A previously unreleased letter that George Harrison wrote to Atlanta DJ Paul Drew in May of 1966 reveals that the Beatles seriously contemplated recording at Stax in Memphis with producer Jim Stewart before the plan was derailed by financial issues. “We would all like it a lot,” Harrison wrote by hand, “but too many people get insane with money ideas at the mention of the word ‘Beatles,’ and so it fell through!”
Word of the proposed Stax sessions has circulated before, but it was always said they pulled out due to security issues. It was also never known they contemplated working with Jim Stewart as opposed to George Martin, the only producer they’d ever worked with until the end of their career three years later.
The letter was recently put on sale by Los Angeles-based rock collectibles dealer Jeff Gold, who acquired it from Drew’s widow shortly after he passed away in 2013. “When I read the Stax part I was like, ‘What the hell is this?'” says Gold. “I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this stuff, and I knew it was a major revelation.”
The letter, which was postmarked May 7th, 1966, was written when the Beatles were in the early stages of recording Revolver. “The album we are making now should be out around October,” Harrison wrote. “But I hear Capitol will make an intermediate album with unused tracks from Rubber Soul, a few old singles and about two or three of the new tracks we have just cut…Well I am off to the studio any minute, as soon as John and Ringo arrive.” That “intermediate” album would eventually be released as Yesterday and Today.
“The general assessment is that Capitol did pretty much whatever they wanted with Beatles records,” Gold says. “To see that George had a very specific understanding of what Yesterday and Today was going to be before it came out was kind of a revelation too. It surprised me.”
Drew was a powerful radio DJ and program director who traveled with the Beatles on their 1964 and 1965 world tour and grew close to the group. Harrison began his letter by thanking him for sending over records by Edwin Starr and Mrs. Miller, the latter a largely forgotten American singer who released off-key rendition of songs like “Downtown” and “Moon River.”
Gold is selling the letter for $20,000, and he estimates it will move quickly. “It’s just so special,” he says. “More people collect the Beatles than anyone else. Bob Dylan is right up there, as are The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. It depends on what you find, but the Beatles are the most widely-collected artist.”