People I’ve Met Along The Way | John and Yoko at John’s at the Beach…
It was a warm August evening in 1968 on Dover Lane, in Pierpont Bay, on the beach in Ventura, California. People lined the shore waiting for a run of grunion that was supposed to happen at high tide around 10:00 o’clock. The beachfront was dotted with bon fires as a feeling of excitement filled the salt air. I lived on Dover Lane with my wife and family where we adopted a beach lifestyle of volleyball (The infamous Strobel Spike), barbeques, and Bear’s famous Pina Colada’s. Bear was the head of the “Dover Do Gooders”, a loose knit group of young people who lived in the house at the very end of Dover Lane, right on the sandy beach and ten feet from the volleyball court. What happened next is clouded by pina colada but true, so help me God!
One of my daughters ran by me and said, “The Beatles are at John’s At the Beach. C’mon dad we’re going over to see them…” In 1968 I was a 37 year old father of six, living a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle of work and play with the emphasis on “play”. I had just finished a series of narrations for an industrial documentary producer and decided to live the “good life” for a while on my earnings. Dover Lane was two streets west of Seaward Street where John’s At the Beach held the spotlight on delicious cuisine and Ventura nightlife. I was intrigued enough that I followed the kids to the restaurant and sure enough, there was a glorious white “Silver Cloud” Rolls Royce parked next to the entrance of the establishment. That’s a fancy word for the place as the owner, John Blonder, a former motion picture actor and producer, kept it mysteriously dark and foreboding. I went to the side door and saw Blonder standing near the Maitre’d desk and ask him what was going on. He said, “Hi, John, it’s just some friends of mine, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They came up to have dinner and now John has agreed to entertain my customers with a few songs. C’mon in, you can sit there next to the stage.”
The stage, as Blonder called it, was a tiny riser that took up the room of a small cocktail table and was lit with a single dim blue spotlight. There, sitting on the riser, guitar across his lap, sat John Lennon. “The” John Lennon of the Beatles, in fact he was still a Beatle at the time. Next to the “stage” sitting at another small table was a pregnant Yoko Ono listening intently to her lover sing. She didn’t move the whole time I was there, just stared directly at Lennon and applauded politely at the end of each song. She later lost the baby she was carrying through a miscarriage but they named it John Ono Lennon prior to its burial.
That night I became a fan of John Lennon. I was bred and raised on “Big Band” music, syncopated rhythms that you could “Cut a Rug” to, “Jitter bug” or “Balboa” the night away. The strange sounds of the guitar heavy Beatle Mercy Beat music was foreign to me until that night at John’s at the Beach.
Lennon sat bolt upright in his chair on the “stage” singing softly. Being new to what I now realize was adoration of a super talent, I can’t even tell you what songs he sang that night but I can tell you that he was totally John Lennon, the artist, not John Lennon the Beatle.
I know, I know, the world is full of fans who attach artistic triumph to everything the Beatles did and I am not trying to degrade their accomplishments, I am only trying to describe a different man than the one who “performed” with Paul, George and Ringo.
The night was magical. He only performed four or five songs but warmed to the audience’s applause. The audience was made up mostly of regulars who came to John’s At the Beach for a fabulous seafood dinner or one of his famously well prepared steaks. Dining at “John’s” was a treat and being entertained by John Lennon was icing on a cake of monster proportions. I sat in my chair, transfixed by this young Englishman who had captured the heart of the world with his musical messages of peace and freedom.
I had been introduced to him once before at a press conference at Capitol Records in Hollywood prior to their tour of the U. S…A friend and colleague of mine, Bob Eubanks was the Producer/Sponser of that tour and Bob was kind enough to offer introductions at the end of the press conference. I felt lucky that day meeting the most popular young men in the world, but that night at “John’s At The Beach” was even more significant as I actually shook hands with Lennon as they left to return to Hollywood..
It was a night I will always remember.
Oh! And as if you cared, the grunion never showed up that night.