|The Pete Best Band performs Saturday evening at the Kent Stage.
The story of Pete Best and The Beatles begins with the Casbah Club in West Derby, Liverpool.
[Pete Best]- "My mother came up with the idea of having a coffee club in the basement of our house on Ames Green West Darby where we still live today... and the band which should have opened it, the Leshdu (?) Quartet, broke up a couple weeks before the club was due to open. And George Harrison and Ken Brown, who were founding members of that particular band, came down and saw my mother Mona, left her in a bit of a predicament... but George came out and said, 'I happen to know a couple of guys who aren't doing anything at the present moment that I used to play with.' Lo and behold it turned out to be John Lennon and Paul McCartney... and we were ready for August the 29th, 1959. And at that time they were calling themselves The Quarrymen. And I sort of stood there and went, 'Yep, there's something special about these guys.'"
The Quarrymen became the Silver Beatles with a lineup that included John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and bass player Stuart Sutcliffe... but no permanent drummer. But the Beatle sound was taking shape.
[Pete Best] - "What we saw with The Quarrymen was a lot of harmonies, yeah standards by which everyone was playing, but the way they were doing it and the harmony systems and the vocal range that they had... Because they were very different as opposed to one person singing or possibly two. There were three people who were, you know, contributing either singing sololy, or you know contributing as a three part harmony or two part harmony, so it was very exciting."
A local club owner and promoter Alan Williams became their manager securing gigs at local Liverpool clubs. Williams offered the boys a chance to play in Hamburg, Germany where a number of Liverpool bands were having some success. The trouble was " the Silver Beatles still had no drummer.
[Pete Best] - "I got a phone call from Paul, this would be around the middle of August 1960... And he said , 'Pete, we got the offer to go to Germany'. Then you go to your mom and dad, and they said, 'If it's what you wanna do son, then go with our blessings.' So I phone Paul back and he said, 'Fine, come down and audition.' So the audition took about ten minutes if you could call it an audition... and they said , 'Alan, meet the new drummer'. And Alan turned around and said, 'Yes, we knew what you were about, we had to make you audition... just in case you asked for more money.' So that was how I actually got to join."
The Hamburg clubs were notorious for their rowdy and demanding crowds and the grueling schedule honed the skills of the young band.
The Beatles first show after their Hamburg stint was back at Mona Best's Casbah Club, a and it was a smashing success. The Beatles returned to Hamburg the following year. In addition to their own performances, they regularly backed Tony Sheridan, a singer who was a veteran of British TV music shows. Sheridan had a contract with Polydor Records, which lead to the Beatles first professional recording session, backing Sheridan for five tracks, as well as two for themselves.
By the end of 1961, the Beatles had secured the services of Brian Epstein, a manager of the NEMS music stores, and things were looking up for the group. Epstein's goal was to get a record contract, and hopes were high when the Beatles traveled to London to the studios of Decca Records on January 1st, 1962 for an audition.
[Pete Best] - "So Brian gave us a peptalk before we went down. He said, 'You've got a very important audition the following morning, please do not go out and celebrate.' Lo and behold, yes, Brian of course we will, right? Out past 2 in the morning, we're in the middle of Trafalgar Square, and a good few beers down... celebrating, and were late getting to the audition the following morning."
The band was nervous for the Decca audition, and the material selected by Epstein to display the band's versatility was not their strongest.
Decca ultimately passed on the Beatles, but Epstein was undeterred, and his perseverance led to a contract with EMI Records in June of 1962. Pete Best and the Beatles recorded four songs for EMI that summer but none were deemed fit for release. Their second EMI session was scheduled for September. But before that, the band made a change.
[Pete Best] - "I was called into the office, and I thought no more about it because prior to Brian actually taking over and becoming the official manager, I'd handled the business side of things and I thought, 'Okay, it's going to be another one of those business meetings.' And when I went in I could basically tell it wasn't the sort of normal cool, calm, placid Brian that he normally was... and he just, 'Pete, I don't really know how to tell you this but the boys want you out.' Well that was the bombshell, right? So I was totally devastated, I couldn't get my brain to work. All I could sit down and say is, 'What is the reason for it?' And they turned around and said, 'Well, they feel that Ringo is a better drummer.' Which didn't make sense at that time, because I was reputed to be the number one drummer in Liverpool then."
Eighteen days later the Beatles with new drummer Ringo Starr were in the studio with George Martin, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Following his dismissal from the Beatles, Best received an offer from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, coincidentally to replace their just-departed drummer Ringo Starr. Best declined, opting to join Lee Curtis and The All Stars. In 1963 that band took second place in the important poll conducted by the music paper Merseybeat. First place was the Beatles.
Best went on to front his own groups such as The Pete Best Four and The Pete Best Combo through 1968. That year he decided to put down his drumsticks and focus on family life. He worked at a bakery and then began a career in the British Civil Service. He didn't play again until 20 years later.
Pete Best is at peace with the path that his life took and he understands his place in Beatle history.
[Pete Best] - "There's three remaining people of the original five - Stu was the first to go, you had John who was so tragically murdered on the steps of the Dakota, and you had George who died, you know, of this horrible disease that is you know, rampant in the world at this present moment in time. For all the success they've had, there has been sadness, you know, there has been tragedy involved. From my own point of view, it's nice to know that ok, I've still got my health and I've still got my happiness. I've still got family, I've got a marriage which has held together for 40 odd years, two beautiful daughters who have produced four wonderful grandchildren... So, ah, I feel I'm doing ok."
Today, you can visit the original Casbah Club. The Best family reopened it as a Liverpool tourist attraction in 2002. And the Pete Best Band now plays all over the world, focusing on the early rock and roll of the late Fifties and early Sixties.