Today Marks the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles First Trip to the U.S.; Stars Share Fab Four Recollections

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2014-02_6a576a3e7d.jpgCBS Photography 1964 -- Today marks the 50th anniversary of historic day that The Beatles invaded the U.S. The Fab Four took a Pan Am flight from London to New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where they were greeted by thousands of fans. Prior to the band's arrival, U.S. radio had begun to saturate the airwaves with The Beatles' music, and by January 18 of 1964, the group had scored its first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, "I Want to Hold Your Hand." 

Beatles historian and author Bruce Spizer tells ABC News Radio that while some people have suggested that the reason so many people turned up at JFK for the group's arrival is that promoters had promised free Beatles T-shirts to kids who made it out to the airport, he thinks the real motivating factor was simply young fans' excitement about the band.

"I think it pretty much was spontaneous in the sense that the radio let them know they were coming and they were eager to see their heroes," he explains.

Shortly after touching down, the band they held a now-famous press conference at which they wittily sparred with the New York media.  "I think the New York press was ready to tear these little kids apart, then all of a sudden they started answering these questions," says Spizer, "and the press was just overwhelmed by the charm and the wit on these people."

Recalling their big trip, Ringo Starr tells ABC News Radio that The Beatles were initially a bit apprehensive about coming to America, because George Harrison had visited his sister in the U.S. a few months earlier and had told his band mates that he'd gone to a local record store and no one had heard of the group.

"When he had come back to England, he said, 'Oh, it's going to be hard.  They don't know us,'" explains Starr.  "But by the time we got there, you can't plan it, we had a number one."

That #1 single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," was one of five tunes that The Beatles played when they hit the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show on the evening of February 9, 1964.  An amazing 73 million people -- about 40 percent of the U.S. population -- tuned in to watch the four Liverpudlian mop tops' performance, while the TV cameras also caught the frenzied reactions of many teenage girls in the audience.

"Although we had heard the music and seen still pictures of them, we had never really seen the group perform," Spizer points out.  "And here they are, in front of screaming kids in a packed theater holding 750 people, and the…camera crews did an incredible job of capturing that excitement." If it hadn't before, Beatlemania truly began in America that evening.

Before heading back England on February 22, The Beatles would play a concert on February at the Washington Coliseum in Washington, D.C., a show the following night at Carnegie Hall back in New York City, and would make one more Sullivan Show appearance, giving a live performance on February 16 from the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.

So many famous musicians, of course, were inspired and influenced by the Fab Four, and for more than a few, it all began with that first Ed Sullivan Show appearance.

Ex-Eagles guitarist Don Felder tells ABC News Radio, "Seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show was a bigger impact on me than when I first saw Elvis Presley at the age of 10 that inspired me to start playing guitar.  When I saw all those girls screaming, and the energy that he had, the guitar was the most important thing in my life…And then when I saw the Beatles it was all about, not just a guitar player or a singer, it was about a band and by that time I was already into bands."

Doors drummer John Densmore admits that he initially was put off by the Fab Four's long hair when he watched them on Sullivan, but it wasn't long before he became a fan of their music.  He says, "I was a jazz snob, and I was aware of Elvis and the '50s rockers, and liked it, but…then The Beatles came along and I went, 'Wow! Yeah!  I can do that.  We can do that.'"

The Eagles' Joe Walsh, who has performed with both Paul McCartney and Starr in recent years and is married to Ringo's wife's sister, says The Beatles are the reason he's chose to make music his life. "I was washing dishes in a hamburger place in Montclair, New Jersey, and I heard 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' on the radio," he recalls.  "And here I am."

Late Show with David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer, who makes a living performing on the same stage The Beatles graced during their Sullivan Show appearance, has vivid memories of watching the band on the historic program.

"I'll never forget it," he declares.  "I couldn't believe how long their hair was in the back.  That's what surprised me.  Everybody knew about the front, but the back, that's what was impressive."

Mark Rivera, who's a longtime member of Billy Joel's band as well as music director of Ringo's All Starr Band, is yet another musician who was greatly affected by that Sullivan Show performance.

"I remember sitting in front of this little black-and-white television and I would be lying if I didn't say it completely changed my life," he admits.  "The culture that you know, the clothes that I'm wearing today, to this day are still affected by what those four lads did."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio