TOMMY SMOTHERS INTERVIEW/ BEATLES
BE: I do have a few more, though I promise to try and keep you on track, schedule-wise. One of the episodes on the set features a guest appearance by George Harrison, but it’s hard to tell if it was a last-second arrangement that he was there or if it was planned out but just kept totally under wraps to avoid a scene.
TS: It was keeping it under wraps. I had dinner with him earlier when they were in town presenting one of their albums or something, and…all of those guys were nice. I spent a lot of time with them. The only one I didn’t really spend time with was Paul. But Lennon I hung out with, and Harrison, and Ringo, I did a couple of shows with Ringo in the ‘70s. But that was really neat. He came in, did his little thing, and…it was important.
BE: It was. For one thing, the Beatles weren’t really making many solo appearances at that point, but, also, he was really just there to say, “Keep fighting the good fight.”
TS: Yep. He just came up, did his thing, and he was out! (Laughs)
BE: Okay, I’ve got just one more question, and it’s not even about the show, but as a Beatles fan, I’d kick myself if I didn’t take the opportunity to ask it.
TS: (Laughs) Okay!
BE: When John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were thrown out of the Smothers Brothers show at the Troubadour in the ‘70s…
TS: Oh, yeah.
BE: …just how disruptive were they? I mean, how bad was it from your perspective?
TS: Harry Nilsson…my brother I hadn’t been performing together for a year or so, and we were going to be putting our act together again, but Dickie was working on music, so I went up to the Cellar Door in Georgetown to do a single. By myself. And I went there, and Harry Nilsson was a good friend of mine, and I told him I was going out there. Harry was afraid of crowds; he never liked to play live. Well, I get there, and they said, “There’s a guy named Harry Nilsson here who wants a ticket.” He had flown out! So he’s up in the balcony of the Cellar Door, and I did my hour show in 25 minutes. My chops were gone. My timing was off, and it takes awhile to get back into the swing of things, because I’d been doing television rather than live performances. So I said, “Any questions?” Because we’d just been fired not long before this. And everybody’s asking questions, and all of a sudden Harry’s yelling down, and we were having arguments, and…well, I did an hour show! (Laughs) And he was there for the second show, same thing. We had a good time and hung out. And then Dickie and I go to the Troubadour in L.A., and… (Starts to laugh) …and all of Hollywood was there to see what the Smothers Brothers were going to do. And Harry comes in with John Lennon. Well, he told John Lennon, “Tom likes hecklers. It helps him. It gets him through his show.” And every time there was a silence, they were hollering out things like, “God fucks pigs!” I mean, it was really filthy! Blows were thrown, and it just got wild. The next day, I got flowers and all kinds of apologies from Lennon and from Harry Nilsson. It just got out of control. But they were pretty ripped when they came.
BE: I’ve heard they were wearing tampons on their heads at one point.
TS: Oh, yeah! And then it got physical, and there were the car parkers and…I mean, it was one of those little moments that was kind of fun, but the timing was…it was just so hard to do the show! The other moment I had with Lennon was before that, when he did the Bed-In for Peace and I was playing guitar with him (on “Give Peace a Chance”), and he stopped me in the middle of the song and said, “Tom, don’t play that way. Play what I’m playing.” I was playing up the neck, giving it a couple of passing chords and diminished chords, trying to fill it in, and he said, “I want you to play exactly what I’m doing. I want the sound of two guitars. Double what I’m doing.” It was kind of embarrassing. I was showing all my hot shit, and he says that! I hung out with Harry and Lennon a little bit in London between our shows, and it was great, but I couldn’t play like they did because…well, I had to do 26 shows! They were working on an album or hanging around or whatever, but there were no live performances for them to focus on. And I just said, “I can’t do this! You’re too fast for me!”