Aspinall splits Beatles' Apple Corps

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The head of the Beatles' company Apple Corps, Neil Aspinall, who started out as the band's road manager, is leaving after 40 years, the company said Tuesday, with music executive Jeff Jones to become chief executive.

Aspinall, who was a close friend of the Beatles since their formation in Liverpool, will be replaced by Jones, who has served as executive vice president, Legacy Recordings/Sony BMG Worldwide since 1995. Jones will become Apple chief executive. Sony BMG is equally owned by Japan's Sony and Germany's Bertelsmann.

Apple said Aspinall had played an indispensable role to the four Beatles -- Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and John Lennon.

"He was there since the inception of the band in Liverpool and has meant so much to the Beatles' family for all these years and still does," said a company statement.

"However, he has decided to move on. "

No further reasons were given for his departure from Apple Corps, which is owned by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and the estate of George Harrison.

Aspinall's departure comes just two months after Apple Corps settled a trademark squabble with Apple, a deal that could finally pave the way for the Fab Four's songs to be sold on the iTunes music store.

At the time, Aspinall said it was great to put the dispute behind them, with the years ahead expected to be very exciting.

The Beatles have been high-profile holdouts from Internet music services such as iTunes, but it emerged during the trial of the trademark dispute that Apple Corps was preparing the band's catalogue to be sold online for the first time.

Aspinall, a school friend of Sir Paul McCartney and George Harrison, was the band's first road manager and would drive them between gigs in his van.

He later became their personal assistant and in 1968 was given a management role at Apple Records, the band's own record label.

Aspinall, now 64, was executive producer on the top-selling "Beatles Anthology" album and was behind other successes, including the "Beatles One" album.

The company said in a statement that Jeff Jones, a former executive vice president at Sony BMG, has been appointed as Aspinall's replacement. There was no explanation for why Aspinall decided to quit.

"This is astonishing news," said former Apple press officer Geoff Baker. "Neil was the fifth Beatle and the architect of all the Beatles' success over the past 15 or 20 years. I can't see how the Beatles' legacy will be looked after as well without him, and I'm amazed that Paul and Ringo are letting this happen."

The Apple statement said Aspinall "had been with John, Paul, George and Ringo for a spectacular 40 plus years, during which he played an indispensable role for the four. He was there since the inception of the band in Liverpool and has meant so much to the Beatles' family for all these years, and still does.

"However, he has decided to move on. Apple as a whole, and each member of this company, wishes him great success in whatever endeavor he chooses to pursue in the future."
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