Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beatle People: Pete Best

Pete Best (born 24 November 1941, in Madras, British India) is a British musician, best known as the original drummer for The Beatles.

After moving from India to Liverpool in 1945, Best's mother, Mona Best (1924-1988) started The Casbah Coffee Club in the cellar of the Best's house in Liverpool, which became very popular—the membership list grew to over a thousand—and where The Beatles (then known as The Quarrymen) played some of their first concerts. The club was also known as The Casbah Club, or simply The Casbah. Best played there with his first band, The Black Jacks, and later with The Beatles.

Best joined The Beatles on 12 August 1960, only one day before they were to go to Hamburg to play a season of concerts. He was dismissed from the group two years later, on 16 August 1962 and he was replaced by Ringo Starr, but was never given a full explanation as to the reason why. He later worked as a civil servant for 20 years, before starting The Pete Best Band. Best has been married for over 40 years to Kathy Best; they have two daughters and four grandchildren.


Best's father, John Best, came from a family of sports promoters in Liverpool, who once owned and ran the Liverpool Stadium. Mona Best was born in Delhi, India, and was the daughter of a British army officer. Mona was training to become a doctor in the service of the Red Cross when she met John Best. After their marriage, both Best and his younger brother, Rory Best (b. 1944) were born in India. In 1945, the Best family sailed for four weeks to Liverpool on the Georgic, which was the last troop ship to leave India, and carried single and married soldiers who had previously been a part of General Sir William Slim's forces in south-east Asia. The ship docked in Liverpool on 25 December 1945.

The Beatles and Hamburg

In 1960, Allan Williams arranged a season of bookings for The Beatles in Hamburg, starting on 12 August 1960, but said that he was not impressed with them as a musical group, and hoped that he could find a better act to follow them.

Having no permanent drummer, Paul McCartney looked around for someone to fill the Hamburg position. Best had been seen playing with The Black Jacks in The Casbah, and it was noted that he had become a steady drummer, meaning that he played the bass drum on all four beats in the bar, which pushed the rhythm. Best was known in Liverpool as being "mean, moody, and magnificent" by female fans, which convinced McCartney he would be good for the group. After The Black Jacks broke up, McCartney asked Best to go to Hamburg with group, but lied by saying they would earn £15 per week each. As Best had passed his school exams—unlike Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, who had failed most of them—he had the chance to go to a teacher-training college, but decided that playing in Hamburg would be a better career move. Best had an audition in the Jacaranda club—owned by Williams—and traveled to Hamburg the very next day with The Beatles. Williams later admitted that the audition with Best was not needed, as The Beatles hadn't found any other drummer willing to travel to Hamburg, but didn't tell Best in case he asked for more money.

The Beatles first played at the Indra club in Hamburg, but slept in the Bambi Kino (cinema) in small, dirty rooms, which were noisy, cold, and directly behind the screen. Upon first seeing the Indra, Best remembered it as being a depressing place that was filled with a few tourists, and having heavy, old, red curtains that made it seem shabby compared to the larger Kaiserkeller. As Best had been the only one to take O-Level German at school, he could communicate with Bruno Koschmider — the club's owner — and the clientele better than the rest of the group. After the closure of the Indra because of complaints about the noise, The Beatles played in the Kaiserkeller. In October 1960, they left Koschmider's club to work at the Top Ten Club, which was run by Peter Eckhorn, as he offered the group more money, and a slightly better place to sleep, though by doing so they broke their contract with Koschmider. When Best and McCartney went back to the Bambi Kino to get their belongings they found it in almost total darkness. As a snub to Koschmider, Best found a condom in his luggage, attached it to a nail on the concrete wall of the room, and set fire to it. There was no real damage done, but Koschmider reported them both for attempted arson. Best and McCartney spent three hours in a local jail and were deported—as was George Harrison, for working under the legal age limit on 30 November 1960.

