The reason for Pete's getting dumped by The Beatles
have been disputed over the years. The catalyst was that George Martin
demanded it, but it appears the Beatles had planned to drop Pete anyway. There's talk that George
were jealous of Pete getting all the girls, which they fess up to a little bit. But the Beatles have always maintained that Ringo
was the better drummer.
There's another reason, outlined in The Beatles Anthology (the book). Believe it or not, Ringo cut quite a chic image back then. He was a member of Rory and the Hurricanes, one of the most serious bands in Liverpool, with matching suits and all. Ringo himself had a stylish beard. He had a stage name. And he had a car, which was cool by itself but also meant he could carry his own gear to the gigs. He was everything you wanted in a drummer -- who cared what his playing was like?
Ringo's personality may have been a better fit, too. John Lennon, 1974:
"This myth built up over the years that Pete was great and Paul was jealous of him because he was pretty and all that crap. They didn't get on that much together, but it was partly because Pete was a bit slow. He was a harmless guy, but he was not quick. All of us had quick minds, but he never picked that up.
"The reason he got into the group in the first place was because we had to have a drummer to get to Hamburg. We were always going to dump him when we could find a decent drummer, but by the time we were back from Germany we'd trained him to keep a stick going up and down (four-in-the-bar, he couldn't do much else) and he looked nice and the girls liked him, so it was all right."
The road to Hamburg
Pete Best was born in Madras
in 1941, to John and Mona Best. John was a boxing promoter sent to India in World War II
; Mona was born in India of English parents
When they moved to Liverpool after the war, Mona bought Pete his first drum kit and nurtured his interest in music. It was also Mona who decided in 1959 to convert the basement of the Best home into a coffee bar called the Casbah, coffee bars being a key hangout for the growing rock 'n' roll crowd.
The Les Stewart Quartet was invited to open the Casbah but turned it down. Guitarists Ken Brown and George Harrison left Stewart's band to take the gig anyway, and George brought in schoolmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Quarrymen. In fact, John, Paul and George helped paint the Casbah before the opening.
Ken Brown would leave the Quarrymen over a money dispute, later hooking up with Pete to form the Blackjacks (a name John Lennon had crafted). Meanwhile, George's pals eventually picked up the name The Beatles and worked their way up to a steady gig in Hamburg, Germany, but drummer Tommy Moore had left the band. George happened to remember that Pete had drums, and on that basis they called him up. The Beatles were complete.
Gigs in Hamburg were brutal, with bands playing hours on end, sometimes going into meaningless jams just to fill the time (no Phish jokes, please). During this time, they all honed their abilities. Pete in particular would develop the "Mersey sound," a thick sound with a heavy bass drum, something all the bands in Liverpool would start imitating after the Beatles returned.
The first Hamburg stint ended bizarrely, with Pete and Paul deported for arson (joking about poor stage lighting, they'd tacked flaming condoms to the wall) and George deported separately, probably for age reasons since he was the youngest. All told, the group would play Hamburg three times in two years.
Back in Liverpool, Mona Best became the Beatles' de facto manager for a time. She got them booked at the Cavern Club and even got the song "Peppermint Stick" into the setlist as a vocal spotlight for Pete.
Pete gets the boot
By 1962, the Beatles had gotten their recording contract. But George Martin
, who would go on to produce nearly all the Beatles' records, considered Pete's drumming style rather primitive and asked the boys to get someone else.
Around the same time, George Harrison (and Paul, by some accounts) had started pressing to drop Pete in favor of Ringo. Pete had missed several gigs after the Beatles returned from Hamburg, and Ringo had been their stand-in of choice, so they were familiar with his style.
As for whether Ringo was a better drummer than Pete ... the thing is, George Martin didn't like Ringo either. Ringo couldn't keep time reliably yet, at least not to Martin's classically trained ears. A professional drummer named Andy White was brought in for the Beatles' first official recording session, and it's White, not Ringo, who appears on the original "Love Me Do" single. Ringo appears on the album version, which is the one most people are familiar with. (And Stealth_Munchkin is right about Pete's version on the Anthology, although Ringo may have had outtakes just as bad that didn't make the CDs.)
At any rate, Ringo was in, and not one of the Beatles had the guts to tell Pete. They made manager Brian Epstein do it. It gets worse: Ringo couldn't make his first few Beatles gigs, so they actually asked Pete to sit in for one more week after he'd been kicked out. Pete couldn't or wouldn't do it, and a local lad named Johnny Hutchinson filled the bill. (There's even a faint rumor that Hutch was their first choice to replace Pete.)
Life without the Beatles
By most accounts, Pete was furious. Fans protested at the first official gig without Pete, August 16, 1962
, taking up a chant similar to "Pete forever, Ringo never" (accounts vary). George got a black eye
when someone sucker-punched
him coming off the stage.
Pete continued his musical career and did try to piggy-back on the Beatles' success. In 1964, the Pete Best All Stars were signed to Decca, the label that originally rejected The Beatles. Their one single, "I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door," was a flop, and Decca dropped them. Pete then spent some time touring with his Pete Best Combo, probably to middling success if that, and retired back to Liverpool in 1966, taking a job in a bakery.
It's to Pete's benefit that the Beatles became so big, because it made him able to mine the nostalgia movement that continues even today. He's been a paid consultant for made-for-TV movies on the Beatles. Naturally, he put out a book, Beatle: The Pete Best Story. He also got back into music in 1989 with a touring band called Best of the Beatles, whose program is unique: The first set is a talk given by Pete about the old days and the music of the skiffle era, and about his departure from the Beatles. For the second set, he brings out his band to play some of that old music. Best of the Beatles last toured in late 2000.
And apparently, he does get royalties for appearing on 10 tracks of the Beatles Anthology 1 CD. He's particularly happy about that point, since it gives him some of the recognition he feels he's been due.
Pete's always been a good sport about his lot, at least in his public persona. A 1965 interview with the Ottawa Journal finds him playing small gigs in North America and harboring no outward bitterness towards his old mates. He gives them credit for their success, noting the hard work put into elements such as their harmony singing.
Some people say it's sad to see Pete making money off the Beatles' name, but to me it's a little bit heartwarming. All of us have missed opportunities in our lives, but few are as devastating as Pete's, and it's nice he's able to get something out of the experience.
By the way ... Apparently, the Casbah still exists, and still has some of the original Beatle artwork.
-- The Beatles Anthology (book); keep in mind that it was compiled by the Beatles to document their version of history.
-- The Pete Best fan club: http://www.beatleworld.co.uk/best.htm
-- Dave Haber's Internet Beatles Album: http://www.getback.org/bpete.html
-- Interview by Gary Boole, Sept. 2000: http://www.angelfire.com/rock2/rockinterviews/petebest.html
-- Interview by Peter McCormack, Sept. 2000: http://personal.nbnet.nb.ca/mccorp/petebest.html
-- Rubber Souled: http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Club/5770/pete.html
-- 1965 Ottawa Journal article: http://www.ncf.ca/beatles/petebest.html
-- eskimo.com: http://www.eskimo.com/~bpentium/beatles/besttape/besttape.html
-- EMD (agent for Pete's current band): http://www.emd.ns.ca/artists/petebest.html
More information: There's a Pete Best mini-portal at http://beatles.about.com/cs/petebest/