Tag Archives: baby boomer

#192 – Sweet Caroline

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#192 – Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond

 – There are a few pop culture bandwagons I’ve been happy to miss. I’ve never owned a pet rock; could care less if anyone ever solves a Rubik’s Cube, and was never into the cult of Neil Diamond.

Now don’t get me wrong. I get it for the legions of fans who are.

Diamond has sold multi-millions of records, is one of the top pop songwriters of all time and his concerts still sell out. He’s also been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I get it.

I also loved the dedication and humor sent his way in the film Saving Silverman and the characters’ tribute band, Diamonds in the Rough. Neil made a cameo appearance, which definitely made him a cool guy in my mind. And way back in 1966 I loved Cherry Cherry and was thoroughly impressed when I learned he had written the classic I’m a Believer for The Monkees.

But when it came to my personal tastes in 1969, Neil and Sweet Caroline were nowhere to be found. The music scene was splitting off into different extremes ranging from Woodstock rockers (Classic Rocker preferred) to bubble gum schlockers (Classic Rocker avoidance). Diamond didn’t seem to fit into either category. To my ears, his songs were aimed for a crowd that would now be called Adult Contemporary and not played on the FM rock stations I preferred.

But as I’ve written before, not too many cars in 1969 were equipped with FM radios. And since my pals and I were sixteen years old with newly earned driver’s licenses, AM Top 40 was still our cruisin’ music and we could only hear the current pop chart hits.

Not so sweet memories

One of the songs we heard constantly over our car radios in the fall of 1969 was Sweet Caroline. It definitely has a catchy tune, which seems to be a requisite to land on this Dream Song List, and has obviously stayed with me. Since I’ve never owned a copy and can’t remember the last time I’ve heard it, waking up with this tune running through my head on the morning of June 28th definitely places it into the subliminal category.

And yes, it brings back memories. But they’re not the best…

I was one of the younger members of my high school class and almost all my friends had been driving for months before I was even old enough for a temporary license. That meant I spent a lot of time hanging out at home waiting for rides. Fortunately, my best pal Kevin was as psyched as most sixteen year olds about driving and could always be relied on to be my chauffeur.

Cruisin’ around together gave us plenty of time to talk about a lot of stuff, including who was (or in my case, who would be) the better driver. We even made a bet which one would be the first to have an accident. Yeah, it’s the kind of stuff sixteen year olds would talk about, but at least we were cool enough not to bet on ourselves.

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When I finally scored my driver’s license we were two weeks into August 1969. That made life very different, even though I was still working the same job I’d had since turning ten years old. Don’t worry; we’re not dealing with unlawful child labor when I say that. My job was the chief dishwasher, bread slicer and floor sweeper at our family bakery. As baby boomers will know, parents and grandparents were allowed to put the kids to work so we could pay for our own record collections. For me a was a good deal because while the other kids were sleeping in or watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was collecting a pay envelope and peddling off on my bike to buy the latest Top 40 vinyl releases.

So on a Wednesday morning about two weeks into August 1969, my dad asked me to take my mom’s car to pick up a vacuum cleaner from a local repair shop and drop it off at home. I not only looked at the opportunity as a break from shoving baking pans into an overheated washer, but also a chance to drive.

I was psyched, but you already know what’s coming… right?

I was almost home when I thought I saw one of my younger neighborhood pals walking along the sidewalk. What could be cooler than a “older” sixteen year old pulling up and offering him a ride? Yeah, I thought so too – but when I looked out the passenger window it wasn’t him.

Too bad I wasn’t looking at the road instead.

This was a residential section, so fortunately I wasn’t going more than 25-30 mph. But even at that non-freeway snail’s pace things can happen fast. When I turned my attention back to driving, I had a few split seconds to realize the car in front of me had stopped to make a left turn.

Cue the sound effects!

Okay, let’s take a moment here to imagine your favorite comedy movie where the idiot behind the wheel drives off a cliff or high bridge. The film goes to slow motion and you see everyone in the car go bug-eyed with their mouths hanging open and in a low, slow-mo sound effect they all go, “OH $#$%%#!!!

In my case I envision a Blues Brothers car chase. The cowboys, Nazi’s and police in hot pursuit of Jake and Elwood demonstrate that slow-mo movie look and sound as they fly through the air, hurl off a road, or spin through a mall upside down.

That’s how I still picture my slow-mo self at that moment: “OH $#$%%#!!!”

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

I’ll interrupt this driving moment to make it clear no one was hurt in the making of this non-comedy movie real life action sequence. As for my mom’s car… Well, that’s another story.

Something like this.

Her car came to a sudden, crunching stop embedded into the rear of the car stopped in front of me. In slow-mo I can still see the front hood of her blue Oldsmobile Cutlass flying up in the air and landing on the road next to me. Then without any notice or fanfare, the engine dropped out with a crash accompanied by the sound of broken glass (or could it have been broken metal?). In an era before airbags, I’m sure my steel grip on the steering wheel and locked arms bracing for impact kept me from a face plant on the dashboard.

The guy I rear-ended happened to be a kid I had been going to school with since about third grade. He jumped out of his car and delivered one of the most famous lines you’d hear during a similar scene in a Hollywood movie:

“WHAT THE $#$%%#??!!!” 

At that point I figured I should probably get out of my car too. The only problem was the doors were jammed shut, so I crawled out of the window. I definitely did not feel as cool as Jake or Elwood.

Wait ’til mom hears about this!

The car was totaled. In fact, the only part that was salvageable was the AM radio, which was still playing while we waited for the police and a tow truck. And just in case you’re wondering, it was not playing Sweet Caroline.

That memory is still coming up…

Within a hour my dad had picked me up in his car and I was back at work to finish washing pans and sweeping the floor. Fortunately, my parents took it all quite well and were happy no one was hurt. And with insurance my mom got a new car.

So business as usual? Well, not quite…

My punishment would be handed out during a date in traffic court a few months later. But the real punishment that hit home for me as a sixteen year old psyched about driving came as advice from the police and even the judge, who were all frequent visitors in the family bakery. They mentioned to my parents it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to drive before traffic court, just in case I saw another neighbor walking along the street.

So until I had to face the Judge in his courtroom, rather than in our bakery, I was back to hanging out at home waiting for friends – like my pal Kevin – to drive me somewhere. It was also a good stretch of time to lose any skills a sixteen year old might continue to develop while sitting behind the wheel of a car.

Sweet Caroline? It’s coming up…

When I finally went to court, which was only about half a block from the bakery and probably with a box of our donuts in the outer office, the judge just gave me a talk about being more careful. That was it. Then I asked the BIG question: when can I start driving again?

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017 – Westlake, Ohio

Thursday, September 7, 2017 – Willoughby, Ohio

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He said I could have been driving the entire time.

Say what? “OH $#$%%#!!!” And no – I didn’t say that, but it probably ran through my mind. And with so much time away from driving, it was almost like starting from scratch. At least that’s what it felt like.

My instructor in “learning to drive again 101” was my dad. My backseat driving coach was pal Kevin. The first step was to cruise around some country roads until I got the hang of it again, so the three of us took off in mom’s new car.

I have to admit to being a bit scared. Totaling a car will do that to someone. On the two lane back roads we had some laughs with my instructor and coach joking about sharp corners, stop signs and oncoming cars. But at one point as we went under a low bridge and around a corner, a large truck was coming from the other direction. I put a steel grip on the wheel, went over the right side edge lines and slowed down to a crawl as the truck blew past us. They faked being scared (at least I hope they were faking!), but I broke out in a slight sweat. Driving wasn’t as cool for me as it was when I first got my license.

And looking back, that’s a good thing. I actually learned to be a more careful driver rather than a psyched sixteen year old with a license.

BUT – and here it is…

The song playing on the AM radio at that moment the truck blew by us? The Top 40 hit Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. And yes – it’s true. I remember that, which is why the song still carries that memory for me.

BUT there’s another part of this story that also has a steel grip in my memory bank. Remember the bet I made with my pal Kevin?

There were only a couple weeks until school started when I wrecked my mom’s car. That same evening we had marching band (very cool – don’t ever doubt that) practice at the high school. I called Kevin with my non-comedy sorrowful tale of on road destruction and asked him for a ride. Since the main attraction of being in the band was hanging out with girls, an assorted group of us piled into Kevin’s car (actually his mom’s car) after practice and…

Well… You already know what’s coming – right?

Wait ’til your mom hears about this one!

We drove to a local restaurant for something to eat. When we were leaving, there were about four or five kids crammed in the backseat and three of us – Kevin driving, me in the middle and another pal Rob riding shotgun – sitting in front. Kevin made a sharp right turn out of the parking lot that caused all of us to lean left. In fact we leaned so far left that

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

Kevin was shoved against the driver’s side door with his arms locked in place. He yelled out something to the effect of a slow-mo, “OH $#$%%#!!!”

Everyone else sort of screamed. The car scraped over a concrete curb causing a stream of sparks to fly up in the air around us, smashed through a landscape of bushes, and dug a couple donut shaped ruts in the front lawn of the restaurant before coming to a stop. Once again, no one was hurt except for another mom’s car. But this time all it took was a tire change and a slow unsteady drive home.

As you can tell, Kevin won the bet, but only by a few hours. And I became a more careful driver at the age of sixteen because to tell the truth, two accidents in one day was “$#$%%#!!!”

Back to Sweet Caroline? Yeah, I know it’s a standard at Boston Red Sox Games and an uplifting, healing song for The Boson Marathon after runners and supporters were attacked by cowardly militant scums (or in more polite terms, $#$%%#!!!).

I get it.

But for me, I’d rather for-get the experience of Sweet Caroline and my sixteen year old driving experience. Hail, hail public transportation!

Here’s a video of the great (I get it!) Neil Diamond performing Sweet Caroline.

To purchase All-Time Greatest Hits by Neil Diamond with Sweet Caroline visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Comment? Please use the form below and as always… Keep Rockin’!!

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#196 – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

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#196 – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 by Bob Dylan

 – When this song was marching out of our AM transistor radios during the spring and summer of 1966 the deejays would announce the real title, but most of us referred to it as Everybody Must Get Stoned. It sounded like Dylan and his backup musicians were having a rollicking good time in the studio while once again throwing out confusing lyrics that we knew – somehow – had to mean something.

We just weren’t sure what that something actually meant.

When it was released as a single that March I was still a few months away from becoming a teenager. And as the result of growing up in a sheltered community in northern Ohio (we’re not talkin’ The Inner City Hood here folks!) the word stoned was a main source of my confusion.

Being that sheltered age in the baby boomer year of 1966 my knowledge of stoned only had two possible meanings. With the hindsight of decades, the first undoubtedly would’ve come from ancient Biblical stories we’d heard at Sunday School. People that crossed the powers that be were often stoned. We’re not talkin’ gettin’ high here folks. They were actually cornered or tossed into a pit and hit with stones and rocks until they were dead.

We’re talkin’ about capital punishment…

So why was Dylan singing about stoning people? With more hindsight on the composer and the era, it’s easy to follow in that direction. Dylan had been labeled a protest singer when folk singers were still the rage prior to The British Invasion in 1964. He had only gone electric in 1965 (with much protests from his dedicated followers) but still wasn’t a bonafide cover of Sixteen Magazine pop star like The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and other mid-60’s chart toppers. Dylan’s songs were much more complex than just wanting to hold someone’s hand or feeling glad all over.

So my original thought with Dylan still being a protest singer makes sense when listening to his lyrics. Racial tensions were high and ready to explode that summer with riots in cities across the U.S., so “Trying to keep your seat” could be interpreted as African Americans refusing to sit only in the back of a bus in a racist society. In the south they risked being dragged off buses, beaten and worse. As Dylan sang, “They’ll stone you.”

Other thoughts…

Dylan wrote protest songs against the growing war in Vietnam and against young American men being drafted to fight: “They’ll stone you and then say you are brave. They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.”

Newport 1965

And as mentioned above, he caught a lot of flack when he ditched his solo acoustic sound and walked on stage with an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965:

They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar.”

For me the song took the ancient meaning of stoned, but made it more verbal, physical and even political abuse, rather than actually throwing rocks. And with hindsight, that’s not a bad lyrical translation from a sheltered preteen in 1966.

The second and lesser meaning involved alcohol – getting stoned. With all the laughing, yelling and general rollicking going on throughout the song by Dylan and his musical cohorts, it certainly sounded like they were drinking something stronger than water or soda. Some of the writings about this song say Dylan insisted they get drunk before recording, while others (and some of the musicians) deny this. And to prove they were sober, it’s pointed out there were other songs for Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album recorded during the same session and after Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 was completed.

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And again as a young preteen I had heard the word stoned referring to someone being drunk – and most likely heard it on television. Being sheltered I have no memories of being around any adults intoxicated enough to be called stoned. And on the rare occasion when there was an “adult party” (parents) with alcohol, I was relegated to one of the bedrooms with my cousins and friends to play board games until the festivities ended. This would usually only happen on New Year’s Eve, except I do have a memory of a Halloween party where we laughed at how silly the adults looked in their costumes, before heading off for a marathon game of Monopoly.

And of course the third definition would involve marijuana. Pop music fans all know about the importance of weed when it came to the 1960’s pop/rock stars. Supposedly Dylan turned on The Beatles during their first visit to New York City in 1964, though deep research by a favorite author turned up evidence the Fab Four may have toked a few puffs during their marathon sessions in Hamburg or Liverpool.

