Like many other aspiring artists, singer-songwriter Dave Humphries has sent out armloads of promotional packages to prospective labels, management companies and so on. It's a pretty safe bet that he's the only one who was turned down by the Beatles' Apple Records-not once, not twice, but four times.
And he got it in writing.
Sitting in Humphries' Mission Hills condo is an experience not unlike being dropped in the middle of a PBS comedy. Humphries was born and raised in Durham, England, falling in love with a San Diegan and moving here in 1995. He possesses a distinctly dry wit, each comment tagged with a droll punchline. As a performer, he's been hitting the stage since the mid-'60s, and he has just released his sophomore album, Years Away from Yesterday.
In 1968, however, Humphries was 16 years old and his band The Idea had just taped a few songs, a very big deal at the time. Using reel-to-reel, they'd recorded the songs in a church hall where they had been rehearsing. Then, Apple Records came on the scene and placed an advertisement in the newspaper looking for new talent.
"So we thought we would go down [there] with this recording," Humphries recalls. "We got the overnight bus. But we couldn't find [the studio]. But I had read in a magazine that Paul lived in St. Johns Wood and could sit in his top story bedroom and watch cricket.
"So we went to St. Johns Wood and asked people where the cricket grounds were. [We] didn't want to look too obvious. Eventually there was a guy cutting his hedge and we asked, "Could you tell us where it is'? He told us, but then he said, "But if you want to go past Paul McCartney's house....'"
Off to McCartney's house the band went, and they were approached by a woman who started asking the loiterers questions.
"Turns out it was Rose, Paul's housekeeper," Humphries says. The band told her about their tape, and she agreed to take the tape to McCartney and have him listen to it.
""Come back tomorrow at 10,'" Humphries remembers her telling them. It was 1968. Paul McCartney was going to listen to their demo. They had an appointment to meet back at his house. This was big.
"So the next morning we rang the bell," Humphries recalls. "We had one of the guys down across the street jump up and down so Rose would know it was us. She came down to the gate and said, "Paul hasn't had time to listen to it yet, so come back at 2 o'clock.'
"We did the same thing, even jumping up and down. This time she said, "He still hasn't heard it but he says will you take it around to Apple in Saville Row.'"
The band thought they were to meet some label people but instead found an office still under construction.
"There was nothing there, just this green carpet, white walls and then this set of steps," Humphries remembers.
They explored the building, eventually hearing voices on the top floor. Expecting an encounter with the Fab Four, they timidly pushed open a door. All they found were construction workers enjoying a cup of tea.
"The first one yelled at us, "What the bloody hell are you buggers doing here?'" Humphries says, laughing at the memory. After explaining their mission, the band left.
"There was an ash tray at the reception desk, so I put the tape under it with a note saying, "Paul asked us to bring this around.' We just left it there."
On Sept. 25, 1968, the band got their first rejection letter from Apple's head of A&R, Peter Asher, a former member of Peter & Gordon and future producer of James Taylor and Linda Rondstadt.
Not giving up, Humphries and crew decided to try a new tactic. The Idea wrote some new songs and submitted them to the publishing arm of Apple. This time, their rejection would be swifter, earning them a letter from head of Apple Publishing Dee Meehan, wife of Shadows drummer Tony Meehan.
By this time, the band was seemingly becoming addicted to their own rejection.
"We were so delighted with what we thought that we had done, we sent it also to George Martin," Humphries says. "Of course, he just passed it on to someone else."
That someone else was Chris Thomas, who would go on to produce the Sex Pistols, Pretenders and many more. It resulted in the band's third Beatles-related rejection in a year.
They weren't through yet.
"So then we thought, "We need some good quality gear,'" Humphries recalls. "So somebody came up with the bright idea of writing to Ringo, because we thought he was probably the kindest, with less projects going on."
"So we wrote to Ringo and asked him if he would buy us some amplification. And that's the letter we got from Peter Brown, who was immortalized in the "Ballad of John and Yoko.'"
Humphries knew his band's tireless application to the Fab Four, though unsuccessful, would be a lifelong conversation piece. In a small way, all those long-ago efforts were vindicated when Humphries recently collaborated on a new song, "38 Days," with early Beatles compatriot Tony Sheridan.
"It was tremendous just to be sitting next to him, both of us playing guitar on tunes that I had written," he remarks. "I was sitting there when he was putting a guitar part on a song. And [all of a sudden] I went back to somewhere like '66 when I was in a bedroom in the northeast of England listening to my first copy of Tony Sheridan with the Beatles."
Currently, Humphries fluctuates between solo acoustic shows and occasional gigs with a small combo dubbed the Shooting the Breeze Band. He's also working towards releasing a third album, incorporating those Sheridan collaborations and newer material.
While he's hoping to shop this to a few indie labels, he's a realist about his chances at a deal. Luckily, his experiences in 1968 have insulated him from any future negative response.
"If I get rejected for anything, now I can always say, "I've been turned down by bigger people than you.'"
Visit www.davehumphries music.com.