Tommy Smothers “Beds” John And Yoko!”
There is a story behind this iconic photo: Comedian Tommy Smothers is one of many celebrities lying in a bed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono…how he got there, and what Lennon said to him, was explained to me by this Smothers Brother one night in Detroit!
“The Smothers Brothers!” The Hippest Show On TV!
Here is the set up:
Tom and Dick Smothers were successful standup comedians/songwriters, gaining fame throughout the 1960’s for classic albums like “Mom Always Liked You Best!”
Based on their success, they got their own TV show on CBS, which was a big hit! However, it ran for only two years, from 1967-69. More on that in a moment. It was a classic “variety” show: comedy sketches, musical guests, standup comedy – both Director Rob Reiner and up-and-coming Comedian Steve Martin worked on the show – and Martin got the chance to do standup on the show!
What CBS never anticipated, however, was the Vietnam War, which raged on in the late 60’s and divided the country. Tommy Smothers in particular was quite vocal about many of the country’s social issues, and the show became more political, leading to the brothers being censored by CBS…and that’s where The Beatles stepped in!
George Harrison Shows Beatles Solidarity!
The show was censored on several occasions, including when Singer Harry Belafonte sang his “Carnival” song over footage of student protests against the war…the network forced the show to cut the sequence.
The following week, the show opened with a surprise appearance by George Harrison! George has a bit of fun at first, talking about films The Beatles had given the show to air, including “Hey Jude”.
The Beatles Speak Out Against Censorship!
Suddenly, the appearance gets serious, as Tommy jokes about what you can’t say on american TV, a veiled reference to CBS pulling the Belafonte segment from the show.
Here is a clip from the show when “the quiet Beatle” stopped by to give the brothers some support in the midst of their fight with CBS. As you can see, this clip is from an E! airing:
The Beatles also used The Smothers Brothers Show to premiere their new music film, “Revolution.” This video uses a mashup of both versions from “The White Album”, the song having a hard-rock edge PLUS the “doo wop” harmonies from the slower album version.
This great film can also be found on the new Beatles blu-ray, which includes a treasure trove of rare and un-released films from the 60’s. Read more about this incredible collection here:
How do I know all this? Because when I was at E!, E! President Jarl Mohn was smart enough to buy the rights to re-air the original episodes of “The Smothers Brothers Show” – and as part of that project, we filmed all new wraparound elements with the brothers – and we interviewed many of the original show guests!
My Tommy Smothers “John Lennon Bed-In” Story!
As we were finalizing the plans for the show, I flew with my team to Detroit, where the Brothers were performing. One night, our head Writer, the legendary James “Big Boy” Medlin, took Dick Smothers and the team out for dinner, while Tommy and I sat in his hotel room to discuss our plans. He was concerned that the vintage episodes wouldn’t hold up, but I explained that the show’s incredible musical elements needed to be seen again.
The shows were full of great musical moments with The Doors, The Who, and many others…and of course, The Beatles!
Tommy’s “Bed-In” With A Beatle!
Here is the story he told me about John Lennon, because Tommy was part of the incredible live recording of “Give Peace A Chance” during John & Yoko’s “bed-in for peace” in Montreal in 1969!
A Controversial “Bed-In!”
It may sound like no big deal now, but in 1969 this was incendiary stuff! John and Yoko were spending a week in bed in Montreal to promote peace, and they recorded “Give Peace A Chance” in the room…the couple invited many journalists in as well, and some were very combative towards John and Yoko…
This was a very polarizing time for Lennon. After the press events, John gathered all of the musicians, including Tommy, and they began rehearsing a new song – “Give Peace A Chance.” Tommy wanted to impress the Beatle by showing some innovative guitar work…
I told Tommy how incredible it was that he was performing with John Lennon. But Tommy explained to me what happened next.
He said that after his virtuoso guitar work, John abruptly stopped him, and said to him in his uniquely Lennon Liverpool accent:
“Just play it the way I wrote it, Tommy. If I wanted you to play it another way I would have written it like that”
Oops! Tommy told me he felt foolish, but John was nice about it, just adamant that EVERYONE in the room perform the song exactly as he wrote it!
Here is a clip of John’s famous “bed-in for peace”: – you can see Tommy Smothers playing Guitar at the end of the clip:
It was a pleasure to work with Tom and Dick Smothers, and these classic shows helped put E! on the map. Everyone involved with the original CBS shows were eager to be part of this updated version, because The Smothers Brothers were beloved…and of course, they showed classic Beatles material AND had George stop by to give them verbal support!
It was a few years later when John Lennon would run into The Smothers Brothers again – during the infamous 18-month “long weekend” binge with Harry Nilsson and others in Los Angeles!
One of the legendary stories about John and Harry involved being thrown out of a Smothers Brothers performance at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Here’s a great article with the entire story from the terrific “Ultimate Classic Rock” website:
It was one of John’s darker moments, and overshadowed some creative spark he showed at the time. It was during this period that Lennon produced the Harry Nilsson “Pussycats” album, which you can see here:
At this time in the post-Beatles world, John was living his “long weekend”, and Paul was getting Wings up to speed…
John and Paul were, without a doubt, music’s greatest duo, and look what I found: Paul singing “A Day In The Life” live in Liverpool, then segueing into “Give Peace A Chance” – with Yoko in the audience smiling broadly!
I am NOT a “Paul V. John” person – they were both brilliant in their own way, and I love that Paul played John’s iconic song…and let’s not forget Ringo, as we head back to The Smothers Brothers show!
Ringo also stopped by the show as well, and performed his “No No Song” with the brothers….
Ringo’s still making music, and touring all around the world with his “All-Starr” band…here’s a look at the latest lineup, including my favorite, Todd Rundgren:
Here is a look at some of the great music he will be making in 2016:
There is a great new book at looks at Ringo’s life – and Ringo himself released an incredible memento for fans as well!
These are replicas of the post cards that Paul, John and George sent Ringo from the road when he was in the hospital! See more about this here:
Leave me a message and let me know what you think of Tommy Smothers and John Lennon!
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