McCartney Month: 9 Florida ties to the Beatles and Paul McCartney
(Welcome to McCartney Month on Soundcheck! We're counting down to Paul McCartney's July 10 concert at Amalie Arena by shining a light on Sir Paul and the Beatles every day.)
Sir Paul McCartney and the Beatles are quintessentially British chaps. Which means there can't be much in common between McCartney and the great state of Florida. Right?
Think again. There is always a Florida connection, always, no matter who you're talking about. Between the Beatles, his solo work and the occasional intimate or televised gig, McCartney has performed at least 18 times in the Sunshine State, which amounts to much more than a footnote in his long and storied career.
In honor of Independence Day and McCartney's upcoming swing through Florida -- July 7 in Miami and July 10 in Tampa -- we dug up nine connections between the Beatles, Paul McCartney, and the most American state in the union: Florida.
1. One of McCartney’s biggest influences hailed from Tampa. That would be Slim Whitman, born in Tampa and educated at Hillsborough High School. The legendary country yodeler was left-handed, and McCartney has said that as a teenager, he was inspired to re-string his right-handed guitar so he could play as a lefty after watching Whitman play.
2. The Beatles hung out in Florida the same week they played Ed Sullivan. Technically, the Beatles also played Ed Sullivan while in Florida. Days after that famous culture-shattering apperarance on TV, the group came to Miami to record another Sullivan appearance at the Deauville Hotel. They spent more than a week there, swimming and trying to avoid screaming fans. At least one iconic Beatles moment happened during this trip: A meeting with Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, while he was training to fight Sonny Liston at Miami Beach’s Fifth Street Gym.
3. The Beatles only played Florida once. The Beatles’ only full Florida performance came in Jacksonville on Sept. 11, 1964. And it almost didn’t happen. Hurricane Dora had blown through the city a few days prior, prompting a visit from President Lyndon B. Johnson. There were other conflicts that threatened to derail the show, including a spat with union stagehands and an argument about whether promoters intended to segregate the audience. But it was the weather that stuck out in McCartney’s mind. “We went down to Key West, stayed in, like, a motel for a few days, probably to get out of the path of the hurricane,” McCartney said at a press conference before the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville. “Then we came back there. That’s what I remember Jacksonville for — that hurricane.”
4. The Beatles broke up at Disney World. The Beatles were more or less broken up by the late 1960s, but as you can imagine, the legal red tape surrounding the dissolution of the biggest band of all time was a mile long. It wasn’t until December 1974 that all the official paperwork had been drawn up and signed by McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The last person to sign was John Lennon, who was on holiday in Florida at the time. Lawyers brought the documents to the Polynesian Village Resort, where Lennon signed his name and officially ended the Beatles.
5. McCartney has written and sung about Florida more than once. The opening line to Back in the U.S.S.R. (“Flew in from Miami Beach, B.O.A.C....”) — sung from the almost satirical perspective of a traveling Russian — is the most famous example. But McCartney has also said his 1982 song Here Today, written after Lennon’s death, was inspired in part by that Key West layover before the Beatles’ 1964 Jacksonville gig. As he told NPR in 2001: “At that age, with that much time on our hands, we really didn’t know what to do with it except get drunk. And so that was what we did. And we stayed up all night talking, talking, talking like it was going out of style. And at some point early in the morning, I think we must have touched on some points that were really emotional, and we ended up crying, which was very unusual for us, because we — members of a band and young guys, we didn’t do that kind of thing. So I always remembered it as a sort of important emotional landmark.”
6. Like many Floridians, McCartney has some memories here he’d rather forget. Days after playing Tampa near the conclusion of his Driving World Tour, McCartney and then-fiance Heather Mills reportedly got into a big argument at Miami’s Turnberry Isle Resort and Club that resulted in the singer tossing a $21,000 engangement ring out the window and shouting “I don’t want to marry you. The wedding’s off.” The couple reconciled and married in 2003 before ending a long and ugly divorce in 2008.
7. McCartney has spent significant time around Orlando. McCartney’s stepson Arlen Blakeman attended Rollins College, and according to reports, the singer and wife Nancy Shevell purchased a townhome in Winter Park so they could visit. He was spotted around town on multiple occasions, dining out at restaurants and once speaking at Rollins. In 2015, he attended a graduation park at a local country club, and so dug the music by Tampa band Phase5 that he hopped on the mic to sing I Saw Her Standing There.
8. McCartney and Lennon’s cars are parked in Sarasota. Among the 100-plus vehicles at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum are two Mercedes-Benzes that once belonged to Lennon, and a sage green 1965 Mini Cooper formerly owned by McCartney. According to tour guide Dave Picone, this is the car in which Paul took the future Mrs. Linda McCartney on their first date, and also the car in which he is said to have composed some of Fool On the Hill.
9. McCartney nearly died in Tampa. Okay, maybe we’re being a little melodramatic here. But McCartney did take a tumble into a pit that held his piano during a concert here in 2005. “I was chatting around to the audience, I was holding my bass, and I fell backwards into the big hole,” he recalled during a later show. “And you know everything goes into slow motion when that happens, and I just know I’m going, I know I’ve lost it. So I’m going backwards, and I can just remember thinking, How deep is this hole?” In a clip of the incident, he climbs out and says: “Okay, there’s a big hole in the stage, and I just fell into it. We’ve been expecting this to happen, and it happened in Tampa!”
-- Jay Cridlin