MISSOULA, Mont. — It’s unlikely that there’s anyone in Missoula who knows more about the Beatles than Larry Klette.
Take a tour of his collection of Beatles records and memorabilia – practically a guided tour of little-known rarities and trivia — and he’ll warn you that it’s only the tip of iceberg.
Klette guesses his buying habit has “averaged probably two items a week for 50 years.” Depending on how you count individual items, it’s a stock of 4,000 to 5,000 pieces of rock history, accumulated mostly through trips to record stores, secondhand stores and almost no Internet purchases.
Klette first heard of the Beatles at age 10 in 1964, while in his hometown of Havre. His sister, who was enrolled at the University of Montana, made her weekly call home. She told her younger brother to be sure to watch “The Ed Sullivan Show” that night — which turned out to be the fateful performance that introduced the Fab Four to the United States.
(Magazine publishers make poor prognosticators of fame. As Klette can show you via his original edition, TV Guide that week featured on its cover an interview with the “‘Petticoat Junction’ girls,” not the Beatles.)
A few years after the Sullivan performance, Klette began to get into rock ’n’ roll in earnest, and he started collecting vinyl. It wasn’t — and hasn’t ever been — limited to the Beatles. A lifelong rock fan who attended UM during the Aber Day era, he has all of Led Zeppelin on vinyl. The Beach Boys’ 1960s output. The Turtles. Even the Tijuana Brass.
After finishing college, Klette opted to stay in Missoula. He has degrees in psychology, sociology and accounting. He worked as a loan officer out of downtown most of his career, and raised his family here.
He said they’re supportive of his hobby — his wife likes antiquing, which mingles well with his trips to secondhand stores. His kids, meanwhile, will try to buy him gifts, but often have trouble figuring out whether he already has something.
His magazine collection is sprawling but meticulously maintained in plastic preservers. He estimates there are some 1,200 magazines, ranging from 1963 — including the first issue of Rolling Stone from November 1967 — through to the recent flurry of covers celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Sullivan appearance.
The music collection, meanwhile, is the envy of any rock fan. It includes all the Capitol albums in mono and stereo, plus the entire output of the Fab Four’s label, Apple Records.
He has a slew of noncommercial releases as well, documenting the outtakes, live versions and other goodies that collectors are drawn to.
After his son, now grown, returned from studying in Germany in high school, some German students came over to the house to visit. Ever the polite host, he queued up obscure versions of the Fab Four playing “She Loves You” and other hits in German.
Other gems are a couple of “the Butcher covers.” As Klette explained, the Parlophone label in England released Beatles records with 14 songs, while the American versions had only 12.
After this disparity went on long enough, there were songs enough for a separate United States album, “Yesterday and Today.”
The band submitted a photo of themselves in butcher coats, holding slabs of meat and dolls. Hence the nickname, “the Butcher cover.”
Capitol pulled them in response to complaints shortly after mailing the records to distributors. A newer, politer cover image was pasted over the offending one, and the albums were reissued.
Of those first runs, there exist three types — albums with the original image, ones with the pasted-over image peeled off entirely, and ones where you can see the old cover bleeding through. Klette’s acquired the latter two, not the rarer and much more expensive original.
His vinyl collection extends past the group’s breakup. He has all of John Lennon’s solo work, and he’s completist enough that he has Yoko Ono’s as well. (“They’re all sealed, too,” he said.)
He has a 1969 autograph from the famed couple — she signed her name “Yoko Ono Lennon,” which she used only during the first year of their marriage, Klette says.
Plus a complete collection of Paul McCartney’s solo oeuvre on vinyl, minus one album that hasn’t been issued in the format, plus a huge stock of 45s.
He has 800-some books about the Beatles, most of which are first editions, and neatly organized binders of odds and ends: complete sets of Topps trading cards with the original wrappers; 1960s stamps from the United Kingdom. For the non-Angophile, there are stamps from Estonia. He has a handful of photographs of alternate covers of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
(Trivia question: Which two figures were removed from the collage of famous persons on the album artwork? The correct answer is Gandhi, whose image was censored by the British government; and actor Leo Gorcey, who wanted to be paid.)
McCartney’s concert on Tuesday, however, will be the first time Klette has gotten to see one of the Beatles in concert outside of a Ringo Starr concert at the Gorge some 20 years ago.
He has his tickets ready, and will get to see them from a suite in Washington-Grizzly Stadium along with some friends and family.
“I’ve had opportunities to see McCartney, but the way I look at it now, I wasn’t able to go to him, so he’s coming to me,” he said.