For decades he has been referred to by many as the unluckiest man in the history of rock 'n' roll. It was a distinction Pete Best had earned when he was dismissed as the drummer for The Beatles in August 1962. He was replaced by Ringo Starr, and the rest, as they say, is history.
For decades he has been referred to by many as the unluckiest man in the history of rock 'n' roll.
It was a distinction Pete Best had earned when he was dismissed as the drummer for The Beatles in August 1962. He was replaced by Ringo Starr, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now 67, Best can still be found touring about with his own group, The Pete Best Band. And Saturday and Sunday, Best will meet fans and sign autographs at the Boston Super Megafest at the Sheraton Framingham. The weekend also features film and sci-fi stars such as Leslie Nielsen, Linda Blair of "The Exorcist" and Jonathan Frakes who plays Riker on "Star Trek." Shoe Suede Blues with Peter Tork of The Monkees will perform Saturday night with separate admission.
The Pete Best Band has also recently released a CD titled "Haymans Green" (Light Year/EMI), featuring original, autobiographical material.
Reached by telephone recently in Ontario, Canada, Best clearly embraced his place as a footnote in rock music history.
"It's nice to be associated with them, and to have played a part in their history," Best said. "John Lennon said years later that the group was at its best as a live performing band in those early years when we were playing in and around Liverpool and in Hamburg, Germany."
Best's affiliation with The Beatles began in mid-August of 1960, as John, Paul and George, along with bass player Stu Sutcliffe, were set to embark on a seven-week engagement in Hamburg. The band's previous drummer had recently left, and they were desperate to find a replacement before their departure.
Best recalled, "I knew them for a year before I joined. They occasionally played at a little club that my family owned."
The Casbah Coffee Club was located in the basement of the large Victorian house in which Best lived in Liverpool's West Derby section, and was managed by his mother, Mona.
When it became necessary to select a new drummer, it didn't hurt that Best had matinee idol good looks and a sparkling new professional drum kit. "They were doing all of the kinds of music that I loved," Best said, "such as Presley tunes and other American rock 'n' roll, like Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was the stuff we all cut our teeth on."
The group had been known by a variety of names over the previous couple of years, such as The Quarry Men, Johnny and the Moondogs, and The Silver Beetles. But it was at this precise time that Best joined that they finally settled on The Beatles as their permanent name.
The Hamburg engagement turned into a 3 1/2-month stay during which they played over 100 shows. "It was in Hamburg that we really started to develop our own sound," he recalled. A few weeks after their return, with Sutcliffe now out of the band, The Beatles played played a gig at Liverpool's Town Hall Ballroom in late December of 1960 that was said to be a clear turning point in their popularity.
It was at this show that "Beatlemania" was seemingly born, and there would be no turning back.
It has been said that Best was the most business-like and punctual member of the group, and throughout 1961 he arranged and secured many of the bookings. But by the beginning of 1962, that duty was taken over by new manager Brian Epstein. Epstein helped create a much higher sense of professionalism for the group, and by mid-1962 they were clearly the most popular band in the Liverpool area.
But it was also the beginning of the end for Pete Best as a member.
Numerous Beatles biographies have indicated that John, Paul and George had considered bringing Ringo into the band for some time before the move was made. What appears to have been the final straw was an audition for EMI record company producer George Martin in June 1962.
Martin subsequently went on to produce virtually all of The Beatles records, but after this first session at Abbey Road Studios, he had a conversation with Epstein about Best. Martin reportedly told the manager that he didn't think Best was adequate for recording purposes. He added that Best could have continued to perform live shows while a session drummer handled the studio work.
By mid-August the group had decided to bring Ringo aboard, unbeknownst to Best. Epstein informed a stunned Best of his dismissal on August 16, 1962, two years and four days after he had joined.
"There have been several conspiracy theories," Best said, "and I'm not sure the full story has ever come out." One suggests that the others were jealous of the considerable attention Best received from the group's female fans. Some point out that Best refused to adopt the now famous Beatle haircut, though he disputes the claim. "No one ever asked me to wear my hair in that style, or else I would have."
As far as not being an adequate drummer, Best claims that Epstein offered him a a lead role as the drummer of another band he managed - The Merseybeats. "Brian said that he wanted me to help make them a sort of 'second Beatles' type of band. Why would he put that kind of faith in me if he didn't feel I was good enough?"
One quote from John Lennon, which appeared in Beatles' publicist Tony Barrow's 2005 book "John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Me" reveals one possible factor. Barrow wrote that he had asked Lennon what the difference was between Best and Starr. Lennon reportedly replied, "Pete Best is a great drummer. Ringo is a great Beatle."
Best declined the offer to join the Merseybeats and shortly after hooked up with a band called Lee Curtis and the All Stars. After a year it became The Pete Best All-Stars, and later the Pete Best Combo. For a time he did a bit of recording with Decca Records - a company which had turned down The Beatles in early 1962.
By 1968, Best was ready to step away from the music business. "I was married with two beautiful little daughters, and it was time for me to stay at home."
While The Beatles were still on top of the musical world, Best took a job as a baker. A while later, he secured a civil service job with a government agency and remained there for two decades.
In the early 1980s, Best authored his autobiography "Beatles!: The Pete Best Story." "It seemed like an appropriate time to reveal my own recollections," Best said. "A while later, I also started accepting occasional invitations to appear at some of the Beatles conventions."
He formed The Pete Best Band in 1988, and has been making occasional tours of the United States ever since. The band attempts to re-create the sound and spirit of The Beatles' early years, when Best was working, traveling and playing side by side three young men who went on to achieve worldwide fame beyond their wildest dreams.
Asked which of The Beatles he felt closest to, Best replied, "Unquestionably it was John. And many years later I heard him quoted as saying 'I should have stood up for for Pete more.' It made me appreciate him all the more."
Boston Super Megafest takes place 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Sheraton Framingham, 1657 Worcester Road (Rte. 9 west), Framingham. Tickets at the door are $22 for adults, $6 for children under 12 and are good for both days. For more information, go to www.supermegafest.com or call 508-852-0005.
For more information on Pete Best, visit www.petebest.com.
Kerry Keene is a freelance writer from Raynham.