Back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, The Beatles had such a wealth of money and influence that they decided to launch their own record label, Apple Records. Some 40 years later this month, a new album, Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records, will be released, including a lot of material that has never been available on CD, or digital download.
Among the stars that were signed to Apple were Mary Hopkin, Ronnie Spector, James Taylor, Billy Preston, and Lon & Derrek Van Eaton.
Together with his brother Derrek, Lon Van Eaton recorded a historic album, Brother, which was released on Apple in 1972. It was produced by Beatle George Harrison, and included the expert drumming of Ringo Starr.
Lon went on to record with Harrison and Starr on their solo albums, as well as appearing on albums by Carly Simon, Martha Reeves, Harry Nillson and several other huge stars of the era.
A fascinating man with multi-media past, celebrity author Mark Bego caught up with Lon Van Eaton recently, to interview him for TheImproper about his star-studded musical past, and his many plans for the future.
TheImproper: Along with your brother, Derrek, you ended up the only duo to record an album on The Beatles’ historic record label, Apple Records? How did that come about?
Van Eaton: As has been noted in the press, Derrek and I were in a group signed to CBS, called “Jacob’s Creek.” The band disbanded leaving Derrek and I alone with our manager Robin Garb. We set to work writing and recording for the first time as a duo and produced a 7 song demo. Robin sent it to companies and 3 or 4 were interested. We decided to work with George and Apple.
Now, because of the honor of speaking with you Mark, I will tell you the underlying story. Before we began recording an old college friend of mine, George Ellis came by and initiated us in a beautiful ceremony into the world of Transcendental Meditation: “TM.” The consciousness boost was amazing and ignited a creative atmosphere which infused the work on our demo tape. However, there was the secret meeting with George Ellis and I when he placed a single drop of a special liquid on each of the seven and a half inch reel-to-reel tapes.
He wouldn’t tell me what the liquid was nor show me that he could levitate but the fragrance I will always remember. I smelled it again just last year at Darshan with Mother Meera. In a box I have an original of these reel-to-reel tapes in the strikingly colorful Zodiac designed box. I think the music, the design and the smell all made it happen. After all, it was the ‘70s! Between the sound of our music and the scent of our packaging, on Sept. 15, 1971, Derrek and I signed a five-year contract with Apple Records. Two weeks later, we were at EMI Studios on Abbey Road in London, recording our first song for the label, Sweet Music.
IM: What was it like to be at Abbey Road Studios, recording an album produced by George Harrison, with Ringo Starr playing drums on the tracks?
Van Eaton: Being signed to Apple was my first wish and it was more than I could have ever imagined. JFK, first flight, speeding limo ride to Ascot, John Lennon’s and Yoko’s home. These British countryside mansions are not to be believed. That house is where “Imagine” was recorded with Ringo and Klaus Voormann playing behind John. Then it was off to Friar Park. We got out of the car, and George is sitting with Patti Boyd Harrison having tea and playing our songs from the demo! Later, we dined and the party started. Interesting substances were imbibed and a tour of the catacombs was suggested. The property has more that 30 guest cottages, one was Klaus’ residence, a myriad of grounds with a Matterhorn and an underground system of flowing canals which twist turbines into creating the electricity for the entire place.
Abbey Road was a wonderful place with several differences from other studios I had recorded in. The engineers and workers all wore lab coats, looking like scientists. I remember someone calling down to request the ADT machine. That is a device that doubles an instrument, getting that sound like on “When My Guitar Gently Weeps.” A few minutes later the door opened and two “scientists” wheeled in this huge contraption with dials and knobs; looked like the controls from Young Frankenstein. “Bye-bye Marty Feldman. You are great!” Now you can get that sound with a tiny plug in on your music software. However, with all the new tricks and tech advances you don’t get the genius of a song recording like, “When My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Bravo George!
Derrek and I and Peter Frampton were playing guitars getting that layered “Isn’t It a Pity” sound when the session began.
George produced the song “Sweet Music” and I played this black Harptone during the recording session. George played the guitar but not while recording. Derrek and I and Peter were playing acoustic guitars on the basic track at Abbey Road. George was in the control room coming in and out to suggest things. He did ask for the guitar and played an E7 chord to use at the place right before the chorus. It was a very good musical idea, and we did from then on. The album was an incredible dream to work on.
IM: Your Apple Records album, Brother, has never been released on CD, yet in its vinyl version, it is still considered as a highly desirable prize among record collectors. What was the unique packaging like?
Van Eaton: Interesting that you mention that as I just saw an ad on TV for a new album and they are using the Zoetrope carousel concept. It was fun! In our album there was a cardboard cut-out which you assembled and placed on your turntable. As it turns you look through the slits and the pictures move like the original Thomas Edison moving picture experiments. This was back in an era in which all sort of promotional goodies were included in an album package.
The Beatles had the money and creativity to do things like that—which they did in the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. With this assemble-it-yourself Zoetrope, our album benefitted from it as well. These are all things that are lost on the new “download generation.” Album packages were special and unique. I have so many requests for the Brother album to be released on CD, and it is a dream of mine to finally see it happen.
IM: You were on the George Harrison album, Dark Horse, in 1974. What was he like to record with?
Van Eaton: During that period in Los Angeles, I remember being with George at a party before we left to go to the Charlie Chaplin lots on La Brea where A&M Records was located—and also where George housed Dark Horse Records. Poor George. He had eaten something that had meat in it that evening and several of the people at the party started talking and questioning “his Holiness” for having eaten meat!
