On page 3 of the Jan. 5, 1976 edition of the Los Angeles Times, a small, six-paragraph story told the world of the death of Mal Evans. The only reason the story was on page 3 was the manner in which he died: Police raided his apartment the night before, where he had barricaded himself in an upstairs room with a rifle. Two officers shot him several times.
The article referred to Evans as a “jobless former road manager for the Beatles,” and the rest of the article read like a police report. Rolling Stone magazine published a proper obituary several weeks later, but the article is the only written eulogy of the person who could make a good case of being the mythical “fifth Beatle.”
From the Beatles’ days in the Cavern Club in 1962 to their final album in 1970, Mal Evans was with the Fab Four every step of the way. He was the Beatles’ personal assistant, performing odd jobs that ranged from fetching coffee and women for the group to playing musical instruments on several Beatles albums. The Beatles adored him, and amid all the infighting between John, Paul, George and Ringo, no one ever said a negative word about Mal.
We know so little about him; most of what we do know revolves around the Beatles. He was born Malcolm Frederick Evans on May 27, 1935 and spent several years working as a telecommunications engineer in the Post Office in Liverpool before he discovered the Beatles playing in the Cavern Club in 1962.
“I used to go out window shopping on my lunch hour,” he remembered. “And I went down Matthew Street – it was a small, dingy street with warehouses down the side, and it was to lead me around the world. I walked down this street, and the most incredible music I’d heard was coming from beneath my feet. I paid a shilling, went into the Cavern, and the Beatles were on. I fell in love with them.”
Evans Becomes a Roadie
Evans was hooked. He became a regular at the club, requesting songs by Elvis, until then his favorite performer. He was eventually hired as a bouncer, where he was able to watch the Beatles perform and get paid for it. “I could sit there for three hours and think maybe 10 minutes had gone by. You just got so captivated by the music,” he said.
When the Beatles’ driver could not travel with the band one night, Evans volunteered to drive them, and thus began the long relationship with the Fab Four. He became their roadie, packing and unpacking their equipment and setting it up onstage – something he didn’t really know how to do at first.
The first time he had to assemble Ringo’s drum kit was a disaster. Then he failed to strap a guitar and some suitcases on a rack securely, causing the guitar, still in its case, bouncing down the road until the truck traveling behind them ran straight over it. Another time, he lost one of John’s favorite guitars.
However, his devotion was unwavering. One cold winter evening as Evans was driving the band back from a concert, a pebble smashed into the front of the car, shattering the windshield. Evans used his hat as protection to knock out the rest of the windshield and drove on.
Once when the Beatles were cruising the canals in Amsterdam, they spotted a person with an attractive cloak. The four sent Mal to find out where he had purchased it. Mal immediately jumped off the boat, swam to where the person was, and three hours later, he returned to the hotel with the cloak, which he’d bought from the person.
“He had a bag that he developed over the years, because it would always be: ‘Mal, have you got an Elastoplast? Mal, have you got a screwdriver? Mal, have you got a bottle of this? Have you got that?’ And he always had everything,” George said. “If he didn’t have it, he’d get it very quickly.”
As the Beatles rocketed to superstardom, Mal Evans hung on for the ride, sometimes wide-eyed at the new-found fame. He was a real-life version of Zelig, popping up at the Beatles’ most famous incidents. As the Beatles were landing at JFK airport in New York for their U.S. debut, he and fellow roadie Neil Aspinall frantically forged the band members’ autographs on 8×10 glossies.
He got to meet his idol, Elvis Presley, and even created plectrums made out of plastic silverware so the King could jam with the Beatles. He was also present when Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana in early 1964. Paul remembered:
I went around thinking I’d found the meaning of life that night. I kept saying to Mal, “Get a pencil and paper, I’ve got it.” Mal, who was a bit out of it too, couldn’t find a pencil or paper anywhere. Eventually he found some, and I wrote down the Message of the Universe and told him, “Now keep that in your pocket.” The next morning Mal said, “Hey Paul, do you what to see that bit of paper?” I had written: “There are seven levels.” Yeah, OK, maybe it didn’t exactly sum it all up after all, but we had a great time.
He loyally protected the four against Philippine soldiers when they stood up President Ferdinand Marcos in 1966. Several soldiers punched him and knocked him to the ground, bruising several of his ribs.
When the Beatles stopped touring in 1966, Mal’s prime responsibility – road manager – was eliminated. He still drove the band to and from the recording studio, but in between recording sessions, he had little to do. Living in the Beatles’ shadow had not only been a job, but a necessity over the last three years.
Luckily for Mal, the Beatles needed him just as much as he needed them. He traveled with the band members on individual trips; in fact, while on a trip to Africa with Paul, Mal helped name the Beatles’ most famous recording. Paul claims that the naming of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” came from a word game he and Mal played. “We were having our meal and they had those little packets marked ‘S’ and ‘P’. Mal said, ‘What’s that mean? Oh, salt and pepper.’ We had a joke about that. So I said, ‘Sergeant Pepper,’ just to, vary it, ‘Sergeant Pepper, salt and pepper,’ an aural pun, not mishearing him but just playing with the words.”
Mal even got to be on the back cover of “Sergeant Pepper.” Paul could not make one of the photo shoots for the album, so Mal put Paul’s costume on and kept his back to the camera for the photograph. (Curiously, many fans pointed to this anomaly as proof that Paul was dead.)
Being in the studio more gave Mal a chance to appear on many Beatles classics. He played the bass drum and sang in the chorus of “Yellow Submarine,” played bass harmonica on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” percussion on “Magical Mystery Tour,” trumpet on “Helter Skelter” and handclaps on “Birthday.” He struck the anvil on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” rang the alarm clock on “A Day in the Life,” and he was one of three people who struck the famous E major chord on three different pianos to end that song.
He can be seen setting up equipment in the very first scene of the “Let It Be” movie, and he was also filmed talking to the police before they came to silence the Beatles’ rooftop concert. “He was always in the studio if we needed an extra hand,” Paul said.
He also got some valuable recording experience. When the Beatles formed Apple, Mal took a position in upper management. In 1968, his friend Bill Collins gave him some demos by an unsigned band he was managing called the Iveys. Mal immediately forwarded the demos to Paul, who liked them so much that he signed the band (which eventually changed their name to Badfinger) and wrote their first hit, “Come and Get It.”
Then, in September 1969, Mal unknowingly helped create what some consider to be the first rip in the Beatles’ fabric. The Plastic Ono Band, John’s side project, made their debut live appearance at the Toronto Rock ‘N’ Roll revival concert. It almost didn’t happen – They had less than 48 hours to plan and rehearse – but Mal, eager to relive some of the excitement of live shows, helped pull it together.
The concert was a huge success. “I was really enjoying myself,” he said. “It was the first show I had roadied for three years and I was really loving every minute of plugging the amps in and setting them up on stage, making sure that everything was right.” Mal lamented, though, that even though the band played well, “everything would have been absolutely right for me if the line-up could have been Paul, George and Ringo with John!”
On the way back from Toronto, John told manager Allen Klein that he was quitting the Beatles.
Coming next: The Mal Evans Diaries