Back in Liverpool, no-one contacted each other for two weeks, but Mona and Best made numerous phone calls to Hamburg to recover the group's equipment, which they eventually managed to do. The ex-Black Jacks guitarist Newby was invited to play bass with them for four concerts, as Stu Sutcliffe had decided to stay on in Hamburg. Newby was shocked at the vast improvement of their playing and singing, and remembered Best's drumming to be very powerful, which pushed the group to play harder and louder. It was probably due to McCartney that Best developed a loud drumming style, as he would often tell Best in Hamburg to "Crank it up" (play as loud as possible). Newby played with the group at Litherland Town Hall and at The Casbah. When the group returned to Hamburg, Best was invited to sing a specialty number called "Peppermint Twist" while McCartney played the drums, but Best always felt uncomfortable being at the front of the stage.

My Bonnie

The reunited Beatles returned to Hamburg in April 1961. While playing at the Top Ten Club they were recruited by singer Tony Sheridan to act as his backing band on a series of recordings for the German Polydor Records label, produced by bandleader Bert Kaempfert. Kaempfert signed the group to a Polydor contract at the first session on 22 June 1961. On 31 October 1961, Polydor released the recording "My Bonnie" (Mein Herz ist bei dir nur) which appeared on the German charts under the name "Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers"—a generic name used for whoever happened to be in Sheridan's backup band. The song was later released in the UK. There was a second recording session on June 23rd and a third session in May 1962. Best played drums on all tracks and Kaempfert never publicly criticized Best's drumming.

Parlophone audition

At the instigation of their new manager Brian Epstein, The Beatles played a Parlophone audition at Abbey Road Studios for George Martin on 6 June 1962. Ron Richards and his engineer Norman Smith recorded four songs, which Martin (who was not present during the recording) listened to at the end of the session. The recording convinced Martin that the group was good enough to be signed to a contract (even though he had already signed a contract with Epstein) but with one exception; Martin and his engineers did not like Best's playing.


When the group heard that Martin did not like Best's drumming, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison asked Epstein—who had taken over as manager in January—to fire Best from the band. Before Epstein became The Beatles' manager, Best had arranged all the bookings in Liverpool, after they had parted company with Williams. Epstein agonized about the decision, and asked Bob Wooler if it was a good idea, to which Wooler replied that Best was too popular with the fans to get rid of him. Nevertheless, Epstein dismissed Best on 16 August 1962, which was almost exactly two years after Best had joined the group.

Neil Aspinall was waiting downstairs in Epstein's NEMS record shop after Best's dismissal, and was the first one to talk to the then ex-Beatle in The Grapes pub, across from The Cavern Club, where The Beatles had often played. Aspinall was furious and said that he would stop working for them as well—he had been employed as the band's road manager and personal assistant—but Best strongly advised him not to. Aspinall decided to stay, but ended his relationship with Mona (and his three-week-old baby, Roag). Aspinall asked Lennon at the next concert why they had fired Best, to which he replied, "It’s got nothing to do with you—you’re only the driver."

Ringo Starr took Best's place, as Starr had previously played with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the alternate band in the Kaiserkeller, and had stepped in to drum with The Beatles in Hamburg and Liverpool when Best was ill or unable to play. Best's dismissal was reported on the front-page of the Mersey Beat magazine, upsetting many Beatles' fans. The Beatles had to suffer jeers and heckling in the street and on stage for weeks afterwards, with fans shouting, "Pete forever, Ringo never!" One agitated fan headbutted Harrison in The Cavern, giving him a black eye. Lennon would later comment about Best's dismissal by saying, "We were cowards, we got Epstein to do the dirty work for us."

Reasons for Best's dismissal

Best has never been told why he was dismissed from The Beatles, as the only reason Epstein gave was, "The lads don't want you in the group anymore." It has been documented (notably in Cynthia Lennon's book John) that while Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison usually spent their offstage time together in Hamburg and Liverpool, writing songs or socializing, Best generally went off alone. This left Best on the outside, as he was not privy to many of the group's experiences, references, and in-jokes.

On their first trip to Hamburg, The Beatles realized that the stage suits they wore could not stand up to the hours of sweating and jumping about on stage every night, so they all bought leather jackets, jeans and cowboy boots, which were much tougher. Best preferred to play in shirtsleeves, so did not follow the style of the group, even though he was later photographed wearing a leather jacket and jeans. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Sutcliffe were introduced to drugs in Hamburg. As they had to play for hours every night, they often took Preludin to keep themselves awake, which were given to them by German customers or by Astrid Kirchherr, whose mother bought them. Lennon would often take four or five, but Best always refused to join in.

Kirchherr asked the Beatles if they would mind letting her take photographs of them in a photo session, which impressed them, as other groups only had snapshots that were taken by friends. The next morning Kirchherr took photographs in a municipal park called "der Dom" which was close to the Reeperbahn, and in the afternoon she took them all—minus Best who decided not to go—to her mother's house in Altona. Best was described by Dot Rhone — McCartney's girlfriend at the time, who later visited Hamburg — as being very quiet, and never taking part in conversations with the group.

Best's popularity with fans was a source of friction, as many female fans considered Best to be the band's best-looking member. In addition, Epstein became exasperated with Best's refusal to adopt the mop-top-style Beatle haircut as part of their unified look, although Best later claimed that he was never asked to change his hairstyle. In a 1995 BBC Radio Merseyside interview, Kirchherr, who was former bassist Sutcliffe's girlfriend at the time, explained: "My boyfriend, Klaus Voorman, had this hairstyle, and Stuart liked it very, very much. He was the first one who really got the nerve to get the Brylcreem out of his hair, and asking me to cut his hair for him. Pete Best has really curly hair, and it wouldn't work."

Radio Merseyside presenter, Spencer Leigh, wrote a book chronicling Best's firing, suggesting that the other members, McCartney in particular, were jealous. During the Teenagers' Turn showcase in Manchester, John, Paul and George walked on stage to applause, but when Best walked on, the girls screamed. Best was surrounded at the stage door afterwards by attentive females while the other members were ignored after signing a few autographs. McCartney's father, Jim McCartney, was present at the time and admonished Best by saying: "Why did you have to attract all the attention? Why didn't you call the other lads back? I think that was very selfish of you." McCartney's father later encountered the dismissed Best in The Cavern Club when a Beatles' gig was being recorded for the ITV series Know the North, and said: "Great, isn't it? They're on TV!" Observers reported that Best said nothing, and quietly left. George Martin was shocked that Epstein had sacked Best: "He seemed to be the most saleable commodity as far as looks went. It was a surprise when I learned that they had dropped Pete. The drums were important to me for a record, but they didn’t matter much otherwise. Fans don’t pay particular attention to the quality of the drumming." Martin used session musician Andy White on the third session for "Love Me Do" on 11 September, and not Starr, who was Best's replacement.

On January 14th, 2009, Paul McCartney was interviewed on The Howard Stern Show. Stern asked McCartney if Best was asked to leave because Best was too handsome. Paul replied no, and explained how he, Harrison and Lennon were impressed with Starr’s drumming.

After The Beatles

Soon after Best was dismissed, Epstein tried to console him by offering to build another group around him, but Best turned him down. Feeling let-down and depressed, he sat at home for two weeks—not wanting to face anybody or answer the inevitable questions about why he had been sacked. Best joined Lee Curtis & the All Stars, which then broke off from Curtis and became Pete Best & the All Stars. They signed to Decca Records, and released the single "I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door", which was not a hit. Best later relocated to the United States along with songwriters Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington. As The Pete Best Four, and later as The Pete Best Combo (increasing their number to five) they toured America with a combination of 1950s songs and original tunes, recording for small labels, but had little success. They ultimately released an album on Cameo Records titled Best Of The Beatles; a play on Best's name, leading to disappointment for record buyers who expected a Beatles' compilation. The group disbanded shortly afterwards. Bickerton and Waddington were to find greater success as songwriters in the 1970s, writing a series of hits by the Rubettes.

Later years

Best decided to leave show business, and by the time of Hunter Davies' 1968 authorized Beatles' biography, he was not willing to talk about his Beatles association. He once tried to commit suicide, but was talked out of it by his mother, Mona, and his brother, Rory. Best did shift work loading bread into the back of delivery vans, earning £8 a week, and in 1968 married Kathy, who worked behind the biscuit counter at a Woolworth's store. He later became a civil servant for 20 years. Best's marriage to Kathy has lasted for more than 40 years, and they have two daughters (Babs and Bonita) and four grandchildren.