That made for an uncomfortable but swift exit. We arrived at the gate on La Brea in George’s Morgan convertible with iron chain steering wheel, and we were greeted with the officer not knowing who George was and refusing him entrance. George, who was a deep-thinking spiritual man and for the most part even keeled and calm, went ballistic! Standing up in the car I remember him yelling, “Ever heard of the Beatles?”
It took a few minutes and another guard to arrive before recognition took place. George had magic. Another time he came into a session for Derrek and mine in New York City, and he was asked to play a slide guitar part on a track we were doing. Calmly and without losing concentration he went over and over the track, transforming the sections with an amazing, quite magical sense of phrasing and harmony. He literally saved the song and created a masterpiece. I am so very lucky to have seen genius at work in person and the sense is beyond mere words.
IM: You appeared on the Martha Reeves solo album that Richard Perry produced. At the time, that was known as “the most expensive album every recorded.” What was Martha like, and what was that experience like?
Van Eaton: Maybe it was so expensive because of my fee for playing those bits on “Wild Night!” But seriously, everyone working on that record was striving to be as perfect as possible to honor the great Motown diva Martha Reeves. Ms. Reeves is such an amazingly gracious lady and great singer and performer. There were a lot of incredible performers on that album, including James Taylor and Billy Preston—both Apple Records alumni—like myself. That was a great album, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of the all-star band.
IM: You played on five different Ringo Starr albums including: Ringo, Goodnight Vienna, Rotogravure, Ringo the Fourth and Bad Boy. What is he like to record with?
Van Eaton: It was always a wonderful and exciting experience to be involved in recording with Ringo, whether at Cherokee Studios, Sunset Sound or even under Pseudonyms for the album we did in Vancouver B.C. You always knew that you would be joined by great musicians and have brilliant songs to record. Everything was smooth and first class all the way. Plus, having a rock solid drummer, Ringo, and sometimes even two—when Jim Keltner would be on the sessions—you sensed the abilities of true pros and knew that the best drum sounds were second nature.
IM: One of the things that you seem to share with The Beatles, is a “Zen” sort of “All We Need is Love” type of credo. Was this a bonding “meeting-of-the-minds” sort of a philosophy that you shared with George Harrison and Ringo Starr?
Van Eaton: Yes, what you focus on expands. I love [Bob] Dylan, [Paul] McCartney and other great writer-artists who paint pictures that give you the feeling of actually being there, like on recordings such as “Penny Lane.” John Lennon and George Harrison took the art a step further in many ways by also depicting a possibility of how it could be. “Imagine” is the best example. John was a house husband before the woman’s movement. This idea of creating reality through media was what I am learning and keeping alive with Imagine a Better World and the LIVIES™. George’s “Living in the Material World” says much about that.
IM: In 1998 you and Derrek released an album called Black & White. It was your first full album since the ‘70s. How did that come about?
Van Eaton: I think the credit belongs to Matt Hurewitz who was the publisher of “Good Day Sunshine.” Matt called and mentioned through his connections the possibility of recording a Badfinger song on a tribute album. He sent some selections and I went to work at Angels Ranch. Matt came and visited for a couple weeks and recorded an amazing vocal on a song called “Gringoland.” While recording the Badfinger song, “Apple of My Eye,” a magical wind came just as the song ended and a huge door slammed.
Mark Bego’s latest book is called Paperback Writer: A Memoir (Publish America) and it is a journey through his five decade career of interviewing rock, pop, and movie stars. Check out his Web site at: MarkBego.com
Angels Ranch is where we developed the concept and company Imagine a Better World. I wanted to give back all that I had been given during the recording years and founded Imagine a Better World as a company dedicated to creating conscious change through media. The lessons from the Beatles and the effect and impact they had on society were inspirational for millions. Take just the song: “We Can Work It Out,” need more be said? “All You Need Is Love” is the truth!
IM: ne of the Lon & Derrek Van Eaton tracks, the single “Sweet Music,” is on the new Apple Records compilation, The Best of Apple Records: Come and Get It. It sounds like a unique and exciting release to include James Taylor, Billy Preston, and Ronnie Spector. How does it feel to be in their company on record?
Van Eaton: It is a total and complete honor to be included and to have those great artists on the same recording. By the way, James Taylor and I are astral twins, same day and year. I think I mentioned that to Carly Simon when I also had the great privilege of playing on some of her recordings. Those sessions came about because of the very underrated genius of Richard Perry, the great producer. Derrek and I also were blessed with Richard producing our A&M Album, Who Do You Out Do along with Bill Schnee.
IM: You have been working on a new 3-D theatrical presentation called “Livies.” Can you briefly explain that?
Van Eaton: I would humbly suggest it is beyond 3-D, some call it 4-D! LIVIES is a new entertainment delivery system. First, there were Silent Films…Movies. Then, sound… Talkies. Many improvements came leading to the current 3-D craze. The next step in the future of entertainment… LIVIES—Live Interactive Visual Immersion Entertainment Shows! Imagine a theatre of breathtaking high definition images immersed in surround sound. A theatre where performances are projected onto awe-inspiring high-def virtual realities. A theatre designed to educate and entertain audiences of all ages. This is LIVIES Digital Theatre. And you don’t have to imagine it. It is here, the first ever Live Interactive Visual Immersion Environmental Shows! We can safely guarantee that after experiencing a LIVIES show your life will be transformed. It is an interactive journey to a brand new person that you will become.
IM: Lon, it is great to have you back in the forefront of the musical and entertainment scene. How does it feel to have the new Apple album, a planned re-release of Black & White, and your LIVIES shows projected in the future?
Van Eaton: It feels great, like I have never been gone from the spotlight! Thanks so much, Mark!
To find out more about Lon Van Eaton, check out: LonVanEaton.com