Friday, June 13, 2014

John Lennon's Last Live Performance At "The Salute For Sir Lew Grade"

John Lennon's last public music performance was taped April 18th, 1975 (I know! Almost 40 years ago) at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The occasion was a televised tribute (shown in the United States in June of that year) for entertainment impresario, Sir Lew Grade, which was called "A Salute For Lew Grade". Many other performers were involved in the tribute but the inclusion of John Lennon certainly must have raised some stuff-shirt eyebrows.

(John Lennon during his last live performance. All photos under Fair Use.)

Back in 1963, newly popular band The Beatles, were selling records at a phenomenal rate in Great Britain mostly due to the songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. A limited company, Northern Songs, was founded to publish the music of not only Lennon-McCartney, but George Harrison and Ringo Starr, too. The founders were The Beatles' music publisher, Dick James and his partner, the group's manager Brian Epstein, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In an move to avoid paying high capital gains taxes, Northern Songs went public in 1965. This move also allowed Harrison and Starr to acquire some of their own stock in the publishing company.

There's the short version and now we flash forward to 1969. Less than eighteen months after the death of Epstein, Dick James and his partner sold their shares to Associated Television (ATV), which was run by Lew Grade. They sold without any warning to The Beatles, and Lennon and McCartney's attempts to retrieve a majority interest in the publishing rights to their own songs failed. Under the contractual obligations signed by Lennon and McCartney, any further songs they created whether together or separately would be controlled by ATV until 1973. With their song writing partnership all but dissolved and The Beatles as a band no longer in any real existence, both Lennon and McCartney sold their shares in Northern Songs in late 1969. Although they would continue to receive writer's royalties on their Beatle songs, Lennon and McCartney no longer had any control over the music publishing company they had help co-found.

Although Lennon was understandably bitter toward Dick James' actions in selling out without any notice, he was more upset with Sir Lew Grade and his deep pockets and influence which forced Lennon to relinquish his shares in Northern Songs. Lennon often referred to him as 'Sir Low Grade'. Why then, in 1975, would Lennon agree to appear on a TV special saluting the man? The first answer was the fact that Lennon had a new album on the market, "Rock And Roll Music", that he wanted to promote. This album was his last under his current recording contract, which he chose not to renew, allowing him to retreat from the music business until his return in 1980. The second answer was that appearing he and Grade's company wrapped up any pending litigation between the two. The third, and most important answer, was an opportunity to stick it to the man of which Grade was one who Lennon described as being, "...sick to death of being fucked about by men in suits sitting on their fat arses...!".

Although Lennon and his back-up band recorded three songs, only two made it onto the televised version, "Slippin' And A Slidin'" and "Imagine". Lennon sang live to a mostly pre-recorded music track and it is by far one his best live vocal performances. One line of the lyric to the former song was obviously directed to Grade, "oh big conniver, nothing but a jiver, I done got hip to your jive". More telling, however, was Lennon's choice of his back-up band and the make-up they wore. The band's name was Brothers Of Mother Fuckers which obviously could not be mentioned on television, so they were dubbed Etcetera for this occasion. In the existing video from the show, the kick drum still has the initials B.O.M.F. on it for all to see.

The prosthetic make-up pieces the band wore were designed and paid for by Lennon. As can be seen in the picture below, this gave the impression of two faces. None too subtly, Lennon was making his feelings known about Grade's well-known two-faced behavior.

(A close-up screen grab of the two-faced prosthetics worn by the back-up band and designed by John Lennon.)
Did Sir Low Grade get any of this? Unknown. There are some out there in interweb land that don't even get why Lennon appeared on the show to begin with. Some say he was at a low point in his career and succumbed to appearing on a schmaltzy tribute show as a next step to perhaps playing 40 weeks a year at some Las Vegas lounge. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. John Lennon retired from the music business for nearly five years to raise his son, Sean, recorded countless demos, travel and let Yoko Ono earn millions from shrewd investments. By 1980, he was ready to return to recording music under his terms and not some men in suits.

(John Lennon cavorts backstage with his back-up band, dubbed Etcetera for the television audience, but actually called Brothers Of Mother Fuckers.)

Below is a clip of John Lennon's performance. If you would like to view the entire program, click this link. Lennon makes his appearance at about the 22 minute mark.



Joel Applegate said...

That's a gem of a find. I don't remember this happening at all - nor ever heard of it either. Thanks for posting. Lennon was in good voice that night.

Anonymous said...

Did not know this existed. Its a crime he didn't have a beatle reunion before he died.