But playing the sheltered hindsight card again as a Midwestern preteen, I don’t recall ever even hearing the word marijuana before or during the time we were listening to Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. That mental enhancement didn’t find its way into our vocabulary until the rumors were written in reference to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band during the summer of 1967.

I never even smelled it until a Three Dog Night concert around 1969. I had to ask my best friend what was filling the air at Cleveland’s Pubic Auditorium that night and he said, “Pot.” Then I wanted to know how he knew that since he was as sheltered and naive as I was.

Turns out it was just an accurate guess.

It was no guess that Rainy Day, etc. was weeding its way through my mind the morning of May 30th. Yeah, I’m a Dylan fan and yeah, I had just heard it, so yeah – it goes into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.

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Another great thing about this rollicking (and I’ve never used that word to describe anything before this) song is remembering how it could irritate the older generation. That was important information during the days when the generation gap obviously divided the younger Dylan, Beatles, Stones teens and preteens from the oldster’s that demanded we cut our hair and turn down our music.

They’ll stone you when you listen to ‘that noise’…

While writing about an earlier song on this list I mentioned the novelty record They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! by Napoleon XIV (Jerry Samuels) that was riding the AM Top 40 charts during summer 1966. And as if that song wasn’t annoying enough for the older folks, the flip side of the 45 rpm single was the same song – only backwards.

For my cousin, best friend and myself (ages 15, 14 and 13 once I hit that magical teenager mark) a great summer adventure was when my mother would drop us off in a nearby city and let us find our own way back. It’s not as bad as it sounds – we weren’t being abandoned. We were just given the entire day to be on our own for exploring, shopping, eating, catching a movie and then buying a bus ticket to our home town. From there we’d walk to one of our houses to spend the night.

Teenagers – March 21, 1966

Remember, I’m talkin’ about the 1960’s – so think Ozzie & Harriett land.

During one of these adventures we stopped in a diner for lunch. We were kids among the old folks giving us the evil eye. You know, as in “Children should be seen and not heard, unless they’re teenagers and then we don’t even want to see them.”

So thanks to the bad vibes and if I remember correctly, not the best service from an annoyed server we used Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa! and the flip side, !aaaH aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT (go ahead – I dare you to listen!) to let them know we were in the building. We shoved our quarters in the jukebox and played all three songs a few times while we ate our lunch and the older side of the generation gap simmered. For good measure we put in another quarter for three plays and punched in the same songs again before walking out the door.

Brats?

Naw… we were good kids. But mischievous would be a better adjective. I’m sure we hit a matinee movie afterwards, each bought an album or single at a downtown record store, then made it to the bus station in time for the last ride home. These are lasting memories of growing up during an era when Bob Dylan could take a word give it enough worthwhile meanings that it still means something to all of us today.

Dylan never made an “official” music video for the song, so here’s an interesting live version performed with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for Farm Aid in 1986.

 

To purchase the classic double LP Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan with Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 visit  amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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#199 – Leave It To Beaver Theme Song

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#199 – Leave It To Beaver Theme Song

 – The television sitcom Leave It To Beaver portrayed the television image of Middle America in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Everything was perfect. The family unit included a nice house, a mom and a dad, and two kids. Dad supported the family; mom took care of the family and any problems the kids were in could be solved by the family within a half hour episode.

Were things really that simple? Maybe on television, but not in real life.

The 1960’s, as many of us remember the decade, was simmering in the background. The show was broadcast into our living rooms each week in glorious black and white beginning October 4, 1957 until signing off on June 20, 1963. Elvis was still pre-army when viewers first met the Cleaver family and when the final episode aired we were only five months away from JFK’s fateful trip to Dallas.

In May 1963 Bob Dylan released his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, with songs about civil rights and nuclear war. In August Dr. Martin Luther King declared “I have a dream” in Washington D.C. and went on to be named Time Magazine’s Man Of The Year. And The Beatles were gearing up for a televised surprise attack on our senses that came on February 9, 1964.

Along with many other factors including The Space Race, The Cold War and The Vietnam War, our generation was in for a change. A BIG change. The sitcoms – and many are considered classic and still very entertaining – were far from being reality shows for the era.

The Cleavers

Leave It To Beaver was one of the moving picture postcards of The American Dream delivered into our living rooms every week. As referred to above, it was broadcast in black and white. But when you think about it, there really was no “black and white” on television during these years. Except for African Americans appearing as guest stars or supporting players, the first black leading character on a network series didn’t happen until 1965 when Bill Cosby starred in I Spy with Robert Culp.

