The Beatlefan Family Remembers John Sosebee

John Sosebee (from left), Bill King and Mark Gunter at the Cutty Sark Pub in Greenwich.

As the years have rolled by, Leslie and I have had a few valued contributors to Beatlefan pass on. Considering we started publishing Beatlefan 44 years ago this month, that’s not surprising.

However, I don’t think the death of any of the contributors to our magazine has hit me as hard as losing John Sosebee.

Affectionately known to friends as “Slick,” John was a longtime contributing editor for Beatlefan, and most recently reviewed the 3-disc Blu-ray collector’s edition of “The Beatles: Get Back” in Issue #257. He also reviewed the Criterion 4K UHD and Blu-ray of “A Hard Day’s Night” in #255.

Beyond that, John was a renowned collector of rare Beatles audio and video. If you wanted to track down something in that area of collecting, John was your man.

He also was one of my dearest friends. We shared many adventures through the years, searching out rare records and traveling widely to see shows by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, on what John’s sister, Angie Spain, called his “lifelong magical mystery tour.”

John’s 1984 passport photo.

Through the years, John and I traveled to London, New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Tennessee seeing Paul or Ringo.

His first trip to the U.K. for some “Beatling,” as we called it, came in 1984, when he came over with his lifelong friend Taylor Dickson. John called it the realization of a “lifelong dream.” Leslie and I already were there for a long visit with family, and we got together with John and Taylor for dinner. John later remembered that the menu had “prawns” listed, which was the first time he’d ever heard that alternate name for shrimp, one of his favorite delicacies. John also liked to joke that every dinner he was served on the trip featured that staple of English cuisine, green peas!

Also sharing many of John’s Beatles-related adventures was our longtime mutual friend Mark Gunter, manager of Fantasyland Records in Atlanta, another Beatlefan contributor, and the person who introduced me to John in 1980, when a group of fans came over to the apartment Leslie and I were living in at the time, to hook up our VCRs and dub rare Beatles video!

John, Mark and I traveled to the U.K. in 1990 to see two of McCartney’s shows at Wembley Arena, and we also hit all the Beatles-related landmarks in the British capital.

John Sosebee and Bill King the younger outside the Hard Rock in Myrtle Beach, SC.

As John recalled, we not only saw Macca a couple of times, we survived a storm with hurricane force winds, a poltergeist in an East London pub on a Jack the Ripper tour and several pints of lager ‘n’ lime in the Cutty Sark pub in Greenwich, where the picture at the top of this article was taken. Good times. Good memories. Great friends.

During one weekend on that trip, I was off to Wales to visit uncles and aunts and cousins, while John and Mark traveled by train from London to Liverpool, to see Beatles sites there.

They also teamed up on a day trip I’d already done with Leslie on a previous visit. Recalled Mark: “We took a bus trip from London out to Bath, to see the ancient Roman baths. We never made it, due to all the roads blocked by fallen trees from a storm.” However, they still had a memorable time when the bus stopped at an ancient country pub. The power was out, but the owner used a gas stove to heat up soup and bread for everyone.

Besides hitting Savile Row, Soho Square and all the usual Beatles sites on that trip, we went to Cavendish Avenue, near Abbey Road Studios, where Paul’s house is located. Then, we got the bright idea to go down a street behind the house. Finding some high ground, we managed to look into Paul’s backyard and see the meditation dome where he and the other Beatles once posed during a photo shoot. That was pretty cool.

Mark, John and Bill before a 2014 McCartney concert in Atlanta.

Also on that trip, we decided to stop into a pub serving a ploughman’s lunch, a British favorite traditionally consisting of bread, cheese, maybe meat, pickled onions and perhaps a hard-boiled egg.

Mark saw what he thought was a bowl of salt on the bar, so he spooned a little onto his egg. We found out why the bartender gave him such a strange look when he discovered it wasn’t salt in the bowl, but sugar! Decades later, we still were laughing about the infamous “sugared egg.”

Mark had to leave early on that trip to return home, and John and I did a bit more Beatling after he was gone. We also discovered Geales, which for many years was a beloved seafood spot in the famous London neighborhood Notting Hill. As John later recalled, “I think I had cod and chips, and kept my eye on that damn cat wandering through the dining room, looking for a handout.”

