Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary film Let It Be was recorded in January 1969, while the band rehearsed songs for their twelfth and final studio album Let It Be. Originally planned as a television documentary to go along with a concert broadcast, the documentary saw The Beatles get back to their roots. Augmented by a keyboard player they’d known since their beginnings in Hamburg, the band performed as they had in the beginning, as a five-piece with loud guitars, steady thunderous drumming and unadorned voices through microphones covered in nylon stockings. Until that day, January 30, 1969, on the roof, the Beatles hadn’t performed live since August 29th, 1966, when they performed at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Ken Mansfield, the former manager of The Beatles’ Apple Records in America was one of the few people who get to see them at work in the studio. Mansfield remembers it all, with great personal detail in his book The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert.
In the film Let It Be, Mansfield can be seen in the white coat, sitting in the most exclusive VIP section a concert has ever had with Yoko Ono, Maureen Starkey and Chris O’Dell. O’Dell, who worked in the chaotic London Apple offices the band met and recorded, was later dubbed “Pisces Apple Lady” in a song by Leon Russell, but was just “Miss O’Dell” on the song George Harrison released as the B-side of his 1973 single “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” Mansfield was the tanned suit who came in from the warmth of L.A. to be treated to McCartney songwriting sessions, tortured by the full frontal cover art for John Lennon’s Two Virgins collaboration album with Yoko, and left holding cigarettes to keep George Harrison’s fingers warm enough to play a rooftop concert in the dead of winter.
The Beatles took to the roof of Apple headquarters at 3 Savile Row, as a last-minute idea to end the 1970 documentary film, originally entitled Get Back, which was supposed to show the band rehearsing and recording a back-to-the-roots, no-overdubs-allowed album. The band toyed with the ideas of performing at large arenas, on top of Mount Everest, on an ocean liner, and in an asylum, before they just did what was most convenient. Their impromptu 42-minute set was closer in style to their earliest and rawest performances than to their half hour pop concerts. Let It Be includes 21 minutes of the concert, but the band also performed snippets of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “God Save The Queen” and Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” in between takes. The Beatles got through nine takes of five songs, plus sundry snippets, before London’s Metropolitan Police Service told them to turn it down.
Mansfield left his first job in the Saturn Surveyor Space Program to work with rock and roll stars. He began working with the Beatles in August of 1965 during their second American tour. The Beatles specifically asked Capital Records to give them the executive, raised on the Indian reservation lands in northern Idaho, to be the U.S. manager of their Apple Records label as well as their personal liaison between the England and America.
Only a few people witnessed the concert on the roof up-close, and Mansfield concludes his journey back with a spiritual awakening. The book is about more than just the concert. Mansfield was part of Apple’s creative evolution. Mansfield went on to become a vice president at MGM Records and the president of Barnaby Records, a CBS label owned by Andy Williams. With his own company, Hometown Productions, Mansfield produced artists like Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Don Ho, David Cassidy, The Imperials, Claudine Longet, Nick Gilder, and The Flying Burrito Bros. Mansfield sat down with Den of Geek to talk about some of his favorite sets.
Den of Geek: Early in the book, you mentioned you were at a songwriting session, that Paul was writing a song and you had a lyrical suggestion. Do you happen to remember the song that he was writing?
Ken Mansfield: No, I don’t. I thought I did at one time and then it just got confused later on. He was just doodling on some songs, and he was including me. “What do you think about this? What do you think about that?” And I think “Blackbird” was one of them, but for some reason I think he was rehashing it, or something. I know that sounds really vague. There’s other things I can remember as clear as day, but I was just more involved with the moment. Just hanging out, not really thinking too much about it.
I know you’re a songwriter. So I thought it might have stuck in your head. And actually, you play guitar, did you ever get to play in front of or with any of The Beatles?
Gosh, no. No. By then, I was well past my guitar years. I’ll tell you, when I was in England, I was carrying a tennis racket not a guitar. What happened, in all honesty, is I worked with so many great musicians, you become so intimidated, you don’t even pick up a guitar around some of these people. Because you’re embarrassed because the level that they’re at and you’re plunking away. You know?
