The Manager Behind The Beatles And More: Ken Mansfield
Written by Mei Ling Nazar
Since the 1960s, Ken Mansfield has been associated with top performers, from The Beatles, to The Beach Boys, James Taylor, Dolly Parton, Don Ho and David Cassidy to name a few. He is the former U.S. Manager of Apple Records; a record label founded by The Beatles, and later became President of MGM records. In the 70s, Mansfield helped popularize the Outlaw movement in country music by producing Waylon Jennings’ number one album, “Are You Ready for the Country?” In the midst of his success, Mansfield saw his world come crashing down, but it led to his eventual spiritual transformation. Risen sat down with the Grammy-award winning producer to talk about life in the The Beatles’ inner circle, how he went from following a guru to following Christ, and his favorite artists to work with.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: You were the U.S. Manager of Apple Records. How did you get your start?
Ken Mansfield: When I was in college it was during the Kingston Trio folk era and it was just an explosion of brand new music. It was easy in fraternities to start up a folk band because it was really loose and fun. We started a group in my fraternity in college and started playing for beer and pizza, and then we were playing at clubs, and then concerts. My band was discovered by an agency from Beverly Hills and then they started managing us. During the course of this, I met a lot of people at Capitol Records. I had already graduated. One day, one of them came to me and asked, “Have you ever thought about going into the record business?” It seemed too good to be true to have your occupation be the music business. I said, “Yeah.” He sponsored me for an interview with Capitol Records.
I got the job at Capitol and within the first few months there the job had me working with The Beatles on their tour. We just hit it off. I was a young guy in my twenties with a suntan, a Cadillac convertible, a house up in Hollywood Hills, everything that they had grown up reading about in Liverpool. In a way they were just as fascinated with me as I was with them. I represented California to them. We worked together on that tour in 1965. They came back in 1966 and we worked together again. When they decided to set up Apple Records – America was the whole complete ball of wax where you needed to have a successful record company – they sent for me to help set it up and run it for them in America. It started as a business relationship, but we hit it off personally and it just became a natural thing. Everyone else they worked with, the board of EMI [British music company] or the Chairman of Capitol Records, wore suits, had grey hair and were in their sixties. Then there was me. I was a young executive in my twenties and I think they felt more comfortable with me.
Risen Magazine: The Beatles considered you part of their inner circle, what did that look like?
Ken Mansfield: There was an inner, inner, inner circle which would be the four guys, Mal Evans and Neil Aspinal. And then there was another ring of that inner circle. These were people that came aboard very early, people like Derek Taylor and Brian Epstein. Then there was another handful of us that came in and we were part of the inner group. Being in the inner circle was neat because it was totally relaxed. You come out of all the crazy crowds and madness, you are trying to get into the limo and then into the building. Once you got inside the building and the door was closed or we were at one of their homes, it was natural. They grew up very common with good morals and came from working class families. They were very easy to be with. When we were setting up Apple Records, they were the most famous rock n’ roll band of all time and you expect them to be crazy. But we would have a meeting at one o’clock and they would all show up on time. They would all be prepared with notebooks in hand. They were there to have meetings. They really liked the fact that they were going to be businessmen and were going to set up a major corporation. They were very astute. It was interesting to see that aspect of these guys. They were probably easier to work with than any other band I’ve ever worked with.
Risen Magazine: With success, often comes great temptation with drugs, alcohol, parties and women. How did you respond to this?
Ken Mansfield: I didn’t see a lot of that. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I even teased them and said, “You guys want me to think that you are such good businessmen that you hid a lot of stuff from me.” And Ringo just looked at me and laughed and said, “When we were The Beatles, we didn’t really have that much to do, so we would sit around and think of ways of how we were going to impress you Ken.” They were so into their music and so into setting up their company. It wasn’t the driving force behind what we were doing like most people would expect. It wasn’t all sex, drugs and rock n’ roll – more rock n’ roll than anything else.
I praise Him everyday for taking everything away and the circumstances I went through. It was what brought me to my knees and brought me to Him.
Risen Magazine: In addition to being the U.S. Manager of Apple, you were the President of MGM records, started Hometown Productions and signed some of the biggest names in the industry. Who was your favorite performer to work with?
Ken Mansfield: [One of the] two that I enjoyed the most was when I was producing, was Don Ho. Nowadays, most people don’t know who Don Ho is. But he was like the Elvis Presley of Hawaii. He was like the king there. I would get off of the plane and be taken to my penthouse on Waikiki Beach. Every meal was ordered and I am taken to all of the sacred places. It was like being a guest of the king. Don was just delightful. I get there and I am waiting around two or three days to pick out songs and he doesn’t even show up for a couple of days. He finally shows up and introduces himself. I asked him, “Are you ready to get to work?” He said, “You learn to lay on beach first.” He wanted me to relax. It took us nine days to do what we could usually do in one afternoon because he was so laid back. He had great talent and was a great performer.
The other person I enjoyed just as much was David Cassidy. We just hit it off. We had so much fun making the music and hanging out. He would laugh from his belly and just light you up. He was a great talent. Even after his super, super stardom, he was very underrated as to what a great talent he really was. There were a lot of great people, but those were special times.
My most exciting thing aside from The Beatles, was Waylon Jennings. That was the Outlaw movement. People wanted us to be crazy and we were crazy. We were nuts. We made great music and changed history. When I worked for The Beatles, they were already established. But we took the Outlaw movement from the ground up. At first they wouldn’t even play our kind of music and then there were radio formats based on our kind of music, Outlaw Country. Being in the tour bus with 40 Hell’s Angels riding behind you…it was just madness.
