My Grandfather Overdubbed the Beatles on ‘Ed Sullivan’

A version of Erika’s post originally appeared on her own blog, And We Love Them.

So many of us have Beatles stories, and my family is no different. But I want to share this one especially since there may be more to it: the slight chance that it could be an unknown snippet of Beatles history.

Hy and Frank
Hy White and Frank Sinatra, when White was part of Sinatra’s tour orchestra.

My grandfather was Hy White, a professional guitarist who began his career with the Woody Herman orchestra. After leaving Herman in 1944, he went on play with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and Danny Kaye, to name a few. He was also one of the most well known guitar teachers of the era. Not only was he the author of a number of instructional books, he taught guitar to both Paul Simon and Carly Simon. As Binky Philips noted in The Huffington Post, “In New York, in the 1960s and 70s, if you mentioned Hy White’s name in the right crowd, you’d draw gasps. Mr. White was like the tennis coach who trains the Williams sisters. The stealth guru of jazz guitar in NYC.” Pretty snazzy stuff.

I could go on forever about his career; I could probably write a book about it. But there’s one particular story that’s especially exciting to me. One of his longest-standing gigs was as the guitarist for Ed Sullivan’s house band, the Ray Bloch Orchestra, from the mid-50s to the mid-60s.  This was no big deal to him; his job mostly entailed playing incidental music or accompaniment needed for individual acts.

As a member of the orchestra, Hy was called for the February 9, 1964, episode to play, among other things, the orchestral accompaniment to the Oliver performance and provide the banjo solo that Tessie O’Shea mimed in her act (on an instrument that might actually be a frying pan). Of course, that meant he was around for the Beatles’ historic first performance, as well as the pre-recorded set that ended up being their third appearance. While his son (my dad, 16 at the time) was nuts about the group, Hy never heard of them. But though he wasn’t allowed to bring family members that day, he did get an autograph.

Beatle-autograph-1

The fact that he didn’t know or care much about this group is evident. He used a scrap of paper and gave them a pencil to sign with. A PENCIL!!!! It looks like the Beatles were signing quite a few of these at the time, John didn’t even finish his name.

But it was the scrap of paper he used that makes it the most interesting, because when you turn it over, it happens to be on the back of a rehearsal call sheet for the February 9th show:

Beatle-autograph-back-2

Though it has deteriorated immensely over the years, the back is fascinating. It shows the date, call times for each act, and their dressing rooms. Here’s a close-up of the top part:

Beatle-autograph-back-1

The Beatles were called at 9:30 AM, but their dressing room number is sadly obscured by damage.

Beatle-autograph-back-3-copy

The bottom shows the same information for some of the other acts, including one for Davy Jones (!!) who was part of the cast of Oliver. While time and age have robbed it of monetary value, it’s a priceless snapshot of a moment in history from someone who was there.

But wait… there’s more!

Hy told a second part of the story: that he actually overdubbed some of the guitar on at least one of the songs. Though he passed in 2011, we have video of him telling the story (this is from a memorial video, which is why the beginning shows family photos):

Though the details are murky, I’ve always figured that he probably overdubbed the lead guitar on the third performance. Mic problems were pretty apparent there, so when the sound engineers reviewed the material for the third show, they probably had the house guitarist, my grandfather, double George. I once asked Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn about this, and he thought the likeliest scenario was that the overdubs were broadcast on one of the summer 1964 reruns, but since only one of the three re-run episodes are currently available, there’s no hard evidence to prove that these dubs were ever aired.

Even though I’ve not yet found anything that corroborates this story, I still think it’s true, and here’s why. First, it wasn’t in his character to boast or exaggerate. In fact, I never even knew the extent of his career until we found some archives he kept when we were making his memorial video. Second, he never really cared about the Beatles (so obvious when you look at the PENCIL autograph) so there was no reason for him to make something up. Third, he was as sharp as could be up through his 95th year when he passed away. He was about 88 when we taped this interview, and I don’t think he would have confused that with a different band.

Is this a snippet of Beatles history that will forever be a mystery? Did it even happen? I don’t know for sure. But what I do know is that of all the “5th Beatle” stories out there, my grandfather’s is definitely my favorite.

About Erika White 63 Articles
Erika White is simply obsessed with music and culture of the '60s and '70s. Her writing focuses on the Beatles and the incredible fandom that has kept their legacy growing for five decades and counting. Erika is also a graphic designer, musical theatre geek, rabid Whovian, and Anglophile who lives in the NYC metro area. Check out her Beatles website and follow her on Twitter.
  • Rick

    Very cool story!

  • Sarah Stacey

    Great story Erika!

  • Mike Conway

    Erika, I studied under your Grandfather from 1972-1974. Not only is it possible that he overdubbed one or more of the parts, but he told me several interesting things about his abilities that make the story quite possible. He was often called upon to provide ‘folk music’ for dance troupes that were appearing from the Soviet Union and Eastern Block. He was able to mimic folk styles from all these regions, even though they were often quite diverse styles. He couldn’t actually explain why, he would just give that quirky smile of his, and shrug and say (in a terrible, faked Russian voice), “It is because I am Jewish Gypsy!”
    He claimed he played for “everything from ballerinas to dancing bears” which, remembering the Ed Sullivan Show, was true.
    -Just wanted to let you know, I miss the man.

    • Erika

      Hi Mike—thank you so much for the lovely stories about my grandfather! He was very multi-talented for sure, and he had such a sense of humor! Case in point—the only time he was ever onscreen on Sullivan was when he and a few of his friends performed “Eddie, Kiss Me Goodnight,” a comedy song he wrote where he did his spot-on Topo Gigio impression!

      Also, the day you sent this comment happened to be the day of my brother’s wedding. Please know you gave Hy’s two sons and other family members lots of smiles at the memories. We miss the man too. 🙂 ~Erika