Exclusive interview with Laurie Kaye, former newscaster, RKO Radio Networks, she was one of the last people who was with and interviewed John Lennon the day he was killed. On Dec. 8, 1980, Laurie spoke to John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their home at The Dakota apartment building in New York City…
BEATLES MAGAZINE: After all these years, how do you feel about being part of the crew that was the last contact John Lennon had with the press?
LAURIE KAYE: Of course I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of the RKO Radio Network team that was granted the one and only U.S. broadcast interview John and Yoko agreed to do for the release of Double Fantasy! RKO Executive Dave Sholin and I, along with engineer/production specialist Ron Hummel, had already worked together on quite a bit of rock programming for the network, including the original 14 hour RKO Beatles special (aka The Beatles from Liverpool to Legend) which aired an hour each night for 2 weeks straight on all of the RKO Radio stations back in 1977 before being updated and expanded to 17 hours over the next couple of years. As the 21 year old writer/co-producer of that well-received multi-hour Beatles show while also working full time in the newsroom as a reporter/editor at RKO’s flagship Top-40 station KFRC in San Francisco, I’d already decided to make rock and roll interviews and radio specials my number one career goal. Then in 1979, our trio was sent to London to interview Paul McCartney and the latest line-up of Wings, which was not only encouraging, but the most exciting opportunity so far in what had been my very short career in radio!
Rumor has it that in 1980, when deciding which American radio journalist to meet up with, John Lennon made a phone call to Paul McCartney and asked if he had any recommendations based on his recent interview experiences with Wings. Lucky for us, Paul and Linda and the rest of the band, as well as Dave, Ron and I, had all had a terrific time and plenty of laughs during our 1979 London interview session, so when the amazing opportunity to speak with John and Yoko in person presented itself not long afterwards, we were all beyond thrilled!
Warner Bros/Geffen Records exec Bert Keane, who was ultimately responsible for putting our day at the Dakota together, joined us for the memorable event, and I’m happy to say that the four of us – Dave, Ron, Bert and myself – are still in touch to this day, and always welcome the opportunity to share our inspirational and emotional memories of December 8, 1980 with each other.
BM: What was your first impression of John, when RKO were doing the interview?
LK: My very first impression of John was simultaneously one of joy and disbelief – I was totally thrilled when he appeared at the door smiling and eager to meet us all and get started with the interview, and yet I was completely blown away to hear him sincerely apologize for being a few minutes late once he realized I’d already begun asking Yoko a couple of questions! I could tell right off the bat that John had an amazing sense of humor, and immediately sensed that he and Yoko were both anticipating a fun and fulfilling afternoon with the four of us!
BM: What were your personal expectations for the 80´s concerning John Lennon activities, both musically and as a human being?
LK: As a longtime Lennon fan, I was of course looking forward to attending as many dates as possible on John’s inevitable tour, which I knew would be a must-see, if not THE live show of the decade! And as a brand new Lennon associate and close friend wannabe, I couldn’t stop thinking about how John and Yoko asked us, the RKO team, to get together with them for dinner in a couple of weeks, when they would be spending a few nights in San Francisco. Just the thought of meeting up with them at Yoko’s favorite local restaurant made me feel like I’d made two very real friends that day, and I couldn’t help but imagine this friendship continuing to go forward with each passing year.
BM: Did you ever notice at that time that John was willing to meet the other three Beatles to jam together some day?
LK: Although John didn’t discuss the possibility of meeting up with his former Beatles bandmates for a jam session, he didn’t speak out against it either, so one can only hope that the appeal of doing so still held a spot in his heart ten years following the Beatles’ breakup. He was of course thoroughly enthralled by the idea of continuing to create with Yoko and the talented session musicians they’d spent time with recently in the studio, but as he brought up the titles and lyrics of some of the earliest Beatles material during our interview, it sure seemed like he’d get a kick out of singing and playing it once again with his original associates! That said, if there was one concept that captivated John that afternoon, it was the idea of going out on tour with Yoko and their band of studio musicians – it definitely seemed to be something he was seriously considering and/or wrestling with!
BM: How would you describe the real John Lennon you met 40 years ago?
LK: I would describe the John Lennon I met 40 years ago as an incredibly intelligent, funny, satisfied, thoughtful, optimistic and creative person when it came to both his personal life and his latest work in the recording studio. Of course his love for Yoko and their son Sean was tremendously evident as well, and his ability to look back on his past and reminisce with both honesty and humor was a huge plus. John was the friend we all wished we had!
BM: Please tell us about your book.
LK: I need to stress that my book is neither a John Lennon nor Beatles bio, but instead a memoir (mine!) loosely wrapped around John’s final interview, and tells the tale of a teenage runaway growing up in a dysfunctional family in Southern California with no music business connections whatsoever – just a firm belief in rock radio redemption. Yet somehow she still manages to eventually find a way to spend quality time with her lifelong rock and roll idols. This SoCal gal is of course me, and to this day, whenever I mention interviewing John Lennon on the former Beatle’s last day on the planet, the response is always the same – jaws drop, people gasp, and the inevitable question is asked – “Laurie, when are you going to write your book?” The answer is, NOW! I’m looking forward to my book being available early next year…working title: Confessions of a Rock’n’Roll Name-Dropper.
BM: Will it contain new information that was not included in the prior published interview?
LK: My book will most definitely feature a more detailed account of our December 8, 1980 interview with John and Yoko than any previous article, radio or TV special I’ve ever taken part in, since it will be 100% from my perspective. RKO Radio never actually released our full interview, since the special I wrote that was voiced by Dave Sholin and aired just a few days after the tragedy – “John Lennon…the Man, the Memory” – was the network’s official broadcast. In the many years since the horrific ending to what was of course a majorly memorable day for all four of us on the RKO team, I’ve been able to reflect on and recollect the details of that afternoon at the Dakota, and come up with additional information that I honestly believe be of interest.
BM: 40 years later, what would you consider Lennon´s legacy?
LK: Although the songs and albums John Lennon created not only as part of the Beatles, but as a solo artist and with Yoko Ono as well will undoubtedly always be a major part of our culture and heritage, Lennon’s legacy is so much more than his music! From his iconic pursuit of world peace and promotion of love as the ultimate answer, to his destiny as a dreamer shot down in the prime of life, John Lennon changed the world and made it a better place thanks to his ability to imagine the beauty of a loving existence for all.