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24th November, 2021

Becoming The Beatles: The Fake Fab Four

In 1964, South American fans eagerly awaited the arrival of the Fab Four from Liverpool – but four Americans named Tom, Vic, Bill and Dave turned up instead…

As Beatlemania was making its way around the world, a newspaper announced that The Beatles would be travelling to South America. Millions awaited their arrival with bated breath – and in July, when four young mop-tops arrived in Buenos Aires Airport, it seemed that teenage dreams were about to come true. The Beatles however were around 11,000km away in London.

Originally a doo-wop harmony band called ‘The Ardells’, 'The American Beetles', which consisted of Bill Ande (guitar), Tom Condra (guitar), Vic Gray (bass) and Dave Hieronymus (drums), began their career at a nightclub in Florida under the guidance of manager Bob Yorey.

Bob was quick to capitalise on the success of The Beatles, claiming; ‘They’re the English Beatles. I’m going to make up a group called The American Beatles.’ So, Bob managed to recruit the four musicians, asked them to grow their hair, dress the same and wear suits. Bill Ande, their lead guitarist, spoke with BBC Culture in an interview and claimed that the whole thing started as ‘a bit of a joke’.

Both a joke and a timely cash-grab, the group’s rebrand had won them big crowds and fresh attention from promoters in the US.   

An impresario named Rudy Duclós saw the band perform in Bob’s Miami club and as an Argentinan himself, decided he wanted to book them on a tour of South America. However when pitching the group to venues and promoters, Rudy forgot to mention the 'American Beetles' part; he’d pitched them as the real deal.

The agreement was done, press were alerted and Beatlemania was turned up a notch. The Fab Four were coming to South America.

Their arrival in Buenos Aires was met with commotion – a number of TV channels were vying for them to perform on their shows so getting the band and their instruments from the plane into a car and onto a hotel proved chaotic. Eventually they were escorted to Channel 9 in one piece. They were the main act booked on a show called The Laughter Festival on July 8th 1964.

The band waited behind the stage, hidden from view by a curtain with their guitars and drum sticks at the ready as the host delivered his opening dialogue. As soon as he introduced ‘Los American Beetles’ the band arrived on stage and began to play ‘Twist And Shout’. Quickly viewers at home realised they had been deceived.

Carlos Santion, an employee at Channel 9 described the show to the BBC as ‘between indignation and laughter’. The South American press felt like they had been treated as a laughing stock with headlines like ‘They have hair in their vocal cords!’, ‘They sing bad but they act worse!’ and ‘The Beetles showed that all the talent they have is in their hair’.

Like concerts of The Beatles, screams and shouts from the crowd bellowed around the studio and many people were having an enjoyable time, but others who were waiting for the real Beatles felt defrauded.

However, they continued to tour – with shows in Lima, Sao Paolo and Rio De Janeiro where they played to packed crowds of excited Beatles fans, happy to see the next best thing.

The American Beetles once had a chance meeting with The Beatles –at Bob Yorey’s Miami club. John, Paul, George and Ringo had landed in Florida and made the short journey to see their doppelgänger’s perform. George and Paul even stood up to dance.

The band changed their name in 1964 to Razor’s Edge where they returned to the doo-wop bar circuit.

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