In time, Best began giving interviews to the media, wrote about his time with The Beatles, and served as a technical adviser for the television movie Birth of the Beatles. Best found a modicum of independent fame, and has admitted to being a fan of his former band's music, and owning their records. In 1995, 33 years after being dismissed from the band, Best finally cashed in. When the surviving Beatles released Anthology, which featured a number of tracks with Best as drummer, Best received a substantial windfall—between £1 million and £4 million—from the sales, although he was not interviewed for the book or the documentaries. Best's head on an early group photo on the Anthology DVD cover (Episodes 1 & 2) was ripped out, and a picture of Starr was put in the background, although Best can be seen to the left of the ripped photo standing in front of Aspinall's van outside The Cavern. That ripped photo of Pete appears on the cover of the album Haymans Green.

Best appeared in an advert for Carlsberg lager, which was broadcast during the first commercial break of the first episode of the Anthology TV series on ITV in November 1995. The tag line was "Probably the Pete Best lager in the world," a variation of Carlsberg's well known slogan.

The Pete Best Band

Pete Best regularly tours the U.S. with The Pete Best Band, sharing the drumming with his younger brother Roag. On 6 July 2007, Pete Best was inducted into the All You Need Is Liverpool Music Hall of Fame as the debut Charter Member. Best was presented with a framed certificate before his band performed. Their new album Haymans Green, made from entirely original material, was released on 16 September 2008 in the USA, 24 October 2008 worldwide (excluding the UK) and 27 October 2008 in the UK.

Pete Best discography


* "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door" b/w "Why Did I Fall in Love with You" (Decca F 11929, Released: 1964)
* "(I'll Try) Anyway" b/w "I Wanna Be There" (Original Beatles Drummer 800, Released: 1964)
* "Kansas City" b/w "Boys" (Cameo 391, Released: 1965)
* "I Can't Do Without You Now" b/w "Keys to My Heart" (Mr. Maestro Records 711, Released: 1965)

Another "Peter Best" single, "Carousel Of Love"/"Want You" (Capitol 2092) is not by the Beatles drummer but an Australian performer with the same name.


* Best of the Beatles (Savage BM 71, Released: 1966)
o Includes: I Need Your Lovin'; Just Wait and See; Casting My Spell; Keys to My Heart; Why Did You Leave Me Baby?; Like My Sister Kate; I Can't Do Without You Now; I'm Blue; Some Other Guy; She's Alright; Nobody But You; Last Night
* The Beatle That Time Forgot [Original Version] (Phoenix PB-22, Released: 1981)
o Includes: I'm Checking Out Now Baby; I'll Try Any Way; I Don't Know Why (I Just Do); How'd You Get to Know Her Name; She's Not the Only Girl in Town; If You Can't Get Her; More Than I Need My Self; I'll Have Everything Too; The Way I feel About You; Don't Play With Me (Little Girl); Rock and Roll Music; All Aboard
* Rebirth (Phoenix PB-44, Released: 1981)
o Includes: I Can't Do Without You Now; Off the Hook; She's Alright; I Need Your Lovin'; Why Did You Leave Me Baby; High School Shimmy; I Wanna Be There; Everybody; Pete's Theme; Keys to My Heart
* The Beatle That Time Forgot [Reissue] (Phoenix PHX 340, Released: 1982)
o Includes: I'll Try Anyway; I Don't Know Why I Do (I Just Do); She's Not the Only Girl in Town; More Than I Need My Self; I'll Have Everything Too; I'm Checking Out Now Baby; How'd You Get to Know Her Name; If You Can't Get Her; Rock and Roll Music


* Live at the Adelphi Liverpool 1988 - 1992 CD
* "Heaven" b/w "Fool In Love" - 1990 British Vinyl 45 + Picture Sleeve
* Back to the Beat - 1995 CD (live)
* Bestiality! - 1995 8-Track
* Once a Beatle, Always a Beatle - 1996 CD
* Casbah Coffee Club 40th Anniversary Limited Edition - 1999 CD
* CCC 4 Track Sampler - 2000 CD single (3 bonus tracks)
* Best of The Beatles - 2005 DVD (features 3 exclusive Pete Best Band studio recordings)
* Haymans Green - Released 16 September 2008 (USA), August 2008 (UK) (The Pete Best Band)


Full length films

* "The Rocker", a 2008 film in which the opening scenes parallel the circumstances under which Best was dismissed from The Beatles.
o Best is credited with playing himself during the end credits.


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