Kenneth Womack – Telling Mal Evans’ Untold Story of Living With the Beatles
Longtime Beatles fans know Mal Evans – he went from part-time bouncer to road manager and personal assistant for perhaps the most important band in rock music playing a vital role.
What you may not know is that Evans kept a diary chronicling his life with the Fab Four.
Those diary entries have now been put into a new book by noted author Kenneth Womack who joined Jim Monaghan this morning on All Mixed Up to talk about telling Evans’ untold story of living with the Beatles.
Mal Evans interview
JIM MONAGHAN – My guest, Kenneth Womack has a brand new book out called Living the Beatles Legend: the Untold Story of Mal Evans. Kenneth, good morning and welcome to WDHA here in New Jersey.
KENNETH WOMACK – Wonderful to be with you. Thanks so much.
JM – What was it like when you got the access to Mal’s diary entries and had to turn it into a book? What was that process like?
KW – Well, it was amazing because usually I’m used to not having any material, and suddenly I had a lot of, you know, that was kind of exciting in its own like like you and so many others, we’ve always been fascinated by Mal. He’s this big guy at the heart of the Beatles story, always lurking there. He’s one of the world’s great photo bombers, and just seeing him is interesting. But to learn that he had such a super size, no surprise, given his own height role in the Beatles story was all the more interesting. So it was just a wonderful gift to be able to tell the story, but have access to all of that material.
JM – Mal may not have been there at the very, very beginning, but he was certainly there from the Cavern through the end of it. And the stories in the book are amazing because you’re seeing it from inside, but someone who’s just a little on the outside of the vortex, if you will.
KW – Yeah, I mean, he is the central player. He probably spent more time with the guys than anybody, including their mean. He was their driver, he was their fixer. He plays on about three dozen different songs. When they needed help, it was Mal who invariably was called. They just felt comfortable with him. And probably more importantly, given their stature, they trusted him.
JM – And the kind of help you talk about varied from different things. He’s fixing one of Paul McCartney’s guitars with a piece of another guitar because it had fallen off the van and broken. You need a guitar pick, he’s got one. And if he doesn’t have one, he’s making one from plastic cutlery in Elvis Presley’s home. That’s an amazing story in and of itself.
KW – Oh, it sure is. And it’s that kind of resourcefulness that I’m sure endeared him to the boys because he was able to get the job done right when they needed something in the middle of the night, Mal was the guy who was able to get was able to make that happen. And, man, it was just essential. Right? In fact, we all need a Mal.
We need an anvil
JM – For Beatles fans who saw the Get Back documentary that Peter Jackson did, one of my favorite moments, and it was, Mal, we need an anvil. And lo and behold, he comes up with anvil!
KW – That’s right. And, you know, part of what made him special is he had a rolodex that had everything in it. So when they said that probably knew Mal could get it done, they knew Mal could get it done, he called up a theatrical agency not far away in Twickenham there where they worked on the soundstage and next thing you know, he’s got one over there.
JM – You did a book not that long ago on George Martin and in that book you noted that initially George wanted nothing to do with The Beatles and then of course, became such an integral part of the whole story of The Beatles. Mal, on the other hand, the first time he sees them at the Cavern, goes, I need to be part of this, there’s something going on here. And I’m struck by that contrast of the first guy. I don’t want anything to do with this to how do I get into this?
KW – Isn’t it interesting that several people, as you know, had that Stu Sutcliffe, you know, knew that he’s an artist, but he met them and he thought, well, I want to see what this is going to be for a while. There was just an extraordinary energy in the air around them and Mal picked up on that and it excited him. You probably know the line he said about them toward the end of his life. It’s extraordinary. They are better than food or drink from a guy who loved to eat and a guy who loved to drink.
JM – His story is amazing and there’s two points in the book that come to mind where he’s writing his will and one is out of nerves on an airplane and the other is far more tragic. And I’m struck again by the dichotomy of those two scenarios in the book.