John and I also were part of a group that took a long car trip in the spring of 1993, following McCartney’s New World Tour. We hit shows in New Orleans, Memphis and St. Louis, before returning to Atlanta for Paul’s concert there, and then followed him to Columbia, SC (with my son Bill in tow), and then on to Orlando. Later in that tour, we hit shows in New Jersey and Charlotte.

Olivia King with John at her brother Bill’s wedding in 2018.

That tour produced several favorite John stories. One involves John and I attending Paul’s show at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, where we had excellent Fun Club seats down on the field, up close.

Down at field level, they were selling vegetarian hot dogs and hamburgers. I bought one of the “Paul Dogs,” took a bite and spat it out. I said to John, “I’m not eating that. Let’s go get some pizza.” So, we did.

Unfortunately, John already had downed one of the veggie burgers. The people of a town in Arkansas regretted that the next day, when we were on the road to St. Louis and the wrath of the veggie burger hit John while we were at a Hardee’s. After John came out of the men’s room, a guy went in … and immediately came out! We laughed about it all the way to St. Louis.

Another favorite John story came from that stop in St. Louis. After visiting the arch, a group of fans went to a nearby restaurant, and a wiseass in the group was asking the waiter silly questions. After the waiter left, John hissed: “Don’t fuck with the waiter until the food is on the table!” Words to live by.

Al Sussman (left) with Lisa and John Sosebee at the King familys wedding rehearsal dinner.

Another favorite John tale is from our visit to New Jersey, to see Paul at Giants Stadium. My brother Tim, who roomed with John for a few years, was along on the trip, as he and I were going to see Paul’s soundcheck, courtesy of the folks at LIPA, back in the days before they started selling tickets to those rehearsals.

Anyway, we stayed at a Meadowlands hotel not far from the stadium. We went down to the hotel front desk to inquire whether there was any sort of shuttle to the stadium, and a clerk told us to wait out front for a van that would arrive shortly.

When the van pulled up, Tim and John and I climbed in, and the driver headed for Giants Stadium. I’ll never forget looking behind me and seeing several musical instrument cases labeled “1 Soho Square.”

Yes, we inadvertently had gotten into the MPL van, which not only took us to the stadium, but pulled slowly through the gate into the backstage area. Some fans we knew were gathered at the gate for the “limo watch,” and the looks on their faces as they recognized us in Paul’s van, were priceless!

Lisa Sosebee, Jenny Robb-King, John and Bill King at Bill and Jenny’s wedding.

One of our other Beatles-related trips was in 1997, when John joined Leslie and me and our son for the drive from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach, SC, where Ringo and his All Starr Band were performing at the Palace Theatre.

I had a jaw ache from a tooth I’d end up getting replaced, and John was hobbling around on a knee with torn cartelage in it, so we were passing around a bottle of Ibuprofen during that trip. Some of my favorite photos of John, two of which are reproduced here, have him cutting up with young Bill.

John first got to know Bill when our son was just a few weeks old, and Bill immediately proceeded to spit up milk on John’s shoulder. “He marked me for life,” John used to joke.

On another trip with John, for a Ringo show at a casino in Mississippi, we stayed in Memphis. Young Bill was along for that trip, too, and, naturally, we went to Sun Studios, Beale Street and Graceland. After we got back home, I was showing my daughter, Olivia, who was 5 at the time, some of our photos from the trip. We came to one from Graceland and I said, “That’s brother in front of Elvis’ grave.”

Olivia’s eyes got wide, her jaw dropped and she gasped incredulously: “Elvis is DEAD??!!”

John, Al, Bill, Tim King, Jonathan King and Leslie at the wedding rehearsal.

I’ve told that story many times through the years, but John always got a big kick out of it.

John was close to our son and daughter, and he was so proud to be at young Bill’s wedding in 2018. As John’s wife Lisa told me the day after he passed, “He thought so much of your kids, and was always keeping me up to date on their accomplishments, like a proud uncle!”

Not surprisingly, the kids and I spent a good bit of time the night after John’s death, fondly reminiscing about him.

Another longtime Beatlefan contributor, Tom Frangione, grew very close to John over the years, and called him “a dear friend, and kindred spirit.”

Tom recalled that, “as a fellow fan and collector, his generosity was unrivaled, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy ‘sharing the bounty’ that has enriched our record collections and our lives.”

