Love, Love Me Do
A couple of Beatlemaniacs
Teeny-bopper girls swooned and screamed at the first note. Sons ditched tidy crewcuts for flat flaps of bangs. It was 1965, and Beatlemania was in full-swing, thanks to the previous year’s debut of four mop-topped Liverpool lads on The Ed Sullivan Show.
They hijacked popular culture in a single bound, turning the country on its head. America was berserk for The Beatles.
But little Alex Fazzino knew nothing of this till his fun, vivacious mom plopped him in front of the family’s black and white set in September 1965 to watch another of their appearances on the variety show. “Watch these guys, Alex!” she implored. “Watch!”
So, the pajama-clad 5 year old set aside his toys, eyes fixed on the monochrome images before him: Dark pudding bowls of hair. Fresh faces beaming from tailored suits. And the sounds! Songs with toe-tapping beats that danced straight into his heart. Yeah yeah yeah. He was feeling it. The Beatles in his blood.
“And that was it for me,” says Alex, 61, of his lifelong passion for the Fab Four, shared these days with bubbly brunette Judy, his wife of 19 years. The two met in 2001, both going through divorces. “Comfort at first sight,” recalls Alex. Love blossomed. Fate, he soon realized, had delivered the perfect match. For Judy was also a Beatlemanic.
“I couldn’t ask for a better partner in crime,” he says.
They can talk The Beatles with the best of them, but this couple has the advantage of visual aids. Because the entire second story of their Bellaire-area home is an Alex and Judy Beatles museum of sorts, one of the country’s highest-quality collections of period memorabilia, merchandising, and music from the iconic band’s days.
“Don’t ask which Beatle is my favorite. It’s like asking who your favorite son is,” quips the architect who, with his wife, a nurse, has acquired more than 845 collectible pieces related to the quartet of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. Three bedrooms serve as gallery space for every conceivable period piece and bauble: exceedingly rare, limited-release albums, still sealed; a Magic Slate toy, one of two known to exist; 45s in pristine picture sleeves. The list goes on and on.
But the pièce de resistance doesn’t come in inanimate form. They’ve collected precious memories, too. The couple met Ringo Starr during a group meet-and-greet in 2015 and flew to Liverpool for a private meeting with Paul McCartney in 2014, a bucket-list moment that gets their adrenaline pumping to this day.
It was a long and winding road to that pinnacle McCartney moment, they say, but, boy, what a ride.
When Alex and Judy first got together, they had a smattering of Beatles albums and a few scratched 45 singles. Buoyed by their Beatles bond, they began adding to their album catalog, learning the nuances of collecting – what records were rare and why. But they had no memorabilia or merchandising items to speak of. Till Judy discovered that market.
Watch out. Whole new ballgame.
They recall a 2003 California trip that yielded a set of rare 1964 Beatles bobbleheads. “We didn’t have a clue about memorabilia or the prices. We had nothing to compare prices to,” explains Judy. “No vendor friends, or price guides or catalogs. We were winging it.” But they sprang for the $800 set, trusting they didn’t just get fleeced.
“Turns out the price was pretty in line for the time and what we paid,” says Alex. The newly minted memorabilia couple then set their sights on their first-ever Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago, Judy’s birthday gift to Alex. “I couldn’t sleep for two months. I was so excited for that fest,” he says.
They arrived early, wristbands on. Doors opened, and eyes went tilt. Before them, Beatles manna for the masses. Booth after booth of vintage items. Musicians from tribute bands added to the surreal experience, both in look and sound. “We’ve met so many good friends and dealers from going to that festival the past 15 years,” Alex says.
Among them is Beatles broker and close friend Gary Hein of New Jersey. Alex recalls buying a Yellow Submarine lunch box and a few other items during that first fest. Over the years, that buyer-dealer relationship has produced several rare items.
“They’ve definitely got one of the highest quality collections in the country. There are a few guys with bigger collections, but they aren’t as focused on quality. Sometimes, less is more,” Gary says. “Alex and Judy have the period stuff that sets them apart, and then they’ve taken it up to top-notch, top-shelf stuff.”
Among those rare gems, the group’s first-ever recording, the 45 My Bonnie from October 1961, before they were known as The Beatles. Gary sold the record to the couple, as well as John Lennon’s personal British European Airways flight bag. The broker purchased the bag from Alf Bicknell, The Beatles’ chauffeur and a tour manager during their height of fame.