As a member of the younger edge of baby boomers (I was five years younger than Jerry Mathers, who played Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver), Leave It To Beaver was one of my weekly looks at the outside world. But it really didn’t seem that much different from where I was growing up in northern Ohio. School, friends, girls (not always the same as “friends”), dealing with teenagers and respecting adult authority were about as deep as things got. I was fortunate that my parents were always more open than some of the others. My mother was from Detroit and they both enjoyed taking me on weekend excursions to other big cities such as Cleveland, New York and Chicago.

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In all honesty, that’s where I’d see minorities. But the cities to me were exotic places with energy, excitement and adventures on every block and didn’t seem to exclude anyone because of color, sex or religion. As a young visitor in those days before the race-related riots of the 1960’s, I was never exposed to any inner city problems. Like the Cleavers and their social circle in Leave It To Beaver, it was life in a protected bubble. But these youthful real world experiences in big cities helped me form the opinion there were no reasons why we all couldn’t – or shouldn’t – live together.

Not The Cleavers

So when I write about the dramatic changes that still make the 1960’s the most talked about and studied decade of the Twentieth Century, The American Dream and The American Reality on how the 60’s played out serve as bookends. Start with Leave It To Beaver and end with the film Woodstock and you’ll understand why Boomers are so passionate about this decade of change.

For the first generation to be accused of having television as an adult authority figure, sitcoms were our windows to the outside world. And just like race, sex and religion, what we learned from television went a long way in defining how we look at the world – and how the world looks at us.

One of my favorite (and funniest) personal examples happened more than twenty years after Leave It To Beaver faded off into rerun land. I was living in New York City and breaking into the comedy biz. Before ending up with my career “behind the scenes,” I did stand-up comedy. But once again in all honesty, I lacked the necessary edge that in my opinion makes seasoned NYC comedians the funniest. After one particular bleak performance on stage at a famous comedy club, a couple of my black comedian friends (while laughing) told me I was too “white bread” to be truly funny. I was too Ricky Nelson from Ozzie and Harriett, which is another television postcard of 1950’s and 60’s American Dream.

And you know what? I laughed with them because it was true. There was no way around the stereotyping. But looking back, even my friends didn’t get it right. I was more Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver in the 60’s than the cool Ricky Nelson from the 50’s.

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The Leave It To Beaver Theme Song (actual title; The Toy Parade) is a classic example of the catchy tunes that lured viewers to their television sets and can still set off nostalgic memories for the boomer generation. I’ll even go out on a limb and say most of us can hum it all the way through (there are lyrics, but never heard on the show) just like we can sing I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. This particular TV tune waxed nostalgic in my waking mind on May 9th. Since it doesn’t fit the classic rock requirements to be on my digital playlist, I can’t remember the last time I heard it and The Toy Parade falls onto the subliminal side of the Dream Song List.

Eddie Haskell

One comic element of Leave It To Beaver that has stayed real for me through the decades is the supporting character Eddie Haskell. If I were to ever list my all-time favorite television characters, he would have to be in the Top 10. Played by Ken Osmond who later left showbiz to become a police officer, Eddie Haskell embodies the heart, soul and devious mind of every wise guy kid who ever stirred up any type of trouble and tried to schmooze his way out of it by being overly polite and agreeable toward whatever adult authority was coming down on him.

My dad, who had a wonderful sense of humor and could make me laugh until I cried, would compare my friends and me to Eddie Haskell whenever we tried to talk our way out of whatever predicament we had gotten ourselves into. And I also used it to describe my son to anyone that might remember the legendary TV name.

Since he was born in 1995, I’m sure Paul has no idea who Eddie Haskell is. But when someone from my generation gushed over how nice and polite he was while growing up, I reminded them of this iconic television character. They knew immediately what I was talking about. Kids can still be typical kids before the BIG changes of adulthood and no different than we were growing up in the 60’s. And similar to when we started asserting our independence while moving into our teenage years, there were many times at home when I felt I was talking to Eddie Haskell in all his American Dream wise guy glory.

The only glitch in the process was that I had grown out of my Eddie Haskell phase. I’ve reverted back to being The Beaver.

The theme song arrangement changed during the years, with the final season using a “swing” style. Below is the opening sequence to Leave It To Beaver from season four, which is the one that scored on this list.

If you’re a dedicated fan, you can purchase the complete Leave It To Beaver series on DVD from Amazon.com. Also separate seasons and episodes are available through the link.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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