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Photographer Astrid Kirchherr

Hamburg-born Astrid Kirchherr met the Beatles in 1960, before they were famous. She took some of the earliest photographs of the group and was engaged to Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles' original bassist, before he died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962.

35:07

Other segments from the episode on January 15, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 15, 2008: Interview with Astrid Kirchherr; Commentary on Vee-Jay records; Commentary on language.

Transcript

DATE January 15, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Photographer Astrid Kirchherr discusses photographs
and relationship with the Beatles
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're going to start with a little quiz. I'm going to play an early recording
by a band I'm certain you know. See if you can guess who it is.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: OK, let's see if you got it right. That's The Beatles, recorded at a
rehearsal in Paul McCartney's home in 1960. Ringo hadn't joined the band yet,
and Stuart Sutcliffe played bass. In 1960, the same year this recording was
made, the Beatles went to Hamburg, Germany. One of the young people who saw
them there was forever changed by the experience. She was a photographer
named Astrid Kirchherr. She took some now-classic photos of the band. She
also gave a couple of The Beatles their now-famous mop top haircuts, and she
and Stu Sutcliffe fell in love and got engaged. He was more of a painter than
a bass player, so he quit the band and stayed in Hamburg with Kirchherr. But
in 1962, Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage.

In 1964, after the Beatles had become an international sensation, Kirchherr
accompanied her German photographer Max Scheler to London to take pictures of
the Beatles on the set of "A Hard Day's Night" and to shoot them in their
hometown, Liverpool. The photos Kirchherr and Scheler took are in the New
Book "Yesterday: The Beatles Once Upon a Time." Astrid Kirchherr joins us
from Hamburg.

Astrid Kirchherr, welcome to FRESH AIR. What led you to go hear The Beatles
in the first place when they were performing in Hamburg, where you lived?

Ms. ASTRID KIRCHHERR: Well, the first time I met The Beatles was through my
former boyfriend, Klaus Voorman, who saw them one night when he was wandering
around Hamburg. And then he heard this beautiful sound of rock 'n' roll music
and he went down into a quite dark, filthy cellar where these boys were
standing on a very, very tiny stage, and performed in such way that he was
absolutely--let's call it knocked out by the music and by their looks and
everything around it.

So he told me about it, and it took him a couple of days to convince me to go
with him to see the boys because Reeperbahn is not a place where young ladies
in the '50s or '60s were to seen or go there. You know, it was not a nice
place to go. But one night I just said, `All right, I'll come with you.' And
so we went there. And when I went down the stairs and looked at the stage, I
was just amazed how beautiful these boys looked. And being a photographer
then, it was a photographer's dream. In fact, it was my dream because I
always thought I would like to take pictures of young boys who looked like
them. And then when I heard the music, it was even more fantastic for me. So
after that first night, I went nearly every night to see them, and that's how
it started.

GROSS: You describe the way they looked as being a photographer's dream, your
dream. Would you describe how they looked the first time you saw The Beatles?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, they all had these--I don't know what you call the
hairstyle, you know, like the rockers did in the '50s, like Marlon Brando, and
with a lot of grease. And they had...

GROSS: With their hair slicked back?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes.

GROSS: Like a little pompadour?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes, yes. Yeah, right. And so and they wore really mad
clothes. Sort of not very clean, but unusual. Like John had a leather jacket
on and Stuart had a real proper suit jacket on. But they were so individual,
every one of them, and tried to be stylish in their own little way because
then, as you have read before, they didn't had any money at all, so they make
the best out what they had. And so John had a pair of jeans on, which he
rolled up, which was very trendy then. And Stuart had very, very pointed
shoes. And so I've never seen anything like it before. So that was always my
dream, to take pictures of people with character and charisma, and there they
were. All five of them looked absolutely wonderful.

GROSS: Did you need their permission to start taking pictures of them?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, through my boyfriend Klaus, I asked them if they were
willing that I can take the pictures, and they were just jumping up and down
with joy. So one morning--because I only take pictures in daylight--we met on
the corner of the Reeperbahn. And there they were all dressed up nicely and
washed, and their hair was all shiny with the grease and everything. So I
stuck them all in my little Volkswagen and off we went to a fairground, which
I thought suited their image a lot with all steel and busted iron and lorries
and things like that. So it took a whole morning from afternoon, and I took
quite a lot of pictures. So that's where it started.

