Who Was the Fifth Beatle – Jimmie Nicol?

On June 3, 1964, Ringo Starr collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. Suffering from severe tonsillitis, Starr required immediate surgery. All this happened the day before The Beatles were meant to go on a world tour.

Thousands of tickets had already been purchased for their tour, and venues, hotels, and all other travel and event arrangements had already been booked and paid for. A replacement drummer to stand in for Ringo Starr had to be found – and fast.

After holding auditions, Jimmie Nicol was selected to be the stand-in. For two weeks, Nicol became a Beatle, playing at all the concerns, making incredible wages, and, partying with George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

When Ringo Starr recovered from his surgery, Jimmie Nicol just as quickly lost all his fame and fortune. This is the incredible true story of the forgotten Beatle.

The Chance of a Lifetime

When Ringo Starr was hospitalized on June 3rd, 1964, Jimmie Nicol had no idea that this event would change his life. However, Nicol had been a longtime fan and imitator of the Beatles.

When The Beatles’ band manager Brian Epstein starded making calls to find a stand-in for Ringo, producer George Martin brought up Jimmie Nicol’s name. Martin had worked with Nicol on a album full of Beatles’ covers called “Beatlemania”, in which Nicol’s was the session drummer. This meant that Nicol already knew all the Beatles’ songs.

The Job

When Nicol showed up for the audition, he played a set of Beatles’ songs, and was immediately offered a job with the most popular band in the world. He was immediately fitted a suit, and had his haircut in the Beatles style.

As a temporary member of the band, Nicol claimed that he was offered about 2,500 pounds (about 45,000 pounds today) per show, and an additional 2,500 pounds to temporarily sign with the band.

The week before, Nicol was making about 1,000 times less. Less than 24 hours later, Nicol was playing a set with the band in Copenhagen in front of thousands of fans.

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The Perks

On tour, Nicol quickly realized all the perks of being a Beatle. One thing that he talked about was all the girls. The day before he became a temporary member of the band, girls wouldn’t even look at him.

But, according to him, “The day after, when I was suited up and riding in the back of a limo with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, there were dying just to get a touch of me.” Needless to say, this was a strange experience for Nicol. He partied hard with the band, with a seemingly unlimited access to drugs, alcohol, and women.

An Inside Look at the Beatles

On top of all these perks, Nicol also got to see an insider’s view of the Beatles. Seeing beyond what the public was told, Nicol said that Paul McCartney had a love of blonde women and didn’t like crowds.

John Lennon often drank in excess. And George Harrison wasn’t shy at all, despite his public appearance. Despite this insider’s look, Nicol reported feeling generally left out – a simple outsider given the chance to peek in for a moment.

Although the band was nothing but kind to him, he reported feeling like an intruder.

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Happy to Leave?

In a rare interview, Jimmie Nicol explained that while the experience was very interesting, and was definitely eye-opening, he didn’t want to become a permanent member of the band.

Spending they’re lives travelling, Jimmie Nicol would go out alone while on tour. He would wander around and observe the life of foreigners, knowing that the other members of the Beatles’ could never do that.

Leaving the band meant living a normal life. But was that really what Nicol wanted?

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Ringo’s Return

While Ringo was in surgery, the band sent him telegrams saying that Nicol was getting comfortable in his suits. Ringo Starr had actually replaced another drummer, Pete Best, when he was ill.

Starr would later admit that he was jealous of Nicol, thinking that he had been replaced. Starr returned on June 14th. The following day, Nicol would have the last interview as a member of the Beatles.

Before leaving, Brian Epstein, the band manager, would give Nicol a gold watch and 500 pound bonus.

The Experience that Would Change his Life

Although he claimed that he was happy to see the end of his stint as a Beatle, Nicol’s life went drastically downhill after the experience. Although he made over 20,000 pounds during the tour, Nicol would spend it in less than nine months, investing a lot of his money in a failed band.

His wife and young son left him, and Nicol declared bankruptcy in 1965. Although he had a brief stint with the Swedish band,The Spotnicks, Nicol’s drug abuse problems would get in the way of him ever having a successful music career.

According to Nicol, standing in for the Beatles was one of the worst things he could have done, because he had a taste of fame, and then had it take away from him. Before the experience, he was happy. After the experience, he wasn’t satisfied with his mediocre career and life.

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Jimmy Nicole Played on the Beatlemania recording

In the recording of Beatlemania, Nicol plays in most of the songs. The album reached number 30 in the British Charts. However, Nicol and the rest of the band never appear in the album, in an effort to try and trick fans into thinking that Beatlemania was an official Beatles album.

These records were then sold for discounted prices, which was pretty popular with teenagers who wanted to listen to their favourite songs, but couldn’t afford the official albums. These albums were called “Top Six Records.”

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Mr. Nicol was a part of several Top Six Records, and had a diverse musical background. He was also applauded for his drum-work during his replacement. He even started to add his own flourishes by the end of his tour with The Beatles.

Jimmy Nicol: The Beatle Who Vanished (2015) Jim Berkenstadt Interview

Legendary Disc Jockey, Eddie Winters talks to the Rock and Roll Detective, Jim Berkenstadt.

Jim is the author of the recent book, The Beatle Who Vanished which chronicles the life of Jimmy Nicol, the drummer who briefly replaced Ringo Starr during part of the Beatles’ 1964 concert tour.

Learn how Jimmy was selected to play in the biggest band in rock history and how it effected him once his 15 minutes of fame were up.

Image Credit: Eric Koch, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang, bestanddeelnummer 916-5098, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons