“I’ll never stop acknowledging it: Black music is my life,” he told Jet magazine in 1972. “The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper and all that jazz – it doesn’t mean a thing. All I talk about is 1958 when I heard [Little Richard‘s] ‘Long Tall Sally,’ when I heard [Chuck Berry‘s] ‘Johnny Be Good,’ when I heard Bo Diddley. That changed my life completely.”
To that point, Lennon had been focused on studies at Liverpool College of Art. He met Paul McCartney in the summer of 1957, during a performance by Lennon’s Quarrymen skiffle group at St. Peter’s Church. McCartney joined the lineup in October, followed by George Harrison in February. The nucleus for the Beatles was in place. “I dropped my art, I dropped out of school,” Lennon said. “I dropped everything. I got me a guitar and that was the end of it.”
The Beatles remained tied into the music emerging from black America throughout those early years, incorporating key tracks into their set lists – and, just as importantly, its sounds into the fledgling group’s songs. Lennon noted that they weren’t alone.
Berry, Lennon said, “is the greatest influence on Earth. So is Bo Diddley and so is Little Richard. There is not one white group on Earth that hasn’t got their music in them – and that’s all I ever listened to,” he added. “The only white I ever listened to was [Elvis] Presley on his early music records, and he was doing black music. Presley was in Memphis; obviously, he was listening to the [black] music. I don’t blame him for wanting to be that music. I wanted to be that.”
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