And then I did the prints, and one night I went down to them to offer the
prints to them, and they were absolutely delighted. They have never seen
prints the size of 30 to 40 centimeters, which is quite large anyway. So
after that, they began to trust me as a human being, not just as a pretty
girl, which was very nice of them. And in fact, then we started talking to
one another and they accepted me as being an intelligent individual which they
could talk to, not only look and make funny jokes.

GROSS: A fellow artist.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah. You're right. Yeah.

GROSS: Now, I think I'm looking at one of the photos from the session that
you just described. They are seated on like a metal frame of--I don't know if
it's a building or a car, and it's labeled "(Unintelligible)...Hanover." What
are they sitting on? And then maybe you could describe this pose.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, it is a lorry where the people from the fairground
transport their equipment with. And, of course, there are a lot of big iron
things where they do their carousels and things. So that is where they are
sitting on.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now, you have--it's such a nice pose. I mean, because it's
like an iron frame, there's like four separate parts of the frame, and each of
the Beatles is posed within one part of it. Several--you know, two of them
are standing, three of them are sitting on the frame. Paul is holding
his--everybody is actually holding their instrument.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

GROSS: And Pete Best is standing in front of his drum kit, and it's a really
cool looking shot. How did they feel about you posing them? Because this
looks posed. It looks like you said, `You sit here. You sit there.'

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes, well, you know, as I told you before, my English wasn't
very good then. So I just went over and grabbed their heads and put them in
the direction I wanted them to look. And I told them to sit up there and hold
the instrument, and so it was a real sort of--it was a composition, you know,
of people.

GROSS: Exactly.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

GROSS: Exactly. Of very attractive people.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GROSS: So had you seen a lot of rock 'n' roll photographs before this? I
mean, your photographs of The Beatles ended up being very influential on
subsequent rock 'n' roll photographs. But what had you seen that influenced
the way you shot then? Had you seen anything like that?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No, I didn't. Well, you know, at the beginning of the '60s,
rock 'n' roll just came to Germany in form of Bill Haley or--well, Johnny
Matthis, you can't call a rock 'n' roller, but that is all we had. And I went
in Hamburg to a concert of Bill Haley, which I thought was absolutely amazing.
And then not to forget Elvis, yeah?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: So, but there weren't any magazines or rock 'n' roll
magazines, for example. I haven't seen any real good pictures of people,
like, you know, like the rock 'n' roll stars from America. So the only
pictures I saw of rock 'n' roll stars was Elvis on a cover or it was Bill
Haley, but I never liked those pictures because they were not what they
present. You know, rock 'n' roll to me is harsh and sometimes sentimental;
and it needs a lot of intelligence and, of course, an awful lot of good looks.

GROSS: Now, you describe when you first met The Beatles that their hair was
greased back.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you change their hair and why did you change it?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, my boyfriend Klaus had a big problem because his ears
used to stick out. But in any other way he was the most beautiful boy the
world has seen. So I thought, `How can you get this to go, these big
sticking-out ears?' And then I had the idea to just grow the hair over them,
which he then did, and it looked absolutely beautiful. So when the boys saw
Klaus, Stuart was the first one who said, `Oh, I would like to have that
hairstyle.' ' And because their hair was very long, I could do it in one
night, which I did, and Stuart was the first one who performed onstage with
the so-called Beatles or Klaus haircut.

GROSS: Yeah. I never heard it before referred to as the Klaus haircut.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

GROSS: So how did the other Beatles decide to pick up on the same style?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, when they finished playing in Hamburg, they went back
to Liverpool and I visited Stuart there. And then George came up to me and
said, `Could you please cut my hair like Stuart's?' So I did that, but the
other two didn't want to know about it, John and Paul. And Pete couldn't have
the hairstyle anyway because he had curly hair. So, well, George had
beautiful hair and it went absolutely great when I cut it for him. And he was
so pleased. But a little bit later, John and Paul went to visit an old friend
of ours, another German photographer called Jurgen Vollmer. He use to live in
Paris and was assistant to William Klein, a very famous photographer. And
John and Paul visited Jurgen, and he persuaded them to have their hairstyle
changed. And so they came back from Paris looking like the rest of the
Beatles.

GROSS: What other changes did you make or suggest to The Beatles about their
look or their clothes, whatever?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, the fact is that Stuart was the same height as I am,
and he could wear my clothes. So immediately when he moved in with me and my
mother, he got hold of all my clothes--like leather pants, leather jackets,
collarless jackets and white shirts with big, big colors like in the old days,
and waistcoats and big scarves and things like that. But when he first
appeared to play with them in Hamburg again, he used to wear a suit of mine
made out of corduroy in black, and it had no collar. It was collarless. And
John just couldn't stop laughing and said, `Oh, have you got your mom's jacket
on?' So that was the start of the collarless jacket, which later on it was
copied all over the place. But, in fact, I copied it from Pierre Cardin, a
Paris designer, who I saw in magazine or something, and I thought that was a
fantastic idea.

GROSS: Well, if John was making fun of Stu's jacket that didn't have lapels,
how come he ended up wearing one himself? Like, what changed the attitude
from mockery to, `I want one, too'?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, John was always a little bit sarcastic, so at first,
even with the hairstyle, he couldn't stop laughing. But in the end, he just
joined in. That was John. That was typical.

GROSS: It's interesting that Stu Sutcliffe would wear your clothes, because
most men wouldn't dream--back then, particularly--of wearing their
girlfriend's clothes. It would be more OK for a girlfriend to wear her
boyfriend's clothes but not vice versa.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, you know, Stuart was a very special person, and he was
miles ahead of everybody. You know, as far as intelligent and artistic
feelings are concerned, he was miles ahead. So I learned a lot from him.
Because in the '60s, as you may know or read about, we had a very strange
attitude towards being young, towards sex, towards everything because it was
still so short after the war, and we had this big burden to carry as far as
our parents and as far as our country went through, you know, after the war.

GROSS: Well, tell us a little bit about what it was like to be a teenager
growing up in post-World War Germany.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, it was very hard because it is hard to imagine now that
there weren't any magazines. You couldn't buy any English authors or anything
that came from America, like jeans or whatever you--it was impossible. So we
had to do our own clothes if we had weird ideas, like wearing long scarves
like the French people did. You had to knit them yourself. Or long sweaters
you used to nick from your father because they were miles too big because you
wanted to look like the Sartre people in France or in Paris, like Juliette
Greco or other people. And I was very, very, much influenced by the films of
Jean Cocteau, by Sartre and everything that came out of France because it was
closer than America or England. And, anyway, England was then told by the
older generation of Germans, were still our enemies.

GROSS: Did that come between you and The Beatles at all, the sense that your
countries had recently been enemies? Did that interfere at all in the
relationship?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No, not in our relationship.

GROSS: Relationship between you as people? Mm-hmm.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: But John use to make funny remarks of it from stage, because
most of the youngsters couldn't speak English because we didn't had English in
school. It, you know, in the beginning when, after the war we went to school.
So he use to shout from stage, `We won the war!' and, `You Krauts!' and all
that. You know? Which most of the people didn't understand; but the English
people, they just were furious with laughter.

GROSS: So that's why he said it, because he knew the German people wouldn't
understand?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: He could say anything.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: So I read that John use to call you and your friends "exis," short for
existentialists.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah. Yeah, he did.

GROSS: Because of how you looked and what you were influenced by.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Did you know that at the--did you get the joke at the time?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah. Well, we were called, even in Germany, the exis.

GROSS: Oh, I didn't realize that.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: You know, there were the rockers and the exis and, later on,
the mods and, you know, all kinds of names. So we were the exis because we
were just wearing black and wore these silly long scarves down to the floor
and wore beret caps and big capes, like the flicks in Paris. So we looked a
bit weird, but we all thought it was great to be different.

GROSS: You became engaged to Stu Sutcliffe who, at the time when you met him
in 1960, was the bass player in the band. You seemed so taken by all of the
Beatles. What special happened between you and Stu Sutcliffe? What was the
bond that you had?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, it's very strange, and maybe it sounds sort of
sentimental, but when I saw him for the first time I knew that was my man.
You know, he was--and still is--the love of my life even though he's gone for
such a long time. But I never, ever--and I was married a couple of times--met
another man who was so fascinating, so beautiful and so soft and well
mannered. You name it and that he was, and so such a gifted artist.

GROSS: It seems to me you both lived in a very visual world. I mean, he was
an artist who learned to play bass so he could be in The Beatles. And you, of
course, you know, were a photographer, a very visual person. So even though
you didn't speak each other's languages at first--he's English, you're
German--it seems like you must have had this visual connection.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes. There was this sort of bond between us because maybe I
correct you there, Stuart just played in the band because John persuaded him
to be in the band. And the first painting Stuart sold, John persuaded him
again to buy a bass for that, to be in his group. So actually all Stuart
wanted was to become a good painter...

GROSS: Why did John want him in the band?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: ...and not a musician. Because...

GROSS: Why did John want him in the band so much knowing that he didn't know
how to play?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, because John always said, when Paul was moaning about,
you know, how Stuart didn't practice and all that, but John always said, `It
doesn't matter. He looks good. He is rock 'n' roll.'

GROSS: So you were engaged. What kind of life had you envisioned for
yourselves together?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well when you're young, you're just in love and every day is
so new and so fresh and so beautiful, you just don't think of the future. But
Stuart was there, very mature, and he thought he could become a teacher in art
school in London. And so that was what he was planning, and then that we
maybe go back to England or he gets--maybe he could teach in Germany.

GROSS: Stu Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage after a series of
excruciating headaches.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

GROSS: When he was getting those headaches, did you think and did he think
that they were a symptom of something very serious?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No, not at all. Because, I mean, when you're so young, you
don't--or death doesn't occur to you at all. It's so far away. I mean, a
21-year-old boy, you never think that there's something very drastically
happening to him.

GROSS: So I think what happened is one day he collapsed?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah, he collapsed a couple of times in school, and they
brought him home. And the doctor came and he got X-rays. And when you
remember, in the '60s, X-rays was the only thing you could see as far as brain
surgery is concerned.

GROSS: There weren't MRIs or other imaging yet.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No, nothing.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: And then it went better for a short while. And then one day
my mother phoned me at work and said, `You've got to come home.' And, `Stuart
is not feeling well. They brought him home from school again.' And that's the
day he died.

GROSS: You were with him in the ambulance when he died.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: You know, you said that death doesn't occur to you when you're young,
but you had to deal with it. You must have been quite shocked.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Of course I was; but, you know, all my friends helped me an
awful lot. And first of all John did, you know, and George, the two of them.

GROSS: How did they help you?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, John, you know, John had a very funny way of telling
the people he loved what was going on. And one day he just said, `You have
got to decide if you want to live or die. There is no other question. And
you think about that and then we talk about it again.'

And George was just sweet. You know, the--not like John in a harsh way, but
the things that helped me was John.

GROSS: So you made the decision to go on.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes.

GROSS: And continued with your work as a photographer?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yes, yes.

GROSS: What were you photographing when The Beatles went back to England and
they were no longer your muse?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, you know, I was an assistant to a very famous German
photographer, and he had a big studio where we did advertising pictures and
portraits of famous musicians and things like that. You know, a real normal
photo studio. So I worked there, and next to it my boss let--I could take
pictures and develop them in his darkroom, which was absolutely great. So I
just wandered around and took pictures of my friends and things like that.
But the work was very, very hard and so I didn't have the time to take a lot
of pictures.

GROSS: The photos in your new book, "Yesterday: The Beatles Once Upon a
Time," are from 1964 when they were shooting "A Hard Day's Night." How did you
end up with them when they were shooting that?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, the magazine Sturm in Hamburg--maybe you know the
magazine--the chief photographer there was a friend of a friend of mine. And
so he knew that I was very close to The Beatles, and he asked me if I could
sort of act as a door opener for him to take pictures of The Beatles. And
because at that time, when they did "A Hard Day's Night," Brian Epstein
stopped all the press activities and no photos were allowed to be shot then.

So I phoned George--and, you know, George was always my sort of guardian
angel--and told him about it. And he said, `OK, you can come over if you they
pay you for it. Otherwise you can stay at home.' So I went to the Strum and
told them, and they gave me quite, for the '60's, quite a good amount of money
and then we went over. And George sent a chauffeur and they picked us up from
the airport. And I stayed with George and Ringo then at the time they were
making the film, so...

And then when we went to the movie and did all the shots of them acting and
relaxing and having fun, after that we went to Liverpool to meet Ringo's
father and mommy and Georgie's mom and dad.

GROSS: When you were in Liverpool, you or Max Scheler took a lot of
photographs of teenagers dressing like the Beatles.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And you're at a guitar shop where everybody seems to want to be...

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GROSS: There's crowds of people buying guitars.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Yeah.

GROSS: And these are all shots of the kind of influence that the success of
The Beatles and other British bands had had on teenagers. And you even took
an ad out in the paper. Describe what the ad said.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: So we put an ad in the Liverpool Echo, and Max wanted to have
all the little tiny bands, you know, even the very young bands, on that big
place in Liverpool and to take pictures. So he put an ad in the paper and
everybody was to get a pound or something. So we expected about five or six
people there; but when we arrived there, it was amazing. There were at least
60, 80 bands, even 10, 12-year-olds. So that was fun to do that picture.

GROSS: Did you get a chance to go to clubs in Liverpool? And was it
interesting for you to compare what popular culture and teenager-dom was like
in Liverpool compared to what you had experienced in Hamburg?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, the only place I went to in Liverpool was The Cavern,
which I thought was absolutely fantastic.

GROSS: That's a club. Why don't you describe it?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, it is--if you look in the book, there is pictures of
people standing in the row to go into something. And that is The Cabin Club.
And that's, I think it used to be old wine cellars, where they use to have the
wine, you know, the big barrels of wine. And they had a little stage, it was
very low and very narrow. So they had lunchtime sessions for little kids,
which went from, I think, 12:00 till 2. And that was the most amazing time
because the bands were about 12, 13, 14 years old or even younger, and the
crowds were even younger, too. So I took some great pictures of kids in
there.

GROSS: Are you still taking photographs?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No.

GROSS: Why not?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: No. Because, you know, when all these Beatle thing was going
on, nobody was interested in my other work. No one at all. They just said,
`Yeah, great, babe. Where are The Beatles' pictures?' And so I wasn't sure if
I'm really good or is it just The Beatles that made me sort of, in a way,
famous. And I wasn't sure anymore if I'm good or not, so I just gave it up.
That's it.

GROSS: What did you do instead?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Well, I was always an assistant to a photographer for another
20 or 30 years. And then I started interior design. And I just did things
which I liked to do, you know, which had at least fun.

GROSS: Just one last question, I'm kind of curious. How do you dress now?
What's your look now?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Still in black, and I've got very short hair.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Still like to wear leather pants, even--I'm going to be 70
next year. And, well, I try my best to look OK, you know?

GROSS: Still into long scarves?

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Mm, yeah, a little bit. But that is because they're
fashionable again. I wouldn't wear them if they don't--if they weren't
fashionable.

GROSS: I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. KIRCHHERR: Oh, it was lovely talking to you. Thank you very much.

GROSS: Astrid Kirchherr spoke to us from Hamburg, Germany. Some of her 1964
photos are included in the new book "Yesterday: The Beatles Once Upon a
Time."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Ed Ward tells how Vee-Jay records was destroyed by its
own success, and plays music from "The Definitive Collection"
TERRY GROSS, host:

It's not often that you hear of a record company being destroyed by success.
But that was the fate of one of America's most prominent blues, jazz and soul
labels, Vee-Jay Records. The music they recorded fell victim to legal
problems after the label's collapse and has been unavailable for years. But
now Vee-Jay has started a reissue program with Shout! Factory Records. And
today rock historian Ed Ward looks at the four disc box they've assembled,
which charts the rise and fall of this one-time giant.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ED WARD: In 1953 Vivian Carter Bracken and her husband James borrowed
$500 from a pawnbroker because they wanted to record a group they'd found in
Gary, Indiana, where they owned a record store. They took their initials, V
and J, and Vee-Jay records was born. Right away they has success, so much so
that they had to lease the record "Baby, It's You" by the Spaniels to another
label for distribution. But it was a top 10 hit, and by the time the group's
second record came out a year later the Brackens were on firmer financial
ground and had a crossover hit on their hands.

(Soundbite of "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight")

THE SPANIELS: (Singing) Da da da da dom
Goodnight, sweetheart, well it's time to go
Da da da da dom
Goodnight, sweetheart, well it's time to go
Da da da da
I hate to leave you, but I really must say,
Oh, goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight
Da da da da dom

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Naturally, this attracted attention. So when a Chicago
slaughterhouse worker named Jimmy Reed walked into their store asking to be
recorded after having been turned down by Chess, the biggest blues label in
town, they did a session with him. The first record they put out by him went
nowhere. But the second one was a top 10 R&B hit.

