Review: Mal Evans book, Living The Beatles Legend, provides the missing puzzle piece to Beatles history

At over 500 pages, the new book, Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans, will take months and even years for Beatles fans to digest. We finally have the missing puzzle piece to the Beatles story. Here was a man — The Beatles’ long-time roadie, personal assistant, and devoted friend — that witnessed practically every moment in the Beatles’ career. As a result, Evans became a true insider and eyewitness to history, and some say, The Sixth Beatle!

Author Ken Womack took on a ginormous task to organize and compile Mal Evans’ personal diaries, manuscripts and memorabilia. In fact, the second volume of this Mal Evans project will be released in 2024, which is a book that will contain Mal’s diaries, manuscripts, more photos and other artifacts from his time working for The Beatles. Meanwhile, the biography in this first volume, which includes numerous unseen photos and correspondence, combines Mal’s unpublished archives with hundreds of new interviews to fill in any gaps.

Womack, who is a professor of English and Popular Music at Monmouth University in New Jersey, only started this project three years ago in 2020. Mere mortals may not have been able to complete a project like this in such a short amount of time, but luckily Womack was able to build a team of students to transcribe Mal’s manuscripts and organize the photographs.

“Mal saved virtually everything he could get his hands on,” Womack explained, “from personal mementos and song lyrics to receipts and rafts of correspondence” including “more than 2,000 photographs and several hundred thousand words associated with his memoirs and diaries.”

This book is desperately needed to offer a counterbalance to the disjointed individual memories of John, Paul, George and Ringo. As evident in The Beatles Anthology, there were many times where they could not all agree on what had happened. They all remembered things differently, and obviously could only see things through their own perspective as each band member represented only one of the four points of view. Now with Mal’s account, we have someone who was watching all four of The Beatles at the same time – the literal fly on the wall!

One momentous event in which this can be illustrated is when The Beatles met Elvis Presley in 1965. Putting aside the fact that Womack oddly names this chapter in his book “The Elvis Situation” and leads the chapter off with this sentence: “So began one of the strangest series of events in Mal’s, and the Beatles’, story,” this reviewer was ecstatic to hear Mal’s account of that infamous night.

In The Beatles Anthology, Ringo Starr claimed that he never jammed with Elvis. In addition, George Harrison proclaimed to Paul and Ringo in the 1995 Anthology, “I never jammed with Elvis at all.” 

“No, John said he did,” replied Paul McCartney.

“It must have been when we went out of the room,” Harrison said sarcastically.

While The Beatles recollections were based on memories from 30 years prior, Mal Evans had kept real-time diaries throughout his time with The Beatles. Womack’s book includes information from Evans’ diaries from 1963 to 1974.  Additionally, as listed in the book’s bibliography, Evans also had specific notebooks for the years 1966, 1967-1968, and 1975. Mal also had an unpublished manuscript from 1965 entitled “Beatles–U.S.A.” which is where some of his remarks about what happened when Elvis met The Beatles were gleaned from.

“If there is one day in my life I shall never forget,” Evans wrote, “it is the day when the two biggest phenomena in showbiz met for the one and only time.” Describing when they first walked into Presley’s home in Los Angeles, Mal recalls McCartney saying: “This Is your number-one fan, El, and he’s with us.” 

“Elvis played a whole lot of albums,” Mal described, “many of them the Beatles, but modestly, perhaps, did not play any of his own. The noise was terrific, the drinks were flowing, the talk was animated, and, as I say, it was just like being at home with the lads from Liverpool.”

Evans confirmed the experiences of several of Presley’s friends that were there that night as well as the sole journalist present, NME’s Chris Hutchins, when he wrote: “El found some guitars for John, George, and Paul and a set of bongo drums for Ringo, and they began to make the place rock with an hour of improvised beat music. It was fabulous.”

The night The Beatles met Elvis, August 27, 1965

What made it extra noteworthy for Mal is that they all looked to him when they realized they needed guitar picks, or “plectrums” as they are called in the UK.

“Mal’s got a pick,” said Paul, “He’s always got picks. He carries them on holidays with him.” Unfortunately, Mal did not have any picks with him that night. As a result, he hurried to the kitchen and tried to smash up some plastic spoons to create makeshift picks. 

This is just one example of how important Mal’s perspective is to the annals of Beatles history. “It was certainly exciting,” Mal said about his life and times with The Fab Four. “I could live on it. It is better than food and drink.”

It is interesting to note the role that Yoko Ono played in this project. After Mal’s long-lost archives had been missing for 22 years after his untimely death in 1976, an office temp at a New York City publishing house found the materials by chance in a storage room. She reached out to Yoko Ono who obliged to help return the materials to Mal’s family. The law firm representing Apple Corps took the lead on behalf of Yoko (referred to as “the hero of Mal’s story” by Womack) and Neil Aspinall to retrieve possession of these materials that had belonged to Mal. 

“Without these interventions,” Womack explained, “we would know virtually nothing about Mal’s life and times, especially his final years.” As a result, Evans’ son, Gary, feeling that the time was finally right, granted access of these materials to Womack to share them with the world.

Congrats to Womack for accomplishing this daunting task of publishing Mal Evans’ story. You could say Womack’s career as an author has been building up to this moment. Ranging from an insightful article about the Beatles’ recording career published 21 years ago in Daytrippin’ magazine (see below) to the multiple Beatle books published since then (including the two-volume biography of Beatles producer George Martin), Womack has hit a climactic point with the Evans book that will become a vital part to recounting The Beatles’ history.

What was so great about Mal Evans is that he worked so hard for The Beatles because he was a fan. As a result, “having Mal at the band’s beck and call meant that The Beatles could work longer and harder, knowing that Mal was there to see to their every need throughout the long nights at Abbey Road Studios,” Womack explained. “In his own way, Mal was an essential ingredient in popular music’s greatest and most lasting creative fusion.”

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Note: Daytrippin’ is proud to say that, early in his career, author Ken Womack contributed the cover story in the Fall 2002 issue of the magazine entitled “The Top 10 Beatle Musical Moments in the Recording Studio”.

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This review was written by the editor of Daytrippin’, Trina Young. Trina is the author of four books including, ELVIS and THE BEATLES.


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