Who Really Broke Up The Beatles? The Johnny Brower Story

1969 this track was bleachers and entrance
Varsity Stadium in 2013
As I scanned the smattering of people seated just outside the fencing at Toronto's Varsity Stadium, I didn't notice Johnny Brower there, the man irreversibly tied to the break up of The Beatles, so I wandered over to what looked like was the main entrance and had a gander. The vibrant colours of the now, sports-only field, provided contrast to the current old greyish non-nondescript metal and wood doors, which I suspect still look pretty much like they did when Brower, along with partner Kenny Walker, hosted the concert that would be come to be known as the one that broke up The Beatles, The Toronto Rock n Roll Revival . Not Paul Mcartney, who'd preempted the imminent announcement from John Lennon by making his own declaration first - knowing the inevitable.

Lucky Ladybug
Johnny Brower
On my second swing by I spied him, wearing a blue toque that stood out on a not that cold day, likely to get my attention, but, at first, it had done the opposite as I hadn't been expecting it. Ha! But I did know what he looked like from the Pop69 Movie Party ,so, when our eyes met, I offered up, "Johnny!", and after a hint of recognition and shaking of hands, the first thing he said in his gruff raspy voice was, "A ladybug", pointing to his arm where one lay, "Good luck. That's a good sign for the movie", the obviously superstitious legendary promoter said, now with a hint of accent. Sun state no doubt.

Rare Beatle's Art Showing
Brower greets guest at Pop69 gala
Gazing around at the former location where the famous 12 hour festival was held, Johnny pointed out the entry gate location where people came through that Sept 13th day of 1969, offering that a track now lies in place of where the bleachers once were - which adorn just the east section now.

He was complimentary of the new sports field though. Still, as he described what it used to look like as an open field surrounded by seating on three sides, I got the sense J.B.thought they missed an opportunity for it's use as a concert venue over the years with this new design.
CanWood's Gordon Weiske & Billy Talent's Ian D'sa at Pop69 Party

Shortly in, he took a call from what sounded like one of the guys from back in the day, as he'd chuckled, " Hey, I was just talking about you..." Whoever it was could be represented in the Pop69 movie ,which is being developed by CanWood Entertainment, about this famous part of what has become world music history.

Some guys you can never turn off the wheeler-dealer, promo mentality, and I suspect Brower's one of those. His passion for rock & roll is obvious as he speaks, and it's history and his part in it are fascinating as well - which all came together this day in a nice bundled package.

Toronto's Rock N Roll Revival concert was headlined by The Doors but also featured Bo Diddley, Chicago Transit Authority, Tony Joe White, Alice Cooper, Jerry-Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, Gene Vincent, Junior Walker & The All-Stars, Little Richard, Doug Kershaw, Screaming Lord Sutch, Nucleus, Milkwood and Whiskey Howl - the only "local band. Alice Cooper's group was the backing band for Gene Vincent, while local act Nucleus provided support for Chuck Berry, and The Doors closed out the festival.

The then 20,00 seat Varsity Stadium attendees had no idea that John Lennon was even coming, and, if not for a smooth talking Johnny Brower in a phone call to Eric Clapton - who then relayed to Lennon that it was too late to cancel when he asked to on the day of the concert - they'd of been none the wiser! I can just imagine J.B.'s poker face as he deadpanned his position to Clapton that Johnny'd have to leave the country if they cancelled. But, sure enough, flanked by Johnny B himself and 80 Bikers from The Vagabonds Bikers Club, Lennon arrived at the dingy backstage area and after looking around at the squalor, declared, " I could have gone to Brighton!" Lennon didn't really even have a band - making up The Plastic Ono Band on the flight over. But his toughest sell  was convincing a junkie, as Lennon admittedly was back then, to come to a foreign country away from his source. Lennon is quoted as saying about that time doing the concert,
"We were full of junk too. I just threw up for hours till I went on. I nearly threw up in Cold Turkey (the song) - I had a review in Rolling Stone about the film of it - which I haven't seen yet, and they're saying, 'I was this and that.' And I was throwing up nearly in the number. I could hardly sing any of them, I was full of shit."John Lennon
   Lennon is also is quoted by Johnny B to have said afterwards back stage,
 " I haven't felt so alive in years"
But there was more to his reasoning for wanting to visit Toronto, as back then T.O. was a major rock & roll mecca and hub, and still is, but especially during the war being the biggest destination for draft dodgers, just as John Lennon was becoming very controversial with his messages of peace and anti-war. As JB would tell me,  " A lot of powerful people at the time very much wanted to squash his music and message " - Even trying to stop future Brower concerts by using various tactics such as revoking permit allowances close to concert dates. John Lennon with a return visit to Toronto with Johnny B in December of that same 1969 year, would go on to change Canadian history next.