(Soundbite of "You Don't Have to Go")

Mr. JIMMY REED: (Singing) Oh, baby you don't have to go
Whoa, baby you don't have to go
I'm going to pack up, darlin'
Down the road I go

Well, I give all my money...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: With that, Vee-Jay was on the map. Another doo-wop group, the El
Dorados, took off soon afterwards with "At My Front Door," also known as
"Crazy Little Mama," which was a top 10 crossover hit. And the Brackens moved
their operation to Chicago. As it turned out there was talent all over the
place. And Chess, which was located just across the street from Vee-Jay for a
while, wasn't taking it all by any means. Perhaps because Vivian had a radio
background, she was able to get Ewart Abner, Chicago's top promotion man, to
join her team. Convincing her brother Calvin Carter to become the label's
talent scout was probably a bit easier.

While Chess continued to focus on blues, Vee-Jay knew that there was something
new happening. And in 1958 they discovered a group that not only recorded a
top 10 hit right out of the box, but became deeply associated with Chicago for
the next 40 years, The Dells.

(Soundbite of "Oh, What a Night")

Oh, what a night
To hold you near
Oh, what a night
To hold you near
Oh, what a night
To squeeze you dear
That's why I love you so

Oh, what a night...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: And if The Dells were a harbinger of soul music, the other group
they recorded that year was already making the transition.

(Soundbite of "For Your Precious Love")

Mr. JERRY BUTLER: (Singing) Your precious love
Means more to me
Than any love could ever be
For when I wanted you
I was so lonely and so blue
For that, but now will do
And darling, I...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Jerry Butler and The Impressions soon went their separate ways
with Butler staying on to become another Vee-Jay hit machine. Not that the
label gave up on classic doo-wop, recording one of the great cult masterpieces
of the genre.

(Soundbite of "Shombalor")

SHERIFF and the RAVELS: (Singing) Go left, right, left, right
Go left, right, left, right
Go left, right, left, right
Go left, right, left, right

Oh, lady, Shombalor, Shombalor
Oh, lady, Shombalor, Shombalor
(Unintelligible)
Chicken on the count now
Chicken on the catfish now
(Unintelligible)

Shombalor

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Nobody's quite sure what Sheriff and the Ravels are singing on
"Shombalor," although they are references to chicken knees and Nazis along the
way. Vee-Jay was also home to one of the last great doo-wop records, "Duke of
Earl" by Gene Chandler in 1961. By then Vee-Jay was one of America's top
labels with a strong jazz catalogue, some gospel groups and Jerry Butler,
Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Betty Everett cranking out hit after hit.

The first hint of disaster came in 1962 with their biggest record to date.

(Soundbite of "Sherry")

THE FOUR SEASONS: (Singing) Sherry, Sherry, baby
Sherry, Sherry, baby
Sherry, baby
Sherry, baby
Sherry, can you come out tonight?
Come, come, come out tonight

Sherry...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: The Four Seasons hit so big that Vee-Jay found themselves without
the money to pay for pressing more copies of their records, although they
stumbled along for a while. The worst thing they could have done would be to
sign another hit group, but they did. And what a group. Capitol Records had
already passed on their option to release The Beatles in America, but the
Brackens jumped at the chance. And "Please Please Me," and "From Me to You"
both came out on Vee-Jay followed by an album at the end of 1963. The Four
Seasons and the Beatles both went to greener pastures, and Vee-Jay wound up in
court, its day in the sun over.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He played music from "Vee-Jay: The
Definitive Collection," a boxed set of recordings from the catalogue of
Vee-Jay records.

Coming up, our linguist Geoff Nunberg tracks how the word "change" has been
used in politics. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Linguist Geoff Nunberg tracks how the word "change" has
been used in politics
TERRY GROSS, host:

Listening to the presidential candidates on both sides, you might think the
only issue facing the voters this year is who can be the most effective change
agent. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg has been tracking that odd term and has
these thoughts about what it says or doesn't say about the current state of
politics.

