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Meet Roy Young, the patron saint of anyone who has ever turned down a job and lived to regret it.
"Every night before I go to bed, I go into my bathroom and hit my head against the wall ten times," sighs the congenial midfiftyish Englishman with the sand-colored beard and the mellifluous speaking voice.
At first you might be tempted to console him: "Come on, Roy, no job is worth it." But when he tells you the assignment he rejected, you will experience a quick change of heart. You will think to yourself, "Why stop at ten?" Because if Roy Young had arrived at that old fork in the road and chosen the other path, he would not be living in a rented apartment in Kendall today, and he would not be lamenting the fact that his band can't land a gig on South Beach. His life would be dramatically different. Because if Roy had said yes, his co-workers would have been four guys from Liverpool named John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Roy Young turned down the Beatles.
It was late spring 1962. Young was jamming with the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and drummer Pete Best) at the storied Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, a few weeks before the quartet (with Ringo replacing Best) would return to England and audition for producer George Martin. "Brian Epstein came to me one night at the Star Club when I had just come off-stage," recalls Young, referring to the not-quite-yet-Fab Four's manager. "He said 'the lads' A he always called the Beatles 'the lads' A 'the lads have asked me to ask you would you join them and go back to England?' And I declined."
Today, 33 years later, Young smiles ruefully at the memory as he recounts the tale between forkfuls of takeout Chinese food. Clad in a black warm-up suit, well-worn tennis shoes, and a gray cap resting atop his medium-length, blondish hair, Young looks like a colorful character, but not much like a rock star. He smiles too easily for one thing. He greets you, engages you in pleasant chitchat, listens carefully to your boring stories, drinks moderately (two beers over five hours), and generally conducts himself far too amicably even to approach the strutting, preening, attitude-radiating stereotype. Roy Young immediately impresses you as a regular guy.
Maybe that's part of his problem. Miami always has bent over backward for flashy flimflam artists and showy one-hit wonders. Shameless self-promotion is as respected an art form here as flamenco is in Spain. If you don't toot your own horn, you don't get noticed. And Roy Young never has been good at making noise unless he's got a piano and a microphone in front of him.
Until recently he didn't need to. When the Sixties dawned, he was widely known as "England's Little Richard," idolized by future rock leviathans such as McCartney, Lennon, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Mick Jagger, all of whom caught his impassioned piano playing and soulful vocals on British TV. A decade later, he had budding recording and movie careers and was one of Europe's most galvanizing live performers. Throughout the Seventies he recorded with the Stones, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, and the Who's John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey, among others. In the Eighties, he barnstormed the U.S. and Canada, and toured with former Mott the Hoople front man Ian Hunter.
But Miami in the Nineties has been an entirely different story. Since first relocating to South Florida three years ago, Roy Young has been stuck in a holding pattern. He has assembled a crack six-piece band and is chomping at the bit to show his adopted hometown what he can do. All he wants is a shot. "Give me two nights," he promises, "and by the third night people will be lined up outside your door." But area live-music club owners don't want to take a chance on him. They've heard it all before. They've listened to similar pitches from dozens of b.s. artists and no-talents with big egos. If nobody else down here has heard of Roy Young, the logic goes, he must not be any good. Let someone else take the chance first.
And so Roy Young can't land a date in Miami for a kick-ass band about to fly to Hamburg for a headlining gig at a big Star Club reunion show. (April 13 marked the club's 33rd anniversary; the 1962 opening-night roster featured Young and the Beatles.) Paul will be there. And Ringo. And probably George. They'll slap Roy Young on the back and talk over old times. Reporters from newspapers and television stations in England and Germany will interview him. He'll regale them with anecdotes, telling them about the time those wacky Beatles forced him to drive them to the beach in his brand-new convertible in March and cavort in the freezing cold surf with all his clothes on while John snuck back to the car and attempted to drive it into the ocean. Or the time John walked on stage with a toilet seat around his neck and the club owner didn't like it and fired the band and Paul started crying because he'd just borrowed money from his father to buy a secondhand car and wouldn't be able to pay back his old man. Or Lennon's quaint habit of trying to spit chewing gum onto the tip of Young's nose when they shared a microphone. Or the time Young almost got David Bowie killed. Or the time Jeff Beck kidnapped Young. Maybe, for emphasis, he'll even show off the impressive 22-karat gold bracelet presented to him in 1962 by Star Club owner Manfred Weissleder. But you can bet that if they ask him about Miami, he won't have much to say.