Don't Wanna Hold Your Hand

Who in his right mind would have passed up the chance to join the Beatles? Rock-and-raving pianist Roy Young did. Regrets? Don't get him started.

Horst Fascher, who managed the Star Club at the time and who was one of the Beatles biggest boosters during their Hamburg days, concurs. "The last time John Lennon left Hamburg," Fascher recollects with a laugh, "in the spring of 1962, he said to me, 'The next time we come back here, you'll have to roll out the red carpet for us.' I said, 'Fuck you, red carpet.' No one could imagine what would happen."

The magnitude of their success was more than the Beatles could fathom. "I can go back to when Ringo said to me, 'You know what, man, this is incredible A I'm going to be able to buy two hairdressing salons,'" Young illustrates. "That was a big deal to him. No one anticipated what would happen. So I knew there was something special, but for some reason I declined, and Ringo, who was our [the Beat Brothers'] drummer at the time, went back to London with them. And then of course I just saw this thing, just an explosion. It freaked me out, to say the least."

Even today, 33 years after he turned down Epstein's offer to make it a Fab Five, Young has not come to terms completely with his fateful decision. He doesn't really bang his head on the wall every night. But it rankles him that he has been, in his words, "written out of history." Any self-respecting Beatlemaniac can tell you about Pete Best; and now, thanks to the 1993 film Backbeat, even casual fans of the moptops know the tragic story of the group's original bassist, Stu Sutcliffe. But few know how close the world came to seeing a beaming, pompadoured Roy Young tickling the ivories for the Liverpudlians on The Ed Sullivan Show.

"Paul always wanted me to be a part of the band because I sounded like Little Richard," claims Young, who, off-stage, looks and sounds more like a mild-mannered, middle-age British schoolteacher than a howlin', wailin', piano-bangin' fool.

But Dave McAleer takes Young's story with a grain of salt. "I hadn't heard that," he notes. "Of the timing, he'd be there at the right time. But you couldn't see it being a plus [for the Beatles]. Perhaps, musically, but you wouldn't have him on-stage with them because he was a couple years their senior and had been around. It might just be the sort of story he likes to tell, because he was there at the time."

But Star Club manager Horst Fascher emphatically endorses Young's assertion. "I was there that day when Brian Epstein asked Roy Young to go back to England with the Beatles," Fascher testifies. "They were only a guitar band and they were thinking to add a keyboard player to make a fuller sound."

While Young does not know McAleer, he has heard such skepticism before. It makes him all the more eager to set the record straight about who ruled the Reeperbahn during the glory days. "I was the one who pioneered all that," claims Young. "I was at the Top Ten Club [a converted strip bar that was Hamburg's most popular rock music club] when Manfred Weissleder, a very wealthy man who owned most of the Reeperbahn, came to me and said, 'Roy, I'd love for you to come over. I'm gonna start a nightclub [the Star Club] and I'd like you to come over and run it for me.' Book all the artists, play there, whatever. He said, 'Money's no object. You name it. Whatever you want, you've got it.' It was an offer I couldn't refuse. At the Top Ten Club I followed the Beatles after Stu Sutcliffe had left. I didn't know who the Beatles were, although every night people would ask me to play a Beatles tune, play something by the Beatles, and I wondered, 'What is this Beatles shit?' I went in there [the Top Ten] for a month, then three months, and then Peter Eckhorn, the owner, offered me a lifetime contract. His exact words were, 'Roy, I'd love you to stay and play for me until you're a very old man.' I felt so bad to tell him I was going with Manfred, but the money was just too good. Peter couldn't come close."

Ian Hunter does not doubt for a second that Epstein asked Roy to join the Beatles, and provides some insight into Young's state of mind at the time of his ill-fated career choice. "The Star Club was like a home away from home for a lot of [British] bands," recalls Hunter. "Horst paid well. A lot of clubs you'd get ripped off, but that place was always all right. Hamburg was a rock and roll town. Still is. There's not many of 'em left. The whole area around the Reeperbahn was a big sort of ideal rock and roll community A strippers, gays, dykes, transvestites, hookers, artists. Most of the guys in those days lived with strippers. The girls made quite a lot of money, and they would pay for everything. It was like one big party.

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