Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Beatles Book on Jimmie Nicol Searches for Clues of The Beatle Who Vanished

photo credit: (c) Jeremy Fletcher photo/Redferns/Getty Images.

Jimmie Nicol was a Beatle for 13 days on tour with the group in June, 1964. He replaced Ringo Starr who had to be hospitalized. This is about all of the information that existed in Beatles history books for decades. British music history books contained no mention of the drummer.  The inside story of the unknown drummer who got to play with The Beatles at the height of Beatlemania is a missing chapter in the group's history... until now.

And so began my search to see if there was enough material for an article, let alone a new beatles book on the already crowded shelves. A number of people have asked me how I was able to find out who Nicol had played with before The Beatles, and more importantly, what happened to him after his "15 minutes of fame".

The best way to describe the search is to compare it to collecting 1000s of small jigsaw pieces together from around the world and try to assemble the complete picturne. I scoured archives in the US, Australia and England for articles, letters, and documents about Jimmie Nicol. Many online sources surmised that Nicol was born in Liverpool since he had played with The Beatles. However, finding his birth certificate yielded a different answer. That he was in fact, the only Beatle born outside the Liverpool region.

photo credit: (c) 2013 Rock And Roll Detective, LLC.
Then there was a small mention in an Australian forum where a gentleman mentioned that his red suitcase was borrowed by Jimmie Nicol on tour with The Beatles. An email led me to his brother, John Hodkinson, who told me of living with Nicol at the very moment when The Call came in from producert George Martin to come down to EMI Studios and rehearse with The Beatles. Hodkinson tagged along and was able to bring that nervous musical moment to life, of Nicol sitting in with The Beatles for the first time, and passing the audition!

I found old handbills, posters, ticket stubs, tour ads, photos, 45rpm records, stray video clips all over the world. Each piece of the puzzle told a small part of Nicol's journey as a touring and session musician, band leader, composer, arranger and producer. I came to realize that Nicol's career was indeed filled with many successes, intrigue and some pitfalls before, during and after The Beatles.

photo credit: (c) Mirrorpix
Through it all, I would find people who knew the central character of my new Beatles book from every part of his life.  I found the roady from his early band, Colin Hicks and The Cabin Boys. He is currently the webmaster of a hardcore S & M website. I found Nicol's second wife Julia by Googling "Mexico Rock History". The webmaster of a site on Mexican Rock in the Sixties, not only  knew Julia, but gave me her email and phone number. That call allowed me to understand Nicol's journey into the artistic underground scene in late Sixties Mexico where Jimmie participated in Happenings, psychedelic drugs, composed film soundtrack music and even started his own button manufacturing company while teaching music at the local technical college.
photo credit: (c) 2013 Julia Villasenor

After while, I was being connected to various band members from Colin Hicks and His Cabin Boys to Vince Eager and the Quiet Three, the Shubdubs and Spotnicks. This led to my compiling Nicol’s amazing discography and helped piece together the chronology of his career. The recordings I found all over the world, helped me to learn about Nicol’s amazing and creative gift as a drummer, composer, arranger and producer.  I found that almost universally his friends loved him very much and found him to be generous and highly talented.

The years of writing and research were an amazing journey and challenge. Nicol was an enigmatic character.   He always seemed to erase his trail when he moved on, rather than preserve it.

Finally, I had enough information to piece the trail of Jimmie Nicol's life and career together and paint what I felt was an honest portait of an enigmatic character. He was the definition of an independent spirit. He often chose the unexpected path. No one could tell him what to do or how to think.  Each time he vanished in his career, it would take me awhile to locate where in the world he would show up next! He usually never said goodbye… just walked out the door… to another spot on the globe. Very mysterious. I tried to retrace his footsteps and to find him, by traveling to England, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne - to get a feel for the places he had lived and worked.

This Beatles book, new to the shelves also helped me to discover and share what it is like for a person to live with "15 minutes of fame" for the rest of their lives. In the words of Grammy producer Butch Vig, who has seen his share of rock stars rise and fall, "The Beatle Who Vanished is a fascinating and mysterious must read for hardcore Beatles fans, and anyone who wants to understand the meteoric rise to pop stardom and the subsequent crash landing."

photo credit: (c) Newspix/photo file

It is hard to tell what Jimmie Nicol would think of this book on his life and career. Because, dead or alive, he remains The Beatle Who Vanished.

Available at: Amazon

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