By Ray Shasho
Over the years, there’s been speculation and even conspiracy theories to why original Beatles drummer Pete Best was fired by manager Brian Epstein. On August 16th, 1962, Best was permanently replaced by Rory Storm and the Hurricanes drummer Ritchie Starkey (Ringo Starr).
Some of the explanations for his dismissal we adhered to over the years were … He was too conventional to be a Beatle …Paul and George never liked him …He was anti-social, never hung-out with the other lads after gigs …Pete refused to sport the proposed mop-top haircut …Ringo was the better drummer …Pete was too good looking … Pete was too popular …Pure jealousy …Epstein felt threatened … and so on… and so on.
One thing is certain … John, Paul and George kept completely silent and remained totally numb during and after his discharge from The Beatles. Since receiving those historic walking papers, the band had never made a legitimate effort to make amends, remain friends, or even consider Pete Best as an acquaintance.
In this interview Pete Best states … “I never spoke with any of them again after the dismissal. Played on the same bill as them on two or three occasions, but we didn't speak.”BBC News reported that … Ringo Starr made an apology to the city of Liverpool for remarking that he missed nothing about his city, leaving many Merseyside residents very angry. A foliage sculpture of The Beatles at Liverpool South Parkway Station was beheaded by vandals three months after the remarks, with the sculptures of the other three Beatles left untouched.
Even today: Fellow Liverpool musicians continue to be puzzled over the firing of Pete Best. In a recent interview conducted with another British Invasion legend Billy J. Kramer, He states… “There’s never been an out and out answer … Me, as an onlooker, I saw… Lets here it one more time for John, George, Paul …and when Pete Best walked back on the stage at the end of the show… young girls just went crazy! It’s something that always baffled me.”Was there another reason behind the firing of Pete Best?
Pete Best was born in Madras, India and brought up in Liverpool, England. In 1954, Pete’s mother Mona Best pawned all of her jewelry and bet the money on a racehorse. She bet on a 33-1 longshot named “Never Say Die.” She won the bet and used her winnings to purchase a house at 8 Haymans Green in Liverpool.
On August 29th, 1959 Mona Best opened The Casbah Coffee Club in the cellar of that home becoming Liverpool’s first rock ‘n’ roll venue. Mona “Mo” Best’s encouragement to promote local musicians helped shape and popularize the “Merseybeat,” the original sound of the British Invasion. The first gig at the infamous Casbah was ‘The Quarrymen’ featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ken Brown (The Les Stewart Quartet). The band (without a drummer) played a series of seven Saturday night engagements.
Ken Brown later formed The Blackjacks with Pete Best and ‘Chas’ Newby.
Beatles Era: In the 1960s, a tour of Hamburg, Germany was arranged by The Silver Beetles manager Alan Williams, and the band still desperately needed a drummer. The answer was Pete Best, who frequently played with his band The Blackjacks at his Mom’s Casbah Coffee Club. After The Blackjacks broke up, it was Paul McCartney who convinced Best to join the group and go to Hamburg. Best auditioned at Alan Williams Jacaranda Club and left for Hamburg the next day. Pete Best became a Silver Beetle on August 12th, 1960. The Silver Beetles changed their name to The Beatles on August17th.
During their first tour of Germany, The band played the Indra Club and the Kaiserkellar. The Beatles met photographer Astrid Kirchherr and Klaus Voormann that same year.
In 1961, NEMS (North End Music Stores) owner Brian Epstein approached the band with a management offer. He had been quite impressed with the group after hearing the release of “My Bonnie” (Polydor Records) recorded with rocker Tony Sheridan. Epstein had also visited the original ‘Cavern Club’ on several occasions to watch The Beatles perform live in front of a crowd. The Beatles first ‘Cavern Club’ gig was secured by Pete Best’s mom Mona.
