How the Beatles intro 50 years ago inspired local musicians

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LEWISTON — Like millions of other baby boomers, Nick Knowlton was introduced to the Beatles 50 years ago today.

It was Feb. 9, 1964, when the Beatles first performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Nothing’s been the same since, said Knowlton, 62.

Remembering “that very special moment,” Knowlton said his sister came running up three flights of stairs, out of breath, to tell their parents they HAD to watch the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

“I was playing cars on the floor,” Knowlton said. “I remember thinking, ‘Who would want to watch bugs on TV?’”

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The family gathered around the television with their mother’s burnt popcorn. Estimates are that 60 percent of all televisions in the country were tuned in to Ed Sullivan that night, hearing Sullivan’s famous, “Right here on our stage, please welcome the Beatles!”

Watching the Beatles sing “All My Loving” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Knowlton said “I profoundly flipped out. I saw all the girls screaming. I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ The next day at school everybody was starting a band.”

Terry McCarthy of Lewiston, who was also 12 that night, was invited to watch the Beatles on TV by neighbors who were in a band called Ronnie and the Tornadoes.

“I was learning guitar,” McCarthy said. “It gave me the idea, ‘I want to do that, have fun playing music.'” He soon made local history by launching the band Terry and the Telstars.

Knowlton said watching the Beatles that night “is what launched my entire profession. Until then, I was a choirboy.”

He sang in the St. Patrick’s Church choir. Singing in church showed him he had talent; watching the Beatles got him hooked on rock ‘n’ roll, the glory of bands. He joined Terry and the Telstars as lead singer “all because of the Beatles,” Knowlton said.

The Telstars was a successful, popular cover band which helped make Lewiston-Auburn a major garage band scene in the 1960s during the Police Athletic League hop dances at Lewiston City Hall.

Terry and the Telstars performed with some big names, and were honored in Billboard Magazine for their high ranking in national competition. That led to recording sessions in Boston.

The group included Knowlton on vocals, McCarthy on lead guitar, Peter Nadeau on the keyboard, Dan Caron on drums and Mike Asselin on bass.

Dan Caron went on to tour with Bob Seger. Knowlton became the lead singer of Katfish, which spent six weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1975 with a remake of the Beatles “Dear Prudence.”

Knowlton built a career as an artist, performing in concerts, nightclubs and weddings. Part of his current act is a medley of Beatles songs, which he performs at Florida beach bars. “Everybody flips out when I do it,” he said. He spends the winter and spring in Florida, the rest of the year at home in Lewiston.

On today’s 50th anniversary, Knowlton and McCarthy said they’ll watch “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles,” from 8 to 10 p.m. “It will bring back a lot of memories,” McCarthy said.

The Beatles gave their generation a reason to be optimistic, Knowlton said. “In the ’60s we were going through the Vietnam War. Nothing seemed positive.” But the Beatles sang about love.

“The Beatles set the tone” for acts that followed, Knowlton said. Considered by many the greatest band ever, “they changed the music style and sound from surf type and instrumentals to the heavier, hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll we have today,” McCarthy said.

Fans include those born long after the 1964 Ed Sullivan show. “My kids are in their 30s,” Knowlton said. “They love the Beatles.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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