“He was quite elderly and has since died, but I flew him over from England and made the purchase,” Gary recalls. “And he told me a horror story. He was gifted quite a few things from The Beatles, and for the longest time he’d had a couple of sets of Beatles suits in his closet. He came back from a trip to find his wife wanted to surprise him by cleaning out his closet and donated them, not realizing what they were. Poor guy was mortified. There’s probably some homeless guy in Liverpool right now wearing a Beatles suit.”
While Alex and Judy didn’t spot that homeless man, they did see plenty of Beatles history during a 2013 Liverpool tour for International Beatles Week. They rendezvoused with a tour group of 70 fans, visiting London, then Liverpool and places like The Cavern Club where the Fab Four’s popularity started.
The trip peaked with tour members laying down a vocal backtrack to The Beatles’ All You Need is Love at the famous Abbey Road Studios where the band recorded the majority of its songs. “So, I guess you could say we are Abbey Road recording artists,” Alex says with a laugh.
Lots of friendships were forged during that trip, including one with tribute artist Michael Callahan, known as Ringer Starr. Ringer, as in dead ringer, for he bears an uncanny resemblance to the drummer Beatle. And he’s no slouch on the drums either. He’s been playing for more than half his life. He travels the world with tribute bands, belting out Ringo songs and other pop favorites.
Michael is often mistaken for the real deal. Like at Alex’s 60th birthday-party Beatles bash in 2019.
“I asked him to just come in character and walk around the party, then to sing with the band on stage,” recalls Alex, who hired Houston’s The Fab 5 Beatles tribute band to play The Heights Theater shindig.
“It was an over-the-top party, really cool,” says Michael. “People were afraid to come up to me. Some were trying to sneak pictures. It’s typical when I’m in situations like that.” The crowd went wild as he took to the stage singing With A Little Help From My Friends.
“Definitely the best birthday party I’ve been to in my life. And their collection is like something out of the Smithsonian,” enthuses the couple’s friend, Alex Wolchansky. An avid sports collector, he understands the thrill of the hunt. “And wow, the fact that they got to meet Paul McCartney… that’s a lifetime experience.”
Friend Jeff Smith concurs. He was on the Liverpool trip with Judy and Alex and viewed their collection upon return. “It knocks your socks off. It is like a museum. I’ve met a lot of my musical idols, but never Paul McCartney,” he adds. “To think that Judy and Alex had a one-on-one with, in my opinion, the greatest songwriter who ever lived… wow, that’s something.”
So how does one wrangle a meeting with Sir Paul?
Very quietly, it would appear.
The couple’s Beatles world has expanded to include friends in McCartney’s circle. One of those friends reached out to McCartney, who agreed to meet the couple if they could come to Liverpool. Alex wasn’t on cloud nine. He was on cloud eleven. “I didn’t know he’d see us one-on-one! I thought it’d be in a group setting, like a meet-and-greet. I just couldn’t believe it!”
He called Judy at work to relay the news. Screams ricocheted off the walls.
“But we were calm and collected when the time came,” says Judy. “We knew exactly what we wanted to say.” Alex arrived with a spiral notebook bucket list. Top of that list: Meet Sir Paul McCartney.
“Paul said, ‘Well, let’s have a look,’ then signs my bucket list and says and writes Done!” recalls Alex. “He couldn’t have been nicer and posed with us for pictures, and, of course, wow, Judy got to kiss him.”
Oh yeah, those pictures are in their Beatles collection, Judy planting a kiss on Sir Paul’s cheek. He autographed the couple’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album and made note of Judy’s handbag by fashion designer Stella McCartney, his daughter. “When he saw that he said, ‘You’ve got good taste, girl!’” Alex recalls.
Definitely the pinnacle in Alex and Judy’s Beatles-blissed life.
As for their collection, they’re all about sharing. They are hoping to establish a pop-up Beatles museum one day, with proceeds going to a worthy cause. And they’d like to hand off their bit of Beatledom in its entirety one day.
“We won’t be here forever, and I think it would be a great museum for Houston,” Alex says. “I want people to enjoy it for eternity.”
Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah…
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