Before taking over The Beatles, Epstein asked Alan Williams if there were any contractual ties between him and the band. There weren’t any, but Williams told Epstein … “Don’t touch them with a f***ing bargepole, they will let you down.”Bassist Stuart Sutcliffe quit The Beatles on March 15th, 1961 to pursue a career as an artist. Sutcliffe died April 10th, 1962 of an aneurysm that was believed to be caused by a head injury from a brawl inside Lathom Hall in Liverpool.
In 1962, after becoming Liverpool’s #1 voted band, The Beatles revisited Hamburg to play ‘The Star Club.’ In Hamburg, new boss Brian Epstein announced to the group that they had achieved a recording contract with EMI. They met George Martin that year at Abbey Road Studios. The Beatles recorded the original version of, “Love Me Do” in June of 1962 with Pete Best on drums (available on The Beatles Anthology 1 compilation release).
Pete Best was fired from The Beatles on August 16th, 1962.
In 1964, “Love Me Do” became The Beatles first #1 U.S. Hit (On Vee-Jay Records) featuring their new drummer Ringo Starr. EMI (Capitol Records in the U.S. initially refused to release Beatles records).
Post Beatles Era: Pete Best was offered to play drums with several high profiled bands. Ringo Starr’s ex-group Rory Storm & The Hurricanes ironically asked Pete to replace Ritchie Starkey (Ringo) on drums. Then Brian Epstein contacted Best to shape The Merseybeats into another Beatles scenario. Pete Best rejected both offers.
Which brings up the point … If Pete Best was such a bad drummer, why did Brian Epstein want him to play drums and take charge of The Merseybeats? Epstein still had enough confidence in Pete by asking him to turn The Merseybeats into another Beatles Phenomena.
In 1963, Pete Best joined Lee Curtis & The All-Stars. The band landed a record deal with Decca. The All-Stars toured the UK and Germany and were awarded second place in the Merseybeat Poll, losing the number one spot to The Beatles, but ahead of Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Searchers. The band split from Curtis and eventually became ‘The Pete Best Four’ and ‘The Pete Best Combo.’ The band toured the U.S and Canada.
In 1968, Pete Best left the music business to concentrate on family life. He worked as a civil servant worker for the next twenty years. Depressed over The Beatles sustained fame and fortune, Best tried to commit suicide, but was miraculously talked out of it by his mother Mona and brother Rory.
The secrecy and avoidance surrounding Pete Best’s dismissal by The Beatles reminded me of another incident the same year that lead to a similar covert aftermath … the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis.’ (October 16-28, 1962).
The Pete Best Band: In 1988, after twenty years of turning down requests to perform in public, The Pete Best Band was formed. Pete continues to tour worldwide with his younger brother Roag sharing drumming duties. The band’s sound and appearance is a throwback to those exciting early days of The Beatles. Their setlist includes Beatles classics like … “Please Mr. Postman,” “P.S. I Love You,” “My Bonnie,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Till There Was You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Twist and Shout” and “Kansas City” to name a few.
I’ve witnessed The Pete Best Band in concert and thought it was … Gratifying, authentic rock and roll at its finest.
In 2007, Pete Best was inducted into the All You Need Is Liverpool Music Hall of Fame as the debut Charter Member.
In 2008, The Pete Best Band released the album Haymans Green consisting of all new material. Best plays drums and co-wrote all the tracks. The album received rave reviews with a lineup that featured … Pete Best (drums), Roag Best (drums and percussions), Tony Flynn (guitar, vocals -played with Steppenwolf), Phil Melia (guitar, harmonica, vocals), and Paul Parry (guitar, piano, keyboards, vocals).
On July 25th, 2011 two streets in Liverpool were named Pete Best Drive and Casbah Close.
Pete and Kathy Best have been married for fifty years; they have two daughters and four grandchildren.
Pete Best has an incredible website that spotlights opportunities to visit or even play at the legendary Casbah Coffee Club. Visit Pete’s official website at www.petebest.com. The site also features some great merchandise and memorabilia.
I had the rare pleasure of chatting with Pete Best recently about life before and after The Beatles.