Risen Magazine: You were at the top of the industry and just like that, everything was stripped away. How did this play into your spiritual journey?
Ken Mansfield: It fostered my spiritual journey. In all honesty, if I would have stayed as successful as I was, I would have never turned to God. I was doing fine on my own. I praise Him everyday for taking everything away and the circumstances I went through. It was what brought me to my knees and brought me to Him. Actually, being in ministry is much more exciting and fulfilling than anything I ever did in the entertainment industry. When I spoke at The Rock Church in San Diego, a girl came up at one of the altar calls and she was weeping. She said, “I’m from Connecticut. I don’t care about church. I came to San Diego to have a great vacation. The guy that was sitting next to me [on the airplane], all he would talk about was how he was going to go to the Rock Church and see this guy from The Beatles.” So she said when she got here that she decided to check it out because it sounded cool. She came to Christ at that service. You find me something more exciting than that! It was so gorgeous.
Risen Magazine: When you first met your wife, she refused to date you because you didn’t believe in Jesus. What made you change your beliefs?
Ken Mansfield: I went from being a new age guru to becoming a Christian. Not to get too fluffy, when we saw each other, it was all over. It was out of a movie or something. The problem was when we started to date. I had a guru, I was a stoner, and here she was. She had been setting herself aside for a year just focusing on her relationship with the Lord. She had gone through a lot of stuff herself and had drifted away from her walk with the Lord. She decided she wanted to get back in her relationship with Him. She prayed for a husband and was pretty specific, but maybe not quite specific enough. Her prayer was that she wanted somebody from the streets. She wanted someone who had been out in the world, experienced everything it had to offer, recognized it for what it was and wouldn’t be attracted to that. So she runs into me and I was definitely from the streets.
I don’t think she realized how many potholes were in my street. So we were attracted to each other, but I had my guru and she had Jesus and we couldn’t get past that. She kept trying to convert me and bring me to the Lord. She would take me to churches and Christian rock concerts. She was constantly praying for me too. But when it came down to it, I kept telling her that I believed that Jesus was “a” way to the top of the mountain, not “the” way. But she stood firm and said, “He is the way, the only way.” One night she came to me and said, “I need to talk to you. I see where we are headed and I know how we feel. I need to make a decision because I can’t be unequally yoked. I have to choose between you and Jesus. I choose Jesus.”
I was floored because I knew how much we cared for each other. After all her preaching and all her trying, that was talking the talk. She walked out her walk. I jokingly said, “I’ll change gurus for you. Let’s meet in the middle.” But there was no middle. Then I thought, “I want to believe in something so much that I am willing to give up something that’s really important to me. I want something that I am willing to do anything for and is the most important thing in my life.” That was the point of my conversion. I had been thinking about it because we had talked about it so much, but that was really the point where I became a Christian.
Risen Magazine: So many of us have friends and loved ones that are not believers. What would your advice or encouragement be to them?
Ken Mansfield: My wife would say do not missionary date. By your own example, you have to show a life of joy, peace and happiness and a way you live your life that is appealing to someone else. That’s how you really win someone. Of course, you need to pray for them. You might not be able to convert them, but you have to realize that your role might be the seed planter.
Risen Magazine: In 1996, you were diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer. The doctors told you that you had one to three years to live. You are still alive today! What did your prayers look like during this time and how did it affect your faith?
Ken Mansfield: When I was given one to three years, all I heard was one. We got the news from the oncologist’s office because I had been sick for two years. It was around Christmastime, we tried to wrap presents but we just cried and went to bed. I woke up the next morning and just felt incredible. I said, “Wait a minute, what is going on here Lord? I got big news. Why do I feel so good?” He said, “You got big news, but that means I am in it with you big time. Only two things are going to happen from this point forward. I am either going to bring you home, or I’m going to glorify Me through this. This feeling that you have right now is what you have read about, ‘the peace that surpasses all understanding’ this is my gift to you. You don’t ever have to worry about if you believe in me or whether you trust in me. You’ve said the words with your mouth. This feeling is proof that you believe in me.”
I was speaking at Saddleback [Church in Orange County, CA] and Rick Warren [lead pastor] is a big Beatles fan. I was in his office and he said, “Ken, God just told me he is going to set your cancer aside and that He has a purpose. Your purpose hasn’t been fulfilled. I haven’t gotten anything that you are going to be cured. But it will be set aside almost like it doesn’t exist.” And here we are eighteen years later.
Risen Magazine: Nowadays you travel the country sharing your story with others. A woman once came up to you and said that her youth group prayed for the salvation of you and The Beatles. Years later, she got to see the fruits of her prayers. How should our readers pray for our culture and those of influence in our culture?
Ken Mansfield: It feels like an uphill battle. It is so discouraging right now. You almost don’t want to open up the newspaper or watch the news because you see the new thing people have abandoned in terms of our morals. The prayer I pray right now isn’t perfect, but first, I pray for God’s people. I pray that as all this decadence and immorality is sweeping the world, to those that profess their belief in Him, that He will see us through and care for us. I’m not afraid to pray for everybody as opposed to feeling like, “How can I pray for everybody?” Prayer of one man can stop the sun in the sky. I think all things are possible and I just look to His Word that we will be vindicated with time. My other prayer is that deception would be revealed. That so many people would realize they are being deceived and come to the Lord. When I pray for artists or celebrities, I pray that God would bring someone into their lives that will speak the Word to them, someone that they will trust.
Exclusive Interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Summer 2014