So I played rhythm guitar. I was never a lead guitarist. I was never a great guitarist. I was just a good rhythm guitarist and that was all.
The Town Criers?
Yeah, The Town Criers.
Did they ever record?
We recorded some stuff. Fred Astaire started up a new label called Alba Records, but they never released it because everything fell apart, the label, and we never got the recordings back. Later on the guys all got together and did some stuff, so there’s stuff out there but this is stuff we did at Capitol for demos and other things. But there’s nothing from back then that’s in release right now. There’s a later reunion thing, which really doesn’t represent the group when we were together then.
How did you pass the audition to become a core member of Apple?
I think because there was no audition, I wasn’t auditioning, it came together just natural. I worked with them in ’65 on the West Coast tour, and then in ’66 when they came back again. I was a business associate but then we spent time together, they invited me up to the house and we became friends during that time. So, when it came time for them to have somebody to run the company in America, I was kind of the guy they knew over here, a younger guy like them. They thought it was so cool because I was sort of everything they’d kind of read about growing up. I had a suntan, my hair was growing long, I had a Cadillac convertible, a house up in the Hollywood Hills with a pool, you know.
And so they just felt comfortable with me because I wasn’t in awe of them, I didn’t ask them a lot of questions, I didn’t ask to have my picture taken, it was just like hanging out. They were that kind of people. They just were easy to be around. It was probably the easiest band I’ve ever worked with or been around. Yeah.
Okay. The concert itself, you were there, you walked up the same stairs as them. Were they at all aware that they were doing a lunchtime show like they did at the Cavern?
Oh yeah. They were going up specifically to do footage for the Let It Be film, and that was something that we had planned. We had all these different ideas over time and just it never came together, and it was always too complicated. They were basically running out of time to get the footage, so the idea came, “well let’s just go up on the roof.” And when they got up there, it was for footage for the film, but when they got up there, and I think I made this comment in the book, something about them playing live together after they hadn’t played together live for so long, they really went into that: Hey, we’re a band and this is how we came together, and this is who we are, and this is what we are. It doesn’t matter what’s going on or any problems or things. This is us.
And I felt it was probably like they were younger men when they were at the Cavern, just that comradery and naturalness. They’re very laid back, kickback thing, and I think it felt good to them. John, Paul, looked at each other once and it was that look they made at each other that showed, yeah, yeah, this is cool. This is us.
Do you remember any of the patter that went on between songs that didn’t make it into the film?
Oh gosh, no.
Do you remember how it felt?
Some of it was asides to each other. Some of it was recorded on mics but you maybe couldn’t necessarily hear a few feet away. So, no. I mean, yeah, I heard patter, I just didn’t remember the words. I didn’t think it was important. It was just another day. Now wait, I take that back. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was important, it’s just it wasn’t examining things. Was this something that was being done, and a lot of the people just felt it was another day at the office, you know?
Okay, your book is very personal, so how did it feel then? What did the bass feel like? What did it feel to be that close to a bass cabinet? In the first concert they had given in two years, three years?
I didn’t notice anything. They were up on the roof, the sound was projecting away. I don’t remember it being extremely loud up there, yet at the same time, I talked to people who were on the street, they were on their way towards the building and they said it was like a wall of sound coming down.
You got to hold four cigarettes to keep George’s fingers warm.
Yeah. Okay, the thing about that is, I’ve never seen it on the films, so I don’t know if it’s anywhere on the films. It was a very brief thing but I wish I could see a picture of that.
Tell me a little bit about what Billy Preston brought to that roof?
Billy was something that they deeply respected and Billy had a way of just tying everything together for them in terms of he played in the perfect places. They loved Billy. Billy was somebody that they also were just so fascinated with his talent and as a person, Billy was just a beautiful person. And I think he was the only person they ever listed on a record, and I think Billy, when he got in the Let It Be sessions, it was something that really helped center things for them or keep things together. And that’s why George brought him in, he wanted just somebody there to help him calm down a little bit, I think. So Billy on the roof was pretty amazing, for him to be there and for them to invite him there for that. I think it was quite a way of honoring how they felt about him.
Did you read Richard DiLello’s book The Longest Cocktail Party?
I did. Yeah, again, awhile back. That came out a long time ago. Go ahead.
He summed up the attitude at Apple, by citing something he overheard Derek Taylor say in a brief chat. Can you sum up Apple or Derek Taylor?
Well, Derek Taylor was one of those magic characters. Now, I’m not associating him with Magic Alex, but Derek was his own center of things at Apple because everything seemed to like, really a lot of stuff revolved around his office. There was always something going on there, and Derek had this big wicker chair and he would sit there, and I don’t know, Derek was just this unusual person that was attracted to people. People were in and out of there, there was like chaos in his office but he was just comfortable with that. He was a very professional man, amongst all the casualness of what he was doing, and just, I don’t know, he was just a special person, a special person to watch. Derek was his own attraction, I guess you could say.
Maybe that’s the way. Derek was his own attraction. He was so interesting.
And so what was it like going back and forth between the two Apple offices? London and LA?
Yeah, well you know the LA office was boring compared to … Really, there wasn’t the people in there and we were in LA doing business. It was just really meeting schedules and just handling things, it wasn’t the comradery or there wasn’t the excitement, it was a job. I mean, it was a regular job. And then when you’d walk in to Apple, you’d walk in the door and it was chaos, it was fun. Everybody was involved. There could be a Beatle there doing something. Or just anybody could be in there doing things, it’s just stuff was going constantly, all the time. A lot of fun, a lot of work, a lot of chaos, a lot of serious things, obviously, with something that big.
So it had about everything going on and each floor might be different of what’s going on. Peter Asher’s office was on one the fifth floor and Peter’s a very serious man, you know, really does his work very properly and stuff like that.
I don’t know, we just never knew what was going to happen next. And you never knew when a Beatle was going to come in and say, okay now this, now that, or whatever. And for me, because I wasn’t there all the time, so to me, I was just walking into this really exciting … just really like going to Disneyland as a kid, I guess, and then going back to real life, you know, later. It was a real treat.
And then there was the Hell’s Angels.
Yeah. Well, you know, you’ve got things like the Hell’s Angels or the Hari Krishnas … it was so kind of welcoming there that you never knew who you were going to run into at the offices. And there was an open door, to a certain extent, and then to a certain extent, the doors had to be closed, or the door had to be closed. Yeah, it was just part of the chaos because you could have maybe a famous movie actor in there, or you could have almost anything, anybody in there.
What do you think it was that made Capitol Records realize that The Beatles weren’t just another pop group and that they gave them special status? What was the tipping point?
Well, Capitol was a very formal company, and Capitol knew how to read sales, and they knew how to read reactions and stuff like that. And they also saw just how it continued or it kept growing, it never changed. Almost every band, yet they had never had that level of success, that level of press, that level of everything. I mean, The Beatles were so far beyond any band. We had some great bands on Capitol, you know, so it wasn’t them going, gee, we’re wizards in determining who is great, who’s not. They didn’t have to do that. It was there in the paper. It was there in the accounting. It was there in the prestige it gave the label.
I was surprised that it kept going because I figured that at some point, they were going to, like a typical band, just kind of fade away and people go, “Yeah, you remember The Beatles, don’t you?” And no. This thing, Ringo still can’t go in a restaurant without, you know. Or Paul.
Who’s one of the biggest concert attractions right now? Paul McCartney. And when was the first time he and the other guys filled an auditorium? Think how many years ago that was. So it’s a phenomenon. It’ll never happen again. My personal opinion, it’ll never happen again. Society will never be quite like that. The unique character of the band. And they were a band you couldn’t …
George Harrison made a statement that I loved once. After John died, somebody said will you bring Julian in, or something like that. Or will you replace John? He said, “Well, you know, we’ll never get back together again as long as John stays dead.” We’ll never have a reunion, I guess he was saying.
Were The Beatles aware that the Jefferson Airplane did a rooftop concert in Manhattan that year?