Here’s my interview with the original drummer of The Beatles/ Leader of The Pete Best Band/Drummer/Percussionist/Songwriter … PETE BEST.
Ray Shasho: Hello Pete, happy 2013!
Pete Best: “Oh thank you …same to you.”
Ray Shasho: I actually met you back in 2001 in Springfield, Virginia after your show.
Pete Best: “That’s going back a long ways, but I do remember the gig.”
Ray Shasho: You and the band certainly put on a great show. So what’s new these days in the life of Pete Best?
Pete Best: “Well, I’ve still got the band going which is touring all over the world as we have been doing for many-many years. But at the present moment, I’m into getting right into this technology … Facebook and everything, and have three things going at the present moment Ray, I’ve got my own website which is www.petebest.com and people can go on that site to see what the band is doing, what I’m doing, and all the updates. It’s full of all kinds of information and we just want people to go on and visit it. And of course the Facebook regime which is www.facebook.com/petebestofficial. I’ve also gone on to the Twitter as well so I can have a chat with the fans, and that is https://twitter.com/BeatlesPeteBest.”
“I’ve been promising myself that I’d keep everyone up-to-date and just enjoying the fact that it gives hundreds and thousands of people out there the opportunity to get in touch with me and have a chat, and keep up to date with what we’re doing and we love to talk about it with people.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve been on your website and it’s quite impressive. I noticed that you can actually book tours at the famous Casbah Coffee Club directly from the site.
Pete Best: “That’s right; The Casbah is opened to tours now, we’re open nearly 365 days a year and it’s by booking appointments only. The contact information is on the website and if people phone up and make an appointment then we’ll be more than glad to take them around and give them a history of The Casbah and the history of Merseybeat from the early years of The Beatles.”
Ray Shasho: Your mom was quite a visionary and entrepreneur wasn’t she?
Pete Best: “Let’s be quite honest about it Ray, she bet all her money on a horse, “Never Say Die” which we didn’t know about, and that horse had jockey Lester Piggott on it, who won the Epsom Derby in 1954, and from that she bought Haymans Green and then transferred a cellar into what the world knows now as The Casbah Club. But that dream that she had, what you are talking about being an entrepreneur, she always wanted to bring music to the kids of Liverpool and that’s exactly what she did, and that’s exactly what history portrays now.”
“The first band to play there were The Quarrymen, who went on to become The Beatles. Every band in Liverpool played there …Gerry and the Pacemakers, Kingsize Taylor, The Searchers, The Swinging Blue Jeans … my goodness me; you can go on and on and on. But the good thing about it Ray, was that she was also very interested in bringing the younger bands up, the bands who were just starting to make a break through. She had a simple rule and it worked great … when you tried out at The Casbah, if the crowd liked you, you got another booking. If they didn’t she’d say, “Go away my lads and practice, the door isn’t closed, come back and have another go.” So many bands did that and it put them on the road to stardom …which is absolutely fantastic.”
Ray Shasho: The music business could certainly use someone like your mom today.
Pete Best: “She’s still here Ray, even though she’s gone. God bless her, she went in 1988. She’s still with us … The Casbah is her, it’s her epitaph. She was the visionary; we’re just carrying on the job for her.”
Ray Shasho: Before The Quarrymen, John Lennon had a band called The Black Jacks. Did John change the name of that band because your band was also called The Black Jacks?
Pete Best: “Yea, my band was The Black Jacks, but I think John stopped calling himself The Black Jacks before I came along. So there were no problems involving name discussions or anything else like that. By that time they turned into The Moondogs, The Silver Beetles, and all the other aliases that he had before we actually were The Beatles with an ‘a,’ so there was no problem on that particular side.”
Ray Shasho: On the day bassist Stuart Sutcliffe was attacked, was it you and John Lennon who actually ran to his rescue?
Pete Best: “Yea, what you actually saw portrayed in films like Birth of The Beatles and Backbeat, they used Litherland Town Hall as to where the assault took place, and it wasn’t, it was a venue called Lathom Hall and Stu was beaten up inside the club. What we used to call in those days …‘Teddy Boys,’ Stuart was the smallest in the band and they picked on him for some unknown reason when we were backstage. John and I heard about it and we dashed out, got stuck into it, and sorted it out. John broke his finger and that was something he carried from that particular fight. But we managed to get Stu out without too much damage to him and we just went on and did the show. But the funny thing was Ray, after that, we were accepted by the ‘Teddy Boys,’ as we use to call them in those days. And at that particular location they turned around and said, “Hang on just a moment, it’s the Beatles, they can handle themselves.” So there was a little bit of respect. But that just puts the record straight in regard to location, and yes, john and I were actually there to help him.”
Ray Shasho: Were you the closest with John than anyone else in the band?
Pete Best: “Oh yea, without doubt. I mean everyone had their associations, but I would say I was closest to John in the band and I hope he felt the same as well. We spent a lot of time together. In Germany, we were the ones getting into trouble, we were the ones starting fights, we were the ones trying to rub sailors … that was the mischief we got up to. But then when we came back to Liverpool he was always at my house. The Casbah was always open and after we played, we came back and raided the coffee machine and sandwiches and everything, then came up to the living room and sat there till the early hours in the morning, chatting and playing music. So it was very much home away from home.”
Ray Shasho: Pete, what was John Lennon like back in those early days?
Pete Best: “He was one of those guys that the more you got to know him, the more you saw that there was more to this guy than what the public actually sees. If I could use an example to that Ray, when I was in Germany, we used to spend a lot of time drinking, and when I was talking with him, I started to realize, okay behind this tough guy façade that he had, there was a very tender and loving person and a brilliant family man. And when you put those two entities together … that to me is the whole John Lennon.”
“In a way he became a visionary and a world leader, which was something I expected and it didn’t come as a surprise when he started leading peace movements and writing fantastic songs about bringing peace to the world. It just seemed logical for him to do it.”
“But he was a real diamond and over the years just kept getting polished …and unfortunately a stupid death because of that idiot Chapman, which robbed the world of a great leader and robbed me of a great friend.”
Ray Shasho: What were you doing when you heard the news about John’s death?
Pete Best: “I was actually getting ready for work in Liverpool. By the time it started to come on the radio over here, it was around seven or eight o’clock in the morning and just getting ready for work and my wife Kathy said, “Pete you’d better come and listen to this …John’s been murdered.” At that particular moment Ray, John Lennon was the last person I thought of. And I said John who? Kathy said, “John, who you used to play with in the band.” So I suddenly realized after hearing the broadcast that it was John Lennon and I was mortified, just absolutely horrified. Of course the media went wild all over the world. They tried to get in touch with me to do radio, television and press interviews, and I just basically said no. I said look, I know what you’re trying to do, but I want to pay my respects to my old friend in the best way I can. So I kept me feelings to myself and stayed quiet.”
Ray Shasho: John’s death affected so many of us, I remember gathering on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. for a vigil a few days after hearing the news. I’m still in a state of denial that George is also not with us any longer.
Pete Best: “They will always be the icons of the music business, generations are still discovering them, year after year, century after century, people will always be discovering their music, which is absolutely fantastic. It probably won’t happen with anyone else.”
“But through all that recognition, and all that fame, there’s been a lot of tragedy within that band as well. Stu Sutcliffe died when he’s only 21; Brian Epstein dies at 32, John being murdered by that idiot Chapman, George dies a horrible death with cancer … so there has been a lot of tragedy within the band. I think success sometimes comes with tragedy. It seems to be an evolution and the way things go.”
Ray Shasho: It seems to me that you’ve enjoyed a more stable and healthier lifestyle than your old bandmates… Kathy and you have been married for 50 years and you have a beautiful family … you’ve done alright!
