It happened under the most ordinary circumstances that you could imagine. John Lennon, a 16-year old kid from Liverpool, was playing a gig for his band The Quarrymen playing on the back of a truck at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton at a garden party on a warm July afternoon. Lennon’s band played skiffle music, a sort of uptempo British folk format that was popularized by artists like Lonnie Donegan and scored a tremendous hit with”Rock Island Line.”
The Quarrymen went on sometime around 4:15 pm and only played for about half an hour. What happened onstage paled in consequence however to what was happening out amongst the crowd, because little did Lennon know, but out in the audience that day was another young man who would help him change the world.
“[It was] the first day I did ‘Be Bop A Lula’ live on stage,” Lennon was recorded as saying in the Beatles’ Anthology. “I was performing with a mutual friend of Paul [McCartney’s] and mine. Another mutual friend who lived next door brought Paul along and said, ‘I think you two will get along.’ We talked after the show and I saw he had talent. He was playing guitar backstage, doing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ by Eddie Cochran.”
Paul was sufficiently intrigued by the brash young front man. He thought he had a great look and some pretty good musical chops. “I just thought, ‘Well, he looks good, he’s singing well and he seems like a great lead singer to me,’” McCartney told Record Collector Magazine in 1995. “Of course, he had his glasses off, so he really looked suave. I remember John was good. He was really the only outstanding member; all the rest kind of slipped away.”
“I was there when he (Paul) picked up a guitar,” Quarrymen member Len Garry told Billboard. I remember him slinging it behind his back. I didn’t know he was a left-handed guitarist. And he gave a Little Richard improvisation. I thought it was terrific. I said to John, ‘Little Richard, it’s brilliant.’ Rock ‘n’ roll was coming in and skiffle was dying out pretty quickly. I said, ‘He can do Little Richard, you can’t do that.’”
Even though Paul was significantly younger than him, Lennon couldn’t help but be impressed by his musical abilities. “Was it better to have a guy who was better that the people I had in to make the group stronger, or let me be stronger?” Lennon asked himself. “‘I thought, ‘If I take him on, what will happen?’ It went through my head that I’d have to keep him in line if I let him join. But he was good, so he was worth having. He also looked like Elvis. I dug him.”
Of course you know how this all turns out. McCartney joined up with Lennon who eventually ditched most of the rest of the members of his band. They bonded over a shared love of American rock music and blues and began writing and playing together almost exclusively. In a short amount of time, they added an even younger boy named George Harrison to make their duo a trio and the thus the Beatles were born.
Incredibly, someone was rolling tape that fateful day on July 6, 1957, and you can hear audio footage of the performance that launched the biggest band in rock history above.