Beatles Nearly Made ‘Revolver’ With Stax’s Jim Stewart

A newly-seen letter written by George Harrison in 1966 reveals that the Beatles planned to record their landmark ‘Revolver’ album at Stax Studios — not with producer George Martin, but with Jim Stewart, the man behind some of their favourite soul artists, notably Otis Redding.

George letter envelopeIt was already known that the group had wanted to record at Stax, and had actually booked a two-week session there in April, 1966. But it was previously thought that they withdrew for security reasons when the local Memphis press reported the fact. Harrison’s letter makes clear that the visit was, in fact, cancelled for financial reasons, and mentions Stewart’s specific potential involvement for the first time.

The letter, written in May of that year by the Beatles’ guitarist-writer to Paul Drew — a key DJ friend in Atlanta at radio station WQXI — is for sale for $20,000 via Jeff Gold, a rock memorabilia dealer in Los Angeles. Drew became friends with the group and travelled with them on tour in 1964 and ’65.

In the correspondence, Harrison discusses various aspects of group-related news, then adds after signing his name: “P.P.S. Did you hear that we nearly recorded in Memphis with Jim Stuart [sic]. We would all like it a lot, but too many people get insane with money ideas at the mention of the word "Beatles," and so it fell through!”

George letter 2

The letter, written from George’s home in Esher, Surrey, is postmarked May 7, shortly after the Beatles started recording ‘Revolver’ at Abbey Road with longtime producer and confidant George Martin. The letter raises the notion that the group gave specific thought to recording without him in Memphis.

“The album we are making now should be out around October,” writes Harrison of ‘Revolver,’ which was actually released in the August. ”But I hear Capitol [in the US] will make an intermediate album with unused tracks from ‘Rubber Soul,’ a few old singles and about two or three of the new tracks we have just cut.” This was the ‘Yesterday and Today’ compilation, released in the US and Canada only, six weeks after the letter in June 1966.

George letter 3

“We have been writing and recording for the last few weeks, and I will let you have copies as soon as they are available,” George writes. “The single is ‘Paperback Writer’ c/w ‘Rain,’ and is issued in the States on about 4th or 5th June.” Later, he adds: “Well I am off to the studio any minute, as soon as John and Ringo arrive for me.”

Gold acquired the letter from Drew’s widow when he died in 2013. He told Rolling Stone: “When I read the Stax part I was like, 'What the hell is this?' I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this stuff and I knew it was a major revelation."

Of the discussion of the compilation, Gold adds: "The general assessment is that Capitol did pretty much whatever they wanted with Beatles records. To see that George had a very specific understanding of what ‘Yesterday and Today’ was going to be before it came out was kind of a revelation too. It surprised me."

Harrison also thanks Drew for sending him records by Edwin Starr “I dig [him] a lot but have never heard much about him. Do you know if he has an album out?” and idiosyncratic Capitol recording artist Mrs. Miller. He also tells Drew about the the wife of Mal Evans, the Beatles’ road manager, giving birth to a baby girl, “so Mal is really knocked-out about that!” Before the postscript, he signs off: “I’ll keep in touch — G.”

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