Jim Berkenstadt, author of “The Beatle Who Vanished”

We recently spoke to Jim Berkenstadt, the "Rock and Roll Detective®," and author of The Beatle Who Vanished, the story of Jimmie Nicol, a drummer who, after filling in for a sick Ringo Starr, simply vanished. Berkenstadt is also the author of the behind-the-scenes Nevermind: Nirvana and Black Market Beatles, the most comprehensive story of the Beatles unreleased and bootleg recordings. We asked Jim "Five Questions" and here's what he had to say.

So how does one become a “Rock and Roll Detective®?” What was your first case?

My first case was really in preparation for my first book. The goal was to uncover and listen to every possible unreleased Beatles concert, demo, outtake, alternate take, radio / TV show, and interview they ever recorded. This turned into my first book, Black Market Beatles: The Story Behind The Lost Recordings.

I guess I became the Rock And Roll Detective® by years of listening to rock and roll every day and tracking who played on what sessions, who produced, and then interviewing people who created the music over the decades. I subscribe to the “10,000 hour principal”, which holds that “10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice’ are needed to become world-class in any field.” I probably had that covered for The Beatles by 1970, when they broke up. Then it was time to move on to the groups that inspired them and those that came after them!

I was dubbed the Rock And Roll Detective® by one of my clients and decided to use it as the name of my business. I have spent a lifetime writing and consulting in pop music history. My books on the Beatles (The Beatle Who Vanished and Black Market Beatles) and on Nirvana (Nirvana: Nevermind –Classic Rock Books) are all in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Permanent Library and Archives.

I have consulted to The Beatles, George Harrison, Martin Scorsese, Reelz TV, VH1, Dick Clark, The Traveling Wilburys, the Estate of Roy Orbison, Garbage, Producer Butch Vig and many more. See a full list of credits at www.rockandrolldetective.com

What’s the one point that casual Beatles fans should take away from the Jimmie Nicol story and The Beatle Who Vanished?

The Beatle Who Vanished is both an epic and intimate story. It is not just a story for Beatles fans. Rather, it is a human interest story that touches on the value of hard work, developing relationships/networking, and dealing with “fame” as both a blessing and a curse.

Nicol is not just a person who spent two weeks as a “5th Beatle”. He was a serious young man who earned his way up the British music entertainment ladder, long before he got his big chance. But, the story is also a fascinating and mysterious read for anyone who wants to understand the meteoric rise to pop stardom and see what happens after those “15 minutes of fame” are over. How Jimmie Nicol reacted to this unprecedented moment in time, shaped the rest of his life. Without giving away the book, Nicol used his ability to “vanish” whenever he wanted to try something new or move on to new challenges. This made my job difficult trying to unravel his mysterious moves each time he walked out the door and moved on.

Nicol seemed convinced that Epstein had him blacklisted in England following his sit-in with the Beatles tour. True? Not true? Somewhere in between?

My research led me to conclude that Nicol very much believed he was being blacklisted by Brian Epstein. A few years after The Beatles tour, one interview subject in the book tells of being in a room with Nicol as he cursed Epstein for “blacklisting him”, followed by his angrily “smashing the gold watch given to him by Epstein and The Beatles”. 

However, as an historian I found when I talked to The Beatles’ inner circle management, this was far from reality. The Beatles and their management felt that Jimmie did an excellent job on tour, subbing for Ringo, and were rooting for him to succeed. In the book, I tell the story of how Epstein even organized a concert with The Beatles and Jimmie Nicol’s band on the same bill, to give Nicol a bigger audience.

Do you know if there’s been any contact between Jimmie Nicol and the last surviving Beatles, McCartney and Starr?

Ringo Starr had very little contact with Nicol. He was in the hospital when Nicol went on tour with The Beatles, and only saw him in Melbourne the day before Jimmie flew home. Starr knew of Nicol around London, as a fellow drummer before he played with The Beatles.

Paul McCartney tried to get Jimmie Nicol to participate in filming for The Beatles’ Anthology film in the mid 1990s by asking Jimmie’s son Howie, who was coincidentally working on this film. I will leave it to readers to find out what happened to this story… in the book.

I am not aware of any recent contacts between the surviving Beatles and Nicol. The enigmatic Mr. Nicol is following in the footsteps of movie actress Greta Garbo who retired at the age of 35 and went into deep seclusion.

And, finally, congratulations are in order, as Orbison Films has optioned your book to develop a feature film! How involved will you be in the project and what is your vision and/or your expectation?

Thank you.

I believe that I will have a consulting role and perhaps a small role in sourcing music from Nicol’s career. My vision is for the producers to create an accurate portrait of Jimmie Nicol’s life that is respectful and reflects his enigmatic nature, while unraveling the mystery as detailed in my book. I have great respect and admiration for Ashley Hamilton & Alex Orbison, and look forward to their visual media presentation of my book, The Beatle Who Vanished.



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