Get back: letter from Lennon to critic of Beatles sells for £12,000

A letter from John Lennon denying that the Beatles "ripped off" black music fetched £12,000 at auction yesterday.

Dashed off on a piece of American Airlines-headed notepaper in 1971, the letter was a response to a newspaper article accusing the Beatles of imitating and exploiting American black music in their early cover records.

Clearly upset by the suggestion, Lennon responded to the charges made by a journalist, Craig McGregor, in a piece for The New York Times.

McGregor, who at the time was living in East Sussex but has since moved to Australia, put the letter up for sale at Bonhams auction house in London, together with a photocopy of his article and a carbon copy of his reply to Lennon, which remained unanswered.

In his letter, Lennon described how the Beatles and their contemporaries were inspired by American black music and never tried to conceal their debt to it. He insisted: "It wasn't a rip-off. It was a love-in."

Lennon explained that the Beatles used to perform cover versions of songs such as "Money", "Twist and Shout" and "You Really Got A Hold On Me" in dancehalls early in their career because they did not consider their own material to be of sufficiently high quality.

"It was only natural that we tried to do it as near to the record as we could - I always wish we could have done them close to the originals," Lennon wrote.

"We didn't sing our own songs in the early days - they weren't good enough - the one thing we always did was to make it known that there were black originals. We loved the music and wanted to spread it in any way we could," he added. "People like - Eric Burdons Animals - Micks Stones and us drank, ate and slept the music, and also recorded it, many kids were turned on to the music by us [sic]."

Stephen Maycock, a consultant specialist at Bonhams, said: "John and the other Beatles have spoken at great length in interviews about themselves and the early days, but it's quite unusual to find a document written about the group's beginnings by one of the members.

"It's a nice summary of John's opinions. He was quite stung by the accusation that the Beatles were ripping off black musicians and making all the money while the black artists remained penniless and obscure.

"They were doing their bit to promote black music in Britain. A lot of these records were coming into the country via Liverpool, which was a very busy port."

Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Mary Wells, who went on tour with the Beatles, were important influences on the group.

Two years ago, The South Bank Show made a programme about a jukebox, which belonged to John Lennon in the mid-1960s. The director, Chris Walker, said: "In Lennon's jukebox there were R&B, Motown and soul records, but not much rock'n'roll." The ITV arts programme played a tape recording in which Lennon confessed that the Beatles lifted the opening guitar lick to "I Feel Fine" from black artist Bobby Parker's "Watch Your Step".

A black felt hat decorated with six metal discs worn by Lennon on the last official Beatles photo shoot at Tittenhurst Park in August 1969 was also included in the auction of rock'n'roll memorabilia, but failed to sell.

R&B influences

ROLLING STONES: The Stones were influential in introducing British teenagers to R&B. Their 1964 album The Rolling Stones included covers of "Route 66" by Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry's "Carol" and Bo Diddley's "Mona". The name of the band was taken from a song by Muddy Waters.

THE ANIMALS: Eric Burdon and his band covered songs by their R&B idols such as Ray Charles's "I Believe to My Soul" and Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood". They were part of the first R&B recording in the UK in a concert with Sonny Boy Williamson in 1963.

ERIC CLAPTON: Growing up in 1950s Surrey, Clapton began a love affair with the Mississippi blues singer Robert Johnson. He covered Johnson's song "Crossroads" with his band Cream, and nearly 40 years later in 2004 he released an album entitled Me and Mr Johnson.

Suggested Topics
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C#.NET VB6 Developer (Software Developer, Software Engineer)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C#.NET VB6 Developer (Software Developer, Softwa...

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition