Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans

Image of Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans: The Untold Story of the Beatles' Roadie
Release Date: 
November 14, 2023
Dey Street Books
Reviewed by: 

“a part of the Beatles history that was nearly lost but now is a compelling and important read.”

Mal Evans is known in Beatle-land as the band’s roadie or road manager. He also played the role of bouncer and, if you’ve heard of him at all, that’s pretty much all you know. But this enlightening biography of the big man by longtime Beatles’ expert Kenneth Womack shows that Big Mal was so much more.

Much of the information here comes from Mal himself. Womack has leaned on Mal’s long-lost diaries (more on that later) and conducted new interviews to expand those diaries. Mal kept the diaries while he worked with the band, so they are contemporaneous from the ’60s, a primary source. He also took many behind-the-scenes photographs featured in this book. It’s a treasure trove of information and easily makes Living the Beatles Legend one of the more important and best Beatles books in years.

Big Mal was a trusted friend of the lads and palled around with them and their families in London and Liverpool. Over and over, we’re told the band and their families cherished Mal and his amiable personality.

And although he had no background in music, he seemed to absorb it by osmosis. He discovered and championed the group Badfinger and produced some of their records. Mal wrote songs that appeared on Ringo and George’s solo albums and, perhaps most impressively, he even contributed lyrics to some Beatles’ songs.

Even Sir Paul has told the story of how Mal was present at the birth of the idea for the Sgt. Pepper’s album but, in these diaries, Mal shares that he worked closely with Paul on the lyrics for “Fixing a Hole” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” According to Mal, Paul promised him a song-writing credit and royalties but later backed off that promise.  

As described here, Mal contributed a noteworthy line to one of the Beatles’ most beloved songs, “Here, There and Everywhere.” Mal writes that Paul told him he was stuck for a line and Mal writes, “I’m very eye-conscious and the line I came up with was ‘watching her eyes and hoping I’m always there.’ I’m very proud of that.”

Mal was a Beatles superfan and probably never considered suing his friends even though he badly needed money for his wife and two kids who he had more or less abandoned in Liverpool while he toured all over the world with the boys. For most of the band’s existence, Mal was paid 38 pounds a week although the boys did occasionally include him in their royal lifestyle. John Lennon, for instance, insisted that manager Brian Epstein put Mal and fellow roadie Neil Aspinall in first class seats and, one Christmas, the band gave Mal a new car.

Mal was a fellow Liverpudlian, on the same wavelength as the lads. Like them, he was a huge Elvis fan, and he was there when the Beatles met the King. Later, Elvis surprised Mal one Easter by calling his house and wishing him and his family a blessed day.

Before working for them, Mal knew John, Paul, George, and Ringo from the Cavern Club where the band performed some 292 times. He got to know them much better beginning in 1962 when the Beatles needed a driver to take them into London. Their regular driver Neil Aspinall was sick, so he offered the job to Mal. He accepted immediately, and his life changed forever.

Mal bonded with the boys on that trip thanks to, of all things, a broken windshield. It threatened to come into the van and inflict some serious damage, but a quick-thinking Mal used his hat to break out the dangerous glass shards while he kept driving. The Beatles were impressed, and the legend of Big Mal was born.

From then on, everywhere the Beatles went, Mal went. There are many photos of him lurking in the background wherever they were, and he was the person assigned to delay the cops during that last rooftop concert.

In the early days, Mal became a one-man wonder. He drove the van, set up and took down their instruments, and because he was physically much bigger and in great condition, he became their bodyguard. It’s almost impossible to believe but on the Beatles wildly popular tour of America in 1964, Mal and Neil Aspinall were the only ones along to care for the band’s instruments. Mal secondary job was to patrol the hallways of the hotels where the Beatles roomed, keeping interlopers from reaching them. Not all of them. It’s well known that Mal was the go-between who picked out the comely lasses granted access to the Beatles’ bedrooms.  

In his own fine book on the Beatles titled Magical Mystery Tour, Beatles insider Tony Bramwell (also quoted in this biography) wrote: “Big Mal was a demon for sex. His stamina would have been remarkable in a harem . . . he was a stud straight from the Karma Sutra. Like sacrificial virgins, a lot of the girls willingly accepted that they would have to do it with Mal to get to John, Paul, George and Ringo, and Mal knew it.”

Once the band stopped touring, Mal sat in during studio sessions and was a familiar figure at every music store in London where he was a regular customer, buying everything the boys needed to do their thing.

After the Beatles disbanded, it was hard for everyone in the Beatles inner circle to move on, but it seems it was especially tough on Mal. One of his ways to cope was to write his memoirs based on his diaries and photographs. He found a New York publisher and was hoping it would be the springboard to launching a series of high-paying lectures about the Beatles. His stories about the boys were unique and he could entertain for hours, Womack writes.

He even secured letters from John, Paul, George, and Ringo—included in this book—giving him permission to write about his years with them. John told him not to bother if he wasn’t going to tell the truth. It was the green light Mal needed.

Mal’s life seemed to be settling down but eventually, his appetite for sex and drugs got the better of him. He always had regrets about ignoring his wife and kids and fell deeper and deeper into drugs. At the end of his life, in 1975, he was living with a woman in Los Angeles who had more or less become his American wife.

At that point in his career, Mal was trying to make it as a songwriter, as well as an author, but he was despondent and became depressed and eventually suicidal. His American girlfriend was freaked out by the guns he had in their apartment.

Mal had always been a lover of American Westerns and collected guns. In 1976, he grabbed a gun and instructed his girlfriend to call the police. She obliged. They entered a bedroom and, when Mal pointed a gun at them, they shot him to death. It is one of the earliest recorded examples of “suicide by cop.”

With his death, Mal’s outline for his book Living the Beatles Legend also with all of his diaries and photographs seemed to disappear. The story of how these long-forgotten Beatles’ artifacts came to light is a story in itself and is included here.  

They were saved by a stubborn temp worker named Leena Kutti who refused to let Mal’s diaries, photos, and first draft be thrown into the garbage. In the 1980s, Kutti marched up to the Dakota Apartments and left a hand-written note with the doorman, pleading for Yoko to help her save Mal’s papers.

Yoko knew Mal of course and responded, asking her lawyers to fetch everything and send them to Mal’s family. In 1988, Mal’s personal effects were delivered to his family and his son Gary, who writes the foreword to this book, searched for the proper collaborator and he found him in Kenneth Womack.

The result is a part of the Beatles history that was nearly lost but now is a compelling and important read.