KW – Yeah, he was writing the first time because he thought they were going to go down in flames on a plane and he was sure of it, he had his own fear of flying, as did George Harrison wanted his wife to know and children to know that he loved them. But the second time he’s doing it on purpose. He is orchestrating his own demise.
JM – And for listeners who aren’t aware of that, the story is in the book and it’s very tragic and very sad the way that Mal Evans’s life ended. And we’re speaking with Kenneth Womack this morning here at 105.5 WDHA on All Mixed Up his new book Living the Beatles Legend: the Untold Story of Mal Evans. And we were talking about George Martin and Mal before, and I’m struck by some of the studio things that George Martin did versus some of the studio things that Mal did, like the anvil and the hammer. Or in the case of the recording of “Yellow Submarine,” you note that John wanted his voice to sound as if he was underwater. So, lo and behold, Mal has a condom that he sticks a microphone in and they try that.
KW – And that was part of his brief, right, was to try to help them bring these ideas to fruition. Whether it was working with George Martin or Geoff Emmerick or Neil Aspinal, whatever they wanted was what he was going to do. Because here they are, they’re the client, right?
JM – You make a point in the book a couple of times of as the Beatles are talking about coming off the road and it happened in as early as 1965 because they were so fed up with what was going on and even though it wouldn’t end until a year later. And Mal, though he had been involved with them both in the studio and on the road, was concerned that he was going to lose his job. And I was very surprised by that. Do you really think that they would have fired him?
KW – No, they never fired him. They wouldn’t fire him. I think because we knew so little about what rock and roll’s future might look like, it looked like that’s not something you’re going to do when you’re 40, that there’s not going to be a job here. And even George Harrison said, well, I guess I’m not a Beatle anymore, when they stopped touring, and they were all wrong. In fact, Mal discovered very quickly that he was about to work more, not less, than he did when they were on the road, because they knew that the importance of their work was in the studio and not on stages where they couldn’t hear themselves playing. That was really the key. And suddenly Mal is working even more with them for even longer hours, because, of course, their hearts were in making music in the studio and they knew that they were doing something special. And thankfully for all of us, that’s where they put their time and energy.
Mal’s commitment to the Beatles
JM – Mal’s commitment to The Beatles, whether it was when the four of them were still together or even afterwards, working with them separately, is legendary. And I’m struck by the difference between his commitment to them and his lack of commitment to his family. Why do you think that?
KW – That’s a tough one. So here’s Mal. Like us, he’s a Beatles fan. In fact, Pete Best told me, first and foremost, Mal just loved the music. And that’s the thing, that’s the unforgettable thing here, is Mal had what every fan wants. He had unlimited access, he lived their lives with them, he was absorbed with it. And of course, the casualties of something like that are the family, right? What are they going to do? How are they going to fit into this messed up equation? And the truth is, they didn’t. And I wish I had a different answer. I talk about this with Mal’s son Gary all the time, but when it was Beatles versus family, Beatles won 100% of the time.
JM – In addition to being a noted author, you’re also a professor of English and popular music at Monmouth University. Boy, I wish we’d had a class like that when I was in college, Kenneth!
KW – Well, I’ll tell you what. Monday nights, we do the Beatles class in the fall. You’re always welcome to audit.
JM – That would be great. It really would. And of course, in February, we get the 60th anniversary of the groundbreaking night on The Ed Sullivan Show. So I’m sure you’ll be dealing with that then.
KW – Oh, yeah. We’re going to have a special symposium down here at Monmouth the week before because we don’t want to clash with the Super Bowl, although I think the Beatles might trump the Super Bowl. But anyway, our Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music are going to be doing a special event.
JM – That’s Bob Santelli, who actually was just a guest here on All Mixed Up a few weeks ago. And I can’t wait for that, Kenneth.
KW – Well, then we’ve got to have you down and have some fun.
JM – You can find all things Kenneth Womack online on his website. Kennethwomack.com. And again, the new book Living the Beatles: Legend the Untold Story of Mal Evans. Kenneth, best of luck with the book, and thank you so much for your time this morning here on WDHA.
KW – Thank you. Have a good one.