You know, I don’t think so. I don’t think they were copying it. I’m sorry, they probably were aware. I don’t know, it was never discussed, and I don’t think they were trying to emulate the Jefferson Airplane or do something. I think the roof had to do, it was in the building, they needed footage, it was a hard time trying to organize the different ideas to get it, and it was just running out of time.
And one thing about the roof is, all we had to do was lock the doors downstairs and it was self-contained, there was no tickets or hotels or an entourage or anything like that, it was just a simple way to get something done, and then they felt comfortable in their own house. I think that was a part of it. From my knowledge, I doubt that the roof was an idea that had come from a long time ago. I think it just happened organically.
Okay, just for reference, how far away was the police station from the rooftop?
It was down the street. So maybe … I can’t remember how far away it was. It was on the same street, you can probably look at the two addresses between … I don’t have anything in front of my right now but there’s 3 Savile Row and I forget the address of the police station, but it was close.
Okay, so why do you think, in your words, it took so long for the police to show up and turn down Britain’s favorite band?
I think the police finally came when they got pressure from a couple really bigwigs on the street, you know? There was I think a very famous tailor and a banker there, or something, and it was hurting business, so I think when they got pressure. I mean, it was The Beatles and I think the police were kind of enamored that they had The Beatles on their street and they were just making loud music, so.
I don’t think it’s that if they hadn’t have got a lot of pressure that they might’ve just let it go. I think they would’ve checked on it. Said what’s the deal and how long is this going on?
You riff on how you might have been given a coat with no protection from the cold on purpose, and so why might the businesses on Savile Road have resented Apple Corps?
Yeah, that’s just my own paranoia, but I’m just wondering why. I said, “I need something” and I just grabbed that coat because I said it’s cold outside and I don’t know if they knew I’ve come down from Apple. I’m just curious if they sold me that just because Apple, they were not exactly what they were used to on this street. I’m sure there were a lot of people that didn’t really care for those longhaired rock ‘n’ rollers. But that was just my own musing, my own wondering about being a tourist and taken advantage of, but the wonderful thing about it was I had a white coat on the roof and if they had any ulterior motives, then it worked out fine for me in the long run.
And some of these things are just musings that you wonder about. You know, you’ve been a tourist, if you’ve been in Mexico or something, they’ll do anything to make a sale, so you always feel at a little bit of a disadvantage.
I’ve always loved the idea of Mal Evans and you probably heard the dead letter line, that John Lennon said, but can tell me a little bit about Mal Evens and how you heard he was shot.
In fact, I think I wrote about this because I had talked to Mal. Mal had called me the night before and I was working on a deadline on mixing an album. I was working on sequencing the album and Mal called. And so we just start chatting and I said, “Mal, is something wrong?” And he says, “No, no.” He said, “This good thing’s happened. This other good thing’s happened. I’m doing really great.” I just sensed something and I said, “Mal, come on. I assume something … Something’s just different here.” And finally he said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, I can’t get together tonight. Can we get together tomorrow for like lunch? And we’ll meet at Musso Franks?” He said, “Yeah, okay.”
Well, the reason I couldn’t talk also is I had to go the Billboard Award Banquet that night because Jessi Colter was up for Number One Country Artist, or even Number One Record. And so I go to the banquet, and because Jessi was on the road, I was going to accept her award if she won. And just as they were announcing that she won, Dianne Bennett from Hollywood Reporter, I think it was Hollywood Reporter, came up to me and said, “Sorry about Mal, Ken.” And I said, “What do you mean?”
And then Flip Wilson says, “And Ken Mansfield now will accept the award.” So I went up on stage, and it was just like Flip was just … I couldn’t even see or hear the words. I was just, “What happened? What happened?” I accepted the award, said thanks, came back down and Dianne Bennett told me that he’d been shot and killed. And that’s how I heard about it and it was a matter of a couple hours or so after I’d talked to Mal.
Do you still see Paul or Ringo?
No, I saw Ringo a few years ago and I haven’t seen Paul for quite a while. It’s just a matter of drifting apart, it wasn’t like we had a falling out or anything like that. Our lives just drifted apart, and after a while, their phone numbers change a lot, so it’s hard to stay in touch. I saw Ringo a few years ago, was a guest at one of his concerts and it was kind of like old times, but also it had been so long, that we just didn’t have the same things to talk about anymore. But we were very close, very close for many years. You know, he basically moved to L.A. He was part of our L.A. gang along with Harry and Mal, and people like that.
