The Memphis Sound
7:35 am
Tue March 27, 2012

It Just Dawned On Me That Evening...

Many Memphis teenagers greeted the dawn on Sunday, February 4, 1964, with their future sights set on being athletes, astronauts, or accountants. The event they shared that evening would move these goals to the back burner as things switched over to plan “B.” For most, this new obsession would last a couple of weeks; for others, a couple of years; but for a few, it would never end. The sea-change quantum-shift of paradigms began with one television appearance, the debut of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, and would be fueled locally by adjustments made to another TV show.

It was only about seven and a half years earlier that Elvis Presley’s Ed Sullivan Show appearance would spark a similar wave of motivational metamorphosis, and the impact sent shock waves around the globe. To be sure, even John Lennon was quick to point out that without Elvis, there would have been no Beatles. Beatle Paul added, “In the beginning, it was people like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins.“

The Beatles already had a year of hit material in the can when the tipping point was finally reached stateside, and it seemed like it was all being released at once. The band ruled the charts in England for all of 1963. Capitol records had the rights to The Beatles' material in the US, and passed on release after release with the cavalier attitude that such provincial gimmickry would never work over here. Labels such as Vee Jay, Swan, and Tollie snapped up the tunes Capitol eschewed. So by the time the big label finally caught on and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” hit number one, the floodgates opened. By early April, 1964, the Beatles owned the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100.

Budding young former Hootenanny wannabes were trading their acoustic box guitars in for electric Gretsches and Rickenbackers, or even Silvertones if nothing else was available. Vox amps were turning up here and there, and Ludwig drums never knew what hit them. Teens in the Mid-south took note, as barber shop business went wanting and music store business boomed. The Beatles just looked so cool, they made it all look so easy, and the girls just screamed so.

Meanwhile, Channel 13’s long-running Dance Party show was having their own Hairspray moment, and facing the reality of the times. If they were going to continue to have kids dance on the show, by necessity it was going to evolve into having black kids and white kids dancing at the same time in the same studio. Mind you, at that time it was still dangerous enough having Treadwell kids and Kingsbury kids dancing together in the same room, much less the powder keg of interracial couples sharing space on the dance floor. The powers that were determined that Memphis in 1964 still wasn’t ready for that. The solution was to create a new version of the show, call it Talent Party, and have the new emcee, George Klein, recruit a bevy of pretty girls, the “WHBQ-ties” to do all the dancing, then place the focus on mimed musical performances. The beneficiaries of the new format of the show were those garage bands around town who would cut a demo at Roland Jane’s Sonic Recording Studio, then lip-sync on camera to fill the time and gain exposure.

As WKNO-TV’s Memphis Memoirs episode on garage bands noted, scores of groups could trace their birth to inspiration of the Beatles’ Sullivan performance, and mark their confirmation as professional musicians with their own appearance on Talent Party. And, a few of them would survive the baptism of fire that followed.