Ken Mansfield, the former US Manager for Apple Records, has a new book out entitled The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert. It’s a terrific read that recounts his time working with the Beatles, including being a few feet from the iconic band as they performed their final concert on the roof of 3 Savile Row in London on January 30, 1969. Below is a recent interview I conducted with Ken, where we talked about his new book and his time with the Fab Four.
Tell me about your connection with The Beatles.
I was at Capitol Records and I was the head of promotion for the West Coast. I worked with The Beatles in 1965 and 1966 on their West Coast tours and we became business associates and friends during that time. I was a young, sun-tanned guy with a house in Hollywood Hills with a pool. I was everything they grew up seeing as being the epitome of California. At Capitol Records, I was the only young guy working with them so it gave them somebody they could talk to. It was a stroke of luck that they were in my area and that this happened with us. We did press conferences and then they’d have a day off and they asked me, “Hey, why don’t you come and hang with us so we can ask you more questions?” There was something so natural about them and we just hung together.
How did you transition into becoming the US Manager of Apple Records?
This was 1965 and 1966 when I worked with them and then I didn’t hear from them for two years. Then I got a phone call asking if I’d come over to London to talk about setting up Apple Records in America. They asked for me because they knew me. During those two years, I had moved up within Capitol and they knew that. When I got back from the trip to London, I was told that they also wanted me to be the US Manager of their record company.
How did it feel to get such an important role? Was it overwhelming or were you ready for it?
This is when it started becoming overwhelming. The Beatles were 50% of Capitol’s income at the time. They were giants. I was told, “Don’t ask for permission. Don’t worry about your expense account. When it comes to The Beatles, keep it together. If that isn’t clear enough, when it comes to The Beatles there’s no margin for error.” Those were my marching orders from Capitol.
What was your typical day like?
It was amazing. It was chaos but people within Apple helped keep things organized. It was organized chaos. It was exciting, it was crazy, and it was nuts. You never knew what was going to happen next. You could be with The Beatles all day or with actors. You never knew what was going to happen. You just opened the door and away you went. What are your thoughts on each of The Beatles individually?
I think of them as if we were in high school. Paul was the most popular guy and he’d be President of the class. The heartthrob. And John would be the kind of guy standing by himself over at the Coke machine in the lunchroom eating a sandwich out of his hand. Ringo would be the class clown, pulling tricks on people. And George would be the quiet guy you’d want to be friends with. There was a gentle accessibility about him.
They were four equal partners, which meant I had four bosses. That was kind of crazy. If three of them said one thing and the other said something different, I’d have to make sure they were all happy. They were four businessmen that always showed up on time to meetings.
George and I became close over the years. And I partied with Ringo a lot. John was the guy I never really got to know. I never knew how he felt. He had this Johnny Cash or James Dean type distance about him. Paul was the one responsible for bringing me in. He came to LA and we spent a lot of time together. He was a playful guy. Over time, I became friends with George and Ringo because they were in LA a lot. Then, eventually, everyone moved on from one another. I haven’t talked to Paul in decades and Ringo and I drifted apart because I moved.
How long were you the US Manager of Apple Records?
I did that for two years. Then toward the end of 1970 we knew they were breaking up. I was asked to come to MGM to be a Vice President so I went to join Ron Kass, the new President there, along with other guys that worked with The Beatles. Even after they broke up, they’d still call me individually for advice or recommendations on a variety of topics just because they were used to it.
What inspired you to write your newest book, The Roof: The Beatles Final Concert?
It’s something I didn’t plan on writing about but over the years people kept asking me, “Why don’t you write about the roof?” I took a very different angle with this book. It’s very personal and it’s about being inside the building. The feelings we had. The emotions we had. Starting off in LA, going to London and culminating on the roof with The Beatles. I wanted to give people that insider’s point-of-view.What has the feedback been so far as it relates to your new book?
The feedback has been great. People are really liking it and telling me how different it is from other books about The Beatles. It’s not a book of facts. It’s about the people, the emotions, and the time period we were in. The whole establishment of Apple, The Beatles becoming businessmen, and the dynamics on the roof that day.
Where were you when John was assassinated and how did you find out about the news?
I had a new office and decided to put up some gold records and photos. I reached into this box and a picture of John felt out onto the floor and he was looking up at me. It was a picture that John had sent me and he had written on it something like “I’m in Savile Row now.” Then the phone rang and I got a call from Nick Gilder, who had a #1 hit with “Hot Child in the City.” He was crying and I said, “Why are you crying?” He told me what happened to John and I said, “OK. Let me call you back. I need to absorb this.” I hung up the phone and look down and there’s John looking at me from the floor. Whoa. I had a sense of loss that wasn’t personal for me, it was a universal loss. What we all lost and weren’t going to hear or see in the future. The Beatles weren’t going to reunite. That was it. It was an overwhelming experience and I felt like everybody else felt.