And you got to see Elvis with Ringo?
Yeah, I did and it was an amazing, amazing night because nobody knew Ringo was there. We snuck him into the hotel and we picked him up. In those days, we went out to the tarmac and they let Ringo get off the plane on the tarmac and get in the limo, and then we drove away. Then when the show started, they waited until it started and the room was dark and Elvis was on before they brought us in to our table. And we’re sitting there, just jammed against a bunch of other people, they didn’t realize that they were really physically rubbing elbows with a Beatle. And so we thought we were going to sneak out the same way, but Elvis like right towards the end said, “I’m really honored to have Ringo Starr in the audience.”
And then we had a really hard time getting out of the show room and so I thought, well, I’m finally going to get to meet Elvis Presley, this is very cool. I mean, I’m with Ringo and Peter Brown was with us, and so we were out in the hallway between the kitchens and stuff, so we can get out of there, and Elvis’s guy comes down and says, “Okay, Elvis is ready now.” And we started to walk and he said, “Oh no. No no. Elvis will see Ringo.”
And so, Peter Brown and I are standing in the hall, oh great, you know? So we go back up to the suite and a little while later Ringo comes up and he’s going, “Oh, Elvis and I were talking” and just rubbing it in that we didn’t get to go and he did.
Tell me a little bit, although it’s in the book but the people that read it don’t know it, tell me a little bit about the Two Virgins experience.
I mean, that is in the book and it is pretty clear it was a … You know, I had a lot of responsibility with my position as U.S. manager in America and, at that time, we were really setting up the launch for the label and I was really getting to know everybody, so even though I’d worked with them a couple times, this was a whole different situation. In London, when we were setting up the launch in America, I was under a lot of pressure and Stanley Gortikov, the president of Capitol Industries, was there and as an executive, I had to be very proper in that respect. But I also had to be very kind of casual and loose with the guys. Just kind of those two things.
But I was sitting on the couch with John and Yoko, and when he showed me those pictures, and I had no idea, as I said in the book, because I stepped outside when this was explained and came back into the meeting, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought, you know what? I’m in a different country, I’m in over my head maybe right now. I don’t know about things like this. I don’t know what to do. And I certainly can’t alienate Mr. Lennon. You know? And Paul knew. Paul, right way just recognized, he just let me squirm for a while and then finally I looked over, and he had this smile on his face, and he explained. He said, “Hey Ken” and he explained the whole thing to me. He finally let me off the hook.
For a second, in the book, you made it sound like you thought he might have been asking you to swing with him and Yoko?
Well, yeah, I didn’t know. A lot of things went through my mind, you know, because I didn’t know. I didn’t know what the scene was in London. I didn’t know … I mean that was one of several thoughts I had, but could this be possible? But, obviously, it wasn’t and obviously I just …
Okay. Now, you moved on to become a producer and a producer is an artist, so if you had been a producer at that point, do you think you would have reacted differently?
God knows man. I was with Waylon Jennings for five years, so I’ve seen about everything there is to see. And with the other people I was with. Maybe the answer to the question would be, I would’ve been maybe more mature, because I was a young guy, you know, maybe if I’d been more mature, even if I did think the worse or whatever, maybe I would’ve known better how to react to it. My reaction was just one of puzzlement. I didn’t respond or anything, I just was sitting there, my mind racing and so all the reaction was totally inside and just because I was in a foreign country and I didn’t know.
Okay. You brought up Waylon Jennings, and you worked with all the Outlaws, pretty much. What did the country musicians at the time think of The Beatles’ country songs?
I think they were fascinated that like Ringo would come to Nashville. I think they were in awe of The Beatles like everybody else. I think there was a thing about The Beatles music to start with, which is a lot of three chord simple thing, great emphasis on lyrics, whether they were unusual lyrics or whether they were just very simple “Love me, love me do” type thing. But I think the people in Nashville liked what they were doing. I think the people in Nashville thought it was a salute to their part of the profession, too. And I know that Ringo was a country fan and they knew that.
