The bulk of the attention surrounding this year’s class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame zeroes in on the musicians: KISS, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Hall & Oates and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Plus whatever chatter has been sparked by KISS’ decision not to perform because of bruised feelings over which band members are being inducted, fans grousing that original Nirvana member Chad Channing isn’t being included, Ronstadt’s public comments about her general lack of interest in the proceedings, etc.
What hasn’t generated 1% of that kind of attention is the culmination of a 15-year campaign that has resulted in Beatles manager Brian Epstein being inducted as a recipient of the Ahmet Ertegun Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Without their talent, he would have had nothing to manage,” said British Beatles historian Martin Lewis, who started the induction campaign a decade and a half ago after numerous conversations with his mentor, former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, starting at the 1988 induction dinner. “But without Brian Epstein, none of us ever would have heard of the Beatles.
When “Brian Epstein took over management of the Beatles in January 1962 — the primary nucleus of John, Paul and George had been together for five long years of a seemingly never-ending apprenticeship — primarily in their hometown and a few months in Hamburg. And despite their immense nascent talent and brimming potential, they had achieved nothing more than a local cult following.”
Within a year under Epstein’s stewardship, they had landed a record contract, started scoring hits in the U.K., and Beatlemania was beginning to blossom in their home country and across Europe.
Well before the Fab Four became world renowned, Epstein said he believed they were the best band on the planet and that one day they would surpass Elvis Presley in influence and popularity.
“I immediately liked Brian when I first met him in 1962, and he greatly impressed me with his passion to make the Beatles succeed,” said the Beatles’ longtime producer George Martin, who signed them to his tiny Parlophone label after they’d been rejected by virtually every other record label in England. “It was that passion that encouraged me to meet the band, audition them and eventually to sign them.”
In one of several testimonials to Epstein that Lewis personally elicited and which have just been added to the official Brian Epstein website, Yoko Ono writes, “At the point that Brian started managing the Beatles, in January 1962, John, Paul and George had been together for five years — yet had not become known outside Liverpool and Hamburg. Brian believed in them passionately and committed himself to fulfilling the dream that John had that the Beatles could become bigger than Elvis. Which seemed impossible at the time. But Brian’s tireless efforts on their behalf helped make that dream come true.”
As former Rolling Stones manager — and fellow 2014 Rock Hall of Fame inductee — Andrew Loog Oldham put it, “The Beatles changed our lives. Brian Epstein changed theirs. He made it all possible.
“Brian told them who they could be and helped them become it,” said Oldham, who briefly worked for Epstein publicizing the Beatles before becoming the Stones’ manager and producer. “He persevered against all odds and got his lads a recording contract, and that act changed all our lives for the better.”
John Lennon considered Epstein to be “one of us,” and Paul McCartney said, “If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian. No one else was going to stack up against Brian in my mind. You couldn’t have the flair, the panache, the wit, the intelligence. They would just merely be money managers. Brian was far more than that.”
Of the online petition that Lewis put into play to build momentum for Epstein’s recognition by Hall voters, he said, “More than 50,000 people signed the petition. Did it make a difference? It can’t be proved — but I think that it did. … My theory was that if we continued our vigil and maintained a dignified presence on behalf of Brian, that eventually we would prevail.
“I think that the eventual decision to induct Brian owes a lot to my dear friend Steven Van Zandt, who understands rock history better than most. He became determined that Brian — and also the great Rolling Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham — should be honored.
“Ultimately it doesn’t matter who did it,” Lewis said. “All that matters is that Brian is at long last being honored.”
Here is a video tribute to Epstein assembled by a fan from various interview snippets of Epstein, the Beatles and others discussing his integral role in their career:
Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2