Hundreds of books have documented the Beatles’ meteoric rise to fame during the turbulent 60s, and detailed their every move. But the story of drummer Jimmie Nicol, who stepped in for a sick Ringo Starr for thirteen days during the 1964 world tour, has mystified even the most knowledgeable fans for years. Most thought he had completely disappeared, or worse, had died. But yet, just like the infamous Elvis sightings, there were those who swore they had just seen him--and they were right--as late as 2005. Jim Berkenstadt is the “Rock and Roll Detective” who has unraveled the mysteries of Jimmie Nicol’s life in his new book, “The Beatle Who Vanished.” We have received an advance copy of the book, which will be released February 25. Here is our review, which grants the book a 5-star rating for its historical significance and groundbreaking discoveries of Jimmie's life, before, during and after the Beatles.
We found the book so fascinating it was hard to put down. After Jimmie’s early musical endeavors and successes lead to the Beatles, every moment of the thrilling time with the Fab Four is documented. But then what happened to him? As his mysterious movements in the years to follow unfold, this has become an historic, dramatic twist to behind-the-scenes Beatles history that no one has ever sorted out before. Berkenstadt lives up to his reputation as a rock-n-roll detective in the findings outlined in his book.
In the summer of 1964, on the eve of their first-ever world tour, Ringo Starr was hospitalized with tonsillitis forcing manager Brian Epstein to round up a session drummer in London within 24 hours. The tour could not be canceled without severe financial penalties. The show had to go on. The drummer had to be already well-versed in Beatles music, and “look the part.” Jimmie Nicol was deemed perfect for the job. Not exactly “unknown,” he was well-known in London in various groups, and at that time was with the popular Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. He was very familiar with the Beatles' songs, and had already grown his hair out into a “Beatle cut.” After a twenty minute meeting at Abbey Road, he was “in.”
So, beginning June 4, 1964, the next thirteen days would prove a whirlwind. Jimmie was thrust into the limelight of Beatlemania as they traveled to Denmark, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Australia. Besides the concerts, there would be press conferences, photo-shoots, interviews and insane travel schedules, on top of late night room parties with women.
It was all over on June 15 with Ringo’s recovery and reunion with his band mates. Suddenly Nicol was “out”, and unceremoniously shipped back to London with a gold watch and a paycheck, without much of a good-bye from the band he’d bonded with. There is a sad photo of him sitting alone at the airport, looking shell-shocked.
For most fans, the story of Jimmie Nicol ended here. But we are only half-way through the book. What follows is nothing short of a great mystery novel that could include “Whatever happened to?” in the title, or “Where’s Jimmie?” in a huge “Waldo” board game. Berkenstadt takes us through his daunting research to track Nicol’s whereabouts over the years.
The book shows that Jimmie took an amazing journey--from momentary sputtering post-Beatles success in London, to total bankruptcy, divorce and humiliation. His hopes of maintaining stardom after being in the greatest rock-n-roll band of all time were dashed. The book offers details of the help that Paul McCartney threw his way anonymously. But nothing really took. He would re-emerge in Sweden with a popular techno group called the Spotnicks, with music that was way ahead of their time, followed by a very different life in believe it or not, Mexico.
Interestingly, there are photos of Jimmie as a guest of honor at the '84 Beatles Convention in Holland. While there he retraced his steps from the Beatles days, recalling his amazing memories, which brought a smile to his face. This was really fascinating to read about. Yet come the '94 convention, he was nowhere to be found, and his death was presumed.
Most ironically, Nicol’s son Howie--with no help from his estranged dad--works in the London music industry, and had a hand in producing Beatles Anthology. (Efforts to request Jimmie's participation for the production were firmly snubbed.) Over 100 photos document Nicol’s strange but varied life. The very last and poignant photo in the book--of him walking away--is the last picture known of him from 2005.
I highly recommend this book for Beatles fans. This is a great piece of history that has now been created for the ages.
Jim Berkenstadt is the Rock-And-Roll Detective who has co-authored three other books: Black Market Beatles: The Story Behind the Lost Recordings, Nevermind Nirvana, and the Beatles Digest. He also edited John, Paul & Me Before the Beatles. He has been a consultant for The Beatles as well as the Estate of George Harrison on numerous film and album projects. He locates memorabilia, photos, lost recordings and provides research and documentation.
Jim’s website for The Beatle Who Vanished contains photos, interviews, and upcoming book engagements. the first 300 purchases of the book will be autographed by the author.
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