Actually, I have one more question about Waylon Jennings and that. Did he record with his touring band or were they studio musicians? And did they jam?
No, Waylon used his band. Early on … Yeah, I know. He was, I would say, forced to use studio musicians, but at the time, when he finally broke into being totally able to do what he wanted, it was his band. And a recording with Waylon could happen any time. I mean, you had to be ready because when it was time, Waylon said it was time, everybody was … The songs wouldn’t be rehearsed, the band was so used to following Waylon, he could sit down and start singing his new song he just wrote and they would just follow him. It was pretty amazing, because you had Rob Moon, one of the greatest steel guitars of all time. Richie Albright had been with him forever, he could sense Waylon’s every move and anticipate what he was going to do.
Yeah, that was the band. He recorded with his band. We recorded in LA, we recorded in Nashville, it just depended on where we were.
Did they ever jam to just enjoy playing leads over chords and things like that? Did they ever just jam jam?
Well we did a lot of jamming when we were just maybe working on things, but most of the stuff … In fact, you know what? That’s funny. I said to Waylon sometime, “Hey, let’s just sit around and do some picking and stuff for a while?” Or something like that, you know? He looked at me like I was nuts. Like what you were saying, “Waylon, let’s jam for a while man.” You know?
Yeah, wouldn’t like that at all. They’re a band. They’re a road band, they’ve been together … There’s been a lot of times and things like that, especially around sound checks, especially in downtime in the studio, or you know, things like that. It’s a typical band.
You also produced David Cassidy, and he was sort of an honorary member of Lennon’s Hollywood Vampires with Alice Cooper. You brought out something kind of rocking in him. And those sessions didn’t get released until much later.
They got released in Japan and around. I was really amazed with David and his talents. I think he was very underrated. He had a great sense of music, great knowledge. He loved the band Poco. He liked that whole era of music. He loved rocking out. He was just very open. When I was with him, he wanted to break image and he wasn’t trying to create something different to give an impression that he was different than he was. He wanted people to see what he was and how he was. He was very romantic in some of his approach to songs, and really strong performances. I was pretty knocked out. Very very talented guy. And a wonderful guy to work with, just absolutely wonderful. He would laugh, and it would came from so deep inside of him, it was just beautiful.
In Ray Davies’ X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography, he said that he heard The Beatles arguing onstage at a concert because he said it was probably the only place they could talk to each other without being heard.
I’ve never heard that. I think that’s delightful. I love it.
Do you think this might have been the case?
I can’t because I’ve never thought of that. That’s somebody else’s statement, but I know, and this I only know because what I’ve heard or maybe read or something like that, that they would actually just have a dialogue that had nothing to do with anything. You know? Or sing words that weren’t right. They just knew that nobody could hear them and I think it was frustrating, and I just think they were just playing with it. But you know, I’d never heard that comment before and I actually, thank you, it made me laugh.
When The Beatles were active, prior to breaking up, did they have any idea on a day to day basis, that we’d be talking about them with such reverence today?
Oh, I don’t think so. I tell you why I don’t think so. I know that when I was in L.A. with Paul, we walked out of the hotel and got in the limo. We had to walk through this crush of people. Now, this was 1968, so they’d had their supreme fame for quite a while. And we got in the limo and finally got the door shut, and Paul says, “I just don’t get it.” He was just still kind of amazed at the reaction to them. At this point, as a young man, this was quite a few years into it for him, so I don’t think they probably realized. I don’t think anybody would realize that.
They always just thought they were just a band?
Yeah. Well, as I said, I think I said this in the book, that they would refer to The Beatles like it was another band. And I’d questioned them about that, I said, “Why do you always, when we’re in the meetings, why do you talk about The Beatles?”
And I think it was probably Paul who said, “Well, they’ve gone so far beyond us, it became something else. I’m Paul, that’s John, there’s George, there’s Ringo, but then there’s The Beatles.”
You know, just this entity that was just beyond them.
The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert is available from Post Hill Press/distributed by Simon & Schuster.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.