November 21, 2009

It was November 22, 1963 and I had been preparing to record the entire “Midnight Mary” album during the four day weekend. I’d been flying to Columbus, Ohio every week to rehearse Joey Powers, who was going for his Masters Degree at Ohio State.

That night, as Al Gorgoni put some finishing touches on the arrangements, and Jeannie Thomas polished the background parts for her and Lettie Hamblet. Our usual crew of musicians, augmented with Paul Simon and Roger McGuinn on 12 string guitars, was going over the charts for the first session, due to start in a half-hour.

Joey Powers and I were riding into the city from the airport, listening to a new record by the Beatles, “I Want To Hold Your Hand!” on the radio. Suddenly, the announcer interrupts with a terrible unconfirmed report from Washington. By the time we walk into the studio and see the tears in everybody’s eyes, we know it was true, “President Kennedy had been shot!

Joey Powers recalls, “You met me at LaGuardia and had a cab waiting to go to the city. You are very nervous and keep looking away from me. The cabdriver is listening to the news on his radio, but I’m preoccupied with studying the music and not paying much attention.

Then you finally say the President has been shot. It happened during my flight so I was completely in the dark. I’m in such shock up that I don’t think I can do the album!”

The mood in the entire nation is somber, and the collective grief in the studio over the next few days is overwhelming, but we have a deadline to meet. Al Gorgoni keeps the session moving, while Jeannie Thomas comforts us all. “What a sad day is. It takes the wind out of all of us and takes us a while to get back to working. Even when we do, it’s with a very heavy heart. but we finish the tracks over the next three days.”

Gorgoni recalls, “I guess concentrating on meeting the deadline was a good way for me to avoid the emotion evoked by such a tragedy. After one of the sessions I recall a conversation with Roger McGuinn about where Folk music was heading. He predicted the whole Electric Folk Rock thing that blossomed a while later when he formed The Byrds.

Imagine being in the studio with Roger McGuinn and Paul Simon, who had started to record the “Wednesday Morning 3AM album”. They were about to help establish a whole new stream of Pop music. Artie certainly could recognize talent. Even through all the sadness I was happy to be there.”

Amy Records promotion man Freddie DeMann drops by, but even his usual “Shtick”, can’t lighten things up. Larry Uttal comes by as well, but he can’t even make it in to the studio and breaks down in the hall. He says just before he leaves, “I don’t know how you guys can do it.”


In between the tracking and overdubbing sessions, Joey and I go down to WPIX TV, where Joey tapes the Clay Cole Dance show. Clay is old friend of Joeys’, who once worked with him as an NBC page. In between takes, the mood is dark and apprehensive, while we watch all the footage of the assassination as it comes into the newsroom unedited.

As we watch the surreal events unfold, I have images forever etched in my memory, including the entire 8mm Abraham Zapruder home movie clip of the Presidential Procession, in which the President is getting his head shot off! The entire staff keeps watching the tape over and over again, getting more and more depressed. I don’t know how they’re ever going to be able to show this to the public. Finally, we decide to call it a night, and arrange for Joey to come in the next day to finish up his segment with Clay.

It’s hard not to think about this history changing event, and stay positive the next day. As soon as Joey is finished lip synching “Midnight Mary”, and doing an interview with Clay, we all go into the control room. Everyone is crowded around a monitor and watch the assassination of alleged JFK killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, by Texas night club owner, Jack Ruby!

Stunned by another history altering day, everyone wondered what could happen next? Joey and I rush back to the studio to finish up his vocals before he has to catch a plane back to Ohio. Exhausted, I fall asleep in the cab on the way back home to the Bronx, while on the radio, Murray the K plays “This Boy” by The Beatles.”

Copyright 2009 by Artie Wayne  from his  forthcoming book, “I Did It For A Song”

After sending my friend Clay Cole my account of the events of 45 years ago, he e-mailed me back, “Damn, Artie! Thanks for the refresher. I blanked out on that memory….. that JFK nightmare dooms any good memories of that day”





  1. S.J. Dibai Says:

    Wow, that is an amazing piece. It’s unbelievable how the assassination of our president didn’t even slow the pace of the music business! And the timing of this blog is veeeeeeery interesting for a few reasons. I was just thinking about the John F Kennedy assassination this afternoon, not realizing it was the anniversary. Earlier today I was reading about Freddy DeMann being fired as Michael Jackson’s manager, and then when I saw your link to this blog, I was listening to Michael. This afternoon I was also reading an issue of “Rolling Stone” from a few years ago in which Maroon 5’s Adam Levine was sharing memories of seeing Paul Simon in concert. There might be even more (ahem) “coincidences” if I keep looking….

  2. Ed Odel Says:

    The Byrds included a recording of “He Was a Friend of Mine” on their 1965 album, Turn! Turn! Turn!. In The Byrds’ version, the song’s melody is altered and the lyrics are changed to lament the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The band’s lead guitarist, Jim McGuinn, rewrote the song’s lyrics in 1963 to give it a more contemporary slant and transform it into a eulogy for President Kennedy. McGuinn explained the origins of the song in interview, saying “I wrote the song the night John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I suppose you could say it’s one of the earliest Byrds songs. The arrangement used was as I’d always sung it. I just thought it was a good idea to include it on the Turn! Turn! Turn! album.” Due to the extensively rewritten lyrics of The Byrds version, the songwriting credit for the track is listed as “Trad. Arr. McGuinn”.

  3. Tom Taber Says:

    Great memory, but there is practically zero chance you heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” then in NYC – supposedly a girl got a British copy to a Washington, DC station in early December for its first US airplay… Life magazine bought the Zapruder film and had an exclusive on it for some time, and didn’t at the time show the frame where the president’s head was hit.

  4. Bob Purse Says:

    Agreed – great post. But I also had the same thought about “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. The Beatles did not have any single being promoted in the US in November of 1963, and “Hand” wasn’t released in Britain until 11/29. It literally would not have been available to an American DJ at that point.

    It began getting airplay in NYC about ten days before Christmas, and was released by Capitol on 12/26.

    • Artie Wayne Says:

      Tom…Bob…After experiencing exhaustion and falling asleep often on late night cab trips from Manhattan to the Bronx, I obviously confused the trip I wrote about with one that happened at a later time.

      Thanks and regards, Artie

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