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.

"In Hamburg you played seven nights a week. I mean, I played as many as thirteen hours straight," the not-so-young dude continues, recalling his days there 30 years ago. "I'm sure the Beatles did it. I'm sure Roy did, too. You learn to play till the point where you almost can't get up. The Star Club was a good club, you'd only play maybe two hours a night, but it might be at five in the evenin' and five in the mornin', so you had to be around all the time. There were lots of beautiful girls there. In England you wouldn't get noticed, but in Germany, if you played at the Star Club, I mean they were lookin' at you. And the women were just incredible.

"Roy was in amongst all o' that," Hunter explains. "He was like the resident guy at the Star Club. He could play with anybody he wanted to play with. So of course the Beatles played with him. So when McCartney's guy [Brian Epstein] asked Roy if he would go back to England with them -- this was about the same time he asked Ringo to join -- he [Young] probably didn't even think about it. I mean, Horst had given Roy a Cadillac. He was drivin' around Hamburg in a Cadillac. Of course he said no."

Watching Beatlemania blast off -- and knowing he could have ridden in the capsule -- eventually took its toll on Young. "Now I was getting frustrated and disappointed," Young admits of that period between his rejecting Epstein's offer and his fulfillment of his Star Club contract in 1964. "So I decided to go back to England. I actually went on tour with the Beatles, but it was never the same feeling, because here I was working with them after having an opportunity to join them and be a part of it and turned it down and now I've got to live with that the rest of my life."

Young faced a paralyzing dilemma. What do you do for a second act when the first part of your life concludes with your blowing an opportunity to join the most popular rock band of all time? "That's the reason I went back [to England]," he sighs. "I'd had enough. I'd been there [in Hamburg] quite a while and I felt I needed to get out. If you know Hamburg, it's a 24-hour city. It just doesn't close down. You get to know all the prostitutes and all the pimps. You'd go into a club and they're all sex joints, and you know all the girls, and they're all like, 'Hi, how are you,' and that's how it becomes. It was just time to get out of there because it stopped making any sense."

Back in his native England, Young still was accorded the status of a star even though he never had released a record. A wave of up-and-coming British rockers A the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Manfred Mann, Jimmy Page A remembered and revered England's Little Richard from his TV days on Oh Boy! and Drumbeat. Young sorted through myriad opportunities before finally agreeing to join singer Cliff Bennett's band, the Rebel Rousers.

"That's when I first met him," recalls Gerry Marsden, the personable singer for Merseybeat stars Gerry and the Pacemakers, the second group (following the Beatles) signed to a management deal by Brian Epstein. Marsden and his band were riding high on the mid-Sixties chart success of singles such as "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," "Ferry Across the Mersey," and "How Do You Do It?" among others. "Roy was in Hamburg with Cliff Bennett when we were there. I thought he was brilliant, a great rock and roll pianist. We all played with each other, but Roy was always the star of the show to me. Great voice. Great keyboard player."

Bennett, like Young, had paid his dues in Hamburg, in the process establishing a reputation as a musician's musician with a rabid insider following but nothing substantial in the way of record sales to show for it. "Cliff Bennett offered me to go and join with them in 1965 or '66," explains Young. "Paul wrote us a song called 'Got to Get You Into My Life,' which went right up the charts, and we had a couple of hit records, and then I put my own band together."

The Roy Young Band was a crack touring outfit whose members would eventually go on to play in the Average White Band (guitarist Onnie McIntyre), Foreigner (drummer Dennis Elliott), and Paul McCartney's Wings (saxophonist Howie Casey). In its heyday, the Roy Young Band practically owned London's Speakeasy Club (David Bowie met future wife Angela there!), where a concert in late 1970 moved Melody Maker scribe Chris Welch to gush, "Roy Young Band blowing at the Speakeasy drew such an ovation the leader had to make a short speech of thanks. [The Roy Young Band] whipped up such excitement and enthusiasm the normally cynical audience allowed themselves to whistle and stomp their feet. It was an unprecedented spectacle for Roy Young, once hailed as the Little Richard of British Rock. As 1971 dawns the future looks bright for a band which blows swinging R&B and rock. Roy hammers the piano and sings with thoroughly convincing blues power."

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