Lennon's Limo and JB arrived here
Former site of Mcluhan's office
 "The limo pulled in right here and I walked John Lennon down this path to Marshall's office" Brower  said, reminding me Lennon was also a philosopher, when I'd inquired as to why he had wanted to meet this particular philosopher of communication theory Marshall Mcluhan, a Toronto University "Futurist" who coined the phrase, "Global Village", so badly. The walk had been very spiritual for Lennon he'd offered, " A dirt foot-pathway (now paved) had run through the area then, and, at the time, running brooks of water, wild life and the like and was known as being sacred ground to traditional native aboriginals, also seen about in traditional dress.

"And so you have to imagine the walk was very spiritual for John". Johnny Brower

As we walked the same route he and Lennon had I'd tried to imagine the atmosphere of the time, envisioning an area abundant with nature sights and sounds - tough to do on the now road-like maze of paths leading to non-descript concrete buildings. Of course I didn't have the drugs in my system he did either. Ha.

So did anyone ever blame you for the break up at the time, I asked? To which Brower predictably replied that no, Yoko Ono was blamed by all the masses, however his ability to put on concerts was hampered - such as the Toronto Peace Fest or Strawberry Fields Festival, which was moved and renamed several times, and ultimately, held at Toronto's Mosport having been hindered by governmental interference.

With the Vietnam war raging at the time, along with Lennon's powerful influence, the powers that be wanted him silenced, and so, almost by default, Toronto became the place - being the southern most spot to the U.S. - and home to bastions of war resisters and defectors. It truly was an explosive time - literally! And that aspect of those times has, in itself, cemented Toronto's place into the world history of rock and roll, and a very important role it was / is.

As we strolled, Johnny B pointed out where the office of Mcluhan had been - now a drab unappealing  old / new hybrid - a far cry from when the philosophers had discussed language and music and the difference between them. Afterward they'd arranged for JB and Lennon to take the train to Ottawa to meet the Prime Minister of Canada at the time, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. He'd set up the meeting through Bill Clement an undercover RCMP operative who was Brower's friend and whose job it was to keep an eye on American draft dodgers living in Toronto. Bill was a wild character, almost like Wild Bill Donovan, the U.S. C.I.A. agent who many times got very close to the people he was shadowing. And Bill Clement partied hard with the rock and rollers that Brower brought through town. Here is actual filmed footage of when Yoko and John enter showing an arm coming down after Lennon, stopping Clement, who was right behind, at the P.M.'s office door . The guard is frozen with an icy glare, and, recognizing him, hastily lets Clement in!

The train ride allowed J.B. several hours alone with Yoko & Lennon along  Ronnie Hawkins and his wife Wanda, as well as Ritchie Yorke the journalist and his wife Ann, pulling into in Ottawa very late having stayed awake most of the time.

Upon arrival, they were met  by two members of the Le Dain Commission which had been tasked with interviewing John Lennon on his views about marijuana since the commission was considering the possibility of legalization. So, What's a guy to do? They ended up smoking dope with the two men, and everyone had a jolly great laugh when one asked John if he thought it was addictive..."Meantime the guy was bogarting the damn joint the whole time!", laughed Brower, "Lennon at one point looked at him and said, pointing to the burning joint clutched in his hand, Well, what do you think ( about it being addictive )?" and everyone had  exploded into fits of laughter at that. Maybe so, however there is no doubting Trudeau's waning image at the time took a considerable swing upwards after his 50 minute visit scheduled for only 10, giving him a new resurgence politically - winning the election - in step with Lennon's endorsement of the Canadian P.M.

So Brower's setting up of this meeting, may indeed have changed a country as well!

" I was pleased to receive (Lennon and Ono),” Trudeau wrote in his memoirs, adding that the Beatle “was kind enough to say afterwards, ‘If all politicians were like Mr. Trudeau, there would be world peace.’ I must say that Give Peace a Chance has always seemed to me to be sensible advicePierre E Trudeau

" So how did you ever get involved in all this?" I'd offered as we drove towards an old stomping ground of his, and Johnny relayed a little about how he'd been a placed in a prestigious private boys school because of his close living proximity to it as was done back then, growing up on Kilbarry Road which ran along the north side of the Upper Canada College, where he rubbed shoulders with the kids of the elite of the elite from 1961-65.

