Pete Shotton, a friend of John Lennon‘s who knew him from early childhood in Liverpool and stayed connected with him during his career with The Beatles and after, has died after a reported heart attack at age 75, The Liverpool Echoreported Friday (March 24).
In his 1983 autobiography In My Life, co-authored with Nicholas Shaffner, Shotton says he couldn’t recall ever not knowing Lennon. “My memories of the two of us go back so far that I barely remember a time when there was no John Lennon in my life,” his book begins. The two grew up together in Woolton, where Lennon lived on Menlove Avenue in a house called “Mendips” and Shotton lived just around the corner on Vale Road. According to Bill Harry’s The John Lennon Encyclopedia, both Shotton’s mother Bess and Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, who raised him, thought each was a bad influence on the other. Lennon called the two of them “Shennon and Lotton.” Michael A. Hill, who knew Lennon as a youngster and is the author of John Lennon: The Boy Who Became a Legend, called Shotton Lennon’s “partner in mischief and mayhem.”
Shotton said an early memory of Lennon involved Shotton making fun of his middle name, Winston, by calling him “Winnie.” “In company, John always pretended to ignore my references to his second name,” Shotton wrote. “Instead, he bided his time, waiting for a chance to deal with me in private, man to man.”
That opportunity came when Shotton was walking home one day. Lennon suddenly popped out of a bush and warned him, “Listen, you. If you keep calling me ‘Winnie,’ I’m going to have to smash you up.” “Well, then, ‘Winnie,’ you’ll have to prove it first. And I’d like to see you try,” Shotton replied. Lennon then jumped on top of Shotton, pinned his wrists, and told him he wasn’t to use the name anymore. Shotton, who said he never thought Lennon would actually hit him, told Lennon he agreed not to. “Cross my heart and hope to die,” he told Lennon.
But then, Shotton taunted him with “Winnie, Winnie, Winnie!” “I’ll get you for that, Shotton!,” Lennon said shaking his fist. “Well, you’ll have to catch me first,” Shotton replied.
Shotton says he approached Paul McCartney soon after he’d met John Lennon about an idea to join the pre-Beatles group The Quarrymen, which then included both him and Lennon. “By the way, I’ve been talking to John about it and we thought maybe you’d like to join the group.” He wrote that McCartney thought for a minute, then said, “Oh, all right,” and took off on his bicycle to go home.
Shotton played a role in the creation of two Beatles songs: “Eleanor Rigby” and “I Am the Walrus.” Shotton said he suggested the name “Father McKenzie” when Paul McCartney was trying to come up with the name of a cleric for the song. It was also his idea, he says, to have Rigby die at the end of the song, a suggestion he writes was originally rejected by Lennon.
He wrote that his input for the song “I Am the Walrus” went back to the two friends’ days at Quarry Bank School and a song called “Dead Dog’s Eye” that included the phrase “yellow matter custard.” Inspired by a letter from a Quarry Bank student who said his teacher there had been analyzing Beatles lyrics, in contrast to Lennon’s days as a student there when he was told he would fail, Lennon decided to add the most ludicrous images he could think of to the song to get back at his schoolmasters. “Let the f—ers work that one out, Pete,” he said.
Shotton managed the Apple Boutique, which lasted just over six months before closing in 1968. He said it became very clear early on that The Beatles’ philosophy of “idealism and lunacy” wasn’t going to work with a commercial store. He also became the first managing director of Apple Corps.
“John had a fairly limited range of very close friends, but Pete Shotton was not only one of the earliest, but one of closest over the longest period of time,” Bill Harry, founder and editor of Liverpool’s Mersey Beat newspaper that covered The Beatles’ rise to fame, told Billboard. “John did set him up in business, but Pete’s own business acumen made him an entrepreneur. He continued the close relationship throughout John’s time in the U.K., visiting him at Weybridge, even attending recording sessions, including for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“The close relationship ended when John moved to New York and John was basically prevented from associating with the friends he had prior to Yoko. Eventually Pete was able to meet John again when the Lennono I Ching and Tarot card reader said that John was allowed to see him again.”
David Bedford, author of The Fab One Hundred and Four, about many of the people, including Shotton, known and not-so-well known connected to the Beatles, told Billboard the two were the closest of friends. “Pete was John’s best friend from the age of 5, and they were inseparable. They tormented teachers at Quarry Bank School, getting themselves into trouble almost daily. John could keep a straight face while Pete would have hysterics at anything his partner in crime did. When it came to starting The Quarrymen, Pete had to be involved as he was John’s best friend. As he wasn’t musical, Pete was given the washboard. He didn’t last long in the group but was always there at his friend’s side.
“Even after The Beatles became famous, John had Pete working at Apple and would give Pete whatever he needed, famously setting his friend up in a supermarket on Hayling Island. The pair remained friends. He will forever be mentioned in the same breath as his friend John Lennon, a friendship that survived fame and remained as strong as ever.”
A documentary film now in the works that Bedford is involved with, Looking for Lennon, includes Shotton’s story from accounts by his friends.