time to rewrite history, and so a Model 425 it remains to this day. The serial number would indicate that the guitar was made in August 1962. That it was "red" is of particular interest. It is well know that Harrison performed with this guitar on the "Ready Steady Go" television show hosted by Dusty Springfield on October 4, 1963, however, the instrument had been refinished to black by that time. But how did that refinishing come about?

Why was the 425 Refinished to Black?

Just days after his return to England in September 1963 Harrison performed with his new 425 during The Beatles' first appearance on the "Ready Steady Go" television show. The guitar was, however, no longer in its pristine factory Fireglo finish but had been refinished to black. He briefly discussed his new purchase and in an interesting comment made to Dusty about its finish quipped "I made it myself." This of course, raised the suspicion of some that he had been involved in the refinishing. Fortunately the comments of the Four Vests have been most helpful in getting to the bottom of such speculation.

Gabe McCarty vividly recalled that Harrison liked the 425 very much but preferred to have it in black similar to the one owned by John Lennon. He remembers George asking "Don't you have any black ones." Red Fenton, asked Harrison to "give me a week" but that he would be able to comply with his request. Gabe described that he, Harrison and Vernon Mandrell returned to Fenton Music a week later to pick up the guitar.

Why and Where was the 425 Refinished?

Gabe McCarty could not understand why George wanted to paint over the especially nice famous fireglo finish that was highly sought after by Rickenbacker lovers. In reference to the Beatles, George explained that "all the other guys had black instruments" and that the color fit in best with the band. Gabe also felt that the gist of the argument was that a black guitar fitted in best with the dark suits that the Beatles wore on stage.

Mr. McCarty assessed that the refinishing was carried out in the Fenton Music store as Red Fenton had the expertise and there were no other shops about that Gabe was aware of that could do this work at the time. In referring to Red, Mr. McCarty offered "I thought he did it himself. It looked real good and I was quite surprised." George Harrison paid in cash, about $400 US, for the guitar. He apparently had no idea of the value of American dollars compared to the pound sterling and at first took out close to $800. to pay for the 425.

Most interesting and important historical information has surfaced thanks to the kind efforts of Mr. David Artis. Mr. Artis writes " I was only 16 in 1963 and had recently purchased my first guitar (a Harmony imitation of a Gibson 335) from Red. In 1964, I worked part-time for RED while in high school. I did not get to met George Harrision in 1963 but I remember RED telling me after the Beatles had been on the Ed Sullivan show that he had sold the insturment to Harrision and that he had redone the finish in black at his request. RED personally thought it a waste to ruin the fireglow finish of the instrument but he truly believed in giving the customer what they wanted. This seemed to be a guessed at issue, as to who did the finish, so I thought I would give you what RED had told me.

Other Events During Harrison's Stay

There were a number of other interesting events that took place during the Harrison's visit to Southern Illinois that are related to George's Model 425 Rickenbacker. The day in which George returned to purchase his newly refinished guitar, Gabe recalled "he plugged it into an amp and we jammed for about 30-40 minutes in Fenton's Music Store." Red did not know the more contemporatry rock music songs and so George on his 425 and Gabe on a bass from the store played more traditional "pop songs such as It Had To Be You."

Mr. McCarty also indicated that George played two gigs with the "Four Vests" during September 1963 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Hall in Eldorado, Illinois and also at the Bocchi Ball Club in Benton. Gabe was sure that George was going to play some of his Beatles' material but this never happened with Harrison performing mostly Hank William's country tunes at both venues. Apparently George quite fancied having The Beatles play in the Benton area at some point and went so far as to schedule a concert at the Benton Country Club. The pandemonium was so great when The Beatles visited in 1964, however, that the planned concert was never realized. George also played with the lead guitarist of the "Four Vests," Kenny Welch and Gabe in his sister Louise's livingroom in Benton at 113 McCann Street. Gabe said that George was very taken by Kenny's style and watched him intently but never really said much about Mr. Welch's ability. According to Mr. McCarty, Harrison's style was much like the picking style of Chet Atkins. There was discussion about moving this home before it was sold in 1995, however, it remains in its original location to the present day. Its exterior was refurbished to resemble its 1963 look and the residence is currently a Bed and Breakfast and museum honouring George Harrison's stay. A number of enthusiastic fans wold just not let the idea of saving the Residence go. For additional background information regarding the restoration of the home where George stayed in Benton please see You've Really Got A Hold On Me.

McCann Street Home in Benton, Illinois
Restored to its 1963 Look
Photo 2000 Jim Kirkpatrick

Have New Rickenbacker 425 Will Travel

"Ready Steady Go"

George's visit to Illinois spanned the period from September 15th to October 3, 1963. After arriving in England he got the opportunity to use his new Rickenbacker 425 at "Ready Steady Go" and some Beatle historians have commented that it was not used subsequently. So on October 4, 1963 George and the Beatles performed on Ready Steady Go hosted by Dusty Springfield and Keith Fordyce. The fab four mimed live "Twist and Shout", "I'll Get You" and "She Loves You." The Beatles returned for a second appearance on "Ready Steady Go" on March 20, 1964.

"Thank Your Lucky Stars"

On October 20, 1963, approximately 3000 fans attempted to storm the television studio where The Beatles made their first appearancee on "Thank Your Lucky Stars". George once again used his Rickenbacker 425 as the group mimed live "All My Loving, "Money" and "She Loves You." They returned to the show for a for a second time on December 15, 1963 which was, perhaps, his final performance with the 425. The Beatles appeared along with Billy J. Kramer and The Searchers in an all Merseybeat show.

George Harrison with his 425
Jetglo on "Ready Steady Go"
(October 4, 1963)

George Harrison with his 425 and The Beatles on
"Ready Steady Go." The non-Beatles
from left to right: Keith Fordyce; Helen Shapiro;
Dusty Springfield; and Eden Kane (October 4, 1963)

Harrison also used his Model 425
during the all Merseybeat performance
for "Thank Your Lucky Stars" on
December 15, 1963 with host Cilla Black

Harrison and another view of the 425
during the December 15, 1963 performance
on the "Thank Your Lucky Stars" show.

The Beatles' 1963 Swedish Tour

Although it is fair to comment that Harrison did not use his new Rickenbacker extensively, he did use it on several occasions throughout the Beatles' Swedish Tour over the period October 25 to 29, 1963. The tour was a brief one with the Beatles performing to enthusiastic Swedish fans on the following schedule: October 25th - Nya Aulan,Karlstad; October 26th - Kungliga Hallen, Stockholm; October 27th - Cirkus, Goteborg; October 28th - Borashallen, Boras; and October 29th - Sporthallen, Eskilstuna.

Paul with Hofner and George with Rickenbacker 425
October 28, 1963 at Borashallen, Boras
Photo courtesy of Lasse Bengtsson

George, Ringo and John on Swedish Tour
October 29, 1963 at Sporthallen, Eskilstuna
Photo courtesy of Lasse Bengtsson

The Beatles' 1963 UK Autumn Tour

Shortly after the Swedish Tour George again used his 425 on November 2, 1963 at the City Hall concert in Sheffield, England. This performance marked the beginning of the Beatles' Autumn 1963 tour which ended at Southampton on December 13th, 29 live performances later. This blistering pace did not include many other special engagements such as television appearances and the famous Command performance on November 3, 1963. The Beatles were paid 300 pounds for a 30 minute performance that included: "I Saw Her Standing There", "From Me To You", "All My Loving", "You Really Got A Hold On Me", "Roll Over Beethoven", "Boys", "Till There Was You", "She Loves You", "Money (That's What I Want)" and "Twist and Shout." The following is a list of dates and venues for the 1963 Autumn Tour.

November   2 - City Hall, Sheffield
November   3 - Odeon theatre, Leeds
November   6 - ABC Cinema, Northampton
November   9 - Adelphi Cinema, Dublin
November 10 - Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham
November 13 - ABC Cinema, Plymoutn
November 14 - ABC Cinema, Exeter
November 16 - Winter Gardens, Bournemouth
November 17 - Coventry Theatre, Coventry
November 19 - Gaumont Theatre, Wolverhampton
November 20 - ABC Cinema, Manchester
November 21 - ABC Cinema, Carlisle
November 22 - Globe Cinema, Stockton-on-Tees
November 23 - City hall, Newcastle upon tyne
November 24 - ABC Cinema, Hull
November 26 - Regal Cinema, Cambridge
November 27 - Rialton Theatre, York
November 28 - ABC Cinema, Lincoln
Novmeber 29 - ABC Cinema, Haddersfield
Novmeber 30 - Empire Theatre, Sunderland
December   1 - De Montfort Hall, Leicester
December   3 - Guildhall, Portsmouth
December   8 - Odeon Cinema, Lewisham, London
December   9 - Odeon Cinema, Southend-on-sea
December 10 - Gaumont Cinema, Doncaster
December 11 - Furtuist Theatre, Scarborough
December 12 - Odeon Cinema, Nottingham
December 13 - Gaumont Cinema, Southampton

George Harrison
with 425 Rickenbacker
City Hall Concert
Sheffield, England
November 2, 1963

"Wild Beatle Fans" try To break into dressing room
following one of the 29 performances during the
1963 Autumn Tour

What Became of The 425?

George had the 425 modified sometime between December 1963 and 1971. The luthier, who added a second "toaster" chrome bar pickup and switch has yet to be identified. In 1971 George present this instrument to a fellow Liverpudlian, George Peckham, perhaps best known for his rhythm guitar work with Fourmost. Peckham placed the guitar in the hands of Chrisites in 1999 who eventually sold it for him for the handsome sum of 56,500 pounds sterling. As seen below, it is currently in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio. While not immediately apparent in the photo, individuals who have seen the 425 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame consider that the addition of the second pickup was poorly done. A comparison with earlier photographs would indicate that the pickguard has been replaced to accommodate the new position of the bridge pickup. A close inspection of the instrument reveals a poor routing job for the newly added neck pickup. Information from John Crowley's Site, indicates that the owner Sharon Mineroff loaned it to the Hall of Fame after becoming somewhat nervous keeping this prized guitar at her residence. While unsubstantiated, it is rumoured that this guitar was used to some extent in the recording of "With The Beatles."

"All Things Must Pass"
Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Cleveland Ohio

Acknowledgements and References

Not enough could ever be said about the kindness of all those people of Southern Illinois who gave of their time to uncover information about their community that had gone untouched for nearly 40 years. At the risk of leaving out one of these stalward individuals the following is a list of those persons who are a part of this historical record.

Artis, David:         Whose memory of Red has added to the history Bennett, Herbert:    Whose memory created the first link
Bennett, John:        Whose patience and initiative made it happen
Hays, Thelma:        Whose enthusiasm was infectious in the nicest way
Kirkpatrick, James: Whose generosity will never be forgotten
Matroy, Mrs. John: Whose connections were second to none
McCarty, Gabe:      Whose good fortune he shared with all
Morgan, Karl:         Whose heart of gold started it all
Parish, Sue:            Whose knowledge of the community was invaluable
Puckett, Thomas:    Whose optimism sparked much enthusiasm
Steffe, James:         Whose charity will always be remembered
Chambers of Commerce for Benton and Mt. Vernon: Thank you

~ Thank you all from the bottom of my heart ~

Article Submitted on December 18, 1999 - Revised March 24, 2001

1999-2001 Peter McCormack. All rights reserved.