Beatlemania is alive, says Bob Kealing, author of “Good Day Sunshine State: How the Beatles Rocked Florida.” Kealing will discuss the recently published book at Orange County Regional History Center as part of its ongoing Brechner Lecture Series on Sunday.
The talks at the downtown Orlando museum currently concentrate on the impact of music in Florida.
The work by Kealing focuses on 1964, a time of political and social upheaval. Kealing, a former broadcast journalist with WESH-Channel 2, uses interviews with 30 people who knew the band members — Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — at that time.
“These are people who had real-life interactions and encounters — much more than that — with the Beatles during this critical phase in 1964,” he says.
He talked with members of Beatles opening acts, including Reggie Young of Bill Black’s Combo (“Smokie, Part 2″) and Lillian Walker-Moss from the Exciters (”Tell Him”).
He also interviewed Larry Kane, the 21-year-old radio journalist who met the Beatles in Miami and ended up with the band throughout the 1964 and 1965 tours. Kealing heard from Debra Nelson, a former Seminole County judge, who in the 1960s, lived next door to Buddy Dresner, who acted as the Beatles bodyguard in Miami.
“Good Day Sunshine State” is divided into sections on innocence, influence and activism, Kealing says.
In February 1964, the Beatles flew to Miami to make their second appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” That program was broadcast from Miami Beach’s Hotel Deauville.
“They loved it so much they stayed an extra week to vacation and write songs,” Kealing says. “It turns out they spend more time in Florida than anywhere else in North America in ‘64.”
In September of that year, the Beatles were scheduled to perform at Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl. But Hurricane Dora forced a detour to Key West. There the group announced it would not play before a segregated audience.
“To be so brash as to say, ‘You know what? If that Gator Bowl show is segregated, we’re not going to play’ — that’s risky stuff for a band that still could have been here today and gone today,” Kealing says.
“It’s just hard to believe that they were so young, but I think that’s a really compelling aspect of the book,” he says. Starr, the oldest Beatle, was 24 at the time of the Jacksonville performance, the group’s only concert in history in Florida.
Kealing’s research included access to the Hard Rock collection and Flagler College’s digital civil rights collection.
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“There’s a lot of heavy stuff. I wouldn’t want people to think it’s just a nostalgia trip, but there’s plenty of that,” Kealing said.
“I really liked the chapter about their influence in and around Gainesville on young musicians like Tom Petty. And I get to interview Tom Leadon, who was with Petty and Mudcrutch and Bernie Leadon, one of the founders of the Eagles, and some pretty significant musicians who talked about the Beatles’ influence,” Kealing says.
Kealing’s personal dealings with the Beatles include an encounter with Starr in Nashville and more contemporary concerts, including McCartney at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. That performance was two hours, 45 minutes plus a 30-minute soundcheck in the Florida sun.
“Paul was magnificent … and just about to turn 80,” Kealing says.
“It is fun to have these as a way to bring the book to a close, to kind of make the point that Beatlemania is still very much alive and well,” he says.
Kealing’s talk at the history center is 2 p.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. The speaker series is free, although registration is requested. To register, go to thehistorycenter.org and click on “events.”
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