“But as they got used to me, they became a lot friendlier and we kind of became companions in arms. Although I could get out, they were prisoners in the hotels and they didn't have anybody to talk to. They had to talk to somebody, and I was around.”
Their shared working-class backgrounds helped establish empathy between Davis and the boys, as did similarly sour, dark senses of humor. The writer describes John Lennon as a cheater at Monopoly and a very bad poker player, which enabled some members of their small press entourage to subsidize the cost of traveling with the group.
“John, at the time, was the funniest and the wickedest,” he reveals. “Also, his mind worked like lightning. The only other person whose mind worked at that warp speed was Robin Williams.
“Paul McCartney was a bit of a schmoozer,” Davis continues. “He would pat you on the back and say ‘Hi Ivor, how are you doing?' On the jet, Paul would come down the aisle and offer to get you a drink. He'd bring me a whiskey and soda or whatever I wanted; it's funny when you think back, but he was like a flight attendant.”
Ringo Starr, who was the newest Beatle, sometimes comes off in the book as a deer-in-the-headlights sort. The intensity of Beatlemania and occasional threats of violence that met the tour seemed to rattle him more than the others. Davis attributes that to his having missed some earlier Australian concert dates due to tonsil troubles, and residual fear that they may find a different drummer.
“He was always a bit edgy,” Davis notes. “But by the time the tour finished, he was probably one of the most popular Beatles. By the time we left New York, there were signs that said, ‘Ringo for President!' ”
Davis initially found Harrison a bit surly. But after the guitarist complained to him about his first two “columns” — which the reporter made up out of whole cloth — Davis explained that 10-minute daily chats would fix that.
“After that little confrontation, he did talk to me and the column improved,” Davis recalls.
There are chapters in the book about things Davis couldn't write about at the time without risking getting thrown off of the tour. One, “Talkin' 'Bout Girls,” rather discreetly describes the vetting process by which Beatlemaniacs were chosen to meet the lads on a more, well, personal basis — especially after a situation with teenage twins on the third stop in Las Vegas almost turned legal and public.
“They were very careful, but they poured in Miss Louisiana or Miss Chicago, or Miss Whatever to meet the boys,” Davis explains. “And if the boys fancied the girls and the girls fancied the boys, they'd go in the room and who knows what happened. Look, we were young, healthy men — John was married at the time, but they tried to keep that down — and the guys availed themselves.”
As for the famous incident when Bob Dylan met the Beatles in New York and introduced them to marijuana, Davis disputes accounts that it happened during the rock icons' first meet-and-greet in the city's Hotel Delmonico. Rather, he says, they were turned on at a much less fancy — and less police-garrisoned — motor inn by the airport the night before the Beatles returned to England.
It was a little more than 50 years ago when Ivor Davis got a call from London.
“The editor of the Daily Express said ‘Hey, this Liverpool group is coming over,' ” Davis recalls. “ ‘Get on a plane in two hours and go to San Francisco. Write about them, travel with them, eat with them, drink with them — and George Harrison is writing a column for us. But he's not going to write it, you're going to write it.' ”
East London native Davis had recently become the newspaper's one-man Hollywood bureau, and he had just been assigned to go with the Beatles on their first North American tour. Half a century later, Davis has written a book, “The Beatles and Me on Tour,” filled with anecdotes and observations about that crazy summer of '64 and more.
One of the few journalists who accompanied the Fab Four on that entire tour, Davis attended every concert (though like everybody else, he didn't hear much music over the constant screaming of the band's female fans), flew with the lads on their chartered plane, escaped like them within an inch of his life after the shows and stayed in the same besieged hotels.
Along the way he got to know John, Paul, George and Ringo intimately — although the introduction before that first Cow Palace concert left a little to be desired.
“I went to the San Francisco Hilton and it was a madhouse there — all of these screaming girls,” Davis, now 76, describes from his Ventura home. “I managed to get myself into there, and Derek Taylor, their press guy, introduced me to all the Beatles.
“To be honest with you, it was kind of lukewarm. They couldn't have given a flying (expletive) who I was, and also they were monstrously jet-lagged. They sort of grunted, were watching television — George told me that what they liked about America was color television because they'd never had it in England — and ordered room service.
“That night, a scruffy-looking guy came onto our floor and marched straight into their room,” he says. “We were in the adjoining room; they stuck wet towels in the cracks under the door. When they came out, Ringo was on his knees, absolutely wasted. They said Bob gave him a joint, and instead of doing the procedure, taking two puffs and passing it around, he smoked the whole damn thing! He didn't know.”
“The Beatles and Me on Tour” goes way, way beyond just sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll stories. The descriptions of sitting through the ear-splitting and, for some reason, jellybean projectile-filled concerts are worth the price of the self-published book alone. There are also daily snippets on Twitter via @idavisbeatles.
Davis went on to a long career in entertainment journalism for such outlets as Los Angeles magazine, The Times of London and The New York Times Syndicate, often writing with his wife of 46 years, Sally Ogle Davis, who died in December 2012.
For his book, Davis plumbed his own files and went to London to pore over the Express' stash of his 50-year-old reports. He contacted surviving members of the tour's press corps to compare memories and make new discoveries.
He's been headlining his own book promotion tour this summer.
“It's been pretty incredible,” Davis says. “I think I had my three minutes of fame. When I went to the Beatles convention in Chicago last week, what was astonishing was how people want to come up to you, as if you'd been sprinkled with magic Beatle dust, and tell you their Beatle stories. It's kind of a link, which I never thought it would be, 50 years later. It's kind of fun.”
The Beatles and Me on Tour
By Ivor Davis
Cockney Kid Publishing, $15.99