John also was a lover of Southern barbecue, and that figures into another of Tom’s favorite memories of him. Recalled Tom: “After celebrating my 50th birthday with him in Nashville, catching Ringo at the Ryman, our mutual love of good barbecue rounded out the proceedings quite nicely!”

John onstage at the Ryman during a tour.

Another couple of Beatlefan stalwarts, Al Sussman and Brad Hundt, also remember John sharing what he found. Al praised “Slick’s generosity in taking time to dub off and send out CDs of virtually any collector-oriented Beatle material.”

Added Brad: “I met John for the first time in 1986. One of the things that was thrilling for me, when I moved to Atlanta to attend college, was coming in contact with a community of knowledgeable Beatles fans — I was pretty much alone on that score in the Ohio suburb I grew up in. I spent an enjoyable evening chatting with John at the home of a fellow fan, and also recall having a good conversation with him outside the Fox Theatre in Atlanta in 1988, at the local premiere of the ‘Imagine: John Lennon’ movie. More recently, he copied some hard-to-find discs for me, so I could review them for Beatlefan. He was a good guy.”

Former Atlanta record store owner Glenn Neuwirth was only 14 when he first met John at the 1978 Beatlefest in Atlanta. “I remember John being extremely nice and patient with me,” he said.

Glenn approached John and me and the late Nicholas Schaffner at the Fest, wanting to talk about the alleged “Paul Is Dead” clues. “The fact that older Beatles fans would take the time with me to find out my thoughts was, in my mind, very impressive,” Glenn said. He noted that Nick and I mostly seemed bemused by him, but “John somehow seemed to know what was in store for this young, second-generation fan that even I didn’t know.”

Joking around with young Bill in Myrtle Beach.

Another Beatles fan, Linda Robbins, got to know John via trading bootlegs. As she recalled, “we started emailing each other and our friendship grew.”

She later met up with John and his wife several times, and considered him “one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I have known.”

In later years, one of the things that friends and family admired most about John was that he never let becoming a double amputee keep him from living a full life. As a result of diabetes, he had one leg amputated below the knee in 1999, and the same was done to the other leg 20 years later. John was in a wheelchair (he hated it, preferring to use prostheses) when we had our last concert outing together, attending an Atlanta show by Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Before that show, Leslie and I shared a meal with Lisa and John in a nearby CNN Center restaurant. It was the last time we ever saw John in person, and the last time I got to hug him.

John had to go into dialysis treatment after the second amputation, but, Lisa told me, “it never slowed him down … he took it all in stride. Every doctor or nurse had commented on his positive attitude, and his pleasant nature.”

Bill and John, headed off to another McCartney concert in 2017.

Besides The Beatles, he loved Georgia Bulldogs football (still proudly wearing his UGA T-shirts and caps, even after he moved to Alabama), playing slot machines and blackjack, and enjoyed music and concerts in general, Lisa remembered. He was a big fan of Fleetwood Mac, and, in fact, Mark said that the day before he died, John was texting about getting a special Record Store Day Fleetwood Mac release.

John also was supportive of others’ musical interests. They weren’t his taste, Lisa recalled, but “he tolerated KC & the Sunshine Band, ZZ Top and Tim McGraw for me,” and enjoyed traveling to Nashville with her to see country shows. Actually, John got a big kick out of getting to tour Ryman Auditorium, the original Grand Ole Opry venue, on one of those trips.

John and Mark and I frequently used to have dinner together when John still lived in metro Atlanta (where he was born and raised), but after he moved to Alabama to marry Lisa in 2004, the occasions when we got together were few, and treasured. On one of them, as we dined in the food court at CNN Center before another McCartney concert, my daughter insisted on getting a shot of the three amigos together again, to go with the framed shot we had at home from the 1990 British trip. That was 2014, and I think it was the last time all three of us were together.

As Mark recalled, “After he moved to Alabama, we stayed in touch by sending each other surprises in the mail. I’d send him U.K. music magazines I’d see at the bookstore, with Beatles or Fleetwood Mac cover stories. Things he couldn’t find in Alabama. He’d send me rare bootleg CDs and DVDs that he somehow came up with. I have two shoe boxes filled with what he sent me.”

Added Mark: “I can count on one hand the number of close friends I’ve had in my life. He was one of them.”

I know how Mark feels. John was like a brother to me, and I loved him.

He will be missed.

Bill King