Pete Best: “I had an early learning curve. It comes from a stable background and a tough backbone. People knock you down and you get back up and try twice as hard. What happened to me at an early age probably hadn’t happened to anyone else, the fact that I was dismissed from The Beatles and then they became icons of the music industry. But that mishap …and I think that was the best way to explain it, woke me up, it made me more streetwise, and I realized that there was more to life than being a rock ‘n’ roll star.”
“But I had family around me and a stable character. I realized it’s not about what happened yesterday, it’s very much about today and tomorrow. I’ve lived my life and been recognized my own sweet way and made my contribution to the music industry. My bands been recognized for their own contribution. At the end of it all, I’m a great family man. I’ve been married to a great Liverpool girl, Kathy; this year makes fifty years, and we’ve got two beautiful daughters and four wonderful grandchildren.”
Ray Shasho: Pete, after you were dismissed from The Beatles, did Brian Epstein actually offer to put you in a different band?
Pete Best: “Yea, it’s a funny thing, not initially. In 1962, when I was called in, he basically turned around and said they want you out and Ringo was in, and it was already prearranged that Ringo was going to be in the band. But a couple of weeks afterwards, I had offers from different bands and was still thinking it over, then got a call from Brian Epstein and he basically said, “Pete, I’d like to see you in the office again, I’ve got something I want to check over with you.” I thought …oh my goodness me; maybe there’s been a change of heart, maybe they’ll bring me back again.”
“So, when I got down there, he was very cordial and polite like he normally was. Then he said, “I’m not bringing you back into the band, just in case you’ve got that on your mind.” So I thought that clears that particular subject (laughing). Then he said, “But I’m really interested in a young band called The Merseybeats which I want you to become the drummer in and take charge of them. I want you to turn them into a second Beatles so I can manage them. I said, Brian, it’s absolutely wonderful that you’ve got that much faith in me, but once you’ve been with the number one horse, and number one stable, it’s going to be very difficult for me to work with you again. I thanked him very much for the offer and went away. Then I joined Lee Curtis & the All-Stars, which was another up and coming band in Liverpool at that time. And I took them to the number two position behind The Beatles in The Mersey Beat Poll.”
Do you have any regrets for not taking Brian’s offer to work with The Merseybeats?
Pete Best: “No, not really, when I talked with Billy Kinsley of The Merseybeats many years afterwards, I think they were disappointed that I didn’t come onboard, because he’s always admired me as a musician when I was a drummer. But as I explained to him, I said Billy, at that particular moment in time; it didn’t seem like the right thing to do, it wouldn’t have set easy with me. He said, “Pete, I accept that, it would have been nice for you to be part of the team.” It wasn’t meant to be, but they went on to be a fantastic band anyway. Billy is still one of the best musicians in Liverpool.”
Ray Shasho: Pete, how many times, if any, did you actually talk with John, Paul or Ringo after your dismissal from the band?
Pete Best: “I never spoke with any of them again after the dismissal. Played on the same bill as them on two or three occasions, but we didn't speak.”
Ray Shasho: Here’s a crazy thought … I covered Ringo Starr’s show not long ago when he played in Clearwater. If Ringo asked you to join his All Starr Band for one of his tours would you accept?
Pete Best: (All laughing)
“That’s a question and a half Ray isn’t it? Now, I’ll turn it around on you… If I ever see Ringo, maybe I’ll ask him if he’d play second drums in my band. (All Laughing)”
Ray Shasho: I think either scenario would be great!
Pete Best: “I always say …if it’s meant to happen, it’s going to happen anyway.”
Ray Shasho: Pete, thank you so much for being on the call today, for all the great music, and for keeping The Casbah legacy alive.
Pete Best: Thanks Ray, I had a really good time. Cheers!
Visit the Pete Best official website at www.petebest.com
Pete Best on Facebook www.facebook.com/petebestofficial
Pete Best on Twitter https://twitter.com/BeatlesPeteBest
Very Special thanks to Roag Best for arranging this interview.
Coming up … An interview with British Invasion legend Billy J. Kramer …We will discuss, why isn’t Brian Epstein in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org
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