Many of his chums there were from international families, as a boarding school was part of the college where he met George Eaton (Eaton's Department Stores) and his brothers - one of whom Thor Eaton would eventually become his partner, along with Ken Walker, in Brower Walker Productions. These years were very formative for Brower musically too as he also played and sang in a couple of Toronto's most well known bands at the time - The Diplomats being the most well known - from 1963-65. Brower used to be the one to get gigs for his band and became good at it, so often he was asked to do the same for other bands - some of which he also began to promote.
At 19 he took on L.A. too - returning in 68 with a wife.

I envision a rat pack of guys with bands, putting on concerts at various venues, and embracing everything rock & roll of the times. J.B. gave me a little hint of what it might of been like to hang with them when as we drove through Toronto's Yorkville district to spark some memories - not a great idea since Brower told me only The Pilot remains from back then - but as we sat in slow traffic in the now upper-scale boutique-y tourist lure, he spied two beautiful youngish women dressed to the 11's, looks at them out the rolled down window and deadpans with a straight face,

"Excuse me, are you the escort girls were supposed to be meeting?"
Tom Pearson outside Toronto's famed Maple Leaf Gardens
Of course I had to play along by looking serious as well, gazing towards them in mock earnest anticipation, while the looks on their faces as they glanced back and forth to each other with a puzzled-like, semi-embarrassed expression was priceless. We laughed like school boys when just out of range. Well, at least I did, he only chuckled! Bad boys to the end! Ha.

Eventually he and Kenny had taken an office downtown, and a salary of $350 a week pay.  But the concert promoter-pioneers ran into all kinds of roadblocks while learning the ropes - like trying to promote "Blind Faith" with Clapton et al when the record wasn't ready until the day of the show - so they had nothing with which to promote it with! And there was no internet or instant news back then either which exasperated the whole promotional process.

It's well known, when Lennon and Ono arrived in Toronto in December 1969 to begin planning for the 1970 concert that wouldn’t happen, the city had been strategically plastered with posters, billboards and print ads bearing the message “WAR IS OVER! " If you want it ” and “Happy Christmas from John & Yoko.” An original copy of the poster is counted among the most coveted artifacts held today by the Canadian Museum of Civilization and Canadian War Museum and was featured in their 2011 illustrated volume, Treasures. What's not so well known is that it was mostly Johnny Brower and his buddies in Yorkville that put most of those up, with Johnny able to obtain some of the biggest and most prominent downtown spots literally overnight! And all this during a time when it's been revealed in de-classified documents released in 2007 in an RCMP report dated Dec. 30, 1969, that the Canadian Security Service began spying on ex-Beatle John and Yoko after they announced their plans for the Toronto Peace Festival.

I wonder how Lennon would feel about suits taking over Yorkville
Who knows? I'm trying to convince Johnny to do another concert like The Great Toronto Rock & Roll Revival Return or Strawberry Fields, the 35 Year Anniversary Concert, once the Pop69 Movie is completed! After all we do have a little in common as I've promoted  / created many an event - nothing on his level - but "first ever type"events and bands, promoting one now even, The Yappers, who's leader Ray Yap's uncle, ironically is, Phil Chen, current bass player for The Doors and one of rock & roll's most used session bass players of the 70's/80'. I've even got a genuine old school rock vocalist ready to go should Johnny want to revive The Diplomats! I even released a short documentary recently,  A Short Thin Pink Line, with cool music and footage w Carole Pope etc

Ha.... Oh well, we shall see. Until then the #Pop69movie will move forward in production, and I know Johnny wanted to auction off the rare Beatles art replica he revealed at a Hard Rock Cafe Gala to a good kids cause as well, reminding me of our parting that day, as I noticed just before we were about to,  Johnny walked over and gave some guy in need some cash, like he never forgot where he came from perhaps, or maybe the messages of love & peace he so passionately embraced back in the day is still part of who he is.
Beatles Influence today as seen on Toronto Sidewalk 2014

These guys, like Johnny Brower and Kenny Walker, pioneers of music / event promotion, who paved the way for the rest - including holding the first multiple day event concerts - could really show em how it's done today...old school! 'Know'mean!? Ha, and frankly, I think we'd all enjoy the ride!

Definitely candidates for The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Stay tuned to TPE for future update blogs on the POP69 Movie coming to screens soon!@

Peace out!

Tom Pearson

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