Mr. GEOFF NUNBERG: The most incisive summary I've seen of the current
electoral rhetoric was an editorial cartoon by Matt Davies that appeared in
last week's LA Times. A man is walking his dog past a lawn bristling with
signs that read "Huckabee for change," "Edwards for change," "Romney says
change in '08" and so forth. As he thinks to himself, "same old, same old."
Well, yes and no. It doesn't take a lot of political savvy to trot out the C
word when the current administration is unpopular, the economy's in freefall
and three quarters of the electorate say that the country is on the wrong
track. Change has always been the obvious card for nonincumbents to play,
whichever direction they have in mind to go.

When he first ran for president in 1992, Bill Clinton described himself as
"the change we need." Jimmy Carter billed himself in 1976 as "a leader for a
change." And in 1952 after 20 years of Democratic rule, the Republicans
campaigned for Eisenhower under the official slogan "it's time for a change,"
though the terser "I like Ike" proved handier for jingles and campaign
buttons.

But the language of change isn't quite the same now. In 1952 Eisenhower would
never have thought to describe himself as a change agent, which to most people
would have conjured up nothing more than a guy passing out coins at a booth in
the subway. Back then, change agent was still an obscure bit of social
science jargon for an innovator or what people now call an early adapter--the
first villager to buy a bicycle, the first doctor to try a new procedure.

By the 1980s it was showing up in corporate jargon with a somewhat grander
meaning as the trait that separates the managerial mice from men, or at least
that's how the story's told by the motivational writer Spencer Johnson in his
best-selling "Who Moved My Cheese?" The work is a 94-page fable set in a maze
inhabited by two mice and by two little humans named Hem and Haw who discover
one day that their daily ration of cheese is not in its customary place. They
whine and curse their fate until Haw realizes that they have to overcome their
debilitating fear of change and boldly resolve to seek out new cheese
elsewhere.

"Who Moved My Cheese?" has been a huge success with managers who don't seem
troubled by the analogy of workers to creatures hunting for cheese in a maze.
Since its publication in 1998, it has sold more than five million copies,
including carloads that were shipped to companies like Southwest Airlines and
General Motors for distribution to employees. Of course, employees may be a
little bit uneasy when copies of the book start to show up in their mailboxes
since they know that the change they're being encouraged to embrace will
likely come not in the abstract but as a plural noun, as in `we're going to be
making some changes around here.' That's not a sentence most people are happy
to hear these days, particularly if they happen to be working for an airline
or an automobile company.

Still, the label change agent has the heroic ring of other new corporate job
descriptions like champion, road warrior and thought leader. An age that's
turned CEOs into media icons, it suggests business success is a validation of
personal charisma and not simply competence. And modern managers are
naturally gratified by the suggestion that the challenge of constant change is
more urgent and daunting for them than it was in a leisurely day when Alfred
P. Sloan was running General Motors and FDR was running the country.

It was inevitable that the term would show up in politics, particularly as
both Republicans and Democrats took to talking about government in the
language of business so that every education or public health initiative had
to be justified as an investment in human capital. In fact, it isn't
surprising that the new Democrat Bill Clinton would become the first national
politician to describe himself as a change agent when he lost his run for the
presidency in 1991, at another moment of voter discontent with the economy and
the government.

In the present campaign nearly every candidate has claimed the change agent
label. And last week Bill Clinton upped the ante when he described Hillary
Clinton as a world class change agent.

It's a good bet that 50 years from now that phrase will be as evocative of the
Clinton era as `23 skidoo' is of the age of Warren Harding. Of course, any
label as accommodating as change agent is going to be wholly empty of
substantive meaning. It's a statement about your personality, not your plans
or programs. And the qualifications for the label are infinitely elastic.
You're a person who can make things change because you've been around or
because you're a fresh face, because you know Washington or because you're an
outsider, because you're tough or because you're flexible. When I hear
somebody described as a change agent, I can't help recalling the older meaning
of the term. As New Yorkers used to say, `that and a nickel will get you on
the subway.'

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist with the School of Information at the
University of California at Berkeley.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with a classic Frank Sinatra recording, "Nice and Easy." The lyric
is by Alan Bergman, the music was written by Lou Spence. Spence died last
week at the age of 87.

(Soundbite of "Nice 'n' Easy")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Let's take it nice and easy
It's going to be so easy
For us to fall in love

Hey, baby what's your hurry?
Relax, don't you worry
We're going to fall in love
We're on the road to romance
That's safe to say
But let's make all the stops along the way

The problem now, of course, is
To simply hold your horses
To rush would be a crime
`Cause nice and easy does it every time

We're on the road to romance...

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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